The question that drove our four-week study of the Sheep and Goats was whether our pursuit of social justice determines our eternal destiny. We concentrated on identifying the various characters in the story, the actions on which the judgment is based, and how the story meshes with everything else we know about salvation by faith.
In all honesty, our greatest concern was probably whether or not we are a “goat”. Do we need to fear the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels? Indeed, that was the issue that prompted the study – the contention that God will send us to hell if we don’t serve the poor and needy of this world. Which is to say, our pursuit has been driven by fear.
So, is fear God’s chosen method to align our hearts with His? In our pursuit of loving what He loves and hating what He hates, that is what we are really seeking – to align our hearts with His. Is fear His only tool, or even His primary tool for this?
In our examination of the question of whether our pursuit of social justice will determine our eternal destiny, we have been looking at the Judgment of the Sheep and Goats in Matthew 25:31-46. So far, we have:
- Set the discussion of this judgment in the context of the Olivet Discourse, which was given in response to the disciples’ question of the timing of Jesus’ coming and the end of the age (Part 1).
- Seen that there are at least 3 distinct judgments in the New Testament, and that believers alive now are not part of the Judgment of the Sheep and Goats (Part 2).
- Seen that Christ’s Coming has been anticipated since the beginning of the Old Testament. As the story has unfolded, additional details have come to light, revealing an increasing complexity to His Coming. What seemed, from the Old Testament perspective, to be a single event, now, clearly, has two parts, separated by at least 2000 years (Part 3).
This raised an important question – With the details in Matthew 24-25, do we have a complete picture of Christ’s return and the end of the age? Or, are additional details needed for a complete picture?
I believe that it is the later. And to make sense of the Judgment of the Sheep and Goats, we need to consider some of these additional details. Let’s begin with the information that Jesus gives us in the first half of the Discourse.
In Part 2 of our look at the Olivet Discourse, and the question of whether our pursuit of social justice will determine our eternal destiny, we began to examine the judgment spoken of in the Judgment of the Sheep and Goats, that will mark the end of the age.
As we compared the judgment in Matthew 25 with other judgment passages in the New Testament, we discovered that there are three distinct judgments spoken of, and that believers alive now will not be part of the Matthew 25 judgment.
While this gives us some comfort, we cannot simply discount Jesus’ words to the disciples here based on other passages. Clearly, a lot is at stake in this judgment. If it doesn’t apply to us, to whom does it apply? Read more
In Part 1 of our look at the Olivet Discourse and the question of whether our eternal destiny will be determined by our pursuit of social justice, we overviewed the Discourse, and made the following observations:
- The Olivet Discourse answers the disciples’ question about the sign of Christ’s coming and the end of the age.
- During the interval between Christ’s First and Second Comings, His disciples should expect disaster, war, false prophets and apostasy.
- Immediately preceding His return will be a period of such intense suffering that, if it were not shortened for the sake of the elect, all life would be wiped out.
- He will return with power and great glory, at which time all the elect will be gathered.
- Only God knows the exact time of His return. Just as in Noah’s day, mankind will be caught off-guard. They will not understand until they are taken away in judgment, leaving only the righteous behind.
- In light of this uncertainty, His disciples should be alert for His return, when they will be rewarded, based on their faithfulness.
This brings us to the final section of the Discourse. In it, the “nations” are gathered for judgment at His return. He will separate them into sheep and goats, based on their treatment of the the hungry, thirsty and naked, the sick, the strangers, and the imprisoned. Care for these groups is equated to care for Christ. Those who provide this care are judged as sheep, and invited to inherit the kingdom. Those not responding are considered to be goats – who have, in effect, ignored Christ, and are condemned to the eternal fires prepared for the devil and his angels.
To understand Jesus’ message, we must identify the various characters, as well as the setting depicted.
The central character is the Son of Man at His Coming. This, of course, is Christ, at the return about which the disciples inquired (24:3). Having come, He now takes His place on His throne. This development shifts the focus to the final part of the disciples’ question – “what will be sign of. . . the end of the age?”
At Christ’s Second Coming, the current age will end. What will mark this ending? The gathering of all the nations for judgment, with the righteous receiving the kingdom, and the accursed ones being sent away in to the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.
And it is this gathering and judgment that we set out to explore. Are we involved in this judgment? Is our eternal condition decided here? Read more
About 5 years ago, I was sitting in a meeting with many other Christian leaders when a person with a certain celebrity status was given the opportunity to address the gathering. His role was to call the church out for its lack of involvement in global social issues, such as AIDS in Africa, poverty, and social justice. The primary Biblical basis for his challenge was Jesus’ words in Matthew 25:31-46. He argued that Jesus will judge us based on whether or not we serve the poor and imprisoned, and, on this basis, determine whether we are part of the kingdom or not. Since then, I have heard others treat this as established truth.
Admittedly, this is an unsettling and difficult passage. It does seem to say that our service to the poor and imprisoned of the world will determine whether we receive eternal judgement or eternal life.
But, an even more disturbing reality is this – If the position stated above is the correct understanding of this passage, then everything we believe about salvation by faith alone, independent of our works, is wrong, and we need to tear many pages out of our Bibles – Romans 2-4, Ephesians 2, and the entire book of Galatians, for starters. This is not a peripheral issue – it goes to the core of the Gospel and our faith.