Who are the brethren and the sheep that Jesus referred to in Matthew 25:31-46?
In Matthew 25:31-46, Jesus addressed the sheep and the goats on how they treated "the least of these His brethren." Then Jesus commended the sheep for their charitable treatment of "His brethren." I have two questions:
I am not certain to whom Jesus was referring as His "brethren" in Matthew 25:40. One immediately might think that He meant anyone who is in need for clothes, food, visitation in prison, etc., and that very well may be the case.
If we look in Matthew 12:50, Jesus indicated that His "brethren" were those who did the will of His Father in heaven. On some level, this seems logical because we wouldn't expect Jesus' "brothers" and "sisters" to be those who do not wish to please the Father or obey His commands. There even are those in prison who are sorry and repentant and change their attitudes and lives so that they can serve God.
I don't think this necessarily means that we should not help out possibly anyone in need. But, seemingly, it is of utmost importance to provide for the needs of the disadvantaged who revere God and with whom we will be spending eternity.
One might say, then, that it is of less importance to help those who are needy if they are not believers in the one true God and do not see a need to obey Him. But we do not know who of these, whether Jews or Gentiles, might come to a saving knowledge and acceptance of God in the future. Furthermore, perhaps it will be our kindness and concern that will cause this to happen. So, for that reason, it potentially is worth the effort to help out anyone we see in need, and many of them will be "brethren" of Jesus.
Personally, I am not too concerned about whom Jesus was talking about as His "brethren." I believe there are many things He taught that we will not understand until He returns and gives us the fully enlightened meaning of them.
As far as the "sheep" go, I'm not so certain that none of them will be aware of the Matthew 25 parable, and I'll explain why. I don't think the "brethren" of whom Jesus spoke are limited merely to being in need of food, drink, clothes, shelter, or someone to visit them in prison. I feel that these are figurative of anything that people may need, including encouragement, financial help, a flat tire changed, etc., that we would want to provide for them out of compassion or sympathy.
We have done numerous things for other people in our lives that we do not even remember anymore. As a believer, I want to do things for people in need, particularly those who revere and honor God, because I know that Jesus wants me to do them. But there are a lot of "little things" I've done, that took only a few minutes or even seconds, that don't even come to mind anymore.
It may be that when Jesus returns, He will remind us of all of those things that we have done in our lives for His "brethren," even the tiniest, most insignificant things that we no longer remember. I may say, "You mean that simple cup of cold water, forty years ago, that I barely recall taking to that elderly crippled man—who was sitting in his wheelchair in my waiting room and was coughing and coughing because he could not get up to walk over to the water fountain—qualified as giving water to you because he was your 'brother' in need, and I felt sorry for him and wanted to alleviate his suffering?"
A "goat," on the other hand, might become angry at the old man coughing and coughing in his waiting room and think, "I wish that guy would shut up! Other people in the room are becoming uncomfortable and probably are wondering if he is spreading around his germs, and now they may leave because they are afraid of getting sick!" So the "goat" walks over to the old man's wife and says, "The water fountain is just down that hallway over there, and there are paper cups to the side of it. Could you go and get some water for him to get him to stop coughing? He is disturbing everyone in the waiting room!"
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