Matthew 25:31-40 (NIV) “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. 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. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. “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. 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, 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.’ “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ “The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’”
This is one of the clearest pictures Jesus ever painted of the last judgment, which will take place immediately after Jesus’ return. The dead will be raised (1 Thessalonians 4:16), and those who are left will be brought together with them before the throne of Jesus for His judgment.
All of the people of the world will be gathered before Jesus, but they will immediately be divided into two groups. This division will be based, not on what each person professes, nor on what they claim to believe, but on the basis of their character, as clearly demonstrated by their actions. (Also see Revelation 20:12-13.) A person’s actions, both in public and in private as seen by God Himself is a valid basis of judging a person’s character, because it is by the fruit of a person’s life that they can be truly known (Matthew 7:20).
The judgment that is received by the “sheep” at Jesus’ right hand is fully favorable. Their lives have demonstrated their solid relationship with Jesus by the way that they have treated Him when they saw Him in need. This list of needy situations is not exhaustive, but gives a clear picture of who these men and woman have been in their earthly lives. They have been generous, sharing food, drink, and clothing with Jesus when He lacked those things. They have been hospitable, opening their doors to Him when He had no place to stay. And they have been caring, visiting Jesus when He was sick and in prison.
Of course these sheep are confused by Jesus’ pronouncement. They have done these things of course, but the people that they did them for weren’t Jesus as far as they knew. They were Mary from down the street, and Phil who lived next door, and the Clement family who was passing through town. They are sure that they would have recognized Jesus had they seen Him in need, and they definitely would have stepped up if they had seen Him. But the people that they had helped were just ordinary people, so they were afraid that there had been some mistake.
But Jesus’ simple answer put away all doubts, all fears. Just as Jesus saw mistreatment and persecution of His people as mistreatment and persecution of Himself (cf. Acts 9:4), so He saw and received ministry to one’s neighbor, even to the poor and strangers, as a direct ministry to Himself. The fact that these people loved “the least of these brothers of mine,” showed that God’s love really was in them, and that they would have undoubtedly loved Jesus in these very tangible ways if they had seen Him in need.
Father, we need to remember that You always do see us, even when no one is around. You clearly see our thoughts and actions that no one else will ever know about. And You see our kind and loving actions toward others, even if we do them anonymously, or swear the other party to silence. May my actions, both public and private, always show Your love so clearly that there will be no ambiguity when I stand before Your throne. May my actions throughout my life show that my relationship with You through Jesus is so real and so strong, that I end up on the sheep side of things with no question. Amen.