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Basic Bible: Separating the Sheep and the Goats

Matthew 25:31-46

Before us are words which Jesus spoke to His disciples three days before His crucifixion. Jesus revealed to them that which shall transpire when He returns. He did not give these words to them for instruction or for a warning. His disciples hardly fit the description given to the sheep or to the goats. The words of prophecy which Jesus spoke are preserved as scripture for God’s purposes. God the Father would have all men know with certainty that His Son (the Son of man) shall return, shall bring judgment, and shall sit upon the throne of David in Jerusalem (the throne of His glory, v. 31). This prophecy, however, reaches out to the ears of all who will receive it.

The Father wants all who read His word to know beforehand of the judgment which shall come. The Son speaks that which the Father has given to Him. God said it and it shall come to pass as He has stated. There is no uncertainty. Jesus shall return and rule from the throne of David for one thousand years (Rev. 20:6). When He returns, the scene pictured in verses 31-46 shall unfold.

The nations (v. 32) which are gathered before Him are composed of survivors, individuals who did not perish during the seven-year tribulation (see Matt. 24:22, 29-30). The Son of man (the King) shall divide these individuals into two groups, the sheep group and the goat group. The sheep are righteous and are set on the King’s right hand and the goats are cursed and are placed on His left hand.

The King welcomes the sheep into the kingdom which has been prepared for them from the foundation of the world (v. 34). The kingdom which awaits the righteous (who do not perish during the tribulation) is the same kingdom which is reserved for them who have been washed in the blood of the Lamb (Rev. 7:14).

The sheep are righteous because they fed the hungry, gave drink to the thirsty, took in strangers, clothed the naked, and visited the sick and them who were in prison. The King counts that which the sheep did to others as having been done to Him. It is by grace through faith that the church is saved from the judgment to come. During the tribulation the dynamic is different. The judgment has come. Works (resisting the mark of the beast and doing for others) shall be counted for righteousness.

God’s word is not read in the same manner by all believers. Some believe that the church shall be taken up and not experience that which the sheep have seen. Others believe that the church shall see part or all of the seven years. God is not the author of confusion. He gives clarity to them who lean not upon their own understanding. Jesus, in speaking to the seven churches in Asia, promised the church at Philadelphia, the evangelic church, that it would not see the hour of temptation — the hour which the sheep shall experience (see Rev. 3:10). The church at Laodicea, the last of the seven churches, was given no such promise. Jesus promised the Laodicean church that it would be tested. Jesus said, “To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in his throne” (Rev. 3:21).

The sheep were confused when informed that they had given food and drink to the King, had taken Him in and clothed Him, and had visited Him when He was sick and in prison. They had done good. They had done that which is required in the law of Moses but they did not know the King until they met Him face to face and He welcomed them into the kingdom.

To the goats, the King shall say, “Depart from me, ye cursed, into the everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels” (v. 41). The goats are cursed because they did not feed the hungry, or give drink to the thirsty, or take in strangers, or clothe the naked, or visit the sick or them who were in prison.

After hearing that they had not given food and drink to the King when He hungered and thirsted, or clothed Him when He was naked, or took Him in, or visited Him when He was sick and in prison, the goats protested. They challenged the King to cite a time in which they ever saw Him.

The King pointed to the sheep and said, “Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me.” Both the goats and the sheep were tested in like manner. The test results, however, were much different. The goats failed the test in that they turned away the sheep (v. 42, 43). The goats had received the mark of the beast and worshiped him (Rev. 14:9, 10) and gave not to the sheep who were unable to buy and sell (Rev. 13:17).

The goats shall go into everlasting punishment (v. 46). The Lord is not willing that any should perish but not all shall repent. Some shall perish (II Pet. 3:9, 10) because they will not repent. In His message to the church at Laodicea, Jesus said, “I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me” (Rev. 3:20).

These things are written because God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son. Only the righteous shall hear.

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