The sheep and the goats
31) “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne.
32) 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.
33) And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left.
34) Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.
35) For I was hungry, and you gave me food, I was thirsty, and you gave me drink, I was a stranger, and you welcomed me,
36) I was 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, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink?
38) And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you?
39) And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’
40) And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’
41) “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.
42) For I was hungry, and you gave me no food, I was thirsty, and you gave me no drink,
43) I was a stranger, and you did not welcome me, naked, and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison, and you did not visit me.’
44) Then they also will answer, saying, ‘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?’
45) 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.’
46) And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life” (Matthew 25:31-46 ESV).
— This is not really a parable except for the reference to goats and sheep. It really points to what will happen at the end of history. Our existence in time had a beginning, and it will have an end. In this story, Jesus is talking about the end of the world.
The story used by Jesus was known by the people of Israel. A shepherd would usually before nighttime separate the sheep from the goats because the goats would get cold easier than the sheep and the goats should be kept together to stay warm. The sheep didn’t need the warmth because of their wool.
— Also, the right hand was believed to be the place of power or favor in the ancient Near East. Also in the Bible, the righthand is designated as the place of favor or power. Psalm 118:15,16 states: “The voice of rejoicing and salvation Is in the tents of the righteous; The right hand of the LORD does valiantly. The right hand of the LORD is exalted; the right hand of the LORD does valiantly” (Psalms 118:15-16 NKJV).
— Psalm 16:11 says: “You will show me the path of life; In Your presence is fullness of joy; At Your right hand are pleasures forevermore” (Psalms 16:11 NKJV).
After Jesus Christ ascended to heaven, He was seated at the right hand of the Father in heaven (Philippians 2:6-11; Ephesians 1:20-22).
— In this parable the sheep was placed on the favored side (the right-hand side) of God and the goats on the cursed side (the left-hand side). Sheep was also known to be clean animals because of their wool and because they were white. God’s people were also likened to sheep in the Old Testament. We see this in Psalm 23, 78, 100 and Ezekiel 34. Sheep are obedient animals in contrast to goats who are rebellious and obstinate.
— This parable is also a conclusion to the “being prepared” for the second coming of Jesus Christ. It follows Chapter 24,25 in Matthew and the parable of the wise and foolish virgins and the parable of the talents. This story demonstrates who will gain entrance into God’s eternal kingdom and those who will not. The story reveals to us who will be ready to meet the Bridegroom and those who will not. It reveals to us who have wasted their talents and those who have used their talents to glorify God.
1. Coming realities and truths revealed
a) Verse 31 refers to the Son of Man. The Son of Man will judge the living and the dead. Jesus is the Son of man. Way back in the book of Daniel 7:13,14 there is mention of the Son of Man and what He would do. Daniël the Prophet said: “I was watching in the night visions, And behold, One like the Son of Man, Coming with the clouds of heaven! He came to the Ancient of Days, and they brought Him near before Him. Then to Him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, And His kingdom the one Which shall not be destroyed” (Daniel 7:13-14 NKJV). Jesus was familiar with this prophecy. Jesus is the Messiah. Jesus is the Son of Man. Numerous times Jesus referred to Himself as the Son of Man in the Gospels. If we read the gospels, we would be familiar with this truth.
b) Jesus Christ will come again in glory with the angels at the consummation of all things. We know that Jesus is now in heaven acting as Mediator and High Priest between God and mankind.
c) When Jesus comes He will act as Judge and judge all nations and peoples and individuals who have ever lived, are now living and will live (verse 31,32).
d) God has prepared a kingdom before the foundation of the world for the blessed signifying the fact that they did not deserve the kingdom, but that God elected them for it (verse 34).
e) Some people (called the righteous) will be blessed and granted eternal life and receive the kingdom of God as an inheritance (Verse 34).
f) Some people will be cursed and suffer eternal punishment (Verse 46).
g) Hell has originally been prepared not for man, but for the devil and his angels (Verse 41).
h) Note that just as some will receive ETERNAL life others will suffer ETERNAL punishment in hell. No annihilation or extinction of a life will take place (Verse 46). As heaven is eternal just so hell will be eternal.
2. How judgment will be executed
A superficial reading will conclude that judgment by God will be based on works. Meaning that the more good works a person does, the better chance he/she will have to enter heaven. However, the Bible says that God will judge according to our works not based on our works (Romans 2:16; Revelation 20:11-15; 2 Corinthians 5:10). Entrance into heaven and the everlasting kingdom is not based on our works. We will look into this fact a little later.
— The sheep
— Jesus is known to be the Sheep’s Eternal Shepherd. In Psalm 23 David said: “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want…”. In John 10 Jesus said: “I am the Good Shepherd.” Jesus is the Great Shepherd of His sheep, and He knows His sheep. He calls them all out by name, and they follow Him. The sheep hear and know His voice (John 10:1-10).
— The Bible is clear (Ephesians 2:8,9; Romans 3:28) salvation is a gift from God, given by grace, that no one should boast.
— The sheep are not justified by acts of mercy but because of election and saving faith in Jesus Christ. Jesus said: “I am the door. If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture” (John 10:9 NKJV). The kingdom has been prepared for them before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:4-5). The acts of mercy are the evidence of union with Christ. Acts of mercy are the evidence of saving faith in Christ. James 2:17-20 says faith without works is dead. Saving faith is evidenced by good works. As Jesus taught: You will recognize people by the fruit they bear (Matthew 7:16-20).
— The sheep are saved not the goats. Being a sheep signifies something dramatically happened to a person. He/she was born again, his/her nature has changed. And that change happened at the time when a person repented of their sins and trusted in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. A good tree bears good fruit as Jesus said (Matthew 7:15-20). A bad tree bears bad fruit. A sheep is by nature a submissive and an obedient animal and so are Christians by nature obedient and submissive. They live to please their Master.
— Works of Mercy per se don’t save. Works of mercy done to other believers in Christ is the evidence of saving faith and that you are a sheep.
— Many unbelievers do works of mercy, but that doesn’t save them. Many people have their “Foundations”, their “charities”, their goodwill, but it isn’t for the glory of God or Christ, but for the glory of self. Many times it is to make a name for themselves.
— It is what believers have done to other believers that are important and signifies your unity with Christ. God identifies Himself with His people and how we treat the brethren demonstrates our love relationship with God.
— It is how we loved the brethren that counts if we are really Gods children. As Paul commanded us in Romans 12:12 “Rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep. Distribute to the necessity of the saints!”
— As Jesus said: “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me” (verse 40). Note the reaction of the righteous after Jesus said these words. They were surprised by Jesus’ remarks. Why is that? It’s because the righteous were humble and didn’t count their acts of mercy. Their right hand didn’t know what their left hand was doing!
– The goats
— The goats refer to unbelievers. The goats refer to those who have mistreated Gods messengers and children. Goats, as we said earlier, are by nature obstinate, self-willed and rebellious. Rebellion and self-centeredness characterize unbelievers as well.
— Acts of Mercy per se won’t guarantee a place in heaven for you. It’s acts done to the glory of God, to the church of God, to the people of God in union with Christ that matters. Those who refused and rejected Christ and lived selfish lives resembles the goats. Those who hoarded possession and were loveless and selfish are likened to goats.
— But again, many unbelievers do many acts of charity. The Hindu’s and the Muslims feed the hungry and clothe the naked. So does the humanitarians with lots of money. But they do it to boast, to make a name for themselves. Their motivation is to exalt self not Christ!
— What the goats did not realize was that the way they behaved towards God’s children was the way they actually acted towards Him. The times they rejected and mistreated the Christians because of the message they gave they were actually rejecting and mistreating Him. Jesus said: “As far as you did it not to the least of these you did it not to Me” (Verse 45).
— The goats were primarily cursed because they failed to show mercy to Christians in affliction and persecution and because they didn’t accept the life-saving message of the Christians. 1 John 5:12 states: “He who has the Son has life, he who doesn’t have the Son does not have life.” It doesn’t matter how many poor people you feed and how many homeless people you take in, how many people you visit who are sick and in prison, without doing it in Christ, for Christ and in union with Christ those acts are worthless, filthy rags and as an unclean thing. Without personal union with Christ, your works are disposable and despicable works in the sight of God.
— Jesus is intimately identified with His own children. What we do to them, we do to Him. Jesus said: “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.’ Jesus also said: “He who receives you receives Me, and he who receives Me receives Him who sent Me” (Matthew 10:40 NKJV). And “Whoever receives one of these little children in My name receives Me; and whoever receives Me, receives not Me but Him who sent Me.” (Mark 9:37 NKJV). – In other words, if we reject the children of God and the gospel message they bring, we reject Jesus Himself.
3. Deeper meaning of the “acts of mercy.”
— What Jesus is referring to are physical things in this passage. We don’t have to do great things in the kingdom of God. Feeding God’s people, showing hospitality, visiting God’s people, helping people in need and so on, should all be priorities in our lives. Jesus said “blessed are the merciful for they shall obtain mercy” (Matthew 5:7).
— But there is a deeper meaning to these words. They refer to spiritual realities. “Feeding the hungry”; “giving drink to the thirsty”; “lodging the stranger”; “clothing the naked”; “visiting the sick and in prison” also refer to spiritual things. When Jesus commanded Peter to feed his sheep and lambs in John 21, after He rose from the dead, He was not primarily referring to giving his children food and providing meals to them every day.
— These words of Jesus refer to the preaching of God’s word. They refer to the encouraging, edifying and comforting of people with the word of God. They refer not only to preaching but sharing Gods word with people and pointing people to the only Savior, Jesus Christ.
— These words also refer to praying for people, carrying each other’s burdens and so fulfilling the law of Christ (Galatians 6:2; James 5:16). The Bible says that we must do good to all, especially to the household of faith (Galatians 6:10). What greater work can a person do to his brother than to pray for him?
— These words refer to helping the gospel go out and fulfilling the Great Commission. They refer to the promotion of the furtherance of the gospel so many people can come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ by various means.
— These words also refer to doing the will of God. Jesus said in Matthew 7:21, “Not all who say: “Lord, Lord will enter the kingdom of God, but He who does the will of God.” Jesus said in John 4:23 “this is my food: to do the will of God and to complete His work.” So this is also applicable to us. What is your food? To do the will of God? Are you consumed to do his will and to die for the fact that His will be established on the earth?
— These words refer to be being used as an instrument of righteousness, and as a means of grace so others can be “fed by Christ”; “clothed in His righteousness”; “drink from the Fountain of Living Water”; “Come into the household of God”; “be delivered from the prison of Satan and self” and “be healed from the sicknesses of sin”.
— Jesus is called the Bread of life in John 6:35. He is called the fountain of living water in John 4:11-14. He is called the Great Physician, healing the broken in heart. Jesus is the Great Deliverer from the bonds of Satan.
— We know that physical things like food and water and giving people a place to stay will not deliver them from hell and sin and the oppression of Satan. It is the “Bread of life” the “Fountain of living water” “the great Physician” the “great Deliverer” whom they need, Jesus Christ. Jesus alone can save from the wrath to come (John 3:36; Acts 4:12).
— So feeding the hungry, giving water to the thirsty, clothing the naked, giving people a place to stay and visiting those in prison and who are sick should mainly refer to spiritual things although physical things could be included.
— In Acts 6 we read that the apostles refrained from doing physical acts of mercy and “serving the tables” and gave themselves primarily to prayer and the preaching of the word. They did this because they knew that what people mostly need is to be spiritually fed with the word of God and be built up in the faith. In the letter to the Ephesians Paul said what the goal of the Christian life is: “until we all attain to the unity of the faith and the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:13 ESV).
— Jesus said in Matthew 4:4 “man does not live by bread alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.”
— In short evangelizing the multitudes, visiting and counseling and disciplining people to know Christ and to follow Christ is what God is after. He is the only one who can meet all our spiritual needs! Paul said in the letter to the Philippians: “And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19 ESV).
— Should Christians then not do acts of mercy? Off course, they should! They should do all and not leave the other undone. They should not do it to gain entrance into heaven. They should not do it to be justified in God’s sight, but do it out of love for the Savior and from the realization that they have been united to Christ, by grace through the finished work of Christ. Only after they have this assurance that they belong to God should they endeavor and purpose to be witnesses for the King and to share the word of life and the word of truth and disciple the nations and seek out the lost for the glory of the King.
— Are you one of the sheep? Or are you one of the goats? Have you committed yourself to serve the children of God? Or are you despising the church of God in your heart? Have you rejected and mistreated the children of God, the Christians? Or have you been born again by the Spirit of God? No amount of good works can save you from the wrath of God! You need to be a sheep to do the acts of a sheep! You need to be clothed in the righteousness of Christ to enter heaven and be saved! You need Jesus Christ as your only Savior and Lord. Your sins need to be washed away by the blood of Jesus in order to do the good works that God has appointed for you! Ephesians 2:10 says: “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for the good works He has appointed for us.”