I. THE CHALLENGE OF MATTHEW 25:31-46
Does Matt 25:31-46, which describes the judgment of the “sheep and goats,” teach salvation by works? According to NT scholar D. A. Carson, most Bible teachers would answer that question with an unhesitating “yes.” Carson claims that “the great majority of scholars understand” the judgment described in Matt 25:31-46 to determine “the basis of acceptance into the kingdom,” determined by “deeds of mercy and compassion” to those “who are hungry, distressed, needy.”1 Clearly, this “majority” view promotes salvation by works, a position Carson also holds.2
Carson seems to be correct in his assessment of the number of leading evangelical leaders and teachers who view Matt 25:31-46 in that way. Among the many seeing it as a works-salvation passage is popular award-winning author and speaker John Piper,3 who has had a significant influence on the church.4 Also, count Brian McLaren among this majority assemblage,5 a prominent Christian pastor, author, activist, speaker, and leading figure in the emerging church movement who believes that one’s eternal destiny hinges on performing works of love and mercy toward others.6 In addition, the Roman Catholic Church, which influences a billion Catholics, sees Matt 25:31-46 in this same way.7 Even dispensationalists tend to fall into the works-salvation trap on this passage.8
But does Matt 25:31-46 truly teach a works-based salvation? This is a serious and critical question. For if Matt 25:31-46 teaches a works-based salvation, all of us in the free-grace community need to re-think our view of the gospel, and we need to abandon any notion of assurance of eternal life.
Fortunately, a proper understanding of Matt 25:31-46 will show that this passage does not teach a gospel of works. In addition, correctly viewing Matt 25:31-46 will clarify critically important issues, such as the gospel, eternal reward, eternal justice, and the prominence of Israel to God’s kingdom plan. Because of its critical nature, the Enemy seeks to blind people to the true message of Matt 25:31-46. However, comprehending what God is seeking to communicate to us through this vital passage is critical to Free Grace Theology, and it is paramount to enhancing, enabling, and even empowering our ability to faithfully participate in God’s kingdom plan. Thus, it is imperative that we take another well-deserved look at this most misunderstood passage.
II. THE SETTING FOR THE JUDGMENT OF THE NATIONS
Matthew 25:31-46 describes a future judgment beginning with this scene: “When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory.”9 It is important to note that this event occurs immediately after Jesus’ return to the earth, as signaled by the phrase, the Son of Man comes in His glory. In comparing this expression with Dan 7:13-14 and Matt 24:29-31, we see that this scenario refers to Christ’s return to the earth to establish God’s kingdom.
This eschatological timing is also evidenced by the contextual flow of Matthew chapters 24 and 25 which serve as a unit, commonly referred to as the Olivet Discourse. These chapters feature Jesus’ response to the apostles’ questions posed in 24:310 and provide detailed information of Daniel’s seventieth week, also known as the Tribulation period. Jesus concludes the Olivet Discourse with the description of the judgment of Gentile Tribulation survivors in verses 31-46 of Matthew 25.
III. THE IDENTITY OF THOSE JUDGED
As seen in v 31, the prelude to this appraisal of the nations is the enthronement of Jesus as Judge. Then, according to vv 32-33:
“All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats. And He will set the sheep on His right hand, but the goats on the left.”
The word for nations can also be translated Gentiles.11 In fact, Biblically, from the time of Abraham onward, the nations have referred to Gentiles. It is also important to understand that the nations always refer to people who are concurrently alive on the earth.12 Since Jesus’ return follows the Tribulation period,13 this judgment of the nations, then, is an assessment of Gentiles who survive that horrific seven-year period.
IV. THE BLESSED: BELIEVING GENTILE SURVIVORS
Following this gathering before the King, Gentiles are separated into two groups for judgment. The first assemblage (the sheep) is gathered to the right of Jesus, the place of honor. To members of this group He proclaims: “Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.”
The word blessed in this verse is a participial form of eulogeō. Since Matthew is a distinctively Jewish Gospel14 which relies on the Hebrew Scriptures for its foundation, the Septuagint usage of eulogeō15 can inform its meaning in Matthew.
Interestingly, eulogeō is grouped with kataraomai (“cursed”) in Matt 25:31-46. Kataraomai is the same term with which eulogeō is grouped in almost every OT and apocryphal text.16 This combination of terms generally refers to individuals being blessed or cursed based on their obedience or disobedience to God,17 which comports with the usage of these terms in Matthew 25.
The reason these sheep in Matthew 25 are blessed to inherit the kingdom is because they were attendant to Jesus’ needs—feeding Him when He was hungry, giving Him drink when He was thirsty, clothing Him when He was in need of clothes, attending to Him when He was sick, and visiting Him in prison. In fact, Jesus proclaims: “Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.”
V. CLARIFYING THIS JUDGMENT: ENTRANCE VS. INHERITANCE
By the awarding of inheritance in the kingdom, many understand Jesus to be promising this group entrance into the kingdom.18 However, Jesus does not declare: “Enter the kingdom.” Instead, He proclaims: “Inherit the kingdom!” There is the greatest of differences between those two statements.19
Entering the kingdom no more means inheriting the kingdom than entering a house means inheriting a house.20 One can certainly enter a house without inheriting that house, which refers to possessing or owning it. In fact, “possessing, owning, or ruling over” is the principal meaning of inheritance in the OT.21
There is no doubt that, in Matt 25:34-40, inheriting the kingdom results from good works, not from faith in Christ.22 Thus, to inherit the kingdom is to obtain a reward for faithfulness to Christ. In fact, based on the OT usage of inheritance, this reward refers to rule in the kingdom.23
While vv 34-40 surface the sheep’s good works resulting in their kingdom inheritance, it is important to understand that these good works occur during the latter half of the Tribulation period, the “Great Tribulation.”24 In addition, these good works will be performed for the benefit of “the least of these My brethren.”
VI. “THE LEAST OF THESE MY BRETHREN”
The demonstrative pronoun these (“these My brethren”) indicates there is yet another group present at this judgment.25 But who are these brethren of Jesus?
As mentioned earlier, “the great majority of scholars understand ‘the least of these brothers of mine’ to refer to all who are hungry, distressed, and needy,”26 while other commentators limit “My brethren” to believers in Christ,27 and a few specify the identification as Jewish believers in Christ during the Tribulation period.28
As noted, both groups to be judged at this assessment are Gentiles. In fact, since these two groups—the sheep and the goats—represent all of the Gentile Tribulation survivors, the demonstrative pronoun “these” must consist of Jews,29 as there is no other alternative.30
Since Jesus refers to them as His brethren, it would make sense that they are His brethren in both a physical and a spiritual sense.31 This fits with the presentation earlier in Matthew where Jesus indicated that Jewish believers who are obedient to God are His brethren.32 Since the assessment of Matt 25:31-46 concerns the Great Tribulation, these brethren are Jewish disciples of Jesus who survive that extremely difficult era. So, let us consider how these Jewish survivors relate to this judgment.
VII. “RUN FOR YOUR LIVES!”
Though the entire Tribulation period will be arduous for the world, the persecution of Jewish followers of Christ will not commence until the occurrence of the abomination of desolation, revealed by Jesus in Matt 24:15ff. This event will occur when the man of sin (the beast of Revelation) will enter the rebuilt temple of God to be worshipped as god by the world at large.33
Satan will empower this man to “make war” against Jewish believers in Christ and to overcome them.34 Upon abominating the temple, this “man of sin” will issue the command for his army to desolate Jewish believers in Christ35—that is, to hunt them down to arrest or kill them.
In order for Jewish followers of Christ to survive, they will need to flee immediately upon the occurrence of the abomination of desolation36; they will not even be afforded the time to grab anything to take with them—no possessions, money, extra clothing, etc.; nor will they be able to buy or sell anything since they will not receive the mark of the beast.37
VIII. THE NEEDS OF “THE LEAST OF THESE MY BRETHREN”
As a result, these Jewish disciples will need others to meet their basic needs throughout the Great Tribulation. These necessities are addressed in Matt 25:35-36 in which Jesus declares His brethren will be hungry, thirsty, strangers, and in need of clothing. In addition, some will require medical attention, while others, captured by troops sent out by Satan’s world ruler,38 will need people to attend to their necessities in prison. They will be in desperate need of help!
IX. THE REWARD FOR HELPING JESUS’ BRETHREN
However, the risk for helping these followers of Jesus will be enormous! Because the beast of Revelation will seek to carry out Satan’s desire to wipe out God’s chosen people, particularly those who faithfully follow Christ,39 giving aid to any of these brethren will be tantamount to risking one’s life. For the willingness of Gentile believers to take that kind of risk for Christ’s brethren, Jesus will greatly reward their obedience by granting them the privilege of inheriting the kingdom (ruling with Christ in God’s kingdom).40
X. A MISSING GROUP: UNFAITHFUL BELIEVERS
Three groups of people are surfaced in Matt 25:31-46 who will physically survive the Tribulation period—faithful Jewish believers in Christ, faithful Gentile believers, and Gentile unbelievers. It is important to note that unfaithful believers will not survive the Tribulation period.
The evidence for this last statement is found in Matthew 24, part of the same discourse that runs through chapter 25.41 Specifically, the key to this understanding is located in Matt 24:13 where Jesus reveals: “He who endures to the end shall be saved.”
Three vital terms in this verse grant insight into the judgment of the nations in Matthew 25. The first is the word endure (hypomenō), often used in the NT of believers remaining faithful to Christ through difficult times (such as persecution, trials, and suffering).42 This is how Jesus uses endure in Matt 24:13, as He speaks specifically of remaining faithful through the Great Tribulation, the ultimate difficult period for believers in Christ.43
The second critical expression in Matt 24:13 is the end, which, in Matthew 24, refers to the end of the age, which is also the end of the Tribulation period.44 Thus, Matt 24:13 refers to remaining faithful until the end of the “Great Tribulation,” not until the end of one’s life (as some teach).
The final significant expression in Matt 24:13 is saved, which is the same Greek word (sōzō) found nine verses later in v 22, announcing: “And unless those days were shortened, no flesh would be saved [emphasis added].” Clearly, Jesus’ point in v 22 is that if this horrific seven-year era were much longer, no one would physically survive. Thus, v 22 informs us that the word save in this context refers to physical survival.45
Putting it all together, Jesus’ declaration in Matt 24:13 communicates this: Only believers who remain faithful through the persecutions of the Tribulation period will physically survive that difficult era. While this verse does not promise that all faithful followers of Christ will survive the Great Tribulation,46 it does unequivocally say this: Unfaithful believers will not physically survive the Great Tribulation. For this reason, no unfaithful believers are represented in the judgment of the nations.47
XI. THE CURSED: UNBELIEVING GENTILE SURVIVORS
Armed with this understanding, we are now prepared for the next declaration in the judgment of Matt 25:31-46:
“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.’”
Jesus then explains that the goats will receive this verdict because they turned their backs on Him in need. They respond by asking: “Lord,48 when did we see You [in need] and did not minister to You?” His answer to them shows the basis of this entire judgment: “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.” As a result, “these will go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
XII. JUDGED FOR TREATMENT OF JEWISH BELIEVERS
It is critical to keep in mind that the assessment in Matt 25:31-46 is based on how Tribulation survivors treated Jewish disciples of Christ during the Great Tribulation.49 The sheep will be rewarded for risking their lives to give aid to Jewish believers, while the goats will be cast “into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels.”
XIII. ETERNAL EXPERIENCE BASED ON WORKS?
Note that Jesus does not say in these verses that the goats will enter into “the everlasting fire” because of their refusal to help His Jewish brethren, for, in that case, their eternal condemnation would be based on works.50 However, Jesus clearly announced in the Gospel of John51 that eternal condemnation is experienced only by those who have not believed in Him for eternal life;52 one’s works do not determine where one spends eternity.
However, one’s works do determine one’s experience in eternity,53 which includes all relegated to the lake of fire. While all unbelievers will enter into the everlasting fire, their eternal experience will vary one from another.
XIV. WHY THE CURSED WILL EXPERIENCE ETERNAL RECOMPENSE: THE PARALLEL FACTOR
Since the sheep are recompensed for how they treated Jewish followers of Christ (v 34), it is only logical that, within this same judgment, the goats would also be remunerated for their treatment of Jesus’ brethren (v 41). This logical relationship is also indicated by the parallelism in vv 34 and 4154 which assigns respective eternal experiences to the sheep and the goats based on their conduct toward Jesus’ brethren in time of need. This parallelism underscores the same basis of adjudication for both sheep and goats.
XV. WHY THE CURSED WILL EXPERIENCE ETERNAL RECOMPENSE: THE PURPOSE FACTOR
In addition, the purpose of this judgment demonstrates restitution for the goats. As we have seen, the result of this judgment for the sheep is recompense for their sacrificial aid to Jesus’ brethren. This result also demonstrates the purpose of the judgment—to pay back Gentiles based on how they responded to the needs of Jesus’ brethren during the Great Tribulation. Like the sheep, the goats will be repaid for their response to the needs of the brethren.55
XVI. WHY THE CURSED WILL EXPERIENCE ETERNAL RECOMPENSE: THE PUNISHMENT FACTOR
Another significant clue in this passage indicates that recompense is dispensed to the goats for their treatment of the Jewish faithful. This indicator resides in the declaration: “And these will go away into everlasting punishment.”
The Greek word translated punishment in v 46 is kolasis. According to BAGD, kolasis refers to “punishment.”56 Specifically, its meaning in v 46 is assigned “divine retribution.”
According to J. Schneider, this retribution is allocated to those “who fail the practical ethical task.”57 Colin Brown reveals that this term was used in Greek inscriptions of “the deity punishing violations of cultic laws.”58
Thus, Jesus is not using kolasis to simply refer to the destiny of all who never received eternal life; instead, He is announcing “divine retribution”59 for the goats’ failure to extend mercy to Jesus’ brethren. Because these Gentiles turned their backs on the Lord’s chosen people during a time of great need, their punishment in eternity will be greater than that of many other unbelievers.
XVII. VARYING EXPERIENCES OF ETERNAL JUDGMENT?
That truth is further displayed in the latter half of v 41 in which Jesus announces that the cursed will be cast “into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels.” Jesus could have simply revealed that this group would be cast into “the everlasting fire,” but He adds the description “prepared for the devil and his angels.” By inserting this descriptive of the cursed, Jesus is revealing that their eternal experience will be the kind of “fate that was not meant to be theirs.”60 It is a way of saying the goats will experience a punishment more severe than that of other unbelievers,61 one that achieves the level of punishment due “the devil and his angels.”
The corollary to this is that believers will also have varying eternal experiences depending on their works (faithfulness).62 Thus, when the sheep go “into eternal life” (v 46), they begin their eternal experience, but their experience will be far more fulfilling than that of many other believers.63
XVIII. WRAPPING IT UP
By wrapping up the end of this present age64 with this unique assessment of Gentile Tribulation survivors, Matt 25:31-46 reveals that the Lord will make all things right. He will vindicate Jewish believers. He will reward Gentile believers who risked their lives to aid believing Jews. He will bring retribution upon unbelieving Gentiles who turned their backs on Jewish believers in need. In addition, this judgment reminds us there will be differing eternal experiences for all people based on their varying responses to what is important to God.
One thing Matt 25:31-46 clearly does not present is salvation by works, as many unwittingly teach. Where one spends eternity is not determined by this eschatological assessment, as Matt 25:31-46 is not exhibiting the final judgment for all of mankind.65
Instead, this appraisal only assesses Gentile Tribulation survivors. Furthermore, Matt 25:31-46 discloses recompense for these survivors based on their treatment of Jewish followers of Jesus during the Great Tribulation.
This leads us to the emphasis of Matt 25:31-46. Here we learn how very important the Jews are to God and His plan. As a result, this passage implicitly exhorts us to provide mercy for God’s chosen people. Therefore, if there is one application from Matt 25:31-46, it would be this: Extend mercy to the Jews.66
We can do so by praying regularly for the salvation of Israel, as per Rom 10:1.67 In addition, we can apply this passage by taking the defense of Jews before those who castigate them. Finally, we should teach fellow believers the importance of Jews to God and His plan.68
There is immense benefit in applying the emphasis of Matt 25:31- 46. Since God’s heart aligns with Israel, extending mercy toward God’s chosen people aligns the believer’s heart with God’s concern, opening him to a greater understanding of and obedience to God’s word. This, in turn, prepares the believer for a greater experience in His kingdom. These benefits certainly make the emphasis of Matt 25:31-46 vital to understand and to heed.
1 D. A. Carson, “Matthew,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, ed. by Frank E. Gaebelein (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1984): 8:519. While Carson believes this judgment represents the final judgment to ascertain who enters the kingdom, he simply takes exception to the view of “the great majority of scholars” that this assessment is based on compassion “to all who are hungry, distressed, needy”; instead, Carson believes “the fate of the nations will be determined by how they respond to Jesus’ followers” (Carson, 520).
2 In defense of his view, Carson explains that “good deeds done to Jesus’ followers, even the least of them, are not only works of compassion and morality but reflect where people stand in relation to the kingdom and to Jesus himself” (Carson, 8:520). See also R. T. France, The Gospel According to Matthew (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1985), 355.
3 See http://www.desiringgod.org/resource-library/sermons/doing-mercy-to-the-brothers-of-jesus-and-the-broken-neighbor. Accessed March 5, 2011.
4 Piper’s influence was displayed by a Festschrift published in his honor, For the Fame of God’s Name: Essays in Honor of John Piper, including contributions from D.A. Carson, John MacArthur, Wayne Grudem, Thomas Schreiner, William Mounce, Mark Dever, Albert Mohler, and G.K. Beale.
5 See, for example, Alfred Plummer, An Exegetical Commentary on the Gospel According to St. Matthew (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1982), 348-52. Though Albright and Mann maintain that Mt 25:31-46 does not portray the final judgment, they come around to saying that it “is in anticipation of the End,” and “the separation [of the sheep and goats] is final.” See W. F. Albright and C. S. Mann, Matthew: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary (New York: Doubleday, 1971), 306-310.
6 This is illustrated by Brian McLaren, A New Kind of Christianity: Ten Questions That Are Transforming the Faith (San Francisco, CA: HarperOne, 2011), 204.
7 See http://www.usccb.org/bible/matthew/25.
8 For examples, see Louis A. Barbieri, Jr., “Matthew,” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary, ed. by John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck (Wheaton, IL: Victor, 1983), 2:80, where Barbieri asserts that this judgment is an assessment “to determine who will and who will not enter the kingdom”; J. Dwight Pentecost, The Parables of Jesus (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1982), 157-60, where Pentecost claims the works surfaced at this judgment reveals who has believed in Jesus Christ; Stanley D. Toussaint, Behold the King (Portland, OR: Multnomah, 1980), 288-92; and Ray Stedman’s remarks on who is an authentic Christian, based on Matt 25:31-46, at http://www.raystedman.org/new-testament/matthew/the-unconscious-test. Accessed April 04, 2017.
9 The word then points out to us that it will not be until His return to the earth that He will sit on the throne of His glory. In other words, He will not rule till then. In the meantime, He is seated at the right hand of the throne of God (Hebrews 12:2; also, 1:3; 8:1; 10:12).
10 Zane Hodges, Jesus: God’s Prophet (Mesquite, TX: Kerugma, Inc., 2006), 5. See, also, Barbieri, “Matthew,” 76.
11 See Walter Bauer, William F. Arndt, F. Wilbur Gingrich, and Frederick W. Danker, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament (Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press, 1979), “ethnos,” 218. This is also true for the Hebrew word for nations. (See Gerard Van Groningen, “goy,” Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, edited by R. Laird Harris, Gleason L. Archer, and Bruce K. Waltke (Chicago, IL: Moody, 1980), 153-54.
12 Biblically, a nation refers to a people tied to specific, physical boundaries upon the earth. See the discussion by Hans Bietenhard, s.v. “ethnos,” in The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology, edited by Colin Brown (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1980), 2:790-95.
13 See Matt 24:29-31.
14 The writing style, thought patterns, and vocabulary (terms such as kingdom of heaven, holy city, righteousness, the law, defilement, the Sabbath, Messiah, etc.) of Matthew clearly demonstrate a Jewish orientation and show a reliance on the Hebrew Scriptures. Examples of scholars who view Matthew in this way are: Barbieri, “Matthew,” 16-17; Toussaint, Behold the King, 15-18; France, Matthew, 17-18; W.F. Albright and C.S. Mann, The Anchor Bible: Matthew (New York, NY: Doubleday, 1971), LIV-LXII; and D.A. Carson, “Matthew,” 8:17-25.
15 There are 450 occurrences of this term in the Septuagint.
16 Hans-Georg Link, “Blessing, Blessed, Happy,” The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology, edited by Colin Brown (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1980), 1: 207.
17 Ibid.; H.W. Beyer, “eulogeō, eulogia,” in Theological Dictionary of the New Testament: Abridged in One Volume, edited by Gerhard Kittel and Gerhard Friedrich (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1985), 275.
18 See, for examples, Carson, “Matthew,” 521-22, and Barbieri, “Matthew,” 81, who states that “the basis of their entrance [into the kingdom] is seen in their actions, for they provided food, drink, clothing, and care for the King.”
19 See the excellent discussion of this distinction in Joseph C. Dillow, The Reign of the Servant Kings (Miami: Schoettle Publishing Company, 1992), 43-91. See, esp., 77-78 for Dillow’s specific statement showing agreement with this writer’s position.
20 See Zane C. Hodges, Grace in Eclipse: A Study on Eternal Rewards (Dallas, TX: Redencion Viva, 1985), 69-71.
21 Since Jesus’ use of inheritance stems from the OT, understanding its use there clarifies its usage in Matt 25:34. For example, in Ps 2, God the Father announces to the Son that He will give to Him “the nations for your inheritance, and the ends of the earth for Your possession” (Ps 2:8). This verse employs synonymous parallelism, substituting possession for inheritance. Regarding laws of slavery, the Lord announced to Moses: “And you may take them as an inheritance for your children after you, to inherit them as a possession; they shall be your permanent slaves. But regarding your brethren, the children of Israel, you shall not rule over one another with rigor” (Lev 25:46, emphasis added). Clearly, here, inheritance is synonymous with possession and rule over.
22 For excellent discussions arriving at this same conclusion, see R.T. Kendall, Once Saved Always Saved (Chicago: Moody, 1983), 119-134; and Dillow, 43-91. While some commentators, such as Barbieri, see these works as evidentiary works, they are still mistakenly making works a requirement for kingdom entrance. While some would argue that evidentiary works are not a condition for entering the kingdom but an inevitable result for entrance, Zane Hodges pointed out that those who adopt that view are “playing a word game.” For “whatever is necessary to achieve a goal is also a condition for receiving it. To call anything an inevitable result is to call it a necessary result and thus to make it a condition” (Zane C. Hodges, The Gospel Under Siege [Dallas, TX: Redencion Viva, 1992], 40).
23 See the excellent presentation of this concept in Hodges, Grace in Eclipse, 67-81. Surprisingly, France views it this way, as well, for he associates this inheritance with “further authority” in God’s kingdom, “a sharing of Jesus’ authority ‘in his kingdom’” (France, Matthew, 357).
24 This expression for the final three-and-a-half years of the Tribulation period originates with Jesus (see Matt 24:21).
25 Outos (“this”; plural, “these”) most frequently appears in the New Testament referring to someone or something actually present and near at hand. See Nigel Turner, A Grammar of New Testament Greek: Vol. III, Syntax, edited by James Hope Moulton (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1978), 44; Herbert Weir Smith, Greek Grammar (Cambridge, MA; Harvard, 1980), 307; BAGD, “outos,” 596; F. Blass and A. Debrunner, A Greek Grammar of the New Testament, trans. by Robert W. Funk, (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1961), 151; and H. E. Dana and Julius R. Mantey, A Manual Grammar of the Greek New Testament (Toronto: Macmillan, 1957), 127. Thus, “the least of these” refers to a group standing nearby.
26 Carson, “Matthew,” 8:519.
27 R. T. France (Matthew, 357-58) is an example of this group. Though France uses the term disciples to refer to the identification of Jesus’ brethren, it becomes plain in his discussion that he means all believers.
28 Barbieri takes this view (Barbieri, “Matthew,” 81), and so does Dwight Pentecost (see J. Dwight Pentecost, The Words & Works of Jesus Christ [Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1981], 410).
29 Barbieri declares that this term “must refer to a third group that is neither sheep nor goats. The only possible group would be Jews, physical brothers of the Lord” (Barbieri, “Matthew,” 81).
30 Biblically, the great division of humanity consists of Jews and Gentiles.
31 While Israel is God’s son (Exod 4:22), it makes sense that Jews are considered brethren of the Son.
32 See Matt 12:46-50.
33 See 2 Thess 2:3-4; also see Rev 13:4, 7, 8.
34 See Rev 13:7, where the term saints (“holy ones”) refers to Jewish believers. While Gentile believers are also “saints” (cf. Rom 1:7; 1 Cor 1:2; Phil 1:1; etc.), Revelation’s reliance on OT books such as Daniel, its focus on Israel (cf. Revelation 12), and the fact that Gentile believers are removed at the rapture indicate that “saints” in Revelation refer to Jewish believers.
35 The two heinous behaviors of the abomination of the temple and the desolation of Jewish believers are connected, which is why they are joined together in the expression, the abomination of desolation.
36 See Matt 24:15-21; cf. Luke 17:28-33.
37 See Rev 13:17.
38 See John Claeys, Impending Apocalypse (Sisters, OR: Deep River Books, 2014),117-22.
39 See Rev 12:1-6, 13-17.
40 See, also, Matt 10:16-42 which portrays the same scenario as Matthew 24-25. In both passages, Jesus predicts His Jewish disciples will experience great persecution, including death (cf. 10:21-23; 24:21-22); He calls them to flee from their persecutors (10:23; 24:15-18); and He promises reward to whoever will help His brethren during their great persecution (10:40-42; 25:34-40).
41 This discourse is typically called the Olivet Discourse since it was presented by Jesus on the Mount of Olives.
42 Examples of hypomenō used that way in the NT include 1 Cor 4:12; Rom 12:12; 2 Tim 2:10, 12; Heb 12:7; Jas 1:12; 5:11; 1 Pet 2:20.
43 See Matt 24:21-22.
44 See Matt 24:3, 6, 14.
45 The Greek word for save (sōzō) that appears in Matt 24:13 has a number of usages in the NT, but a primary meaning of this word is “preserve or rescue from natural dangers and afflictions,” with the specific sub-meaning of “save from death” (Walter Bauer, William F. Arndt, and Wilbur F. Gingrich, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature [Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1980], “sōzō,” 798.)
46 As Rev 20:4-6 shows, some faithful believers will be martyred during that time.
47 Of course, unfaithful believers will be in the kingdom of God since kingdom entrance is not based on faithfulness to Christ; it is based solely on faith in Christ.
48 That they call Him “Lord” does not indicate that they have believed Jesus for eternal life, as Jesus points out earlier in Matt 7:21-23.
49 See Barbieri, “Matthew,” 81.
50 This is the quagmire into which Lordship Salvationists fall—and all who see Jesus’ reply to either group as a basis for getting into heaven or hell.
51 The Gospel of John is the only book in the Bible with the stated purpose of being written so individuals will receive eternal life by believing in Jesus Christ for it (cf. John 20:31). This means John is the Biblical source for discovering how to receive eternal life and, conversely, how to avoid eternal condemnation.
52 See John 3:16-18; also see John 5:24; 11:25-26; etc.
53 Jesus revealed that certain Jewish religious leaders will experience a greater condemnation than that of other unbelievers because of their behavior in positions of power and influence (cf. Matt 23:14 [Majority Text]; Mark 12:38-40; Luke 20:46-47; etc.). In fact, all people will be judged by their works (Ps 62:12; Prov 24:12; Eccl 12:14; Rev 20:12-13), indicating that their eternal experience will be dependent, in some way, on their behavior.
54 The parallelism is shown by: 1) the King’s address to those on His right / left hand; 2) “Come”/”Depart”; 3) “you blessed”/”you cursed”); 4) the announced recompense with “‘prepared for’” in the midst of the description of the recompense.
55 In addressing the judgment of the goats, Barbieri aptly states that “the basis of their judgment will be their failure to extend mercy to the remnant of Jewish believers during the Tribulation” (Barbieri, “Matthew,” 81).
56 See BAGD, “kolasis,” 441.
57 J. Schneider, s.v. “kolasis,” Theological Dictionary of the New Testament: Abridged in One Volume, edited by Gerhard Kittle and Gerhard Friedrich (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1985), 451.
58 Colin Brown, “kolasis,” NIDNTT, 98.
60 France, Matthew, 358.
61 Erwin Lutzer agrees with this assertion by stating that “there are degrees of punishment in hell” (Erwin W. Lutzer, Your Eternal Reward [Chicago: Moody, 1998], 12.) By this matter of fact statement, it appears Lutzer assumes this concept is so clear in Scripture that it would not be questioned.
62 This is the result of each believer being judged by his works, whether “good or bad” (2 Cor 5:10), as demonstrated in passages on our future assessment, such as Luke 19:11-27.
63 The term dikaios (“righteous”), describing the sheep in v 46, is not used in the Pauline sense; instead, Matt uses the term to refer to faithful believers (cf. Matt 1:19; 10:41; 13:17; etc.). In addition, eternal life in v 46 refers not to the gift of eternal life but to eternal reward. (While the Gospel of John presents eternal life only as a gift, received in the present simply [and only] by believing Jesus Christ for it, the Synoptics [Matthew, Mark, and Luke] never display eternal life as a gift, always as a future reward.) Thus, because the sheep invested their gift of eternal life (John) wisely—by aiding Jesus’ brethren in need—they are rewarded with a significantly expanded experience of eternal life (the Synoptics). (See Zane C. Hodges, Absolutely Free! [Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1989], endnote #4, 229-31.)
64 This present age refers to the rule of Satan over the earth (cf. 2 Cor 4:3-4; John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11; 1 John 5:19)—from the fall of man through the Tribulation period. (Contrast “the end of the age” in Matt 13:39, 40, 49; 24:3, 6, 13, 14; 28:20 vs. “the age to come” [the rule of Christ upon the earth]. Also, see “this [present] time” vs. “the age to come” in Mark 10:30 and compare to the parallel passage in Matt 19:28-29.)
65 The judgment of believers occurs at the Judgment Seat of Christ (Rom 14:10-12; 2 Cor 5:9-10), while the “final” judgment of unbelievers takes place at the Great White Throne Judgment (Rev 20:11-15).
66 Editor’s note: Another major application is more general. The judgment of Gentile Tribulation survivors to determine their eternal rewards calls us to live in light of our coming judgment at the Bema. How we treat Jewish believers (and unbelievers) is certainly important in this regard. But since our Bema judgment will consider all our works as believers (2 Cor 5:10), Matt 25:31-46 applies to how we treat our spouses, kids, neighbors, parents, relatives, coworkers, friends, strangers, and ultimately everyone. It touches on how we use our time, talent, and treasure for Christ in all our spheres of influence.
67 Note the blessing for praying for the peace of Jerusalem as stated in Ps 122:6. Though this essentially refers to praying for the return of Christ to establish God’s kingdom on earth (as only then will Jerusalem experience peace), still, at its core, it involves praying for God’s mercy for the Jews.
68 This last point needs to be emphasized as Satan is ever seeking to deceive Christians by making them subject to replacement theology which eliminates Israel from God’s present and future plan, “replacing” Israel with the Church. This evil teaching has far-reaching deleterious effects, which include blinding people to God’s love, mercy, grace, dependability, and loyalty, which can adversely affect how people respond to God and His plan for mankind.