Matthew 25:31-46 – Parable of the Sheep and the Goats
How does this parable connect with the theme we have been studying in these two chapters?
What is the key theme of this parable?
Why are the people called “sheep” and “goats?”
When are they separated? Why? What principle do we learn from this?
What is the reward for the sheep?
Does this passage teach that the believers are saved through good deeds? What would you say to someone who argued that this passage does indeed teach that?
What is the evidence that these people are indeed the real believers?
What do we learn about the “sheep” and their motivation in verses 37-38?
What do we learn from this passage about important things we should be doing while awaiting for His return?
How are these things different from the worldly perspective of what is important?
What does verse 40 teach us about serving God?
What is the punishment for the goats?
Why are they being punished?
Who is hell originally prepared for?
What can you do to ensure that you are a sheep and not a goat?
Verses on Self-Examination:
2 Corinthians 13:5 – Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you fail to meet the test!
James 1:23-25 – For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.
Lamentations 3:40 – Let us test and examine our ways, and return to the Lord!
Job 13:23 – How many are my iniquities and sins? Make known to me my rebellion and my sin.
Galatians 6:4 – But each one must examine his own work, and then he will have reason for boasting in regard to himself alone, and not in regard to another.
2 Corinthians 6:17 – Therefore go out from their midst, and be separate from them, says the Lord, and touch no unclean thing; then I will welcome you.
Numbers 16:21 – “Separate yourselves from among this congregation, that I may consume them in a moment.”
1 Corinthians 15:33 – Do not be deceived: “Bad company ruins good morals.”
Verse by Verse Commentary
1. This is the last warning in the Olivet Discourse – In the first part of chapter 24, Jesus tells the disciples about His second coming, specifically what the signs will be and what His second coming will actually look like (visible and public to the whole world). After that, He shares several application centered parables reminding believers of the need to be ready. Each of the five parables He shares contains this basic point of being prepared for the second coming and not being surprised. Being prepared means living our life with the knowledge that He will return and we are accountable and then living our lives accordingly.
The parable of the sheep and goats contains this same basic reminder of being ready, but from a slightly different angle. Like in the other parables, Jesus mentions that there will be a separation. True believer will be ready and will be rewarded. False believers will not be living for Him and will be punished for the wrong they have done. The twist in this parable is that many of the false believers will not even realize that they are in the wrong group and are unprepared.
Sheep and goats are quite similar. They are similar sizes. Both have wool coats. Their diet is very similar. Even the sounds they make are difficult to distinguish. Of course they are not the same species. A sheep has 54 chromosomes and a goat has 60. Is Jesus teaching us about chromosomes?
Jesus picked two very similar animals (and He often likes to use sheep in His parables anyway) to highlight the fact that many people who think that they are believers or in some ways act like a believer in fact are not. A goat living with a flock of sheep could go through his life thinking he was a sheep (if indeed goats think like that!) Likewise a person could have knowledge of God and think that he/she is saved, but in fact not be.
Give 5-10 minutes for each person to write a list. The list should contain a middle column titled sheep/goat. These are characteristics that both a real believer and an unbeliever could both have. Another column should contain the characteristics of a goat only and the last column should contain the characteristics of a sheep only. After giving sufficient time, ask people to share and discuss.
Application: Going to church does not guarantee one’s salvation. Neither does praying, reading the Bible, tithing, or even serving in ministry. A real believer will have evidence of a changed life such as repentance, fruit of the Spirit, a zeal for the gospel, and a heart to serve those from whom there is no reward and no one else sees (like we will see in this passage.)
2. The sheep are commended – King Jesus will praise the sheep for their selfless behavior. Note the types of things He praises them for: feeding the hungry, showing hospitality to strangers, visiting the sick or prisoner. All of these things are acts of kindness shown to people who very likely cannot repay you. What is more, they are acts of kindness demonstrated in largely private places like prisons and hospitals and your own home. He does not commend them for their great singing voices on the stage in church, for their public acts of charity, or for their sermons delivered to thousands of people. Keep in mind that these can be very good things, but both real or false believers may do these things for very different motivations. You would very seldom see a person motivated by money or recognition visit a prisoner or patient, though you may very likely see such a person on stage.
Recently I was reading about a television and radio preacher, Joyce Meyer. She travels on a private jet and in the lobby of her office is a set of drawers that cost $23,000. Her salary is millions and millions of dollars. Only God can judge her salvation, but it should be noted that King Jesus does NOT commend people for their business savvy, expensive furnishings, ability to rake in charitable donations, smooth messages on television or anything of the like. This is not the kind of “religion” Jesus had in mind. See James 1:27.
Application: We should willingly serve those who cannot give anything in return. We should willingly serve secretly when no one or almost no one will know.
3. The sheep will be rewarded – The sheep are blessed by the Father. Their reward is truly great. Their inheritance is right of entrance into the eternal kingdom. Notice that this kingdom is “prepared for you since the creation of the world.” It is a place to eternally celebrate our relationship with Christ. Eden was a paradise created for Adam and Eve. And this kingdom is a paradise created for you. Using the word “you” makes it very personal.
These days some people like to have things custom made. Perhaps they get a custom made car or a custom made boat or a custom made house. Those are specifically made with the eventual owner in mind. As far as I can remember, I have only ever had one thing custom made. In our last apartment we had the kitchen redone, and we had the kitchen shelf done. Most kitchen shelves in that complex are designed for people much shorter than me. At 6ft 3in it is really a chore for me to bend down over the shelf to cook, clean, or wash dishes. So we had the renovator, make them much taller than normal. I can tell you, it felt really good washing dishes in that kitchen. It was “my” kitchen, designed for me!
In a similar way, God has custom made the eternal kingdom for you. John 14:1-3 even tells us that He is making you a house there! To God you are not a nameless, faceless member of the masses. He knows us by name (Isaiah 43:1).
4. We serve Christ Himself by serving those around us – See verse 40. God is invisible. Thus it is sometimes difficult to know how we love someone whom we cannot see? How do we give to someone who is not tangible? Do we throw money up into the sky and hope He catches it? Do we yell loudly like to someone standing at the top of a tall building, “Hello up there!” Do we remain in our room and sing over and over again “I love you, I love you, I love?”
The answer is right here. We serve God by serving those around us. We love God by loving those around us (1 John 4:20). Simply put, this is the way God has designed for us to show our love for Him.
5. The goats will be punished – You cannot see any second chances here because there won’t be any, which makes it all the more important to prepare now! In the above verses we see that the eternal kingdom is custom designed for us. Is hell custom designed for anyone? It is. But it is not custom designed for people. It was actually designed for Satan and his angels (demons). What does this tell us about God’s character?
At the creation of the world He designed heaven for you. It is personal and He wants you to go there. He did not design hell for you. It is not meant for you. You are not supposed to go there. It is not where He wants you. The lesson is this: God wants people to be saved! He wants you to be saved. He wants your family to be saved. He wants your friends to be saved. In fact, He wants everyone to be saved (2 Peter 3:9).
God is a just and holy judge. It is not in His character to allow sin to go unpunished. He will judge the sinner. But He will do so in a sense “reluctantly,” with great sorrow in His heart for what should have been.
6. The goats did not evidence the life of a believer – If Jesus Himself appeared, they probably would have been willing to serve Jesus. After all, even the worldly person will flatter or trip over themselves to show special attention to powerful people. But Jesus did not appear to them. And thus their true motives and hearts were revealed. When they opportunities to serve God by serving the needy around them (who could not return the favor), they chose not to. Why? Because their hearts were not regenerated.
Jesus is not teaching good works salvation (which is clearly refuted many times in Scripture). But the works do reveal people’s hearts. The sheep’s actions were evidence of their salvation and were worthy of praise while the goat’s actions showed that they never truly belonged to Christ.
Application: What will you do this week to apply what you have learned today? How can you evaluate your own spiritual condition and ensure that you are a sheep? Is there anyone in need you can serve purely out of love for Christ?