The Sheep and Goat Judgment…Matt 25:31-46
By Jack Kelley
Read Matt 25:31-46 and immediately four questions come to mind, and answering them correctly takes a little doing. In fact, a number of respected commentators have missed the mark. As usual with the Bible, a careful reading combined with some logical deduction will go a long way toward bring the answers to light.
The four questions are:
1. What is the time and place in which this judgment occurs?
2. Who is being judged?
3. Who are “these brothers of mine?”
4. What are the consequences of the judgment?
We’ll dissect the passage, address the questions as they appear, and summarize our findings at the end. First let’s first clarify that this message from the Lord is technically not a parable, though it’s often described as such. It does open with the Lord comparing Himself to a shepherd and the people of Earth to sheep and goats. But the rest of the account is the preview of an actual event, not a hypothetical story designed to illustrate a Biblical truth like parables are. Let’s begin.
“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. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left (Matt. 25:31-33).
The First Question Please
The first two questions come right off the bat. What is the time and place in which this judgment occurs and who is being judged? The passage itself identifies the time as right after the 2nd Coming and that makes the location Earth. In Joel 3:1-3 the prophet speaks of a time when the Lord will restore the fortunes of Judah and Jerusalem and gather the nations together in the Valley of Jehoshaphat to hold them accountable for the way they’ve treated His people. Also, comparing Joel 3:14-16 with Matt. 24:29-30 gives us confirmation that the Sheep and Goat judgment will take place on Earth following the 2nd Coming.
Joel’s prophecy is a reference to the Sheep and Goat judgment. Since the word Jehoshaphat means “the Lord Judges” and no place by that name can be found on Earth, many believe he’s making reference to the Kidron Valley which separates the Mount of Olives from the Temple, and that the name describes what He’s there to do, not where He is.
Since this judgment is clearly post 2nd Coming, the Church cannot be the answer to question 2, “Who is being judged?” No matter what your preference is for the placement of the rapture in the End Times scenario, proponents of all the major positions agree it happens before the 2nd Coming. (I should mention that “Post-Tribbers” have a big problem here because if the rapture occurs just before the Lord’s return, there won’t be any “sheep” left for this judgment. They would all have just been taken in the rapture.) And since one of the things that happen in the rapture is the instantaneous perfection of believers, no judgment subsequent to that would be necessary.
No, the ones being judged here are those people of Earth who’ve survived the Great Tribulation. As we’ll see, some of them have come to faith, but were too late for the rapture. And don’t let the word nations fool you. It’s only used to explain that this is a worldwide event. The Greek word for nations also means, multitudes, people groups, or simply Gentiles. The Lord holds everyone personally accountable for his or her behavior.
“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. 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.’
“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, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me’ (Matt. 25:34-40).
The most obvious choice of identity for “these brothers of mine” is the Jewish people, from among whom the Messiah first came. Although all believers will be subject to persecution during the Great Tribulation, Jewish believers will be singled out for special attention in a final effort to eliminate them from the planet once and for all. And no doubt the 144,000 specially commissioned Messianic believers of Rev. 7:1-8 will head the enemy’s list for extermination. You see, according to the prophet Hosea the Jewish people have to petition the Messiah to return (Hosea 5:15-6:2). If Satan can wipe them all out before they can do that, he’s won. That’s why there have been repeated efforts to destroy them over the last 2000 years, and those efforts will intensify as the End of the Age approaches . Racial discrimination of any kind is wrong, but anti-Semitism is Satanic.
“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. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 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.’
“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?’
“He will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’
“Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life” (Matt. 25:41-46).
And The Final Question
The way the standard for judgment is explained can also be a little misleading. “Whatever you did (or did not) do for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did (or did not) do for me.” On first blush it appears that people are being rewarded for their good works, and punished for their failures. But the external actions He describes are simply tangible evidence of a faithful heart. The situation for Jewish believers in those days will become progressively worse and worse until they’ll be dependent on the charitable acts of others for their very survival. And those who reach out to help them will do so at their extreme peril, since they’ll be aiding and abetting a declared enemy every time they do. This is a crime punishable by death.
To make matters worse there will be snitches everywhere. What a perilous time! “It will be as though a man fled from a lion only to meet a bear; as though he entered his house and rested his hand on the wall only to have a snake bite him.” (Amos 5:19)
Only those whose hearts are fully dedicated to the Lord and know that He’s on His way back for them will risk their own skins to help a stranger, especially when that stranger is an officially designated enemy. Only they will remember the Lord’s answer to the question, “What is the greatest commandment?”
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind,” He replied, “And the second is like it. Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matt. 22:37-39).
In helping these strangers they’re fulfilling both commandments, and the Lord, seeing their faith in action, will reward them accordingly. “Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.”
Non-believers, having fallen for the deception of the antichrist and his false prophet, will have nothing to do with their leaders’ enemies, and in fact many will be proud to act as volunteer spies, informing on them or even worse. They’ll fulfill the Lord’s own words, “A time is coming when anyone who kills you will think he is offering a service to God” (John 16:2). They’ll be sent to the place of eternal punishment prepared for the devil and his angels. The Sheep and Goat judgment then, is not a parable, but a clear warning to Tribulation Survivors that once the Lord returns, the time for accepting Him as their Savior will have ended and the consequences will be severe and eternal.
But notice how even after it’s too late they call Him Lord? Read Paul’s words from Philippians 2:9-11. Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. And in Zechariah 14:9, The LORD will be king over the whole earth. On that day there will be one LORD, and his name the only name.
When He returns there will be no doubt anywhere as to Who He is. Everyone from the highest place in Heaven to those in the lowest place under the Earth, which includes Satan’s domain, will bow before Him, agreeing that He’s the Lord.
But those He likened to the goats will have refused to accept Him as their Savior and will be sent away to eternal punishment. Having turned down His offer of pardon in favor of making their own way, they will now have eternity to contemplate the folly of their actions.
“I have told you all this in advance,” the Lord says, “So that you would know.” The Sheep and Goat judgment stands as an unmistakably clear look into the future so that all who will may come and be forgiven. The Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” And let him who hears say, “Come!” Whoever is thirsty, let him come; and whoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life. (Rev 22:17) Better do it right now, while there’s time. For if you listen closely you can almost hear the footsteps of the Messiah.