UNDERSTANDING SCRIPTURE: ‘The Least of These’

I just saw this article on The Blaze:

Is Matthew 25:40 being Interpreted Wrong?

Well, if you think ‘the least of these’ refers to anyone, then you may well have misunderstood what Christ was saying — and here’s why.

First, here is the Scripture containing Matthew 25:40 in its full context:

Matthew 25:31-46  New American Standard Bible (NASB)

The Judgment

31 “But when the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered before Him; and He will separate them from one another, as the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats; 33 and He will put the sheep on His right, and the goats on the left.

34 “Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come, you who are blessed of 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 invited Me in; 36 naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to 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 And when did we see You a stranger, and invite You in, or naked, and clothe You? 39 When did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ 40 The King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.’

41 “Then He will also say to those on His left, ‘Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels; 42 for I was hungry, and you gave Me nothing to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me nothing to drink; 43 I was a stranger, and you did not invite Me in; naked, and you did not clothe Me; sick, and in prison, and you did not visit Me.’ 44 Then they themselves also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not [a]take care of You?’ 45 Then He will answer them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.’ 46 These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

In the Blaze article, the debate seems to focus on the original Greek and the meaning of the phrase ‘least of these.’  This is where I think most people go wrong.  We should not be debating who ‘the least‘ are, but rather, we should be focusing on the clause right before that, where it identifies who ‘these‘ are:

40 The King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.’

Clearly, ‘the least of these’ refers to the least of the King’s (Christ’s) brothers.  So, does Scripture tell us who is and who is not a brother or sister of Christ?  The answer is YES!  What’s more, we are told who the brothers and sisters of Christ are in a previous chapter of Matthew, so the reader is assumed to already know and understand this by the time they get to Matthew 25:40:

Matthew 12:48-50  New American Standard Bible (NASB)

48 But [a]Jesus answered the one who was telling Him and said, “Who is My mother and who are My brothers?” 49 And stretching out His hand toward His disciples, He said, “Behold My mother and My brothers! 50 For whoever does the will of My Father who is in heaven, he is My brother and sister and mother.”

This makes it abundantly clear that, when Christ speaks about ‘the least of these‘ in Matthew 24:40, He does not mean just any person, He is specifically talking about the least of His brothers (and sisters).

There are other such passages that have been taken to mean anyone when Christ was explicitly addressing His disciples.  This is an entirely different message than it would be if Christ meant just anyone can be ‘the least of these.’  The hard truth is, there are several places where Christ makes it painfully clear that there are differences between believers and non-believers, and that He sees them differently.  But that is a subject for another post. The point here is that we must be careful not to change the meaning of God’s Word.  Accepting God’s Word is not easy, especially passages such as Matthew 25:40. We are human, and we want to be comforted, so it is easier to accept more comforting interpretations of God’s Word. However, when we change God’s Word so it is easier to accept, it is no longer God’s Word.  At that point, all we are doing is comforting ourselves on the path to destruction.  But all is not lost.  God is a loving and just God, which is why Scripture usually defines itself.  We just need to be diligent enough to search the Scriptures for God’s definitions, then obedient enough to accept them once we find them.

4 responses to “UNDERSTANDING SCRIPTURE: ‘The Least of These’

  1. Father Paul Lemmen

    Reblogged this on A Conservative Christian Man.

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