The not-parable of the sheep and the goats in Matthew 25

The gospel reading in the lectionary for the last Sunday before Advent (now known as ‘Christ the King’) is Matthew 25.31–46, the so-called ‘parable of the sheep and the goats’. But it isn’t actually a parable (since there is no suggestion that ‘the kingdom of heaven is like this’), and isn’t really about sheep and goats (as we shall see). But it is very well known, and is most commonly interpreted as an encouragement for followers of Jesus to care for the poor—which it isn’t.

It comes as the conclusion to this long section of Jesus’ teaching about The End, answering the second part of the disciples’ two-part question about the fall of the temple, and the ‘sign of your coming and the end of the age’ in Matt 24.3. That answer began with a parallel with the time of Noah in Matt 24.36 (when Jesus teaches that we should want to be left behind), and the theme of his coming being unexpected; it continues with three parables (Matthew likes to organise things in threes) about the wicked servant, the wise and foolish girls, and the talents/bags of gold.

In the narrative, there are three groups of people: the ‘sheep’ who are placed on the king (= Son of Man)’s right; the ‘goats’ who are placed on his left; and the ‘least of these my brethren’ who are the ones who are hungry, thirsty, strangers, naked, sick and in prison. The story itself is very memorable; many years ago I learnt it by heart and performed it as the Bible reading in an all age service, and I noticed the four-fold structure of dialogue (the king to those on his right, their response, the king to those on his left, and their response), and the six experiences of the ‘least’ which are grouped into three pairs (hungry/thirsty; stranger/naked; sick/in prison). In each of the four repetitions in the dialogue, this list of six things gets slightly compressed at the end. This kind of structuring to Jesus’ teaching is common, especially in Matthew’s gospel, and it makes it very memorable. (You should try memorising and performing this reading—it makes it highly engaging for your audience, especially any sitting on your left!)

The most common interpretation of the narrative allocates the people groups in the following way. The ‘least of these’ are the poor in general; the sheep are those (probably followers of Jesus, obeying his teaching here) who care for the poor rather than just having a theoretical faith; and the goats are those who neglect Jesus’ teaching. Thus this becomes a general argument of the importance of caring for the poor.

But this interpretation has only been around since around 1850 (which raises issues about how we should respond to ‘novel’ interpretations…) [note: I remembered this from some teaching on this I heard years ago, but a friend has pointed out that Aquinas’ Catena Aurea which compiles patristic comments on the biblical texts suggests that this might claim be wrong!] and in fact has some serious obstacles to it.

The first is the issue at the heart of the narrative itself. Although it is often passed over, in favour of focussing either on the two groups or on their reported activities, the central feature of the whole narrative is Jesus himself, described in the most exalted terms. First, he is the ‘Son of Man’, Jesus’ favourite self-description in the gospels, and a term primarily taken from Dan 7.13, where it refers to the vulnerable corporate figure of Israel, exalted to God in the face of the trampling beasts of the earlier part of the vision. This personification of faithful Israel ‘comes with the clouds of heaven’ to the throne of the Ancient of Days, and is given an everlasting kingdom. It is therefore not so surprising that in Matt 25.31 the Son of Man ‘sits on the throne of his glory’ and thereafter is referred to as ‘king’ as he exercises judgement. As Craig Keener notes (Commentary p 602), in rabbinical parables, the figure of the king is nearly always God, and it is God’s role to exercise judgement over the nations. The attendance of ‘his angels with him’ is an allusion to Zech 14.5, there the ‘holy ones’ accompany Yahweh, ‘my God’. Lastly, this Son of Man/king/judge also takes the role of shepherd; in Ezek 34, whilst the leaders are supposed to shepherd God’s people, the chief shepherd is God himself. Jesus is making some truly astonishing claims here. Thus France comments (p 959):

The debate about the criterion of judgment, however, theologically important as it is, should not be allowed to distract the reader from what is surely the main thrust of this passage as the climax of the discourse on judgment, its portrayal of the ultimate sovereignty of the Son of Man as the universal judge.

Mosaic from Ravenna

Why is the division of sheep and goats a suitable metaphor for judgement here, and what does Jesus have against goats? In richer pasture further west in the Mediterranean, the land is good enough to support single-species herds. But further east, where the grazing land is scrubbier, then mixed herds are essential, since the goats can graze the harder ground.

Why then does Jesus appear to have a negative view of the goats in Matt 25? This passage has almost universally been read in the light of the parable of the wheat and the tares in Matt 13:24–30, so that the emphasis of the contrast is between the good ones and the bad ones. But in Rabbinic literature, goats are seen as of equal value with sheep, and in some cases more valuable. Goats have a higher milk yield than sheep, and so the idea of the promised land as ‘flowing with milk and honey’ is actually most likely a reference to the benefits of a land where goats graze. Interestingly, many commentators think that Jesus’ teaching in Matt 25 has been influenced by Ezekiel 34:17–22, a passage which mentions the action of separation as judgement, and includes a reference to both sheep and goats:

As for you, my flock, this is what the Sovereign LORD says: I will judge between one sheep and another, and between rams and goats. Is it not enough for you to feed on the good pasture?

So what is going on? Goats reproduce faster than sheep, and if a herdsman is going to keep his flock properly balanced, then as a matter of course he will need to cull the male kids (baby goats), since otherwise they will outnumber the sheep, and with too many males he will not have a supply of milk (a small herd would typically only need a couple of males). When we look at Matt 25, we see that the word translated ‘goat’ is actually the word eriphos, the male term for a baby goat—also used ironically by the elder brother in Luke 15.29 (‘you never even gave me a kid’). So Jesus’ reference to the separation appears to be drawing on a well-known and regular occurrence in herding—the separation out and culling of the young male goats the herdsmen would do as a natural part of their work.

In other words, the focus is not on the different types of animals, but on the process of separation. This is supported when we read on in the parable; beyond Matt 25.32–33, the two groups are not again referred to as ‘sheep’ and ‘goats’, but as those on the king’s right and on his left. Reading the text carefully in its cultural context actually drives us back to read the text itself more carefully. A modern equivalent which could have been used a few years ago might be: ‘The king will separate the nations as easily as a housewife separates apples from pears’. This no longer applies, since all sorts of people do shopping, and fruit now comes in separate bags—but it illustrates the point.

A major difficulty with the popular reading is presented by the shape of the narrative, and its emotive effect. The king invites those on his right to ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world…’, they respond with complete surprise, and the king has to explain that ‘Whenever you did this for the least…you did it for me’. Likewise, those on his left are also surprised to have encountered the king in his moment of need. If the narrative were about helping the poor, then those who helped the poor (having read this story!) would hardly be surprised to find that they had been doing as the king asked.

And the language here challenges the notion that entrance into the kingdom is a ‘reward’ which has been merited by a life of good works. Rather, the language of ‘inheritance’ echoes God’s promise to Israel, for whom the land is an ‘inheritance’, granted to them not because of their virtue, but because they are God’s son, and they inherit as a son inherits from a father in the ancient world (and in the modern world until quite recently). In order to inherit, you don’t need to be good, you just need to be a son, and this image—of adoption by God, and so receiving the inheritance because of God’s gracious generosity—is found all over the New Testament.

And there are further problems with the popular interpretation, when it is read in the context of Matthew’s gospel as a whole. As Dick France points out in his commentaries (NIC and TNTC), Matthew never records Jesus referring to his ‘brothers’ or sisters as anyone other than those who do the will of God by becoming his followers. This is particularly clear in Matt 12.49, when Jesus is rather radically proposing that his new family are the disciples gathered around him (which of course includes women). Moreover, Jesus is clear that to follow him means to be homeless; in reply to a teacher of the law who would follow him, Jesus replies:

Foxes have dens, and the birds in the sky have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head (Matt 8.20 = Luke 9.58).

In other words, if you follow Jesus you will be like him, and this could involve being without home, a wandering stranger, reliant on the charity and provision of others. Some therefore interpret the ‘least of these’ as itinerant missionaries, sent out in the manner of the 12 and the 72 in Luke 9 and 10, who are indeed reliant on the charity of those they go to. But in the gospels, Jesus never draws a hard line between these groups and his disciples in general, so focussing on ‘missionaries’ is to make the reference too narrow.

Put together, all this data points to the ‘least of these’ not being the poor in general, but being Jesus’ own followers. Thus those on the king’s right are people who have welcomed his poor followers, and in doing so have welcomed Jesus. At the end of Jesus’ second block of teaching in Matthew (which Matthew attaches to the sending out of the 12 in chapter 10) we have a very similar idea—whoever receives the disciples in effect receives Jesus, and how they treat the disciples is in effect how they treat Jesus. (These verses, Matt 10.40–42, don’t have an exact parallel in the other gospels, though there is a similar saying in a different context in Mark 9.41). France, in his comment on Matt 25, describes this as the closest Matthew gets to a Pauline notion of the believers as the body of Christ, and it it likely that Paul was shaped in this by the words he heard on the Damascus Road. Persecuting Jesus’ followers, he hears Jesus ask: ‘Why do you persecute me?’

So the division is not between those who care for the poor or don’t (and there is plenty of encouragement to do that elsewhere in the gospels), but those who receive and care for the followers of Jesus or don’t—and in doing so reveal their attitude to the king himself.

This gives rise to some challenging lessons from this better reading of the narrative:

  1. To coin a cliché, it is all about Jesus. He is the exalted Son of Man, who takes the concerns of the people of God into the presence of God, and now sits on God’s throne as rightful king. He is the true Shepherd of Israel, and in him God exercises his reign and his just judgement.
  2. To follow Jesus means (to risk?) being hungry, thirsty, naked, as stranger, sick and in prison. This has not been hard to imagine for many Christians in many parts of the world in many times in history. In fact, it is perhaps only in a rich West that Christians could have misread this teaching, by naturally reading themselves in the role of the powerful helper rather than the powerless in need of help.
  3. It raises big questions about the status of those who don’t appear to have named Christ as Lord (Romans 10.9), but have responded to Christ in being the ‘sheep’ who have assisted his disciples because they are his disciples. This question was raised by someone listening to me teach on this, who worked in inner cities primarily with Muslims. ‘If my Muslim friend helps me out are they counted as sheep?’ In a sense it asks the bigger question of whether it is possible to become a Muslim follower of Jesus rather than become a Christian.
  4. But as a complement to that, we need to note that the judgement doesn’t just take place on the grounds of whether people like us and help us, or not. It is on the grounds of whether they receive us as we are living the lives Jesus called us to, in particular, whether we are healing the sick, driving out demons, calling people to repentance, and proclaiming the kingdom. It is how people receive us as disciples of Jesus, that is, while we are doing the things he calls us to. This means that there is not perhaps quite the gap between response to us and faith in Jesus that at first we might think.
  5. It suggests a rather different model for mission. We are not going as the strong with resources to help the weak, but we come as the weak ready to receive from those to whom we have been sent. And of course this is the idea behind the idea of finding the ‘person of peace’, taught by Mike Breen and others from the sending of the 12 and the 72 in Luke 9 and 10 and Matt 10. You can read about this in my co-authored Grove booklet How to be Fruitful.
  6. Jesus as judge will separate those who have responded to him, in whatever way they were able, from those who have rejected him. We might not be able to tell the difference now (since we do not know the secrets of people’s hearts), but he will be able to do so just as easily as a herdsman separates his flock for culling. He is a competent and a just judge, and we can trust him to do his job.

Come and join Ian and James as they discuss these issues and think about preaching on this passage…

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26 thoughts on “The not-parable of the sheep and the goats in Matthew 25”

    November 21, 2023 at 8:58 am

    Of coarse this is the last part of the Olivet discourse ,a part of the whole.
    There is no sense of equality in the Kingdom of God or apparently in the rewards of heaven. We are all working towards a *degree* of awards/ rewards; hence
    Galatians 6:4 – But each one must examine his own work, and then he will have reason for boasting in regard to himself alone, and not in regard to another.
    That the common goat faces a devastating reward is awesome.
    But what of the Goat-Herders? It augers not well;
    Jam 3:1 My brethren, be not many masters, knowing that we shall receive the greater condemnation or in context;
    2 To show that a Christian man must govern his tongue with the bridle of faith and charity, he declareth the commodities and mischiefs that ensue thereof:  and how much man’s wisdom differeth from heavenly. My brethren, be not many masters, knowing that we shall receive the greater condemnation. GNV
    Lamentations 3:40 – Let us test and examine our ways, and return to the Lord!
    1 Corinthians 15:33 – Do not be deceived: “Bad company ruins good morals.”
    2 Corinthians 13:5 – Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you fail to meet the test!

  2. I have a couple of difficulties with Ian’s reading. I can see the logic of the “least of these” / “little ones” in his interpretation, but I don’t think it is conclusive; in fact there is something quite powerful in discovering that the group has expanded to include all the needy.
    This is the climactic teaching of the gospel when ALL the nations will be gathered, and all get separated one side or the other – no middle ground, but in Ian’s reading most people from across the nations will not have come across a poor Christian so they should be a third category, and by far the largest!
    Reading it more straightforwardly, people from all the nations, people who may never have heard of Jesus, are separated left and right according to how they have treated the needy.
    Their surprise, in part, is because they may have belonged to other religions; gathered before the King, they now expect punishment.
    Equally there are some who were confident they were “in” who find they are not, on the basis of what they have NOT done for others. That should challenge us, but then the injustice in the nation and world should challenge us deeply. We can get theological about salvation for people of other faiths but the real challenge of this passage is to those who are followers, and who discover they have failed to do what was needed for Jesus; they thought they were “in” and they find themselves “out”. Could we be in that group? That is what we should be thinking about, not about other people.
    This is indeed a memorable passage – it should stick in the mind as the final teaching of the final teaching block. It reminds us, as did the first teaching, that we must be doers of the Word and not just those who hear it; it reminds us of the son who said Yes but did not go; it challenges us, especially in the more affluent West.
    It is not the be all and end all of teaching on judgement, it does not reduce salvation to charitable works, but it is consistent with Matthew’s teaching and with James, and it complements Paul’s emphasis on saving grace. We are saved by grace, but if we do not live as those who then model grace and generosity to others, we find ourselves in real spiritual danger.
    It is much more comfortable to make this passage an addendum on how migrant Christian teachers might be treated, and far away from our responsibility.

    • I think you are getting into interesting theological waters if you are suggesting that people who have never encountered a poor Christian, because of their treatment of the poor among them, will “inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” (v34)

      • I agree – but surely we have to explore our theology of God’s concern for the nations and peoples who have never heard. This passage does not provide the whole answer as the focus is more on those who discover they are not in, at which point we should take note; but this passage does contribute to our understanding of God’s redeeming love for the world. I think there is a bit of an argument within Scripture, with some voices more negative and others more inclusive, if I can use that shorthand; I don’t see a clear and obvious answer, but I do see a command to share the good news so others can hear. Let the great King be the Judge!

        • Peter – when they are told that they are ‘out’, the goats immediately defend their own conduct – their ‘works’ if you like. ‘Lord, when …. did we not help you?’

          Anyone with an ounce of self-understanding knows full well that his works are ‘filthy rags’ compared with what they are supposed to be – and would never dream of arguing before a Holy God that his works haven’t been well short of the standard.

          The ‘goats’ presented here are arrogant people who have a total deficiency of self-understanding. The ‘sheep’, on the other hand, are those who have been quietly working away at their Christ-centred lives – doing good when they have the opportunity, not because they are seeking brownie points, but rather because it is in their nature – and who would never presume to imagine that their works measured up to any God-given standard.

  3. On sheep and goats:

    A friend when I was a research student was a vet. researcher. I remember him commenting on the fact that the skeletons of sheep and goats are hard to distinguish and that the rather obvious differences between modern, Western sheep and goats was the result of selective breeding. Perhaps distinguishing them was not so straightforward 2000 years ago – more like separating Spartan apples from Coxes, not so easy.

  4. I think this ‘parable’ sums up the others and rounds off his public teaching. It lead directly to his arrest and execution; I wonder if it spoke more directly to His own immediate situation. He became “the least of these”. The Sheep mingled with goats might have been his audience, those given much gold teaching, who should have enough oil to see them through to the resurrection.

  5. Is not the puzzlement of the ‘sheep and goats’ simply because Jesus personalised the response on to himself. Maybe they like we have only ever given help to the oppressed and disadvantaged in their community or remotely. Once Jesus amplified his teaching the penny dropped.
    I have always found Matthew 25 challenging and comforting in equal measure. Challenging – do I give / do enough? Comforting in that salvation is dependent on who we are (children of God saved by grace) and not by works.
    Given that sheep and goats are almost indistinguishable, to we townies anyway, does that not encourage us to be gracious in our dealing with the lost? That seemingly impossible reprobate might be acting the goat unaware that he is in fact a sheep.

  6. It is interesting to me, at least, that while modern translations of v32 tend to be like the ESV:

    “Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates authe sheep from the goats.”

    if you look at older translations, they are subtly different. Picting Young’s literal, as it is basically the Greek:

    “and gathered together before him shall be all the nations, and he shall separate them from one another, as the shepherd doth separate the sheep from the goats,”

    What is separated is “them”. To what does this pronoun refer? Is it to the people in the nations or to nations as a whole? What is the unit of separation, and therefore judgement?

    The judgement of nations, as a whole, rather than the people in them individually, has strong OT precedent. Consider the beginning of Amos, with its sting in the tail of the judgements of Judah and Israel. Or Joel 3:

    “I will gather all the nations and bring them down to the Valley of Jehoshaphat. And I will enter into judgment with them there, on behalf of my people and my heritage Israel, because they have scattered them among the nations and have divided up my land,…” (Joel 3:2 ESV)

    Here we have a gathering of the nations (συνάξω πάντα τὰ ἔθνη in LXX c.f. Matt 25.32: συναχθήσονται ἔμπροσθεν αὐτοῦ πάντα τὰ ἔθνη) before God, who will judge them by how they have treated his people.

    There is a distinct parallel to the Son of Man judging nations by how they have treated “the least of my brothers.” Also, this parallel reinforces the significant Christology of this passage.

    It is our modernist individualism which rebels against the judgement of nations?

    • Interesting point. Though of course nations, like cities, are made up of individuals. And when God was about to bring judgement on Sodom and Gommorah he wouldnt have if there’d been a single ‘good’ person there.

  7. The language and the context of this passage have several parallels to Joel 3 (Joel 4 in the Hebrew). And since Matthew’s Gospel seems to have as one of its purposes to show how Jesus fulfilled the Hebrew Scriptures, finding echoes or parallels in the Hebrew Scriptures may be one of the best ways to properly understand it.

    From Joel:

    For then, in those days and at that time, when I restore the fortunes of Judah and Jerusalem, I will gather all the nations and bring them down to the valley of Jehoshaphat (“YHWH has judged”), and I will enter into judgment with them there, on account of my people and my heritage Israel, because they have scattered them among the nations. They have divided my land, and cast lots for my people, and traded boys for prostitutes, and sold girls for wine, and drunk it down.

    What are you to me, O Tyre and Sidon, and all the regions of Philistia? Are you paying me back for something? If you are paying me back, I will turn your deeds back upon your own heads swiftly and speedily. For you have taken my silver and my gold, and have carried my rich treasures into your temples. You have sold the people of Judah and Jerusalem to the Greeks, removing them far from their own border. But now I will rouse them to leave the places to which you have sold them, and I will turn your deeds back upon your own heads. I will sell your sons and your daughters into the hand of the people of Judah, and they will sell them to the Sabeans, to a nation far away; for YHWH has spoken.

    Proclaim this among the nations: “Prepare war, stir up the warriors. Let all the soldiers draw near, let them come up. Beat your plowshares into swords, and your pruning hooks into spears; let the weakling say, ‘I am a warrior.’ Come quickly, all you nations all around, gather yourselves there.”

    Bring down your warriors, O YHWH.

    Let the nations rouse themselves, and come up to the valley of Jehoshaphat; for there I will sit to judge all the neighboring nations. Put in the sickle, for the harvest is ripe. Go in, tread, for the wine press is full. The vats overflow, for their wickedness is great. Multitudes, multitudes, in the valley of decision! For the day of YHWH is near in the valley of decision. The sun and the moon are darkened, and the stars withdraw their shining. YHWH roars from Zion, and utters his voice from Jerusalem, and the heavens and the earth shake. But YHWH is a refuge for his people, a stronghold for the people of Israel.

    So you shall know that I, YHWH your God, dwell in Zion, my holy mountain. And Jerusalem shall be holy, and strangers shall never again pass through it. In that day the mountains shall drip sweet wine, the hills shall flow with milk, and all the stream beds of Judah shall flow with water; a fountain shall come forth from the house of YHWH and water the Wadi Shittim. Egypt shall become a desolation and Edom a desolate wilderness, because of the violence done to the people of Judah, in whose land they have shed innocent blood. But Judah shall be inhabited forever, and Jerusalem to all generations. I will avenge their blood, and I will not clear the guilty, for the Lord dwells in Zion. (NRSV, with YHWH instead of The LORD. Joel 3:1-21; 4:1-21 in Hebrew)

    N. T. Wright concurs:

    “Instead of the nations being judged on how they had treated Israel, as some Jewish writings envisage, Jesus, consistently with his whole redefinition of God’s people around himself, declares that he will himself judge the world on how it has treated his renewed Israel. Judging the nations is, of course, regularly thought of as part of the Messiah’s task (e.g. Psalm 2:8-12); and the king or Messiah is often pictured as a shepherd (e.g. Ezekiel 34:23-24). That, perhaps, is why the image of sheep and goats is inserted into this scene of judgment” (N. T. Wright, Matthew For Everyone, Part 2: Chapters 16-28, 142-43).

  8. Yes! Yes to mistakenly seeing ourselves as ‘the powerful’ helping ‘the weak’ – that is not Kingdom thinking! Yes to a different model of mission. Yes to being a Muslim follower of Jesus – we were part of an organisation in which some partners saw that happening. And a big yes to the man of peace – a wonderfully fruitful concept that we found to be true and we practised over and over again in our missional ministry. Thanks!

  9. Thanks for this – an interesting piece. Somehow, though, I’d never heard this ‘most common interpretation’ before (the one that is being debunked).

    The one that I had heard – and which I thought was standard goes along the following lines – there are those (the ‘sheep’) whose hearts and minds are conformed to God. They do the things that are of their Christ-centred nature, but never for one minute imagine that they are doing anything ‘out of the box’ or worthy of any sort of commendation. There are others whose minds are not conformed to God, i.e. have not been renewed by the Holy Spirit. Any ‘good works’ that they might have done were done with selfish self-centred motivation. (They may even have considered ‘salvation’ as some sort of reward for good behaviour). But, being self-centred rather than Christ-centred, they missed the bigger picture and their (selfishly motivated) ‘good works’ missed the target …..

    I thought that something like this was the ‘standard’ interpretation and understanding of the passage (and indeed the only one I had heard).

    • Hi Jock, I dont really see how that understanding is correct. The implication is that the ‘goats’ are those who didnt do the sort of ‘good works’ towards ‘the least of these’ (regardless of whether they are Jesus’ followers or people in general). They didnt care for them at all, hence no good works regardless of the motivation.

      I would also add that some believe ‘good works’ are essential for salvation, and as such I would argue if that is one’s position then doing such good works is at least partly out of ‘selfish motivation’ as it affects one’s salvation. But then I find the whole grace/faith/works teaching from others very contradictory and confusing. No doubt I will stand in judgement because I often find so-called ‘Christians’ rather unpleasant and selfish people, as selfish as the rest of society, and find little motivation to be nice to them more than an atheist. Oh dear.


      • Peter – well, with so-called ‘Christians’, I might agree with you. The one time in my life that I really did see the face of evil, the name of blasphemy, was in the actions of two work colleagues who attended Holy Trinity church, a C. of E. in the middle of Coventry. This was back in 1989. I often wonder why God wanted to show me the face of evil, what was it supposed to be preparing me for? And the context was very interesting too. Probably best if I don’t go into detail – just that some of your experience chimes in with mine.

        On the understanding of Matthew 25, the sheep and the goats – we do good basically because we are already ‘in Him’ (i.e. we are already saved); we do the ‘good works’ as a response to being ‘in Him’ – we don’t do the good works in order to get saved. The tax collector in Luke 18:14 went home ‘justified’ having never done a good work – other than repenting, acknowledging his sinnerhood and asking God for mercy.

        I think the last part of Matthew 25:44 ‘….. and did not help you?’ is important; the ‘goats’ did seem to think they had been ‘pulling their weight’ as far as good works was concerned.

  10. Perhaps Im more cynical as I get older, but:

    ‘Moreover, Jesus is clear that to follow him means to be homeless’

    Really? My impression is that the vast majority of Christians stay in the same place, if not home, for decades. Just look at clergy! Very few Christians are ‘wandering strangers’.

    ‘It is on the grounds of whether they receive us as we are living the lives Jesus called us to, in particular, whether we are healing the sick, driving out demons, …’

    How many individual Christians are healing the sick and driving out demons? The minority, particularly given so many dont even believe that’s possible today. If that really is the criteria for a genuine follower, then most will stand condemned.

    • I can’t help feeling Jesus was talking about Himself as ‘the least of these’,
      He had wept over Jerusalem. He was very emotional. This was His last plea to be taken seriously. He was talking about Himself in the third person…sort of. We need to read in context instead of analysing theologically. We are not being asked, once more, to step up to the plate, pull our finger out, put our back into it, etc. we are being invited into His heart, to keep watch.

      • In a sense he is, but only I think because he so closely identifies with his followers, just as he said to Saul/Paul – ‘why do you persecute me’ when Saul/Paul was actually persecuting his followers.

        It is hard not to agree with Ian’s understanding on the overall message.

        But as usual I like how you think, Steve.


        • ‘He became sin for us’. I can’t get my head round how closely He identifies with us.
          This is how I read it:
          31 “When the Son of Man comes [to the Father in heaven after the resurrection] in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him and [over the next millennium (a very long time)] he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left [but you won’t percieve it at the time] 34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance [go out into all the world], the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. [His voice is only heard by individuals at the moment of conversion].

  11. Believers are strangers and sojourners. This is not our true home.
    Jesus came down, left his home in the Temple Palace/Garden to bring us up from our up with Him to share his true Home with us. A return to our Temple/Palace/Garden and his Presence and belonging.
    In Him we dwell and he in us.

    Common grace is not Saving – Kingdom- Grace of Christ the King to rescue, redeem, His people.

  12. I have a basic question – how does the crucifixion (and resurrection) come into the discussion? Of course, when Jesus gave his discourse, he had not yet been crucified. How does the theology of the crucifixion shape our understanding of the ‘sheep’ and the ‘goats’ – who they are, why the sheep are ‘in’ and why the goats are ‘out’?

    • Kathryn Vessey has asked the very same question on the video discussion.
      I think if it were about final judgement it would be about being in or out, but it is not, it is about being on his right or left. So it means, to me, that it is a very immediate situation. He needs help now. He feels isolated and troubled and wants to know who is with him in His hour of need. His arrest, trial and crucifixion will sort them out in short order. Of course it has an eschatological dimension, but primarily it is about the present. Who is on the Lord’s side? Are you at his disposal on his right, or are you about to be discarded on his left. This non-parable is a king’s rallying call to the standard. It is in the future tense only because the actual separation was about to begin with His arrest. It goes on now in our day and goes on separating until He comes, sword in hand.

  13. So Jesus’ reference to the separation appears to be drawing on a well-known and regular occurrence in herding—the separation out and culling of the young male goats the herdsmen would do as a natural part of their work.

    Matt 25:33 He will put the sheep on His right and the goats on the left.

    This raises a few questions.
    If sheep (of all ages) are on His right and baby male goats on His left, where are the other goats (female and older males)?

    Culling sounds like a negative word. How exactly does that relate to people?

    • Tony, that does raise a few questions!
      Perhaps if only a small proportion of the goats are male they get castrated and used for making goat hair cloth and are allowed to mingle left or right, after all there is no mention of fencing. Itinerant priests?
      Some of the sheep might get lost, as per usual. An opportunity for castrated goats to blend in and make up the numbers.
      Or perhaps Jesus is alluding to Jacob breeding speckled and spotted. A further filtering of the sheep may happen next! Oh, to be in an exclusive stripes only denomination.
      Or perhaps the goats will be made into scapegoats.
      I avoid following goat-beardy weirdos just in case.


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