Tuesday, February 4, 2014

THE SHEEP AND THE GOATS (Matthew Chapter 25)

The passage before us, Matt. 25:31-46, has been subjected to varied 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: “A further distinction must be observed in that the Scriptures clearly indicate that God has a separate judgment for the nation Israel (Ezek 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 Rev. 20:11-15.”

So this passage represents neither the judgment seat of Christ (for believers subsequent to the rapture) nor the Great White Throne judgment (the judgment of the dead referred to in Rev. 20).  It is a judgment--to take place at the end of the tribulation--of the nations with regards to the treatment of “His brethren” (Matt. 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” (Jer. 30:7).  The persecution will be so severe that two-thirds of the Jews in the land will die (Cf. Zech. 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 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” (Matt. 25:32).  The long standing promise—“I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse” (Gen. 12:3)—will again be fulfilled.  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 (Cf. 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 Cor. 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 Cor. 3:10-15).  Let us be careful then to show love to others and especially to those being persecuted for their faith (Gal. 6:10; Heb. 10:34, 13:3).  God is well pleased with such sacrifices (Heb. 13:15-16).

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