Matthew 25:31–46 (NKJV)
31 “When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory. 32 All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats. 33 And He will set the sheep on His right hand, but the goats on the left. 34 Then the King will say to those on His right hand, ‘Come, you blessed of 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 took Me in; 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 When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You? 39 Or when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ 40 And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.’Matthew 25:31-40
In this parable, Jesus shows a stark comparison between the reward of the righteous (“Come”) and the punishment of the cursed (“Depart”). In this first half of the parable, Jesus describes the separation of the sheep and the goats. The sheep are put on His right, the place of favor, and the goats are placed on His left, the place of submission or disfavor.
He then speaks to those on His right and welcomes them to come into the kingdom of their inheritance, praising them for their benevolence to the least of the kingdom. They offered food, drink, shelter, clothing, and comfort to those in need. Some scholars believe those who receive such treatment are specific: “All the nations of the world—that is, every individual of those nations—are to be judged on the basis of their treatment of disciples of Jesus.”* So, the treatment of ministers, missionaries, and those who bring the gospel is of utmost significance to the nature of one’s salvation. If you love Christ, you will love His messengers. If you are devoted to Christ, you will serve and minister to His witnesses. This trait is not the determining factor of one’s salvation, as works are not a means to salvation, but rather a sign of salvation.
Therefore, those who strengthen and care for the messengers of the Lord’s Word demonstrate their salvation and relationship to God by those actions. The thing is, they do not even notice what they do, nor are they forced to do it. It is simply a product of the work of the Holy Spirit within them.
41 “Then He will also say to those on the left hand, ‘Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting 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 take Me in, naked and you did not clothe Me, sick and in prison and you did not visit Me.’
44 “Then they also will answer Him, 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 them, saying, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch 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 everlasting punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”Matthew 25:41-46
Jesus then turns His attention to the alternate group, those who did not feed, house, clothe, or comfort the messengers of God, the least of His brethren. They responded similarly to those who did bless God’s people, asking when they did not do these things, and again Jesus told them that His messengers were among them but–in this case–they did not help them. Jesus’ command to this group is in complete opposition to the command given to the righteous. He calls this group “you cursed,” and sends them to the everlasting fire prepared for the devil.
Again, this passsage does not support works-based salvation, but rather demonstrates the behavior that typifies those who are saved. The deeper message here is that works do not save us, but rather that the Spirit working within the believer leads him or her to campassionate service to the kingdom and its members. Therefore, besides holiness, piety, love, and generosity, the badge of Christianity also includes benevolent service. Therefore, if your heart does not gravitate to those in need, especially the messengers of the Lord, then the Holy Spirit may not be in control of your life and its direction. Be sure that you daily seek God for guidance and sensitivity concerning the needs of others and the work of the Lord. If you are in need of a barometer of your spiritual condition, it could be your proclivity to serve. If you tendency to serve is weak, so may be your spiritual life. Remember, whether you hear “come” or “depart” is a factor of your passion to serve. It is a factor of your love for Him.
*Donald A. Hagner, Matthew 14–28, vol. 33B, Word Biblical Commentary (Dallas: Word, Incorporated, 1995), 746.
Artwork from https://presbyterydecristo.org/home/matthew-25/