D.A. Carson: The Accent of Warning

Many of Jesus’ parables have to do with explaining that the kingdom of God, against the prevalent expectation was no ta bout to come with a cataclysmic bang at that point in history, but was a destined to be introduced slowly (e.g., parable fo the mustard seed and the yeast, Matthew 13:31-33). Other parables demonstrate the power of the principle of reversal in the kingdom, flying in the face of many religious and social values, both then and now (e.g., the good Samaritan, Luke 10:25-37). But some of Jesus’ parables, even if they touch on these two themes, bring with them an unmistakable accent of warning.

The parable of the sower (Matthew 13:3-9, 18-23; Mark 4:3-9, 13-20), for all that it explains how the kingdom advances—namely, by properly receiving the word, which then germinates and bears fruit—implicitly warns against unreceptive soil. Where the seed is snatched away and its tender stalks are squeezed to death or dehydrated before there is any fruitfulness (despite a good beginning), there we find people who are unresponsive in one fashion or another. If the kingdom grows like wheat sown in a field, there will also be a lot of weeds, and both will grow until the end (Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43)…

One of the most striking of these parables is the sheep and the goats (Matthew 25:31-46). In the hands of some writers, what distinguishes the sheep from the goats is social concern: feeding the hungry, healing the sick, visiting people in prison—along with the dramatic additon of Jesus’ words, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers or sisters of mine, you did for me” (25:40, 45). But that misses the point here.

Certainly the Bible lays considerable stress on compassion, justice, acts of mercy, kindness, and much else—as shown by Isaiah and Amos and the parable of the good Samaritan. But it has often been shown that in Matthew’s gospel the expression “the least of these brothers and sisters of mine” can only refer to the least of his followers. In other words, the sheep and the goats as exposed for what they are by the way they treat the downtrodden of Jesus’ followers. . . . When people persecute the people of Jesus Christ, they are persecuting Jesus Christ himself, prompting him to challenge a Saul on the Damascus Road, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” (Acts 9:4).

Yet the primary point in these parables . . . is how many of them lay emphasis on the dividing effect of Jesus’ ministry. In the case of the sheep and the goats, the latter will finally “go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous [the former] to eternal life”—with that same expression used for “eternal” in the two expressions. One senses that, in an effort to be magnanimous—in many ways, a very good thing—the pendulum swing now makes it almost impossible to pronounce condemnation on any position or habit of life…

D. A. Carson, Becoming Conversant with the Emerging Church: Understanding a Movement and Its Implications, pp. 209-210

Posted by Aaron Armstrong

Aaron is the author of several books for adults and children, as well as multiple documentaries and Bible studies. His latest book, I'm a Christian—Now What?: A Guide to Your New Life with Christ is available now.