NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
by Dr. Robert R. Seyda
GOSPEL OF MATTHEW
Verse 45: “The king will answer, ‘The truth is, anything you refused to do for any of my people here, you refused to do for me.’”
In other words, this is a case of God’s quid pro quo that is as old as Abraham.1 Solomon passed on this same truth.2 This is the natural reaction of some people who complain that they shouldn’t be punished for something they didn’t do. But we all have learned that often times neglect to do anything brings on a greater catastrophe than trying to do something even if it turns out to be wrong. So our Lord does not mince words in what He says next:
Verse 46: “Then these evil people will go away to be punished forever. But the godly people will go and enjoy eternal life.”
One’s eternal destiny based on their obedience or disobedience was made clear to Daniel: “There are many who are dead and buried. Some of them will wake up and live forever, but others will wake up to shame and disgrace forever.”3 The destination of the disobedient being hellfire was not new to Jewish thought. In a Targum on Isaiah, we find this quote on: “The sinners in Zion are afraid; terror has seized the wicked, who, when they were committing theft in their ways said: Who of us will dwell in Zion, in which the brightness of His Shekinah is like devouring fire? Who of us will journey to Jerusalem, where the wicked will be judged, to be thrown into everlasting fire?”4
The sad part is, that this lake of fire was originally prepared for the devil and his cohorts. So it is no wonder that the same punishment meant for Satan will be carried out on all those who work for him and serve his purposes. There are several theories explaining what some feel God was really saying when He said let us make man in our image, and they were created a little lower than the angels,5 One conjecture is that after God created man to resemble Him, Satan became jealous that this new creation was made in the image of God, and influenced other angels to join him in the rebellion that caused his, and their, fall to earth. They say it was especially humiliating when the devil found out that many in this new creation were destined to become children, not angels, of God.6
That’s why his first attempt after his fall was to get mankind to join him in his rebellion. Not only that but Satan and his angels’ connection to hell are also spoken of in Jewish literature. They say: “The fire which the Holy One, blessed be He, created on the second day of the week will never be extinguished.”7 So when put together, the Jews taught that the fallen angels fell on the second day of creation, and it was on the same day that God created hell just for them.
At the same time, they taught that heaven, the place for the saints to dwell forever in joy, was prepared on the first day of creation. So these things have been awaiting the day of judgment ever since. And again in the Targum on Isaiah we read, “For hell is made ready from eternity on account of their sins; yea, the eternal King hath prepared it deep and wide: a fiery pyre as of abundance of fuel burns in it: the Word of the Lord, like an overwhelming torrent of brimstone, will kindle it.”8 So this idea was not new, and Jesus.
There is no question that Jesus meant this as a revelation of the last days and His second coming, followed by the judgment. Here people will be judged on their willingness to follow the commandments of the Lord by being a light on the hill and the salt of the earth. The supposition of whatever they did for the most insignificant of the world they were, in fact, doing for Him, can be extended even beyond the deeds mentioned here by Christ. The reason being, of course, is that after Jesus finished with His list of hunger, thirst, loneliness, clothes, illness and prison, He then said, “Whatever” you did for them, you did for Me (see verse 41 above.)
Not only will we be judged on what we did, but on what we didn’t do (see verse 45 above.) Furthermore, there is room to include things we did do, albeit wrong, such as jealousy, hatred, persecution, bias, etc. Beware that, in the end, you are not classified as a goat. Most of the disciples no doubt knew of the old Jewish saying in their verbal teachings: “Be it known to you that the world to come was made only for the righteous.”9
As Jesus and His disciples were leaving the Temple area,10 what He had to say about the buildings being reduced to rubble should have given them a clue that things may not turn out the way they anticipated when the Messiah came. And now that He had spent a great deal of time with them on the Mount of Olives explaining why they should be ready and not surprised for events yet to come, we can almost see the look of disbelief in their eyes. I can imagine one of them whispered to another, “This is not what I was expecting.” But our Lord’s drama concerning His passion was just beginning. Now, even more frightening things would be revealed. I can also envision that Jesus wondered if they were ready for what He was about to tell them.
1 See Genesis 12:3
2 See Proverbs 14:31; cf. 17:5; 21:13
3 Daniel 12:2
4 Isaiah 33:14, The Chaldee Paraphrase on the Prophet Isaiah, London Society’s House, 1871, p.109
5 Psalm 8:4-8
6 See Isaiah 14:12
7 Babylonian Talmud, Seder Mo’ed, Masekhet Pesachim, folio 54a
8 The Chaldee paraphrase on the Prophet Isaiah by Jonathan ben Uzziel, Trans. C.W.H. Pauli, London Society’s House, London, 1871, Ch. XXX:33, p. 102
9 Babylonian Talmud, Seder Nashim, Masekhet Yebamoth, folio 47a
10 See Matthew 24:1