Matthew 25:31-46 (CEB): “Now when the Human One comes in his majesty and all his angels are with him, he will sit on his majestic throne. All the nations will be gathered in front of him. He will separate them from each other, just as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right side. But the goats he will put on his left.
“Then the king will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who will receive good things from my Father. Inherit the kingdom that was prepared for you before the world began. I was hungry and you gave me food to eat. I was thirsty and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger and you welcomed me. I was naked and you gave me clothes to wear. I was sick and you took care of me. I was in prison and you visited me.’
“Then those who are righteous will reply to him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you a drink? When did we see you as a stranger and welcome you, or naked and give you clothes to wear? When did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’
“Then the king will reply to them, ‘I assure you that when you have done it for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you have done it for me.’
“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Get away from me, you who will receive terrible things. Go into the unending fire that has been prepared for the devil and his angels. I was hungry and you didn’t give me food to eat. I was thirsty and you didn’t give me anything to drink. I was a stranger and you didn’t welcome me. I was naked and you didn’t give me clothes to wear. I was sick and in prison, and you didn’t visit me.’
“Then they will reply, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison and didn’t do anything to help you?’ Then he will answer, ‘I assure you that when you haven’t done it for one of the least of these, you haven’t done it for me.’ And they will go away into eternal punishment. But the righteous ones will go into eternal life.”
“Okay,” someone will say, “surely in this passage Jesus was referring to the end of the world. Jesus talks about the judgment of ‘all the nations’. This has to be the judgment for the end. Right?”
Well, some people think so. They follow the same type of logic. They will agree that the previous passages were about the judgment coming upon Jerusalem and the Temple but this passage, with ‘all the nations’ has to be the judgment at the end of the world. But I don’t think so.
Again, the context of this story is the same as the previous ones. Jesus was still answering the disciples question(s) about when the Temple would be destroyed. There is nothing within the context that shows this to be about the ‘end of the world’. That is just us reading that into the text. We have to get our minds around ‘end of the world’ language in a local judgment setting. All throughout the Jewish prophets this type of language was used to depict local judgments (see: Isaiah 34.1-5; Zephania 1.1-4, 14-18). If nothing else, Jesus was a Jewish prophet (as most people will attest). His declarations were clear and came to pass within that generation, just as he said they would (Matthew 23.36 CEB; Matthew 24.34 CEB; cf. Matthew 11.16 CEB; Matthew 12.41-42 CEB; Matthew 17.17 CEB).
Another point that is often brought up is last sentence, ‘And they will go away into eternal punishment. But the righteous ones will go into eternal life.’
“This,” it is said, “obviously points to the last judgment as seen in Revelation 20.11-15.”
Not necessarily. The passage doesn’t state when those judged will go - just that they will. I think the immediate context leads us to seeing these words as immediate consequence for their actions. Look again at the second paragraph. Jesus said, ‘Come, you who will receive good things from my Father. Inherit the kingdom that was prepared for you before the world began.’ When do we ‘inherit the kingdom’? Do we only ‘inherit the kingdom’ at the ‘last judgment’? No. We inherit the kingdom now, in this life.
Jesus once more points the accusing finger at the religious opposition of his day. They assumed that there wouldn’t be an issue because they were the physical decedents of Abraham. Over and over again Jesus countered that type of thinking (for example see Matthew 15.1-14 CEB) as did John the Baptist (see Matthew 3.8-10 CEB) as did St Paul (see Romans 2.25ff CEB; cf. Galatians 6.11ff CEB). It was because of that type of thinking that the entire nation would be held accountable (Matthew 23.37ff CEB; Luke 19.41-44 CEB).
I know a lot of people don’t like to think about things like this. However, Jesus is keeping in line with the way the prophets used to think and preach. One of the reasons we don’t like to think about this is because we are putting our understanding of things into that world. This is called eisegesis. One of the things that we have to try to do is figure out how the original audience would have understood what was being communicated to them. It’s a difficult process but well worth the effort!
In the Love of the Three in One,
Br Jack+, LC