The Gospel of Matthew is the first Gospel in our New Testament. While it was not the first gospel written in our collection of four Gospels, it nonetheless is the record of the ministry of Jesus Christ according to Matthew. Our writer was a former tax collector in the Jewish nation. Matthew, a Jew, was a contract worker for the empire of Rome. He collected more than what was required in taxes, becoming a wealthy man but simultaneously he was viewed as the “other.” His own Jewish people viewed him as a traitor, one of the lowest of society. You can see the disdain that others had for people like him as he was included in a list of undesirables; “tax collectors and sinners.” Yet Jesus Christ chooses Matthew as he is working his profession. His action in choosing a tax collector and eating with a tax collector and these “others,” only confirmed what he told the religious leaders of his day, “Go and learn what this means, “I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.” For I came not to call the righteous but sinners” (Mt 9:13).
If you survey the landscape of Christianity in America regarding eschatology or last things, it can easily be compared to standing in front of your local Redbox at Walmart. You lift up the red screen cover, place your index finger on the screen and begin to scroll through the numerous options.
The options for “purchase” are overwhelming. There are differing millennial views: Pre-Millennial, PostMillennial and A-millennial. There is the futurist view which includes dispensationalism having all of what we read in Revelation and Matthew 24/25 as some time ahead of us; in contrast to the preterist view which has those same events already concluded. Then of course we have even smaller categories to choose from involving the timing of the rapture, the identity of the anti-Christ and “is my social security number just the prequel to the mark of the beast?”
While all of these options have their place in the “Redbox of eschatology,” and should be discussed; what we have missed to our detriment and the detriment of the world are the words of Christ that lead us out of the trailer of the present age and into the new heavens and earth which is the grand motion picture.
I want to specifically address the words of Christ and what I consider a great importance regarding our responsibility to love the poor and its implications in our understanding of eschatology. So this week I want us to consider three questions.
1) What will that day be like when we stand before Christ?
2) What opportunity are we given to interact with Christ now?
3) What will be the result of our interactions?
What will that day be like when we stand before Christ? (Mt 25:31-34; 41)
On this day, not only do we see Jesus, the Son of Man seated on his throne, but also all peoples will be gathered before him. “Before him will be gathered all the nations...” These are not political nations based on how governments divide up territories. These are ethnic groups of the human race. Every ethnicity from every location will be brought together at the throne of their creator and it will be a glorious day. Yet this imagery of the gathering of divided ethnicities then transitions into a division of these same people.
A careful shepherd knows his sheep. He looks among the multitude of creatures and he recognizes those for whom he would freely and joyfully give his life for. He is that shepherd that leaves his gathered 99, to secure his lost 1. Notice it is not the angels who do the separating but it is the Son of Man who separates “people from one another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.” I need to ask, “Do you have the certainty, the assurance, that Christ will lead you to his right hand?” The Good Shepherd has laid down his life for his sheep and when the Gospel call goes forth, those that are his sheep will hear his voice and believe. They will not follow the voice of false prophets and those that claim they have some new knowledge which only leads to death. If you hear his voice, I urge you to believe. Follow after this shepherd who says, “I will bring them out from the peoples and gather them from the countries, and will bring them into their own land. And I will feed them on the mountains of Israel...I will feed them with good pasture. I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I myself will make them lie down... I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, and the fat and the strong I will destroy. And I, the LORD, will be their God...” (Ez 34:13-14, 15, 24).
This will be a glorious day for us. We will behold our God, Savior and King in all his glory. You will be gathered with the saints who have longed to see the coming of their salvation and with new ears you will hear, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” But for those that are goats, men and women who are not in community with Christ, it will most certainly be the day of justice. It will be a day of clouds and darkness. You will sadly not hear the gracious words of Christ’s blessings but according to Christ himself he will say, “Depart from me, you cursed, into eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.”
What opportunity are we given to interact with Christ now? (Mt 25:35-36, 42-43)