Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Jesus knows what the Last Day will be like -- and what justice looks like

Jesus' teaching of the Last Judgment is something very nearly unforgettable.
When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate them one from another, as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left. Then the King will tell those on his right hand, ‘Come, blessed of my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry, and you gave me something to eat. I was thirsty, and you gave me drink. I was a stranger, and you took me in. I was naked, and you clothed me. I was sick, and you visited me. I was in prison, and you came to me.’

Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry, and feed you; or thirsty, and give you a drink? When did we see you as a stranger, and take you in; or naked, and clothe you? When did we see you sick, or in prison, and visit you?’

The King will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, because you did it to one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did it to me.’

Then he will say also to those on the left hand, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire which is prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry, and you didn’t give me food to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave me no drink; I was a stranger, and you didn’t take me in; naked, and you didn’t clothe me; sick, and in prison, and you didn’t visit me.’

Then they will also answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and didn’t help you?’

Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly I tell you, because you didn’t do it to one of the least of these, you didn’t do it to me.’ These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life. (Matthew 25:31-46)

The teaching is striking and memorable in several different ways. First, there is the clear, plain rightness of the actions called for. Rarely do you find a teaching that is so plainly and thoroughly good. Here is a teaching that can change the world -- and to the extent that people listen and follow, it does in fact change the world. These are the words that created Mother Theresa of Calcutta and brought thousands of people to help her. The same words have created followers for Jesus in every age.

Next is the profound fairness of the way the groups are separated. Earlier in his teachings Jesus had said, "With the measure you use, it will be measured to you," and "Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy." Each person is shown to choose how the Judge will treat him by how he treats others. Jesus' teaching silences the complaint “God is unfair”. Can a person complain it is unfair for the Lord to treat them in the same way they treat others? ("You can't treat me the way I treat everyone else! It's unfair!" -- That person has just testified against himself, that he treats others badly, treats them in a way he would not want to be treated.) There is an unanswerable justice to it all.

There is the tender kindness shown to "the least of these brothers of mine" -- to show that the Lord sees himself in each of them. There is no room for doubt about whether the judge of all the earth has compassion on everyone, even the least. The only topic on the table is whether we have the same compassion.

The focus of Jesus' teaching is not on the judge, but on justice, on compassion, on mercy, on the least of the brothers -- so it's easy to miss what is not the focus: Jesus portrays himself as the one judging the world. He doesn't make a big deal out of his status; that seems taken for granted and not his main point. But it might explain how he knows so clearly what the Last Day will be like.

7 comments:

Martin LaBar said...

"He doesn't make a big deal out of his status; that seems taken for granted and not his main point. But it might explain how he knows so clearly what the Last Day will be like."

Weekend Fisher said...

Thanks for the encouragement.

Take care & God bless
Anne / WF

Jason Pratt said...

{{There is no room for doubt about whether the judge of all the earth has compassion on everyone, even the least.}}

While I agree with that, it's still a fact that most people doubt Jesus is going to have compassion on those baby goats, quite explicitly the least of Christ's flock, who are about to be put by Jesus into the position of the people they themselves didn't bother to have compassion on.

It's the final Synoptic parable (even GosMark and GosLuke don't have parables set after the departure from the Temple), and looks designed to be the climactic unexpected test of Jesus' audience: are we, professing to be disciples of Christ, going to interpret it as the mature flock/sheep would?

Or as the baby goats would?


(I know you yourself would interpret it like one of the mature flock. ;) But I couldn't remember if I ever mentioned these details while you were around, so... {g} )

JRP

Weekend Fisher said...

Hi Jason

I think the reason that most people ... how did you put it ... "doubt that Jesus will have compassion on those baby goats" is because Jesus' words *to* them begin "Depart from me, accursed" and don't really go uphill from there, and his last words *about* them are "These will go away into eternal punishment." I'm not seeing a lot of poor little "baby goats" there.

Jesus' whole structure of the parable is designed to show two different groups who had two different judgments. "The least of these brothers of mine" are consistently portrayed in the parable as the needy in this world, not the people who find themselves on the wrong side of judgment because they refused to help the needy.

Take care & God bless
Anne / WF

Jason Pratt said...

Anne,

That's why it's a Synoptic testing riddle. {wry g}

The baby goats (and in the Greek they are definitely baby-goats) are literally presented as being the least of Christ's flock. From OT testimony we know what kind of punishment they're going to be put into; the kind that involves them being hungry now, and thirsty, and sick, and in need of clean clothes, and strangers outside, and imprisoned.

By the internal logic of the parable, there ought to be no room for doubt that the judge of all the earth shall in fact have compassion on everyone--even if He has to punish some people by putting them into a state that they themselves refused to have compassion on.

But the internal logic is broken if the Good Shepherd and His mature flock now act like baby goats to the least of Christ's flock who are being punished for acting like that to others who were the least of Christ's flock.

It's wrong to act like baby goats to anyone who is the least of Christ's flock, but logically that includes toward the baby goats (revealed as literally the least of Christ's flock in that judgment, in an ironic unexpected reversal of their own expectations.)


The punishment there is {kolasis} in Greek, which is a metaphor derived from agricultural cleaning. It's basically the same thing as the branches being grafted in and out from Rom 11--it might be hopeless or not, depending on the intentions and competency of the one doing the kolasis.

The parallelism of "eonian" for both the life and the punishment is a problem, but not an intrinsically insurmountable one. There are at least two other times in the scriptures (one OT, one NT) when the exact same adjective is used for superficially similar but ultimately different duration meanings in direct topical comparison. (Completely aside from whether the adjective is supposed to be about duration per se at all.) Context determines if a contrast is intended; and the baby-goat internal logic of the parable points directly to expecting such a contrast.


(For portions of a web-radio debate I did back in October, where among other things I commented on the sheep and the goats, see the end of my main argument and the second half of my rebuttal. The whole debate lasted over 3-1/2 hours, but most of what I had to say about the sheep and the goats can be found there.)

JRP

Weekend Fisher said...

Bless your heart, but that's not fitting into my schedule tonight. Maybe next week I'll give it a listen.

To me, the bottom line is that Christ's word on the subject is the last word on the subject. As for 3.5 hour debates -- I'm sure there were two sides involved in the length, still the most typical thing in a long argument is that everyone loses sight of the point.

Take care & God bless
Anne / WF

Jason Pratt said...

{lol!} I had originally requested a debate only on one or two verses or very limited topics, precisely because I didn't want to bird-dog around widely, but Chris (the host and originator of the debate) eventually insisted on five verses to make the debate seem like it was worth doing.

Considering the scope inherent in even five verse sets, I think we both stayed on topical track quite well. We wandered around a bit more in cross-exam, but that's normal for that phase. Rather than rehash my side of the argument I closed with an evangelical appeal and let my opponent have the final word in summary if he wanted to. (Which he took, with a short evangelical appeal himself at the end. A totally Arminianesque appeal, which amused me greatly considering he's a Calv apologist. {ggg!})

As for Christ's last word on the matter, I guess that would be His evangelical appeal (and prophecy) at the end of RevJohn, to those suffering the lake of fire judgment outside the city after the coming of the New Jerusalem--which by the way I reference in the debate, in direct topical connection to the judgment of the sheep and the goats. {wry g}

The Good Shepherd and the good sheep are going out after the imprisoned and punished 'baby goats', just like expected, to offer them food, water, clean clothing, to heal them from their sicknesses, to invite them in so they'll no longer be strangers. The wicked may keep on being wicked, but the righteous will still keep on being righteous: and that's what the righteous servants do in regard to the rebels being punished.

The judge of all the earth does indeed have compassion on everyone, even those who will then be the least. {s!}

JRP