Questions From Readers
We were thrilled with our study of Jesus’ parable of the sheep and the goats. In view of the new understanding presented in “The Watchtower” of October 15, 1995, can we still say that Jehovah’s Witnesses today are sharing in a separating work?
Yes. Understandably, many have wondered about this because Matthew 25:31, 32 says: “When the Son of man arrives in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit down on his glorious throne. And 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.” The Watchtower of October 15, 1995, showed why these verses apply after the great tribulation begins. Jesus will arrive in his glory with his angels and will sit on his judgment throne. Then, he will separate people. In what sense? He will render decisions based on what people did or did not do before that time.
We can compare this to the development of a legal process leading up to a court case. The evidence builds up over an extended period before the court rules and hands down a sentence. The evidence as to whether people now alive will turn out to be sheep or goats has been accumulating for a long time. And it is still coming in. But when Jesus sits on his throne, the case will be complete. He will be ready to render judgment. People will be separated either to everlasting cutting-off or to everlasting life.
However, the fact that the separation of people to life or to death mentioned at Matthew 25:32 is yet future does not mean that no separating, or dividing, occurs before that. The Bible, in Matthew chapter 13, mentions one separation work that occurs earlier. Interestingly, the book United in Worship of the Only True God, pages 179-80, treats this under the heading “Separating of People”.* The book says: “There are also other significant events that Jesus prominently associated with the conclusion of the system of things. One of these is the separation of the ‘sons of the kingdom’ from the ‘sons of the wicked one.’ Jesus spoke of this in his parable about a wheat field that an enemy oversowed with weeds.”
The book was referring to Jesus’ illustration set out at Matthew 13:24-30 and explained in verses 36-43. Note in verse 38 that the fine seeds of wheat represent the sons of the Kingdom, but the weeds stand for the sons of the wicked one. Verses 39 and 40 show that in the ‘conclusion of the system of things’—during the time in which we now live—the weeds are collected. They are separated out and finally burned, destroyed.
The illustration deals with anointed Christians (who in the parable of the sheep and the goats are called Jesus’ brothers). Still, the point is clear that a vital separation does occur during our time, with the anointed being distinguished from those who profess to be Christians but who prove themselves to be “sons of the wicked one.”
Jesus provided other examples of people being divided, or separated. Recall that he said concerning the broad road that leads to destruction: “Many are the ones going in through it.” (Matthew 7:13) That was not a comment just about the final outcome. It was a comment about an ongoing development, just as is true now of the few finding the cramped road leading off into life. Recall, too, that when sending out the apostles, Jesus said that they would find some who would be deserving. Others would not be deserving, and the apostles were to shake the dust off their feet “for a witness against” such people. (Luke 9:5) Is it not true that something similar happens as Christians carry on their public ministry today? Some respond well, whereas others reject the divine message that we are bringing.
The articles in The Watchtower dealing with the sheep and the goats noted: “While the judging as described in the parable is in the near future, even now something vital is taking place. We Christians are engaged in a lifesaving work of proclaiming a message that causes a division among people. (Matthew 10:32-39).” In that passage in Matthew chapter 10, we read that Jesus said that following him would be a cause for division—father against son, daughter against mother.
Finally, Christ’s spirit-anointed brothers have spearheaded the worldwide preaching of the Kingdom message. As people hear it and react favorably or unfavorably, they are identifying themselves. We humans cannot, and we should not, say, ‘This person is a sheep; that one a goat,’ in the sense conveyed in Matthew chapter 25. Still, our exposing people to the good news allows them to show where they stand—what they are and how they react to Jesus’ brothers. Hence, like mounting evidence for a court case, the division between those who support Jesus’ brothers and those who refuse to support them is becoming evident. (Malachi 3:18) As The Watchtower showed, Jesus will soon sit on his throne and pronounce sentence, people being judicially separated in a final sense to life or to cutting-off.
Published in 1983 by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, Inc.