By Sam E. Stone
The four lessons this month show the importance of a believer’s stewardship of life. How we live demonstrates the reality of our faith. Love for others is essential for all who follow Jesus (1 John 3:16-18). No one can go to Heaven simply by meeting human needs, of course. Salvation comes only by the mercy and grace of God. But if we are his children, it will be reflected in how we treat others. Our Lord himself declared, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:35).
The Scene | Matthew 25:31-33
Jesus talked about what will happen when he returns to the earth. Christ’s second coming will not be shrouded in the obscurity of a silent night near the little town of Bethlehem. All the world will know when he comes back, bringing all the angels with him. Celestial beings will accompany the Lord when he returns (Zechariah 14:5; 1 Thessalonians 3:13).
At this time all of the people from every nation on earth will be gathered before him. No human being who ever lived will be absent from the roll call that day. It will be a time of separation. God will not judge nations, but individuals. Each one must give an account before him (Romans 14:12).
All of the people of all time will be placed in one of two groups—the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. Sheep are often used in Scripture as a symbol of purity and innocence. Jesus himself is called “the lamb of God” (John 1:29). Those who are not a part of God’s family—the goats—will be grouped together as well.
The Saved | Matthew 25:34-40
Those on his right were at a place of honor. Just as we might speak of a person’s close advisor as his “right hand man,” so the ancients gave particular honor and preference to those seated at the right hand of a ruler. They are welcomed with the words, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father.” As rightful heirs of God’s gracious gift of salvation, they are called to receive their inheritance—not worldly wealth, but a place in Christ’s eternal kingdom. Note that Heaven is granted to these folk not because they have done good deeds, but because they are part of God’s family. His purpose can be seen throughout eternity.
The King will then say, “I was hungry . . . thirsty . . . needed clothes . . . sick . . . and in prison.” Jesus identified himself with those who were poor, needy, and mistreated during life. In each case, he told those on his right hand that they had ministered to him directly. When they treated others compassionately it confirmed that they possessed his Spirit (1 John 3:14, 17; James 2:1-5; Mark 9:41). This relationship with Christ demonstrated their fitness for Heaven.
When they heard this dramatic word from Jesus, the righteous immediately asked: “How could this be? When did I personally see Jesus during my lifetime?” These people had not helped others thinking they would earn points with God; they simply did good as they had opportunity. Assisting those in need is natural for Jesus’ followers. Imagine the thrill of hearing Jesus say, “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” We still have opportunities to help him today (Matthew 10:42).
The Lost | Matthew 25:41-46
The greatest punishment one can suffer is complete separation from God with no hope that the condition will ever change. “Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire.” The perpetual burning fire Jesus described was illustrated by the Hinnom Valley in Jerusalem, a garbage dump for the city (Matthew 5:22, 29, 30). It depicted certain and intense suffering (Isaiah 66:24). God prepared Heaven as a place for his people to live; Hell was prepared as a place of punishment for the devil and other fallen angels (Jude 6; Revelation 12:8, 9).
“Whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.” Neglect of duty is a sin too. To overlook or abuse one of God’s children is the same as to mistreat Jesus himself (Acts 9:4).
The final verse of our text corrects the false impression that Heaven will last forever, but that Hell is temporary. The same word, eternal, is used of both places.
Sam E. Stone is the former editor of Christian Standard. He continues his writing and speaking ministry from his home in Cincinnati, Ohio.