Matthew 25:34Then the King will say to those on His right, Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 35For 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; 36naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me. 37Then the righteous will answer Him, Lord, when did we see You hungry, and feed You, or thirsty, and give You something to drink? 38And when did we see You a stranger, and invite You in, or naked, and clothe You? 39When did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You? 40The King will answer and say to them, Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.
In Bible college at Lee University's Charlotte Center, Dr. Tom Tatum frequently encouraged us to consider the "context" of any passage of Scripture we studied. Of course, there are so many different angles to look at a passage from. Without getting bogged down in technicalities, I would like to look at the parable above, which I have quoted in part, from the perspective of "redaction criticism." Simply speaking, redaction criticism seeks to gain a greater understanding of a passage of Scripture by its placement within a single book of the Bible. One might better understand redaction criticism as seeking to understand a passage, "by reading the chapter before and the chapter after it."
So, what is the greater context that the parable of the sheep and goats is spoken in? If you step back and look at it, you'll see that Jesus spoke this parable in an eschatological (last days) context. In Matthew 24, Jesus speaks of the fall of Jerusalem, the last days, and His second coming. From there the Lord moves into two parables before speaking on the one at hand. In Matthew 25, the Lord takes up a discourse on the parable of the ten virgins, which places an emphasis on the faithful to continually remain alert. Immediately after this, the Lord gives us the parable of the talents, which teaches us about making use of the things the Lord has given to us, and being good stewards of what He has put us in charge of.
Finally, we come to the parable at hand. The parable of the sheep and goats. In this parable, the Lord teaches us that by taken care of our brothers in Christ, we take care of Him. And we all know this story well. It is a Sunday school type lesson for many. But I believe the Lord has shown me that we often take for granted this passage, and do not consider the implications of it in light of its greater context. Once again, what is that greater context? This parable is spoken of in the context of the last days-- when there is great trial and tribulation, violence and chaos in the Earth. It is spoken of in light of a future time when one could quite literally declare: the sky is falling!!! the sky is falling!!!
When understood in this greater context, I believe the cute attitude we have towards this passage will vanish, and we will begin to understand that the parable of the sheep and goats in a way far beyond whatever we have learned in Sunday school. Indeed, at a time when the love of many will grow cold, and mankind will be looking out numero uno, opportunities will exist where we will discover our brother or sister in need, and are asked by the Lord to meet that need. But instead of allowing our love to grow cold, we must respond towards our brothers and sisters as we would Christ Himself. By doing such, we will take great risks. After all, the world will be in shambles, violence and chaos will abound, and the "security" we've long enjoyed will be removed.
Could you imagine living in that time, when resources are scarce, and coming across a hungry and thirsty brother? While you may at that time have food and water that you could share, you would be all too aware that the supply you do have could quickly be gone tomorrow. Could you imagine coming across somebody that was homeless and had nowhere to turn to for shelter but you? In those days, which will be violent days, to take a stranger in could mean certain death for you and your family. Doing a criminal background search on somebody through the internet will probably be impossible. Imagine having to explain to your frightened wife at that time that she will have to prepare the guest room for a complete stranger to stay in, and that she should be good with it because "you've got a feeling" from the Holy Spirit that this person is no wolf in sheep's clothing.
All the things of Matthew 25 are spoken in the context of Matthew 24. I believe by speaking in this way, Christ summons us to be spiritually alert and aware of the times we are living in. In doing such, we must be good stewards of the gifts and talents that He has given us. The stewardship we have been given will be tested, and Christ lets us know ahead of time that this testing will happen the most in the difficult days that are to come. The first two parables ultimately have the third parable in view. For if you are not spiritually alert, then you will look out simply for number one. And instead of being a good steward of God's talents, acting on your own self interest, you will simply bury your talent in the sand where nobody can profit from it, which will leave Jesus out in the cold, exposed, hungry, and unloved.
I believe with all my heart that it is important that we get these things. We don't know for certainty where all the economic situations in this country and the world will lead us. It is possible that these things will eventually lead us into the last days of this age. Whether they do or not remains yet to be seen. But one thing seems for sure, and it is something I believe the Lord has shown me about the immediate future: Violent and difficult times are ahead. Change is indeed coming.
However, it deeply grieves my heart to think that we as the Church are not as prepared as we ought to be. My heart is heavy to think of the things that have already begun to overwhelm the Church, and will continue to take many by surprise. We have bought into this false notion that the show must always go on. We don't think our lives are about to be greatly interrupted. We are far too American. A lot of pain and suffering is getting ready to come our way. And much more than is needed will come all because we have not and are not living our lives in light of eternity. We are not living our lives in light of the last of days. We are not eschatological enough in our thought.
Therefore, in light of these things, might I ask whoever maybe reading this short essay the following questions: Are you a Matthew 25 Christian? Are you spiritually alert and prepared for the things that are coming? Are you a good steward of God's talents? In the exercise of your stewardship, is your heart in the place before the Lord where you will be willing to risk your own skin to use the things God has given you for the well being of your brethren?
Whatever your condition may be, may you resolve in your heart to be what the Lord is calling you to be in light of Matthew 24 & 25. Much is a stake, and as Christ reminds us at the end of each parable in Matthew 25 that how we respond to these things is of eternal significance. These things are no small things. Rather, these are the things of life and death, heaven and hell, righteousness and unrighteousness.
"Lord, touch our hearts! Stir us in our depths! Wake us from our slumber and give us eyes to see! May eternity be stamped upon our eyes as we prepare ourselves before You to be the men of action that you have called us to be. Let us once and for all be done with a cute Sunday school theology that leaves us informed but unchanged. Whatever the cost, give us a greater revelation of You and Your word. Be glorified by what will happen, from now and unto eternity!"