Today’s passage in Matthew is the conclusion of Jesus’ prophetic speech about the end times. Today’s passage is actually concerning the judgment that every person will have to face one day and it says this:
“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’
“Then he will say to those on his left, Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” Matthew 25:31-46
This judgment likely occurs after the tribulation and Christ’s physical return to earth but before the beginning of his earthly reign. Its purpose will be to determine who is allowed to be part of God’s kingdom and who will be sent to the place of eternal punishment. Of all the parables, analogies and other word pictures that Jesus uses to describe God’s kingdom and the end times, this is one of the few that describe what will take place “on that day”—when Christ actually judges individuals for their time on earth and pronounces their eternal destiny. This passage reveals one of the primary bases of God’s judgement. At the time of Christ’s coming, both the saved and the lost—those who have a personal relationship with Christ and those who do not—who survived the tribulation are still together on earth. The judgment involves the separation of the wicked from the righteous. The judgment will be based on outward works of love and kindness to those who follow Christ and who are suffering or in need. Although good works cannot save us, all accounts of judgment described in the Bible indicate that our actions and responses to opportunities on earth will affect our reward or punishment. The expression of true love and active compassion is a natural part of genuine Christian faith and salvation.
The wicked will not allowed to enter Christ’s kingdom, but will go into eternal punishment. The righteous will inherit eternal life (which is to know Christ and live forever with God) and the kingdom of God.
This account of end-time judgment is a lesson in how Jesus expects his followers to be aware of and help people who are hurting or in need. In fact, one of the primary ways we can serve God in a very real way is to show kindness to “the least of these”, which includes anyone—particularly those among God’s people—who could use our help or attention. These people whom others often overlook because they cannot repay the kindness. Jesus said that when his followers practice active compassion toward others, they are actually doing something for him. This means that if we want to see or touch Jesus directly, we will have to look for him in people who are hurting or in need. Notice that both the faithful and unfaithful were unaware of times when they encountered Jesus in life. Even those who did the right thing were seemingly oblivious to when they acted with compassion. It seems that on those occasions when they helped others, the act or actions were not unusual or special in any way; serving others was simply a way of life for them. All of this shows that true service to God often takes place in the more routine and unassuming areas of life—when no one else notices. But God always notices when we do something for him, and he will reward us accordingly on judgment day.
Tomorrow’s Bible Readings:
Exodus 29:1-30:10, Matthew 26:14-45, Psalm 31:19-24 and Proverbs 8:14-26