[It is my pleasure to introduce the first of our guest posters. Sarah is a Kiwi, raised in the Philipines, who lives most of the time in East Germany. She is mum to two girls and she and her husband are currently involved with YWAM. I have invited a few different people to contribute and Sarah is the first to respond with something. She would appreciate your feedback, she is writing here to help here refine her thoughts and understanding. Do you agree with what she has written? Do you disagree? Most importantly, why? What arguments to you find convincing/problematic? What evidence has been missed or interpreted in a way you are unsure of? Let us know what you think - Jonathan :)]
Matt 25 is a really hard one to interpret because it really needs to be read and understood in the context of Matt 24. It does not really stand alone as it is a continuation of Jesus speaking about events that will soon take place and giving more pictures to explain this. It starts by likening the Kingdom of heaven to five wise virgins who took extra oil with them, waited and did not share with others because they might need it themselves and were then invited into the wedding feast. So... the kingdom of Heaven is an imminent event that is coming but will take a bit longer than everyone anticipates! (If Jesus were communicating a more than 2000 year wait instead of just 30 years then I think he would have used a different illustration but it is not clear what time frame from these verses.)
The next part of the chapter compares the kingdom of heaven to wise servants who use their talents and multiply them so that those that have will receive more and those that don’t have will be tossed out. So we need to do the best with what we have and keep on working until the master returns.
Then Jesus talks about the nations (ethnos) being gathered and judging them, separating the sheep from the goats. First of all, I believe Jesus is talking about the same "nations" (ethnos) as he just mentioned in Matt 24. Mat 24:14 and this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations (ethnos), and then the end will come. And it must be the same "nations" that is mentioned in Acts 2:5. "Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation (ethnos) under heaven." If there were people from every nation under heaven in Jerusalem does that mean there were Maoris’ there? Germans? A lot of people groups and nations didn’t even exist then as we know them today. So "Nations" either meant the Roman Empire or perhaps more precise, all the Jews that were living in all the nations that were known in that time. The meaning has to stay the same for all of these passages to remain consistent so with that in mind it follows that the gospel has to be preached in all nations in the Roman Empire before the end will come. In the end and when the kingdom of heaven begins all (Jews in the) nations in the Roman Empire will be gathered and judged. Then finally in Acts it is recorded that people from all the nations were gathered in Jerusalem and heard the gospel. Also in Col 1:5, "because of the hope laid up for you in heaven. Of this you have heard before in the word of the truth, the gospel, which has come to you, as indeed in the whole world it is bearing fruit and growing" and even in Romans 16:26- 27, “but has now been disclosed and through the prophetic writings has been made known to all nations, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith-- ) So if all the nations did hear the gospel and the end (the beginning of the kingdom of Heaven) was imminent and actually did come in AD70 during the colossal destruction of Jerusalem when it is estimated that almost 1 million Jews were killed and the Jewish nation ended. Then I believe they must have also been judged and the sheep separated from the goats. What was this end that is talked about? I believe that the end that is talked about is in fact the end of the Jewish (Mosaic) covenant and system of temple worship and “righteousness”. A process that Jesus began with his birth and then death on the cross and it was completed when the Jewish race was "judged" and destroyed by the roman armies in AD70.
So the separating of the sheep and the goats refers to the judgement of the Jews that died from the beginning of the Jewish covenant untill that point. Those who were the true sheep went into eternal life and the goats were sent away to eternal punishment. Notice that Jesus talks specifically about what they did and didn’t do in relation to Jesus and his family (the least of these...) on earth... "I was hungry and you gave me nothing to drink". It was a judgement specifically for the Jewish nation in their time and context. Jesus spoke of this coming judgement in the parable of the vineyard owner in Matt 21:33. This judgement concluded the Jewish (Mosaic) age (time or covenant) and the Kingdom of heaven was established and began to grow here on earth as it is in Heaven.
We are now Abraham's offspring by faith in Jesus and no longer by blood and circumcision and his everlasting covenant applies to all of us. Rom 4:13 "for the promise to Abraham and his offspring that he would be heir of the world did not come through the law but through the righteousness of faith." Rom 4:14 "for if it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void." Gal 3:28 "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus." Gal 3:29 "And if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to promise." How does this change the way we live today? We have focussed on a very small part of Jesus’s teaching about the end times that was not even intended for us but was for the Jews pre AD70. Because of this we have missed the major message that Jesus spoke to us about! The Kingdom of Heaven! What is it and how do we live it and bring it here on earth as it is in heaven. That is what we are here for, what Jesus died to set us free to do and is all we need to focus on! Bringing God’s kingdom on earth is our job with his and the Holy Spirit’s help and the more we do it the more we will see it come. It is up to us and we need to start living it and doing it!