“Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.”
THE PARABLE OF THE sheep and the goats is recorded in Matthew 25:31-46. It is the concluding portion of Jesus’ reply to his disciples’ question, when they inquired, “What shall be the sign of thy coming?” (chap. 24:3) The opening words of the parable—“When the Son of man shall come in his glory”—establish it to be part of the answer to the disciples’ question and one of the signs of his “coming”—parousia in the Greek text, which has the meaning of “presence” or “being along side.”
The presence of the Son of Man in “glory” during his Second Advent is in contrast with his First Advent, during which his presence was in humiliation and suffering. However, when Jesus was raised from the dead, he announced that “all power” had been given to him “in heaven and in earth.” (chap. 28:18) He was then exalted to the “right hand of the throne of God.” (Heb. 12:2) It is this divine, glorified Jesus who returns for the ultimate purpose of establishing his kingdom for the blessing of all people.—Gen. 12:3; 22:18; 28:14
The signs of the Master’s Second Advent, or presence, do not all appear at once, just as the signs of his First Advent did not all occur at the same time. We believe that, upon his return, Jesus first reckons with and rewards his faithful footstep followers. These “enter … into the joy” of the Lord, and are made “joint-heirs” with him. (Matt. 25:21; Rom. 8:16-18) Thus, in presenting the final sign of his Second Presence—the parable of the sheep and the goats—Jesus specified that these highly exalted “holy angels” would be with him. This is in harmony with Jesus’ promise to his faithful followers, “To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne.”—Rev. 3:21
With the faithful overcomers of the Gospel Age exalted to glory, and with Jesus on his throne, the divine plan of redemption and restoration moves into its final phase, which is the offering of restitution to “all the families of the earth.” The parable states that the people of “all nations” are gathered before him, and “he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats: And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left.”—Matt. 25:32,33
Being a parable, it is well to guard against endeavoring to understand these words too literally. The people of all nations will not be gathered before the throne of Christ’s glory in one specific location, with the “goats” herded to the left and the “sheep” to the right. The thought is, rather, that the people of the whole world will be taken into active consideration by the Great Judge of all, and that, through the agencies of his kingdom, he will deal with them for their development with the intent of determining their worthiness or unworthiness of everlasting life.
We are informed that this judgment “day,” or period, will be a time when the “inhabitants of the world will learn righteousness.” (Acts 17:31; Isa. 26:9,10) However, those who are evil at heart, and willfully persist in continuing in the way of disobedience, will not learn righteousness in that “land of uprightness,” nor will they recognize and “behold the majesty of the Lord.” These are the ones in the parable who are represented symbolically by the “goats on the left.”
The “kingdom” mentioned in our theme text, which the “sheep” are informed that they are to inherit, is the same as stated in Genesis 1:26-28. It is man’s dominion over the earth which is the kingdom that was lost because of sin. The ultimate purpose of Christ’s return and Second Presence is the restoration of man to life and to his lost dominion. Jesus promised this very thing, saying, “The Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost.” (Luke 19:10) Peter, likewise, stressed the same point when he said that “the heaven” had received Jesus “until the times of restitution of all things, which,” he added, “God hath spoken by the mouth of all his holy prophets since the world began.”—Acts 3:20-21
The “all things” to be restored to those of the human race who prove worthy include life as well as the lost dominion. The parable states that the sheep class enters into “life eternal.” (Matt. 25:46) Jesus made provision for this at his First Advent by dying on Calvary’s cross, “the just for the unjust.”—I Pet. 3:18
God is unchangeable, and the “wages,” or punishment, for sin will always be death. (Rom. 6:23) The “goats” of the parable represent the incorrigibly wicked during the world’s coming judgment day period. Having been provided a full opportunity during that time to turn to righteousness, but willfully refusing to do so, these hear the sentence, “Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels.”—Matt. 25:41; Rev. 20:10,14
Fire is used in the Bible as a symbol of destruction. “Everlasting fire” would denote everlasting destruction. In verse 46, it is described as “everlasting punishment.” Peter, when speaking of those who fail to take advantage of the opportunities afforded them during the “times of restitution,” refers to this punishment as being “destroyed from among the people.” (Acts 3:23) Thus, we see harmony in the understanding that, just as the “sheep” and “goats” of the parable are symbolic in their meaning, so also is the use of the phrase “everlasting fire.”
In the parable, the “King” said to the “sheep,” who were “on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me.” (Matt. 25:34-36) The “sheep” are surprised at this, and inquire when they had rendered all these good services.—vss. 37-39
The King’s reply to their inquiry states, “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” (vs. 40) The expression, “these my brethren,” denotes that the King is speaking of those on the scene. These will be the people of the restored world of mankind at the close of the thousand-year judgment day period.
Jesus will be instrumental in awakening the world of mankind from the sleep of death, and in restoring the willing and obedient to human perfection. The Heavenly Father, however, will become the Father of the restored world of mankind—the sheep of the parable—when the kingdom is turned over to him at the close of the Millennium. (I Cor. 15:24,28) He is also Jesus’ Father. Thus, restored mankind will be “the least” of Jesus’ brethren, while his followers of the present Gospel Age, having been previously exalted to divine glory with him, will be the greatest.
The sheep of the parable demonstrate their worthiness of everlasting life by their loving interest in, and solicitude for, those about them. Food, drink, shelter, companionship, clothing, health, sympathy, and love, epitomize a fairly complete cross section of human needs. The sheep sense these needs of their fellowman, and do what they can to assist in supplying them. It becomes part of their character to do this, to such an extent that they do not realize they are performing deeds so pleasing to the King. They learn and practice the way of love, and at the end discover that they are worthy of inheriting the dominion of earth which our first parents forfeited through their disobedience to divine law.
The “goats,” on the other hand, do not display the qualities of divine love. Their outlook is selfish, so they do not enter into the spirit of Christ’s kingdom, and do not cooperate with its agencies for the general welfare and blessing of the people. They do not learn righteousness, and continue in the evil ways of the selfish world in which they had formerly lived. Consequently, they are cut off from life.
THE GREAT KING
Jesus is the great King referred to in the parable. He is the one who, together with his joint-heirs—the church class of this Gospel Age—will administer the just and righteous laws of the kingdom period, man’s judgment day. We know that there will be no misjudging of the people. No mistakes will be made. Concerning the King who will sit upon “the throne of his glory,” the Prophet Isaiah wrote, “The spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord; … and he shall not judge after the sight of his eyes, neither reprove after the hearing of his ears: But with righteousness shall he judge the poor, and reprove with equity for the meek of the earth: … And righteousness shall be the girdle of his loins, and faithfulness the girdle of his reins.”—Isa. 11:2-5
With the work of the judgment day complete, the purpose of Christ’s return and Second Presence will have been fully accomplished. The work symbolically described in this parable will be the final sign of his parousia. Many of the earlier signs of the Master’s presence are already visible, but this final evidence is still future. It will not come about until all the true followers of Jesus have proved their worthiness to live and “reign with him,” and are exalted in the “first resurrection” to sit with him “upon the throne of his glory.”—Rev. 20:6; Matt. 25:31
With joy, the sheep of the parable will join in the proclamation, “Say among the [nations] that the Lord reigneth: the world also shall be established that it shall not be moved: he shall judge the people righteously. Let the heavens rejoice, and let the earth be glad; let the sea roar, and the fulness thereof. Let the field be joyful, and all that is therein: then shall all the trees of the wood rejoice Before the Lord: for he cometh, for he cometh to judge the earth: he shall judge the world with righteousness, and the people with his truth.”—Ps. 96:10-13