“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.
34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’
41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’
44 “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’
45 “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’
46 “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.” – Matthew 25:31-46
Jesus’ story of the Last Judgment provides me with an opportunity to determine whether I want to consider that Day as a time of reckoning, judgment, or justification. If it is a reckoning, I pity those who have blithely lived without regard for God’s laws or others’ needs. If it is a judging, I hope somehow to be on the side of the sheep. If it is a justification there is hope.
John tells us that, “Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man”. (John 2:24-25) God’s judgment before the flood is stunning: “The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” (Genesis 6:5) Even after the flood, in the New Testament it is clear: “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23)
There is a part of me that looks forward to the time when the evil of this world have their comeuppance. It is a potentially sinful-delight to think of the look on the faces of those who mock God, good, justice, and mercy when they are confronted with their utter failure and lack of hope. But that is a dangerous attitude to embrace. For it reveals a heart that is evil to delight in someone else’s pain.
What if, however, we consider this story as a justification of those who love Jesus – albeit imperfectly – and trust him for salvation? Those who do so make no claim of their own. They don’t even recall the good things they have done for Jesus.
But wait! There’s more…what if the justification is for “these brothers of mine”? What if Jesus is speaking of the care, love, concern, and provision – through the good people of this world – given to his followers, and especially those who devote their lives to his mission? Jesus is saying, in effect, “I will reward those who provide love, support, food, and water to you in your pursuit of my mission. I have your back.”
I would not want to presume to be either the sheep or one of “these brothers of mine,” but it is good to know that those who follow Jesus, however imperfectly, are justified in their love for him and our fellow followers.