Baker Academic

Monday, January 30, 2017

BREAKING - Jesus: "eternal fire for those who fail to welcome strangers"

Jerusalem (AP) -- Lord Jesus Christ spoke to disciples from the Mount of Olives condemning those who claim to be his followers but who refuse to welcome strangers. Speaking eschatologically, Jesus said:

‘When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. Then the king will say to those at his right hand, “Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.” Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?” And the king will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” Then he will say to those at his left hand, “You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.” Then they also will answer, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?” Then he will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.” And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.’


  1. Isn't the "least of these" intended to be an in-group reference to Christians though? Seems Trump's stance on immigrants is equally preferential.

    1. Not certain about this, Alex. If "all the nations" was first spoken in Hebrew or Aramaic, it would most naturally refer to all the gentiles. If so, Jesus' reference to his family would probably be his Jewish disciples. So perhaps this is an instruction for gentile believers to care for the perceived "other".

    2. Been arguing about this on Facebook. There are two problems with the "least of these" being Jesus-followers. First is the one I remember pointed out by A.-J. Levine: if they were Jesus followers, wouldn't they KNOW if they'd ever visited Jesus in jail, or failed to do so? Why would they think to ask if this had ever happened? The questions from sheep and goats make more literal sense if the questioners did not know Jesus, if all they knew is this glorious figure that stood before them. Of course they'd wonder when such a figure had ever been sick or in prison, and hoping for visitors.

      A second point against the least of these being Jesus-followers: how could the nations be judged in Jesus' time or Matthew's time based on how they treated Jesus followers, when there were so few Jesus followers? Few people would be sheep or goats, and Jesus come in glory would have very few cases to judge. 99% of humankind would remain unjudged, or would have to be judged by a different standard.

      We concluded on Facebook that if the "least of these" refers only to Christians, then this passage was probably intended only to recommend nice treatment to Christians. Which, for sure, would rob the passage of much of its magnificence.

    3. I'm with you, Larry. I really think the typical interpretation of this passage as being about caring for Christian missionaries or "believers" needs to be problematized. The argument is usually based off the Matthean usage of "brother" elsewhere to refer to Jesus' disciples, and the observation that the Greek underlying "least of these" is the superlative of "little ones," which elsewhere in Matthew refers to disciples. I should start by noting that these arguments are really only effective if we are only trying to get at what Matthew (as opposed to the remembered Jesus) meant by the passage, but that's perhaps neither here nor there. I would argue that nowhere in the context of this passage are "believers" or an of in-group clearly in view. Acts of justice and love are understood in the synoptic tradition to be directed externally (love for enemies, the Good Samaritan), not internally. Further, "the stranger" (Gk. 'xenos,' v. 43) in both early Jewish and Christian tradition (e.g., LXX Job 31:32; Ruth 2:10; Eph. 2:12, 19) typically refers quite specifically to people who are NOT members of the in-group. Perhaps most importantly, the parallel in v. 45 reads simply "the least of these," the "my brothers" is absent. I would also note that "all the nations" are present at the scene (v. 32). As a result, I would posit that in v. 40 Jesus is identifying with "the least of these," not indicating that the acts of charity in vv. 35-36 are to be limited only to needy Christians.