Serving Jesus

Posted: April 15, 2013 in Matthew

Matthew 25:31-46, “Serving Jesus”

Wouldn’t it be great to serve Jesus?  Beyond the ideas of what we think of as so-called “full-time ministry” – beyond the idea of pastors & missionaries – wouldn’t it be great to actually walk up to Jesus and hand Him a cup of cold water on a hot day?  Or have the privilege of giving Him a jacket if He seemed to be cold?  What a fantastic opportunity!  Not too many people would pass up an opportunity like that – not even someone who didn’t consider him/herself a Christian.  Even that person would likely think, “Maybe if I give Jesus a cup of water, He’ll think better of me later on.”  As Jesus makes clear in this teaching, we DO have the opportunity to personally serve Him – it’s just that most of us don’t realize it at the time.  Anytime we serve anyone who belongs to Christ (be it in our local church, or in the church around the world), we’re really serving Jesus Himself.  As we minister to others, we’re ministering to the Lord.  We have that same opportunity and privilege every single day, even if we don’t realize it.  If we are wise, we’ll take advantage of every opportunity we have.

This is the final teaching in the long section known as the Olivet Discourse.  For two chapters now, Jesus has been teaching about the end-times, the Great Tribulation, and His 2nd Coming.  After the proclamation of the coming destruction of Jerusalem & specifically the Jewish temple, a few of the disciples pulled Jesus aside and asked Him when these things would take place, and what would be the sign of His coming & the end of the age.  In response, Jesus gave His most detailed teaching of end-times prophecy in all His earthly ministry.  He spoke of the need to be patient & not to panic while the events of the world took place.  He taught of the great sign of the Tribulation (the abomination of desolation) which would be the turning point & things would rapidly increase.  He taught of His 2nd Coming, in which all the world would see Him in all of His power and glory.  In the meantime, Jesus told His disciples to watch & wait.  No one could know the specific hour of Jesus’ return, but all were to watch for the general season.  They could be assured that Jesus knew His own & would preserve those who belonged to Him – and as they persevered during the years of Tribulation, they were to wait actively & faithfully.

Chapter 25 has so far been entirely comprised of two parables that illustrate the need for Jesus’ people to actively watch and wait for His coming.  Actually, to get the context of Ch. 25, we need to back up to the ending parable of Ch. 24: the parable of the wise servant vs. the evil servant.  In that parable, the wise servant was the one who expected his master’s coming, and was active the whole time the master was gone.  Eventually the master came & found his servant at work (who had been wise & faithful), and the servant was blessed.  The evil servant was the one who believed the master was not coming back & took the time to abuse the trust given him by the master, to the point of beating his fellow servants.  Upon the master’s return, this servant was judged & cast out into punishment.

Elaborating on the points of wisdom & faithfulness, Jesus taught the two parables of Ch. 25: the parable of the virgins (bridesmaids) & the parable of the talents.  The virgins who showed wisdom while waiting for the bridegroom were those who were actively prepared for the groom to come at any time.  The servants that showed faithfulness with the talents (money) they had been entrusted with were those who used them to the utmost, rather than neglecting them, hiding them away & showing disdain & hatred for their master. 

It is with all of this in mind that Jesus launches into this prophecy of the coming judgment of the nations.  There is no break in the discourse, no indication at all that Jesus ever stops speaking.  It seems that this prophecy of judgment puts all of this together.  Those who are faithful and wise in the Tribulation as they wait for the coming of the Lord will be those who actively aid Jesus’ people in their hour of deepest need.  They won’t turn their back on Jesus’ people, and thus they won’t turn their back on Jesus Himself.  As Jesus will make clear, to serve those whom He loves is to serve Jesus Himself.

Matthew 25:31–46
31 “When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory.

  1. The first thing we might notice here is that this is not a parable; it’s prophecy.  Jesus has given several parables in regards to His 2nd Coming, but the language He uses here is not that of a parable, saying “It will be like…” – rather, Jesus states what will happen in a matter-of-fact way.  This is straightforward teaching, with Jesus taking the same sort of language that He used when describing the days of the Great Tribulation.  Although there will be a bit of figurative language used (nations are obviously not literal sheep nor goats), the primary language here is quite literal, only given in future tense.  These are events that will literally happen, thus we don’t need to search for some sort of symbolic or deeper meaning.  Properly distinguishing this as literal prophetic teaching will go a long way to keeping us from error & simply “spiritualizing” some of this away.
  2. So when is the future that Jesus refers to? “When the Son of Man comes in His glory” – speaking of the 2nd Coming.  Jesus already described this in detail in the previous chapter.  Matthew 24:30–31, "(30) Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. (31) And He will send His angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other."  []  Jesus seems to pick up where He left off in that description, using virtually the same language.  (Again, showing that He has returned to prophetic teaching, rather than illustrating principles in parables.) When He comes in all of His glory, what will happen? That’s what Jesus refers to in vs. 32.
  3. Before we get there, please note the certainty of Jesus. He does not say "IF the Son of Man comes," but "WHEN the Son of Man comes." The victory of Jesus over the enemy is assured… The return of Jesus is assured…
    1. The period of the Great Tribulation will be a time of tremendous suffering for disciples of Jesus – no doubt the certainty of Jesus’ return will be a foundation of their hope.  That will be true for them, and it is also true for us.  When we suffer the way we do, the fact of Jesus’ return is something to rejoice in and celebrate!  We look for the blessed hope of the rapture with grand anticipation!

32 All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats. 33 And He will set the sheep on His right hand, but the goats on the left.

  1. The nations are gathered for judgment.  Please note that the same word used for “nations” is often translated “Gentiles” elsewhere.  It could also mean “race,” but it is translated as “Gentiles” more often than not in the NT.  It is only rarely used in the NT to refer to the Jews, and never in the gospel of Matthew (with the one possible exception of the Great Commission, in which the context is clearly speaking of all the world).  Considering that the Jewish nation as a whole will have come to faith in Christ during the Great Tribulation, this must be a reference to all of the rest of the world.  All of the Gentiles will be gathered before Jesus at this time to be judged by Him.  That the Jewish Messiah will judge the nations is something long prophesied in the Bible.  Psalm 2:7–9, "(7) “I will declare the decree: The LORD has said to Me, ‘You are My Son, Today I have begotten You. (8) Ask of Me, and I will give You The nations for Your inheritance, And the ends of the earth for Your possession. (9) You shall break them with a rod of iron; You shall dash them to pieces like a potter’s vessel.’ ”" []  When our Lord Jesus returns as King, He is King not only over the Jews, but over all the earth!  He is completely victorious!
  2. The judgment is evident. Sheep and goats are similar creatures, but it’s easy to tell the difference between them. It’s certainly no problem for an experienced shepherd.  Sheep and goats might mingle together for a while, but when it comes time to separate them, it’s easy to do.  That will be the way it will be at the end of the Tribulation.  As Jesus has made perfectly clear throughout Ch. 24-25, He knows who belongs to Him & who does not.  As with the days of Noah’s flood, one person is taken in judgment & the other one will be saved alive.  The same principle applies here.  There is no doubt who belongs to Him & who does not.  Those who are the figurative “sheep” are placed at Jesus’ right hand, the position of honor.  Those who are plainly goats are put to the other side.
    1. It needs to be emphasized, Jesus knows who belongs to Him! There is no fooling Him.  There are many people in many churches all over the world (perhaps even this one) that present themselves as true believers in Jesus Christ when in actuality they are not.  They know all the right words to say, and they know the right way to act around other Christians, but they themselves know deep down that they are pretending.  They don’t really have faith in Christ, no matter what they might appear to have on the outside.  They know it, and Jesus does to.  You might be able to fool all the world, but you’ll never be able to fool the Lord.  It’s not enough to have an appearance of Christianity, you need to be a Christian – you need to have active faith in Jesus Christ as God.
  3. It begs the question: when will all this take place? Is this a reference to the final judgment at the great white throne?  There are some that only see one judgment in all of Scripture (the final judgment), and there are others that recognize several judgments that are given at different times for different reasons.  We’ve already seen that there is a Bema Seat judgment for believers in Jesus Christ (in which we as the Church will be judged for the things we’ve done while believers, and our heavenly reward is based upon those things – not our salvation).  Yet this is definitely not the Bema Seat judgment because there are different groups here.  The Bema Seat is for believers & there is no possibility of being cast into hell, so this is definitely referring to something different.  It must either be the final judgment, or a different judgment altogether.
    1. Arguments for the final judgment: (1) All nations are gathered, seemingly implying every person. (2) They were given an eternal inheritance. (3) Their works play a crucial role in their judgment, just as in Rev 20:12 (the books are opened, and each one is judged, according to his own works – in addition, their names are searched out in the Book of Life, Rev. 20:15).
    2. Arguments for a distinct judgment: (1) The nations are gathered at the moment of Jesus’ return; not 1000 years after Jesus’ return, which is when the final judgment takes place (Rev 20:12). (2) Jesus gives the kingdom to the righteous, as they had not yet inherited it. The Millennium plainly comes prior to the final judgment (Rev 20:4). (3) The works referenced by Jesus fits well within the context of the previous years of the Great Tribulation, in that there will be much suffering that will need to be addressed. (4) The nations are gathered, but there is no reference to a resurrection. The resurrection of the unjust plays a crucial role in the final judgment (Rev 20:13). Here, Jesus seems to be dealing with people who are presently alive.
    3. Which is it? Good scholars disagree. Personally, it seems best that this refers to a separate judgment prior to the Millennial kingdom. It is at this time that the nations that survive the Tribulation are judged, and the ones who had ministered to the Jews and other believers in Christ will be granted access to the Millennial kingdom. They are the ones that will continue to repopulate the earth, and their descendants are the ones who will experience the final deception of Satan after the 1000 years are complete. Keep in mind that although many people will be killed at the fall of Babylon & the Battle of Armageddon, there will still be many millions who survive.  What happens to those people?  How does Jesus determine who enters into the Millennial kingdom?  That is what seems to be addressed in the judgment between the sheep & the goats.

34 Then the King will say to those on His right hand, ‘Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world:

  1. The Son of Man is the King. J  There is no doubt that Jesus is referring to the same Person here.  In vs. 31, the Son of Man comes in glory & sits on His throne; in vs. 34 the Person sitting on the throne is recognized as the King.  Our Lord Jesus IS the King!  Already today, He has been given all power and authority in all the universe, though only a small portion of the world’s population recognize Him as the King.  When Jesus comes back, there will be no doubt whatsoever.  Even those who had spent their entire lives shaking their fist at God will see Jesus for who He is: the King of kings, the Sovereign Lord of all the Universe.
  2. The sheep are invited.  Jesus says “come…”  As awesome as it is simply to see the King in all of His glory on His throne, there is more to experience and share.  If only the sins of the people were forgiven, it would be enough not to be sent to punishment – but the grace of Jesus goes far beyond that.  There is more to come, and they are invited to experience it all.
  3. The sheep are blessed.  This is a different word than what is used in the Beatitudes (blessed are the poor in spirit, the meek, etc.).  This word doesn’t speak so much of a state of happiness, but rather a condition of being praised.  We get our word “eulogy” from the word used here: εὐλογέω = to speak well of.  Who is it that speaks well of the sheep?  God the Father.  How utterly amazing!  That the Holy Righteous Almighty Creator God would speak well of His people, praising them.  Like any dad bragging on his kids, it would seem that God brags on His children.  What amazing grace!
  4. The sheep have an inheritance.  They were to be brought into the kingdom, not merely as residents, but as joint-heirs of it. They have an active role in the Millennial kingdom, which had been expected of them & prepared for them since the beginning of time (the foundation of the world).
    1. Just for a moment, put yourself in the shoes of someone who has survived the horrors and trials of 7 years of the Great Tribulation.  You’ve seen the massive natural and supernatural disasters.  You’ve experienced the deception of Antichrist and the false prophet.  You’ve seen the battle of Armageddon.  Can you imagine any greater contrast from those things with the words Jesus will say to them?  What a glorious welcome from the King you’ve long awaited!  What wonderful good news & grace!
  5. What was the evidence that the sheep were blessed by God?  What is it that Jesus points out as evidence for how they were being judged?  Their works. See vs. 35…

35 for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; 36 I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.’

  1. They had ministered to the Lord.  Please don’t miss this point.  Jesus is going to describe this a bit more in depth in a bit, but Jesus uses nothing but personal pronouns here.  These were all things done directly to the Lord Jesus (the Son of Man, the King).  When the sheep engaged in these actions, they were doing it unto Jesus.
  2. They ministered in every way: physical and spiritual.  Food, drink, and clothing are all basic necessities, and they provided it for Jesus.  Yet Jesus cared just as much about the spiritual & emotional comfort of their visits and hospitality.
  3. They ministered in every circumstance: every day and despised.  Obviously there is an indication that the hunger, thirst, and nakedness were times of true suffering, but to help someone in those circumstances is a bit differently than visiting someone in prison.  The implication here is that the people identified with Jesus, even when they might be looked badly upon by others.  They served Jesus even at times when it might put themselves in a bad light.
  4. It was for all of these things & more that Jesus proclaims them blessed by God the Father & heirs of the kingdom.  Question: is Jesus saying that their salvation is somehow based upon their works? After all, He doesn’t say a single thing about their faith or doctrine. There is no mention of a conversion anywhere. How is it that their deeds can be the crucial method by which they can inherit the kingdom of God? It’s a good question. If we were to take this one teaching in Scripture and separate it from the rest of the Bible, it would be very easy to come to that conclusion. (Which is exactly what happens with those who hold to the social gospel.). But we can never do that with Scripture. Any one teaching has to be taken in the general context of the rest of the Bible, and the Bible is absolutely clear that we are saved by grace through faith, and not of our works. Ephesians 2:8–10, "(8) For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, (9) not of works, lest anyone should boast. (10) For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them." []  If that’s the case, then what IS Jesus saying? He’s simply looking at their outward works as evidence of their inward faith. Jesus’ half-brother James makes essentially the same point. James 2:14–17, "(14) What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him? (15) If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, (16) and one of you says to them, “Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,” but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? (17) Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead." []  When they ministered outwardly, it showed the work of faith inwardly.  Their lives were transformed by the grace of Jesus – it was the fruit of their faith.

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 When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You? 39 Or when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’

  1. The question they ask back to Jesus is simple: when – when had they done any of this?  After all, Jesus had not yet returned until this very moment & they had not seen that they had been serving Him at all.

40 And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.’

  1. Who are the “least of these My brethren”?  That’s a subject of much debate.  Some would see this as a reference to all of the poor & needy, though there is nothing in the Scripture that necessarily suggests this.  After all, there are poor & needy people who have faith in Christ & there are others who are plainly Jesus’ enemies.  Obviously, we are to love even those who hate us and persecute us (Jesus says we are blessed when we do so – Mt 5:11), but it is a stretch by any definition to try to claim that people who persecute Christians are “brethren” of the Lord Jesus. …  Others see the “brethren” as the Jewish people.  After all, it is the Nations that are gathered before Jesus (the Gentiles), so the Jews would be the next logical people group.  We know from Revelation that 140,000 Jews will be sealed during the years of the Tribulation, specifically kept alive by God most likely in order that they would be able to continue witnessing to the nations about the Lord Jesus.  The blindness to seeing Jesus as their Messiah will have been removed, and the Jewish nation as a whole will have come to faith (“and all Israel will be saved,” – Rom 11:26).  With much respect to those who hold this view, this seems to be accurate, but still not yet quite broad enough of a definition.  After all, there will be many more people who come to faith in Christ during the Tribulation years besides just Jews.  Surely anyone who has saving faith in Christ would be considered one of the “brethren” of the Lord. … Still another option is that the “least of these My brethren” is a reference to anyone who has faith in Christ during the Tribulation years (still Jewish, but also Gentile believers).  Christians will be highly persecuted, with the martyrs of the years numbering in the multitudes.  Jesus has already used language describing His disciples as “little ones” (Matt 18:6 – “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to sin…”), so this would seem to be a similar phrase.  The objection here might be that if Jesus’ disciples (believers in Christ) are the least of the brethren, then what would be the distinction between them & the righteous sheep among the nations? Answer: all sheep are brethren, but not all brethren are sheep. [Like a square & rectangle]  The nations of the world are obviously Gentiles (not Jews), but some Gentiles will be believers.  Thus a Jewish believer can be one of the least of Jesus’ brethren, but not part of the judgment of the sheep & goats, whereas a Gentile believer is included in the sheep & goat judgment, AND could still be considered one of the brethren of Christ. 
  2. The idea that Gentile Christians who survive the Tribulation would have their actions towards other believers looked at by the Lord in judgment ought not to be a surprise to us.  After all, Christians are specifically commanded to love one another (Jn 13:35), which is something we often struggle with, if we’re being honest.  Yet someone who claims to be a believer in Christ who consistently hates his/her brother in Christ has a massive problem & disconnect.  1 John 3:14–15, "(14) We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love the brethren. He who does not love his brother abides in death. (15) Whoever hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him." []  A “hateful Christian” is a contradiction in terms – it’s something that simply doesn’t exist.  Everyone struggles with issues of anger and unforgiveness every now & again, but someone who consistently walks around hating others (specifically other Christians) simply does not demonstrate any transforming work of the Holy Spirit of God in his life. 
  3. With all of the debate about the identity of the least of Jesus’ brethren, there is a greater point to be made: serving those who belong to Jesus is to serve Jesus Himself.  Certainly that was the way Jesus saw things.  As the people who had shown themselves to be sheep ministered to Christians who had been suffering and persecuted during the years of the Tribulation, Jesus told them they had actually ministered to Jesus personally.  Every prison visit was a visit to Christ.  Every hospital visit or trip to a home of someone who was ill was a visit to Jesus.  Every meal given, every cup of water, every item of clothing given to a Christian in need was an act of service done unto Christ the Lord Himself. …
    1. Just because this is true of the Tribulation period does not mean that there is not application to the present-day.  If Jesus saw this to be the case then, surely it is also that case right now.  Christians who minister to other believers in Christ (especially those who are hurting, poor, and in need) are also ministering to our Lord Jesus.  When Christians held send missionaries around the world to build up the international church, they are serving Jesus.  When we care for orphans, we are serving Jesus.  When we care for & pray for persecuted Christians, we are serving Jesus.  Anything we do as believers to practically show our love for our brothers and sisters in Christ around the world (and down the block) is also a way that we practically show love to our Lord & Savior.  When we do it unto others, we’re doing it unto the Lord.
    2. And Jesus sees these things!  He sees things that we’ve never even taken notice of.  He knows every single act of compassion – He’s heard every prayer that was offered – He’s known of every dime that was given…and He’s seen not only what was offered, but of the results of that offering.  The things that we have forgotten about, Jesus is presently mindful of.  Our Lord’s judgment is perfect; He doesn’t miss a thing.

41 “Then He will also say to those on the left hand, ‘Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels:

  1. Just as Jesus had addressed those on His right hand, He also addressed those on His left.  This was done in a mirror-fashion, and the parallels are quite clear. 
  2. The sheep were invited; the goats are commanded to leave.  They have no blessing to look forward to – they are specifically told to “depart,” to go away from the presence of the Lord.
  3. The sheep were blessed; the goats are cursed.  The sheep had been spoken well of by God the Father, but the goats were doomed.  Interestingly, Jesus does not say that the goats were cursed BY God, but rather just cursed.  They were condemned by their own sin, and they would experience the full consequences that came as a result.
  4. The sheep had an inheritance of the kingdom; the goats have an inheritance of hell.  They also had a place of eternal destiny, but it was vastly different than the blessing that awaited the sheep of the King.  This was a place of utter torment when an everlasting (eternal) fire.  Just as Jesus had described hell many times before, it is a place where the fire is never quenched, the worm never dies, where there is weeping & gnashing of teeth – it is the outer darkness of hell. 
    1. Note that although the kingdom had been prepared for the sheep from eternity, the fires of hell had not been prepared for the goats, but rather for Satan & his demons.  No one HAS to go to hell – Jesus died for us specifically to spare us from that fate.  Hell was never meant for humans; it had always been prepared for the devil.  We’re not told when exactly hell was created, but surely God knew from before the foundations of the world that Satan would rebel & take 1/3 of the angels with him, and because of this God created this eternal prison of a lake of fire.  It was meant for the demonic armies; not people. 
    2. Sadly, untold multitudes of people will go there – some at the time of this particular judgment at the end of the Tribulation, and millions of others who are resurrected for the final judgment at the end of the Millennial kingdom.  Revelation 20:13–15, "(13) The sea gave up the dead who were in it, and Death and Hades delivered up the dead who were in them. And they were judged, each one according to his works. (14) Then Death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. (15) And anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire." []  At that point, humans will be treated no differently than former glorious angels who had rebelled against God & practically speaking, there is no difference.  The order of creation is different between humans & demons, but the level of rebellion is the same.  In the end, all those who had continually rebelled against their Creator God are sent to the same place.  It’s not a place of parties; it’s a place of torment and anguish forever.
    3. There is one crucial difference between rebellious angels & rebellious humans: while alive, humans can still repent & be saved.  Scripture doesn’t tell us of any opportunity that the demons have to repent, but it certainly does tell us that men & women do.  That’s one of the primary points of the gospel of Jesus Christ!  Jesus died on the cross & rose from the grave, paying the penalty of eternal hell on your behalf.  It would take us an eternity to pay it, but Jesus did it in six hours on the cross & three days in the grave.  As a result, all people everywhere have the opportunity to be gloriously saved by the grace & love of Jesus Christ!  Don’t pass that opportunity by…  Don’t hesitate to share that opportunity with others…

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 take Me in, naked and you did not clothe Me, sick and in prison and you did not visit Me.’

  1. Jesus continues in this reverse parallel, going through the same list of actions as before.  Whereas the sheep had served Jesus, the goats had not.
  2. Interestingly enough, there’s no mention of persecution here – just omission & neglect.  Those who actively persecute believers during the Tribulation (and through all time) will indeed be judged, but in this particular teaching, Jesus points out the people who were less obvious in their hatred of Christ.  They were content to let other people persecute the Jewish believers & other believers of the Tribulation.  They may or may not have been actively involved in it, but they certainly did nothing to help alleviate the suffering of those in need.  They were content to sit back & watch it all take place, doing nothing.  They showed nothing but neglect, and their neglect was plainly sin. … We tend to think of sin being active (stealing, lying, lusting, etc.), but what Jesus describes here is passive.  They did not give food, they did not give drink, etc.  The goats will be judged on the things they did not do.  The things they did not do out of neglect (passive sin) were indications of active hatred in their heart towards Christ & His people.
  3. To be sure, Jesus is speaking to non-believers here.  That much is perfectly plain.  A born-again believer in Christ Jesus (someone who has turned to Jesus by faith, believing Him to be God, asking for His forgiveness & for Him to be their Lord & Savior) is in no danger of being sent to eternal hell, because that is the punishment Jesus took in our place when He died upon the cross for our sin.  That said…there is still a sobering application for any Christian here.  What is it that we are neglecting to do for the Lord (and thus, TO the Lord)?  Sins of omission are still sins, nonetheless.  Obviously, we cannot do everything.  No one person (no matter how wealthy) can take care of all the needs of Christians around the world.  As Jesus said, we will have the poor with us always…that is just a fact.  But we cannot look at this passage and not lay our own hearts open before the Lord, asking Him if there is something He desires us to do that to this point we have been personally neglecting.  Are we content to see other Christians suffer while we neglect them?  That can be a hard question to ask, but it’s necessary.

44 “Then they also will answer Him, 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, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.’

  1. They ask the same question as the sheep & they receive the same answer.  They wanted to know when it was they had the opportunity to minister to the Lord, and Jesus will tell them that it was every time one of His brethren was in need.  The implication from those who are the goats is that if they had known that the Lord Jesus was in need, they would have ministered to Him.  There’s no way they would have neglected the Lord Jesus if they had known He was in prison or sick or hungry, etc.  They would have served Him.  Jesus replies that they had the opportunity – it’s just that they didn’t recognize it.  Every time one of His people was in need, they had the opportunity to serve Christ & they missed it all.
  2. People will always have an excuse as to why they should escape the judgment of God, but every excuse falls short.

46 And these will go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

  1. Jesus wraps up this teaching with the application of the sentence.  It’s not merely that judgment is proclaimed & nothing is done about it; the eternal sentence is actually carried out.  The goats are truly sent to the punishment of the lake of fire in hell, and the righteous sheep are brought into eternal life, beginning with the Millennial kingdom that had been prepared for them.
  2. Although it looks different in the NKJV, the word used to describe the length of the punishment & life are exactly the same.  Other translations make this a bit clearer: NASB, ESV, HCSB “eternal punishment / eternal life.”  That is much more accurate to the Greek which uses the same word both times (αἰώνιος, ον ~ eon / eternal).  The scope of the punishment dealt out by the Lord is equivalent to the scope of the live given by the Lord.  This is a pretty tough argument against the thought of annihilation, in which people are sent to hell for a time & eventually are simply wiped out of existence.  By contrast, Jesus puts the blessing & the curse on equal footings, using the same language to describe them.  The punishment lasts just as long as the life that He gives.
  3. That said, don’t miss the best part: Jesus gives eternal life!

Conclusion:
To serve other Christians is to serve Jesus Himself.  For those who will endure the years of the Great Tribulation, this serves as both a sobering reminder and a wonderful assurance.  It is a reminder to them that they are to continue to be active, faithful, and wise as they await the 2nd Coming of Jesus.  They are not to hide themselves away like a rabbit in his hole while other brothers and sisters in Christ suffer. They certainly are not to be complacent and uncaring towards those who have faith in Christ – if they did, they would show themselves not to belong to Jesus in the first place.  At the same time, it is a wonderful assurance in that as they wait for Jesus’ physical arrival, they can actively minister to the Lord Himself, just as if He were with them face-to-face.  They can continue to serve the Lord Jesus, even during the worst years of Antichrist and all of the rest of the trials.

Obviously we are not yet in the throes of the Great Tribulation, but we are awaiting the call of our Lord Jesus.  We look forward to hearing the trumpet call & seeing Him at the rapture, or simply at the moment we take our last breath.  And like the Christians of that future day, we are also to be active in our waiting.  We have opportunities every single day to serve the Lord Jesus, just as if we were serving Him face-to-face, and we don’t want to miss a single thing.

So ask yourself: how am you serving the Lord Jesus today?  Are you being active in your love towards other believers in Christ, or have you become complacent?  If you were to stand before Jesus this afternoon with Him going down a similar list in your life, how do you think Jesus would respond to you?

Keep in mind, our salvation is NOT based upon these things.  Our eternal salvation is based upon the finished work of Jesus at the cross & in His resurrection.  If our eternity was based upon all the good works we did in Jesus’ name, then all of us would be utterly lost!  But the fruit of our faith in Jesus Christ is going to be shown in our actions, specifically if we love the brethren or hate or disdain them.

Perhaps for some of you today, you’ve become very aware of the lack of fruit in your life.  When you’ve considered other Christians in the past, you don’t have a compassion towards them, but an indifference (or worse).  You’ve always called yourself a Christian, but there hasn’t been a lot of evidence in support of it.  Take the opportunity today to examine your own heart, and see if you are in the faith.  Do you truly believe that Jesus is God?  Do you truly believe that Jesus’ death on the cross was for your sins in your place?  If you do, that ought to make a difference in your life & actions.  When it doesn’t, something’s wrong.  Take the time today to lay yourself before the Lord, asking for Him to come into your life & transform it.

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