Love Is Something You Do
One of the least-thanked groups in our society is the people who empty the garbage. It’s not what you would call a high-class job. However, in New York a couple of years ago, the garbage men went on strike. All of a sudden, these typically underrated people became the most significant people in the city because the whole place was stinking.
If you let a couple of weeks go by and your garbage doesn’t get picked up, all of a sudden, the nobodies become somebodies. God has said that He makes the nobodies of this world the somebodies, and He measures our significance by how we treat them. It is important to make time in your schedule for people rejected by society.1 The way you do that is by showing them acts of love. Because love is something you do. And you will be judged by how you loved other people. In this section of Scripture, we see a judgment, one that will take place based on how you and I loved other people. Jesus will judge you and me based on whether love was something that I did.
FIVE CLEAR FACTS ABOUT THE PERSONAL JUDGMENT OF JESUS
1. Jesus will judge me. (Matthew 25:31-32)
““When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate them one from another, just as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.” (Matthew 25:31–32, CSB)
While the passage talks about judging the nations, it is clear from the passage that Jesus is not judging nation-states. He is not judging nationalities. Instead, He will judge individuals. The word for “nations” here is “panta ethnos” which means every group of people. Jesus does not separate nations from one another. Instead, Jesus separates individuals from the world. So Jesus is judging individuals.
You might be thinking: “Which judgment is this?” There are two different ways to look at judgments in the New Testament. The first is to see three separate judgments. These three judgments include this one – the separation of the righteous and the unrighteous. Those who believe that this is a separate judgment believe this precedes the Millennial reign of Jesus. Another judgment is found in 2 Corinthians 5:10 often called the “judgment seat of Christ” where believers are judged by their works, and then the “great white throne judgment” in Revelation 20:11-15, where unbelievers will be judged and thrown into the lake of fire in Hell.
However, some people believe that these three same Scriptures describe the same judgment, a final judgment. They point to the fact that the result of these judgments is the same. Believers go one way and unbelievers go another way.2
I hold the view that Revelation 20 and Matthew 25 are the same judgment. That once we enter Heaven, there will be another “rewards” judgment for the righteous after they are in the presence of God because Paul speaks of a separate rewards judgment in 1 Corinthians 3:
“If anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay, or straw, each one’s work will become obvious. For the day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire; the fire will test the quality of each one’s work. If anyone’s work that he has built survives, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned up, he will experience loss, but he himself will be saved—but only as through fire.” (1 Corinthians 3:12–15, CSB)
No matter how you view this text, it is clear that Jesus is doing the judging. This leads me to my second point.
2. My eternal fate will be clearly defined by Jesus. (Matthew 25:33)
“He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on the left.” (Matthew 25:33, CSB)
Jesus knows who is a sheep and who is a goat. He knows the fate of believers and unbelievers. You won’t be able to change your position after you die. You are going to line up like animals and Jesus is going to put you in separate pens. One pen for those who will go to heaven and one pen for those who go to Hell. You won’t be able to move from one pen to the next. If Jesus identified you as a sheep, you stay a sheep. If Jesus identified you as a goat, then you are a goat. Man will not be the master of his own fate. Jesus will. However, you and I will be surprised by what Jesus says about me.
3. I will be surprised by what Jesus says about me. (Matthew 25:37, Matthew 25:44)
““Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we…” (Matthew 25:37, CSB)
““Then they too will answer, ‘Lord, when did we…’” (Matthew 25:44, CSB)
Both groups are surprised. Jesus addressed the righteous people first. In the judgment, this means that the righteous (known as the sheep) will be judged first. In this case, the righteous are surprised that they passed. You and I will be surprised. In the same way, the unrighteous (known here as the goats), will be just as surprised.
4. The criteria for my judgment is how I love others.
There is a criterion for this judgment. The criteria are the proof of my salvation. We believe that in order to become a Christian, one must trust in Jesus.
“For God loved the world in this way: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16, CSB)
Trust in Jesus is important, but this trust or faith is proved by one’s actions. Jesus summed up the actions of a person who trusts Him. He gave people a Great Commandment, one which He shared in each of the four Gospels:
““I give you a new command: Love one another. Just as I have loved you, you are also to love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”” (John 13:34–35, CSB)
This is the command of Jesus. This is the command by which this judgment will be assessed. It won’t be the Great Commission. It will be the Great Commandment. The Great Commission will be accomplished by the Great Commandment. Jesus said this commandment another way:
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. The second is, Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other command greater than these.”” (Mark 12:30–31, CSB)
“He answered, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind;” and “your neighbor as yourself.” “You’ve answered correctly,” he told him. “Do this and you will live.”” (Luke 10:27–28, CSB)
“He said to him, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and most important command. The second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets depend on these two commands.”” (Matthew 22:37–40, CSB)
So in all four Gospels, Jesus identified the way one should live as a Christian. So for the Christian, one will be judged by how one loved other people. In this case, Jesus identified who we are loving by calling them “the brothers.” Who are the brothers? Because if we are loving the wrong people, then we are going to fail this test.
““And the King will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’” (Matthew 25:40, CSB)
““Then he will answer them, ‘I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’” (Matthew 25:45, CSB)
FIVE INTERPRETATIONS OF THE BROTHERS
Some scholars believe that the brothers are Jews. Warren Wiersbe, like other scholars, hold the view that these are “believing Jews from the Tribulation period.”3 They take this view because some view this judgment as a judgment before one enters the Millennium. There will be a tribulation and some scholars believe that people will be judged on how they treated the Jews during this tribulation. In my opinion, there doesn’t seem to be any indication that the context supports this.
Some believe that these are Christians. The brothers are people who follow Jesus. There are variations on this view.4
Still, other scholars suggest that “the brothers” are everyone.5
4. Everyone God shows me is in need
I personally believe that “the brothers” are a group of people. This group of people is everyone God shows me is in need. I think it is as simple as that. All need eternal salvation. Yet, different people have different needs that we should also help them meet when we can. Some will be Christians, and others will not. Some will need salvation and so I share the gospel. Others will know Christ but have other needs.
If “the brothers” are people who God shows me is in need, then a second question needs to be asked. Who are the groups of people who are in need? I think Jesus already told us who these people are. These are the same group of people Jesus said were His mission field when He started His mission in Luke 4:17-19. These are the same groups of people whom Jesus identified as His target group at the beginning of His mission.
“The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him, and unrolling the scroll, he found the place where it was written: The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set free the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:17–19, CSB)
Loving others has to be practical and tangible. It has to impact other people’s lives. I think that there are many people out there who are hard for you and me to love. I think that was the point of Jesus’ mission in Luke 4, and I think it is the point of this judgment in Matthew 25. Here, Jesus identified people whom He expects me to show love.““ ‘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 took me in; I was naked and you clothed me; I was sick and you took care of me; I was in prison and you visited me.’” (Matthew 25:35–36, CSB)
Here, in these verses in Matthew, Jesus is grading people on how well they accomplished His mission that He first set out to do. Look at the people Jesus identified to the righteous and the unrighteous. I think we can compare the groups of people whom Jesus expects me to love.
FOUR GROUPS OF PEOPLE WHOM JESUS EXPECTS ME TO SHOW LOVE
1. The poor (hungry and thirsty)
““ ‘For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat; I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink…” (Matthew 25:35, CSB) “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor…” (Luke 4:18, CSB)
Here, the poor are defined as those who are hungry and thirsty. The same group from Luke is identified here in Matthew.
2. The oppressed (stranger and naked)
““ ‘…I was a stranger and you took me in; I was naked and you clothed me...’” (Matthew 25:35-36, CSB) “…to set free the oppressed,” (Luke 4:18, CSB)
3. The sick (like the blind)
“…I was sick and you took care of me…’” (Matthew 25:36, CSB) “…He has sent me to proclaim…recovery of sight to the blind…” (Luke 4:18, CSB)
4. The prisoner (like the captive)
“…I was in prison and you visited me.’” (Matthew 25:36, CSB) “…He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives…” (Luke 4:18, CSB)
You know someone who fits one of these categories. You know someone who is hungry, who is thirsty, who is oppressed, who is sick and who is in prison. Especially during the Christmas holiday season, it is important that as individual Christians and as a church, we reach out to these groups of people.
This leads me to my last point. My love has eternal consequences. If I am called to love God and love one another, then that love (or lack of it) will have eternal consequences.
5. My love has eternal consequences. (Matthew 25:46)
The way I love Jesus and others have eternal consequences. The consequences are not just for me. The way I love others says much about how I love Jesus. Clearly, the passage here defines two eternal locations for people. Jesus clearly told us that one will either enter eternal life or eternal torment:
““And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”” (Matthew 25:46, CSB)
The first is eternal punishment. Jesus said that the goats, those who did not show love to everyone, would go away. The punishment is clearly revealed earlier in this passage:
““Then he will also say to those on the left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels!” (Matthew 25:41, CSB)
To those on the left, the goats, the unrighteous, those who do not love others, who have not proven their trust in Jesus, these are the people who go to an eternal fire. This eternal fire, which we call Hell, was originally designed for Satan and his angels. Yet, Jesus sends people there too. He calls them cursed and He says that they should depart from Him. Jesus, not just the Bible, is clear here that if you are not going to be a follower of Jesus, then you will not be with Him forever. The punishment has three characteristics:
1. The punishment is a separation from Jesus
Hell is primarily bad because Jesus is not there. Hell is not just bad because it is hot. Hell is really horrible because the God who made you and saved you will not be in your presence. It is not the presence of Satan that makes Hell bad. Satan is his angels are not going to rule Hell. Hell is a punishment originally designed for Satan and His rebellious angels. It is a supernatural prison set up for supernatural agents. Humans were never designed to go there. Hell is a choice that people make when they choose not to trust Jesus. Satan will not rule Hell. There is no indication in the Bible that Satan rules Hell. It is a prison for him. But it will be a prison for you too. Ultimately, it is the absence of God’s presence that makes Hell so bad.
2. The punishment is eternal
Hell is a punishment that is bad because it will last forever. There is no break. There is no timeout. There is no limit to this punishment. This characteristic of Hell defeats the argument that Hell is a form of annihilation. When you die, there will be a judgment. After the judgment, you will go to one of two places. You will stay in that place forever.
3. The punishment is painful
Don’t think that Hell will be a wonderful place. The fact that it is placed on people who are cursed. God doesn’t curse these people. Instead, the curse that comes upon them is the result of their disobedience. The punishment of fire indicates that Hell will be painful for those who go there.
“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” (Matthew 25:34, CSB)
In contrast to the punishment of Hell, God will give the righteous, those on His right – the sheep, He will give them eternal life. This eternal life is a complete contrast to the eternal punishment. This eternal life also has three characteristics:
1. The life is enjoyable
Heaven is going to a happy place. The word blessed is where we get our word happy. Heaven will be joyous. Heaven will be a celebration. God will make Heaven a happy place and He will make us happy there. Heaven will not be boring. I don’t know what everything in Heaven will be like. But I do know that it will be a place of joy. Jesus pointed to this
2. The life is with the Father
Heaven is a happy place because God is there. That is what makes Heaven a happy. Just as Hell is bad because God is not there, Heaven will be great because God is there.
3. The life is prepared for you to inherit
God prepared Heaven for you and me before He created you and me. I don’t pretend to understand everything about what God has prepared “from the foundation of the world” for me. But I am happy to accept it. As great as all that in Heaven will be, God doesn’t want us to be selfish.
Author and activist Shane Claiborne comments,
When we get to heaven, though, I’m not convinced Jesus is going to say, “When I was hungry, you gave a check to the United Way and they gave me something to eat,” or, “When I was naked, you donated clothes to the Salvation Army and they clothed me.” Jesus is not seeking distant acts of charity. He seeks concrete acts of love: “you gave me something to eat … you gave me something to drink … you clothed me … you invited me in … you looked after me … you came to visit me [in prison]”.6 Because love is something you do.
How will I be judged by Jesus? As we look forward to this Christmas season, how will take the expectations He gives me here, and how do reach out to people around me to share the love of Jesus? How will you make love something you do for someone around you in need during this Christmas season? Because love is something you do.
1 Tony Evans, Tony Evans’ Book of Illustrations: Stories, Quotes, and Anecdotes from More than 30 Years of Preaching and Public Speaking (Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2009), 81.
2 “What Is the Great White Throne Judgment?,” https://www.gotquestions.org/great-white-throne-judgment.html, accessed on 24 November 2017.
3 Warren W. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary, vol. 1 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1996), 93.
4 Michael J. Wilkins, Matthew, The NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 2004), 811.
5 Daniel J. Ott, “Theological Perspective on Matthew 25:31–46,” in Feasting on the Gospels: Matthew, Chapters 1–28, ed. Cynthia A. Jarvis and E. Elizabeth Johnson, First Edition., vol. 2, A Feasting on the Word Commentary (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2013), 266.