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ON the SHEEP and the GOATS
Concerning Matt. 25:31-46
First of all, it seems to us that the passage in view is the conclusion of a body of the sayings of Jesus, begun in ch. 24:3 when "the disciples came to Him privately." The CLNT, and rightly so, I think, puts this entire passage in quotes. Then ch. 26:1 indicates a break, or a change of context, with the words, "when Jesus finishes all these sayings."
Immediately prior to this Jesus had spoken words against the scribes and Pharisees in ch. 23, ending that discourse speaking of their undergoing the judging of Gehenna (vs. 33), and then speaking of Jerusalem as a whole (vs. 37-39) saying, "left is your house to you desolate." Note that here He spoke of wanting to assemble them "in the manner a hen is assembling her brood under her wings" (vs. 37). That would have been an assembling for care and protection. But this was not to be. We suggest that the context of chapters 24 and 25 are the generation that led up to the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70 (Mat. 23:36; 24:34; Mk. 13:30; Lu. 21:32).
So instead of a protective gathering, we see the prediction of the demolishing of the buildings of the sanctuary, which we all know happened in A.D. 70. Instead of an assembling as a brood, we see the prediction of their fleeing and taking flight (ch. 24:16-21). Did this not also occur? We see "the consummation" spoken of in 24:14 was speaking of "the end" of their system of worship, with the destruction of the sanctuary and of Jerusalem. By this time the evangel of the kingdom had been heralded in that whole inhabited area (the Roman Empire). But to press this point is not the intent of this study.
From 24:23 to the end of the chapter Jesus gives various descriptions and characteristics regarding "the presence of the Son of Mankind." Verse 31 speaks again of an assembling through the use of messengers with a trumpet (a figure of a "message"). This assembling is of His called-out folks, the body of Christ. In vss. 37-42 we see examples of the suddenness of His judgment. The chapter ends with an example of His coming "in an hour which you are not supposing" (vs. 44), and "on a day for which he is not hoping and in an hour which he knows not" (vs. 50). We suggest that in all of these, He is referring to coming to Jerusalem in the final judgment on Israel which ended the old covenant age. In the days of Noah (vs. 37) there was not yet the distinction of "Jews and non-Jews." A few were righteous, most were unrighteous. The point of this example is the suddenness, the unexpectedness, of His visitation in judgment. In vs. 40, the two in the field would not likely be the one a Jew, the other a Gentile. Rather, we conclude that these both would be Judeans of the 1st century AD, but one suffers His judgment and is "taken" as were those who were taken by the flood of Noah’s time (vss. 37-39). The example of the "faithful and prudent slave" as compared to "that evil slave" (vss. 45-51) is set within the same lord's house. Note that in vs. 51, the slave who is “cut asunder” is appointed his part "with the hypocrites" -- the same term Jesus had just been applying to the scribes and Pharisees (ch. 23), who were still His people, His house! Note that although "cut asunder" the person in the parable is still "appointed his part with the hypocrites" – who had not been killed, but had just lost their place of authority in God’s kingdom. This is hyperbole, which Jesus frequently used. These folks were still able to weep and gnash their teeth (a post-A.D. 70 experience):
“and so he will proceed to be cutting him in two [hyperbole for: severely punish; or,
metaphor: cut him off from employment] and then he will proceed putting (placing; setting)
his part with the perverse, opinionated scholars who have all the answers and are
hyper-critical and overly judgmental [hupokrites; cf note on Mat. 6:2]. The weeping,
moaning and the grinding of the teeth will continue being in that place and
situation.” (Mat. 24:51)
Now we come to ch. 25:1-13, and we see the same line of thinking continued. Some were ready for the coming of the bridegroom; some were stupid and unprepared. But all were "virgins," all were part of the same society: His people. In Mat. 15:24 Jesus said:
“I was not commissioned and sent off as an emissary – except into the midst of those
sheep having been destroyed, the ones that belong to the house of Israel.”
Some had been prepared to receive Him; some had not changed their thinking (e.g., through John the Baptist’s preaching to them) and their hearts were still unprepared to enter the kingdom.
Next, in vss. 14-3, He gives the example of "a man traveling," who "calls his own slaves" and gives money for them to work with, then he is returning "and settling accounts with them." The faithful slaves are rewarded; the "wicked and slothful slave" suffers loss and is cast into outer darkness (vs. 30), and again we read: “In that place there will continue being the weeping (or: lamenting) and the grinding of the teeth” -- along with the hypocrites of ch. 24:51. What happened to him? He simply lost his job and was removed from his position in the household, or business. He was now homeless and jobless. But he is still a part of the same society, one of God's people.
Now we come to the wonderful (for I suggest that this is part of the "good news") passage in vss. 31-46. Why should we suppose that all of a sudden Jesus has changed the format or the setting or the subject matter of this long discourse? I suggest that the problem lies in the translation of ta ethnē as "the nations." In Kittel's Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, Vol. II, p. 369, we find:
"'ethnos' in the NT. 1. This word, which is common in Gk. from the very first, probably comes
from 'ethos,' and means 'mass' or 'host' or 'multitude' bound by the same manners, customs
or other distinctive features. Applied to men, it gives us the sense of people; but it can also
be used of animals in the sense of 'herd' or of insects in the sense of 'swarm'.... In most
cases 'ethnos' is used of men in the sense of 'a people'."
It seems to us that since Jesus is speaking in terms of sheep and kids (i.e., IMMATURE goats), that the words "herds" or "multitudes" may be more appropriate for this passage. All along, up to this point in these sayings, He has been referring to His people, His household. A kid was a clean animal and could be used in a sacrifice. He was not severing the sheep from the dogs or the swine. He was separating the sheep away from the kids. This is something habitually done; and again, both groups are clean animals, were used in sacrifices, and are a part of the Shepherd's herd. We submit that this gathering is the same assembling spoken of in ch. 24:31. If you insist on the word being translated "nations," then I suggest a word of clarity be added and it read, "gathered [from] all the nations." This sense seems consistent to the entire passage.
Further, it would seem from the picture being drawn that since the "Shepherd" is severing one species from another, that it is evident that both up to this point have been a part of His herd. Jesus is here using this figure to once again show that when He is coming He makes a distinction and a decision: such as between the wise and the stupid, or between the faithful and the useless, as we just discussed, above. This is a time of reward for good, or the suffering of loss. A.E. Knoch has well pointed out the absence of “believing” as being an ingredient in this figure. All that is discussed is good works, or the absence thereof. The parable is not about “eternal salvation,” but about a judgment upon the Jewish leadership, and upon the Jewish Zealots who rebelled against Rome in A.D. 66. Cf Josephus, Wars of the Jews. It is also about Christ’s sheep (His followers) receiving “the Father's promise (or: the promise pertaining to, and from, the Father; or, as a genitive of apposition: the promise which is the Father)” (Acts 1:4).
But let us look further, at the terms "sheep" and "brethren." In John 10:24-27 we see Jesus saying to the Jews (vs. 26), "But you are not believing, seeing that you are not My sheep, according as I said to you." These were Israelites, Jews, but they were not His sheep. Verse 27 gives a designation of sheep, "My sheep are constantly hearing and listening to [implying: obeying] My voice, and I Myself am progressively (or: continuously) knowing them by intimate experience, and they are progressively (or: habitually) following Me." Recall Matt. 25:12 where the bridegroom said to the stupid virgins, "I am not acquainted with you." In a broad sense, Israel was figured as sheep (e.g. Ps. 100:3; Isa. 53:6; Jer. 50:6; etc.). However, we see Jesus making a distinction here in John 10:26, as He did between virgins and servants, here in Matt. 25. Perhaps this is what Paul was referring to in Rom. 11:7 where he said, "yet the chosen encountered it. Now the rest [of Israel] were calloused ..." This would fall in line with Lu. 12:32,
“Stop fearing (or: Do not continue being wary), little flock, because it delights the Father
(or: because the Father thought it good, and thus, approved) to give the reign (rule;
kingship; kingdom; sovereign influence and activities) to you folks.”
Matt. 13:11 gives further light, where Jesus says to the disciples,
“To (or: For; With) you folks it has been given to intimately experience and insightfully
know the secrets (mysteries) of the reign and dominion of the heavens (or: the kingdom
which is the heavens; the royal rule which pertains to and has its origin in the heavens, and
which emanates from the atmospheres), yet it has not been given to those people.”
In Lu. 8:21 Jesus makes this statement: "My mother and My brothers are these who are hearing the word of, and from, God and doing it." Paul refers to this same group when he speaks of those "who are called according to purpose, because whom He foreknew, He designates beforehand, also, to be conformed to the image of His Son, for Him to be Firstborn among many brothers." (Rom.8:28, 29) Paul uses the term "brothers" throughout his letters to refer to those of the body of Christ. Thus, how you treat His "body" is how you treat Him.
To differentiate between the body of Christ and the Israelites in general, Paul inserts the qualifying phrase "my relatives according to the flesh" when he calls Israelites "brothers" in Rom. 9:3. In Rom. 10:1 Paul distinguishes between Israel, who he had just been talking about in the previous verses, and his brothers in Christ when he says, "Indeed, brothers, the delight of my heart and my petition to God for THEIR sake [or, "on behalf of them;" some later MSS read "on behalf of Israel"] is for salvation." Thus, the common assumption that the phrase "the least of My brothers" refers to the nation of Israel, in Matt. 25:40, is, I think, erroneous. As noted in Lu. 8:21, above, Christ (here, in this parable, “the King”) uses the term “brother” to refer to those who are DOING the Word of, and from, God. This parable is about those who live in the Love of Christ, as contrasted those who do not “abide in the Vine” (Jn. 15:1-10). Those, in Jn. 15, who did not produce His fruit (love for others), or do not abide in Him in order to do so, are “cast into the Fire.” But here, keep in mind 1 Cor. 3:10-17 where those who suffered loss were “saved by Fire” (vs. 15).
What is the difference between the sheep and the kids? The sheep produced the fruit of the Spirit -- Love -- without ever taking note of it. They were not aware of this fruit. It was the automatic produce of the mature life of Christ that was within them. It was evident that they were disciples ("By this all shall be knowing that you are My disciples, if you should be having love for one another." Jn. 13:35). Their good works were just a mature outflow of His life. Their reward was to "enjoy the allotment of the kingdom."
What of the kids? They were just still "kids." -- pardon the pun. There was no fruit of the Spirit in their lives. To change the metaphor, they just needed to be pruned to produce fruit. As you know, the word translated "chastening" in the CLNT is the noun "kolasis," from the verb "koladzo," which Thayer lists as, "1. properly: to lop, prune, as trees, wings. 2. to check, curb, restrain." Among the meanings Kittel lists are "to cut short," "to lop," "to trim." Consider the metaphor in John 15:
1. "I, Myself, am (exist being) the true (genuine; real) Grapevine, and My Father is
(continues being) the One who tends the soil (the Farmer; the One who tills and works the
Land; the Cultivator; the Gardener).
2. "Every tender branch (shoot or twig which can easily be broken) within Me not
habitually bearing (bringing forth; = producing) fruit He regularly lifts up and takes it
away. And every one consistently bearing the fruit He periodically clears (or:
seasonally cleanses) by pruning, to the end that it can continue bearing more (a greater
amount of) fruit.
Changing the metaphor again, let us look at Heb. 12:5-7,
"My son, do not be neglecting (giving little care to) the Lord's discipline (education, child-
training), neither be exhausted (dissolved) being continually convicted (exposed,
reproved, put to the test) under Him, for whom the Lord is loving (continuously loves), He
is continuously disciplining (child-training), and He is repeatedly scourging every son
whom He is taking alongside with His hands (accepting, receiving). If you are remaining
under discipline (child-training), God is continuously being brought (offered) toward you
as sons. For what son exists whom a father is not disciplining?" (JMNT)
So these kids are not ready to enjoy the allotment of the kingdom -- YET!
But Christ is treating them as sons! Returning to the metaphor of a branch being lopped off, we see in John 15:6 that "If anyone should not be remaining in Me, he is (or, was -- aorist) cast out as a branch, and is withered (or, it withered). And they are gathering them, and into the fire are they casting them, and they are being burned." This seems quite similar to the figure of the kids being sent from Him "into the fire eonian" in Matt. 25:41.
But let's look to Romans, where Paul uses the "branch" metaphor in ch. 11:17, "Now if some of the boughs are broken out..." What happens to a bough when it is broken out of a tree? It withers, doesn't it? Is it true, then, that these kids were gathered into the fire and burned (Mat. 25:41)? It began in AD 70. But the hope is found in Rom. 11:23, "Now they also, if they should not be persisting in unbelief, will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again!" We suggest that this same principle applies to the kids that are pruned in Matt. 25:46. In Mat. 3:11b, speaking to the Jews of his day, John the Baptist said (referring to Jesus),
“He, Himself, will proceed immersing (baptizing) you folks within the midst of a set-
apart Breath-effect and Fire (or: will repeatedly submerge you to the point of saturation, in
union with [the] Holy Spirit, even to the permeation of a Sacred Attitude, as well as with [the]
In closing, let us consider Mat. 25:34, the positive side of this parable that was spoken about His sheep – His followers:
"At that time (or: point), the King (or: Reigning One) will proceed saying to the folks at
[the places to] His right, 'Come here, you folks having received words of ease and
wellness from (or: spoken well of by; or: having received the blessing of; or: bearing
thoughts, ideas, expressions and the Word of goodness from) My Father! At once come
into possession of the inheritance of, and enjoy the allotment of, [the period of, place of,
or realm of] the reign (or: kingdom; influence and activity of sovereignty) having been
prepared and made ready from a founding (a casting down [as of a foundation; or: of
seed]) of a system (or: of [the] adorned arrangement; of an arranged order; of [the] world).”
We see the sheep in action within this inheritance as we read the book of Acts. Let us also consider how Mat. 25:35-40 is an excellent example of how we should treat each other, and in doing so is again, how you treat Him:
35. "You see, I was hungry (or: I hunger) and you folks gave (or: give) to Me
[something] to eat; I was thirsty (or: I thirst), and you folks gave [something for] (or:
cause) Me to drink; I was existing being a foreigner (or: stranger), and you people
gathered Me together [with you] (= showed Me hospitality and oneness with your
36. "[I was/am] naked, and you people clothed (or: clothe) Me; I fell sick (or: become
weak), and you folks carefully looked upon (or: = visit and look out for; took oversight
of) Me; [I was/am] in prison (or: jail), and you came to Me (or: come and set your face
37. "At that point, the fair, just and rightwised folks who live in right relationship
within the Way pointed out will proceed giving a considered response to Him,
[together] saying, 'O Lord (Master), when did we see You continuing hungry, and
we nourished [You], or continuing thirsty, and we gave [something for] (or: caused)
[You] to drink?
38. "'And when did we see You a foreigner (or: stranger) and we gathered [You] and
showed [You] hospitality, or naked and we clothed [You]?
39. "'Now when did we see You continuing sick and weak or in prison (or: jail), and
we came to You?'
40. "And then, giving a decided reply, the King will proceed saying to them, 'I am
truly now saying to (or: It is true, I now tell) you folks, Upon such an amount (or: = To
the extent) that you did (or: do) and perform(ed) [it] to (or: for) one of these
belonging to the least of My brothers (used collectively: = the members of My family;
or: = those of My group or brotherhood), you did and perform [it] to and for Me!'
Paul referred to the Shepherd’s continual deciding (note: the future tense is durative, or ongoing action, in the Greek language) in Rom. 14:
10. For you see, we will all continue standing in attendance alongside on God's
elevated place (platform or stage which is ascended by steps, from which one speaks in a
public assembly; or: we will all repeatedly present ourselves at the seat, dais or throne which
is God [some MSS: Christ]),
11. for it has been written,
"I, Myself, am continuously living. The Lord [= Yahweh] is saying that in Me (by
Me; to Me; for Me) every knee will repeatedly bend in worship, or, to sit down
(or: I live, says the Lord, because every knee will repeatedly bend to sit down in Me),
and every tongue will continue to agree, bind itself and promise to God (speak
out of the same word in God; publicly acclaim/acknowledge God; openly profess by
God)." [Isa. 45:23]
12. Consequently, then, each one of us will continue giving a word (presenting a
message; rendering an account) about himself to God (or: for God; by God; in God).
And In 2 Cor. 5:
10. for it continues (or: is repeatedly) necessary for us – the all (= the whole of humanity)
– to be manifested in front of Christ's elevated place (a step, platform, stage, or place
ascended by steps to speak in public assembly in the center of a city; or: = an official bench
of a judge or public official), to the end that each one may himself take into kindly
keeping, for care and provision (= be responsible for), the things [done] through (or: by
means of; or: [during our passing] through the midst of) the Body – [oriented] toward, and
facing, what things he practices (or: she accomplishes), whether good or bad, whether
serviceable or inefficient, whether fair or foul, whether capable or careless.
(or: for you see that it continues binding for us all to be set in light so as to be clearly seen in the presence of the judgment seat which is Christ, so that each should keep and provide for the things performed throughout [His] body, with a view to, and face to face with, what things [were practiced], whether virtuous or vile).
This happens here, in this life, on an ongoing basis. In Rev. 2:1 we are informed that the risen Christ is “the One continuously walking about within the midst of the seven golden lampstands,” i.e., in the midst of the called-out communities of Rev. 2 and 3. Note there that He warns of corrective actions if they do not change their thinking and their actions.
May God’s goodness overwhelm you,
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GOD'S MESSAGE OF
WHICH BRINGS GOD'S
GIFTS OF HIS SPIRIT,
HIS LIFE, HIS GRACE,
HIS POWER, HIS
FAIRNESS, HIS PEACE
AND HIS LOVE