Many people misunderstand Jesus’ final parable in Matthew 25: the sheep, the goats, and the end-time judgment. We think that when Jesus says, “What you have done unto the least of these,” He primarily means how we treat those who are poor and needy. Caring for poor and needy people is a major theme of Jesus’ teaching, but that isn’t His focus here.

To grasp the true meaning of the “least of these” of Matthew 25, let’s consider the chapters around it.

In Matthew 23 Jesus stands in the Temple and makes a final desperate appeal to His beloved Israel. It was to Israel that Jesus had once offered the cup of His covenant on Mount Sinai, promising to make them His “treasured possession” (Ex. 19:5). Israel received the cup and said, Yes, we want to live forever with You in the land of promise.

But again and again the ... »
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