The Lordship of Jesus — His own, evidenced by Christlike behaviour.
31 “When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, He will sit on His glorious throne.
- Verses 31–46 are description of the final judgment which Jesus had often warned about, in many parables e.g. the Ten Bridesmaids and the Three Servants earlier in Matthew 25:1–13 and 14–30, and more explicitly e.g. Matt. 24:36–51.
- This happens when Christ returns, just before the establishment of an earthly millennial kingdom Revelation 20:4; other interpreters put it with the great white throne judgment Rev 20:11–15
32 “All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.
- Palestinian sheep looked similar to goats and often both grazed together. However, they needed to be separated at night-time for the less hardy goats to be put in a warmer place.
33 “He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.
- The right hand side was the more honourable – as in “sit at my right hand”.
34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.
35 “For I was hungry and you gave Me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave Me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited Me in,
36 “I needed clothes and you clothed Me, I was sick and you looked after Me, I was in prison and you came to visit Me.”
37 “Then the righteous will answer Him, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give You something to drink?
- The righteous are surprised because Jesus says that they have ministered directly to Him, although they do not have a recollection of that.
38 ‘When did we see You a stranger and invite You in, or needing clothes and clothe you?
39 ‘When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for Me.’
41 “Then He will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.
42 ’For I was hungry and you gave Me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave Me nothing to drink,
43 ’I was a stranger and you did not invite Me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe Me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after Me.’
- “Depart… you who are cursed…” is the verdict for those who have not shown these kinds of acts of mercy to Christians in need. They may have claimed to belong to Christ, but the fruit of their lives and actions has shown they have never accepted Him as Lord and Saviour 1 John 3:14-15. See also Matthew 7:16 and 20.
44 “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help You?’
45 “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for Me.’
46 “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”
- Not a limited period of purgatory, but unending punishment – contrasted with eternal life
Application: There is going to be a final separation of ‘sheep’ and ‘goats’ and we may be surprised by sheep that look like goats and vice versa. At first sight this might appear to teach that our good actions earn salvation to eternal life. That is our world view – good work gets good marks, effort is recognised with reward. But that is not the different world view of heaven, where God’s favour can never be earned, only received. What is in view here is not a tick box exercise of the good actions but a description of the outworking of a good heart that belongs to Jesus. We can’t do it ourselves. When we are truly His, we can hardly help doing what he would do.
Discussion starter: While acts of mercy are at the heart of living out the Gospel, what particular injustice or area of social need do you feel passionate about? How will you make a difference?