A certain nobleman

A grain of mustard
The marriage feast
The sheep and the goats
The ten virgins
The unforgiving creditor
The wheat and the tares
The good Samaritan
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The Sheep and the Goats

TWO DAYS BEFORE his arrest Jesus went out from the Temple for the last time. The disciples wanted to show him the magnificent architecture and the high quality stones used in the building. The Temple was indeed magnificent but after 46 years of building, the whole Temple complex was still not finally complete. Yet Jesus rather astounded them by the prediction he then made: `Do you see all these things?...I tell you the truth, not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.' [Matthew 24.2 NIV] Later, as they were sitting on the side of the Mount of Olives overlooking Jerusalem and the Temple area, the disciples asked Jesus, `Tell us, when will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?' [Matthew 24.3 NIV]

In answer to these questions Jesus gave a long discourse which has become known as `The Mount Olivet Prophecy.' It contained some six parables the last of which was the parable of the Sheep and the Goats. We can read the parable in Matthew 25.31-46. Very fittingly the subject of the parable is the judgement to be conducted by Jesus at his return. So the parable commences:

`When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory.' [Matthew 25.31 NIV]

That glorious throne will be David's restored throne in Jerusalem. [Luke 1.32] There is no doubt that this will happen - the disciples knew that Jesus was to come again; they had asked him what the sign of his coming would be. When Jesus comes he will raise the dead; not every person that has ever died but all those who have known God's laws, whether they have remained true worshippers of God or not. Together with them he will gather the living followers of Jesus to a place of judgement.

Those who will have to appear before him will be drawn out of all nations. They will be separated into two groups `as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.' [Matthew 25.32 NIV] Sheep and goats are easily distinguished by their appearance, colour and temperament. A shepherd would certainly have no difficulty whatsoever in separating the one from the other. During his ministry Jesus said: `I am the good shepherd, and know my sheep....And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd.' [John 10.14-16] Jesus was referring to the call of the Gentiles to know the Gospel, which was to happen following his death and resurrection. This was why he was able to say that at the judgement they will be gathered from all nations.

THE KING SPEAKS TO THE SHEEP

In the parable, the sheep are separated from the goats and are placed at the King's right hand and the goats are placed at his left.

Then the King says 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. 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, 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.' [Matthew 25.34-36 NIV]

Those who were described as `the sheep' are now described as `the righteous', so we see that the separation into two groups has been on the basis of the righteousness of those who during their lifetime were really part of Christ's flock.

Greatly surprised, the righteous will answer the King:

`...Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?' The King will reply, `I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.' [Matthew 25.37-40 NIV]

So the `sheep' Jesus is addressing he now calls `these brothers of mine.' During his ministry Jesus declared that whoever did the will of his Father was his mother and sister and brother. [Matthew 12.50] We read in the letter to the Hebrews concerning the believers, that Jesus `is not ashamed to call them brethren.' [Hebrews 2.11]

THE KING SPEAKS TO THE GOATS

`Depart from me, you who are cursed.' The King has already assessed the characters of those who are before him. Those described for the sake of the parable as `goats' are the opposite in character to the `sheep'. They are unrighteous in the sight of the King who judges them and pronounces their punishment:

`...Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.' [Matthew 25.41 NIV]

The reason for their failure is that in their lives their behaviour toward Christ is exactly the opposite of that required of them. They try to protest their innocence saying that if they had known they were turning their backs on Christ, then their actions would have been different. The parable ends with the statement that the unrighteous `goats' will go to eternal punishment, but the righteous `sheep' to everlasting life.

WHAT IS THIS PARABLE TEACHING US?

First of all the scriptures teach us that, when Jesus returns there will be a judgement of both the living and the dead. The Apostle Paul wrote to the first century believers: `For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ.' [2 Corinthians 5.10] Those who are accounted worthy by reason of the lives they have lived as servants of God, will be granted everlasting life and will be given places of authority in the kingdom of God. This was promised by Jesus in his last message to the believers:

`He that overcometh, and keepeth my works unto the end, to him will I give power over the nations: And he shall rule them with a rod of iron; as the vessels of a potter shall they be broken to shivers: even as I received of my Father.' [Revelation 2.26,27]

Those on the left hand who are unworthy, will be destroyed. The `eternal fire' of the parable does not mean that they will remain alive and be punished for ever; rather that the effect of the punishment will be everlasting - it will be complete destruction as if by fire.

WHO ARE `THE DEVIL AND HIS ANGELS'?

The word translated `devil' means false accuser or `that which opposes.' The work of Jesus at his first coming was to: `destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil.' [Hebrews 2.14,15] The Apostle John wrote:

`He that committeth sin is of the devil; for the devil sinneth from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil.' [1 John 3.8]

The Apostle Paul urged the newly baptised Roman believers: `Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, that ye should obey it in the lusts thereof.' For `the wages of sin is death...' [Romans 6.12; 6.23]

The Apostle James wrote:

`...every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed. Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin when it is finished, bringeth forth death.' [James 1.14,15]

We see then that it is the person's own thoughts and desires that tempts him or her to sin. Returning to that letter to the Romans, Paul tells us:

`For when we were controlled by the sinful nature, the sinful passions aroused by the law were at work in our bodies, so that we bore fruit for death. I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God's law, but in the sinful nature a slave to the law of sin.' [Romans 7.5,15,17,18,25 NIV]

In another letter Paul wrote:

`Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.' [Galatians 5.1921]

Disciples who have been baptised are accounted as `in Christ'. Unbelievers are described as being `in the flesh' or are `of the world'. From these references we can see that the expression `the devil' is just a figure of speech. It is a personification of sin and its evil works, demonstrated in an individual or corporately in institutions, governments or powers, `the rulers of the darkness of this world' and `spiritual wickedness in high places.' [Ephesians 6.12] Those represented by the goats are those who, despite their protestations, were not doing the will of God but were only nominally the disciples of Christ. They were effectively sin's agents and therefore opposed to Christ. They were false disciples of whom Jesus said, that in the day of judgement:

`Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.' [Matthew 7.22,23]

THE BASIS FOR APPROVAL AT THE JUDGEMENT SEAT

It is important to note that, although for the purpose of this parable Jesus stresses that good deeds done to fellow disciples are the basis for commendation or otherwise, good deeds are not the sole criteria for entry into the kingdom of God. The primary need is for faith and trust in God and what He has promised. A life lived in accordance with the commands of Christ is necessary; also faithfulness and integrity in one's dealings with others; watching and being ready for the coming of the Lord as well as doing the Lord's work, as the other parables in this `Mount Olivet Prophecy' clearly demonstrate. We cannot earn salvation, it is the gift of God to those who, in their lives now, show their commitment to Him and whom He therefore will, in His mercy, account as righteous. Good works are an evidence of faith but without a love of God they cannot of themselves merit eternal life.

WHAT IS THE LESSON FOR US?

It is that, if we turn to God and trust in Him now in this life, He will grant eternal life in His Kingdom which Jesus is to re-establish at his Second Coming. Jesus has promised that those who hold fast to his commands will be made like the angels to die no more. They will be made kings and priests and given positions of power and rulership, in fact they will be sharing Jesus' throne.

There is complete assurance in the words of Jesus to his disciples:

`Fear not, little flock; for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom.' [Luke 12.32]

Will you be one of Christ's sheep in that day?