Sheep & Goats in Court Matt 25: 31-46
Have you ever wondered what it will be like on the Day of Judgment? Who will be there? What will take place?
The disciples of Jesus wondered the same thing. Jesus and the disciples were in Jerusalem. Within a few days they would celebrate the Passover. This would be their last Passover together. Within a few days Jesus would be led away to be crucified. Perhaps sensing that the time was near, the disciples invited Jesus to accompany them on a tour of the temple which was nearing completion. The disciples were quite impressed with the temple – and for good reason. It was a magnificent building – one of the finest in the world. But before they could begin their tour, Jesus told them something shocking: the day was coming when every single stone of the temple would be cast down. This magnificent temple of which the disciples were so proud and took such delight in, would be completely and utterly destroyed.
From Jerusalem, Jesus and the disciples made their way to the Mount of Olives. As they did, the disciples were troubled. They knew that one day the Lord Jesus would return and that when He did, the entire world would be destroyed – including the temple. Is this what He was referring to? If so, when would this take place? How would they know when to expect Him? What will it be like on the Day of Judgment?
We have a record of Jesus’ answer in Matt. 24 and 25. In Matt. 24, Jesus revealed to His disciples some of the signs of His coming. He told them that there would be wars and rumours of wars, there would be persecution, the gospel would be preached throughout the world, there would be false prophets, the antichrist would appear, the sun will be darkened and the stars would fall out of the sky. Then, in Matt. 25 He told them three parables to describe what the Day of Judgment will be like: the parable of the wise and foolish virgins (25: 1-13), the parable of the talents (25: 14-30) and the parable of the sheep and the goats (25: 31-46).
Of these three parables, the last (the parable of the sheep and goats) is perhaps the most vivid – and controversial. In this parable, Jesus is seated on a throne – a throne of judgment. Standing before him are all the nations of the world. When every last person has been assembled, Jesus, as Judge, proceeds to divide them into two groups as a shepherd divides the sheep from the goats: the sheep He puts on His right hand and the goats on His left. The sheep are the elect; the ones whom God has ordained to everlasting life. The goats are the reprobate; the ones whom God has passed over.
Following this, the Lord Jesus speaks. He speaks first to the sheep. He says to them: “Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world”. Jesus here invites the sheep to come into His kingdom. On what grounds? He tells us in verses 35-36:
For I was a hungered, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me.
Hearing this, the sheep are stunned. They ask (verses 37-39):
Lord, when saw we thee an hungered, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink? When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee? Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee?” In reply, Jesus answers: “Verily I say unto you, inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.
Jesus here gives expression to one of the most wonderful doctrines of the Christian faith: the doctrine of union with Christ. According to this doctrine, when a sinner believes on the Lord Jesus Christ and trusts in His atoning sacrifice on the cross as the only hope and ground of His salvation, he becomes a member of His body. He becomes, as it were, bone of His bone and flesh of His flesh.
This has profound implications for the salvation of the believer. It means that whatever Christ did to make satisfaction for sin, the believer did in Him. But it also has profound implications for how we treat one another. If we do something good to another believer, we do something good to Christ. Conversely, if we do something bad to another believer, we do something bad to Christ. That means (as Jesus says), if a believer is hungry and we give him something to eat, we give Christ something to eat as well. If a believer is thirsty and we give him something to drink, we give Christ something to drink as well. If a believer has no place to stay and we show him hospitality, we show Christ hospitality as well. If a believer has no clothes and we give him clothes, we give Christ clothes as well. If a believer is sick and we visit him, we visit Christ as well. If a believer is in prison and we help him, we help Christ as well. Whatever we do to another believer we do to Christ.
Some (e.g. proponents of liberation theology and the social gospel) have taken these verses to mean that the believer’s task in this world is to fight social injustice, poverty and inequality. But that is not at all what Jesus is talking about. He is talking about what makes a sheep a sheep. He is saying that because they have a new nature, sheep care about each other. When one sheep is hurting or in distress, they do what they can to help him – not to earn anything by it, but out of love for the sheep and for the shepherd.
The goats are not like that. The goats care only about themselves. This is what distinguishes the sheep from the goats.
What about you? Are you a sheep or a goat? If you are sheep, you will be someone who cares about other sheep. That means when you know that another sheep is suffering, you will try to do something about it. You may do this personally or through organizations like Come Over and Help, Word and Deed and the Cornerstone Bible Institute. You will give of your time to these organizations and support them both prayerfully and financially. But if you are a goat, you will do none of these things. You will live for yourself and your own pleasure.
Which describes you? By nature all of us are goats. That is how we are conceived and born. But the Lord is able to make us into sheep if we ask Him. Will you do that? Then the Lord will say to you as He will say to all of His sheep: “Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” But to the goats He will say: “Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels.” What will He say to you?