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Matthew 25's Parable of the Sheep and Goats includes the following passage (Matthew 25:34-40).

"Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave Me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave Me something to drink, I was a stranger and you took Me in, 36 I was naked and you clothed Me, I was sick and you looked after Me, I was in prison and you visited Me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer Him, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You something to drink? 38 When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You? 39 When did we see You sick or in prison and visit You?’ 40 And the King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of Mine, you did for Me.’"

(Also see Matthew 18:5, "And whoever welcomes a little child like this in My name welcomes Me.", where "unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven" (18:3).)

Given that Jesus specifically mentions 'brothers', not everyone, and given Matthew 12:48's

"48 But Jesus replied, “Who is My mother, and who are My brothers?” 49 Pointing to His disciples, He said, “Here are My mother and My brothers. 50 For whoever does the will of My Father in heaven is My brother and sister and mother.”"

where 'brother' = 'one who does the will of the Father', is Matthew 25:40 meant to apply to how we treat Christians in specific, or people in general?

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  • @Dottard I mean to ask whether those to whom one does actions must be Christians for it to be equivalent to doing those things for Christ. Oct 2, 2022 at 22:48
  • See my answer below.
    – Dottard
    Oct 2, 2022 at 23:39

3 Answers 3

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It is true that the NT defines "bothers" in more than one way:

1. Followers of Christ as per:

Matt 12:50 - For whoever does the will of My Father in heaven is My brother and sister and mother.”

2. Humanity generally as per:

Heb 2:11 - For both the One who sanctifies and those who are sanctified are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers.

It in this second sense that Matt 25:40 uses the term "brethren". Note the comments of the Pulpit commentary:

Unto one of the least of these my brethren. That is, not the apostles, nor specially but all the afflicted who have fellowship with Christ in his sufferings and Any such he is not ashamed to call his brethren. Ye have done (ye did) it unto me. The Lord so perfectly identifies himself with the human family, whose nature he assumed, that he made their sorrows sufferings his own (Isaiah 53:4; Isaiah 63:9; Matthew 8:17), he suffered with the sufferers; his perfect sympathy placed him in their position; in all their affliction he was afflicted From this identification it follows that he regards that which is done to others as done to himself.

Ellicott arrives at a similar conclusion:

(40) Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren.—The words are true, in different degrees of intensity, in proportion as the relationship is consciously recognised, of every member of the family of man. Of all it is true that He, the Lord, who took their flesh and blood, “is not ashamed to call them brethren” (Hebrews 2:11). We have here, in its highest and divinest form, that utterance of sympathy which we admire even in one of like passions with ourselves. We find that He too “counts nothing human alien from Himself.”

Barnes is similar:

My brethren - Either those who are Christians, whom he condescends to call brethren, or those who are afflicted, poor, and persecuted, who are his brethren and companions in suffering, and who suffer as he did on earth. See Hebrews 2:11; Matthew 12:50. How great is the condescension and kindness of the Judge of the world, thus to reward our actions, and to consider what we have done to the poor as done to him!

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  • 'Humanity generally' . . . 'as per Heb 2:11'. Are you suggesting that humanity generally is 'sanctified' ? ?
    – Nigel J
    Oct 3, 2022 at 1:10
  • @NigelJ - look at the surrounding verses - Jesus was made like us and so is our brother.
    – Dottard
    Oct 3, 2022 at 6:20
  • Only those who are begotten again of Spirit, by the Father, are 'brothers' of Jesus Christ. This is not the whole world, evidently.
    – Nigel J
    Oct 3, 2022 at 14:22
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Matthew 25:31-33 is an image of the 2nd coming of Christ, and the final judgement. The dialogue between the King and the righteous in Matthew 25:34-40 revealed a scene that the righteous didn't recall what had they done that pleased the King.

This can only explain that the righteous were doing it naturally, without distinction of their objects whether doing good to Christian or non-Christian; old or young; friends or enemies.

We may recall the sermon on the mount (Matthew chapter 5-7), "Love for Enemies"

43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47 And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matthew 5:43-48 NIV)

Matthew 25:40 has a time setting of the final judgement, and what the righteous did was in their earthly life. They would not know the objects they served eventually become "the least of brothers of Mine (God)". They just did naturally without selection.

Therefore my conclusion is;

The 'least of these brothers and sisters' in Matthew 25:40 does not refer just to Christians by the time the righteous did, for if it was, "what reward will we get?" (Matthew 5:46)

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The OP specifically asks "where 'brother' = 'one who does the will of the Father', is Matthew 25:40 meant to apply to how we treat Christians in specific, or people in general? Given this assumption, the answer has to be "yes" - it is meant to apply to how we treat Christians. (I will leave aside the issue of whether non-Christians are ever included in "one who does the Father's will.") Either way, the assumption misses Jesus' point, as I see it.

Although there are certainly passages from Jesus where he emphasizes the need to have a right faith, there are others where Jesus teaches that doing, not believing, is the key. This is nowhere better exemplified than the Parable of the Good Samaritan, which is prefaced by Jesus and his interrogator agreeing the "loving one's neighbor" is the paramount commandment along with loving God with all one's heart. It is in loving God and one's neighbor that a person will attain eternal life. (Lk. 10:26) So we are left asked the same question as the teacher of the law in this story: "Who then is my neighbor?" (Lk. 10:29)

Jesus answers this question by telling the famous Parable. The lesson is that being a good neighbor transcends the issue of the religion and ancestry of the person needing help.

Whether "brother" in the OP means 'a Christian' or not isn't the issue. The issue is whether, like the Samaritan man in the parable, one acts as a true neighbor to people in need.

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