As Jesus brings his sermon to a close he fast forwards to the moment of his return. It will be a spectacular day. Jesus will come in his full ‘glory’ surrounded by ‘all the angels’ and in front of ‘all the nations’ he will sit on ‘His glorious throne’. In fact, the more accurate Greek translation reads ‘he will sit on the throne of His glory’, a throne characterised by splendour, brightness, brilliance or radiance all corresponding with the attributes of its occupier.
And now through the great mediator Jesus Christ, God will judge ‘all nations.’ This is not a reference to God judging countries for their actions but the judgement concerns the whole of humanity. The analogy that is used to describe the judgement is the separation of ‘sheep and goats’. It has been suggested in ancient Palestine the sheep and the goats mingled and grazed together during the day but when evening comes it is the sheep that respond to the master’s voice, not the goats. The sheep ‘who are blessed by the father’ will ‘inherit the Kingdom’ and ‘eternal life’ and the goats to eternal death.
The somewhat troubling part of this passage is that it seems to promote a “Salvation by Works” ethos with people being judged on the basis of acts of love and compassion. However, we must remember that parables are not whole systems of theology. They are limited to a specific purpose and we understand them better staying within that purpose.
This picture of judgement was intended to urge the disciples to know that only faithful obedience to the will of the Father, obedience marked by love and mercy, would suffice at the judgement. But we must remember that this narrative is only a piece of the Gospel story the Holy Spirit has shared with us in His Word. And Jesus in this passage does not address that the love and mercy shown is the ‘result’ of redemption or its ‘cause’. The concern about salvation earned by ‘good deeds’ is alien to Matthew. Additionally, Matthew in his writing is at pains to point out the falseness of the religious rulers and their lack of authentic obedience, more than anyone, in trying to gain salvation by their good deeds.
Klyne Snodgrass puts it this way:
“The concern is for a discipleship that is evidenced in love and mercy. The judgement evidenced in this narrative does not ask if a person has accumulated X number of merciful acts but asks ‘What kind of person are you?’ Identity is always the issue. Are you a person characterised by the love and mercy evidenced in Jesus’ Kingdom – which is what faith is all about, or are you one characterised by no concern for those in need? Salvation requires such acts. The point is that a person cannot claim the identity without evidencing it in acts of mercy’.”
God’s Word as a whole is crystal clear. A person cannot be a disciple of Jesus on the basis of ancestry, ritual act, or liturgical confession. Paul goes as far as to say all that is ‘dog dung’. However, a disciple of Christ will follow the example of their saviour in compassion to the ‘least’ and obedience to the greatest, His Father. Or as James the brother of Jesus puts it: ‘faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead’ (2:17) and ‘I can already hear one of you agreeing by saying, “Sounds good. You take care of the faith department, I’ll handle the works department.” Not so fast. You can no more show me your works apart from your faith than I can show you my faith apart from my works. Faith and works, works and faith, fit together hand in glove.’ (2:18 Message) We cannot separate our relationship with God from our relationship with people. It is utterly impossible to experience the divine compassion of Jesus and not to become the hands and feet of Jesus and embody that compassion to others.
Dear Jesus, help us to spread Your fragrance everywhere we go. Flood our souls with Your Spirit and Life. Penetrate and possess our whole being so utterly that our lives may only be a radiance of Yours.
Shine through us and be so in us that every soul we come in contact with may feel Your presence in our souls. Let them look up, and see no longer us, but only Jesus! – By J H Newman
More From This Series
View the other Devotionals in our “For the Joy” series