Separating the sheep
from the goats
Q. In Matthew 25 it says that the Son of Man, as a shepherd, will separate sheep from goats. What does this mean?
(Submitted by: B. G.)
A. First, let us take a look at the scriptures in question:
"When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory. All the nations will be gathered before Him, AND HE WILL SEPARATE THEM ONE FROM ANOTHER, AS A SHEPHERD DIVIDES HIS SHEEP FROM THE GOATS. And He will set the sheep on His right hand, but the goats on the left.
"Then the King will say to those on His right hand, 'Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.'
"Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, 'Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink? When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You? Or when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?' And the King will answer and say to them, 'Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.'
"Then He will also say to those on the left hand, Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels: for I was hungry and you gave Me no food; I was thirsty and you gave Me no drink; I was a stranger and you did not take Me in, naked and you did not clothe Me, sick and in prison and you did not visit Me.'
"Then they also will answer Him, saying, 'Lord, when did we see You hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to You?' Then He will answer them, saying, 'Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.' And these will go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into eternal life." (Matthew 25:31-46, NKJV)
This parable is about the time of the judgment. The sheep are symbolic of those who follow and obey Christ, while the goats represent those who chose not to follow Jesus and His example on earth (a witness).
One overlooked fact concerning this judging is that Jesus considers one set of animals HIS ("as a shepherd divides HIS sheep . . . ", verse 32) but the others he does not! He owns (we have be bought and redeemed by him at a price - 1Corinthians 6:20, 7:23) and is the true shepherd over those willing to follow him and do what he says. He does not, however, claim ownership or responsibility over the goats! They are those who are rebellious and stubbornly refuse to follow anyone anywhere. Their ultimate fate is to be thrown into the lake of fire.
The real point of the message, as you have likely guessed, is the difference in behavior between the two groups. One group is merciful, kind, generous, loving and willing to do whatever it takes - even at their own expense - to help out another fellow human ('the least') in true need. Jesus regarded their actions as personally affecting him. Because of their unselfishness and giving behavior they inherit God's kingdom. The other group is selfish, self-centered, self-absorbed and self-seeking. They are rejected in the judgment.
The parable can thus be summed up: LOVE is the answer. Those dedicated to loving will receive love in return from all others of a like mind. But, where there is no love given, none will be returned. No love, no Kingdom.