In the passage below, Jesus again masterfully utilizes the local culture to press home a vital point. The heart of God cares for society’s “least”- those who are socially or physically needy. True followers of Christ (the sheep in this passage) will share that same compassion.
Society has become more urban in its setting, so we must not miss the cultural illustration Jesus is using. Palestinian sheep and goats often looked similar from a distance and often grazed together. But they needed to be separated at nighttime because the goats required a warmer place to rest.1
So the concept of separating the two resonated with those listening to the Savior’s words. But Jesus’ purpose for this separation was not because of temperature. It was for evidence of the actions of true sheep.
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)
In verses 31-40 while detailing a future time of judgement, the sheep (separated to the right) were blessed for the extension of their merciful care and compassion to those who were in need. And, the context may be specifically emphasizing those who were needy in the brotherhood of the Christian community (see “my brethren” in vs.40). This is not about obtaining salvation, it is about the genuine actions of the truly saved. The actions of resolute, active disciples of Jesus reflect the fact that the spirit of Christ is in them.
In contrast, the goats (separated to the left) were cast out (into everlasting punishment!) because they did not exercise the compassionate heart of the Savior to those who were in need. This speaks loudly (in its actions) to the genuineness of the true follower of Christ. Authentic disciples care. To know and to ignore is unacceptable. And, is unlike Christ in its core.
The one-ness of the early church camaraderie (Acts 3:32-33) and the reality of persecution from following Christ (Acts 12, Hebrews 13:3) provided them the opportunity to extend compassionate aid and encouragement to the brotherhood. As our American society becomes more antagonistic toward Christianity we have a great opportunity to act accordingly. Additionally, worldwide, persecution of Christians is at record numbers2. We cannot ignore these realities.
As an individual are you locally and globally involved in this good practice? Is your church family raising awareness by addressing these issues?
10Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith.
1Note. Matthew 25:32 NIV Zondervan Study Bible, pg.1986
2For more information on how you can become more aware and help the persecuted church go to…