What are the sheep and goat in Matthew 25:31-46? Was Jesus talking about a future event? Does the passage support work-based entrance into the kingdom? Is there any application for a believer in Christ today?
Thank you for the question. I will answer your questions in the below section.
Sheep and goat.
In Matthew 25:31-46 Jesus said a parable of comparison based on a daily observation. Therefore people could connect easily to what Jesus was teaching. Both sheep and goats are common in the land of Israel. During the daytime, they usually herded together. But when night comes, they both were separated. The sheep can be kept outside because their fur gives them warm during night hours. However, the goats need to kept inside and herded together because they need warm in the night time. The herdsmen separate them in the night hours. This was a daily observation and based on this fact; the Lord is saying a divine mystery or lesson for all of us to learn.
I will first bring to your attention when this event going to happen based on Scripture and at the end, I will also provide a subtle and serious application and warning for believers living today.
Jesus talks about an yet to happen future event.
Jesus said when the Son of Man comes in His glory he comes with all the angels with Him. At that time he will sit on his glorious throne. Therefore Jesus is setting the time when this separation of sheep and goats would happen. The Son of Man comes in His glory, according to Bible, at His second coming to this earth. We need to remember the future timelines that the Bible provides to understand the exact timing of this event.
Bible says we currently live in the church age. In fulfillment of hundreds of prophecies regarding the incarnation of Jesus Christ, He was born into this world on the first Christmas day. Jesus Christ is the Son of God because He was not the son of Joseph, his earthly father. He was not born from Joseph. Jesus developed in the womb of Mary because the Holy Spirit of God came upon Mary and the power of the Most High God overshadowed her and consequently the holy offspring, the Son of God, developed in her womb.
Several promises of the savior were given in the old testament. It clearly said where he would be born, where he would live, what would he do, how would he die, how would be buried and rose again. All these prophecies, more than three hundred of them, were fulfilled in Jesus Christ. Now Jesus said when he was on this earth “I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overpower it.” Matthew 16:18. Just before his ascension into heaven after his death and resurrection, He promised again that he would send the Holy Spirit to complete the work He has began. He also told the disciples they receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you, and they would be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight. (Acts 1:8-9)
On the day of Pentecost as promised the Holy Spirit came into this world and baptized the believers (Spiritual baptism) into the body of Christ which is the Church. Both water baptism (Acts 2:41)and the spiritual baptism (1 Corinthians 12:13) happened on that day when first 3000 people repented and believed in Christ. From that day onwards church is being planted and grown on this earth. No gates of hades or power of hell would or could defeat the movement and build up of Church per the words of Jesus.
Now the church age will end with the rapture of the church according to several passages in the Bible including 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 and 1 Corinthians 15:51-53. Once the church and the then living believers of Christ are taken up or caught up in heaven, then starts the seven-year tribulation period with the appearance of the Antichrist, who is the agent of Devil. (Daniel 9:27 and 2 Thessalonians 2). The darkest and the most horrible time ever experienced will be on this world during those seven years. The first 3.5 years will be somewhat mild. However, the last 3.5 years will be great tribulation. The details can be read in the Book of Revelation beginning from chapter 6. The church and believers in Christ will be in heaven during this time. (Revelation 4 and 5). However, unheard and untold miseries and tribulation will be on this earth.
At the end of the seven-year tribulation period, Bible says Jesus Christ comes in His glory with all his angels and the church in heaven to this earth, and He will sit on his glorious throne and will rule the whole earth for one thousand years. This is the time when numerous old testament prophecies regarding the establishment of the Davidic kingdom on this earth would be literally fulfilled. You see, Jews though Christ would establish the Davidic kingdom when he first came to this earth. Even the disciples expected but later they discovered there is a big gap between the first coming and the second coming of the Messiah. The first coming was to die for our sins and save us from darkness to His kingdom of love. Whoever calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved today from the eternal hell and destruction because Christ came first time to shed his innocent and divine blood for our sins. The second coming is the time of His glorious coming to this earth, and He sits on his glorious throne to rule the whole world. The second coming of Christ into this world is described in Revelation 19:11-21, after the horrible description of the future seven-year tribulation period. The end of the great tribulation is when Christ establishes His earthly kingdom as a fulfillment of numerous old testament prophecies.
This is the time of this parable-after the end of the seven-year tribulation period and just before Christ’s thousand-year rule on this earth. Christ is talking about those who were living in that seven-year period of tribulation and how they would respond to “one of the least of his brothers and sisters” is going to determine their entrance into the Kingdom of God or eternal fire prepared for the devil and his demons.
Let us listen to what He says:
• When the Son of Man comes in His glory with all his angels
• He sits on His glorious throne
• All the nations will be gathered before Him
• He will separate them from one another as the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats
• He will put the sheep on His right and goats on the left
• The king will say to those on His right, Come, you are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you form the foundation of the world
• For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me drinks; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in. Naked, you clothed Me; I was sick; you visited Me; I was in prison, you came to Me.
• The righteous will ask him, Lord, when did we see you hungry, thirsty and so forth
• The king will reply whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters you did for me; 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.’
• He will say to those on left, depart from me, you who are cursed into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry, you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty, and you gave me nothing to drink
• They will also ask the same question, Lord when did we you see hungry, thirsty and so forth?
• Then the righteous will answer him, ‘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, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ Then they will go away to eternal punishment.
The passage clearly says Jesus Christ will gather the nations before him after the seven-year tribulation period before the establishment of the Davidic kingdom on this earth for one thousand years. The Bible calls the period of the Davidic kingdom ‘the Millennium’ which means the thousand year reign of Christ Jesus on this earth (Rev 21). The entrance to the kingdom is based on what the nations did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine. He says “whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” Now, who is Christ’s brothers and sisters? Luke reported what Jesus Said in 8:21. It says there, “ But He (Jesus) answered and said to them, “My mother and My brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it.”
Therefore the basis of the judgment is based on the response of the nations to Christ’s brothers. Jesus said his brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it. The Gospel will be preached again in the tribulation period, and in the midst of severe persecutions and sufferings many will receive the word of God and come to the Lord for salvation. They will be persecuted harshly and horribly by the nations of the world because Antichrist rules the world at that time. However, whoever showed mercy and compassion to the believers in Christ (brother and sisters of Christ) would be the sheep who will enter into the kingdom and whoever dealt with Christian harshly and persecuted them will enter into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his demons.
Jesus is giving a parable based on their daily life observations. You see both the sheep and the goats were used for the sacrifices of people’s sins in the old testament. Various passages say they can use sheep and goats for the atonement of sins. One such passage is the description of the Passover lamb. Exodus 12:4 says, “Your lamb shall be an unblemished male a year old; you may take it from the sheep or the goats.” The point here in the parable is not one is better than the other. The emphasis is on the separation of sheep and goats in the night hours. The King will separate sheep from goat. Those who showed compassion, love and mercy and those who gave provisions for Christ’s brothers, the believers in Christ, are the sheep and they would enter into God’s eternal kingdom, while those who harshly dealt with the followers of Christ and persecuted them will enter into to the eternal fire of hell.
Now, does this parable support entrance to the kingdom through good works and deeds? It is not supporting the work based entrance to the Kingdom of God. If one tries to build salvation based on good works and deeds from this parable, then he or she will be contradicting many of the clear passages of the Bible that teach us the fact that Salvation is not based on any of our works. Plus if salvation was based on our good works, then there was no need for Jesus to come to this earth and die the cruel death in our place to save us and grant us eternal life. Several clear passages confirm our salvation, entrance into the kingdom and eternal life is based on our faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Few of these passages are John 3:16, Romans 3, Ephesians 2:8 along with many others. Even this parable proves the fact that entrance into the eternal kingdom is not based on their good works because the King says to the righteous ones in verse 34 “‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.” Even before the foundation of the world, before the creation of this world, before even their birth, God prepared the way of entrance for them. Therefore their entrance into the eternal kingdom was not based on their deeds. However, their good and kind deeds were the evidence of their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Remember Ephesians 2:18-10 says we are saved by grace through faith in Christ, the Savior. It is the gift of God; not as a result of works, that no one should boast. Then it says, we are created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God had prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
Therefore the sheep in this parable showed kindness and mercy and helped “one of these least brothers and sisters of mine (Jesus), you did to Me (Jesus).” The sheep could show mercy, compassion and helped the least ones in their needs because they were also believers in Christ. The Gospel changed their heart. Instead of hardened heart they got soften heart because they genuinely believed in Christ. If they were not believers in Christ, they would not be willing to do such kindness under the evil rulership of Antichrist. Per Paul’s language in Ephesians 2:10, the sheep was re-created in Christ Jesus for good works, and God prepared beforehand so that they would walk in them. Glory to God!
The goat on the left side is those who are not influenced by the message of the gospel of Kingdom during the seven-year tribulation period. Their hearts remained hostile to the least of Christ’s brothers and sisters because the word of God and message of salvation did not change their heart. They hardened their souls to the message, and now they are going to reap what they sow. Although the message was heard, they did not soften their heart to obey the word of God, and their heart remained hard.
Is there an application today?
I believe there is a subtle application from this parable for all of us today who live in this church age, though the passage was directly addressing an event going to happen at the time of the second coming of Christ.
This is that application for today. Am I a sheep or goat?
Many people go to church and claim to be Christians. However, the question is this – is Christ abiding in them? Some of them are not living and walking in the Holy Spirit. Such people who claim to be believers but are not are living not in the strength of the Holy Spirit but by their strength- flesh and muzzle power. There could be goats who herd with the sheep. Such people pretend and fake their faith. Many of them are just hypocrites like the ones in Jesus’s day. They do not have the heart of love, mercy, and compassion of the Lord nor do they want to submit and surrender to the Lord. They are fault finders, accusers, tit for tat people and live like worldly people, but act like spiritual in front of others. Jesus said, “Woe to you Pharisees because you love the most important seats in the synagogues and respectful greetings in the marketplaces” They want to pray on street corners and in front of others. However, theirs is a pharisaical heart with no mercy, love or compassion. Sometimes it is hard to distinguish between the sheep and the goat in today’s environment. However, Jesus said you can identify a tree by the fruit it produces. Matthew 7:16-20. Jesus also said “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!” Is this not a serious statement and a solemn thought from the Lord? Some people whom you see today doing works of miracles like driving out demons and prophecies in the name of Jesus may well belong to this group of goats along with Pharisee minded people who love chief seats, public prayers to show off their piety and respect from others.