(Originally published on my blog)
Matthew 25:31-46 (KJV):
31 When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory: 32 And before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth [his] sheep from the goats: 33 And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left. 34 Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: 35 For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: 36 Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me. 37 Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed [thee]? or thirsty, and gave [thee] drink? 38 When saw we thee a stranger, and took [thee] in? or naked, and clothed [thee]? 39 Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee? 40 And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done [it] unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done [it] unto me. 41 Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels: 42 For I was an hungred, and ye gave me no meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink: 43 I was a stranger, and ye took me not in: naked, and ye clothed me not: sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not. 44 Then shall they also answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto thee? 45 Then shall he answer them, saying, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did [it] not to one of the least of these, ye did [it] not to me. 46 And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal.
Matthew 13:24-30 and 36-43 (KJV):
24 Another parable put he forth unto them, saying, The kingdom of heaven is likened unto a man which sowed good seed in his field: 25 But while men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat, and went his way. 26 But when the blade was sprung up, and brought forth fruit, then appeared the tares also. 27 So the servants of the householder came and said unto him, Sir, didst not thou sow good seed in thy field? from whence then hath it tares? 28 He said unto them, An enemy hath done this. The servants said unto him, Wilt thou then that we go and gather them up? 29 But he said, Nay; lest while ye gather up the tares, ye root up also the wheat with them. 30 Let both grow together until the harvest: and in the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, Gather ye together first the tares, and bind them in bundles to burn them: but gather the wheat into my barn.
36 Then Jesus sent the multitude away, and went into the house: and his disciples came unto him, saying, Declare unto us the parable of the tares of the field. 37 He answered and said unto them, He that soweth the good seed is the Son of man; 38 The field is the world; the good seed are the children of the kingdom; but the tares are the children of the wicked [one]; 39 The enemy that sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the world; and the reapers are the angels. 40 As therefore the tares are gathered and burned in the fire; so shall it be in the end of this world. 41 The Son of man shall send forth his angels, and they shall gather out of his kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity; 42 And shall cast them into a furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth. 43 Then shall the righteous shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Who hath ears to hear, let him hear.
The Matthew 25 passage quoted above follows Lord Jesus’s description of the Tribulation. The Tribulation ends, and then Jesus judges the individuals from the non-Jewish nations, basing His judgment on how these individuals treated Jews (possibly the 144,000 Jews mentioned in Revelation chapter 7) during the Tribulation. Those who treated Jews well get to enter the promised Kingdom, those who were selfish–note, they didn’t abuse the Jews, they just failed to treat them well–were not allowed into the Kingdom, and were in fact cast into outer darkness. It seems that assisting Jewish people in the Tribulation will require personal sacrifice–giving one’s last slice of bread or last swallow of water to a starving Jew, and trusting that God will provide for one in some other way (think of Elijah and the widow in Sidon). Based on this, the preachers that I listen to have concluded that the “sheep” in this parable are believers, while the goats are unbelievers. It makes sense; who but a believer in Jesus would trust God enough to risk personal starvation or imprisonment on behalf of a Jew?
Now, consider the second set of passages I quoted, from Matthew 13. This “wheat and tares” parable begins the series of “Kingdom parables”. What do we see in this first Kingdom Parable? We see unbelievers–“tares”–getting into it, and becoming a problem. Most preachers and Bible teachers I listen to apply this, and the other Kingdom Parables, to the Church. So, we have the interpretation that Jesus is teaching that unbelievers are going to get into the church and cause problems. However, my understanding is that the Church is not the Promised Kingdom, so these parables do not apply to the Church Age. If I am correct, then the implication is that unbelievers will enter the Kingdom at the end of the Tribulation. It means that there will be unbelievers who will give their last crust of bread to a starving Jew, but still survive to the sheep and goat judgment. They will be the “tares” that Satan plants, as a last resort, to thwart the success of Christ’s kingdom. It is apparent from the text that Lord Jesus bases His decision on what the people do, not on how they believe. Saying that only believers help Jews in the Tribulation is reading into the text an interpretation that isn’t there.
This doesn’t mean that the “tares” are saved by works; also, the sheep are not saved by works–if by “saved” we mean “obtain forgiveness of sins and gain the blessing of eternal life”. The actions of the sheep gain them access to the Promised Kingdom, but I do not see that they also earn the sheep eternal life.