March 5, 2023 The Sheep and the Goats

The Sheep and the Goats


Read Matthew 25:31-46.


Some interpret the judgment here described as being the final judgment. This cannot be the final judgment for the following reasons:



  1. The subjects of this judgment are “all the nations.” The word when plural is generally in St. Matthew’s gospel (which is that for the Jews) and rightly translated, “Gentiles” (4:15; 6:32; 10:5, 18, 21; 20:19, 25). And here also it would be rightly rendered, “All the Gentiles.” As the same expression is in another place rendered – “Praise the Lord all ye Gentiles.” (Rom. 15:11; Acts 15:17). But in every case in which the expression is used, it signifies divisions of living men – “Ye shall be hated by all the nations.” (Mat. 24:9) “This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world, for a witness to all the nations.” (Mat. 24:14) Also Acts 17:26 and Rev. 12:5. And the reason of this is evident, for at the resurrection the earthly and fleshly distinctions of nations cease among those that rise. But here no hint of the resurrection is given, and much less of the destruction of the earth by fire. This is, therefore, a judgment of the living alone; the judgment of one of the three great divisions in which the sons of men are now regarded before God – “The Jews, the Gentiles, and the church of God.” (I Cor. 10:32)
  2. It cannot be the final judgment; for that is after the kingdom of the Son of man is past: this is before it is begun – “Come ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom.” …the final judgment is that of the dead alone, as this is of the living only.
  3. It cannot be the final judgment; for Satan is not yet cast into eternal fire.
  4. That the church of Christ can have no part in this judgment is evident for the following reasons:
  1. The first resurrection is of the righteous alone; the wicked dead not being raised at the same time (Rev. 20:4-6). The raised saints are therefore a body by themselves, purely consisting of believers in Jesus; and therefore they do not answer to the assembly of the parable, which, when first brought before Christ, is composed of a confused mixture of good and evil.
  2. The rule of judgment to them that have heard Jesus’ words and believe not is different. “The word that I have spoken unto him, the same shall judge him in the last day.” (John 12:47-48) But here is no question of faith, or of any word of Christ.
  3. How is it possible that the righteous should be ignorant both of the judge and of the principles of decision? … The reply both of the righteous and condemned presents simple ignorance of the person of the judge, and an implied denial of any former connection with him.
  4. There is no mention of faith at all. Yet, faith is the very ground of salvation in the present age.
  5. If the assembly of the sheep contains all the just that have ever lived, and the goats all the wicked that have ever breathed, who are the brethren of whom Christ speaks? … The parties described as “my brethren” cannot be among the righteous, for they are pointed out to the righteous, and the righteous are but one body….They must be some third party distinct both from the sheep and the goats.
  6. The parties judged are all Gentiles; therefore the “brethren” of Christ, distinct from both these, are the Jews. (For, the term “brethren” may refer to either the household of faith or to the Lord’s brothers through physical lineage…the Jews; CR)[1]


This judgment, then, is a separate judgment from that of the church. It is a judgment of the Gentile nations, which will take place after Christ’s judgment of his own. It is also a judgment not based on the gospel but on other considerations. Remember that reception (trust in) of the gospel is the basis for salvation in this age. In previous ages, salvation was based on the reception of differing revelations. For example, Abraham was saved simply by trusting in what God had revealed to him, that is, that God would be his shield, that he would be rewarded, and that his offspring would be very many (Genesis 15:1-6). Under Moses, the children of Israel were saved by believing what God spoke to them through Moses. At the time of the Lord’s judgment in this parable it is a new age.


We do not know how much time elapses between the Lord’s return to the earth (at the rapture) and this judgment. Futurists (like Tim LaHaye) say that there will be seven years between the rapture and the Lord’s judgment of the world. A lot can happen in seven years! Jim Webber, in his book End Times Power, speculates that it could be as long as 50 years or even longer. [2]


Thus, while many have assumed that the Lord’s judgment of those living on earth will happen as soon as he returns, this may not be the case at all. In other words, there appears to be short age, anywhere from a few years to a half century or longer, between the Lord’s second coming and the Millennium.[3] It is during this time that the judgment of the parable will take place.


Since the judgment that the Lord here describes cannot be the judgment of the church, and neither can it be the final judgment (the Great White Throne), because it is only the living that are judged here, this is a judgment between the Lord’s judgment of his church and the final judgment after the Millennium.


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.[4]

This shows that the Lord is the Shepherd not only of the believers (John 10:11; Heb. 13:20) and the Jews (Psa. 80:1; Jer. 31:10), but also of all the Gentiles (Psa. 100:1-3). The sheep will be gathered to His right hand, the place of honor (1 Kings 2:19; Psa. 45:9).


The Lord says to the sheep to inherit the kingdom prepared for them from the foundation of the world. The sheep will enter the Millennium as subjects. Those who rule in the Millennium will be the overcomers, those in this age (and previous ages) who both had saving faith and who lived faithfully.


Ever since the fall of man, the earth has been corrupted. God’s desire is to recover the earth and to establish His kingdom in a full way on the earth. God is more interested in the earth than in the heavens. According to the Bible, God’s intention is to leave the heavens. He desires to come down from the heavens and set up His kingdom on the earth in the Person of his Son.


Some teachers of the Bible presume to know in great detail the sequence of events surrounding the Lord’s coming and what will happen during the Millennial reign. I do not think we can know these details. Although there are several passages that inform us of these matters, they are open to more than one way of understanding them. However, we can know a few things with confidence.


The Jews, who are now in unbelief and lost, will first come to Christ before his return:


For if their rejection means the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance mean but life from the dead?[5]


The Jews, having rejected Christ for the last 1,995 years, will one day accept him. When that happens, the resurrection of the dead (of the faithful) will also happen. Paul repeats this idea later in the same chapter:


Lest you be wise in your own sight, I do not want you to be unaware of this mystery, brothers: a partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. 26 And in this way all Israel will be saved, as it is written,

       “The Deliverer will come from Zion,

he will banish ungodliness from Jacob”;

27    “and this will be my covenant with them

when I take away their sins.” [6]


Paul quotes Isaiah. But he quotes this passage as yet unfulfilled. This means that, in the future, the Lord will take away the hardening of the Jews and they will enter into covenant with him.


Zechariah chapter eight, prophesies that there will come a time when the Jews will lead others to know God and this, specifically, from the city of Jerusalem (so this cannot be a prophecy about the gospel age). Since this has not happened yet, it will either happen during the time between the rapture of the church and his judgment of the Gentiles, or it will happen during the Millennium.


Many peoples and strong nations shall come to seek the Lord of hosts in Jerusalem and to entreat the favor of the Lord. 23 Thus says the Lord of hosts: In those days ten men from the nations of every tongue shall take hold of the robe of a Jew, saying, ‘Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you.’ ” [7]


The interesting point that both Paul and Zechariah make is that the Lord is not done with the Jewish people yet. He will yet bless them in great ways.


This judgment of the nations, as has been observed, is based upon the deeds of those people. Of course, what we do is a reflection of what is in our heart. Yet, there is a distinction between how these people are judged and how the other judgments are conducted. They are not saved by faith but, rather, how they treated the Lord’s “brothers.”[8] Eternal damnation is even a consequence of failing to treat others well (Matthew 25:41)!


Since this judgment is not ours, how does this apply to us?


It applies to us because it reveals how highly the Lord honors it when we help those who need help. Remember these words of our Lord from the Sermon on the Mount:


And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. 41 And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. 42 Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you. [9]


The Lord spoke these words in reference to our enemies! When he said, “If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles,” this was a reference to the Roman soldiers who were stationed in Israel. They would often prescript citizens at random to carry their paraphernalia from one place to another. The Jews, of course, did not like this at all, since they viewed the Romans as their subjugators and enemy.


Yet, Jesus says to not only go with them but go with them twice as far as they are “forcing” you to go!


Now, if this is how we are to help our enemies, how much more our neighbor? How much even more, our fellow brother and sister? We looked at this passage last week, but let’s read it again:

By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. 17 But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? 18 Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth. [10]

There are many needs among us. Big needs, small needs, important needs, not-so-important needs (but needs nevertheless). When these needs come to our attention, we ought not to neglect them. We must put into practice what the apostle taught us:


Do nothing from aselfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves;

    4      do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.[11]


The thinking that we need is that, whoever needs our help, they are more important than we are. When considering to help, what do we really think? If we have some reason not to help and that reason has something to do with us, or our convenience, then we think we are more important.


So, how does the judgment of the Gentiles apply to us? It reveals that how we help others is so very meaningful to the Lord. It will surely be taken into consideration at our own judgment!


The three parables prior to this one were all about getting ready for the Lord’s return. This one is too! This is another way to get ready! We must go out of our way to help those when we become aware of a need. This pleases the Lord! Let us help all those who request it and give special attention to the “Lord’s brethren.”


Then, when the Lord comes, we can hear, “You welcomed me. You helped me when I needed it. Your reward awaits!” And we will say, “Lord, do you mean when I helped others?” He will say, “Yes, my daughter (or son), enter into the joy of the Lord!”






[1] Robert Govett, Govett on the Parables, chapter 15, pgs 3-9.

[2] He bases this on the necessity of both a world-wide war and the necessity of restoring the Middle East battlefield as depicted in Ezekiel.

[3] This may or not be the case. However much time there is between the rapture and this judgment, we can still learn from our Lord’s parable.

[4] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Mt 25:32–33). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[5] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Ro 11:15). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[6] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Ro 11:25–27). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[7] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Zec 8:22–23). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[8] This can mean either members of the church or the Jews (not so easy to tell!).

[9] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Mt 5:40–42). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[10] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (1 Jn 3:16–18). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[11] New American Standard Bible: 1995 update. (1995). (Php 2:3–4). La Habra, CA: The Lockman Foundation.