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Jesus' Teaching Readiness and Judgment

Following Jesus' teaching on signs
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In some passages, believers are cast in the role of invited guests (e.g., Matthew 25:1-12 and Revelation 19:9); in others, the role of the bride herself (e.g., Revelation 21:9); and, surprisingly, in still others, believers are cast in both roles (e.g., Revelation 22:17).

Meaning #1

When believers are cast in the role of the bride herself, simple logic leads us to conclude that all believers are present at the marriage - anyone who has availed himself of God’s mercy and has cried out for his forgiveness; after all, the bride of Christ is the Church, and all believers are included in the Church - no exceptions. Here the “marriage” corresponds to the wedding ceremony itself.

Meaning #2

When believers are cast in the role of invited guests, we often find that only some believers are invited, only faithful believers; and that’s what we have in the Parable of the Ten Virgins. Here the “marriage” is more akin to a reception following the actual ceremony - a reception to which not everyone who attended the wedding itself is invited, only close, personal friends. There’s also the sense that what we have in these kinds of parables is more akin to a coronation ceremony - to which only “lords of the realm” are invited. Commoners are never invited.

Contemporary American Christians have no problem with the first meaning; however, the second meaning is apt to grate on their nerves - geared as they are to egalitarian sentiments and the “put down” of royalty. Nevertheless, both meanings are clearly highlighted in scripture, and anyone who denies it has blinded himself to the obvious.

Paul and John on what it means to be an overcomer

The notion of royalty - of being knighted for faithful service and made a “lord of the realm” - is certainly what Paul had in mind when he penned 2 Timothy 4:7-8.

I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith:

Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all those also who love his appearing.

2 Tim. 4:7 -8

Here, at the close of his life, Paul knows a crown awaits him - a crown “certifying” that he’s qualified both ...

  • to rule alongside Christ in the Millennial Kingdom, and
  • to be admitted to a circle of intimacy reserved exclusively for those who have “fought the good fight, finished their course, and kept the faith.”

No doubt the crown Paul knows is now his is the very prize he had in mind seven years earlier when he wrote to the Philippian believers...

Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things that are behind, and reaching forth unto those things that are before,

I press toward the mark for the prize (brabeion) of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.

Phil. 3:13 -14

The Greek word “prize” (“brabeion”) used here in Philippians 3:14 is an award that’s grounded in merit - ordinarily victory in athletic competition. Hard work! Focus! Total resolve! Unflagging perseverance! Paul knew that is what’s required to win the prize! He knew the difference between the gift of eternal life that’s granted all believers regardless of merit and the prize that’s awarded only to believers who have earned it - whose efforts entitle them to it.

The prize of ruling alongside Christ - of being admitted to his circle of intimate comrades - his band of brothers - is not awarded to half-hearted believers - nor even to believers who “give it a good go.” It’s awarded only to those who dedicate themselves to it wholeheartedly - even to the point of death. The Apostle John, in the Book of Revelation, gives a brief summation of what an “overcomer” looks like...

And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony; and they loved not their lives unto the death.

Rev. 12:11

An overcomer bases his walk around three principles...

  1. first and foremost, he knows that he has been justified - that he has been truly reconciled to God by the “blood of the lamb;”
  2. second, he fearlessly witnesses in behalf of Christ; he’s an ambassador of reconciliation (2 Cor. 5:20) - imploring mankind to be reconciled to God;
  3. third, he is willing to put his life on the line - even to the point of dying if necessary.

That’s what an overcomer looks like.

Paul also gives the sense of what’s required in his first letter to the Corinthian believers.

Know ye not that those who run in a race run all, but one receives the prize (not the gift, “carisma” or “dorea,” but the prize, “brabeion”) So run, that you may obtain.

And every man who strives for the mastery (“agonizomai” - struggles or agonizes to win) is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible.

I therefore so run, not as uncertainly (half-heartedly); so fight I, not as one who beats the air (a person who only looks good, but never actually engages):

But I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway (“adokimos” - declared unqualified to win the prize).

1 Cor. 9:24-27

A castaway (adokimos) - a believer who doesn’t measure up - who is declared “unfit” - who falls short of winning the prize - that’s what Paul has in mind here.

Once again, salvation is a gift, not a reward; it’s not grounded in merit, but in the grace and mercy of God. Ruling alongside Christ, however, is a reward - a privilege that’s bestowed only on those who have earned it.

The Parable of the Talents - A Believer’s Service

We’re now ready to move on to the fifth parable, The Parable of the Talents.

In the first of the parables addressed to believers, the Parable of the Faithful Servant and the Unfaithful Servant, Jesus stresses the need to watch for the signs heralding the Tribulation and the Second Coming; that unless believers lend those signs genuine credibility, there’s little likelihood that they’ll be prepared for the Tribulation or for the judgment that follows.

In the second of the parables addressed to believers, the Parable of the Ten Virgins, Jesus stresses the need to cultivate a personal relationship with the Lord; that unless they do so, though they’ll hear the midnight cry, “Behold, the bridegroom comes,” they won’t be able to respond to the accompanying command, “Go ye out to meet him;” and, consequently, they’ll be “shut out.”

In this, the third parable addressed to believers, the Parable of the Talents, Jesus highlights a third criterion of evaluation: service.

Matthew 25:14-15

For the kingdom of heaven is as a man travelling into a far country, who called his own servants, and delivered unto them his goods.

And unto one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one; to every man according to his several ability; and straightway took his journey.

Matthew 25:14-15

Clearly, Jesus is hinting that his departure is close at hand; and that during his extended absence he’ll be leaving his goods - meaning the church and its mission - in the care of believers. No believer is excepted. Each believer is given a portion of the Lord’s goods to watch over.

The “goods” the servants are given are not cast in static terms - meaning property - but in wholly liquid terms - meaning cash - implying that the servants are not expected to merely guard what has been given them, but to invest it and earn a return. And that’s in keeping with what we learn in the verses that follow - where the word “trade” is used.

What’s interesting is the amount of money each servant is given: a “talent,” a unit of currency common during the time of Jesus. And though it’s impossible to be exact about its value, even the lowest estimate puts its worth at several thousand denarii - with a single denarius the usual payment for a whole day’s labor (Matthew 20:2). Therefore, for an ordinary person, a single talent reflected many years of hard work.

It’s hard to know what interpretive substance this detail lends the parable. It may mean, however, that the “resources” God gives every believer - even the most simple, nondescript of believers - is far more than any of us can possibly imagine; that with those resources at his disposal, there’s no excuse for a believer - any believer - to fail at earning a return. If handled faithfully, it will make provision for itself - which is exactly what we can infer from verse 27 ...

You ought therefore to have put my money to the exchangers, and then at my coming I should have received mine own with usury.

Matt. 25:27

Moreover, Jesus makes it clear that no believer is expected to do more with what has been given him than his abilities permit ...

... each according to his several ability ...

Matt. 25:15

... emphasizing again that there’s no excuse for failure.

Matthew 25:16-17

Then he that had received the five talents went and traded with the same, and made them other five talents.

And likewise he that had received two, he also gained another two.

Matthew 25:16-17

Once again, it’s not merely a matter of watching over and protecting what has been given him, a believer is also expected to “trade” with it (verse 16, etc.) - meaning gain a return on it - use it to advance his Lord’s interests.

Here in verse 16 the servant given five talents earns a return of five more talents. Likewise, the servant given two talents earns a return of two more talents. In other words, both servants faithfully discharge the tasks given them - to advance their Lord’s interests.

The third servant, however, is different.

Matthew 25:18

But he that had received one went and digged in the earth, and hid his lord’s money.

Matthew 25:18

Instead of investing the resources his master has put in his charge, he hides them - meaning he ignores his responsibility to advance his Lord’s interests during his absence.

Matthew 25:19

After a long time the lord of those servants cometh, and reckoneth with them.

Matthew 25:19

Finally, the master returns - and immediately “reckons” with his servants/slaves. The word “reckon” translates the Greek word “logos” - which implies that he calls them to account - he evaluates how well they discharged the tasks he assigned them.

Here we have again the Second Coming linked to judgment. The two go hand in hand.

Matthew 25:20-23

And so he that had received five talents came and brought other five talents, saying, Lord, thou deliveredst unto me five talents: behold, I have gained beside them five talents more.

His lord said unto him, Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord.

He also that had received two talents came and said, Lord, thou deliveredst unto me two talents: behold, I have gained two other talents beside them.

His lord said unto him, Well done, good and faithful servant; thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord.

Matthew 25:20-23

The First Two Servants

The first two servants dutifully report that they’ve used the resources he put in their charge to earn him a return - meaning advance his interests. And in both cases, the master commends them for their faithfulness. And because they’ve been faithful, he calls them “good.” In short, a faithful servant is a good servant; and a good servant advances his master’s interests.

Notice carefully what their faithfulness entitles them to ...

  • They’re made “rulers” - which tells us that a faithful believer who advances Christ’s interests will be “knighted” and will rule alongside Christ in the Millennial Kingdom.
  • They’re invited into the joy of their master - which tells us that they are admitted to a circle of intimacy reserved exclusively for faithful believers.

It’s exactly what we’ve learned from each of the previous parables. No difference!

The Third Servant

But now Jesus turns from describing the glorious future awaiting faithful believers to the dark and ominous future that awaits unfaithful believers. It’s a warning that very few Christians here in America give any heed to. Indeed, for many, it serves only to arouse their anger and indignation.

Matthew 25:24-25

Then he which had received the one talent came and said, Lord, I knew thee that thou art an hard man, reaping where thou hast not sown, and gathering where thou hast not strawed:

And I was afraid, and went and hid thy talent in the earth: lo, there thou hast that is thine.

Matthew 25:24-25

Finally, the third servant/slave is called to give account. Included in his account is not only a description of what he did, but the motive underlying it. And both are startling.

I knew that you are a hard man, reaping where you have not sown, and gathering where you haven’t strawed...

Matthew 25:24

The Servant’s Excuse

He begins with an assessment of his master’s character. Notice that neither the first nor the second servant gave any such assessment. It’s unique to the third servant. He accuses his master of being “hard.” The Greek word translated “hard” is “skleros” - meaning not just hard, but “fierce” and “demanding.” But he doesn’t stop there; he goes on to accuse him of being exploitative ...

... reaping where you have not sown, and gathering where you haven’t strawed (winnowed) ...

... meaning he takes advantage of others - using them as mere pawns to advance his own personal interests - without giving any thought to their interests. But all that merely prefaces what he says next ...

And I was afraid, and went and hid thy talent in the earth: lo, there thou hast that is thine.

Matt. 25:25

“I was afraid of you ...” That’s his excuse for doing nothing with the resources his master left in his charge.

There’s no suggestion that the servant here has absconded with the funds his master gave him; he simply hid them - meaning he did nothing with them. That’s key; it’s not a matter of theft, it’s a matter of neglect - of doing nothing to advance his master’s interests. That is what’s at issue here.

The Master’s Response

His master’s response is very instructive: he makes no attempt to refute the assessment. Why? Because it’s so often useless to reason with a person who’s faithless: he blinds himself with his own rationalizations - and convinces himself that they’re true. Nevertheless, in letting his servant’s assessment stand, he reveals just how pathetic it is - how it fails to justify what he has done. Let’s look at it ...

Matthew 25:26-27

His lord answered and said unto him, You wicked and slothful servant, you knew that I reap where I sowed not, and gather where I have not strawed...

You ought therefore to have put my money to the exchangers, and then at my coming I should have received mine own with usury.

Matthew 25:26-27

Essentially, what he’s saying is ...

“OK, let’s take it from your perspective. If you knew I’m a hard man - a man who brooks no nonsense and who’s very demanding - then why didn’t you attend more diligently to the task I assigned you? Surely, you must have known you’d be called to give an account - and because, if it’s as you suggest, I’m so harsh and demanding, any neglect on your part would entail severe consequences.”

His Excuse Exposed

In short, his excuse is a flat-out lie. He wasn’t really frightened at all; otherwise, his behavior would have been quite different: he would have scrambled to complete the task assigned him - at the very least depositing his master’s funds in a “bank” and letting the “bank” do the job of earning a return - however little that might be. No, it’s not that he was frightened, it’s that he was lazy and slothful - exactly how his master addresses him...

You wicked and slothful servant...

Matt. 25:26

Matthew 25:28

Take therefore the talent from him, and give it to him who has ten talents.

Matthew 25:28

The Overlooked Truth: God’s Interests

What we have here is another key verse. In giving the talent to the servant who has earned the most, Jesus is drawing our attention back to the often overlooked truth that God has a job to do, the salvation of the lost, and he’s looking for faithful believers to get it done.

American Christians give little thought to God’s interests - so wrapped up are they in their own interests - so absorbed and preoccupied. And that’s what Jesus intends for his disciples to grasp here in this parable. God honors “producers.” It’s a starkly simple truth, but a truth that offends the sentiments of anyone for whom God is little more than a cosmic Santa Claus.

For most American Christians, the church is all about serving their interests - saving their marriages and their families, helping them overcome addictions and debilitating habits, helping them to get ahead in life.

Take a good look at what much of the American church has evolved into over the last several decades: a commercial venture designed to entertain us, to protect us, and to facilitate our own personal agendas. We pay lip-service to advancing God’s interests, the salvation of the lost, but little more than that. For the most part, it’s all about us - better sermons, better music, better acoustics, amusing and distracting programs for our children, latte´s in the foyer, divorce recovery courses, self-help ministries, etc.

A Matter of production, not reward

We’re now ready to move on to verse 29 ...

Matthew 25:29

For unto every one who has shall be given, and he shall have abundance: but from him who has not shall be taken away even that which he has.

Matthew 25:29

It’s important to distinguish between the meaning of verses 21 and 23 on the one hand ...

Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord.

Matt. 25:21 and 23

... and verse 29 on the other.

  • Verses 21 and 23 describe the reward that awaits faithful servants - and it’s the same reward - regardless of the different amounts earned. It’s certainly true that the servant given five talents to invest earned more than the servant given two talents. But each earned exactly the same amount proportionately - a 100% return. And that’s the bottom line. Both are awarded the same privilege - ruling alongside Christ in the Millennial Kingdom and both are admitted to the same circle of intimacy.
  • Verse 29, on the other hand, is different. Notice carefully here that what’s given the servant with five talents, now ten talents, is not more “reward,” but another talent - meaning more resources to work with. In short, Jesus is emphasizing once again the very principle he highlighted in the previous two verses: production. God has a job to do, the salvation of the lost, and he wants to get it done - so he gives more resources to those who produce the most. That’s the meaning of the phrase ...

For unto every one that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance ...

Matt. 25:29a

It’s not a greater reward that Jesus is pointing to here, but additional resources that will enable his best producers to produce still more.

We now move on to the same sobering message highlighted in Matthew 24:51 and Matthew 25:10-12.

Matthew 25:30

And cast ye the unprofitable servant into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

Matthew 25:30

Outer Darkness

Here we have a fifth disquieting idiom - “outer darkness.” And it “fits” perfectly the context that Jesus has already sketched out.

On the one hand, the two faithful servants are admitted to the joy of their lord; here, however, the third servant is denied that very joy. Borrowing on the idiom found in verse 10, he’s “shut out.” It’s a term that lines up well with the idiom used here in verse 30 - “outer darkness,” or, more accurately, “the darkness that’s outside.” In short, anyone who’s “shut out” is “left outside in the darkness” - cut off from the celebration taking place “inside,” cut off from its light, cut off from its joy, cut off from its fellowship.

Can anyone doubt the grief that would give rise to - the “weeping and gnashing of teeth” it would provoke?

The Parable of the Talents completes the bracketed verses that make up the inclusio.

Matthew 25:31

When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory...

Matthew 25:31

The Parable of the Sheep and the Goats

We’re now ready for the sixth and final parable, the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats. It’s the second of the two “bracketing” parables that make up the inclusio. And like the Parable of the Flood, the first of the bracketing parables, it’s addressed to the entire human race - and, therefore, the matter of rewards is not relevant. The single overriding theme is the gospel: those who hearken to it are bound over to salvation; those who don’t are bound over to damnation. It’s that simple.

While the Parable of the Flood revolves around both readiness and judgment; the Parable of the Sheep and Goats revolves only around judgment - and omits readiness altogether. Why? Because what we have here is the grand climax of redemptive history - its consummation. Readiness, therefore, is no longer an issue.

Matthew 25:32-33

And before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats.

And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left.

Matthew 25:32-33

Judgment of Mankind

The parable opens with Jesus sitting in judgment - and before him are gathered all the “nations” of the earth.

And before him shall be gathered all nations ...

Matt. 25:32a

The Greek word translated “nations” is “ethnos” - and usually what’s meant are gentiles or gentile nations. But here the context points to a different meaning - not just gentiles and gentile nations, but the whole human race. And Vincent concurs (Vincent’s Word Studies of the New Testament). It’s much the same meaning that we find in Luke 24:47 ...

And that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations (“ethnos”), beginning at Jerusalem.

Luke 24:47

... or in Acts 17:26 ...

And hath made of one blood all nations of men (“ethnos”) for to dwell on all the face of the earth, and hath determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation

Acts 17:26

Clearly, what Luke has in mind in both verses, Luke 24:47 and Acts 17:26, is all mankind - both Jew and Gentile - exactly what Jesus has in mind here in Matthew 25:32.

Timing Not a Relevant Issue

The scene depicted here in this final parable is more than merely a specific event that lies off in the future - an event that Jesus is telescoping for us. The issue here is more abstract than that. We know, of course, that it occurs “at the end,” but exactly when at the end is not revealed. Anyone who makes timing an issue faces conundrums that can’t be resolved. There’s simply not enough information to make it a worthwhile project.

All that’s relevant in this parable is the gospel - its utter importance - what men and women throughout the ages have done with it - because what they’ve done with it now determines their eternal fate.

Separation

... and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats ...

And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left.

Matt. 25:32b-33

Jesus begins to separate this almost numberless mass of humanity into two groups - sheep which he puts to his right and goats which he puts to his left. And because the gospel is two dimensional - including both ...

  1. justice based on what’s deserved - leading to wrath, and
  2. salvation based on grace and mercy - leading to eternal life ...

... it’s a portent that hints ominously at what’s to follow.

Matthew 25:34-39

Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world...

For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in:

Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me.

Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink?

When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee?

Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee?

Matthew 25:34-39

In verse 34, Jesus turns to the sheep on his right and invites them into the “kingdom.” In this sixth and last parable - with its emphasis on the gospel alone and with all mankind in view - the word “kingdom” (“basileia”) is freighted with a meaning that goes beyond just the Millennial Kingdom. It’s far more inclusive than that. Fundamentally, what it implies is salvation itself - much akin to what we find in Matthew 13:19.

When any one hears the word of the kingdom, and understands it not, then comes the wicked one, and catches away that which was sown in his heart. This is he who receives seed by the way side.

Matt. 13:19

Clearly, here in Matthew 13:19, when Jesus says, “the word of the kingdom” it’s tantamount to saying, “the word of salvation.” And that’s exactly what we have here in Matthew 25:34. Jesus is inviting the sheep on his right into the joy of salvation - a blessing God made ready long before the foundations of the earth were established.

Merit or Mercy

On the face of it, the salvation into which the sheep are being ushered appears to be based on merit. But that flies in the face of every tenet of Christian dogma. Salvation is not grounded in merit, but in the grace and mercy of God. It’s wholly undeserved. No other doctrine is more central to the Christian faith. Paul sums up its importance in Romans 3:24.

Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus ...

Rom. 3:24

Some Commentators suggest that what’s meant here is not that the good deeds enumerated in verses 35 through 39 merit salvation, but that they reflect salvation. But that’s a stretch - largely because verse 35 begins with the adverbial conjunction “for;” and syntactically that means verses 35-39 are intended to explain verse 34. In short, verse 34 is linked causally to verses 35-39: Why are the sheep ushered into salvation? Because ...

  • when Christ was hungry they brought him food;
  • when he was thirsty, they gave him water;
  • when he was a stranger, they took him in;
  • when he was naked, they clothed him;
  • when he was sick, they visited him; and
  • when he was in prison, they sought him out.

No, the explanation lies elsewhere.

Matthew 10:7-15 - An Interpretive Model

What we have here is a metonymy drawn from Matthew 10:7-15. There Jesus commissioned his disciples to preach the gospel throughout Israel - from village to village and from city to city. It was the first “missionary” journey he sent his disciples on - and his instructions are quite specific ...

And as ye go, preach, saying, The kingdom of heaven is at hand.

Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out devils: freely ye have received, freely give.

Provide neither gold, nor silver, nor brass in your purses,

Nor scrip for your journey, neither two coats, neither shoes, nor yet staves: for the workman is worthy of his meat.

And into whatsoever city or town ye shall enter, enquire who in it is worthy; and there abide till ye go thence.

And when ye come into an house, salute it.

And if the house be worthy, let your peace come upon it: but if it be not worthy, let your peace return to you.

And whosoever shall not receive you, nor hear your words, when ye depart out of that house or city, shake off the dust of your feet.

Verily I say unto you, It shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrha in the day of judgment, than for that city.

Matthew 10:7-15

Notice in verse 7 Jesus tells his disciples to preach a specific message: “the kingdom of heaven - meaning salvation - is at hand.”

And as ye go, preach, saying, The kingdom of heaven is at hand.

Matt. 10:7

... but as Jesus continues his instructions, the “messenger” becomes the “message” - until finally verse 14 is reached ...

And whosoever shall not receive you, nor hear your words, when ye depart out of that house or city, shake off the dust of your feet.

Matthew 10-14

In having rejected the “messenger,” they have rejected the “message.” Likewise, in having welcomed the “messenger” (verses 11-13), and ministered to his needs, they have embraced the gospel “message.” Once again, the messenger has become the message. It’s a metonymy.

The Word “Worthy” in Matthew 10

Finally, because it’s apt to cause some confusion, let’s take a close look at the word “worthy” (“axios”) in verse 11 ...

And into whatsoever city or town ye shall enter, enquire who in it is worthy; (“axios”) and there abide till ye go thence.

Matt. 10:11

It’s a word that reflects a range of meanings - including “deserving,” but also “appropriate” or “fitting.” It conveys a sense of “equivalence” (See the Exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament, Vol. I). And here “appropriate” or “fitting, not “deserving,” is the far better choice. What Jesus is saying, therefore, is quite simple ...

“When you come to a town, try to determine who might “fit” the gospel - meaning who might be “open” to the gospel - and stay there.”

The God’s Word Translation of the Bible - while not without fault - gives the correct meaning. It reads ...

When you go into a city or village, look for people who will listen to you there. Stay with them until you leave (that place).

In short, Jesus is not telling his disciples in Matthew 10 to search out persons who deserve the gospel, but who are open to the gospel.

Application of Matthew 10:7-15 to Matthew 25:35-46

Just as in Matthew 10:7-15 the messenger is the message, so in Matthew 25:35-46 the messengers, called “my brethren,” are the message. They embody the message. They represent the faithful, courageous believers throughout history who, notwithstanding the persecution and suffering it entailed, have witnessed to God’s goodness and mercy - that he’s “not willing that any should perish” (2 Peter 3:9). Hearkening to them is tantamount to hearkening to the gospel. Once again, what we have here is a classic metonymy.

“My Brethren” in Matthew 25:35-46

We now move on to verse 40 - which has become a source of heated controversy - with pretribulationalists often insisting that the word “brethren” means Christ’s “Jewish brethren” ...

Matthew 25:40

And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.

Matthew 25:40

... and arguing that what we have here are unsaved gentiles who have survived the Tribulation and who, though unsaved, have nevertheless ministered to the Jews during that terrifying seven year span of time and, consequently, are being awarded the privilege of being made denizens of the Millennial Kingdom.

But that doesn’t hold water. Once again, this sixth and final parable is not about rewards - of any kind. It’s exclusively about the gospel - what men and women throughout the ages, not just the seven years of The Tribulation, have done with the gospel ...

  • whether they’ve hearkened to it and are therefore bound over to salvation or
  • whether they’ve spurned it and are therefore bound over to damnation.

And verse 46, which completes the parable, leaves no room for doubt.

And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal.

Matthew 25:46

The term “life eternal” is obviously synonymous with “salvation.” No, what we have here is salvation - eternal life - a gift God affords anyone who acknowledges his sinfulness and cries out for mercy; it’s clearly not a reward for ministering to the Jews during the Tribulation - or, for that matter, a reward of any kind whatsoever.

Matthew 25:41-46

Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels:

For I was an hungred, and ye gave me no meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink:

I was a stranger, and ye took me not in: naked, and ye clothed me not: sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not.

Then shall they also answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto thee?

Then shall he answer them, saying, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me.

And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal.

Matthew 25:41-46

Once again, what men and women have done with the messenger tells us what they’ve done with the message, the gospel Christ sent them to preach. Here, they’ve spurned the messenger; so that tells us that they’ve spurned the gospel. And having spurned the gospel, their fate is sealed. The judgment pronounced against them is carried out.

Let’s go all out

There’s no excuse for us - any of us - missing out on what God has prepared for those who overcome. God has provided all that we need: He has forgiven our sins, adopted us as his very own sons and daughters, infused our lives with meaning and purpose, and empowered us with the Holy Spirit. He draws up alongside us and takes our hand into his - promising to never leave us nor forsake us. So, let’ go all out - and cross the finish line having spent our all on the one who spent his all on us.

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