Spiritual perception

Jesus’ spiritual perception made it possible for him to see things that other people were unaware of. Sometimes this capability came through in subtle, somewhat ambiguous ways such as when Jesus told a parable about the tenants of a vineyard that killed their master’s son in order to steal his inheritance. Afterward, Mark tells us the chief priests and the scribes and the elders knew that Jesus’ parable was about them. Mark said, “And they were seeking to arrest him but feared the people, for they perceived that he had told the parable against them. So they left him and went away” (Mark 12:12). At other times, Jesus’ spiritual perception was revealed in an open and direct way so that there wouldn’t be any confusion about what he meant. On one occasion, Peter began to rebuke Jesus after he told his disciples he was going to be killed by the Jewish religious leaders and Matthew recorded their conversation. Matthew said, “And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, ‘Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.’ But he turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man’” (Matthew 16:22-23).

Jesus’ awareness that Satan was speaking through Peter wouldn’t have been possible if Jesus hadn’t kept his attention focused on the spiritual realm. Typically, our primary objective is to look at things from a factual, objective basis, but from a reality standpoint; what is apparent on the surface of things, the physical manifestation of our circumstances, is only a small part of what is actually going on in our world. Jesus indicated that some things are intentionally hidden from our physical perception so that only those who have faith in God will be able to discern them. Jesus explained it to his disciples this way:

Then the disciples came and said to him, “Why do you speak to them in parables?” And he answered them, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. For to the one who has, more will be given, and he will have an abundance, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand. Indeed, in their case the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled that says:

“‘“You will indeed hear but never understand,
    and you will indeed see but never perceive.”
For this people’s heart has grown dull,
    and with their ears they can barely hear,
    and their eyes they have closed,
lest they should see with their eyes
    and hear with their ears
and understand with their heart
    and turn, and I would heal them.’

But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear. For truly, I say to you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it. (Matthew 13:10-17)

“Jesus spoke in parables to explain spiritual truths, but those who had already rejected Jesus did not have divinely enlightened minds with which to perceive these truths, and no amount of explanation would make them understand (1 Corinthians 2:14). They could watch and hear Jesus with their physical eyes and ears, but they were not capable of understanding the truth in their hearts because they had rejected him (2 Corinthians 4:3, 4). Those who accept the true light they have been given will receive even more light, while those who turn away from the light will continue to be increasingly shrouded in darkness (Matthew 13:12). The word ‘for’ at the beginning of Matthew 13:15 should be understood as having the same meaning as ‘because.’ People do not hear and see because their hearts are full of wickedness; consequently, they fail to understand the truth that has been given them. They are so opposed to God’s message that they harden themselves against it, lest they should understand it and ask forgiveness of God. Once they reject Jesus, they also reject the possibility of understanding the parables that Jesus told (Isaiah 55:6-8)” (note on Matthew 13:10-17).

Jesus used the phrase “see but never perceive” (Matthew 13:14) to show that physical and spiritual perception are independent of each other and also indicated that spiritual perception is connected with the heart (Matthew 13:15). The Greek word that Jesus used that is translated perceive, eido (i´-do) implies “not the mere act of seeing, but the actual perception of some object” (G1492). Metaphorically, eido is “spoken of the mind: to perceive by the senses, to be aware of.” Therefore, it can be assumed that spiritual perception is a type of heart knowledge that is associated with being born again (Ezekiel 36:26-27). The Apostle Paul talked about spiritual perception in his first letter to the Corinthians. Paul said, “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Corinthians 2:14). “The ‘natural spirit’ is a translation of the Greek psychikos (5591), referring to the man who is governed by his fallen nature (Romans 5:12). This man is unable to fully understand and apply spiritual truths because he does not possess the indwelling Spirit of God” (note on 1 Corinthians 2:14).

Before Jesus came to the earth and it was possible for a person to be born again, spiritual perception was limited to a select number of individuals that were anointed or temporarily gifted with the power of the Holy Spirit. An example of temporary spiritual perception being granted to an individual in the Old Testament appears in Numbers 22:31 where it says that “the LORD opened the eyes of Balaam.” Balaam was a prophet that had been hired by Balak the king of Moab to curse the Israelites (Numbers 22:7-21). While he was on his way to meet with Balak, Balaam was confronted by the angel of the LORD who “took his stand in the way as his adversary” (Numbers 22:22). Then, it says in Numbers 22:23-27:

And the donkey saw the angel of the Lord standing in the road, with a drawn sword in his hand. And the donkey turned aside out of the road and went into the field. And Balaam struck the donkey, to turn her into the road. Then the angel of the Lord stood in a narrow path between the vineyards, with a wall on either side. And when the donkey saw the angel of the Lord, she pushed against the wall and pressed Balaam’s foot against the wall. So he struck her again. Then the angel of the Lord went ahead and stood in a narrow place, where there was no way to turn either to the right or to the left. When the donkey saw the angel of the Lord, she lay down under Balaam. And Balaam’s anger was kindled, and he struck the donkey with his staff.

The donkey that Balaam was riding on was able to see the angel of the LORD standing in the road, but Balaam was not able to because he didn’t have any spiritual perception of what was going on right in front of him. Rather than immediately giving Balaam the ability to see what he was missing, the LORD allowed his donkey to communicate with him. Numbers 22:28-30 states:

Then the Lord opened the mouth of the donkey, and she said to Balaam, “What have I done to you, that you have struck me these three times?” And Balaam said to the donkey, “Because you have made a fool of me. I wish I had a sword in my hand, for then I would kill you.” And the donkey said to Balaam, “Am I not your donkey, on which you have ridden all your life long to this day? Is it my habit to treat you this way?” And he said, “No.”

At the point that Balaam began to realize that something was going on that he wasn’t aware of, the LORD gave him spiritual perception. Numbers 22:31-35 states:

Then the Lord opened the eyes of Balaam, and he saw the angel of the Lord standing in the way, with his drawn sword in his hand. And he bowed down and fell on his face. And the angel of the Lord said to him, “Why have you struck your donkey these three times? Behold, I have come out to oppose you because your way is perverse before me. The donkey saw me and turned aside before me these three times. If she had not turned aside from me, surely just now I would have killed you and let her live.” Then Balaam said to the angel of the Lord, “I have sinned, for I did not know that you stood in the road against me. Now therefore, if it is evil in your sight, I will turn back.” And the angel of the Lord said to Balaam, “Go with the men, but speak only the word that I tell you.” So Balaam went on with the princes of Balak.

The reason why Balaam bowed down and fell on his face when he saw the angel of the LORD was because he knew he was standing in the presence God in the form of the preincarnate Lord, Jesus Christ. Once his spiritual perception was turned on, Balaam was able to spiritually discern the purpose behind Balak’s desire for him to curse the people of Israel and realized that he needed to stop what he was doing.

Jesus used his spiritual perception to stay one step ahead of the Jewish religious leaders that wanted to kill him. After they perceived that Jesus had told the parable of the wicked tenants against them, the religious leaders tried to get Jesus to say something that would justify him being arrested. Luke 20:19-26 states:

The scribes and the chief priests sought to lay hands on him at that very hour, for they perceived that he had told this parable against them, but they feared the people. So they watched him and sent spies, who pretended to be sincere, that they might catch him in something he said, so as to deliver him up to the authority and jurisdiction of the governor. So they asked him, “Teacher, we know that you speak and teach rightly, and show no partiality, but truly teach the way of God. Is it lawful for us to give tribute to Caesar, or not?” But he perceived their craftiness, and said to them, “Show me a denarius. Whose likeness and inscription does it have?” They said, “Caesar’s.” He said to them, “Then render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” And they were not able in the presence of the people to catch him in what he said, but marveling at his answer they became silent.

The scribes and the chief priests had spiritual perception, but they were using it for their own benefit instead of its intended purpose which was to minister to God’s people. Jesus was able to turn the tables on these hypocrites because his awareness of what they were doing went beyond their human comprehension into the spiritual realm where Satan operates.

In addition to being aware of what was going on around him that was a threat to his ministry, Jesus’ spiritual perception made it possible for him to see what was going on in the hearts of the people he came in contact with. John’s record of Jesus’ encounter with the woman of Samaria focused in on the way Jesus was able to get people to see the sin that was at work in their lives. John said:

A woman from Samaria came to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” (For his disciples had gone away into the city to buy food.) The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?” (For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.) Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” The woman said to him, “Sir, you have nothing to draw water with, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob? He gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did his sons and his livestock.” Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again.The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I will not be thirsty or have to come here to draw water.” Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come here.” The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; for you have had five husbands, and the one you now have is not your husband. What you have said is true.” (John 4:7-18)

Jesus’ conversation with the woman of Samaria began with a physical need that she could relate to. In the same way that we all have physical hunger and thirst, we also have spiritual hunger and thirst and Jesus wanted the Samaritan woman to become aware of her need for spiritual nourishment. As their conversation continued, Jesus pinpointed a specific spiritual need that the Samaritan woman had: unconditional love. The Samaritan woman wasn’t open to accepting Jesus’ gift of salvation right away, so he went on to explain to her how a relationship with God works. Jesus said:

You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming (he who is called Christ). When he comes, he will tell us all things.” Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am he.” (John 4:22-26)

Even though the Samaritan woman didn’t receive salvation herself, she told others about her encounter with Jesus (John 4:29) and John said, “Many Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony” (John 4:39). Eventually, many more people believed and there was a spiritual awakening in Samaria. John 4:42 states:

They said to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is indeed the Savior of the world.”

The Greek word that is translated know in John 4:42 is eido (i´-do); the same word that is translated perceive in Matthew 13:14, indicating that the Samaritans had spiritual perception of Jesus’ true identity. The important thing to note about the Samaritans’ experience is that the only people who believed in Jesus were the ones that had a spiritual awareness that he was who he claimed to be.

Jesus pinpointed the problem in his own disciples of why their spiritual perception wasn’t working properly. They were discussing among themselves the fact that they had no bread. “And Jesus, aware of this, said to them, ‘Why are you discussing the fact that you have no bread? Do you not yet perceive or understand? Are your hearts hardened?’” (Mark 8:16-17). A hardened heart is a spiritual condition that makes it impossible for spiritual truth to get past the exterior surface a person’s being. Jesus illustrated this point in his parable of the sower (Matthew 13:3-8) when he said, “Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and immediately they sprang up, since they had no depth of soil, but when the sun rose they were scorched. And since they had no root they withered away” (Matthew 13:5-6). In his explanation of this parable, Jesus went on to say, “As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy, yet he has no root in himself, but endures for a while and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately he falls away” (Matthew 13:20-21). According to Jesus, a person that has a hard heart is someone that has believed the gospel at some point and perhaps has even made a commitment to follow the Lord, but his or her faith didn’t develop properly and it wasn’t able to be sustained over time.

The Apostle Paul dealt with the issue of spiritual complacency in his second letter to Timothy. Paul encouraged Timothy to “fan into flame the gift of God which is in you” (2 Timothy 1:6) and then, instructed Timothy to “follow the pattern of sound words that you have heard from me in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. By the Holy Spirit who dwells within us, guard the good deposit entrusted to you” (2 Timothy 13-14). Paul indicated that it’s the believer’s responsibility to keep his or her spiritual perception in working order. The Holy Spirit comes to dwell in our hearts, but we must guard our hearts against the evil influences of the world and the devil so that our faith can be developed and mature over time. Paul warned Timothy that times would be difficult in the last days and that some people would have the appearance of godliness, but would deny its power (2 Timothy 3:5), “always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth” (2 Timothy 3:7). The Greek word that is translated knowledge, epignosis (ip-ig´-no-sis) means “recognition, i.e. (by implication) full discernment” (G1922). The reason why we need our spiritual perception to be working properly is so that we can recognize the truth when we see it.

Ministering to God’s people

Moses was selected by God to act as an intermediary between the children of Israel and Pharaoh, an Egyptian king that was afflicting them through forced manual labor (Exodus 3:7). God gave Moses a specific message to deliver to his people. He said:

“Go and gather the elders of Israel together and say to them, ‘The LORD, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob, has appeared to me, saying “I have observed you and what has been done to you in Egypt, and I promise that I will bring you up out of the affliction of Egypt to the land of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites, a land flowing with milk and honey.”‘” (Exodus 3:16-17)

Moses didn’t think the children of Israel would listen to him and so he responded, “But behold, they will not believe me or listen to my voice, for they will say, ‘The LORD did not appear to you'” (Exodus 4:1).

The challenge that Moses faced was that the Israelites hadn’t heard from God in more than 400 years. The long period of silence may have been due to the children of Israel being content with their circumstances and determined to stay in Egypt in spite of the oppression that they were experiencing there. Moses’ objection to delivering God’s message was centered around the people’s lack of faith, which was evident to him when he tried to intervene in a physical dispute between two Hebrew slaves (Exodus 2:14). In order to bolster Moses’ confidence and to strengthen his influence with the Israelites, God gave Moses the ability to perform three signs or you might say marks of authenticity (H226) that would make his divine authority evident. Exodus 4:8-9 states, “‘If they will not believe you,’ God said, ‘or listen to the first sign, they may believe the latter sign. If they will not believe even these two signs or listen to your voice, you shall take some water from the Nile and pour it on the dry ground, and the water that you shall take from the Nile will become blood on the dry ground.'”

Moses argued that he couldn’t accept the assignment God was giving him because he wasn’t qualified to express divine communication (Exodus 4:10). This led to his brother Aaron being designated his spokesman to the children of Israel. Exodus 4:14-17 states: “Then the anger of the LORD was kindled against Moses and he said, ‘Is there not Aaron, your brother, the Levite? I know that he can speak well. Behold, he is coming out to meet you, and when he sees you, he will be glad in his heart. You shall speak to him and put the words in his mouth, and I will be with your mouth, and I will be with his mouth and will teach you both what to do. He shall speak for you to the people, and he shall be your mouth, and you shall be as God to him. And take in your hand this staff, with which you shall do the signs.'” The King James Version of the Bible states Exodus 4:16 this way, “And he shall be thy spokesman unto the people: and he shall be, even he shall be to thee instead of a mouth, and thou shalt be to him instead of God.” The idea that Aaron could be to Moses instead of a mouth and Moses could be to Aaron instead of God had to do with their spiritual interaction with each other and the children of Israel. What God was saying was that Moses’ responsibility as the deliverer of God’s people could not be abdicated to anyone else, but he could use Aaron as a spokesman or more literally his voice (H6310) instead of delivering God’s message himself.

Even though Moses was able to receive assistance from his brother in conveying the message God wanted him to the children of Israel, Moses was specifically instructed to perform the miracles that God intended to use to convince Pharaoh to let his people go. Exodus 4:21 states, “And the LORD said to Moses, ‘When you go back to Egypt, see that you do before Pharaoh all the miracles that I have put in your power. But I will harden his heart, so that he will not let the people go.'” The Hebrew word that is translated miracle, mopeth (mo-faith’) “signifies a divine act or a special display of divine power” (H4159). God said that he had put these miracles in Moses’ power. In other words, Moses had the ability to perform miracles without God’s assistance. The Hebrew word that is translated put, siym (seem) “means to impute” (H7760). In the King James Version of the Bible, James 2:23 is stated this way: “And the scripture was fulfilled which saith, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness: and he was called the Friend of God.” Imputation is an accounting term that is used to designate that an account has been reconciled. “Imputation has three steps: the collecting of all charges and remissions; the totaling of these debits and credits; the placing of the balance or credit on one’s account” (G3049).

God credited Moses’ account with a specific amount of divine power that enabled him to perform the miracles that God wanted him to. Moses’ special role in God’s deliverance of the children of Israel was noted during Jesus’ transfiguration when Moses along with Elijah appeared “talking with him” (Matthew 17:3). Elijah was also know for performing extraordinary miracles including raising a widow’s son from the dead (1 Kings 17:22). At the time of his death, Elijah’s successor Elisha requested from him, “Please let there be a double portion of your spirit on me” (2 Kings 2:9). Elisha’s reference to a double portion suggests that Elijah’s miraculous ability was measured or you might say portioned out and could be transferred from one person to another. The purpose of the miracles that Elijah and Elisha performed was similar to that of Moses’, to convict the Israelites of their sins and cause them to repent. Matthew often referred to the miracles Jesus performed as mighty works and also associated them with people being brought to a point of repentance. Matthew stated this about Jesus’ ministry. “Then he began to denounce the cities where most of his mighty works had been done, because they did not repent. ‘Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I tell you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for Tyre and Sidon than for you” (Matthew 11:20-22).

Jesus referred to the day of judgment in his Olivet Discourse when he said, “But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only. For as were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and they were unaware until the flood came and swept them all away, so will be the coming of the Son of Man” (Matthew 24:36-39). Jesus used a parable to illustrate the reason why people would be unaware of his return. He said:

“Then the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them, but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. As the bridegroom was delayed, they all became drowsy and slept. But at midnight there was a cry, ‘Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ Then all those virgins rose and trimmed their lamps. And the foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ But the wise answered, saying, ‘Since there will not be enough for us and for you, go rather to the dealers and buy for yourselves.’ And while they were going to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the marriage feast, and the door was shut. Afterward the other virgins came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ But he answered, ‘Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.’ Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour. (Matthew 25:1-13)

Jesus’ portrayal of the virgins as being wise and foolish meant that they were depending on their cognitive abilities to discern the bridegroom’s arrival. The Greek word that is translated foolish, moros (mo-ros’) indicates that the mind is “dull or stupid (as if shut up)” (G3473). Moros is derived from the word musterion (moos-tay-ree-on) which “denotes, not the mysterious (as with the English word), but that which, being outside the range of unassisted natural apprehension, can be made known only by divine revelation, and is made known in a manner and at a time appointed by God, and to those only who are illumined by His Spirit” (G3466).

Jesus indicated that the five wise virgins took flasks of oil with their lamps. When the five foolish virgins asked them to share their oil with them, “the wise answered, saying, ‘Since there will not be enough for us and for you, go rather to the dealers and buy for yourselves'” (Matthew 25:9). The dealers that the five foolish virgins were instructed to go to appear to have been authentic sources of divine wisdom, but the foolish virgins missed the opportunity to attend the wedding feast because “the door was shut” when they returned (Matthew 25:10). Afterward, they were told “I do not know you” (Matthew 25:12). A clue to the five foolish virgins rejection might be the statement, “those who were ready went in with him to the marriage feast” (Matthew 25:10). The Greek word that is translated ready, hetoimos (het’-oy-mos) “denotes ‘preparation’; it is found in Ephesians 6:15, of having the feet shod with the ‘preparation’ of the gospel of peace; it also has the meaning of firm footing (foundation); if that is the meaning in Ephesians 6:15, the gospel itself is to be the firm footing of the believer, his walk being worthy of it and therefore a testimony in regard to it” (G2092).

Jesus followed up his parable of the ten virgins with the parable of the ten talents to further clarify the connection between his gospel message being presented and God’s qualifications for entrance into the kingdom of heaven. He said, “For it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted them with his property. To one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away” (Matthew 25:14-15). The phrase “to each according to his ability” points to a distribution of miraculous power that was meant to be used for increasing the master’s wealth. The Greek word that is translated “according to” in Matthew 25:15, kata (kat-ah’) is used in Philippians 3:20-21 to link the believer’s transformation with Christ’s ability to subdue all things to himself. Paul also used kata to link God’s riches with his ability to supply all of the believers needs. Paul promised, “And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19, emphasis mine).

The fact that the master’s servants were given different amounts of resources according to their ability suggests that the master knew what his servants were capable of and wanted to capitalize on it. The Greek word that is translated ability, dunamis (doo’-nam-is) “almost always points to new and higher forces that have entered and are working in this lower world of ours. It is ‘power, ability,’ physical or moral, as residing in a person” (G1411). Therefore, the ability Jesus was referring to was most likely a result of the indwelling and/or filling of the Holy Spirit. Jesus said, “Now after a long time the master of those servants came and settled accounts with them” (Matthew 25:19). The settling of accounts most likely had to do with the profit that was gained from the use of the talents that had been given to each servant. Jesus said, “he who had received five talents came forward, bringing five talents more” (Matthew 25:20). It could be that the talents in Jesus’ parable were meant to represent spiritual truths. For example, if the servant was given five talents or spiritual truths (perhaps through someone else’s instruction) and then, built on that knowledge by gaining insight into five more spiritual truths, the servant was given credit for the additional knowledge he had gained and was able to pass on to others.

The servant that received only one talent may have been entrusted with a single foundational truth such as John 3:16, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” When he was asked to account for his activities while his master was away, he stated, “Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed, so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours” (Matthew 25:24-25). The master’s outrage that his resource had been wasted may have been due to the fact that his servant had likened him to a harsh, even inhuman character (G4642) when said, “I knew you to be a hard man.” Evidently, the servant didn’t know his master very well and demonstrated that he was not equipped to handle even the most basic responsibility of his master’s work. The servant said he was afraid and “hid” his talent in the ground. His master responded, “You wicked and slothful servant!” (Matthew 25:26), suggesting that his servant’s behavior was a disgrace to him.

Jesus talked about the final judgment of mankind in terms of a separation and elimination of anyone that did not display certain characteristics. Jesus said, “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats” (Matthew 25:31-32). Jesus indicated that the sheep would inherit the kingdom prepared for them from the foundation of the world because “I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me in, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me” (Matthew 25:35-36). Jesus’ use of the terms sheep and goats indicated that he was using figurative language and wasn’t referring to actual food, drink or clothing being given to him. In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus stated, “Blessed are the poor in spirit” and “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness” (Matthew 5:3, 6). The Greek word that is translated naked, gumnos (goom-nos’) is used figuratively of being destitute of spiritual goods (G1131) and sick or astheneo (as-then-eh’-o) of being not settled in the faith (G770). Therefore, the remedies would have needed to be spiritual nourishment i.e. the gospel.

Jesus contrasted the responses of the sheep and the goats to show that they were both unaware of their spiritual service to the King. The sheep asked, “And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?” (Matthew 25:38-39). The sheep’s lack of awareness seems to confirm that the activities identified were spiritual rather than physical because they didn’t remember ever doing the things they were credited with. On the other hand, the goats replied, “Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?” (Matthew 25:44). The goats claimed to have taken care of every needy person and may have actually done so from a physical standpoint, but they clearly misunderstood what was expected of them. The Greek word that is translated minister, diakonia (dee-ak-on-eh’-o) technically means to act as a Christian deacon (G1247). Diakonia is used in Matthew 20:28 where it says, “Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many” (KJV). The Apostle Paul used the word diakonia when he said, “But now I go unto Jerusalem to minister unto the saints” (Romans 15:25, KJV).

Jesus concluded his lesson on the final judgment by stating about the goats, “Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, 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” (Matthew 25:45-46). It might be easy to assume from this lesson that ministering to God’s people is a requirement for entrance into the kingdom of heaven, but the point I believe Jesus was making in his parable of the ten virgins and the parable of the talents was that the indwelling and filling of the Holy Spirit was what made service possible and also made the virgins ready for the marriage feast when the bridegroom arrived. The presence of the Holy Spirit is what differentiates believers from unbelievers and may differentiate the sheep from the goats. Jesus’ description of the final judgment in Matthew 25:31-46 is similar to the Great White Throne Judgment mentioned in Revelation 20:11-15 which indicates that “the dead were judged…according to what they had done” (Revelation 20:12). The Greek word translated dead, nekros (nek-ros’) refers to “the actual spiritual condition of unsaved men” (G3498). Therefore, ministering to God’s people could be a type of escape clause that enables the unsaved to enter God’s kingdom, but Revelation 20:15 indicates, “And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.”