Summary: He who has the last laugh determines relevancy.
The Question is Not: “Is God Relevant?”
Often what is put last is of the highest importance. For example, Luke ends Jesus’ public teaching at the Temple with the story of the widow’s mite, noting that she gave more than the rich who gave much in that she gave her all. This passage has been interpreted as an example of giving one’s all. Although this isn’t wrong, the fact that this is the last of Jesus’ public ministry yields a far more important lesson. This woman had cast all she had left into the treasury. She was going to go home and die. Everyone could hear the dull thud of metal into the box as compared to the loud ringing of gold and silver coin by the offering of the rich. The money collected there helped construct the magnificent Temple complex which had awed the disciples. Jesus’ point is that no one came to the help of the poor widow, which the Book of James reminds us is the true religion. This is one of the reason the Temple was going to be judged and destroyed. It was a religion of show and not of substance.
The passage we are studying this morning is the end of Jesus’ sermon after He had left the Temple for the final time, lamenting its coming desolation. This would place the timing of this sermon as occurring immediately after the passage we cited from Luke 21:1-4. The disciples were awed by the appearance of the Temple, and Jesus used this as an occasion to preach this final sermon from the Mount of Olives, the place from which Jesus would soon ascend back to the Father, and the mountain to which He would return at the end of time to judge the earth. This mountain is opposite the mountain from which the blessings of the Sermon of the Mount were proclaimed at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. The Mount of Olives outside the wall of Jerusalem becomes the mount of cursing.
Jesus begins his sermon with the prophecy of judgment against Jerusalem and is known as the Apocalypse of Matthew. It graphically portrayed the events in Jerusalem which would culminate in the Roman siege of Jerusalem and the burning of the city and destruction that would occur within one generation. He also uses this destruction as a paradigm for the destruction preceding the second coming of Jesus.
Immediately before this morning’s passage are the Parable of the Ten Virgins and the Parable of the Talents which reinforce the idea that God’s people need to be careful to do the work of the Kingdom in the time between the ascension of Jesus and His return and to be prepared for it. The true servant of Jesus is one whom Jesus finds doing his or her assigned tasks when He returns.
Exposition of the Text
This morning’s text begins with the events following Jesus’ return to earth with a host of His angels. This will be a time of separation of the sheep and the goats, the righteous and the wicked. In the Parable of the Tares, Jesus said that the wheat and tares were to remain together, lest someone uproot the wheat with the tares. Wheat and tares looked alike. It was only when the plants came to head and produced fruit that the difference between the two can be seen. This parable is relevant to the understanding of this text we are covering. It is God alone who can see who is who and rightly separate the righteous and the wicked.
What is important to note here is the field where the separation is to occur. Most Jews of Jesus’ day felt the separation at the end of time would be between the Jews and all the Gentiles. The Jews felt a sense of election and predestination and rested upon their false assumption that they were Israel. But there is no mention of Israel here. The place where God was going to separate his people from the wicked was among the Gentile world. There is a consistent thread in the gospel of Matthew about the makeup of the true Israel, the People of God. Some consider Matthew as being a gospel written to Jewish-Christians; however, whereas Matthew is concerned about the people of God, the true Israel comes out from all the nations, not ethnic and national Israel alone. In the beginning of the Gospel, we have the visit of the Gentile Magi. The end of chapter 4 talks about the crowd which would assemble to hear the Sermon on the Mount were a mixed group of Jews and Gentiles. The visit to Caesarea Philippi in chapter 16 was to Gentile territory. (For those who want to know how this relates to what I am saying here can read the sermon “Upon This Rock” which is in this sermon archive.) Finally, if we look at the Great Commission at the end of the Gospel, it is a call to make disciples of all the nations (Gentiles. Baptism replaces circumcision. The true Israel are the believers in Christ.