Those of you who were at church yesterday and were in the main room heard me open with an illustration about my coaching years. Later in the day, a former runner on the team reminded me that I would often divide the team during practices into groups based upon their talent and level of fitness. One group would have higher expectations and demands. And she reminded me that I often referred to the groups as the sheep and the goats. I had forgotten that. And probably very few of my runners realized I was making a Scriptural inference in those titles.
The parable of the sheep and the goats is one that has been more debated than most parables as to what it is teaching and who are the characters in the groups. So, yes, there are sort of sheep and goats camps of biblical interpretation about who are the sheep and goats! And I did not want to get us too terribly deep into those weeds … because, well … there was another parable about weeds coming up later.
Simply stated, some believe the parable in its context of a discourse by Jesus is referencing God’s judgment upon Gentile nations relative to their treatment of Israel during the Great Tribulation and in advance of the 1000-year millennial kingdom. Others believe it is more general and is referencing the final judgment at the end of all time. I see the merits in the arguments of each, but along with the other two parables in this week’s study simply chose to draw the big ideas and timeless principles out of it.
And one of those timeless principles is the certain reality of God’s judgment. There is a time of accounting that will happen, and the reward or curse that follows is dependent upon one’s faith and execution of that faith in practical ways. Understand that the deeds being spoken of in these verses (and other such passages) are not prescriptions of things to be done in order to gain favor with God. Rather, having gained God’s favor and relationship through Christ, these deeds are the proof-positive outworking of that inner faith. There is a focus away from self to serving others — all men, but especially those of the household of faith.
So judgment is real and is not the overblown imagination of a televangelist in full stride. Not everyone agrees or believes that there will be a final judgment. Why do some people deny this teaching, found here and in many other passages? What might a denial of future and final judgment say about how a person has a wrong view of God? How do we reconcile seeing God as both the definition of love, yet also the dispenser of final justice and judgment?
Matthew 25:31-46 — The Sheep and the Goats
31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.
34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’
41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’
44 “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’
45 “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’
46 “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”