We have now arrived at the final leg of the Olivet Discourse journey. This section of scripture in Matthew chapter 25 is commonly referred to as “the sheep and goat judgment” because of the analogy ascribed to this event by the Lord Himself. It is also a continuation of the general theme of responsibility/accountability started back in chapter 24:45. Although this section is not another parable, there are plenty of gems of information to be pocketed for those willing to take the time to investigate.
Vs. 31 “But when the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne,
Vs. 32 “And all the nations will be gathered before Him; and He will separate them from one another, as the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats;
Vs. 33 and He will put the sheep on His right, and the goats on the left.
Verse 31 starts a new paragraph and immediately we have another link in our journey. Jesus often referred to the Messianic title designating Himself as being “the Son of Man”, but usually not in a context as being in His glorified state as He often does in the Olivet Discourse, including here. Doing so provides a link back to Matthew 24:30, as well as providing even more support for understanding the PAROUSIA as being a multi-faceted event with various aspects associated with it and extending over a period of time. This appearance, of the coming of the Son of Man in His glory, needs to be distinguished from the appearance during His earthly ministry at which time He walked in complete submission to the Father’s will while experiencing first hand all manor of temptation, suffering, trial, sorrow, betrayal, humiliation, love and even joy–the full spectrum of the human experience–except for the fact He committed no sin and was totally devoid of any unrighteousness. I believe Jesus even experienced fear and was in a near panic during the three hours He hung on the cross to pay the penalty for sin for you and me. The Greek text indicates He kept screaming over and over, “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?” (For additional insight read Psalms 22, David’s prophetic Psalm of the suffering Messiah.) Make no mistake about it, this was not an act. This was an undeniable expression of a soul in agony and terror. Such was the price He paid for you and for me; we shall not cheapen or diminish the payment for sin Jesus Christ provided for all mankind. It was the major reason He became flesh and dwelt among us. Yet His love for the Father and resolute submission to the Father’s will enabled Him to cast out all fear and complete the divine plan for His earthly life.This made Him consummately qualified by the Father to be the Judge of all mankind. And as we now read in the text, a court session is about to commence.
Just when does this judgment take place? Most probably sometime during the forty-five days of restoration which follows the battle of Armageddon. Checking out the “Time Line of Daniel’s 70th Week” may help a little if you are unsure. Of course there are volumes of study one could engage in to fill the gaps in information not covered in our journey.
Let’s take a closer look at “glory“. In reference to the Son, Hebrews 1:3a states, “And He is the radiance of His [the Father’s] glory and the exact representation of His [the Father’s] nature”. When our Lord next appears He is going to radiate His divine nature, the very nature of God. “Glory” communicates the expression of the sum total of the relative attributes of God. Just in case you aren’t familiar with the common list of ten relative attributes of God, I will provide them here: Sovereignty, Absolute Righteousness, Justice, Love, Eternal Life, Omniscience, Omnipresence, Omnipotence, Immutability, Veracity.
Jesus reveals He will sit on a throne at this time. The throne depicts authority, the role and responsibilities of the One who sits upon it. That the throne is also said to be glorious denotes Divine Authority in all aspects of rulership, such as in executive and judicial duties.
I find it very interesting that “all the angels” are in attendance at this judgment. While some commentaries don’t address this much at all, I feel there are at least two significant purposes for all the angels to be present. In the book of Job, chapter 38, God questioned where Job was when “the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy?” While Job had no answer the point we can glean from his encounter with God is that angels, the “morning stars” and “sons of God”, have been around from the early time of creation and have pretty much seen all of human history unfold over all the centuries. Their role in history however, has been far more than mere spectators. They have been very active participants. They are messengers of God to mankind, they are ministering spirits, they are guardians of the saints of all ages. They are engaged in spiritual warfare as the holy angels battle with Satan and the fallen angels. Their involvement in this world is far more complex than we can possibly realize this side of heaven. But at this judgment they are star witnesses. This is a key reason why they will be present at this time–even though the passage does not mention this crucial function. Angels have been and will continue to be directly on the scene when persecution against the elect transpires, when injustice is wrought against the innocent, when man’s inhumanity toward his fellow man is manifested. Angels are also privy to righteous acts done publicly or in secrete. Inhabitants of the unseen spiritual realm, they are watching…always watching, witnessing the progression of human history and the unfolding of God’s plan for the ages.
Another reason I believe the angels are present with the Judge at this time is to assist in the execution of the judgment against the goats, as will be seen later. The apostle John recorded The Apocalypse around sixty years after Christ gave the Olivet Discourse but it abounds with illustrations of numerous angels involved in executing God’s judgments against wicked earth dwellers. There are some fairly explicit verses given as well. In Matthew chapter 13 the disciples ask Jesus to explain the parable of the wheat and tares. As part of the answer, He tells them, “The Son of Man will send forth His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all stumbling blocks, and those who commit lawlessness, and will cast them into the furnace of fire; in that place there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matt 13:41-42). It is very fitting that the angels are present at this time.
There is another group gathered to this judgment referenced as “all the nations”. These are distinctly gentile individuals of various origin, from all over the world, from “all the nations”. These will be the survivors of the Day of the Lord’s Wrath period, which provides a reference point for when this judgment takes place. I have serious doubts there will be anyone having the “mark of the Beast” but there will be those who did not give allegiance to the Antichrist, nor did they embrace Jesus Christ as their Saviour prior to the PAROUSIA. There will also be a number of select Jews in attendance, as part of the “evidence”. Jesus said He will separate these gentiles as a shepherd separates sheep from goats; sheep on the right side, goats on the left. It sounds and is…ominous.
Vs. 34 “Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.
In this verse Jesus transitions from His title as “the Son of Man” to another title, “the King“. The apostle John, who receives the Revelation many years after hearing his Master present the Olivet Discourse, will record in chapter 19:16 that at some point of the PAROUSIA event, Christ will be wearing a robe…And on His robe and on His thigh He has a name written, “King of Kings and Lord of Lords.” This title is, among other things, a tribute to the sovereignty of Jesus Christ. He is the unimpeachable source of authority. This is quite unnerving if you are on the wrong side of the Law.
Of course sovereignty is only one of the relative attributes comprising the essence of God. Anytime God interacts with His creation, all His attributes are involved as He can never compromise His character; yet commonly only a few are highlighted during any given circumstance. As King Jesus sits on His glorious throne His divine attributes of absolute righteousness and justice will come to the foreground. Together, they comprise the holiness of God and remind me of one of my favorite Koine Greek words…DIKAIOSUNE (pronounced, according to Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance, dik-ah-yos-oo’-nay). The root word DIKAIOS means, according to Strong’s, “equitable (in character or act) by implication innocent, holy (absolute or relative) – just, meet, right (eous).” It is translated many times as “righteous” in the New Testament. But adding the suffix SUNE changes the character of the word from the simple to the complex, from the concrete to the abstract. Rather than focusing more on the overt qualities of equitable, just, meet and righteous actions, DIKAIOSUNE reflects the possession of positive inner character qualities such as righteousness, and is translated as such in many Bible verses. Pertaining to Christ, the particular verse that comes to mind is, “And I saw heaven opened; and behold a white horse and He who sat upon it is called Faithful and True; and in righteousness [DIKAIOSUNE] He judges and wages war” (Rev.19:11). In practical application for our passage here, DIKIAOSUNE emphasizes a judge’s ability to think fairly and accurately within legal precedence while administering his duties from the bench in court; what is inside (i.e. character qualities) becomes reflected in the rulings and actions of the judge. Our Lord and King will maintain His righteousness while administering justice at the sheep and goat judgment.
Continuing in verse 34, we take notice of the King saying to the sheep on His right, “Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” Is this a generous invitation? Is this a deal too good to pass up? No, I think this is more of a proclamation, a judicial decree. There is a ruling here. It’s almost as if it is the administration of a trust account. The sheep, as in the “beneficiaries”, could not “inherit” anything like this until first meeting the qualifications and stipulations established by the “trustee”, which in this case is God the Father. Allow me to make up an example to explain. If a wealthy man wanted to provide an inheritance to a favored grandchild, but also wanted to stipulate certain conditions for obtaining that inheritance, he would retain a lawyer to draw up a legal document outlining the stipulations. In this document the wealthy man would be listed as the “grantor” or benefactor and the grandchild would be the “grantee” or beneficiary. Let’s say there was a sum of money involved and the man wanted to encourage, if not ensure, that before receiving the money the grandchild would be mature enough to properly handle the sum of money. He, as the grantor, could stipulate before the money be given to the grandchild, the grandchild must be at least twenty years of age and have not only successfully completed high school but two semesters of a business college as well. The money would be deposited in an escrow account awaiting the fulfillment of the conditions upon which the funds would be disbursed. What happens if the conditions are never fulfilled? The funds go unclaimed by the intended grantee, though they may then be disbursed via a back-up plan if included in the escrow document or trust account.
Those people who fail to embrace the Lord Jesus Christ and have their souls saved through the cleansing power of His shed blood to wash their sins away, will forfeit the escrow blessings deposited before the foundation of the world on their behalf. They will die in their sinful state, spending eternity in the Lake of Fire and the blessings they could have enjoyed will be disbursed to those who are worthy, who did indeed meet the conditions set forth by God the Father, the Grantor, the Benefactor. How utterly tragic! My prayer is that none reading this would remain in that condition but feel the pricking of their heart and the prompting of the Holy Spirit to confess that, indeed, they are a sinner in need of the blessed Saviour and Lover of their soul. (Friend, if this is YOU, do not delay. Come before the throne of mercy and grace to receive forgiveness of all sin and gain everlasting life through Jesus Christ, who died for you and loves and cares for you more than you will ever know or understand. Admit to God that you are a sinner and desire to be saved from the consequences of sin. Embrace the Savior and invite Jesus into your heart and life. Please, do it now if you have never done so.)
Jesus said this inheritance, the trust account, the kingdom, was established “from the foundation of the world.” I would like to offer a few observations in light of this statement. The trinity, God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit, developed a divine plan in eternity past. A divine decree was issued that the progression of human history would play out exactly according to the plan of God. There would be no mistakes, no surprises, no do-overs, no plan B if plan A didn’t work out as anticipated. You can’t catch God off guard. You can’t pull one over on God. You can’t invent and initiate some contingency that throws God off track as if He wasn’t prepared for it in advance. There are no trick questions you can ask that will make God look bad or dumb.The kingdom to be inherited was prepared from the first week of creation. But just what is this kingdom the Lord is referring to? I believe it is the uniting of both the physical and the spiritual kingdoms Jesus taught about during His earthly ministry, and which most of His contemporaries struggled to properly comprehend. If you answered the Millennial Kingdom, that would also be correct.
Let’s take a look at the qualifications the sheep will have attained in order to inherit this kingdom. At first glance it seems rather unremarkable.
Vs. 35 ‘For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you invited Me in;
Vs. 36 naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.’
Vs. 37 “Then the righteous will answer Him, saying , Lord, when did we see You hungry, and feed you, or thirsty, and give You drink?
Vs. 38 And when did we see You a stranger, and invite You in, or naked, and clothe You?
Vs. 39 And when did we see You sick, or in prison and come to You?
Verses 35 and 36 provide a list of various proactive works or deeds, initiated by those who will inherit the kingdom. Seen together, I observe one particular virtue standing tall and clear above the rest. Do you see it? I see the expression of the virtue of compassion in each of the examples selected and presented by the King Himself. These examples reveal the issues that are dear to the heart of the Son of Man. I have long maintained that as an individual reflects upon one’s life there will be two issues to be concerned with: the issue of one’s relationship with God, and the issue of one’s relationship with mankind. Mere hours before Jesus presented the Olivet discourse to the disciples, they observed Him when a lawyer asked the question,
“Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And He said to him, “‘YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND.’ “This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.’ “On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets” (Matt 22;36-40).
Now look how the Lord responds to the bewilderment of the sheep in Matthew 25:40. He personalizes their treatment of others, as if they were treating Him that way! “And the King will answer and say to them,’Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.’ (NASV)
But are we to understand the sheep will inherit the kingdom based on works? Jesus even refers to these ones as “the righteous” (which to me is quite remarkable), and they question ever seeing Him hungry, sick, naked, etc., and taking care of His needs. The Epistle of James, chapter 2, is an excellent source to include in this discussion, and almost as controversial! Although James was written primarily to believers in Christ, he provides principles relevant to our topic. In verse 8 he states, If, however, you are fulfilling the royal law according to the Scripture, “YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF,” you are doing well. And in verse 13 he adds, For judgment will be merciless to one who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment. The question still remains: can one be saved on the basis of “good” deeds? I will continue to stand by what the apostle Paul wrote to the Ephesians in chapter 2:8-9: For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works that no one should boast.
And there are several intriguing verses in Paul’s epistle to the Romans. If you look at chapter 2, it is easy to entertain the notion that it could help in understanding what is happening as we look at the sheep and goat judgment. I will only furnish a few key verses to share here.
For when Gentiles who do not have the Law do instinctively the things of the Law, these, not having the Law, are a law to themselves, in that they show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness, and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them, on the day when, according to my gospel, God will judge the secrets of men through Christ Jesus (Rom. 2:14-16).
There is another great chapter in Romans that comes to mind, having the appearance of speaking to this issue of judgment. But we have to tread carefully. I welcome differing viewpoints submitted respectfully. I do not claim my opinion is correct, only that it seems to have merit for discussion.
What shall we say then? There is no injustice with God, is there? May it never be! For He says to Moses, I WILL HAVE MERCY ON WHOM I HAVE MERCY, AND I WILL HAVE COMPASSION ON WHOM I HAVE COMPASSION.” So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy (Rom 9:14-16).
I feel strongly the rest of Romans 9 should be included in the answer to the issue of the sheep and goat judgment, though I am not going to include all that text in this commentary. I do highly recommend it be read in conjunction with our study though, and ask, if you are able, please take time to read it now.
As our journey transitions from the judgment of the sheep to the judgment of the goats, I will remind the reader of a few key truths to keep in mind. God shows no partiality; there is no injustice with God; God never compromises any divine attribute in favor of another; what the righteousness of God demands, the justice of God executes; the wages of sin, is death.
Vs. 41 “Then He will also say to those on His left, ‘Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels;
Vs. 42-43 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; naked and you did not clothe Me; sick and in prison, and you did not visit Me.’
Vs. 44 “Then they themselves also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not take care of You?’
Vs. 45 “Then He will answer them, saying, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.’
Vs. 46 “And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
In verse 41 the King decrees a sentence, issued against the goats. This is not a trial as those familiar with western democracy might envision, to determine innocence or guilt. There is no need to; the Judge is omniscient. He knows every minute detail as well as every possibility. There is no “what if” with God. He knows the answer to every “what if” question. He knows the end from the beginning. The sentence is severe. “Depart from me“, He commands. The command is irresistible. The departure includes a destination, however. The goats are not merely sent away from the presence of the King to go out on their own and live life as they please without any involvement with or interference from God. They are assigned a place “into the eternal fire”. That this fire is eternal aligns with the fact mankind’s soul is also eternal. Our body is but dust and perishable; the soul that dwells briefly within the body is eternal. Unlike animals, when a human being dies, he/she does not merely lose consciousness and cease to exist. God imputes soul-life into the body at birth and man then becomes a living soul. When the body dies the soul continues on to experience one of only two eternal destinations: eternal life in the presence of God, or, eternal death in the lake of fire. There is no third destination, no third option. God’s Word allows no place for a temporary regrouping and making correct positive adjustments, no Purgatory for making self atonement by piously praying for years or centuries after death, or incorporating the generous prayers of the living on behalf of the dead. There is no coming back to earth as another creature or another person in order to have another crack at “getting it right”. God’s Word makes it clear there is only one acceptable atonement for the penalty of sin and it came only through Jesus Christ, the Righteous. The resurrection of Jesus after His death and burial provides indisputable proof He alone was accepted by the Father as the perfect sacrifice for sin. Jesus boldly declared no one comes to the Father except through Him. God’s Word also makes plain, in Hebrews chapter 9, it is appointed for you to die once, and then comes…judgment.
Jesus said this eternal fire the goats will enter into had been prepared for the devil and his angels. Lucifer is the name of the first creature to rebel against the Creator and is the initiator of the angelic conflict. He is also known as Satan or the devil. His original sin was pride and his desire was to be exalted to a position equal with God. He was able to persuade a third of the angelic host to side with him in rebellion against God. The consequence of their sin and rebellion will be to spend eternity in an eternal fire. They will be joined by rebellious mankind, all those who displayed disregard for God’s provision for their fallen state and personal sins committed against Him. The goats also, will join them.
The reason the goats will be assigned a position along side the devil in the eternal fire is due to the fact, unlike the sheep, the goats were discovered to be severely lacking in compassion and mercy toward the Lord…in that they did not show compassion to one of even the least of His brethren. Like it or not, we are all, individually, accountable. The sentence is summarized quite simply in verse 46. The goats will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous sheep will enter into eternal life.
I wish I could end our journey through the Olivet Discourse on a happier note. These words of the Lord Jesus are, or should be, considered as very sobering indeed. Yet there is a way for this to be a happy ending to our study, which is if you are able to share that you too have embraced the Saviour, invited Him into your heart and asked Him to be the Lord of your life. Take up your cross and follow Him in the power of His resurrection…today!
Well, friend, has it been a long journey for you, trudging through quite a few weighty and thought-provoking passages of sacred scripture? I would like to express my genuine and heart-felt thanks to you for making the effort. I truly hope you feel it was worth the time it took. Although it has been my pleasure to be your guide along the way, it really is the Holy Spirit Who must be our ultimate guide as we study His inspired Word. My prayer is readers of this work will be edified in the inner man and Jesus Christ would be glorified. I close now appropriately, with a benediction from the apostle Paul.
Now to Him who is able to establish you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery which has been kept secret for long ages past, but now is manifested, and by the Scriptures of the prophets, according to the commandment of the eternal God, has been made known to all the nations, leading to obedience of faith; to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ, be the glory forever. Amen (Rom 16:25-27).