Bible Reading: Matthew 25
Matthew 25:37=40, “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’.”
I remember listening many times to a song by Keith Green based on this passage. There is something about this story that strikes home with us. Maybe because of the sharp contrast that it draws between the two groups in responding to familiar needs. The passage (Matthew 25:31-46) has been subjected to much varied interpretations. It has been misused by some to proclaim a “social gospel” and by others to suggest that salvation can be won by good works. Much of the confusion occurs because the passage is stolen from its context.
John Walvoord addressed this matter: “A further distinction must be observed in that the Scriptures clearly indicate that God has a separate judgment for the nation Israel (Ezekiel 20:34-38) and in this case the judgment would include Gentiles rather than the Jewish nation. As will be seen in the exposition this gives a reasonable interpretation of the term ‘brethren’ as in contrast both to the sheep and the goats. 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 of believers regarding their rewards) nor the Great White Throne judgment (the judgment of the dead regarding 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 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 on 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 would 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—will alone 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).
To act in kindness in Jesus’ name to meet the needs of others is always commendable before God. But especially so when it involves great risk or sacrifice. Such acts of love are in accordance with the heart and example of Jesus Himself, who gave His life to save our souls.
Out in the highways and byways of life,
Many are weary and sad;
Carry the sunshine where darkness is rife,
Making the sorrowing glad.
Make me a blessing, Make me a blessing.
Out of my life may Jesus shine;
Make me a blessing, O Savior, I pray.
Make me a blessing to someone today.