By J.R. Miller
This passage gives us a wonderful picture of the last judgment. It is not a parable--but a prophetic presentation of the great scene. The sheep and goats are used as representing the good and evil. Christ will be the Judge. He will appear as the Son of man, that is, in His humanity. It is a comfort to think of this, that it will be our Brother whom we shall see on the throne of glory. Christ came first in lowly form. He was born in a stable and cradled in a manger. No retinue of angels then attended Him except the host that sang their song in the shepherd's ears. In His first coming, He was lowly and despised. He was so poor that often He had nowhere to lay His head. He had but few followers and made but little name for Himself on the earth. But He will not come this way the second time. He will appear in glory, and will be attended by hosts of angels.
For once the whole human family will be together. "All the nations will be gathered in his presence." Yet in our thought of the grandeur of this scene--we must not lose sight of the individuality of the judgment. We shall be there--but none of us will be lost in the crowd; each one shall have personal judgment.
During a war the telegraphic reports from the field say that in a great battle ten thousand men were slain. Not knowing any of them personally, we think only of the vast aggregate number. But suppose some friend of ours--brother or father--was among the slain; we think no more then of the ten thousand--but of the one. And every one of the ten thousand is mourned in some home--is somebody's father, husband, brother, son, friend. From that battlefield ten thousand cords stretch to ten thousand homes. The heaps of slain are simply ten thousand individuals. So in that countless throng on judgment day, not one person will be lost in the multitude. "Everyone must bear his own burden."
There will be a division that day--the whole human family will not be as one. "All the nations will be gathered in his presence, and he will separate them as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will place the sheep at his right hand and the goats at his left." Our Lord's teachings are full of this thought of final separation. The tares and the wheat will grow together until the harvest; but then there will be an infallible separation--not a tare will be gathered into the barn with the wheat. The net draws good and bad fish to the shore--but there the two classes are separated. The ten virgins were together during the time of waiting--but the midnight cry caused an instant, final and irrevocable separation, as the door opened for those who were ready to enter and shut upon those who were unprepared. Nothing is more plainly taught in the Word of God, than that the evil and the good, the believing and the rejecting, the righteous and the unrighteous shall be separated at the last day, each going to his own place.
These separations will cut very close in many cases. "Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left. Two women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken and the other left." When we are sure of our place on Christ's right hand, we should never rest until we are sure also that all those whom we love shall be in the same company.
The King speaks to the people as if He had personally lived among them, "For I was hungry--and you gave Me something to eat." It seems from this picture of the judgment, that the eternal destiny of men shall be settled by their works. Feeding the hungry and giving drink to the thirsty, are mentioned as reasons for the favor shown to those upon the right hand. But a careful study of the passage shows that in the judgment, all will turn upon one question--how men have treated Jesus Christ. If they have believed on Him, loved Him, honored Him, and lived for Him--they will be honored by Him, gathered at His right hand and admitted to His kingdom of glory. But if they have not believed on Him, have not honored Him, have not lived for Him in this world--they will be rejected by Him at the last and shut out of the heavenly kingdom. In other words, all will depend upon whether men believe or do not believe on the Lord Jesus Christ.
But believing in Christ means more than giving assent to a correct creed--it means also a life of obedience and service. The whole of Christian life is love, not only love for Christ--but love for Christ's own. If we love God--we will love our brother also, says the beloved disciple. If we do no love our brother, it is evident that we do not love God. If we have the love of Christ in our heart, it will show itself to all those who belong to Christ. While there is love for all the world, there should be a special love for those who belong to the Master.
The King speaks as if He had come to the people in the great company, in many experiences of personal suffering and need. "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." There is something very pathetic in this thought of Jesus as a stranger, as hungry, or as sick, coming to our doors in those whose appeals are made to us. If we allowed it to enter our heart and exercise its proper effect upon us--it would inspire in us sympathy and love, and would make us very gentle to all who are in need.
Mr. Wesley, one winter day, met a poor girl in one of the schools under his care. She seemed almost frozen. He asked her if she had no clothing but the thin garments she was wearing. She said she had not. His hand was in his pocket in an instant--but there was no money there. He went to his room--but the pictures on the wall seemed to upbraid him. He took them down, saying to himself: "How can the Master say to you, 'Well done, good and faithful servant'? You have adorned your walls with the money which might have screened this poor creature from the bitter cold! O justice! O mercy! Are not these pictures the blood of the poor maid?" So he sold the pictures to get money to relieve the girl's distress.
Those to whom the King spoke, could not understand what He meant. "Lord, when did we see You hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or without clothes, or sick, or in prison--and help You?" Their surprise need not seem remarkable. The truest greatness, is not conscious of itself. Moses knew not, that his face shone. The best Christians put the lowest value upon their own good works. No doubt many of the commendations and rewards of the righteous in the judgment, will indeed be surprises to them. They keep no record of their good deeds. Their sense of personal unworthiness hinders them from seeing anything worthy in what they do. We do not dream of the real value and helpfulness of the things we do. Besides, we do not indeed see Christ in the lowly and suffering ones who come before us, needing love and help--we see only poor, sick, unfortunate people, with no marks of glory, no hints of nobility, no traces of heavenly beauty. We do not see things as they are. Jesus Himself is ever before us, in lowly guise. We are unconsciously serving the Master, whenever we do in His name the holy things of love. Every lowly, faithful Christian is preparing for himself many a blessed surprise in glory.
Jesus is still in this world. Once He was here in human form, as the Son of man. Now He is here in His Church. "You are the body of Christ" (1 Corinthians 12:27), said the apostle. The smallest kindness shown to a Christian, even the least, Christ accepts as done to Himself. Parents understand this. Any honor shown to a child--a father receives as shown to himself. If a son is in a strange land and meets with some misfortune, or is sick, and someone finding him there as a stranger in trouble shows him kindness, no greater act done to the parents at home would be as pleasing to them--as is that little ministry to their child in a foreign land. Christ loves His people so much, that whatever is done to any of them--He accepts as if He Himself had been the recipient of the kindness.
The same is true, on the other hand, of any unkindness or any lack of kindness shown to another. "For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me. I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these--you did not do for me." We must beware how we treat the lowliest Christian, for if we neglect him in his need--it is as if Christ were in the same need, and we had neglected Him!
We must learn that we are judged not only by the things we do--but by the things we fail to do. These people had not been cruel or unkind to any of Christ's little ones--no such charge is made against them; they had not done the kindnesses which they ought to have done. In the parable of the Good Samaritan, neither the priest nor the Levite did any harm to the wounded man, and yet they are severely condemned. They sinned against him grievously by not doing the things of love which he needed to have done for him.
"Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life."