The Disturbing Thing Jesus Once Said In The Bible

It's very easy for the religiously-inclined to head to a service, hear a message, go home, repeat, and wind up refreshing well-known, comfortable tales and lessons again and again, like Adam and Eve, Noah's Ark and the flood, or Moses leading the Hebrews out of Egypt. And Jesus? Well, he's that long-haired savior guy who went around talking about peace and love, right? The end. Unless he was talking about folks being cast into hellfire, that is. 

As it turns out, Jesus himself reiterated some points now and then that might sound disturbing if you only have the "Do to others as you would have them do to you" vision of the man from Luke 6 in mind. Take Matthew 10 where Jesus says, "Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword." In Matthew 21 Jesus analogizes the forthcoming kingdom of God to a building where he is the cornerstone and says, "Anyone who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; anyone on whom it falls will be crushed." Such lines have complex moral and theological contexts that require a bit of untangling. 

The most disturbing New Testament quote from Jesus, though, might come from Matthew 25. In the parable of the Sheep and the Goats he describes the apocalyptic "Son of Man" turning to a group on his left side and saying, "Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels."

To the hellfire

Let's take a look at the Matthew 25 passage with a bit of historical footing. Notice that all of the above-mentioned disturbing passages come from the New Testament's Book of Matthew, including the one about being tossed into eternal fire. Yes, Matthew focuses on the narrative of Jesus' life and death like the other three gospels — Mark, Luke, and John. But, Bible Study Tools says that Matthew exists primarily to present Jesus as the long-prophesied Messiah described in the Bible's Old Testament. This would have been a crucial point for getting local Jews on board with Christianity in its early days. Acknowledge the Messiah and no hellfire in the apocalyptic days to come. Don't and you've got problems.

The "Sheep and Goats" parable from Matthew 25 illustrates this point perfectly. The "Son of Man" in the passage — aka "the King" — passes his royal inheritance along to those who treated him kindly, gives them food, clothes, etc. "All the nations will be gathered before him," and the king, "will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats." The people on his right side — the sheep side — are those who treated him well and thus get rewarded. This is where we get the famous, "Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me" line. The people on the left, however — the goat side — go to the hellfire forever. Such was the king's judgment.

The king's just rewards

Some folks might hear the Matthew 25 passage in question and think that it sounds rather cruel. This is especially the case if someone is only accustomed to the aforementioned "peace and love" Jesus that gets cited a lot more often. Sites like The NIV Bible talk about the passage's call for compassion, kindness, love, and family. It describes the goats as "pushy" and the sheep "gentle," and even connects this all to orphaned children around the world. There is no real discussion, however, of the fate of the goats. Other sites like Got Questions go one step further and talk about how the passage seems to describe "good works" as the way to avoid the hellfire, and then contrasts that with notions of Christian grace. The BBC, meanwhile, keeps it simple and plain and says that the passage is an overall description of judgment and the fate of each human come apocalypse time. 

The apocalypse is a core belief that Christianity inherited from ancient Jews who were also waiting for the end of days, one portrayed not only in canonical biblical books but extrabiblical apocalyptic literature largely from what's called the Second Temple period (586 B.C.E. to 70 C.E.), like the Book of Enoch. Such texts ties back into the purpose of Matthew as a book intended to convince folks that Jesus was the messianic figure associated with that apocalypse. In other words, those disturbing words of Jesus? That was part of him fulfilling his role.