The Inheritance of the Saved
Then the King will say to those on His right, “Come, you who are 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 invited Me in; 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 drink? And when did we see You a stranger, and invite You in, or naked, and clothe You? And when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?” And 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.” (25:34–40)
Jesus here reveals unequivocally that the Son of Man who sits on the glorious throne (v. 31) is also the Son of God, the divine King. After his subjects are separated, the King will say to those on His right, “Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” Those will be the believers who have survived the holocaust of the Tribulation, and they will be ushered alive into the millennial kingdom, which has been prepared for them from the foundation of the world.
Doubtlessly anticipating the salvation-by-works interpretations that would be made of verses 35–45, the Lord made clear that believers will not inherit the kingdom based on good deeds they will have or will not have performed on earth. 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. They will in no way earn a place in the kingdom. A child does not earn an inheritance but receives it on the basis of his being in the family. In exactly 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 (Rom. 8:16–17).
Prepared for you accentuates the selectivity of salvation. From before the time the world was created, God sovereignly chose those who will belong to Him. And “whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the first-born among many brethren” (Rom. 8:29). The source of salvation is the Father’s blessing, the reception of salvation is through faith, and the selectivity of salvation is in the advance preparation of the Father made in ages past. Stressing the same truth, Peter declared, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time” (1 Pet. 1:3–5).
The good deeds commended in Matthew 25:35–36 are the fruit, not the root, of salvation. It cannot be emphasized too strongly that 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 avail to any spiritual benefit. To such people the Lord will say, “I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness” (Matt. 7:23).
Nevertheless, the genuinely righteous deeds 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, 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” (v. 40).
The Lord then lists six representative areas of need: being hungry, thirsty, a stranger, naked, sick, and in prison. The kingdom is for those who have ministered to such needs in the lives of God’s people, because those good deeds evidence true, living faith. They are characteristic of God’s children and kingdom citizens. “If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food,” James warns, “and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,’ and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that? Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself” (James 2:15–17). John proclaims the same truth in similar words: “Whoever has the world’s goods, and beholds his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in Him? Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth” (1 John 3:17–18). Scripture is very clear in teaching that the evidence for assurance of true salvation is not found in a past moment of decision but in a continuous pattern of righteous behavior.
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 (see Matt. 6:2, 5, 16), they have seemingly forgotten about the many things they have done and are surprised that these are worthy of such mention by the Lord.
The King addresses them as the righteous, not simply because they have been declared righteous in Christ but because they have been made righteous by Christ. Their works of service to fellow believers give evidence that they are themselves the product of divine “workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:10).
The good deeds mentioned in these verses all deal with common, everyday needs. There is no mention of monumental undertakings or of spectacular accomplishments (cf. Matt. 7:21–23, where the claim to the spectacular is useless) but only of routine, day-to-day kindnesses that help meet the needs of fellow believers. Nothing more evidences conversion than a life marked by the compassion of God and the meekness and love of Christ. When the disciples of John the Baptist wanted evidence that Jesus was the Messiah, He replied by telling them not just about His spectacular healings but also about how He treated those in need (Matt. 11:4–6). When He announced His messianic credentials to the people of Nazareth, He again reflected not on the amazing but on the way He treated the poor, the prisoners, the blind, and the downtrodden (Luke 4:18–19). The person who belongs to Christ will demonstrate such compassion and be humble about it.
When the King’s self-effacing 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.”
The King’s addressing these people as brothers of Mine gives still further evidence that they are already children of God and do not become so because of their good works. The writer of Hebrews declared, “For both He who sanctifies and those who are sanctified are all from one Father; for which reason He is not ashamed to call them brethren” (Heb. 2:11). “The one who joins himself to the Lord is one spirit with Him,” Paul says (1 Cor. 6:17), and because of that union a believer can say, “It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me, and delivered Himself up for me” (Gal. 2:20).
When the disciples were arguing about which one of them was the greatest in the kingdom of heaven, Jesus set a small child in front of them and said, “Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you shall not enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 18:3). A person who does not come to Christ in the humble trustfulness that is characteristic of small children will have no part in His kingdom at all, much less be considered great in it. Jesus continued, “Whoever then humbles himself as this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever receives one such child in My name receives Me” (vv. 4–5). The physical child standing before them represented the spiritual child of God, the person who is converted (v. 3) by believing in Christ (v. 6). The person who lovingly serves the children of God proves himself to be a child of God.
“He who receives you receives Me,” Jesus told the disciples on another occasion, “and he who receives Me receives Him who sent Me” (Matt. 10:40). Whatever believers do for each other they also do for their Lord Jesus Christ, and the person who genuinely receives and serves Christians in Christ’s name proves he himself is a Christian. The self-giving service of Christians to each other in Christ’s name is a key external mark that identifies them as God’s people. Jesus said, “By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35).
It is to the practical manifestations of such love that Christ the King will call attention as he ushers the Tribulation saints into His millennial kingdom. Believers during those seven years, especially during the devastating last three and one-half years, will have great need for the basics Jesus has just mentioned. Because of their identity with Christ, they will often be hungry, thirsty, without decent shelter or clothing, sick, imprisoned, and alienated from the mainstream of society.
Those who will have met the needs of fellow believers will themselves have suffered great need. Few, if any, believers during the frightful days of the Tribulation will be able to give out of abundance. Most of them will have resources hardly sufficient to meet their own needs. Their divinely inspired generosity to each other will have set them apart as the Lord’s people even before, as returning King, He publicly declares them to be His own.
40. Verily I tell you. As Christ has just now told us, by a figure, that our senses do not yet comprehend how highly he values deeds of charity, so now he openly declares, that he will reckon as done to himself whatever we have bestowed on his people. We must be prodigiously sluggish, if compassion be not drawn from our bowels by this statement, that Christ is either neglected or honoured in the person of those who need our assistance. So then, whenever we are reluctant to assist the poor, let us place before our eyes the Son of God, to whom it would be base sacrilege to refuse any thing. By these words he likewise shows, that he acknowledges those acts of kindness which have been performed gratuitously, and without any expectation of a reward. And certainly, when he enjoins us to do good to the hungry and naked, to strangers and prisoners, from whom nothing can be expected in return, we must look to him, who freely lays himself under obligation to us, and allows us to place to his account what might otherwise appear to have been lost.
So far as you have done it to one of the least of my brethren. Believers only are expressly recommended to our notice; not that he bids us altogether despise others, but because the more nearly a man approaches to God, he ought to be the more highly esteemed by us; for though there is a common tie that binds all the children of Adam, there is a still more sacred union among the children of God. So then, as those who belong to the household of faith ought to be preferred to strangers, Christ makes special mention of them. And though his design was, to encourage those whose wealth and resources are abundant to relieve the poverty of brethren, yet it affords no ordinary consolation to the poor and distressed, that, though shame and contempt follow them in the eyes of the world, yet the Son of God holds them as dear as his own members. And certainly, by calling them brethren, he confers on them inestimable honour.
34–40 The change from “Son of Man” (see Reflections, p. 247) to “King” (vv. 31, 34) is not at all unnatural; the Son of Man in Daniel 7:13–14 approaches the Ancient of Days to receive “a kingdom,” and here that kingdom is consummated (see comments at 24:30). The kingship motif has long since been hinted at or, on occasion, made fairly explicit to certain persons (see comments at 3:2; 4:17; 5:35; 16:28; 19:28; 27:42). Yet Jesus still associates his work with his Father, something he loves to do (10:32–33; 11:25–27; 15:13; 16:17, 27; 18:10, 19; 20:23; 26:29, 53; and many references in John). He addresses the sheep, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father” (v. 34). “Blessed” is not makarioi (as in 5:3) but eulogēmenoi (as in 21:9; 23:39). They are “blessed” inasmuch as they now take their inheritance (Ro 8:17; Rev 21:7), which presupposes a relationship with the Father. That inheritance is the kingdom (see comments at 3:2) prepared for them “before the creation of the world” (Jn 17:24; Eph 1:4; 1 Pe 1:20). This glorious inheritance, the consummated kingdom, was the Father’s plan for them from the beginning.
The reason they are welcomed and invited to take their inheritance is that they have served the King’s brothers (cf. Isa 58:7). The thought is antithetical to Paul only if we think this is all Matthew says and that all Paul says touches immediately on grace. Both assumptions are false: 2 Corinthians 5:10 is related to the thought of this parable, and Matthew has other things to say about the salvation of men and women (1:21; 11:25–30; 20:28). The reason for admission to the kingdom in this parable is more evidential than causative. This is suggested by the surprise of the righteous (vv. 37–39; see comments below). When he is questioned, the King replies that doing the deeds mentioned to the least of his brothers is equivalent to doing it to him (v. 40), and by implication to refuse help to the King’s brothers is sacrilege (Calvin).
There is no awkwardness in the scene that requires a disjunction between the sheep (the righteous) and “the least of these brothers of mine,” for in pronouncing sentence on each one, the King could point out surrounding brothers who had been compassionately treated.
He will bring his people into the presence of God (vv. 34–40)
His people are those who have served him and whose service has been evident in a life of devotion to him. Matthew is not telling us that people who do good things will go to heaven; rather, he is telling us that good things are an evidence of true discipleship and genuine faith. Those who are saved by faith are judged by their works, since their works show how much they were willing to deny themselves in the service of others. The phrase ‘you did it to me’ (v. 40) is a clear indicator of the Christ-centred and Christlike character of their religion. The faith that saves by trusting to the work of Christ shows itself to be genuine by its fruits and practical consequences. Those who have served Christ in this way enjoy the inheritance prepared for them; they enter into the final reality of the kingdom of heaven.
25:37–40. Note that The righteous answered in surprise; they did not remember when they had met all these needs of the Messiah. The king began his answer with I tell you the truth, indicating the absolute truthfulness of his next statement.
Not all of the righteous served the king to the same degree, but all served with a right heart. The answer continues, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me. By brothers (a generic Gr. term that could also include “sisters”), Jesus meant his followers (his disciples all ages; see Jesus’ new definition of his family in 12:50; cf. 28:10), since we share with him the same Father.
Anyone who met the need of even the most insignificant of Jesus’ followers was ministering to him. Jesus identified this closely with his family on earth (Acts 9:4–5). On the least among the believers, see Matthew 11:11; 18:4; 20:26–28; 23:11. On Jesus’ identification with believers conducting their evangelistic mission, see Matthew 10:11–14, 40–42. On equating love for people with love for God, see Matthew 22:37–40.
Jesus defined more clearly one important component of remaining on the alert and being ready (24:42, 44; 25:13) for the Messiah’s return. We will be faithfully doing the kingdom work if we care for the needs of those around us.
 Calvin, J., & Pringle, W. (2010). Commentary on a Harmony of the Evangelists Matthew, Mark, and Luke (Vol. 3, p. 181). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.