SHEEP? OR GOATS?
In Matthew 25:31-46, Jesus reveals that He is coming back, as King, to judge the nations. Please notice that this is not a judgement of individuals, but of nations. He then goes on to illustrate the process of this judgement using a parable. He describes two character traits – based on respective behaviours – using the metaphor of sheep, on the one hand, and goats, on the other.
Because of the seriousness of this parable – and the eternal consequences of this judgement – I believe it behoves us to examine this parable closely, in order to fully grasp its meaning.
Let me begin by saying that this parable has been used by many (ironically, not just by the Church or Christian organisations) as a rationale for providing humanitarian aid. While I am not against caring for, and providing for, the needs of others, I feel we must remember two things:
First: This passage describes eternal judgement, on the basis of specific criteria. I somehow don’t believe that Jesus will judge nations on the basis of whether or not they provided humanitarian aid! ANY religious group – or atheistic group, for that matter – can provide humane care and rescue! Does this parable teach that a nation can enter Heaven simply by caring for the needy? I don’t believe so!
Second: This is a parable. Jesus relates this truth in a FIGURE. Obviously, we’re not talking about literal sheep and goats! If we agree that Jesus is speaking figuratively, then to remain consistent, we must look at the criteria for judgement as figures of speech, too! In my opinion, readers of this parable have, for too long, approached it in a somewhat schizophrenic way: jumping from figurative to literal and back again, with every other line!
If, then, the entire parable – including the bases for judgment – is to be interpreted from figurative language, then what is the real meaning of the parable? Let’s examine it by looking at other Scriptures which use these same metaphors and their contexts!
Let’s start by comparing the ‘hungry and thirsty’ with Isaiah 55:1 which says, ‘Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money; come ye, buy, and eat; yea, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.’ The passage goes on to speak about listening to God, obeying Him and being saved! There are many other Scriptures that speak of ‘food’ and ‘drink’ in a figurative way, referring to salvation.
Next, let’s look at ministering to the stranger (Greek: alien): Ephesians 2:12 reads, ‘that at that time YE were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise, HAVING NO HOPE AND WITHOUT GOD IN THE WORLD!’ So, being a stranger and an alien is someone who is not saved.
What about being naked? In Isaiah 61:10 we find, ‘I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my soul shall be joyful in my God; for He hath clothed me with the garments of salvation, He hath covered me with the robe of righteousness. Again, when we read a passage like this, we readily understand that it’s to do with salvation!
Sickness? Isaiah 53:5 reads: ‘but he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.’ We all know that the primary meaning and context of this verse has to do with salvation.
Lastly, what about those in prison? Isaiah 61:1, which Jesus also read out in the synagogue (Luke 4:18), says, ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me; because the Lord hath anointed Me to preach good tidings to the meek, He hath sent Me to bind up the broken hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and the opening of the prison to them that are bound.’
When we read these comparative verses, and many others like them, in their contexts, we readily understand that they are all, without exception, to do with the Gospel; with salvation! Suddenly though, when grouped together in Matthew 25, people decide to take the metaphors literally, for some reason; thus breaking the figure.
However, if we remain within the setting of the parable, I believe we can understand the full meaning of what Jesus was setting forth and understand with clarity the criteria for His judgement when He returns. I hope, in re-examining this parable, that you have now also come to the conclusion that Jesus is talking about those who preach – or don’t preach – the Gospel!
But one more thing:
Who are ‘the least of these, My brethren’? Well, we read in Romans 9:5 about the Jewish people: ‘… and of whom as concerning the flesh Christ came…’
To me, it is clear that Jesus will judge the nations upon His return, based on whether the Church has preached the Gospel to the Jewish people or not.
How can this seal the eternal destiny of nations?! Only Believers can preach the Gospel!
I Peter 4:17 tells us, ‘for the time is come that judgment must begin at the house of God: and if it first begin at us, what shall the end be of them that obey not the gospel of God?’
The spiritual custodian of any nation is the Church in that nation!
In Romans 1:16, Paul reveals God’s clear order of things when he says,’ for I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to everyone that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek. ‘
Sadly the Church seems to have lost sight of this important truth and is not active in embracing it or becoming involved in reaching the lost sheep of the House of Israel, for whom Jesus came. However, Jewish mission is the ‘canary in the coal mine’! If the lamp of Jewish mission goes out, how dark it will become for the nations!
I exhort and encourage you, dear reader, to seek the Lord about this and ask Him about specifically supporting the work of Jewish evangelism. Please feel free to contact Messianic Testimony to find out more about this important ministry and to receive our free quarterly magazine, ‘Besorah!’ (Hebrew for ‘Good News!’).
For Zion’s sake,
(This article is available in tract form. Please contact our office for further information.)