We continue through Matthew 24-25, a lengthy discourse that Jesus gives shortly before his death. Last week, we look at the two halves of chapter 24. Monday was all about the parable of the wise and foolish virgins. Tuesday was all about the parable of the faithful and wicket servants, with their talents.
There has been some themes building through the two chapters. There is a theme, first, of Yahweh’s return, finally, to His people. And yet, this theme possesses a surprise, that God’s return will benefit some who least expect it and will mean judgment for those who thought they might receive blessing. Tied into this is an underlying understanding that somehow Jesus’ own actions represent and advance God’s return. Jesus’ teachings seem to wander from Yahweh’s return to his own ascension to God’s presence to the judgment that will exhibit on the earth. This is a braid of prophetic material not easily unraveled.
Matthew 25:31-46 is no different. In these 16 verses Jesus further identifies his own work, his own being, with the work and life of God Himself. How one is impacted when God does return and returns with judgment is intimately tied to how one responds to Jesus’ life and work.
31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne.”
Immediately the reader ought to be drawn back to Daniel 7 and Psalm 2, at least. The Son of Man, as we’ve mentioned before, comes into his glory in the presence of the Ancient of Days. Again, Jesus is not speaking of his second coming, but of his approaching ascension, his entering into the presence of the Father, in the model of Daniel 7. There in Daniel’s vision, the Son of Man enters presence of God, who is surrounded by the heavenly court. There the Son of Man receives authority and dominion, an everlasting kingdom, a throne.
32 “Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.”
This, too, fits with Daniel’s vision. “And to him [the one like a son of man] was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed” (Dan 7:14, ESV). Moreover, “the Ancient of Days came, and judgment was given for the saints of the Most High, and the time came when the saints possessed the kingdom” (v.22, ESV). In the process of the Son of Man receiving his dominion, he does so on behalf of the oppressed people of God. In so doing, those people of God are vindicated for their faithfulness and the wicked nations of the earth judged.
33 “And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. 34 Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ 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 And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? 39 And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ 40 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.'”
The King here is the Son of Man. That is, after all, why the Son of Man came into the presence of the Ancient of Days – to receive an everlasting kingdom. And he is in the process of vindicating the true people of God, as Daniel had foreseen. And he is doing so on the basis of their actions towards the disadvantaged. This is classic Old Testament prophecy, is it not? It is Jesus’ version of Micah 6:8: “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”
41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 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 welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ 44 Then they also will answer, 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, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ 46 And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
Now comes the flip side of judgment. Where there is vindication for the righteous, there is condemnation for the wicked. The reader receives the hint in Jesus’ story that this second group is thoroughly surprised by their judgment, just as the five foolish virgins were perhaps surprised to be shut out of the marriage banquet (Mt 25:11-12), and just as the foolish servant was perhaps surprised at his master’s severe rebuke (Mt 25:26-30).
There is a persistent theme throughout Jesus’ ministry, that the lines for deliverance and judgment fall, not along ethnic or political borders (ie, Jew vs. Gentile), but in line with the character, work, and life of Jesus himself. And at Jesus’ telling, just a few days before his execution, resurrection, and ascension, Jesus is telling his disciples that the process of judgment and vindication begins shortly.