I am deeply immersed in the Gospel Book of Matthew. For me, the four Gospels have so much to offer in revealing my Lord and Savior -- His mission on earth; His "Good News" of Salvation to individuals; our need to "repent and believe"; His message about the Kingdom of God influencing the earth; our assignments as ambassadors of that Kingdom ... and so much more. While I value every sacred book of the Bible [for they reveal the Father and His love for those created in His image], it is the Gospels that touch my heart and spirit the most, and none more than Matthew. This particular Book makes it clear that Jesus is the Messiah, the King of the Jews, and we see the Old Testament prophecies being fulfilled in His life, death, and resurrection.
I love the parables and Jesus's forthright instructions on how to live a life that is pleasing to the Father. I esteem the prophecies of the future "End Times" and the "Age To Come". Certainly, the Book of Matthew challenges my knowledge of the Lord like no other Book of the Bible, and through meditation on the Word, I have come to know Jesus more deeply and intimately, and to begin to understand the Father's plan for redemption of the world. That being said, much is still being revealed to me [and it will be so until my last breath], and I have to tell you that there is a passage in Matthew, Chapter 25, verses 31-46, that is complex and enlightening, yet at the same time, alarming. I would like to take the next couple of posts to try to share what I think is being revealed to me -- how my understanding has changed, and how it is developing at this time.
So, let's take a look at the passage: “When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne. 32 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. 33 And He will place the sheep on His right, but the goats on the left. 34 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. 35 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, 36 I was naked and you clothed Me, I was sick and you visited Me, I was in prison and you came to Me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? 38 And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? 39 And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ 40 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.’
41 “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. 42 For I was hungry and you gave Me no food, I was thirsty and you gave Me no drink, 43 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.’ 44 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?’ 45 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.’ 46 And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
There is so much to glean from these verses, but let me share some of the basic premises presented, which must be understood to grasp the bigger meaning of the passage. First, let's consider the sheep and goats. What does Jesus mean by these designations? I would submit to you that sheep are gentle animals, yielding to the Shepherd's commands; while goats are known to be independent, destructive and defiant when trying to be led. To put it in Scriptural terms, sheep are obedient, while goats are rebellious.
Secondly, what is the significance of putting the sheep at the right hand of Jesus on His throne, and the goats on His left? Throughout the Bible, the right hand is known as a place of honor and authority -- Jesus sits at the right hand of God. He states that He is the Truth, the Way, and the Life [Everlasting}. God's right hand also represents His strength and His righteousness -- "I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand" (Isaiah 41:10). But God has two hands. In Psalm 111:7, King David wrote, "The works of His hands are truth and [absolute] justice". If Jesus is Truth, and He sits at the right hand of God, then the work of God's left hand (as stated in Psalm 111) is justice.
Now, let's make note that in Matthew 25, Jesus has come in His glory, and is seated on His glorious throne. He is seated, and displaying both Truth and Justice. This is a time of Judgment. I will tell you that my understanding of the time and place of this scene is based on my theological worldview. This is a difficult theological mystery that the Body of Christ is very much divided on; namely the chronological events that take place at the Second Coming of Christ. There are many things that happen, and it is difficult to come to a conclusive picture of how it all unfolds. I will be honest and say that I am still formulating my theology, but at this point in my journey, here is a [very] brief summary of where I stand as it pertains to Matthew 25... It is my view that Jesus returns after the Great Tribulation and raptures first, the dead in Christ, and then the Body of Christ [the Church], taking us to Heaven while the bowls of wrath are being poured out on the wicked of the world. The Church will then fulfill her purpose as the literal army of God, fighting with Jesus in many battles. This war will climax with the battle of Armageddon. (I look to the following Scriptures for my understanding of this scenario: prophecies made in Jude 14-15, Isaiah 13:1-5, and Joel 2:1-11, among others). It is after Armageddon, that this scene of Jesus on His throne, in Matthew 25, takes place. This is where judgment will take place of the "sheep and goats".
[NOTE: I do not say that you must agree with my interpretation of this eschatological timeline in order to understand what Jesus is trying to tell us in this passage. We must each spend time in the Word and with the Holy Spirit to receive revelation. And I fully expect that my interpretation of all the events of the Day of the Lord will continue to evolve as I spend more time studying and searching what the Lord would have me know. I think you will find that it is not necessary to agree on the timeline; rather it is more important to understand what is happening at this moment. And at the moment, we see Jesus, seated on His throne, which has become His Judgment Seat.]
At this time, I want to present my initial interpretation of what verses 31-46 were telling me. It was very sobering to see how much it means to Jesus that we minister to the needs of our fellow man. For as we minister to people, we are ministering to Jesus! To meet the needs of hunger, thirst, isolation, nakedness, sickness, and imprisonment is the desire of the Father's heart and when we are obedient to do so, we are allowing Heaven to invade earth. That's why Jesus instructs us to pray, Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven.
And here is the frightening part .... verses 41-46 seem to imply that failure to do so results in eternal punishment in the fires of Hell! I have spent many a session with my Bible trying to determine if that is what the Word really says. I have read every version of the Bible I can find (and believe me I have a multitude of translations in my library). None of them varied from this text. Is Jesus really saying that the "goats" on his left hand will go to hell for refusing [or at the very least, failing] to feed the poor or minister to those who are sick or in prison? And who are these people who are designated as sheep and goats? Is it as simple as the sheep are Believers and the goats are Unbelievers? Can we justify that interpretation from the Scripture? Or is there more to this important passage?
I will let you ruminate on that for the next couple of days.... and then come back for Part Two. I think your understanding of the Word will be illuminated as we dive deeper into this important passage. Shalom!
John 5:27 "The Father has transferred to the Son the authority to judge, because He is the Son of Man".