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Separates The Sheep From The Goats

by David Johnson

(Transcribed from the Words of Life Radio Program)

 

It is a privilege to be together again as we look in to the Word of God and live it out in our own lives and shares its truths with others.  The titles for the lesson is: “Separate the sheep from the goats.”

Our text is from the New Testament book of Matthew, chapter 25, verses 31-46.  Please listen to the Word of God, the very words of Jesus as recorded by the evangelist, the apostle Matthew.

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne.  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.

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 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 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, ‘Truly I tell you, 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.”  This is the Word of God.

Our text is a difficult passage with many different interpretations in Christendom.  Again, Christ taught in parable form, using the imagery of separating sheep from goats.  Christ’s original hearers would have readily understood the characteristic differences between sheep and goats not as obvious to readers today.

Sheep are creatures which are followers, which follow faithfully their shepherd.  Sheep are dependent on their shepherd.  Jesus stated in John 10:3-4 “…He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.  When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice.”

Whereas, goats are creatures which characteristically are aloof, aggressive, independent, and more self-dependent.  In Palestine shepherds typically allowed sheep and goats to mingle during the day however, at night the shepherd would separate them.   They did not rest will together, sheep had wool for warmth and goats would huddle together.  Today believers and unbelievers mingle together.  But a time of judgment is coming when the Son of Man will separate the righteous from the unrighteous.

In what is to us the 25th chapter of Matthew it begins with Parable of the Virgins, or bridesmaids.  Christ taught of two groups: the foolish and the wise.  Next Christ taught by the Parable of the Talents, or loaned money.  Here there were two groupings, the good and faithful servants versus the wicked, lazy servants.  So again, in the judgement of the nations, or of the sheep and goats, we have two groups, the righteous proved by their actions and the unrighteous proved by their inactions.

We’ll also consider two primary Biblical interpretations:  First, this is a judgment before the earthly millennial kingdom to determine who will enter this phase of God’s eternal kingdom and their eternal destinies.  Second major interpretation is, this is the final general judgment, another description of the “great white throne” judgment in Revelation 20:11-15 at the end of the age to determine who will enter the eternal kingdom of God.

Our text, scripture itself, will sort out the better interpretation.

Matthew 25:31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory.”  The “Son of Man” is a messianic title that in the gospels only Jesus uses of himself.  In his humanity, the Son of Man, in his divinity he is the Son of God, therefore can more appropriately judge mankind.  Regarding judgment Jesus stated in John 5:22 “…the Father judges no one, but has entrusted all judgment to the Son.”  The Father has delegated all judgment to the Son.  Note the words “he will sit on his throne.”  So, at this judgment the “Son of Man” is not on his Father’s throne, but on his throne.  There is a distinction of God’s throne.  Jesus stated in Revelation 3:21 “  To him who overcomes, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I overcame and sat down with my Father on his throne.”  So, what and where is the son’s throne?

Luke 1:32 “He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High.  The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David.  So, this is the throne of the Davidic Dynasty on this earth.  This refers to the earthly 1000-year reign of Christ as revealed in Revelation 20:4-6.

However, some are quick to point out that this throne described in Matthew 25:31 says “in heavenly glory.”  So, this judgment must be in heaven not earth.  This New International Version translation of “in heavenly glory” is misleading.  The more literal versions translate as follows: New King James “he will sit on the throne of his glory.” New American Standard “he will sit on his glorious throne.”  Revised Standard Version “he will sit on this glorious throne.”  Even the latest New International Version 2011 edition has changed to “sit on his glorious throne,” from the former New International Version 1984 edition “sit on his throne in heavenly glory.”

The word translated “heavenly” is not in the original Greek text at all.

Matthew 25:32 “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.”  The word “nations” means Gentiles, its basic meaning is “peoples” alive on the earth at Christ’s second coming to earth.  Notice unlike the ‘white throne’ judgment of Revelation 20 this judgment in Matthew 25 has no mention of the dead, nor resurrection.  In the chronology of Matthew 24 and 25 we have revealed the judgment of Israel in Matthew 24 and then after Jacob’s trouble, the Great Tribulation and the second coming of Christ the judgment of the nations.  These are all the peoples then alive apart from Israel, therefore Gentiles.  Although, this is referred to as the ‘judgment of the nations’ the people are judged individually within these nations.  This is evident from Matthew 25:46 “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”

“Separates sheep from the goats” was the imagery Jesus used to picture the division between believers and unbelievers. Between the righteous and the unrighteous.   We can take comfort that our obedient faith will be rewarded and that disobedient unbelievers will not mar our inheritance with God, his holy angels and all the saints.

Matthew 25:33 “He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.  Signifying the Lord’s favor by putting the believers on his, the Lord’s right.  In ancient biblical times a father’s blessing and major part of his inheritance usually went to the eldest son.  But do you remember the story that is told In Genius 48 Jacob was careful to place his right hand on Ephraim’s head when he blessed him because God had favored Ephraim over Manasseh even though Manasseh was the eldest grandson.

Jesus is now at the right hand of God signifying great prestige, power and glory.  Also in Jesus’ day it became the custom of the Jewish Council, the Sanhedrin, to place acquitted persons on the right, condemned persons on the left.  So, those put on the left are unbelievers consigned to a place of disfavor, and dishonor.  Eventually all are condemned to eternal punishment.

Verse 34 “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.”  Notice Jesus is King judging on earth.  No longer a King in waiting, in heaven.  The King first addresses those on the right so there will be believers who have survived the holocaust of the Tribulation and will go into the messianic, millennial kingdom in their natural, mortal bodies.  They are not part of the raptured church who have already been glorified.  These are tribulation saints.

“Prepared for you since the creation of the world” is an important statement revealed before what is stated next.  Meaning their salvation inheritance and privilege to partake in the millennial kingdom are as a gracious gift of God, by his grace through faith, not inherited due to their earning or meriting it by their good works.  God in his omniscient foreknowledge knew the saved before the creation of the world.

In Matthew 25:35-36 Jesus reveals the good works of those on the right accomplished which includes “…you gave me something to eat…something to drink…a stranger and you invited me in…you clothed me…I was sick, and you looked after me…in prison and you came to visit me.”

Jesus acknowledged and commended these good deeds as the fruit of their faith, proving, verifying their faith was genuine.  Good works are the fruit but not the root through which salvation comes.  Their deeds point back to their faith through which they will be favored to enter the millennial kingdom.  Regarding good deeds, John MacArthur writes “They are the objective criteria for judgment, because they are the evidence of saving faith.”

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This of course is scriptural in James 2:14-18 “What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds?  Can such faith save him?  Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food.  If one of you says to him. ‘Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed.’  But does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it?  In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.  But someone will say, ‘you have faith; l have deeds, show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do.’”

Matthew 25:40 “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.’”

The overall context of Matthew 24 and 25 favors “brother of mine” as the Jews who will have to go through the Tribulation, Jacob’s Trouble and endure terrible persecutions by the anti-Christ and his followers.  “Brothers of mine” certainly refers to believers, disciples of Jesus Christ and could include helping all needy, helping all the persecuted tribulation saints.  And when we help especially God’s people it’s as if we’ve done it unto the Lord.  A great truth from Jesus for us to remember and practice today.

In stark contrast to the believers on the right who are called “righteous” in Matthew 25:37, not because of righteous deeds done, but because the righteousness of Christ that will be credited to them, imputed, reckoned unto them through faith in him which will be proven by doing right; yet in verses 41-46 the ones on the left are the unbelievers, cursed, headed for eternal fire.

Matthew 25:41 “…Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.”  These will not put their faith in Christ.  Pretenders who claim faith will lack evidence, not help the needy, the severely persecuted Jews, nor the Gentile tribulation saints. They will not enter the messianic, millennial kingdom.  They await the final white throne judgment when they will be physically thrown into the lake of fire as according to Revelation 20:15.

So, this judgment must be a judgment to determine the spiritual condition of those being judged and whether they’ll enter the next phase of God’s kingdom.

With all wickedness removed at the second coming of Jesus Christ to the earth, the millennial kingdom will begin with only saved individuals in physical bodies and glorified bodies making up the earthly kingdom as the King’s subjects on a renewed, regenerated earth.  And we look forward to that wonderful time.

 

David Johnson is minister of the Sellersburg Church of Christ, Sellersburg, IN.

 




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