JESUS GIVES THE ILLUSTRATION OF THE SHEEP AND THE GOATS
On the Mount of Olives, Jesus has just related the illustrations of the ten virgins and of the talents. How does he end his answer to the apostles’ question regarding the sign of his presence and of the conclusion of the system of things? He does so with a final illustration, one about sheep and goats.
Jesus begins by establishing its setting, telling them: “When the Son of man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit down on his glorious throne.” (Matthew 25:31) He leaves no doubt that he, Jesus, is the central figure in this illustration. He often called himself “the Son of man.”—Matthew 8:20; 9:6; 20:18, 28.
When will this illustration find fulfillment? It is when Jesus “comes in his glory” with the angels and sits down “on his glorious throne.” He had already spoken about “the Son of man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory” and with his angels. When would that be? “Immediately after the tribulation.” (Matthew 24:29-31; Mark 13:26, 27; Luke 21:27) So this illustration is to find fulfillment at Jesus’ future coming in glory. What will he then do?
Jesus explains: “When the Son of man comes . . . , all the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another, just as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And he will put the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on his left.”—Matthew 25:31-33.
Regarding the sheep, separated to the favored side, Jesus says: “Then the King will say to those on his right: ‘Come, you who have been blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the founding of the world.’” (Matthew 25:34) Why do the sheep receive the King’s favor?
The King explains: “I became hungry and you gave me something to eat; I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink. I was a stranger and you received me hospitably; naked and you clothed me. I fell sick and you looked after me. I was in prison and you visited me.” When these sheep, “the righteous ones,” ask in what way they did those good things, he answers: “To the extent that you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.” (Matthew 25:35, 36, 40, 46) They do not do these good deeds in heaven, for there are no sick or hungry ones there. These must be deeds done for Christ’s brothers on earth.
What of the goats, who are put on the left side? Jesus says: “Then [the King] will say to those on his left: ‘Go away from me, you who have been cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the Devil and his angels. For I became hungry, but you gave me nothing to eat; and I was thirsty, but you gave me nothing to drink. I was a stranger, but you did not receive me hospitably; naked, but you did not clothe me; sick and in prison, but you did not look after me.’” (Matthew 25:41-43) This judgment is merited because the goats failed to treat Christ’s brothers on earth kindly, as they should have done.
The apostles learn that this future time of judgment is to have permanent—everlasting—consequences. Jesus tells them: “Then [the King] will [say]: ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did not do it to one of these least ones, you did not do it to me.’ These will depart into everlasting cutting-off, but the righteous ones into everlasting life.”—Matthew 25:45, 46.
Jesus’ response to the apostles’ question provides much for his followers to think about, helping them to examine their attitudes and deeds.