We come to the end our study of the parables this morning with a well-known parable from Matthew 25:31-46. It is the parable of the Sheep and the Goats. It is the final of three parables in Matthew 25 each having to do with the time of judgment. There is the parable of the ten virgins, the parable of the talents, and now the parable we study today.
In this parable Jesus uses another image that was very familiar to his listeners. It was common practice for sheep and goats to graze together during the course of the day. At night the Shepherd would separate them. The goats, lacking the wool coats of the sheep needed a warmer environment for the evening.
Jesus is using this image not to teach us about animal husbandry, but about the time when the “Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him,” (v. 31). This is another glimpse at the teaching about the end times. There are several things we learn about the end times from this parable:
THERE WILL BE A DAY OF JUDGMENT
This seems obvious, but sometimes the obvious things are overlooked. There are several different views on what will happen on the Day of Judgment. Some people believe that there is no such thing as a Day of Judgment because there is no such thing as life beyond the grave. They believe this life is “all there is”. They do not believe in God. Other people believe that there really will be no “separating of the flock” because everyone is going to Heaven. These people are called Universalists. They believe that God’s love is such that He would never consign anyone to eternal punishment. Still others believe in what is called annihilationalism. They believe that there may be a heaven for the good people but there is certainly no Hell for the bad people. Good people go to Heaven and bad people just cease to exist.
Those of us who believe the teaching of the Bible and the overwhelming evidence for the existence of God, must realize that If God is just, there must be a Day of Judgment for God to right the wrongs of life. If God is Holy, there must be a Day of Judgment because God cannot compromise with evil (and that includes ignoring it) and still be holy. If God is compassionate there must be a day when God defends His people. If God is true then there must be a Day of Judgment because He has proclaimed such judgment throughout the Bible. In 2 Corinthians 5:10 Paul speaks clearly,
For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad. [2 Corinthians 5:10]
Some people think that judgment and love are incompatible. But in truth it is similar to saying, “If there is to be true law in the land, there must be punishment for those who disobey the law.” Or if there is going to be true justice for victims, offenders need to face consequences.” We don’t think that society is arbitrary or unloving if it enforces standards of right and wrong. But we do think a society is corrupt if these punishments are not extended. It is the same way with God. Since God is loving, He must also be a judge! There will be a day when we stand before the almighty ruler of the universe and have to give an account for the way we have lived our lives.
THE BASIS OF THIS JUDGMENT WILL BE THE LIVES WE LIVE
Immediately we tremble when we hear these words. Does this mean that we are really saved by being good rather than by grace? No, it does not. We must always read the Bible as a whole and not just as individual parts. We must read in the context of the entire revelation of God.
The Bible is clear that we cannot measure up to the standard of goodness that is required for salvation. Paul states it succinctly in Romans 3:23, “For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” Everyone has missed the mark. If we were measured purely by our goodness we would all be cast into the lake of fire. We are saved by God’s gracious action on our behalf.
So do we just discard what Jesus says in Matthew 25? Of course not. The Bible does not contradict itself. Jesus wants us to understand that God is going to look at our lives and see whether or not we are true recipients of His transforming grace. This is the argument that James was making when he said, “Faith without works is dead.” I have said it many times, we are saved by God’s grace but that grace is dynamic . . . it changes us.
OUR LOVE FOR CHRIST WILL BE REVEALED IN OUR TREATMENT OF OTHERS
Matthew 25:31-46 New King James Version (NKJV)
31 “When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the [a]holy angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory. 32 All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats. 33 And He will set the sheep on His right hand, but the goats on the left. 34 Then the King will say to those on His right hand, ‘Come, you blessed of 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 took Me in; 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 When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You? 39 Or when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ 40 And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.’
41 “Then He will also say to those on the left hand, ‘Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting 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 take Me in, naked and you did not clothe Me, sick and in prison and you did not visit Me.’
44 “Then they also will answer [b]Him, 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, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch 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 everlasting punishment, but the righteous into eternal life
The debate about this passage focuses on the words, “the least of these brothers of mine.” (v. 40). Does this mean “the least of the people on earth” in other words any poor person, imprisoned person etc.? Or does this mean “believers”? In other words, is Jesus saying, “your love for me will be shown in how you treat those who are a part of my family?” I think the later interpretation makes the most sense, but I agree with the Life Application Bible which says this kind of debate is like the lawyer who wanted to know “Who is my Neighbor?”
Our job is to show compassion to any who are in need and especially to those who are in need in the household of God. The way we live our lives reveals the condition of our hearts.
Christian love is shown when the “least of the brothers” or the less likeable is treated in this same manner.
We need to understand that true Christian love is shown in how we react to the outcasts of life. It is natural for us to show love and kindness to those who, Might give us something (money, promotion, an opportunity)Might join our churchMight be able to advance our causeMight secure an advantage for our children Might agree with our cause.
The test will be how we treated those who are the down-and-out, the powerless, the rejected, the despised of society. That comes from a supernatural touch from God.
Francis of Asissi; the Italian Saint was wealthy and high-born and high-spirited. But he was not happy. He felt that life was incomplete. Then one day he was out riding and met a leper, loathsome and repulsive in the ugliness of his disease. Something moved Francis to dismount and fling his arms around this wretched sufferer; and in his arms the face of the leper changed to the face of Christ. [Barclay p. Matthew Vol. 2]
. If we really love the Lord --we will love His children. If we disregard or hate His children we are attacking those whom the Lord holds dear.
JUDGMENT WILL HAVE ETERNAL CONSEQUENCES
The judgment on the goats is quite sobering, “In verse 41 we read,
Depart from me, you who are cursed in to the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.
And in verse 46 we read
“Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”
Hell was often described as an everlasting fire. The word for hell in the Greek was gehenna. Gehenna was located outside the city of Jerusalem. During the time of the wicked kings this was a place where there were pagan sacrifices . . .even the sacrifice of children. In the day of Jesus it has become the city garbage dump where a fire was always burning. This is an illustration that Jesus gives us of Hell.
Notice this was not a place that had been prepared for people. Jesus called hell, “the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.” God had originally designed Hell for Satan and the angels that rebelled against God before the creation of the world. When people persist in their sin and reject the salvation that God has offered in Christ, they are in effect choosing to serve the Devil. As disciples of Satan they will receive the same punishment that he receives.
Please notice that the word “eternal” is used not just with “eternal life” but also with “punishment”. People tend to think of Heaven as eternal but neglect to hear that Hell is everlasting as well. Theologian J.I. Packer writes of Hell,
It is thought of as a place of fire and darkness (Jude 7, 13), of weeping and grinding of teeth (Matt. 8:12; 13:42, 50; 22:13; 24:51; 25:30), of destruction (2 Thess. 1:7-9; 2 Pet. 3:7; 1 Thess. 5:3), and of torment (Rev. 20:10; Luke 16:23)—in other words, of total distress and misery. If, as it seems, these terms are symbolic rather than literal (fire and darkness would be mutually exclusive in literal terms), we may be sure that the reality, which is beyond our imagining, exceeds the symbol in dreadfulness. New Testament teaching about hell is meant to appall us and strike us dumb with horror, assuring us that, as heaven will be better than we could dream, so hell will be worse than we can conceive. Such are the issues of eternity, which need now to be realistically faced.
So, what are we to take away from this parable of the Sheep and the Goats? First, there is a clarification for our walk with Christ. As with so many of the parables we have looked at, we have been reminded that true commitment is not about profession, it is about practice. The true believer not only knows the truth, they live the truth. When the Holy Spirit is in our lives we will be different people. A faith that does not result in a change in the way we live is not true faith. This parable reminds us that obedience matters to God. Love is not optional, it is required.
It is tempting for us to begin making pronouncements about the faith that other people have. We’ll say, “Anyone who acts like that, must not be a believer”. But let me caution you here. We must always remember that every one of us is in the process of growth. We will have good days and bad days. We will be soft at times and hard at others. If we hold others up to a standard of perfection we must be willing to be held to that same standard. Consequently, we should take the words of this parable and use them as a mirror to evaluate our own lives. Let God do the separating of the sheep and the goats.
Second, there is a caution for our evangelism. Too often, in our desire for people to come to a saving relationship with Christ, we water down the truth of the gospel. We tell people that all they have to do is: come forward, raise their hand, sign a card, or say a prayer. But that is to misrepresent the gospel. Jesus told us to “count the cost”. When we share the gospel with another, we must make sure that people understand the nature of the commitment they make. I’m afraid that there are many people who believe they are going to Heaven because of an experience they had once, but they are really still in their sin because they have not made a true commitment to Christ.
No one would want to tell someone that marriage is just a matter of repeating some vows. A marriage ceremony includes the expression of promises to each other. But a marriage is far more than this. A marriage involves hard work. And it is important for people to understand this fact going into the marriage. The Christian commitment is no different. We must help people to understand that saying a prayer, walking an aisle and so forth is just the “ceremony” of conversion. An actual relationship with Christ is much more dynamic and deep.
Third, there is a challenge to see the unseen. I wonder how often I pass by hurting people without every noticing them? We don’t see them because, quite frankly, they aren’t important to us. They have nothing to offer us. We would notice a celebrity because we feel important when we are around them. We would notice Jesus because we know He is the Lord. We need to understand that the “unseen people” give us something wonderful. They offer us the opportunity to show our love for Christ.
So what do we need to do to move in the right direction?We must change our standards. We must realize that it is not the knowledgeable but the obedient that will be rewarded.We must learn to see with the eyes of Christ. We must look for the hurt in the lives of those around us. Look at the eyes of those around youDare to act. None of us can help everyone. We don’t have the strength and/or resources to do so. Jesus doesn’t say that we must give water to every thirsty person, or food to every hungry person. But we are to act where we are able. The things Jesus asks of us are things any one of us can do: give a cup of water, lend a coat, make a visit, extend a helping hand. In other words we are going to have t learn to see Jesus in everyone.
The parable of the Sheep and the Goats reminds us that when the final day arrives God is not going to send us to a room to take an exam. He will already know those who are His and those who are not. He will know because of the way we treated Him when He came to us in disguise.
Packer, J. I. (1995, c1993). Concise theology : A guide to historic Christian beliefs.