Will Some Who Have Never Known Jesus Enter His Kingdom?

March 22, 2012  40 Comments

According to Jesus’ parable of the Sheep and the Goats the answer is no and yet also surprisingly yes.

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The Parable of the Sheep and the Goats

You’ve heard this parable right?  Pastors often share it when imploring followers of Jesus to help their fellow man.   In Matthew 25:31-46, we read

When the Son of Man comes… 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.

To those on his right he says,

‘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.

The righteous are shocked.  They ask,

Lord, when did we see you…

He answers,

I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.

The King then turns to those on his left and pronounces the opposite judgement with a similar pattern.  They are cursed and sent away to the eternal fire because when they did not do it for them they did not do it for him.

So what is the meaning of the parable?  All sorts of explanations have been offered but the  most common interprets the sheep and the goats as true and false Christians and the brothers of Jesus as the needy of this world.  The point of the parable is therefore to encourage believers to lend a helping hand because in doing so they unknowingly lend a hand to Jesus.

Its a great application.  But is it really what the parables about?

Who are Jesus’ brothers?

The parables’ interpretation hinges on the identity of Jesus’ brothers.  While it is true that at least some of these “brothers” are in need, their need does not define them.  The need simply identifies them as the “least.”  Jesus, in Matthew 12:48, has already made known the identity of his “brothers.”

Who are my mother and my brothers?”  Then pointing to his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and brothers.  For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.

His brothers are His followers.

Who are the Sheep and the Goats?

It doesn’t make sense than to say that the sheep and the goats are likewise Christians, followers of Jesus.  You would think at least the sheep as “true believers” would recognize their Lord in helping those who likewise followed Him.  They’ve heard this parable right?  But its significant that neither the sheep nor the goats recognize the Son of Man.

The parable identifies the sheep and goats as the gathered nations or gentiles.  And in Matthew 18:17 gentiles means outsiders.

If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.

Thus it appears that the sheep and the goats collectively represent all those who in the days prior to the kingdom did not knowingly follow Jesus.   The nations are all those who have not recognized the Son of Man.

The Inclusive Jesus

The message of the parable thus appears to be the exact opposite of the one we’ve grown accustomed to.  Here, Christians are not blessed for serving the needy of the world.  Instead non-Christians are blessed for serving needy Christians.

Its a comforting message that should not be carried too far.  Salvation is still found only in Jesus.  But the parable likewise indicates that its possible in some sense to unknowingly serve Jesus.  Because He loves His family, He loves those who have loved them.  The promise given to Abraham is now extended to Christ’s followers.

I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse…

Such a message should comfort all those who have seen loved ones die without explicitly acknowledging Jesus.   The parable teaches that in the end Jesus will be good to those who have been good to his people.

What do you think?

Matthew Scott Miller

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Your comments make my day - the good, the bad and the ugly! I read each one and try to respond within a few hours. Please see the about page for the reason behind Logos Made Flesh and, if interested, 25 utterly random things about me.
  • chris

    This is very thought provoking, I love it. this is one of my favorite passages. thanks

    • http://logosmadeflesh.wordpress.com Matthew

      Thank you Chris!

  • Stephanie

    I would love to sit and hash this out with you sometime. I think it’s very insightful and something I had never thought of before. Interesting stuff Matt!

    • http://logosmadeflesh.wordpress.com Matthew

      Thanks Steph! Anytime.

  • Larry

    Which is it? You state that ‘salvation is still found only in Jesus.’ But the title of your rant is, “Will Some Who Have Never Known Jesus Be Accepted into His Kingdom?” You then argue that the answer is ‘Yes’ some will be. Which is it?

    Which is it? “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.” (Ephes. 2:8) But you argue, “Instead non-Christians are blessed for serving needy Christians.” Again going back to your rant you argue that some will be saved who have never known Jesus. These non-Christians who are blessed would seem to be blessed because of their works.

    Which is it? On October 31, 1517 Martin Luther posted his Ninety-Five Theses on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences. This is widely regarded as the primary catalyst for the Protestant Reformation. He argued that the sale of indulgences was wrong and against the Word of God but you have just argued that one who blesses Christians will cause God to bless them.

    You spend your entire rant arguing in favor of the premise that ‘Some Who Have Never Known Jesus will Be Accepted into His Kingdom.’ You conclude with, “Such a message should comfort all those who have seen loved ones die without explicitly acknowledging Jesus.” Your rant teaches that in the end Jesus will be good to those who have been good to his people.” This sounds a lot like, Tobit 4:11, “For alms deliver from all sin, and from death, and will not suffer the soul to go into darkness,” and Tobit 12:9, For alms delivereth from death, and the same is that which purgeth away sins, and maketh to find mercy and life everlasting.”

    Which is it? Tobit is a book in the Catholic Bible that teaches indulgences. That is why it has been rejected in the Christian Bible. Your rant would seem to not have a problem with Tobit.

    A vital question left unanswered. You rant, “Instead non-Christians are blessed for serving needy Christians.” How many good deeds does it take to earn God’s favor?

    What a privilege to read this rant. You say, “The message of the parable is the exact opposite of the one we have grown accustomed to. Here, Christians are not blessed for serving the needy of the world. Instead non-Christians are blessed for serving needy Christians.” In over 2000 years of exegesis by the great men of faith it wasn’t until 2012 that this interpretation was illumed to you by the Holy Spirit. Either that or your ego is only surpassed by the pope speaking ex cathedra or the Mormons Living Prophet receiving revelations.

    Lastly, by implying that some can enter God’s kingdom ho have never known Jesus cheapens the suffering and death of our Lord. Why did he have to die if a person can throw a few coins in the direction of a needy Christian and be found in the Kingdom? If Christ was still in the grave, he would definitely be rolling over.

    • http://logosmadeflesh.wordpress.com Matthew

      Larry thank you for your reply. I first want to apologize if the post sounded like a rant. It was not intended so.

      I say the parable answers the question both no and yes because of what we find in the parable. Those on the right claim ignorance of the Son of Man but the Son of Man says they have known him all along.

      I understand that I’ve presented an interpretation that is not typical. I don’t, however, believe that it’s one that’s been unheard of for the last 2,000 years.

      You seem to think that I’m the one connecting works with entering Christ’s kingdom. But it’s this parable at the very least which gives that impression. I’m not reading Tobit. I’m reading the Gospel of Matthew.

      Our first priority before reconciling this text with any other part of scripture is to understand it in its immediate context. Where have I erred in this? How do you interpret “the least of these my brothers?”. I think this is the most important point in any disagreement we might have. Is the interpretation correct? Reconciling with the rest of scripture comes after.

      But I also don’t believe that the interpretation I’ve offered is inconsistent with Ephesians 2:8 or any other passages on Salvation for that matter. The Sheep in this parable have not sought salvation through works. They are entirely surprised that their works are graciously counted as service to the King. I therefore don’t agree that it cheapens the cross of Christ.

      “how many good deeds does it take to earn God’s favor?” The parable and the interpretation offered here doesn’t answer this questions. Its not the point. The questioned addressed here is how does God count his people? Some won’t know that they were among Gods people until the coming of Jesus.

      I have no stake in my own opinion but I do have a charge to rightly divide the word of truth. I’m grateful for your challenge because it too appears to comes from a love for God’s word.

      Bless you Brother
      Matthew Miller

  • katrina

    The “sheep” are “you who are blessed” but they are still given the invitation to “come and receive of the inheritance”…doesn’t mean they come. They are blessed for their actions on earth just as positive actions are blessed by our Father in this world…I think of it as a reward…this is not about salvation..this “you who are blessed” this is about reward for doing right. There is salvation and then there are rewards…for example..in the beatitudes, it mentions great is your reward in heaven…the rewards don’t get us to heaven…..only salvation, our belief, our calling on the name of the Lord, accepting the invitation. The sheep are given the invitation to come and receive of the inheritance…an extra special calling..drawing..perhaps…but still a call to come. Rewards and treasure are stored up for us in heaven for our good works…”laying up treasure in heaven where thieves do not break in and steal.” Those are rewards for the ones who have received salvation and follow with good works…faith without works is dead…faith is an automatic response to the grace of God..not a compulsion or rather a heavy hand saying we have to do this..but it is cheerfully given. Probably the question of “Will some who have never know Jesus, be accepted into His Kingdom?” Yes if they receive His invitation…just as we receive His invitation to come and receive Him as our inheritance.

  • Larry

    Salvation according to Katrina, “Probably the question of “Will some who have never known Jesus, be accepted into His Kingdom?” Yes if they receive His invitation…just as we receive His invitation to come and receive Him as our inheritance.”

    Salvation according to the Holly Spirit through Luke—Acts 4:12, “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.”.

    Salvation according to the Holy Spirit through John—John 14:6, I (Jesus) am the way, the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but through Me.”
    How do you accept an invitation from Jesus when you don’t know Jesus?

    Why bother preaching about Jesus if you can enter the Kingdom and not know Jesus? Just preach about the invitation—forget Jesus. I can see two people in heaven meeting. Person #1 states, “wasn’t it awesome what Jesus did for us.” Person #2 says, “Jesus who? I don’t know him.”

    You never address Matt’s other premise—that non-believers can enter the Kingdom by doing good works for believers.

  • Larry

    Matt

    You need to go back over your blog and determine where it is that YOU are in error. How can I say this? Because the Bible, as the Word of God, cannot contradict itself. No teaching can be right if it creates contradictions with the clear teaching of other scriptures. If your interpretation of Matthew is correct, it should harmonize with all of scripture. And as I pointed out in my first response it does not.

    The clear teaching of the Bible is that salvation is by grace and NOT OF WORKS.
    “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: NOT OF WORKS, lest any man should boast.” (Ephes. 2:8)

    As Paul said in Romans 11:6, “And if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works, otherwise grace is no longer grace.” The clear teaching of Romans is that Salvation is by Grace not by Grace and Works as you advocate.

    Where have you erred? In answering the question, “Who are the sheep and the goats.” Your answer, “It doesn’t make sense then to say that the sheep and the goats are likewise Christians, followers of Jesus. You would think at least the sheep as “true believers” would recognize their Lord in helping those who likewise followed Him.”

    “Thus the sheep and the goats represent all those who in the days prior to the kingdom did not knowingly follow Jesus. The nations are all those who have not recognized the Son of Man.” There is your error—in thinking that the sheep and goats represent the same group—those who do not recognize the Son of Man.

    In the ancient Near East, as in much of that land still today, sheep and goats are frequently herded together. But sheep are docile, gentle creatures, whereas goats are unruly and rambunctious and can easily upset the sheep. Because they do not feed or rest well together, the shepherd often separates them for grazing and for sleeping at night.

    In a similar way the Lord Jesus Christ will separate believers from unbelievers when He returns to establish His millennial kingdom. He will put the believing sheep on his right, the place of favor and blessing. But the unbelieving goats He will put on the left, the place of disfavor and rejection.

    Anticipating the salvation-by-works- interpretations that could be made of verses 34-45 our Lord made it clear (but not to you) that believers will not inherit the kingdom based on good deeds. Their inheritance was determined countless ages ago, even from the foundation of the world. Those who enter the kingdom will NOT do so on the basis of the service they have performed for Christ but on the basis of their being blessed by the Father because of their trust in His Son. A child does not earn an inheritance but receives it on the basis of his being in the family. In the same way, a believer does not earn his way into the kingdom of God but receives it as his rightful inheritance as a child of God and a fellow heir with Jesus Christ.

    The good deeds commended in Matthew are the fruit, not the root, of salvation. They are NOT the basis of entrance into the kingdom. Christ will judge according to works only insofar as those works are or are not a manifestation of redemption, which the heavenly Father has foreordained. If a person has not trusted in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, no amount of seemingly good works done in His name will earn any spiritual benefit. Those works are in view in Isaiah 64:6, “All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags.” To such people the Lord will say, “I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness” (Matt 7:23)

    Why don’t the sheep recognize the King? The response by those whom the King commends is remarkable and is another proof of their salvation. Because they have ministered in a spirit of humility and selflessness and not to be seen and honored by men, they have seemingly forgotten about the many things they have done and are surprised that these are worthy of such mention by the Lord.

    When the King’s servants ask, “Lord when did we do all those things for You?” “The King will answer and say to them, “Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.”

    By addressing these people as brothers of Mine gives evidence that they are already children of God and do not become so because of their good works.

    Lastly, your blog would make out Christ to be a liar when he said on the cross, “It is finished.” It is finished (tetelestai) means that something is brought to an end, is fully accomplished, has achieved its destined goal or is brought to perfection. Indeed, all of these senses apply to Jesus’ death on the Cross, but one sense of tetelestai presents a powerful picture of Jesus’ finished work on the Cross, the grand work of redemption about which He Himself had prophesied, “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:45) However, according to your blog, for unbelievers it was not finished. They need to perform some good work for a Christian before they gain entrance to the Kingdom.

    He is still rolling over.

    • http://logosmadeflesh.wordpress.com Matthew

      Larry

      You’re arguing against points I haven’t made. If you read my post again you will find that I’ve said nothing about salvation by works. If you’ve come to that conclusion it’s from the parable and not from anything I’ve said. I made two observations and one conclusion. First, Jesus tells us that his “brothers” are his followers (Matthew 12:46-50). Second, the nations (gentiles) are regarded as outsiders. I conclude that the judgement found in this parable is not the judgement of both Christians and non-Christians but of non-Christians only. Again I’ve said nothing about how the works play in their salvation. I’ve simply repeated the parable.

      In your rush to infer my blind ignorance you haven’t yet countered the points I have made. I grant that your interpretation is the more common one but its not without it serious flaws. Your interpretation ignores the teaching of Jesus concerning his “brothers,” overlooks the difference between the “brothers” and “sheep” and gazes with a blind eye to the sheep and the goats common (gentile) source.

      What if you’re wrong brother? Don’t laugh. I know you don’t want to think about it. But please bare with me for a second. If your wrong it means reconsidering one of two things. First, we could rethink how we’ve understood Paul. Okay we don’t want to do that. Secondly, we could rethink how grace is at work in the interpretation which has been proposed. It’s seems you’ve already done this in your own interpretation, smoothing out the more natural works oriented reading. So tell me why we can’t do the same with the one I’ve proposed? Why can’t grace be evident in the lives of people who believe that they have never known Jesus. Why do you find it impossible that the interpretation offered here indicates something other than that their good deeds represented “the fruit, not the root, of salvation?”

      The parable affirms that Salvation is found only Jesus. He is the way, the truth, and the life. It is by the King’s grace that sheep are invited into his Kingdom. It’s not something which they bring to him saying, “look what we have done.” He did not have to count their works as service to him. But he does it anyway. That’s grace. Just as you say these works demonstrated who they really were all along.

      God bless you brother
      Matthew Miller

  • katrina

    Larry, I think you are misrepresenting what Matthew is saying and mine as well, just for the sake of the argument. Totally agree with the scriptures you quoted..in no other name is salvation found…Jesus is the way the truth and the life.
    Your last paragraph to me…was addressed. No, non believers do not enter the kingdom of heaven by good works…they enter when they respond to the invitation given to them to receive the inheritance..the inheritance is Jesus( this is a parable, I believe the Inheritance refers to Jesus)…the invitation is brought to them because Christ’s heart is to call them one more time in response to their good deeds.NO man comes to the Father unless the Spirit draws him. “Whoever” believes in Him shall not perish..but have eternal life., whoever calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved..but He gives the invitation or “draws them” these sheep, one more time, is what I am seeing/hearing.
    As far as the invitation problem you had…I was referring to Jesus..”HIS” invitation. I guess you could define that as “unless the Spirit draws him”. I know of the president..but I don’t really “know” him. When Jesus draws us, we don’t already know HIm, but He reveals Himself to us. And when we experience life with Jesus,we do come to know Him.
    Your last statement to Matthew…is misrepresenting as well. No where did Matt state that they need to perform some good work for a Christian before they gain entrance to the Kingdom. He was giving food for thought, let’s think about this, ponder this, explore this idea and how it might fit with the gospel of “Not by works of righteousness that we have done, but according to His mercy.”
    Just as we are asked to “believe on the Lord Jesus Christ” “Call upon the name of the Lord” etc. this parable suggests that the sheep “come and receive the Inheritance (Jesus). These are actions, in a since “works”…but not works of our own righteousness. They are faith actions.
    Katrina.

  • Larry

    I am not trying to be argumentative, just trying to understand what you mean by your comments. Let me try a baby step approach. What does Hebrews 9:27 teach, “And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment”

    This verse tells me that at death a person will be judged based on the decisions they have made in this life. At death, the decisions a person makes in this life are set in stone and that person will be judged according to those decisions. At death a soul does not get a ‘do over,’ a second chance, another bite at the apple.

    Two groups come to mind that teach a second chance. (1) The Cathloics. I can spring Aunt Sally out of purgatory by paying an indulgence. (2) The Mormons. A living Mormon can be baptized for a dead non-Mormon.

    • http://logosmadeflesh.wordpress.com Matthew

      Larry

      I don’t fault you for being agressive. I recognize that these issues are important and your passion only reflects how serious they are. I appreciate that.

      As to Hebrews 9:27, I agree it indicates a person’s decisions “in this life are set in stone and that person will be judged according to those decisions.” But I don’t think it relates to the observations and conclusion I have made. I have not said or implied that this is a ‘do over.’

      It also doesn’t matter if Catholics and or Mormons teach anything related to what I’ve observed. The fundamental question is does it have scriptural support. Catholics and Mormons sometimes teach the truth.

      I have not raised this issue for any reason other than what I have found in scripture. I recognize that my interpretation may be wrong. But I don’t see how it can be if the following observations are correct.

      1. There are three distinct groups in this parable: The “brothers” of Jesus, sheep and goats.

      2. “The least of these my brothers” are Jesus’ followers (Christians)

      3. The sheep and the goats are not the “brothers” of Jesus but are collectively the unbeleiving world.

      Please challenge me on the above points. We can argue how it can mesh with scripture after we come to some agreement on the parable.

      Matt

  • Larry

    Once again (I stated this originally on March 29) your error is thinking “the sheep and the goats are not the brothers of Jesus but collectively the unbelieving world.”

    Believers are the sheep and unbelievers are the goats. The genuinely righteous deed Jesus mentions in verses 35-36 are measurable evidence of salvation, and He therefore highly commends those who have performed them. He is saying, in effect, “Come into My kingdom, because you are the chosen children of My Father (from the foundation of the world) and your relationship to Him is made evident by the service you have rendered to Me by ministering to your fellow believers, who, like you are My brothers.”

    The following in their commentaries agree about the identification of the sheep and goats: Albert Barnes, John Gill, Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

    You stated in your March 28 response that “I understand that I’ve presented an interpretation that is not typical. I don’t, however, believe that it’s one that’s been unheard of for the last 2,000 years.” Who has agreed with your interpretation?

    • http://logosmadeflesh.wordpress.com Matthew

      “He is saying, in effect”

      He says none of these things. Don’t you see that you’re reading into the text? I’m all for looking for an implicit meaning if its textually warranted. But it doesn’t appear to be. The Son of Man makes a distinction between the sheep and His brothers. The sheep are never called his brothers. The natural conclusion is that the sheep are not the brothers and the brothers are not the sheep.

      Have I missed something in the Greek?

  • Larry

    This parable tells us that Christ will separate the sheep from the goats. The sheep, on his right are also called the righteous and are blessed by the Father and inherit the kingdom prepared for them from the foundation of the world. Those on his left, also called the goats, the accursed ones, go to eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.

    You state: “The message of the parable is the exact opposite of the one we have grown accustomed to. Here, Christians are not blessed for serving the needy of the world. Instead non-Christians are blessed for serving needy Christians.”

    Non-Christians who serve needy Christians?—do they end up, after Christ has separated them, on the right or the left.

    • http://logosmadeflesh.wordpress.com Matthew

      Here’s what I think you’re saying.

      The description of sheep as righteous, blessed by Jesus’ Father and inheriting the kingdom prepared from the creation of the world indicates that they are Christians. The description of the goats, the accursed ones who go to eternal fire indicates that they are not Christians. There cannot be a third group because you are either a Christian or you are not.

      Is this correct?

  • Larry

    You are correct. So let me ask my question again. Non-Christians (goats, accursed ones) are destined for eternal fire. What is the destiny of non-Christians who serve needy Christians?

    I believe the non-Christians who serve needy Christians are still non-Christians and are destined for eternal fire. What are your thoughts on the eternal destiny of the non-Christians who serve needy Christians?

    • http://logosmadeflesh.wordpress.com Matthew

      Thank you once again for challenging me on this issue. I really do appreciate it.

      I did say, “The message of the parable is the exact opposite of the one we have grown accustomed to. Here, Christians are not blessed for serving the needy of the world. Instead non-Christians are blessed for serving needy Christians.”

      Earlier today a friend point out to me Matthew 10:32. “Whoever acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge hm before my Father in heaven. But whoever disowns me before men, I will disown him before my Father in heaven.” It has given me pause. I truly am wrestling with these questions so please bare with me.

      I find there are three groups represented in this parable: the brothers of Jesus and two groupings of gentiles. This seems the most natural reading of the text. The brothers of Jesus are clearly Christian (Matthew 12:46-50). The goats are clearly not Christians (there destination being hell). What then shall we make of the sheep?

      The sheep are like the brothers of Jesus in that (1) they are called sheep as the followers of Jesus are called elsewhere in Matthew, (2) are blessed by the Son of Man’s (“my”) Father, (3) receive the kingdom as an inheritance.

      But none of these things proves they are Christians. That they are called sheep is due to the metaphor of division. That they are blessed is evident from the fact that they inherit the kingdom. And finally to call them Christians because they inherit the kingdom is to beg the question because this is precisely the issue called into question by the text. It appeared to me from your last comment that were saying that because the sheep are predestined for the kingdom they must be Christian. But you’re once again assuming the very issue that is called into question. I don’t disagree that the sheep enter the kingdom and or that they are predestined to do so. I do disagree (based upon the points I have observed) that all who enter the kingdom are “brothers” of Jesus.

      The sheep are like the goats in that (1) they come from the gentiles and (2) are judged on the basis of their works done for brothers of Jesus (i.e. Christians) – please don’t jump to any conclusions on this last point. I’m simply repeating the parable.

      (If this is a judgement of Christians its certainly strange that it appears to be based on works. Might there be a hint of Romans 2:6-8 here where Paul states, “God will give to each person according to what he has done. To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, he will give eternal life. But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger.” He goes on to say in v. 16 “This will take place on the day when God will judge men’s secrets through Jesus Christ, as my gospel declares.”) – I’m thinking out loud here. Back to the issue.

      If there are three groups then the brothers (i.e. those who follow Jesus) cannot be part of the gathered nations (gentiles). They stand distinct from those on the right and those on the left. Both the “sheep” and the “goats” are judged for what they have done with this third group (the group that represents Jesus).

      Because of the treatment of the brothers is the same standard weighed against both the sheep and the goats it appears that the brothers stand apart not just from the goats but the sheep as well. The brothers stand apart from the nations (gentile) – sheep and goat.

      That Jesus makes a distinction between his followers and the gentiles seems evident from such verses as Matthew 5:47, 6:7, 18:17. It may be that these sayings simply indicate that when Jesus spoke his followers were all Jews. But I don’t think so. Matthew on several different occasions has argued for the conversion of Gentiles. The word Gentile thus for Matthew appears to hold the connotation of those outside the Christian faith.

      I grant that there is room to doubt the interpretation I have offered. There are reasons to believe that sheep are in fact Christians. But there are just as many if not more reasons in the context of Matthew to see them as something other. Perhaps not non-Christian… but neither are they Christian in the “brother” sense. The sheep at least to me appear to represent some unexplored middle ground between the brothers and the goats.

      I’ve said a lot and I need to get some sleep. I’m sure we’ll have more to discuss tomorrow.

      God Bless
      Matthew Miller

  • Larry

    A third group! Are you serious? This third group must be in the white space in your Bible. Not in Matthew nor anywhere else in scripture is there a group of people representing “some unexplored middle ground between the brothers and the goats.” You have created a third group “not non-Christian but neither are they Christian in the brother sense.” I think instead of typing out your thoughts on this one you need to say it out loud and listen to what you are saying.

    ALL nations are gathered before Jesus (including your “third group”) and are divided into TWO groups. (1) The sheep: also described as those on the right, blessed, to receive the Kingdom, just, upright, ministered to Jesus’ brethren, go into eternal life. And (2) the goats, described as those on his left; also called the cursed, did not minister to the least of these; go into everlasting punishment.

    Every single person will be divided into either the sheep group or the goat group. Every single person—including the Brethern.

    • http://logosmadeflesh.wordpress.com Matthew

      Do the Gentiles include the Jews? Remember the word for nations is gentiles. You just said that every single person will be divided into either the sheep or the goats. Where might the Jews be found?

      Our respective interpretations are not the totality of interpretations. Those who hold to a dispensational view likewise see in this parable THREE GROUPS (The Jews and division among the Gentiles)! While I disagree with the way they interpret the “brothers” of Jesus, there interpretation at least takes the apparent distinction between the sheep and the brothers as an issue.

  • Larry

    The Jews have no special place when the nations are gathered and everyone is designated as either a sheep or a goat. As John said in Mathew 3:9, “And do not think you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham.”

    What did John tell them to do? Mathew 3:8, “Produce fruit in keeping with repentance.” Repent first—produce fruit second. What kind of fruit? Maybe like the things listed in Matthew 25:35-36. That person would be a sheep.

    It looks like we have just completed a lap around the track and are back where we started. I have made this point before but will make it one last time. You stated:
    You said:
    “I have not raised this issue for any reason other than what I have found in scripture. I recognize that my interpretation may be wrong. But I don’t see how it can be if the following observations are correct.
    1. There are three distinct groups in this parable: The “brothers” of Jesus, sheep and goats.
    2. “The least of these my brothers” are Jesus’ followers (Christians)
    3. The sheep and the goats are not the “brothers” of Jesus but are collectively the unbelieving world.”

    Let me again comment on your three observations.

    (Point #1)There are NOT three distinct groups in this parable. The parable teaches that Jesus will put every single person into 1 of 2 groups: Sheep or Goats. If there are three groups, your conclusion would be that works determines the sheep. But that is incorrect because:

    A works system has never worked. Adam was under a single works system and failed. “And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat: But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die. (Gen 2:16-17)

    The next works system was the Law of Moses. The scriptures very clearly teach that this system has not produced a single case of salvation. Paul said: “Now we know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law: that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God. Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin.” (Rom 3:19-20.)

    The law “was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith.”(Galatians 3:24) And once justified we might walk in the good works God had preordained for us. Good works like Matthew 25:35-36.

    Before a person can do a single good work the sin question must be dealt with. You might remember the Tabernacle floor plan in Exodus. Upon entering the first thing a person came to was the Brazen Altar—a sinner would come to the gate and stand there as a sinner. The priest would lead him into the outer court. The sinner would put his right hand upon the head of the animal he had brought. Then the animal was slain for the sins of the sinner and the priest would offer it on the Brazen Altar. That was as far as the individual went; from then on he went in in the person of his priest. But no one moved past the Brazen Altar until a sacrifice was made to cover sin.

    Without Christ’s sacrifice the sin question is not dealt with and every single person is a goat—dead in their own sin. But when that person sees their own personal need for a Savior, accepts Christ’s sacrifice for their sin they are born again. They are transformed from an enemy of God to a friend of God; from a goat to a sheep—they have been adopted into the family of God—they are now a brother (Brethren ) and are now ready to walk in the good works that God has preordained that they walk in. Good works like Matthew 25:35-36

    What if an enemy (goat) of God says, “look at my works—I have done all the things listed in Matthew 25:35-36, I should be in heaven.” God sees through the works to an unregenerated heart and Matthew 7:21-23 will become painfully true to that person. “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 who is in heaven. (What is the will of the father? John 6:28-29, “Then they asked him, “What must we do to do the works God requires? Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.”) Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles (and in your name do all the things listed in Matthew 25:35-36)?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you.(because, ”God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” I Samuel 16:7) Away from me, you evildoers!’”

    (Point #2) This is correct.

    (Point #3)The sheep and the goats are not the unbelieving world. The parable describes the sheep as blessed, just, upright, will inherit the Kingdom prepared before the foundations of the world and will have eternal life. They cannot be unbelievers otherwise unbelievers (enemies of God) can inherit the Kingdom. God is not putting his enemies into his Kingdom.

    • http://logosmadeflesh.wordpress.com Matthew

      Larry

      Once again thanks for the challenge. Sorry it’s been a couple weeks since my last response. I felt since I didn’t have anything new to add I would simply be saying what I already said only LOUDER. And of course this wouldn’t benefit either one of us. However, since then I’ve been able to read more on this parable in several books (An Introduction to the Parables of Jesus by Robert Stein, The Parables of Jesus by Arland Hultgren and Stories with Intent by Klyne Snodgrass). I can safely say that there are others who have proffered my interpretation with minor variation.

      Robert Stein states, “We should note that the passage distinguishes between two groups of the elect: the “sheep” and “the least of these my brethren.” This is what I have been saying.

      As to the nations he agrees with you, “In Joel 3:11F. AND Enoch 62-63 a distinction is drawn between the judgement of the nations and the judgement of Israel. Does Matt 25:31-46 presuppose a similar distinction. In Matthew the expression “all the nations” is found five times. In at least two instances it is clear that the expression include both Jews and Gentiles, for in 24:14 the gospel is to be preached “throughout the whole world, as a testimony to all nations” and it is difficult to exclude the jews from this statement.” In my earlier statement I was not saying that the Jews could not be apart of this judgement because they are not gentiles, my purpose was to point out the error of your defacto declaration that it must be so.

      I encourage you to read Stein’s interpretation. He observes that the parable is clearly connected with Matthew 10:40-42. “He who receives you receives me and he who receives me receives the one who sent me. He who receives a prophet because he is a prophet shall receive a prophets reward, and he who receives a righteous man because he is a righteous man shall receive a righteous man’s reward. And whoever gives to one of these little ones even a cup of cold water because he is a disciple, truly, i say to you, he shall not lose his reward.”

      He believes the distinction between the brethren and the sheep is the difference between Christian missionaries and those who receive their message. While I think this a fine an interpretation, I would still question it. Certainly the brother’s represent Christian missionaries but does the parable imply the works a symbol of their open and outward acceptance of the message? Couldn’t the sheep simply be helping the Christians because they are righteous?

      Thanks again
      Matt

  • Larry

    Here is my answer to your two questions. (1) Question #1. “Certainly the brother’s represent Christian missionaries but does the parable imply the works a symbol of their open and outward acceptance of the message.” Your wording of the question was bit confusing. The brothers do not perform the works—they are the recipients of the works. However, since they are Christians they also would be doing “good works which God prepared in advance for them to do.” (Ephesians 2:10) Because of this confusion I zeroed in on this part of the question, “does the parable imply the works a symbol of their open and outward acceptance of the message.” I took “their” to be the sheep since they are the ones who performed the good works.

    Now the answer to your question is YES, the good works are a symbol of the sheep’s open and outward acceptance of the message. By message I mean the salvation message—repent of your sins—see your need for a savior—accept Christ’s sacrifice on the cross as the only sacrifice acceptable to God that covers our sin and reconciles us to God. (2 Corinthians 5:14-21). Once born again then one would do good works, which God prepared in advance for one to do. (Ephesians 2:10) If the sheep are not born again, then the works are done in the flesh and they are “filthy rags to God.” (Isaiah 64:6) However, the sheep “inherit the kingdom prepared for them from the foundation of the world” thus showing that they are Christians, born again and heaven bound and the good works are a symbol of their acceptance of the “message.”

    (2) Question #2. “Couldn’t the sheep simply be helping the Christians because they are righteous?” Remember the sheep are also described as “blessed of my Father,” and will “inherit the kingdom prepared from the foundation of the world.“ This would tell me that they are heaven bound, Christians, born again, etc. If they are not Christians, they are doing those works in the flesh and not walking in the good works prepared from the foundation of the world. Re-read my previous response when I asked, “What if an enemy (goat) of God says, “look at my works—.”

    You used the word righteous like “maybe they did these good works because they are really nice people.” Remember, “there is no one righteous, not even one;” Romans 3:10. Then how do the sheep get this “righteousness” (they are called righteous at Matthew 25:37)

    Romans 4:6 reads, “Even as David also describeth the blessedness of the man, unto whom God imputeth righteousness without works,” (Romans 4:6). The word “impute” means “to pass to one’s account, to count over.” It means that Jesus places His righteousness upon our record when we trust upon Him for salvation. Romans 4:3, “For what saith the scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was COUNTED UNTO HIM for righteousness.” Abraham was not saved by good works; but rather, he believed God and was saved by Christ’s righteousness. Christ’s perfection was imputed (placed) on Abraham’s record in Heaven. God the Father viewed Abraham thereafter as having the righteousness of Christ. Abraham believed God concerning the coming Messiah which was to save His people from their sins . . . “And he believed in the LORD; and he counted it to him for righteousness” (Genesis 15:6). Why was Abraham able to simply believe God in place of merit or good works? It’s simply because Jesus paid the price for mankind’s sins. Abraham could NOT please God in his own self-righteousness, nor can we (Ephesians 2:8,9; Romans 10:3,4; Titus 3:5). No matter how much good we may do here on earth (like doing the good works in Matthew 25), our sins are still recorded in Heaven. Our sins must be dealt with (remember my reference to the Brazen Alter). This is why Jesus came to earth to pay the price for our sins with His own precious blood . . . “Forasmuch as ye know that ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold, from your vain conversation received by tradition from your fathers; But with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot.” (1 Peter 1:18) All mankind is corrupt and destitute of God. Even in our sincerest efforts, humanity is tarnished with the curse of sin and rebellion. We need HIS RIGHTEOUSNESS, i.e., the imputed righteousness of Jesus Christ. We are saved by Jesus’ righteousness through faith. “But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness” (Romans 4:5). Romans 4:8, “Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not IMPUTE sin.” Not only was Christ’s righteousness imputed (counted) to Abraham’s record, but Abraham’s sinful record was imputed to Christ. Literally, Jesus became as sin for us and died a sinner’s death . . . “For HE HATH MADE HIM TO BE SIN FOR US, WHO KNEW NO SIN; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him” (2nd Corinthians 5:21).

    “And therefore it was imputed to him for righteousness. Now it was not written for his sake alone, that it was IMPUTED to him; But for us also, to whom it shall be IMPUTED, if we believe on him that raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead” (Romans 4:22-24).

    This teaches that God is willing to IMPUTE Christ’s righteousness to us as well, just as He did to Abraham, if we’ll simply believe on the Lord… “To him give all the prophets witness, that through his name whosoever believeth in him shall receive remission of sins.” (Acts 10:43)

    These Scriptures were written for us, that we might also have Christ’s righteousness imputed to our record, and our sins imputed to Christ’s record. “He who knew no sin, became as sin, that we who knew no righteousness could be made the righteousness of God in Christ” (2 Corinthians 5:21).

    (2) Back to Question #2. “Couldn’t the sheep simply be helping the Christians because they are righteous?” The only possible answer is YES. The sheep are said to “inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” (Matthew 25:34) This would mean that being heaven bound they have accepted Christ’s sacrifice for their sins and Christ’s righteousness has been imputed to them. They then would be walking in the good works prepared for them (like the works mentioned in Matthew 25).

    • http://logosmadeflesh.wordpress.com Matthew

      All who enter the kingdom will do so because of the redemption purchased by Jesus upon the cross. No one is saved apart from His saving grace. The only issue I raise here is the means by which some will receive that Grace.

      Again looking at the parable this is what I find.

      1. the parable indicates there are three groups.

      2. The nations or gentiles of which the first two groups come is repeated description of nonbelievers in Matthew’s gospel.

      3. These two groups are judged on the basis of their works done for the third. Those who have done good to the third group will enter the kingdom. Those who have not done good to the third group will be cast into eternal fire.

      4. The third group is identified as the “brothers” of the Son of Man. Brothers in the context of Matthew is clearly a reference to followers of Jesus.

      5. Being distinct from the first two groups, the third group is not divided with them but rather belongs to the Son of Man.

      6. Both the first and second groups (divided as a shepherd separates sheep and goats) are both shocked to discover that they have aided the Son of Man. They are EQUALLY ignorant of his presence and activity.

      Robert Stein states, “whereas today’s reader tend to ask, “How can these things be?” there is no such question raised by the “sheep” and the “goats.” They understood this concept of corporate personality or solidarity. They knew that man’s envoy or representative is as himself, so that the way one treats the brethren is in effect the way one is treating the king they represent.”

      Why then are the sheep just as shocked as the goats? The only answer I can come to is that that sheep like the goats have not recognized the brothers because they have not recognized the Son of Man.

      I don’t believe I’m twisting the text in the least to arrive at this conclusion. You’re interpretation on the other hand appears to force the parable to say things it simply does not say.

      1. You say “There are only two groups,” a division between believers and unbelievers. There may be two destinations but the parable speaks of three distinct groups. Two of the groups come from the gentiles or unbelieving nations and a third group appearing in the Son of Man’s words.

      2. You say the judgement is not based upon works. Again this is wrong. The parable reveals that they have been judged according to what they have done.

      2. You suggest that the sheep are shocked because they are humble and play dumb but the goats are shocked because they are truly ignorant. Again this is clearly reading into the text. The parable indicates that both are shocked because they are ignorant. We cannot know that the sheep are just humbly playing dumb.

      Can you be so sure that your interpretation of the parable is correct when you’ve overridden at least three times what this parable in Matthew actually says?

      Again there is need to reconcile these two accounts within scripture. But should our interpretation of this parable be forced to bend to our interpretation of Paul or should our interpretation of this parable bend to our interpretation of Paul? Can there not be room for gray?

      Thanks again
      Matthew Miller

  • Larry

    You said, “All who enter the kingdom will do so because of the redemption purchased by Jesus upon the cross. No one is saved apart from His saving grace.”

    I absolutely agree with thus.

    But unfortunately and un-Biblically you go too far. You then attempt to slip WORKS in the back door by saying, “the only issue I raise here is the means by which some will receive that Grace.”

    You don’t need to a Bible scholar to know the means by which we receive Grace is by faith in Jesus Christ.

    I suggest you read Romans 3, 4, 5, 9, 10 and 11. Look especially at the words faith, righteousness and grace to see the relationship between the words. Note Romans 11:6, “But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works, otherwise grace is no longer grace.”

    Justification is by faith. True faith is God’s work (John 6:28-29), granted by God (John 1:29), and is concurrent with regeneration (2 Cor. 5:17), which God works in us by his will (John 1:13). The result of this justification and regeneration is that the sinner turns from his sin and towards doing good works. But it is not these works that earn our place with God nor sustain it. (If you haven’t yet—read Romans 3, 4, 5, 9, 10, 11 do so now) Jesus accomplished all that we need to be saved and stay saved on the cross. All that we need, we have in Jesus. All we need to do to be saved, to be justified, is to truly believe in what God has done for us in Jesus on the cross; this is why the Bible says we are justified by faith (Rom. 5:1). This true belief with justification before God and regeneration in the new believer, results in good works.

    There is no backdoor to heaven where those without faith in Jesus can enter by showing their GOOD WORKS card.

    • http://logosmadeflesh.wordpress.com Matthew

      I suppose James is equally un-biblical and should be tossed out the canon (as Martin Luther did).

      Paul says, what then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather, discovered in this matter? If, in fact, Abraham was justified by works, he had something to boast about – but not before God. What does the scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.” Now when a man works, his wages are not credited to him as a gift, but as an obligation. However, to the man who trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited to him as righteousness.”

      James says, You foolish man, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless? Was not our ancestor Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. And the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,” And he was called God’s friend. You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone.

      I’m sorry I won’t ignore or subvert the Bible when it says we will be judged according to what we have done.

      I’ll stand with Peter on this point.

      “Paul also wrote to you with the wisdom that God gave him. He writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters. His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction. Therefore, dear friends, since you already know this, be on your guard so that you may not be carried away by THE ERROR OF LAWLESS MEN and fall from your secure position.”

  • Larry

    In you April 21st reply you state, “All who enter the kingdom will do so because of the redemption purchased by Jesus upon the cross. No one is saved apart from His saving grace. The only issue I raise here is the means by which some will receive that Grace.”

    I answered your issue clearly and succinctly (15 words) in my April 22nd reply:

    THE ONLY MEANS BY WHICH WE RECEIVE THAT GRACE IS BY FAITH IN JESUS CHRIST.

    Your April 22nd reply was not clear or succinct. Let me again ask your own issue:

    WHAT IS THE MEANS BY WHICH SOME WILL RECEIVE THAT GRACE?

    • http://logosmadeflesh.wordpress.com Matthew

      Larry

      I believe based upon this parable that Jesus will count the deeds of those who have ministered to his needy family as faith towards himself. Their ignorance is real. They have not recognized the Son of Man until this moment. But the Son of Man informs them they have in fact “known” him all along. He may have been incognito to them but their activity towards his family has demonstrated their faithfulness to him.

      As I have pointed out it is you and not I who is twisting the facts to suit their preconceived opinions. I would gladly conform my interpretation to yours if you could demonstrate from Matthew that he is agreeing with your interpretation of Paul. But you haven’t wrestled with this parable at all. It says what you think it says. You might as well not read it. The parable for you is just another way of saying what you think Paul has so clearly said. But even Paul is not as clear as you think he is. The Apostle Peter had to write that into scripture.

      Matthew Miller

  • Larry

    Did you read what you posted on April 22nd quoting Paul, or did you just cut and past? That whole quote is an argument for justification by faith without works. You start by quoting Paul, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.” Too bad you failed to reference where this occurred in the OT. It was in fact Genesis 15:6. How was God able to credit this act of faith to Abraham’s account? He had not yet performed any good works. You see God looks at the inside (I Samuel 16:7). A point I had previously made. Now Abraham is able to walk in good works which God ordained. What good works might that be? Well, we just need to keep reading in Genesis to find out.

    You then quote James who talks about, “was not our ancestor Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the alter?” Again you should have referenced this verse, Genesis 22. Did God need to see this good work of Abraham before he was declared righteous? No! Abraham was declared righteous back in Genesis 15.

    Genesis 15 occurred first—faith. Genesis 22 occurred second—works. This order that Abraham demonstrated is the same for all who follow Abraham. Faith first, works second.

    To be saved means that God has delivered us (saved us) from His righteous wrathful judgment due us because of our sins against Him. It means that we will not be judged for our sins and be therefore sentenced to eternal damnation. To be saved means that we are justified before God. The issue at hand is whether or not this salvation, this justification, is attained by faith or by faith and something else.

    The scriptures clearly teach that we are saved (justified) by faith in Christ and what He has done on the cross. This faith alone saves us. However, we cannot stop here without addressing what James says in James 2:24, “You see that a man is justified by works, and not by faith alone.”

    There is no contradiction. All you need to do is look at the context. James chapter 2 has 26 verses: Verses 1-7 instruct us to not show favoritism. Verses 8-13 are comments on the Law. Verses 14-26 are about the relationship between faith and works.

    James begins this section by using the example of someone who says he has faith but has no works, “What use is it, my brethren, if a man says he has faith, but he has no works? Can that faith save him?” (James 2:14). In other words, James is addressing the issue of a dead faith; that is nothing more than a verbal pronouncement. It is empty of life and action. He begins with the negative and demonstrates what an empty faith is (verses 15-17, words without actions). Then he shows that that type of faith isn’t much different from the faith of demons (verse 19). Finally, he gives examples of living faith that is WORDS (faith first) followed by actions (works or deeds second). He writes of Abraham and Rahab as examples of people who demonstrated their faith by their deeds. Did Abraham (in Chapter 22) need to demonstrate his faith by works to God? No! He needed to follow his faith with works to be our example—God saw the heart—we need to see the works.

    In brief, James is examining two kinds of faith: one that leads to godly works and one that does not. One is true, and the other is false. One is dead, the other alive; hence, “Faith without works is dead,” (James 2:20). (Does God need to see the absence of faith to know a person has a dead faith—No! God reads the heart.)

    Can a person have a true faith but no works? Possibly! Someone could come to a true faith and shortly thereafter die. But fortunately, God reads the heart and credits this person’s belief as righteousness without works. ” (Example: the thief on the cross)

    Can a person who has a false faith perform good works? No! God sees the heart, knows the person is a fake and his “good works” that are done in the flesh are “as filthy rags” to God. What about men—how might they see such a person? Since we just see the works we may be fooled—but God is not and as I previously stated Matthew 7 will come into play.

    Remember, faith comes first—works second. Genesis 15 (faith) comes before Genesis 22 (works).

    • http://logosmadeflesh.wordpress.com Matthew

      Larry

      I am fully aware of the context of this verse. The fact that both Paul and James quote the same passage with apparently different results suggests to me that James like Peter is also correcting a misreading of Paul. Paul in Romans states, “For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law (Romans 3:28).” James states, “You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone.”

      I agree that James is referring here to a faith that is simply of words (I would add internal belief). But that’s how Paul is often interpreted. Paul is not speaking about this kind of faith. I tend to agree with the New Perspectives that the “works of the law” refer to the ceremonial requirements of the law that kept Jews distinct from gentiles (particularly circumcision and dietary regulations). Its not the moral requirements – “To do justly, to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” For even Paul says we will be judged according to our deeds.

      “For He will repay according to each one’s deeds: but glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek. For God shows no partiality. (Romans 2:6,10,11).”

      The “works” of which Paul speaks are the “works of the law” that make a Jew distinctively a Jew. It is not these things which make for salvation. Paul as the Apostle to the Gentiles is arguing against those who would make Gentiles Jews.

      Its clear from scripture that faith saves but the right faith is faith that works. You’re wrong if you say words alone leads to salvation. True faith is working faith.

      “Can a person who has a false faith perform good works? No! God sees the heart, knows the person is a fake and his “good works” that are done in the flesh are “as filthy rags” to God.” You obviously have misread Matthew 7. Jesus says in Matthew 7, “You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the disease tree bears bad fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.” False prophets look to flashy deeds but we are to look to those who do the “will of the Father who is in heaven,(i.e. the consistent living Jesus describes in Matthew 5-7).

      Once again you’ve ignored the parable in Matthew 25.

      Love ya Brother
      Matthew Miller

  • Larry

    Your reply on April 23, “Jesus will count the deeds of those who have ministered to his needy family as faith towards himself.” You are saying deeds first, faith second. Paul and James agree that Abraham is our example for faith and works (deeds as you say) and the relation between the two. And what did Abraham’s example show. Paul talks of what happened in Genesis 15—Abraham’s faith. James talks about what happened in Genesis 22—Abraham’s deeds. Keep this in mind: 15 comes before 22 and faith comes before works. In your April 23rd reply you argue deeds first then the deeds are counted as faith. This would make deeds first and faith second. Unfortunately Genesis 22 (Abraham’s deeds) does not come before Genesis 15 (Abraham’s faith).

    Fifteen comes before 22 and faith comes before deeds. Of course, your whole Matthew 25 blog depends on deeds first and then faith, thus your desire to not admit you are wrong on Matthew 25—going as far to state deeds first then the deeds are counted as faith. But Paul and James use Abraham as the example and it is very clear—faith first—deeds second.

    15 comes before 22

    • http://logosmadeflesh.wordpress.com Matthew

      Lary

      Who says its not faith first? The bible teaches that works demonstrate faith. You yourself said the works are the fruit and not the root of their salvation. The works may demonstrate to the Son of Man that they had the right faith all along. They may be ignornate of the Son of Man but their faithfulness to the Son of Man’s family has demonstrated their faith towards him.

      I understand that you’re struggling with how to interpret Paul in light of this passage. Let me ask it again. What if I’m right? Could this text potentially be saying something that you don’t agree with or something that doesn’t appear to agree with Paul? Yes it can. It may be that we need to take a second look at Paul and not the other way around.

      Matthew Miller

  • Larry

    “Who says it’s not faith first??” It was some guy named Matthew who wrote a blog on March 22nd entitled, “Will Some Who Have Never Known Jesus Be Accepted into His Kingdom?” Matthew summed up his blog on April 23rd with this quote: “Jesus will count the deeds of those who have ministered to his needy family as faith towards himself.” Deeds first—faith second—the writer of that quote said it. That was you, was it not? Or was that your ‘evil’ twin.

    Now you are asking, “Take a second look at Paul” of Tarsus—are you serious? How about taking a second look at Matthew of the Blogosphere and his April 23rd quote? If you take a second look at Paul you will need to take a second look at James and a second look at Moses. Paul talks about Abraham’s faith (Genesis 15) and James talks about Abraham’s deeds (Genesis 22) and Moses puts them in the proper order—Genesis 15 precedes Genesis 22 and Faith precedes Deeds.

    You also state, “The works may demonstrate to the Son of Man that they had the right faith all along.” Really?? The Son of Man needs to see a demonstration to know one’s heart. Did not Jesus know the real question in Nicodemus’s heart in John 3; the real desire of the Samaritan women at the well in John 4; and the rich ruler’s real hang-up in Luke 18? And then there is 1 Samuel 16:7 (which I have quoted before), “The LORD does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.”

    15 comes before 22

    • Matthew

      Larry

      I have to laugh. You keep saying I’m source of the problem. I didn’t create this issue. I just cut the chords by which you had bound and gaged it. I don’t think you like this parable very much.

      On what basis does the Son of Man judge? On what basis are some invited into the kingdom and others sent away? The parable says “BECAUSE” you did it or did not do it. He doesn’t say “BECAUSE” you believed. I didn’t say it. I didn’t write it. I didn’t poke the hole in your neat theology. God did.

      Does the parable indicate that the sheep have the type of cognitive faith you AND I (read that last part) think necessary to enter the kingdom. Nope. Jesus says they’re ignorant like the goats.

      Who says its not faith first? I didn’t.

      Focus Larry. Please discuss the parable and not why you feel it doesn’t fit with your interpretation of every other passage of scripture.

      Matthew Miller

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  • Saskia Scott

    I was trawling the web to see if anyone else had this interpretation. Apparently John Gill, who wrote a commentary, also interpreted it this way? Anyhow, thanks for writing this because when I read this parable, what you write here seems to me the plainest way of interpreting it.
    I really think that when the resurrection and judgement happens, God will do things nobody expects. I don’t think any paradigm will cover it, except to say that God will be perfectly just, righteous, merciful and loving.

    oh and PS I think integral to this whole idea is the notion that the church is literally Christ’s body on earth. So even if you don’t identify as Christian (perhaps because of some past trauma or some other reason), yet you love and minister to the church – well, then in a very real sense, you could be said to be ministering to Christ Himself. Responding to Christ. Loving Christ. Even if you do not realise this is what you’re doing. Which is, now I think about it, exactly what the sheep in the parable experience.

    • http://logosmadeflesh.com/ Matthew Miller

      I’ll have to read more John Gill. 🙂 I couldn’t agree with you more about the church being the literal body of Christ here on earth. I think Acts 9:5 is key. “Who are you, Lord?” Saul asked. “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,” he replied.

  • David

    Slightly off topic, but I did see James and Paul referred to in the comments. I’m sorry I can’t cite the reference right now, but it’s probably put forth by more than one scholar.

    Proposition: Sometime early in Paul’s ministry, he starts preaching “You’re saved by faith, not works [of the Law].” That message spreads and, not surprisingly, gets warped by some proto-antinomians who start saying, “Hey, it doesn’t matter what we do, so long as we believe.” This is not good. James writes in response to such shallow an understanding of grace/faith/works.

    Paul would certainly be understanding, but as his theology develops (and perhaps as the pendulum swings in favor of Judaizers), he doubles down on his message with a robust reexamination of the Abraham passage from James’ letter and works that into his grand opus we call his letter to the Romans.

    Bottom line: James wrote first in response to nascent misconceptions. Paul wrote after James in order to clarify.

    That’s my working hypothesis, and it makes sense to me, so long as I’m not missing any timing clues.

    I know this is a few years old, but really interesting post; I’ll be chewing on this for a while.