The Sheep and the Goats

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Matthew 25:31–46 (NLT)

The Final Judgment

31 “But when the Son of Man* comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit upon his glorious throne. 32 All the nations* will be gathered in his presence, and he will separate the people as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will place the sheep at his right hand and the goats at his left.
34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. 36 I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me.’
37 “Then these righteous ones will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry and feed you? Or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 Or a stranger and show you hospitality? Or naked and give you clothing? 39 When did we ever see you sick or in prison and visit you?’
40 “And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters,* you were doing it to me!’
41 “Then the King will turn to those on the left and say, ‘Away with you, you cursed ones, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his demons.* 42 For I was hungry, and you didn’t feed me. I was thirsty, and you didn’t give me a drink. 43 I was a stranger, and you didn’t invite me into your home. I was naked, and you didn’t give me clothing. I was sick and in prison, and you didn’t visit me.’
44 “Then they will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and not help you?’
45 “And he will answer, ‘I tell you the truth, when you refused to help the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were refusing to help me.’
46 “And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous will go into eternal life.”

In the final judgment, we see the Son of God as the Judge of all the nations.  (v. 32)  The wording echoes Isaiah 66:18.  All the nations points to all humanity. In the final judgment, Jesus will separate the people according to their deeds of mercy.  Those who have demonstrated their righteousness by their good works will are the sheep, those who have not are the goats.
In v. 34, the Son of Man is now called the King.  The King of the Kingdom of Heaven will speak to those on the right hand, and invite them to receive the blessing prepared for them from the beginning.  The reason that they are so blessed by the Father is that they ministered to the King when he was hungry, thirsty, a stranger, needy, sick or in prison.  The righteous will answer, when did we do any of these things for you?  The King will answer, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters you were doing it for me!’
Turning from those on his left, the King will command them, “Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels!”  (v. 41)  The reason for this terrible judgment is “when you refused to help the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were refusing to help me.  And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous will go into eternal life.”
This parable does not answer the question of our salvation in the way that we have been trained to expect as far as American Christianity is concerned.  The basis of Christ’s judgment as to whether one should be counted as righteous or wicked is based on how a person has treated one’s fellow humans.  Jesus determination is based on “in as much as you did it for one of these little ones, my brothers and sisters, you have done it for me.”
The parable relates to the question of faith and works.  Since the Reformation, Protestants have asserted along with Paul that “salvation is by grace through faith alone.”  James famously says, “Faith without works is dead.”  (James 2:14-26)  Paul has sometimes been said to contradict James, but a close examination of Paul’s letters show that they are both in agreement.  In Eph. 2, Paul says that salvation is by grace through faith…”So that we can do the good things he (meaning God) planned for us long ago.”  (Eph. 2:10)
Jesus is not teaching that salvation is by works.  Rather in all his teachings, he stressed the necessity of repentance from sin and faith in the Gospel.  The Gospel writers summarize Jesus preaching as “Repent and believe the Good News!  For the Kingdom of God has already come near you!”  Salvation is not achieved by good works.
However, our emphasis on salvation by faith alone has often led to a false dichotomy between faith and works.  Salvation is not achieved by good works, but neither should salvation be without good works.  Jesus promises eternal life to those who have lived a life in accordance to God’s will (Matt. 5:3-12).  Righteousness is required to enter the Kingdom of God (5:20-48; 7:21; 22:11-14; 23:3).  But faith that does not result in good works is not saving faith.

 

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