We are familiar with the text in Mathew 25, where Jesus speaks of his rule over the nations, separating them according to how they treat the weak among mankind. “I was hungry and you fed me, naked and you clothed me, sick and you came to me, in prison and you visited me.” These are the lowest, the ones the Pharisees rejected as judged by God, as forsaken by him. But in Jesus’ kingdom they are the pinnacle. The text says, “the least of these my brethren.” Some people use this to leave out those we don’t want to serve. “It’s only his brethren”, we say. That may mean the Jews, or Christians. So we can exclude the unbelieving or the Muslims. “Brethren” here has a different meaning. As we saw in the previous section on the Good Samaritan, the neighbour is any one in need. Here, brethren are anyone who suffers. Jesus identifies with the suffering of this world through his cross. He suffered at the hands of the oppressive nations, and he thus relates with all who suffer at their hands today. When we associate with the suffering, whoever they are and from whatever background, we are associating with him. “For as much as you did this to the least of these my brethren you did it to me.”
This is what we have missed about Jesus. Because we are trained in sectarianism, we have considered brethren to mean only this or that group. But this goes against the whole grain of Jesus’ teaching, about our inviting all others to our feasts, to help heal those in need. Again, we have here in Matthew 25 another peace text. When we care for those suffering, and include them from whatever background, it begins to build peace into our societies. There can be nothing more simple. Mercy becomes justice to the downtrodden which brings peace. This is the peace kingdom Isaiah spoke of. Jesus’ brethren are any persons on the road to Jericho, anyone in our flesh and blood. We all come from the same flesh and blood.
The second thing about this section in Matthew 25 is that it is apocalyptic, or eschatological. This doesn’t mean “endtimes”, as we often think of that today. It means the time in which God’s kingdom comes to renovate the world. This is the kingdom and time Jesus was announcing in his ministry. His ministry began with, “The kingdom of heaven is at hand.” This was the time it was to begin. Not at his second coming, but now, when he spoke. He was about to die, rise and ascend to heaven. From there he would sit on his throne and rule over the nations of the world. This is what the text is speaking about. Like as Daniel 7 says, “I saw one like the Son of man ascend on the clouds and coming to the Ancient of days and seated upon his throne, and given dominion over all the nations.” This is exactly what Jesus was describing. He ascends on the clouds to his throne, where the nations are gathered under his rule. The word for “coming” in the Greek is Parousia, which means the coming of the kingdom of God. It may be coming in judgement, but in this case it means Jesus coming into his kingdom by ascending and being seated on his throne in heaven. This is in the presence of the Father and of his holy angels.
The purpose of this rule is the renovation of all things, just as the apostles declare in Acts. He is seated until all things are renewed. The nations, world and creation are renovated, restored, just like we would renovate a house. If satan enters and burns a house, God doesn’t destroy it and give it up, he restores it. This is why Jesus came into this world.
The method of his rule is through his church. He is renovating the world by bringing a new kind of mercy to the world through his people. This renews lives and renews minds and in time renews nations. It is not through politics or by armies, because these always get tainted. Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. It is through service to the least that his kingdom restores the nations. The is the judgement of his kingdom. Judgement in the scriptures often means restoring. When God comes to judge he comes to set things in order. He is doing this through the church. Just as Jesus said to his disciples, in his kingdom, rule is from the bottom up, not top down. The leader is the one who serves the least of the people. This is how God judges and restores the world, by turning over the selfcentred rule of empires, whether commercial or political, and bringing about a new form of life.
“See, a king will reign in righteousness and rulers will rule with justice. Each one will be like a shelter from the wind and a refuge from the storm, like streams of water in the desert and the shadow of a great rock in a thirsty land.” (Isaiah 32:12) Isaiah describes how it is that the new kingdom extends its blessing and renovation over the world. Jesus comes into his kingdom, as Jesus announced in his ministry, and those who rule are his followers, his disciples, who renovate and rule by serving those in need. This is how the Roman Empire was changed, as testified to by the Emperor Julian. He said the Christians loved their enemies and fed them and cared for them no matter who they were, and that he had no match for this kind of power. He said the Christians were taking over the Empire, without a sword, and no sword could stop them. This is the way. The question is, do we want it. Just like Rome, those nations that refuse to serve are selfdoomed to failure and oblivion.
In Matthew 25 Jesus was referring also to the text in Ezekiel 34 (see verse 17 onwards) that describes the good shepherds. These are the ones who gather the sheep, the sick and wounded. and bring them into care. Ezekiel said this was the type of kingdom that God was going to set up over the word to restore it. It is this passage and this restoration that Jesus is declaring just before his ascension. Ezekiel said the new shepherd would divide the nations like sheep and goats, those who refused to serve would perish as the world is renewed. This means we are a part of this restoration now. We aren’t waiting for Jesus to return before this judgement and rule takes place. It is taking place now in the world through us, as we join with him in his type of servingruling. The great news is that we are a part of this today. We don’t live for ourselves as Christians and wait till he returns. We realise it is now that he is working to judge and to set the world in order, through us taking up our cross to serve our enemies. Are we going to keep on destroying our enemies to fix the world? Or are we going to begin doing what Isaiah said. This is how in his kingdom swords are beaten into serving instruments. It starts with us.
We have greatly misrepresented these passages over the years, just like many of the Jews did in Jesus’ day. We have said they are about Jesus returning to destroy our enemies, rather than about the gospel empowering the church to serve our enemies, renewing all things, even in the midst of our suffering. We have read the scripture this way, and not understood the Hebrew symbols used, because of our mindset regarding our enemies and the usual worldly ways they are dealt with. We haven’t understood that God uses these worldly cultural terms and, as Isaiah shows, transforms them into a new way of ruling and conquering, which was exhibited by Jesus when he gave his life for us as our Good Shepherd.