The UK Bible Students Website
Christian Biblical Studies
SHEEP OR GOAT?
‘Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine,
you did for me’
― Matthew 25: 40 ―
Scripture references are to the NIV-UK
MANY OF THE PARABLES of Jesus provide a symbolic view of conditions in the future Kingdom of God, and stimulate us to strive to look for it and pray for it, that we may be ready for it. The parable of the Sheep and the Goats, related in Matthew 25: 31-46, also pertains to the Kingdom, but from a unique standpoint: the time when Christ will have returned in His Second Advent in power and begun His reign over earth.
It is necessary in the study of the Scriptures to observe order and to recognise the Divine Plan as a whole, locating each parable in its own place and time.
We know that the parable of the Sheep and the Goats belongs, not to the Gospel Age, but to the Millennium, because the introduction declares this (vs. 31, 32): ‘When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. 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.’ These ‘sheep’ and ‘goats’ do not include the Church.
The World’s Judgement Day
For centuries the Jews had been (rightly) accustomed to thinking of themselves as God’s nation, His select people. All others they styled heathen, Gentiles (goyim), and in prophecy God treated the matter from this standpoint. So when spiritual Israel was received into Divine favour as the Royal Priesthood, the new people belonging to God, the remainder of mankind continued to be referred to by them as ‘the nations’ – the heathen. The judged people of this parable are the world of mankind, gathered as individuals before the figurative judicial throne of Christ.
The judgement and salvation of the Church (the elect, the Gospel-Age sheep) comes during the period between the death of Christ and the Millennial Age. That of the world in general (the non-elect) takes place during the Millennial Age. The parable portrays the final judgement and salvation, showing that every member of Adam’s race will have an individual trial for life during Messiah’s thousand-year reign. Then by obedience or disobedience to the prevailing
enlightenment and knowledge each will determine his or her own everlasting future — either as a ‘sheep’ or as a ‘goat.’
We can break down the judgement process into four parts:
At the close of the Millennium each one will be accounted worthy or unworthy of everlasting life on earth, as the case may be, dependent on whether or not he or she has truly consecrated to Christ as Saviour and Lord. The parable emphasises that each one’s conduct toward others will be taken as an indicator of unselfish love, or lack of it. The terms and conditions which will ultimately determine who will be sheep and who will be goats, obedient or disobedient, will be meekness, mercy, kindness, and a love like that of Christ’s.
The sheep of the parable are those who display a Christlike character and are willing to serve others. The various needs, whatever they may be then, are represented in the hungry, the homeless, the prisoner, and so on. Those demonstrating the spirit of service will make progress toward human perfection. These are the sheep. Those classed as goats – the selfish, the rebellious, the sinful – will squander their opportunities. Both classes express surprise at what the King declares to be the basis of His judgement. He highlights the important relationship between Himself and His sheep. It is as though every service or disservice rendered to them is rendered to Him personally (v 40; comp. v. 45). ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’
All those of the goat character of selfishness and insubmissiveness will be accounted unworthy of any further blessing after their trial for life is ended. Their punishment will be destruction in figurative ‘fire’, utter annihilation. The Greek word here translated ‘punishment’ is kolasin, which signifies cutting off – in this case a final and permanent separation from life. Verse 46: ‘Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.’ The contrast is perfect. The sheep get life to all eternity, the goats get death to all eternity.
Copyright May 2009 ukbiblestudents.co.uk