SHEEP AND GOATS:
A FINAL WORD ABOUT FINAL JUDGMENT
Dr. Charles F. “Chuck” DeVane, Jr., Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
MARCH 6, 2016
31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the 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 foundation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me. ’ 37 Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? 38 And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? 39 And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you? ’ 40 And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’ 41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me. ’ 44 Then they 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 minister to you? ’ 45 Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ 46 And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.
— Matthew 25:31-46, ESV
From the first “Day of Atonement” in Leviticus to the last recorded sermon of Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew, goats get a bad rap. Sheep seem to fare much better. As illustrated in this end-times parable preached by the Lord, at the end of the day there is a vast amount of space between the sheep and the goats.
But this is not so throughout Scripture. As a matter of fact, with the exception of our text at hand, sheep and goats are basically treated equally by the word of God. Sheep can be found roaming around the Bible approximately 180 times, while goats get in the way in around 160 places. Both are sacred, sacrificial animals in the Levitical law of the Old Testament. Both are relatively stupid, so they aptly illustrate the sinful things human beings can do. Sheep and goats are both made in the image of God, they both are engaged in religious activity, they both make wrong turns and sinful choices. At the end of life, however, they meet with two very different fates. What is the real difference between a sheep and a goat? Why the sudden and final separation by God? And where will you be, with the sheep or the goats, when Christ comes again?
Here Comes the Judge
The most amazing thing about this text or any passage of Scripture is what it teaches us about God. The bottom line here and elsewhere is this: Jesus Christ is Lord! “The Son of Man … will sit on His glorious throne … and the King will answer.” The deity of Christ and the triunity of God are cardinal doctrines of Scripture. They come into clear focus here, at least in the equality of God the Father and the Son.
The “Son of Man” was a favorite title of the Son of God, who stressed both His humanity and His deity. Jesus declared, “I and the Father are one” (ref. John 10:30) and told His followers, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father” (ref. John 14:9). There is only one “glorious throne” because there is only one true and living God. The word, the Spirit, and the Son reveal the great, glorious, triune God to us.
Within the trinity, however, the Son of God, Jesus Christ, has a special dual purpose carried out by His two trips to earth. He came the first time to give us the gospel, in living color, in human flesh, in preaching and teaching, in living and dying, and in rising again from the dead. He will come the second time to judge “all the nations.” That’s people, all people, all of us. Not everyone accepts the gospel, but no human being can escape the judgment of God.
When Christ returns, the King of kings and Lord of lords will judge you, innocent or guilty, and assign you to an eternal home with either the forgiven sheep or the guilty goats.
Here Comes the Judgment
This is how Jesus judges the sheep. He puts them on the “right,” symbolizing the fact that they are right, or righteous, with God. Their right standing comes from being “blessed,” meaning they have received, not earned, grace and mercy from God. The blessing enables them to “inherit,” again an indicator that they receive something they did not achieve, specifically “the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.”
Therefore, the sheep are persons chosen by God before creation. They were made to share in His eternal kingdom. At a predestined point they were given give grace and mercy to accept the gospel of Jesus Christ, whereby their sins are forever forgiven and they are clothed with the righteousness of Christ. In other words, sheep are saved by grace through faith in the gospel of Jesus Christ.
This is how Jesus judges the goats. He puts them on the “left,” for they will be left behind when the gates of Heaven are closed. He called them “cursed,” cursed with sin and its penalty for which in their lifetimes they found no cure, for they either ignored or rejected or faked acceptance of the gospel. He puts them in a place of “eternal fire,” or irrevocable judgment, along with “the devil and his angels,” a place I assure you do not want to be.
Therefore, the goats are the people, relatively good and bad, religious and irreligious, who bypassed the grace of God and spurned faith in the gospel and made a bed for themselves upon which they will lie for all eternity.
The difference between the sheep and the goats will be unmistakable on Judgment Day. But how about now? How can you tell the difference between a sheep and a goat today? Jesus gives an answer that is not quite as clear as it seems.
Here is the Evidence
What is the evidence Jesus uses to judge the sheep and the goats? Is it grace, and if so, how do you see grace go from the hand of God to the heart of a human being? Is it faith, and if so, how do you measure the quality and quantity of a person’s faith? Is it works, and if so, can a person really be saved or lost based on their works?
A first look at this parable seems to point to works, social work, as the dividing line between the sheep and the goats. The sheep, according to Jesus, fed the hungry and quenched the thirsty and housed the stranger and clothed the naked and visited the infirmed and imprisoned. The goats did not. So, if you want to go to Heaven, engage yourself in serious social work and God will let you in, right?
Wrong. Any doctrine of salvation by works is false doctrine, and Jesus did not preach heresy. He preached the gospel of salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. But such faith is never alone, it is always followed by spiritual concerns and a social conscience (ref. Ephesians 2:8-10).
Take a second look at the parable, particularly a key piece of the earthly evidence behind the eternal verdict. When the sheep did their work, they did it, according to Jesus, “To Me.” The goats most likely engaged in social work, too, and seemed surprised by Christ’s condemnation, but Jesus explained, “You did not do it to Me.” Therefore, the difference between the sheep in the goats is not the work they did, but who they did their work for.
Sheep, by the grace of God, have eyes of faith to see God and see God in others. They gravitate to the “brothers” of Jesus, the family of God, the fellow sheep, the church of the Lord Jesus Christ. They care about the human needs of people, but they care more about the spiritual needs of people, because people made in the image of God need the Spirit of God and the word of God to live eternally.
Goats may care about people, too, but only for today, not eternity. Goats may well believe in Jesus, but they do not live for Jesus. Goats may be good people, sort of, better than many sheep it would appear. But you do not escape judgment and go to Heaven by being good. You get to Heaven by grace, through faith, which produces good works, evidenced by serving Christ, serving the church, serving others.
Here is one final observation about sheep and goats and final judgment. Sheep and goats are both followers. Sheep, however, follow shepherds along with other sheep. Goats follow their own appetites. It reminds me of some other things Jesus said in order to draw the dividing line between eternal life and death:“Follow Me,” which He said 21 times in the Gospels, including John 10:27-28, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.”
Dr. Charles F. "Chuck" DeVane, Jr., is the Pastor of Lake Hamilton Baptist Church in Hot Springs, Arkansas. His weekly sermon article, "The Gospel Truth," has been published in newspapers in Arkansas and Georgia. Dr. DeVane is a graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and has served in the pastorate for over 20 years. Contact Pastor Chuck at PastorChuck@lakehamiltonbaptistchurch.org