Jesus has alerted us to the fact that at his return from heaven in glory as king and judge, he will gather all his elect in front of him. He will separate the righteous from the wicked and have them stay at his right and left, respectively. He will pronounce his verdict based on how each group responded to their Christian call. Though there are other grave sins, the focus in this parabolical presentation is the omission of charity on the part of the sinners. The others who produced fruits of their faith by helping those in need will gain eternal reward. The admission of the virtuous to the divine kingdom is also because of the Father’s blessing on them. Sinners end up in eternal fire because of their selfishness and evasion of their opportunity to do good for others. God had prepared the eternal fire for the devil and his angels after their fall. Since we know the criteria for gaining eternal joy with God in heaven, let us, while avoiding sin, help the deserving in the name of Jesus.
BIBLE TEXT: MATTHEW 25:31-46
The Judgment of the Nations
(Mt 25:31) “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit upon his glorious throne, (32) and all the nations will be assembled before him. And he will separate them one from another, as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. (33) He will place 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. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. (35) For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, (36) naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.’ (37) Then the righteous will answer him and say, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? (38) When did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? (39) When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you?’ (40) And the king will say to them in reply, ‘Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.’ (41) Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you accursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. (42) For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, (43) a stranger and you gave me no welcome, naked and you gave me no clothing, ill and in prison, and you did not care for me.’ (44) Then they will answer and say, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or ill or in prison, and not minister to your needs?’ (45) He will answer them, ‘Amen, I say to you, what you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me.’ (46) And these will go off to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”
Jesus foretold the destruction of the Temple (Mt 24:1-2) and the tribulations to happen before his return in glory (Mt 24:15-26). When he comes, “he will send out his angels with a trumpet blast, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other” (Mt 24:31). Through the parable of the faithful and unfaithful stewards (Mt 24:45-51), the parable of the ten virgins (Mt 25:1-13), and the parable of the talents (Mt 25:14-30), Jesus warned of the necessity of faithfulness in the call of his disciples. He also emphasized the unexpected time of his arrival through these parables. Jesus illustrated the reward for the trustworthy and fruitful servants. He also warned of the rejection and punishment of the unfaithful and fruitless disciples. Then he presented the words of judgement for the virtuous and the wicked to teach us how he would evaluate the outcome of the discipleship.
The Last Judgement
Particular Judgement, Purgatory, and the Last Judgement
The Catholic Church teaches the particular judgement, last judgement, and an interim period of reward, punishment, or purification. There will be a particular judgement for each individual immediately after death to determine his status in the afterlife until the second coming of Christ for the last judgement. The parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus (Lk 16:19-31) and Jesus’ promise of paradise to one of the two criminals crucified with him (Lk 23:43) show the immediate placement of the deceased according to the person’s way of life in this world. “Each man receives his eternal retribution in his immortal soul at the very moment of his death, in a particular judgement that refers his life to Christ: either entrance into the + blessedness of heaven – through purification or immediately, – or immediate and everlasting damnation” (CCC-1022).
When believers die, they might not be perfect to enter heaven. God will provide them the opportunity for purification to make them worthy of facing God (CCC-1030). Paul speaks of people who “will be saved, but only as through fire” (1 Cor 3:15). Jesus said, “whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come” (Mt 12:32). This implies that there are minor sins that God would forgive in the afterlife. When Judas Maccabeus found the sin of his deceased militants, he and his companions “prayed that the sinful deed might be fully blotted out” (2 Macc 12:42). “He then took up a collection among all his soldiers, amounting to two thousand silver drachmas, which he sent to Jerusalem to provide for an expiatory sacrifice” (2 Macc 12:43). “Thus he made atonement for the dead that they might be absolved from their sin” (2 Macc 12:46). So, the Church teaches, “Those who die in God’s grace and friendship imperfectly purified, although they are assured of their eternal salvation, undergo a purification after death, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of God” (CCC1054).
The Bible teaches the resurrection of the just and the unjust at the second coming of Christ (Acts 24:15). Jesus said, “Do not be amazed at this, because the hour is coming in which all who are in the tombs will hear his voices and will come out, those who have done good deeds to the resurrection of life, but those who have done wicked deeds to the resurrection of condemnation” (Jn 5:28-29). The passage we reflect here (Mt 25:31-46) is a graphic presentation of the eternal judgement that also gives evidence for the resurrection of the righteous and the unrighteous.
(Mt 25:31) When the Son of Man comes in his glory with all his angels, he will sit on the throne of glory.
When the Son of Man comes
While Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples asked him in private when the end of the age would happen and what the sign for its coming would be (Mt 24:3). Jesus answered it will happen when he comes with the angels and sits on the throne of glory. In Paul’s Speech at the Areopagus he said, God “has established a day on which he will ‘judge the world with justice’ through a man he has appointed, and he has provided confirmation for all by raising him from the dead” (Acts 17:31).
When the Son of Man comes
Jesus used the expression “the Son of Man” to identify himself in humility as the Messiah, with an emphasis on his human nature. He came as the Son of God and the Son of Man (Dan 7:13) because of his divine and human origins. His appearance as the Son of Man also implies his return as a judge in human form. It also specifies that the Son is the judge and not the other persons of the Most Holy Trinity. “Nor does the Father judge anyone, but he has given all judgement to his Son, so that all may honour the Son just as they honour the Father” (Jn 5:22-23).
in his glory
After the resurrection, Jesus has a glorified body. Though God, Jesus emptied himself to become a human, obedient to his Father, subjecting himself to the crucifixion. “Because of this, God greatly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil 2:9-11). God raised Jesus from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavens (Eph 1:20). Peter wrote about Jesus, “who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers subject to him” (1 Pet 3:22). Thus, Jesus gained glory from the Father. Jesus will come to judge the world not as a humble human, but in his personal glory as the victorious king and judge whom his Father has authorized. Paul envisions “the voice of an archangel and with the trumpet of God” and clouds as manifestation of the glorious arrival of Christ (1 Thess 4:16).
with all his angels
The Bible documents the ministry of the angel of the Lord or angels in the life of Jesus on earth. The angel appeared to Zechariah (Lk 1:11-20), Mary (Lk 1:26-38), and to Joseph in a dream (Mt 1:20-24) to prepare for the birth of Jesus. After his birth, the angel(s) appeared to the shepherds (Lk 2:9-14), and the Magi (Mt 2:12) and to Joseph in dreams (Mt 2:13,19). During the public ministry of Jesus, the angels came to minister to him after having overcome temptations in the desert (Mt 4:11) and at Gethsemane during his agony (Lk 22:43). After his resurrection, the angel rolled back the stone at the tomb of Jesus (Mt 28:2). Two angels were present at the ascension of Jesus (Acts 1:9-11).
The Bible mentions the role of angels at the second coming of Christ, followed by his judgement of the nations. According to the parable of the wheat and tares, “The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all who cause others to sin and all evildoers” (Mt 13:41). While Jesus was at Caesarea Philippi with his disciples, he told them, “The Son of Man will come with his angels in his Father’s glory, and then he will repay everyone according to his conduct” (Mt 16:27). Jesus, while mentioning the forthcoming persecution, said to the disciples, “I tell you, everyone who acknowledges me before others the Son of Man will acknowledge before the angels of God. But whoever denies me before others will be denied before the angels of God” (Lk 12:8-9). Paul wrote to the Thessalonians about “the revelation of the Lord Jesus from heaven with his mighty angels” (2 Thess 1:7). John’s vision of the “harvest of the earth” also has the angels along with the Son of Man (Rev 14:14-20).
The angels’ presence at the second coming of Christ will add to his glory. They will minister to him in separating the just and the unjust for the final verdict. They will summon the court with “the voice of an archangel and with the trumpet of God” (1 Thess 4:16). “They will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other” (Mt 24:31). “They will collect out of his kingdom all who cause others to sin and all evildoers” (Mt 13:41). The angels will also witness the judgement (Lk 12:8-9; Rev 14:10).
Besides the presence of the angels, Jesus promised his apostles that they would join him in judging the Israelites. Representing the apostles, Peter asked Jesus, “‘We have given up everything and followed you. What will there be for us?’ Jesus said to them, ‘Amen, I say to you that you who have followed me, in the new age, when the Son of Man is seated on his throne of glory, will yourselves sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel” (Mt 19:27-28). Paul mentions that the Holy Ones will be present at his coming for judgement (1 Thess 3:13). Citing the apocryphal book of Enoch (1:9), Jude wrote, “Enoch, of the seventh generation from Adam, prophesied also about them when he said, ‘Behold, the Lord has come with his countless holy ones to execute judgement on all and to convict everyone for all the godless deeds that they committed and for all the harsh words godless sinners have uttered against him” (Jude 1:14-15).
he will sit on the throne of glory
When the glorified Jesus, who is “exalted at the right hand of God” (Acts 2:33), returns to judge the world, he will sit with judicial authority upon a different throne, the glorious throne of judgement. As Scripture says, he will then be visible to all. “They will look upon him whom they have pierced” (Jn 19:37; Zech 12:10). However, this throne need not be a material seat. The message is the majestic arrival of Jesus Christ as king and judge understandable to all.
According to the vision John had, the throne of glory is “a large white throne” (Rev 20:11). While talking to the apostles, Jesus had said that he will sit “on his throne of glory” and the apostles will also sit on twelve thrones with him to judge the twelve tribes of Israel (Mt 19:28). These tribes are the spiritual Israel or the Church of the New Testament period.
Paul reminds us that we all will have to face Christ at his judgement seat. “We must all appear before the judgement seat of Christ, so that each one may receive recompense, according to what he did in the body, whether good or evil” (2 Cor 5:10; Rom 14:10). The judgement seat is known as “bema” that represents the court of tribunal (Jn 19:13; Acts 18:12-16). It is a raised platform where the judge sits to carry out the trial and pass the verdict (Mt 27:19).
(32) All the nations will be brought before him, and as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats,
All the nations will be brought before him
Christ will summon the people living and dead, saints and sinners from all nations of the earth before him for the Last Judgement. Since the gospel is preached to the Jews and the Gentiles, all are subject to the trial. That is based on the response to the gospel of Jesus (2 Cor 5:10) that the disciples preached in all the nations according to the instruction of Jesus (Mt 28:19). It can be for eternal reward or punishment.
All the nations will be brought before him
According to Paul, “the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air” (1 Thess 4:16-17). Since the physical body that is corruptible cannot inherit heaven, at the sound of the trumpet, “the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For that which is corruptible must clothe itself with incorruptibility, and that which is mortal must clothe itself with immortality” (1 Cor 15:52-53). Thus, the dead and the living will gather in front of Christ with supernatural bodies like that of the Risen Lord, which will be different from our current physical bodies.
Along with the righteous, the wicked will also rise and assemble in front of the judgement seat of the Lord. “Do not be amazed at this, because the hour is coming in which all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and will come out, those who have done good deeds to the resurrection of life, but those who have done wicked deeds to the resurrection of condemnation” (Jn 5:2829; Dan 12:2). Jesus said, “The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all who cause others to sin and all evildoers” (Mt 13:41).
as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats
The Bible characterizes God and Messiah as shepherds of the people (Ezek 34:1-10). In Psalm 23:1, David says, “The Lord is my shepherd.” Here, Jesus uses the example of a shepherd who classifies his sheep and goats. Jesus the Good Shepherd had been pasturing them through his Church. He loved them, nourished them spiritually, and protected them from thieves and wild animals. Since there are defiled ones, he has to separate from them the spiritually unblemished ones so he can offer the righteous to his Father.
as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats
Since Cain murdered Abel, there has been a selection of the godly from the ungodly and the separation of the righteous from evil. God said to Cain, “Now you are banned from the ground that opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand” (Gen 4:11). “Cain then left the LORD’s presence and settled in the land of Nod, east of Eden” (Gen 4:16). Adam begot Seth “in his likeness, after his image” (Gen 5:3). He was God’s chosen godly line. Later, Noah’s family and the Israelites were the chosen people separated from the sinful line. With the coming of Jesus was established the Messianic kingdom through his Church, giving opportunity for Jews and Gentiles alike to inherit it. Still, there will be a final separation of the saintly from the sinful based on the fruits of their Christian living.
The Old and New Testament used the example of shepherds because, like farming, sheep rearing was also a common profession of the people. So, ordinary people could understand the message from parables related to sheep rearing. Ezekiel told the Israelites, “As for you, my flock, thus says the Lord GOD: I will judge between one sheep and another, between rams and goats” (Ezek 34:17). “Now I will judge between the fat and the lean” (Ezek 34:20).
Jesus gave examples of separation of the good and the bad. In the parable of the drawing in of the net (Mt 13:47-50), the fishermen “will sit down to put what is good into buckets. What is bad they throw away. Thus it will be at the end of the age. The angels will go out and separate the wicked from the righteous and throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth” (Mt 13:48-50). John the Baptist said of the Messiah, “His winnowing fan is in his hand. He will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire” (Mt 3:12). Like the farmer in the parable of the weeds among the wheat who allowed the weeds to grow along with the wheat until harvest time (Mt 13:24-30), God allows the wicked to be among the righteous until the last judgement. The time will arrive with the second coming of Christ to end the evil in the world with the destruction of the devil and the wicked people in the world so that the holy ones will be free from all tests and trials of life.
Good and evil people are present within the family, church, and community. It is hard to distinguish one from another because of the hypocritical behaviour and hidden agendas of the wicked. God said of the righteous through Malachi, “They shall be mine, says the LORD of hosts, my own special possession, on the day when I take action. And I will have compassion on them, as a man has compassion on his son who serves him. Then you will again distinguish between the just and the wicked, Between the person who serves God, and the one who does not” (Mal 3:1718). The wicked will try to mislead the godly or persecute them. Hence, Jesus promised his disciples that he will one day free them from their current state of persecution and sacrifices for their faith and will enjoy eternal reward for their virtuous deeds. It is also a warning to the evildoers for their conversion so as to evade eternal destruction.
as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats
Though the sheep and goats are genetically close and of the same size, the goats are aggressive against the sheep. If they fight, they will hurt each other’s head and cause injuries. Other reasons for their separation are the spread of diseases, difference in their food, and prevention of mixed mating. Goats need high fencing because they can jump high, and they need shade during summer. Sheep cannot tolerate rain and so need shelter during the rainy season. Because of this, the shepherds would separate them for their safety, especially for the sheep.
Jesus characterizes the sheep and the goats having different natures. The sheep are friendly, obedient, and dependent on the shepherd, whereas the goat is wild. The sheep is more useful for the shepherd because it provides milk, wool, and fatling (Ezek 34:3). They are animals for sacrifice in the Temple, especially their one-year-old male lamb. The followers of Jesus are like the sheep who were tending along with the goats and suffered from the effects of such cohabitation. The shepherd will separate them to be free from such trouble and in peace forever. They no longer need protection because they will be in the safe zone of heaven with no opponent.
(33) so will he divide them, placing the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.
so will he divide them
Jesus will separate the good from the evil ones. It is inevitable at the last judgement, so each group would receive what they deserve.
right and left
Biblically, the right-hand side has superiority over the left. The following are their symbolisms that we shall take according to the context:
Authority:The one who sits at the right hand of the supreme head is the second in command, like a prime minister or a queen. “A princess arrayed in Ophir’s gold comes to stand at your right hand” (Ps 45:10). When Solomon’s mother Bathsheba came to the royal court, Solomon bowed before her, and then ordered his staff to bring a second throne for her and place it at his right side to show her authority and honour in his kingdom (1 Kgs 2:19). Jesus sits at the right hand of the Father in heaven, sharing His authority (Ps 110:1; Mt 22:44; Mk 16:19; Acts 7:56; Heb 1:3; 12:2; 1 Pet 3:22; Eph 1:20-21).
Honorary Seat: John, whom Jesus loved, sat on the right side of Jesus during the last supper (Jn 13:23).
Righteous deeds: People do charitable acts with the right hand. Jesus said, “When you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right is doing” (Mt 6:3).
Strength: Since most people are righthanded, the right hand is conventionally stronger than the left, and thus it symbolizes strength.
Blessing: The ancient patriarchs blessed their children and grandchildren with their right hand. For example, while blessing the two sons of Joseph, Jacob placed his right hand on Ephraim as the favoured one (Gen 48:13-14).
Moral Goodness: The right stands for the moral, good luck, or righteousness, while the left stands for the immoral, bad luck, or sinful. “The wise heart turns to the right; the foolish heart to the left” (Eccl 10:2).
The Left can be third in command
The Left can also be an honorary or powerful position. In the royal court, the one who sits at the left of the monarch shall be the third in command after the one who sits on the right side. Zebedee’s sons approached Jesus with the request: “Grant that in your glory we may sit one at your right and the other at your left” (Mk 10:37). There is no mention in the Bible of anyone sitting on the left side of God, though there is a Jewish belief that Abraham sits on the left side of Yahweh.
placing the sheep on his right and the goats on his left
This example is based on the difference in the sheep’s and goat’s nature. The sheep symbolize the obedient followers of Jesus. They are gentle and loving animals that respect the guidance of the shepherd. The goats are independent and aggressive. They stand for disobedient people. Jesus used the term sheep for his disciples and wolf for the persecutors of the Church. When Jesus commissioned the twelve, he said: “Behold, I am sending you like sheep in the midst of wolves; so be shrewd as serpents and simple as doves” (Mt 10:16; Lk 10:3).
In this context, the sheep stand for the righteous people worthy of eternal reward. They became meritorious because they kept the precepts of Jesus and gave witness to him in the world when they were alive. Jesus places them on his right as a symbol of honour for their virtuous life. The goats are symbolic of the wicked and disobedient people (Ezek 34:17). Jesus will summon them also in front of him at the last judgement. However, their place will be on his left, representing dishonour and condemnation.
(34) The King will say to those on his right: ‘Come, blessed of my Father! Take possession of the kingdom prepared for you from the beginning of the world.
The King will say to those on his right
Though Jesus came as the saviour of the world and a humble servant, at his second coming, he will appear as a glorious king. His kingdom will be righteous, unlike the worldly kingdom of selfishness, corruption, and injustice. In the Lord’s prayer, Jesus asks us to pray to the Father for the establishment of this heavenly kingdom – “Thy kingdom come.” Jesus said to Pilate, “My kingdom does not belong to this world” (Jn 18:36).
During the enslavement of the Israelites in Babylon, God promised a king and kingdom for them free of wild beasts. “I will save my flock so they can no longer be plundered; I will judge between one sheep and another. I will appoint one shepherd over them to pasture them, my servant David; he shall pasture them and be their shepherd. I, the LORD, will be their God, and my servant David will be prince in their midst. I, the LORD, have spoken. I will make a covenant of peace with them and rid the country of wild beasts so they will dwell securely in the wilderness and sleep in the forests” (Ezek 22-25). Jesus is that king who established his kingdom for those who repented, received baptism, and became part of his Church. However, the fullness and perfection of this kingdom will happen at Christ’s glorious and royal return.
The King will say to those on his right
At the last judgement, “all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and will come out, those who have done good deeds to the resurrection of life, but those who have done wicked deeds to the resurrection of condemnation” (Jn 5:28-29). The Lord will separate the saints and sinners. The time of repentance and reconciliation will be over. The righteous will be on the righthand side of Jesus. He will give a delighted verdict to them.
Jesus got authority to judge the world from his Father. “Nor does the Father judge anyone, but he has given all judgement to his Son” (Jn 5:22). “And he gave him power to exercise judgement, because he is the Son of Man” (Jn 5:27).
Come, blessed of my Father
Jesus said, “Whoever believes in me believes not only in me but also in the one who sent me, and whoever sees me sees the one who sent me” (Jn 12:44-45). “I did not speak on my own, but the Father who sent me commanded me what to say and speak. And I know that his commandment is eternal life. So what I say, I say as the Father told me” (Jn 12:49-50). So those who obey the Son have the Father’s blessing.
The judgement by Jesus will be based on the will of the Father. “I judge as I hear, and my judgement is just, because I do not seek my own will but the will of the one who sent me” (Jn 5:30).
Take possession of the kingdom prepared for you
God has already prepared the kingdom for the righteous. When Zebedee’s sons, along with their mother, asked for honourable seats for them at the right and left of Jesus, his reply was, “to sit at my right and at my left [this] is not mine to give but is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father” (Mt 20:23). Jesus promised the apostles at the last supper, “In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If there were not, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back again and take you to myself, so that where I am you also may be” (Jn 14:2-3). He prepared that through his passion, death, and resurrection.
Jesus had already specified in the beatitudes who would inherit heaven, the new promised land. They are the poor in spirit, those who suffer in this world without forsaking their hope in the Lord, the meek, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the merciful, the clean of heart, the peacemakers, those persecuted for the kingdom of God and its righteousness (Mt 5:3-12).
Take possession of the kingdom prepared for you from the beginning of the world
God had prepared a perfect kingdom of paradise and settled Adam and Eve there. They lost their settlement there through sin. God promised the regaining of the lost paradise through his Son from the beginning of salvation history (Gen 3:15). It is like the prodigal son in the parable who regained his family rights that he had once lost by his disobedience. Similar to the father in that parable, the heavenly Father is generous in giving possession of the lost citizenship in heaven because of the merit of his son’s sacrifice for humanity and the faithful’s loyalty to him.
(35) For I was hungry and you fed me, I was thirsty and you gave me to drink.
Jesus was hungry and thirsty, in the actual sense. During the forty days of fasting in preparation for his public ministry, “He ate nothing during those days, and when they were over, he was hungry” (Lk 4:2). When Jesus and his disciples “were leaving Bethany, he was hungry. Seeing from a distance a fig tree in leaf, he went over to see if he could find anything on it. When he reached it, he found nothing but leaves; it was not the time for figs” (Mk 11:12-13). While Jesus was at Jacob’s well in a town of Samaria called Sychar, he said to a Samaritan woman, “Give me a drink” (Jn 4:7). While Jesus was on the cross, he said, “I thirst” (Jn 19:28). So, as a human, Jesus experienced the suffering of the people who lacked food and drinking water.
Who were the hungry and thirsty that represented Jesus? They can be persons who cannot take care of themselves, like children, elderly, disabled, or missionaries fully engaged in evangelical service. “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God and the Father is this: to care for orphans and widows in their affliction and to keep oneself unstained by the world” (Jas 1:27). Jesus himself fed the hungry with the multiplication of loaves and fish. “Jesus summoned his disciples and said, ‘My heart is moved with pity for the crowd, for they have been with me now for three days and have nothing to eat. I do not want to send them away hungry, for fear they may collapse on the way’” (Mt 15:32).
God entrusted children to the care of parents or guardians. The custodians have the responsibility to feed them physically and spiritually. “Taking a child he placed it in their midst, and putting his arms around it he said to them, ‘Whoever receives one child such as this in my name, receives me; and whoever receives me, receives not me but the One who sent me’” (Mk 9:36-37). The same is the case with those who are helpless to care for themselves.
When Jesus and the apostles engaged in full-time ministry, the women disciples from Galilee provided for their necessities. “Accompanying him were the Twelve and some women who had been cured of evil spirits and infirmities, Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, Joanna, the wife of Herod’s steward Chuza, Susanna, and many others who provided for them out of their resources” (Lk 8:1-3). Paul wrote to the Roman Christians, “Contribute to the needs of the holy ones, exercise hospitality” (Rom 12:13). Jesus said to his disciples, “Anyone who gives you a cup of water to drink because you belong to Christ, amen, I say to you, will surely not lose his reward” (Mk 9:41). He added, “Whoever receives you receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me” (Mt 10:40).
Solomon said, “If your enemies are hungry, give them food to eat, if thirsty, give them something to drink; For live coals you will heap on their heads, and the LORD will vindicate you” (Prov 25:21-22). Quoting this, Paul wrote, “Do not be conquered by evil but conquer evil with good” (Rom 12:20). So, feeding the enemies in need is meritorious because we are following the precepts of the Lord.
(36) ‘I was a stranger and you welcomed me into your house. I was naked and you clothed me. I was sick and you visited me. I was in prison and you came to see me.’
We can apply the recipients of such help to missionaries of Jesus and to the less fortunate people in the community. Paul shared his troublesome experiences during his missionary journey. “To this very hour we go hungry and thirsty, we are poorly clad and roughly treated, we wander about homeless and we toil, working with our own hands. When ridiculed, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; when slandered, we respond gently. We have become like the world’s rubbish, the scum of all, to this very moment” (1 Cor 4:11-13). Jesus clarified how he would reward those who support his representatives. He told his disciples, “Whoever receives you receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me. Whoever receives a prophet because he is a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward, and whoever receives a righteous man because he is righteous will receive a righteous man’s reward. And whoever gives only a cup of cold water to one of these little ones to drink because he is a disciple—amen, I say to you, he will surely not lose his reward” (Mt 10:40-42).
I was a stranger and you welcomed me into your house
Jesus sent his disciples all over the world to preach his gospel. After his resurrection, Jesus commissioned his disciples with the promise of his presence with them. “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age” (Mt 28:19-20). When the disciples go to different nations, they are aliens in those places. They need the hospitality of people whom they did not know. However, as promised, Jesus was with them, and they could do mighty signs and miracles with his power. So, people welcomed them with respect as ambassadors of Jesus.
When Jesus was born, Mary and Joseph had to leave Nazareth and live in Bethlehem and Egypt as refugees. They suffered homelessness and poverty until they could return to Nazareth. There have been refugees and nomadic people throughout history because of war, famine, or natural calamities. Jesus considered helping them as helping Jesus because he identified their suffering with his. God instructed the Israelites, “You shall not oppress or afflict a resident alien, for you were once aliens residing in the land of Egypt” (Ex 22:20). Isaiah spoke of authentic fasting: “Is it not sharing your bread with the hungry, bringing the afflicted and the homeless into your house; Clothing the naked when you see them, and not turning your back on your own flesh? Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your wound shall quickly be healed; your vindication shall go before you, and the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard” (Isa 58:7-8).
I was naked and you clothed me
Naked here does not mean nude but poorly clothed. The Jews considered those who had only inner clothes as naked (Mk 14:5152; Jn 19:23; Acts 19:16; Job 22:6; Isa 58:7). God clothed Adam and Eve, who had “sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves” (Gen 3:7). “The LORD God made for the man and his wife garments of skin, with which he clothed them” (Gen 3:21). When the crowd asked John the Baptist what they should do for repentance, he replied, “Whoever has two tunics should share with the person who has none. And whoever has food should do likewise” (Lk 3:11). The soldiers stripped off the clothes of Jesus before his crucifixion (Jn 19:23-24). So, Jesus also suffered nakedness.
I was sick and you visited me
According to the Greek text, visited means taking care of the sick person. That can be physical support and financial help, like the Good Samaritan did. He “was moved with compassion at the sight. He approached the victim, poured oil and wine over his wounds and bandaged them. Then he lifted him up on his own animal, took him to an inn and cared for him. The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper with the instruction, ‘Take care of him. If you spend more than what I have given you, I shall repay you on my way back’” (Lk 10:33-35). Jesus wants us to imitate the Good Samaritan. The victim was a stranger who needed timely help. We should be able to see Jesus in such suffering people.
When Elizabeth was pregnant, “Mary set out and travelled to the hill country in haste to a town of Judah” (Lk 1:39) to offer her emotional and physical support. “Mary remained with her about three months and then returned to her home” (Lk 1:56). No one had asked Mary to do that. It was her own initiative.
During his public ministry, Jesus had compassion for the sick and healed them at their request or at his own initiative. He shared his healing power with the disciples and asked them to heal the sick and cast out demons along with their preaching of the gospel. The apostles faithfully did that. Luke was Paul’s beloved physician, so Paul could continue preaching and writing for a long time. The Church continues serving the sick by establishing medical facilities all over the world.
I was in prison and you came to see me
Herod Antipas had imprisoned John the Baptist and had beheaded him in prison. The Jews arrested Jesus, chained him, and held him in prison before they took him for trial before Pilate. The Jews and the Romans occasionally imprisoned the apostles and early Christians. Christian soldiers like Saints George and Sebastian emotionally supported the Christian prisoners to help them keep up their faith during the time of severe persecution in the Roman empire.
There are innocent prisoners who ended up there because of false accusations or some misunderstanding during their case investigation and trial. The sinners in prison also need spiritual and emotional support to repent and change their lives. “Be mindful of prisoners as if sharing their imprisonment, and of the ill-treated as of yourselves, for you also are in the body” (Heb 13:3).
(37) Then the upright will ask him: ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and give you food; thirsty and give you drink, (38) or a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? (39) When did we see you sick or in prison and go to see you?’
The first address of the divine judge was to the righteous people on his right hand. While they ministered to his representatives who preached the gospel and to the less fortunate people, they did that without knowing they were doing it for Jesus. They raised the question because they did not see Jesus directly when they offered help. Even those who knew they helped others out of love for Jesus and obedience to his teachings, the response of the righteous expresses their humility and excitement of how the Lord has valued even their minor services to others.
(40) The King will answer: ‘Truly, I say to you: whenever you did this to one of the least of my brothers, you did it to me.’
The King will answer
Here, the judge and the king are the same person, Jesus Christ. He is still humble in clarifying the doubt of the people who would raise the question.
Truly, I say to you
This phrase emphasizes the truthfulness of what follows.
whenever you did this to one of the least of my brothers, you did it to me
Every time we do even some minor help to others, God is valuing it. This means that God is tracking all our virtuous deeds and records in the book of our life (Ps 69:29; 139:16; Phil 4:3; Rev 3:5) for our future reward in heaven. In his vision at Patmos, John the Evangelist “saw the dead, the great and the lowly, standing before the throne, and scrolls were opened. Then another scroll was opened, the book of life. The dead were judged according to their deeds, by what was written in the scrolls” (Rev 20:12).
to one of the least of my brothers, you did it to me
Jesus considers the poor and his missionaries as his brothers. By brothers, Jesus meant his disciples and those who obey him. Jesus said, “Whoever does the will of my heavenly Father is my brother, and sister, and mother” (Mt 12:50). Jesus considered his disciples his brothers after his resurrection (Jn 20:17).
whenever you did this to one of the least of my brothers, you did it to me
Jesus identifies himself with the hungry, the thirsty, the refugee, the naked, the sick, and the prisoner. When we help them, he considers that we have supported him. During his public ministry, besides healing the sick and casting out demons as permanent solution to the problems, Jesus also gave alms (Jn 12:4-6; 13:29). He gave importance to helping the poor. To a rich youth who wanted to gain eternal life, Jesus instructed, “If you wish to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to [the] poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me” (Mt 19:21). He advised on another occasion: “Sell your belongings and give alms. Provide money bags for yourselves that do not wear out, an inexhaustible treasure in heaven that no thief can reach nor moth destroy. For where your treasure is, there also will your heart be” (Lk 12:33-34). Jesus considers such help to the poor as done to him because the poor and the oppressed are the children of God.
Jesus considers reception and service to the childlike as help to him. “He called a child over, placed it in their midst, and said, ‘Amen, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will not enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven. And whoever receives one child such as this in my name receives me” (Mt 18:2-5). Jesus also promised reward to those who support his disciples in their missionary endeavours. “And whoever gives only a cup of cold water to one of these little ones to drink because he is a disciple–amen, I say to you, he will surely not lose his reward” (Mt 10:42).
The Book of Proverbs also identifies help to the poor as given to God. “Those who oppress the poor revile their Maker but those who are kind to the needy honour him” (Prov 14:31). “Whoever cares for the poor lends to the LORD” (Prov 19:17).
(41) Then he will say to those on his left: ‘Go away from me, you cursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels!
Then he will say to those on his left
Judgement is already determined by placing the wicked people on the left side of the Lord. Through different parables, Jesus had described them as goats versus sheep (Mt 25:31-33), foolish virgins as opposed to wise virgins (Mt 25:1-13), as wheat contrasting to tares (Mt 13:24-30; 36-43), and wicked or lazy servants contrasted with the faithful ones (Mt 25:14-30).
Go away from me, you cursed ones
“Thus says the LORD: Cursed is the man who trusts in human beings, who makes flesh his strength, whose heart turns away from the LORD” (Jer 17:5). This gives an indication as to whom God would reject. The people that the Lord would reject at the last judgement are:
Those who reject Jesus and his messengers: The divine judge will reject at the last judgement those who rejected Jesus and his disciples. The Scribes and the Pharisees, who have been preparing the people for the Messiah, opposed Jesus when he came. They wanted a Saviour according to their misconceptions. Hence, Jesus lamented over Jerusalem saying, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how many times I yearned to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her young under her wings, but you were unwilling! Behold, your house will be abandoned, desolate” (Mt 23:37-38). Jesus said to the disciples, “Whoever listens to you listens to me. Whoever rejects you rejects me. And whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me” (Lk 20:16).
The unrepentant people: Jesus warned three cities of their destruction at the last judgement because of their lack of repentance at his preaching and mighty works. He said, “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty deeds done in your midst had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would long ago have repented in sackcloth and ashes. But I tell you, it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon on the day of judgement than for you. And as for you, Capernaum: ‘Will you be exalted to heaven? You will go down to the netherworld.’ For if the mighty deeds done in your midst had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. But I tell you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom on the day of judgement than for you” (Mt 11:21-24).
The uncharitable people: Those who ignore or deny help to the poor, such as the rich man and his five brothers in the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus (Lk 16:19-31) would end up in eternal fire. Quoting Hosea 6:6, Jesus also expressed the importance of mercy over sacrifice (Mt 9:13).
The disciples who disregard the will of the Father: Jesus would deny heaven to the disciples who would neglect to do the will of the Father. Jesus said, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the Kingdom of Heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name? Did we not drive out demons in your name? Did we not do mighty deeds in your name?’ Then I will declare to them solemnly, ‘I never knew you. Depart from me, you evildoers’” (Mt 7:21-23).
Those who deny Jesus before others: Jesus said, “Everyone who acknowledges me before others I will acknowledge before my heavenly Father. But whoever denies me before others, I will deny before my heavenly Father” (Mt 10:3233).
The curse is not from God because He will curse no one. The wicked get their punishment for their wrongdoing. They choose it by the misuse of their freedom and opportunities to do good. Hence, the judgement would be: “I came to you and through my representatives to save you. You ignored our message. When I approached you for help as a poor and helpless person, you sent me away empty-handed. You forgot the favours you received from God. Now you will go away empty-handed from here.” However, the righteous from all nations will inherit heaven because of the meritorious sacrifice of Jesus who said, “people will come from the east and the west and from the north and the south and will recline at table in the kingdom of God” (Lk 13:29).
Go away from me
Banishing from God’s presence is a punishment for the failure of the wicked who rejected God and the precepts of Jesus when they were alive. They missed the opportunity for reconciliation or did not practise Christianity. Hence, God punishes them from enjoying life in heaven and casts them out of his presence forever. into the eternal fire
“Eternal fire” is a metaphorical presentation of eternal punishment for sinners. It represents the everlasting suffering of the wicked people in the afterlife. Jesus used the eternal fire in other instances as well. In the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus, the rich man landed in the netherworld, where he was in torment. “He cried out, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me. Send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am suffering torment in these flames’” (Lk 16:24). While speaking of temptations to sin, Jesus said, “If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter into life maimed than with two hands to go into Gehenna, into the unquenchable fire” (Mk 9:43). There are more references to the eternal fire in the gospels (Mk 9:48; Mt 3:12; 13:42).
which has been prepared for the devil and his angels
God prepared the eternal fire originally for the devil and his associates. The devil is Lucifer, which means “Morning Star”. He was once a mighty angel who became proud of his beauty and splendour. He corrupted his wisdom (Ezek 28:17) through his self-generated pride and became known as Satan, meaning “adversary”. Devil, the fallen angel (Isa 14:12) and his partners have been active since the creation of Adam and Eve. The devil or Satan continues his work of sowing weeds among the Christians. The accursed people at the last judgement will join this eternal fire or punishment prepared for the fallen angels. Jude wrote: “The angels too, who did not keep to their own domain but deserted their proper dwelling, he has kept in eternal chains, in gloom, for the judgement of the great day” (Judg 1:6). Similarly, Peter wrote, “God did not spare the angels when they sinned, but condemned them to the chains of Tartarus and handed them over to be kept for judgement” (2 Pet 2:4).
(42) For I was hungry and you did not give me anything to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink; (43) I was a stranger and you did not welcome me into your house; I was naked and you did not clothe me; I was sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’
Jesus presents the same situations that he applies to the righteous to those he places on his left hand. He repeats hunger, thirst, strange travellers, those who lacked enough clothing, the sick, and the prisoner. Jesus had noted the unwillingness of the selfish people to support the less fortunate. Despite the teachings of Jesus, they did not produce fruit of Christian living. They are like the fig tree Jesus cursed for lack of any yield (Mk 11:12-14). Thus, they brought their own eternal fate.
(44) They, too, will ask: ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty, naked or a stranger, sick or in prison, and did not help you?’
The non-practising Christians placed on the left will seek clarification from the Lord the same way the righteous did. They repeat the conditions of the less fortunate who might have approached them in the past. However, they did not see Christ in the people whom they had denied help. They do not find any guilt in their actions. Instead, they will justify that they did not see Jesus asking for help as if they would have supported him if he had revealed himself in those situations. So, they continue their ill-willed reasoning that the judge is doing injustice to them.
(45) The King will answer them: ‘Truly, I say to you: whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’
The divine judge has a reverse answer of what he gave to those on the right side. According to Jesus, they should have seen him in the people who needed their help. God had blessed them with resources to support and sent Jesus and his representatives to teach them on the importance of the love of God and love of fellow humans through parables like the Rich Man and Lazarus and the Good Samaritan. Through the parable of the prodigal son, Jesus highlighted the failure of the elder son to accept his brother when he returned and reconciled with their father.
In the last judgement, Jesus gives importance to sins of omission. We shall not miss the opportunities to do good for God and for his people. James asks: “What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister has nothing to wear and has no food for the day, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well,’ but you do not give them the necessities of the body, what good is it? So also faith of itself, if it does not have works, is dead” (Jas 2:14-17).
(46) And they will go into eternal punishment, but the just to eternal life.
The judgement whether it is for the wicked or the just is for eternity. Daniel had prophesied this: “At that time there shall arise Michael, the great prince, guardian of your people; it shall be a time unsurpassed in distress since the nation began until that time. At that time your people shall escape, everyone who is found written in the book. Many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake; Some to everlasting life, others to reproach and everlasting disgrace” (Dan 12-1-2).
The reason Jesus predicted criteria for the last judgement is to impress on his disciples the need for practising love in action. At the last supper, Jesus advised his disciples, “I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another. This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (Jn 13:3435). Paul wrote: “If I have the gift of prophecy and comprehend all mysteries and all knowledge; if I have all faith so as to move mountains but do not have love, I am nothing” (1 Cor 13:2). This presentation teaches us what we must do to gain eternal salvation and avoid everlasting punishment.
1. The last judgement description of Jesus is a hope and motivation for us to do humanitarian service. Let us assess our lives and transform them from selfishness to a life of philanthropy in the name of Jesus.
2. Jesus gives us time to repent and reconcile with God and fellow humans. We never know when our term of life in this world will end. So, let us not postpone our reconciliation and charitable efforts.
3. Jesus will separate us like sheep and goats precisely on the basis of the way we live in the world. God wants us to have the sublime qualities of sheep rather than the aggressive style of goats. Which of these qualities do we have now?
4. Jesus and his disciples presented themselves as role models for helping others in distress. Let us imitate them in our lives.
5. As Christians, our goal is to reach the right-hand side of Jesus! He has provided us with the yardstick for his judgement of our lives. Now is the practical test for a high score. The time is running out. Jesus will pronounce our test result at his second coming.
6. We are the sheep Jesus rescued from the devil’s snares. Like sheep, we have to remain with the shepherd and the flock for our spiritual nourishment and protection. If we go astray from the Church in a bid to be independent like goats, we might fall again.