HE WILL PUT THE SHEEP ON HIS RIGHT AND THE GOATS ON HIS LEFT…With only days left until His crucifixion, Jesus ended His earthly teachings with the prophetic parable of Matthew 25:31-46. Addressing the religious house of His day, He announced that when He returns to reign over His Kingdom, He will gather His sheep and give them eternal life. But for the goats His words will be "Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels."
“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.”
Throughout history, and even today in parts of Asia and Africa, sheep and goats are almost identical. Indeed, in ancient Israel, the shepherd would herd the sheep and goats together during the day. At night they were put in separate enclosures, since the docile sheep could be harmed by the impulsive and unpredictable goats. And it was that very character that the shepherd used to separate the two from each other.
The Shepherd noted that His sheep needed and wanted him to lead them to green pastures, where they would graze contentedly, finding their rest. Lying down in those verdant fields, they diplayed their submission to the loving care of the shepherd. "The Lord is My Shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures..." Psalm 23
While sheep waited patiently for their shepherd to lead to them to green pastures, goats only tolerated the shepherd when they chose, desiring minimal direction. Never being entirely satisfied with what the sheperd provided, they chose to browse and forage for their food, and preferred high and lofty places, even treetops, as the photo here illustrates.
Since the path of many nowadays seems driven by independence and pride, coupled with the never-ending desire to scale new spiritual “heights”, the “sheep and the goats” parable certainly fits us 21st century Christians to a “T”.
And, like it or not, Jesus said this about how we WILL, or WILL NOT, enter His kingdom. “’The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger’s voice.’ Jesus used this figure of speech, but the Pharisees did not understand what he was telling them.” John 10:2-6
Today, we don’t understand any more than the Pharisees did way back then. These ultra-religious folks struck out on their own, depending on their knowledge of scripture, not on their need to be led by the Shepherd as sheep. They just figured that most of what Jesus said surely didn’t apply to them, since they were so good at keeping the letter of the law.
The same religious house exists today. Ignoring the fact that our identity as sheep comes from the character and person of The Shepherd, many of today’s Christians have set out to explore dangerous ravines of self-fulfillment and high places of spiritual entitlement, unknowingly leaving themselves vulnerable, weak and helpless to worldly predators.
And in the end, "...the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’”
“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’”
“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’
“They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’"
“He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’"
“Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.” Matthew 25:34-46
The message of the Parable of the Sheep and Goats is that God’s people, His sheep, WILL love others. Good works WILL result from our relationship with the Shepherd, because our identity comes from Him. Followers of Christ WILL treat others with kindness, serving them as if they were serving Christ Himself.
"...You do not believe because you are not my sheep." John 10:26. No, this is not a parable about what we Christians SHOULD do. This is a parable about what we “Christ-ians” WILL do. This is a parable about how to tell the difference between the sheep of the Shepherd and the goats of the world. Even though the unregenerate goats may continue to protest that they are grazing with the Shepherd in His fold, being led by Him, if they don’t have the character of the Shepherd, easily identified by Him, Jesus WILL separate them AWAY from His pastures, for ALL ETERNITY.
Indeed, instead of declaring our INDEPENDENCE, and pridefully insisting that our path of choice is the right one, we should be focused on placing our DEPENDENCE on our Sheperd to lead us through this difficult and tumultuous time in our world. For it is through His guidance and His Word, like the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats, that we ARE being humbled and transformed into His image: the long-suffering, sacrificial, Lamb of God.
When Jesus had finished His parable teaching, He said this: “As you know, the Passover is two days away—and the Son of Man will be handed over to be crucified.” Matthew 26:2
We are in the final countdown to God’s appointed twilight eve of Passover, coming up on the 14th day of His first appointed month which begins the evening of March 27 on our 2021 Gregorian calendar.
Clearly, Jesus is doing the same thing in these last days that He did almost 2000 years ago. He is giving today's religious house another chance to believe in the Shepherd of the Universe—perhaps for one last time.
"HE WILL PUT SHEEP ON HIS RIGHT AND THE GOATS ON HIS LEFT."