Scripture Study October

The Hard Sayings of Jesus

At Bible group we were looking at the hard sayings of Jesus – in particular this week it was looking at the scripture of ‘the sheep and the goats’.

Matthew 25: 31-46

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne.32 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. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 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,36 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.’

37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’

44 “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’

45 “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’

46 “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”

In regards to the hard sayings of Jesus we must not reject them or try to sweeten them just because they are hard. Sometimes the truth is unpalatable but it is still the truth.

For instance when Jesus says to the people in the synagogue that they will not enter the kingdom of heaven unless they drink his blood and eat his flesh, the disciples found this too hard and so walked away – it was unpalatable to them.

Jesus said to them, "I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. John 6:53 NIV

He said this while teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum. On hearing it, many of his disciples said, "This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?" John 6:59-60

This was his own disciples, those who up to this point had been following Jesus but now turned away because they found this to be too hard to follow.

Many therefore of his disciples, when they had heard this, said, This is an hard saying; who can hear it? King James Bible

This is an hard saying - The word "hard" here means "offensive, disagreeable" - that which they could not bear. Some have understood it to mean "difficult to be understood," but this meaning does not suit the connection. The doctrine which he delivered was opposed to their prejudices; it seemed to be absurd, and they therefore rejected it.

The doctrines which Jesus taught that were so offensive appear to have been:

1. that he was superior to Moses.

2. that God would save all that he had chosen and those only.

3. that he said he was the bread that came from heaven.

4. that it was necessary to partake of that; that it was necessary that an atonement should be made, and that they should be saved by that.

These doctrines have always been among the most offensive that men have been called on to believe, and many, rather than trust in them, have chosen to draw back to perdition, that is the entire loss; utter destruction; ruin; esp., the utter loss of the soul, or of final happiness in a future state; future misery or eternal death.

The sheep and the goats seems to fall in to this category – that God would save the chosen ones. There is a lot of mention of separation of those who follow Jesus and those who don’t as in the example the wheat and the chaff, one brother taken up and another left in the field, one woman taken and another left, the seven foolish virgins and the seven wise.

Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left. Matthew 24:40

Matthew 24:41 Two women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken and the other left.

Here Jesus is saying that people will either be separated into eternal punishment or eternal life.

A separation was to take place between the righteous and the wicked, which was not done at Jerusalem. The rewards and punishments are declared to be "eternal."

His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire." Matthew 3:12

Matthew 13:30 Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.'"

The Old Testament says:

Psalm 1:4 Not so the wicked! They are like chaff that the wind blows away.

The sheep and the goats is also about a ‘heart condition’, just as Jesus always says to go the extra mile and stretches the commandments – give your brother your coat, not to look on a woman with lust in your heart, loving your Christian brothers and sisters, so he is saying here it is not good enough to be a disciple unless you are also expressing that outwardly in Christian action and social care.

Matthew Henry's Concise Commentary states:

25:31-46 This is a description of the last judgment. It is as an explanation of the former parables. There is a judgment to come, in which every man shall be sentenced to a state of everlasting happiness, or misery. Christ shall come, not only in the glory of his Father, but in his own glory, as Mediator. The wicked and godly here dwell together, in the same cities, churches, families, and are not always to be known the one from the other; such are the weaknesses of saints, such the hypocrisies of sinners; and death takes both: but in that day they will be parted for ever. Jesus Christ is the great Shepherd; he will shortly distinguish between those that are his, and those that are not. All other distinctions will be done away; but the great one between saints and sinners, holy and unholy, will remain for ever. The happiness the saints shall possess is very great. It is a kingdom; the most valuable possession on earth; yet this is but a faint resemblance of the blessed state of the saints in heaven. It is a kingdom prepared. The Father provided it for them in the greatness of his wisdom and power; the Son purchased it for them; and the blessed Spirit, in preparing them for the kingdom, is preparing it for them. It is prepared for them: it is in all points adapted to the new nature of a sanctified soul. It is prepared from the foundation of the world. This happiness was for the saints, and they for it, from all eternity. They shall come and inherit it. What we inherit is not got by ourselves. It is God that makes heirs of heaven. We are not to suppose that acts of bounty will entitle to eternal happiness. Good works done for God's sake, through Jesus Christ, are here noticed as marking the character of believers made holy by the Spirit of Christ, and as the effects of grace bestowed on those who do them. The wicked in this world were often called to come to Christ for life and rest, but they turned from his calls; and justly are those bid to depart from Christ, that would not come to him. Condemned sinners will in vain offer excuses. The punishment of the wicked will be an everlasting punishment; their state cannot be altered. Thus life and death, good and evil, the blessing and the curse, are set before us, that we may choose our way, and as our way so shall our end be.

Deuteronomy 11:26 says :”See I am setting before you today a blessing and a curse ...”

Deuteronomy 30:1 When all these blessings and curses I have set before you come upon you and you take them to heart wherever the LORD your God disperses you among the nations,

Deuteronomy 30:15 See, I set before you today life and prosperity, death and destruction.

Deuteronomy 30:19 This day I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live

This is why we have been offered the free gift of hope in Jesus and the opportunity to live under the Blessing of God and not the curse of the enemy.

Clarke's Commentary on the Bible states:

Behold, I set before you - a blessing and a curse - If God had not put it in the power of this people either to obey or disobey; if they had not had a free will, over which they had complete authority, to use it either in the way of willing or nilling; could God, with any propriety, have given such precepts as these, sanctioned with such promises and threatenings? If they were not free agents, they could not be punished for disobedience, nor could they, in any sense of the word, have been rewardable for obedience. A Stone is not rewardable because, in obedience to the laws of gravitation, it always tends to the center; nor is it punishable be cause, in being removed from that center, in its tending or falling towards it again it takes away the life of a man.

That God has given man a free, self-determining Will, which cannot be forced by any power but that which is omnipotent, and which God himself never will force, is declared in the most formal manner through the whole of the sacred writings. No argument can affect this, while the Bible is considered as a Divine revelation; no sophistry can explain away its evidence, as long as the accountableness of man for his conduct is admitted, and as long as the eternal bounds of moral good and evil remain, and the essential distinctions between vice and virtue exist. If ye will obey, (for God is ever ready to assist), ye shall live; if ye will disobey and refuse that help, ye shall die. So hath Jehovah spoken, and man cannot reverse it.

The sheep are the ones who follow their shepherd and the goats are the ones who turn away and have hardened their hearts towards God and Man.

We must always temper God’s judgment with His mercy, as we see in Jesus’ treatment of the woman caught in adultery, the woman at the well or the Tax Collector who He chose to dine with. Jesus always confounded the traditions of the day by offering mercy, conviction rather than condemnation.

Jesus wants all to come to the knowledge and truth of Himself.

Ecclesiastes 10:2 The heart of the wise inclines to the right, but the heart of the fool to the left.

Clarke's Commentary on the Bible says:

He shall set the sheep, etc. - The right hand signifies, among the rabbins, approbation and eminence: the left hand, rejection, and disapprobation. Hence in Sohar Chadash it is said, "The right hand is given, the left also is given - to the Israelites and the Gentiles are given paradise and hell - this world, and the world to come." The right and left were emblematical of endless beatitude and endless misery among the Romans. Hence Virgil: -

Hic locus est, partes ubi se via findit in ambas,

Dextera, quae Ditis magni sub moenia tendit:

Hac iter Elysium nobis; at laeva malorum

Exercet poenas, et ad impia Tartara mittit

Aen. vi. 540

Here in two ample roads the way divides,

The right direct, our destined journey guides,

By Pluto's palace, to the Elysian plains;

The left to Tartarus, where bound in chains

Loud howl the damn'd in everlasting pains.

Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible says:

And he shall set the sheep on his right hand,.... That is, the elect of God, and true believers, such as have the grace of God truly implanted in them; the sheep the Father gave unto Christ, and made his care and charge, whom he, as the good shepherd, laid down his life for; and who know his voice in effectual calling, and follow him in the way of his ordinances and appointments; and are comparable to sheep for their meekness and innocence, their simplicity and usefulness, and their harmless and inoffensive lives, and conversations: these Christ will set on his right hand, as a token of his affection for them, and a mark of respect and honour shown them, and as a pledge of that exaltation and glory he will be about to raise them to,

But the goats on the left; that is, the foolish virgins, wicked, and slothful servants, graceless professors, who, because of the impurity of their hearts, the filthiness of their lives, and their offensiveness to Christ, are compared to goats: these he will place at his left hand, in token of his disaffection for them, as a brand of disgrace upon them, and as an intimation of that dishonour, and miserable condition they will quickly be in. These different situations plainly pre-signify how things will go with each, that one will be acquitted, and made happy, the other will be condemned, and become miserable. Agreeable to which the Jews say that there is a right hand and a left hand with the Lord: they that are on the right hand, are such as have done well, and are "for absolution"; and they that are on the left hand are criminals, and are "for condemnation". Some think the allusion is to the two Scribes in the sanhedrim, who stood before the judges, one on the right hand, and the other on the left, and wrote the sentences; the one of those that were acquitted, and the other of those that were condemned. We speak about Jesus sitting at the right hand of God.

HE Parables of the Ten Virgins' and of the Unfaithful Servant' close with a Discourse on the Last Things,' the final Judgment, and the fate of those Christ's Righ Hand and at His Left (St. Matt. xxv. 31-46). This final Judgment by our Lord forms a fundamental article in the Creed of the Church. It is the Christ Who comes, accompanied by the Angelic Host, and sits down on the throne of His Glory, when all nations are gathered before Him. Then the final separation is made, and joy or sorrow awarded

God has come as a God of Mercy in the New Testament. Now are the days of Mercy. But God will come as a judge, to judge the Nations. We should seek Jesus now while His Mercy may be found. That there is a judgment to come, in which every man shall be sentenced to a state of everlasting happiness, or misery, in the world of recompence or retribution, according to what he did in this world of trial and probation, which is to be judged of by the rule of the everlasting gospel.

The administration of the judgment of the great day is committed to the Son of man; for by him God will judge the world (Acts 17:31), and to him all judgment is committed, and therefore the judgment of that day, which is the centre of all. Here, as elsewhere, when the last judgment is spoken of, Christ is called the son of man, because he is to judge the sons of men (and, being himself of the same nature, he is the more unexceptionable); and because his wonderful condescension to take upon him our nature, and to become the son of man, will be recompensed by this exaltation in that day, and an honour put upon the human nature.

Christ will come to the judgment-seat in real glory: the Sun of righteousness shall then shine in his meridian lustre, and the Prince of the kings of the earth shall show the riches of his glorious kingdom, and the honours of his excellent majesty; and all the world shall see what the saints only do now believe-that he is the brightness of his Father's glory. He shall come not only in the glory of his Father, but in his own glory, as mediator: his first coming was under a black cloud of obscurity; his second will be in a bright cloud of glory. The assurance Christ gave his disciples of his future glory, might help to take off the offence of the cross, and his approaching disgrace and suffering.

When Christ comes in his glory to judge the world, he will bring all his holy angels with him. This glorious person will have a glorious retinue, his holy myriads, who will be not only his attendants, but ministers of his justice; they shall come with him both for state and service. They must come to call the court (1 Th. 4:16), to gather the elect (ch. 24:31), to bundle the tares (ch. 13:40), to be witnesses of the saints' glory (Lu. 12:8), and of sinners' misery, Rev. 14:10.

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