Article of the Month

June 2014

THE PARABLE OF SHEEP AND GOATS    (Matthew 25:31-46)

The Parable of the Sheep and Goats is the third in a series of three parables which are a part of our Lord’s Great Prophecy which begins with Chapter 24.

The three parables are given in order to illustrate three major concepts:

1.) The Parable of the Wise and Foolish Virgins is given to show character-building events beginning after the French Revolution which lead to the completion of the Bride of Christ.

2.) The Parable of the Talents is given to show that faithfulness in becoming part of the Bride of Christ is dependent in part on the use of opportunities and abilities which the Lord has apportioned to all of his disciples.

3.) The Parable of the Sheep and Goats is the only one of the three which does not deal with disciples. It deals with the awakening and restoration of the world of mankind during the peaceable kingdom, the mediatorial phase of Christ’s second advent.

Verse 31

The parable begins with the “glory” phase of the kingdom — when the “Son of Man…and all the angels with him (his bride complete)” come to utilize what only Matthew calls “his GLORIOUS throne.” This throne does not represent his entire kingdom, (which was established before this point — Daniel 2:44; Revelation 20:11), but it represents the peaceable or individual-judgment part of that Kingdom.

Verses 32 and 33

Once the peaceable part of the kingdom arrives (as heralded by Psalm 46:10), the work of judging individuals begins. This is echoed in Revelation 20:12-15. Thus Jesus “gathers” all nations before him with the intent of restoring to them all the blessings lost in Eden  (Acts 3:20-23). Verses 32 and 33 summarize the work of centuries during which Jesus will work to save all who are willing, but he will, sadly in a sense, lose those who refuse the restoration process. The ultimate result is that some will have found favor, as illustrated by the position of being at his right hand; and some will be in disfavor, as illustrated by the position of being at his left hand.

In a sense, the parable could end here. But Jesus continues the parable in order to teach the principles he will use in the judgment process. We might recall in John 5:29 that Jesus refers to this entire process as “a resurrection by judgment.” Resurrection means RE-STANDING. Thus it is the process of bringing an individual BACK to having a STANDING WITH GOD. It is done “by judgment” — not by a proclamation of guilt or innocence, but rather by years of teaching and watching whether or not the results of that teaching bring the individual back to the perfection required to have a standing before God. This is why the period of Christ’s reign takes a thousand years!  (Revelation 20)

Verses 34 through 40

These verses deal with those who will be successful in the “resurrection by judgment.”

Verse 34 states their reward. They will become kings of the earth — they will “inherit the kingdom prepared for” them when the world was established. (Revelation 22:5)  In other words, it was God’s plan from the beginning that the earth should be inhabited and ruled over by a race of perfected humans.  (Isaiah 45:18)

In verses 35 and 36 Jesus explains why these individuals are successful. They develop the spirit of care for others. This will be the imperative part of the nature or being of everyone who finds favor with God. God, Himself, has this quality, and He will find it mandatory in all who will gain life.

Verses 37-39 show how NATURAL this quality will be in these successful individuals. It is so natural to them that they seem unaware that they are doing these things.

It is important in these verses to remember that this is a parable. In the peaceable kingdom there will be no hunger, thirst, ostracism, or lack of necessary clothing, etc. These items are parabolic — symbolic. Hunger and thirst represent a desire to learn — to be fed and refreshed by the truths that will stimulate growth and life. Not being a “stranger” represents the human need to be included in the group — not left out of the fellowship which humans rely on. We are social animals. That will never cease. The lack of clothing would represent a feeling of inadequacy. Humans must know and appreciate their own value to the community.

As Jesus continues, he uses two more symbols — sick and in prison. As the kingdom progresses, mankind will more and more realize and discover the vestiges of sin in themselves.  They will want to eradicate all of these “sicknesses.” But this eradication will require support from others. Even in our world of today, “support groups” exist for this very purpose. Thus we find Alcoholics Anonymous, anti-smoking groups, etc.

Prison is a serious restraint. The symbol may even suggest that the dead will be raised from the prisonhouse of death because they are remembered in the prayers and requests of their relatives and friends who want them back among them. It may symbolize something simpler. Sometimes we are captive or imprisoned by our attitudes and fears. In that case, we need others to help us get past those bars to progress.

In the final verse of this section of the parable (verse 40), Jesus explains how he PERSONALLY accepts all of these good deeds done toward others as done toward him. In other words, the “sheep” of this parable are co-workers with Jesus in bringing mankind back to God.  

Verses 41-46

The parable concludes with verses which parallel the verses about the sheep — but these verses are negative. They point out that all of the qualities possessed by the successful will not be developed by the unsuccessful.

Hell-fire enthusiasts make treacherous errors in their interpretations of these verses. They make fire literal. But, if it is, would not we also have to make the sheep and goats literal? Thus humans would be exempt. Sheep would be saved; goats would become an extinct species — except that the aroma of their roasting would pervade the universe for an eternity. Satan has so successfully blinded so many that irrationality holds most religions captive.

Jesus remarks to the unsuccessful — those who fail to find the favor of a right-hand position — that their destiny is the loss of everything which the restored race gains. They are, indeed, “accursed ones” in the sense that blessings are lost — including the chief blessing of continuing to live. They go into “fire” — the consistent symbol for righteous destruction.  After all, what does fire do? It destroys to the point of total consumption — oblivion. There is no fuel which burns forever! This “fire” is eternal in that the destruction is eternal. There will never again be a re-awakening for another chance once the Millennial Kingdom has concluded.

Jesus adds that this destruction was prepared for “the devil” who initiated the problem in Eden.  We thus know that Satan will not reform.  His doom is sealed.  It is also for “his angels.”  “Angels” is a Greek word which means “messengers.”  Hence, all who convey the erroneous concepts of Satan will be destroyed with him.  That, of course, is the problem with the “goat” class of humans.  They never rid themselves during the “resurrection by judgment” of the terrible errors of character which Satan has inculcated. In verses 42 and 43, Jesus lists the same symbolic character-revealing qualities that vindicate the “sheep” class.  But this time he shows that the “goat” class never develops that love for others over self that is required for life.  The goats are self-centered. They cannot know within themselves that great commandment, “love thy neighbor as thyself.”  (Matthew 22:35-40)

The 44th verse is revealing.  Apparently the goats do some perfunctory service to others, but it is not from their character depth.  Hence, they say, “When did…we not take care of you?”

Verse 46 repeats their resulting doom and unfitness for continuing life in a perfect society. They go to “eternal punishment” — not eternal torture! Their punishment (extinction or death) is eternal. The righteous, however, receive the opposite: eternal life.  

 

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