Love and Compassion (the Sheep and the Goats)
Bible Reading: Matthew 25:31-46
The passage before us has been the subject of various interpretations. It has been misused by some to proclaim a “social gospel” and by others to teach a salvation by works. Much of the confusion occurs because the passage is stolen from its context. John Walvoord addressed this matter: “Accordingly, on a strict exegesis of this passage, the judgment deals with those on earth among the Gentiles who have survived the tribulation and now await judgment in relation to entrance into the millennial kingdom. It is accordingly not a general judgment, not a judgment of the church which has been raptured earlier, nor is it a judgment of the dead as in Revelation 20:11-15.”
So this passage represents neither the judgment seat of Christ (a judgment for believers with respect to rewards that is subsequent to the rapture) nor the Great White Throne judgment (the judgment of the dead with respect to their destiny). It is a judgment–to take place at the end of the tribulation–of the nations with regards to the treatment of “His brethren” (Matthew 25:40).
Another important and oft-neglected aspect of this judgment has to do with the significance of the deeds that were commended. The things spoken of here (feed the hungry; give drink to the thirsty; welcome the stranger; clothe the naked; visit the sick or imprisoned) are indeed things that every child of God should do—in any age. But understanding the context helps to better appreciate the importance of these deeds. The tribulation will be a time of great persecution of the Jews—“the time of Jacob’s trouble” (Jeremiah 30:7). The persecution will be so severe that two-thirds of the Jews in the land will die (Zechariah 13:8). It will be marked by a satanic hatred of the Jewish people (much as exists in this age but to a higher degree). Satan will once again attempt to exterminate them as he has done before in previous occasions. Those faithful Jews who refuse to worship the world ruler will face a death sentence. It is in that context that these deeds take place. These will be deeds done at great risk to those performing them. They will be done by faith and in love for Jesus’ brethren (Matthew 25:40).
In Hitler’s Germany there was a great persecution of the Jews. Jews were despised, thrown out of their businesses, ostracized, and ultimately led off to slaughter. There were some believers in Christ who stood against the tide of that growing hatred and persecution. They spoke out, they intervened, they hid, fed, clothed, visited, and showed love towards the Jews in that day—knowing full well that their benevolent intervention could work to threaten their own lives and/or livelihood. Some were sent to the prison camps where they suffered the same fate as those they cared for.
At the end of the tribulation “all the nations will be gathered before Him” (Matthew 25:32). The long standing promise—“I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse” (Genesis 12:3)—will once again find fulfillment. We should indeed do the things spoken of in this passage—care for the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the unclothed, the imprisoned—true faith in God is revealed in so doing (1 John 3:16-17; James 2:14-17). But to show love to God’s people in His name when great risk is involved—that’s a glorious thing indeed. That kind of sacrificial love is even now being demonstrated by believers towards their persecuted brethren in various parts of the world.
As believers in Christ we will not be at this particular judgment, but we will “appear before the judgment seat of Christ.” We will then “be recompensed for (our) deeds in the body, according to what (we) have done, whether good or bad” (2 Corinthians 5:10). Those deeds done with His love, by His grace, through the Spirit, in obedience—these alone will pass the test. The gold, silver, precious stone-like deeds built on the good foundation of a genuine relationship with Christ will remain. All else will be burned up (1 Corinthians 3:10-15). Let us be careful then to show love to others and especially to those being persecuted for their faith (Galatians 6:10; Hebrews 10:34, 13:3). God is well pleased with such sacrifices (Hebrews 13:15-16). And loving in such a manner is part of what it means to love like Jesus.
To Care for Folks in Their Time of Need is Part of What it Means to Love Like Jesus
Father. We thank You for Your loving care and protection over us. We know that we can trust You always to know and do that which is best for us. How blessed we are to live in a place where we are free to publicly acknowledge and worship You. But we know that’s not always the case, and that some of Your children live under the threat of persecution simply because of their faith in You. Forgive us for not praying and caring to the extent that we should. Open our hearts and eyes to the needs of people around us, and especially those who are oppressed in whatever way. May we be always loving like Jesus to Your honor and glory. Amen.