The Sheep and the Goats

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him…he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left” (vv. 31–33).  

- Matthew 25:31–46

According to Matthew’s gospel, only two kinds of people walk this earth: those who love Jesus and those who do not. There is no middle ground — either we are for the Savior or against Him (12:30). On one hand, Herod’s evil plans showed him to be one of the Lord’s enemies (2:16–18), and on the other, Matthew’s leaving all to follow Christ indicated what side he was on (9:9). Then there was the rich young ruler, whose seeming love of money placed him on the wrong side (19:16–22). Those who refuse to invest their goods and talents for the sake of the kingdom have no love for Jesus, but the people who put their gifts to work for God will be seen for the kingdom servants they are (25:14–30).

The picture of final judgment in today’s passage is further evidence that all people will be grouped into two categories at the end of this age. Most Christians have heard the account of the sheep and the goats used as an exhortation for the church to meet the needs of all the destitute. Certainly, we must care even for the needy who are not part of the covenant community. After all, the Mosaic law encourages generosity toward strangers (Lev. 23:22), a principle not limited to the old covenant era (Luke 14:12–14). Not inappropriately, believers have served all mankind based on Matthew 25:31–46. However, Jesus in today’s passage is not dealing first and foremost with poor people in general. Instead, He is referring primarily to our care for other Christians. Since Christ identifies His disciples as His brothers elsewhere in Matthew (12:46–50), the story of the sheep and the goats concerns our treatment of other believers (see 25:40). John Calvin and other commentators recognize this point.

This does not mean that doing good to believers merits salvation. Jesus is merely teaching that “if anyone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar” (1 John 4:20). True love for the Savior begets love for all those united to Him by faith. Even if only in simple deeds, the sheep are to serve one another, especially the needy. Goats, though they dwell among God’s flock today, disregard the sheep and overlook their needs. Thus, they manifest hatred for the One to whom the sheep are united and deserve only a dreadful fate (Matt. 25:41–46).

Coram Deo

We actually serve the Lord when we do simple acts of service for one another. It does not take much effort to make a meal for new parents or a family who has recently lost a loved one. A call or visit to the lonely or shut-in takes mere moments but can reap lasting rewards. The donation of time, money, or supplies to your church’s mercy ministry is an act of love for Jesus. Our profession of faith is invalid if we are not engaged in these or other similar activities.

Passages for Further Study

Leviticus 25:35–38
Jeremiah 22:1–5
Romans 15:24–29
1 John 3:16–18

First published in Tabletalk Magazine, an outreach of Ligonier. For permissions, view our Copyright Policy.