Sheep and Goats

Matthew 25:31-46

Alan Lewis
Elon, North Carolina
August 2021

The final message of Jesus to His disciples before He died is found in what scholars call the Olivet Discourse.  It is found in Matthew 24-25.  It is His sermon before his death, and it deals His return to earth.  It deals with end-times.

Most Christians believe in the Second Coming of Christ.  They believe that one day Jesus will come back to earth, but most don’t have a clue what He will do when He gets here.  When Jesus comes back, judgment will follow.

The Second Coming will look a lot different than the First Coming.  At the Second Coming, Jesus will come in glory.  He will come in the clouds.  There was no cloud of glory at the First Coming.

The first time He came, Jesus came in weakness and humiliations.  He was nailed to a cross.  The next time he comes will be the exact opposite. He will come in strength and power.

The first time He came to save.  The second time He will come to judge.  He will sit on a throne, not in Washington, D.C., but in Jerusalem.  That is where the throne of David was located (cf. I Samuel 2:11). Jesus will sit on David’s throne (Isaiah 9:7).

Today, we will be looking at the final thing Jesus said in the Olivet Discourse.  It is often called the parable of the sheep at the goats in Matthew 25, although it is more than a parable.  It is also a prophecy.

A Shocking Passage

It is a shocking passage.  It is one of the most shocking passages in the Bible.  This passage does NOT fit the Jesus that many people worship.  It does NOT fit the Jesus that we see in some churches today.

Many think that the God of the OT is violent and angry.  He is always punishing people, sending floods and wiping out cities but Jesus is different from that mean God of the OT.  He is gentle and loving.

Most see Jesus as Savior but not as Judge and yet the Bible says that Jesus is the one who will judge the world (Acts 17:31; John 5:22).

Many say that God is not mad at people.  Jesus seemed to be pretty mad at these goats.  He sent them off to eternal punishment, not just punishment but ETERNAL punishment.  The goats have no way to escape.  They do not get a second chance. They can’t appeal the verdict to a higher power.

This is one of the scariest passages in all of the Bible.  Jesus does not call sinners in this passage blessed.  He calls them CURSED.  He does not tell sinners, “Come to Me.”  He tells them, “Depart from Me.”  It gets even worse than that.  Jesus doesn’t just say “Depart from me,” He says, “Depart from Me into ETERNAL FIRE.”

This is absolutely terrifying.  One pastor called Matthew 25:41, “the most terrifying words ever spoken.” Albert Martin called those words of Jesus, “the most terrifying words that the human ears can ever hear.”

On the other hand, this passage also has one of the most comforting passages in all of the Bible.  Jesus commends the sheep for what they did.  It sounds a little like, “Well done, good and faithful servant” (Matthew 25:23).

He calls them blessed, not cursed.  He invites them into the kingdom.  He gives them something. He offers them an inheritance.  He tells them to take it.  He tells them that it was been waiting for them for a long time.

“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. (NIV)

Jesus sounds a lot like Paul.  Paul said that believers were elect or chosen In Christ before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:4).  Jesus says that believers were chosen in advance and even calls them elect (Matthew 24:31).

That almost sounds like Jesus was a Calvinist.  Their inheritance was prepared for them before they were born or had done any good or evil.  It was prepared for them before they existed. It was prepared for them before anyone existed.  This shows that salvation is not by works.  It is by grace.  This was shocking.

The sheep were shocked by what Jesus said.  He remembered little things that they did not even remember doing for him.  The goats were shocked by what Jesus said as well.  Many of these goats thought they were all going to heaven.  They were not all ax-murderers.  Some of them were religious.  Some of them were church members.  Some churches are full of goats.

A Misunderstood Passage

Many have misunderstood this parable.  They have completely misinterpreted it.  Liberals believe it is just about social justice.  It is a passage about doing things to help people. It is about helping the downtrodden, oppressed and exploited members of society, the lowest members, who Jesus called the least (ἐλαχίστων), like immigrants, and refugees.

Of course, this passage is NOT about the government helping people out or church helping people out but individual Christians reaching out to people in need.  Governments cannot visit people in prison.  Individuals have to do that.  Furthermore, the goats in this parable are on the left side.  The sheep are on the right side.

Legalists use this passage to teach works-salvation.  Catholics, Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses love this passage.  They use it to teach that salvation is by works.  The Bible teaches that salvation is not by works (Romans 4:3-5; 11:6; Ephesians 2:5, 8-9; Titus 3:5).  That is a clear teaching of the Bible.

Doing good works will not save you.  Feeding the hungry will not save you.  Vesting the sick will not save you.  We should do good works but good works do not save.  They are not the basis of salvation.  They are but the evidence or demonstration of salvation.

Today, we are going to look at four things that this passage teaches.  We are also going to look at four false doctrines that many believe today that are refuted by this passage.

Lessons for Today

1) There is a day of judgment coming

The Bible teaches that judgment is coming.  A day of wrath is coming.  No one wants to think about judgment. It is unpleasant.  It is unpopular.  It is rarely preached today.  Some preachers never mention hell.  The trend today is to be positive, encouraging and preach feel-good topics.

The truth is that judgment is real.  It is biblical and it is absolutely terrifying.  The Bible says, “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Hebrews 10:31).

Many people do terrible things one earth.  They commit horrendous crimes.  Some criminals are never caught.  It seems like they got away with it.  They escaped justice.

One day, everyone will face justice.  The heavenly judge sees everything and knows everything.  The Bible says that one day all of the secrets will be revealed. There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed or hidden that will not be made known. (Luke 12:2 NIV)

The judge is all-knowing.  He knows everything.  He lined the sheep and goats up on two sides.  The Bible says that He knows who the sheep are.  He calls his own sheep by name (John 10:3 NIV). The Bible says that “The Lord knows those who are his” (II Timothy 2:19 NIV). He also knows who the goats are.  He knows what the sheep and goats have done.

You say that is just for unbelievers.  That is not true.  One day, EVERYONE will be judged.  “For we MUST ALL appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.” (II Corinthians 5:10 NIV).

Paul said that we are all going to appear before this judgment seat and he was talking to believers.  If Paul is going to one day be held accountable to God for his life, and he was an apostle, we will as well.

Sheep will be judged, and goats will be judged.  Believers will NOT be judged to determine salvation.  Paul said, “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1 NIV) but believers will still be judged.

The problem today is that many think they are saved who are not.  Some have a false sense of security. The parable of the sheep and the goats is the third parable in Matthew 25.  Each one teaches the same lesson.  The first parable is the parable of the ten virgins or the ten bridesmaids (as the NLT renders it).  The second parable is the parable of the talents.

In the parable of the ten virgins, the five foolish virgins say to Jesus, “‘Lord, Lord,’ they said, ‘open the door for us!’”  They call Jesus Lord.  They believe in Jesus.  They claim to follow Him, but Jesus says to them, “‘Truly I tell you, I don’t know you.’” (Matthew 25:11-12 NIV).

2) There are two kinds of people

All of the world can be divided up into only two different kinds of people, sheep and goats.  Sheep and goats are two completely different types of people.  They have different personalities and temperaments.  They represent two different kinds of people in the world.  It comes right out of the OT.  God judges between sheep and goats in Ezekiel 34.

Now the world teaches that there are more than two kinds of people.  Society divides people up by gender (male, female, transgendered).  It divides people up by sexual orientation (gay, straight, bisexual).  It divides people up by income level (rich, poor, middle class).

It divides people by political party (Republican, Democrat, Independent).  It divides people up by skin color (black, white or brown).  It divides people up by denomination (Baptist, Methodist, Pentecostal).  It divides people up by theology (Arminian, Calvinist, charismatic, non-charismatic).

It divides people up by education level (just a high school diploma, college education and people with advanced degrees).  It divides people up by religion (Hindu, Muslim, Buddhist).  Today, people are divided up into the vaccinated and the unvaccinated camp.

God sees only two types of people: saved and unsaved.  He only sees sheep and goats.  You are either spiritually dead or spiritually alive.  Jesus said this many times in Matthew.  He has talks about the sheep and the goats in Matthew 25.  He talks the wheat and the tares, and the good fish and the bad fish in Matthew 13.

The question is, which are you?  Are you a sheep or a goat? Are you saved or lost?  If you are not saved, get saved today. How can you tell if you are saved?  Jesus answers that question, as we will see.  He gives a six-question test.

3) There are two eternal destinies

In this passage, people end up in two places.  Some go to the right hand and some go to the left hand.  Some go to heaven ands some go to hell.  Some get eternal life and some get eternal punishment.  There are two destinies, and both are said to be eternal.

Notice that the word “eternal” is used two times in the last verse of the chapter.  “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.” (Matthew 25:46 NIV)

The goats receive justice.  They get what they deserve.  The sheep receive grace and mercy.  They get what they do not deserve.  Did Jesus hate the goats?  No.  The kingdom was prepared for the sheep, but eternal fire was NOT prepared for these goats.  God never planned that for them.  They rejected Him and ended up there. There are two destinies.  The question is where are you going? Heaven or Hell?  What will be your destiny?

4) It is possible to tell if you are saved

How do you tell the difference between a sheep and a goat?  This is where it gets interesting.  Jesus gives a way to tell.  He gives a test.  He gives very specific criteria, and it is not what we think.

Jesus did NOT say that you can tell who the sheep are because they believe a set of doctrines or subscribe to a church creed.  You can tell the sheep because they said the sinner’s prayer.  He didn’t say you could tell who the sheep were because they have been baptized.  Many goats have been baptized.

He didn’t say that you could tell who they are because they attend church.  Many goats attend church as well. There are whole denominations of goats.  He did not say that you can tell who the sheep are because they speak in tongues.  They cast out demons.  They prophesy.  They heal people.

The test that Jesus gives is not a charismatic test or a doctrinal test.  It is a heart test.  It is a love test.  It is a compassion test.  One way to tell the difference between sheep and goats is to look at how they treat people, especially people who are in need and are suffering.  It is one thing to have pity or compassion of people and feel bad for them.  It is another thing to do something to help them.

This test does not require a lot but it instantly reveals if you are a sheep or a goat.  You do not have to do something great.  You do not have to cure cancer or pastor a great megachurch.  You do not have to lead a million people to Christ.   You just have to help people who are suffering.

You don’t need raise people from the dead or walk on water.  You just have to help people in need. That does not take a lot of effort.  In fact, it doesn’t even cost anything, like giving a thirsty person something to drink or visiting someone who is sick or in prison.

Good works do not save people.  They give evidence of salvation.  Good works reveal your spiritual condition.  It reveals your heart condition. It distinguishes the sheep from the goats.

Does this mean that sins do not matter?  Jesus does not care how you live as long as you help people in need?  Is He saying that you can live like the devil, as long as you give to the poor?

That is not what this is saying at all.  The compassion test is one test of salvation.  There are many others.  For that, you need to read the rest of the Bible but, even in this passage, the sheep are called RIGHTEOUS (Matthew 25:46).  The goats by implication are not righteous.  They are wicked.

What did Jesus say about His sheep?  He said, “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me” (John 10:27 NIV).  The sheep follow Jesus.  The goats do not.  Other passages also describe them as wicked.

The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom EVERYTHING THAT CAUSE SIN AND ALL THAT DO EVIL. 42 They will throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. They will throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. (Matthew 13:41-42 NIV)

This is how it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come and separate THE WICKED from THE RIGHTEOUS 50 and throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. (Matthew 25:49-50 NIV)

“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. 22 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?’ 23 Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, YOU EVILDOERS!’ (Matthew 7:21-23 NIV)

That raises this question.  How do you respond to the needs of people around you?  The sheep did not just minister to their spiritual needs.  They ministered to their physical needs as well.

Four False Doctrines Refuted

Jesus refutes four false doctrines in this parable that many believe today.  What are they?

1) The doctrine of universalism

The doctrine of universalism teaches that everyone is saved.  God is the father of everyone.  There are not sheep and goats.  Everyone is a sheep.  Many believe that doctrine.  That is refuted in this chapter.  Jesus speaks of two kinds of people.  He speaks of sheep and goats.

2) The doctrine of pluralism

Pluralism teaches that everyone is going to heaven.  All paths lead to God.  It does not matter what religion you practice. God will accept you. Some believe that but it is refuted in Matthew 25.  The sheep go to heaven and the goats go to hell.  They do not both go to the same place.  Jesus not only speaks of two people.  He also speaks of two destinies.

3) The doctrine of annhilationism

Annhilationism teaches that when you die, you cease to exist.  Annihilationism is a cult. Cults take what the Bible clearly teaches and try to redefine it.  They take what a majority of Christians have believed for two thousand years on a major doctrine and try to redefine or reinterpret it.

Matthew 25:46 clearly teaches eternal punishment. The verse specifically mentions the words “eternal punishment” (NIV, NLT, ESV, ASV, NASB).  Cultists say it is not punishment and it is not eternal, but they have huge problem

It is the problem of consistency. The word “eternal” is used two times in the same verse. Eternal modifies the noun “punishment” (εἰς κόλασιν αἰώνιον).  Eternal also modifies the noun “life” (εἰς ζωὴν αἰώνιον). The same adjective (“eternal”) modifies two nouns in the same verse and has to mean the same thing both times.

If hell is not eternal, heaven is not eternal. In fact, God is not eternal. The same word is used of God (Romans 16:26). The same word is used of the kingdom of our Lord and Savior (II Peter 1:11).

4) The doctrine of purgatory

Catholics believe in something called purgatory.  If you are really good, you go to heaven when you die.  If you are really bad, you go to hell and if you are only a little bad, you go to purgatory, where you can burn a few sins off for a thousand years and then you are fit for heaven

Jesus said the sheep go to heaven.  The goats go to hell.  He did not say that anyone went to purgatory.  He did not teach that the really bad goats go to hell but those who are not so bad go to purgatory.

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