A PARABLE is defined as “A simple story used to illustrate a moral or spiritual lesson, as told by Jesus in the Gospels.” The things said in parables are never the things meant. Jesus employed figurative, not literal language, when He spoke in parables. In this parable, Jesus does not refer to literal, but figurative sheep and goats. Many Christians have mistakenly thought that Jesus always spoke in plain, literal language. On the contrary, Matthew 13: 34 indicates that Jesus only spoke to the multitudes in parables, which He would later explain to His disciples.
Why did He hide these truths from the multitudes? And why is God’s Plan still hidden from mankind in general? We answer: In this present Age, our Lord’s teachings are spiritually helpful and life-giving to those in the right heart condition to receive them. But for the majority – blinded by Satan – to have known of the Divine purposes in advance would have doubtless been injurious to themselves; for in their blindness they would have attempted to thwart these purposes, putting themselves into a worse condition of condemnation. But thank God, in the next Age, with Satan bound, conditions will be favorable for an understanding of God’s Word!
The Setting of the Parable
Our Lord’s parable of the sheep and the goats is found in Matthew 25: 31-46. Many Christians have misapplied this parable to the Church, but it actually applies to the world, the nations, after the true Church class has been exalted with her Lord, and after Christ’s Kingdom has been set up in the earth. In verse 31 our Lord stated, “When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory.” The word “angels” is translated from the Greek word aggeloi, which means messengers. The true Church class is here meant – compare Jude 14.
The Judgment Day of the World
Then follows a description of the work of the Millennial Age (verse 32): “And before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats.” All the people of the world except for the Church – which has had its judgment day during the Gospel Age – will be before Christ’s great white throne of justice, mercy and love during their judgment time (compare Revelation 20: 11-15). “He [God] hath appointed a [thousand-year] day, in the which he will judge the world in righteousness by that man [Christ] whom he hath ordained; whereof he hath given assurance unto all men, in that he hath raised him from the dead” (Acts 17: 31).
Over six thousand years ago Adam and his entire race were judged in Eden, and the resulting sentence was death (Genesis 2: 17). None of Adam’s race is worthy of everlasting life – for all are sinners. But in God’s due time He sent His Son to die for Adam’s sin so that all may have the opportunity to accept Christ and gain eternal life.
This present Time of Trouble – which ends the Gospel Age and ushers in Christ’s Reign on the earth – will enlighten mankind to prepare them for their judgment day (Isaiah 35: 4). Eventually all the blind eyes will be opened, and all the deaf ears will be unstopped, and the knowledge of the glory of the Lord will fill the whole earth (Numbers 14: 21). But some will resist this knowledge, decline to accept Christ and will therefore not come into judgment, but after a hundred years of resistance will be destroyed (Isaiah 65: 20).
The Future Success of the Kingdom’s Work
Those in the parable have accepted Christ’s terms and have come on trial for everlasting life. This will include all in their graves, whom, the Master says, will come forth, not all at once, but gradually (John 5: 28, 29). Messiah’s Kingdom will impart the knowledge of God and of righteousness (1 Timothy 2: 4) to encourage, help and uplift all the willing and obedient. They will then be tested upon that knowledge, and chastised for correction. All such will rise more and more out of sin and death conditions – out of imperfection of mind and body, and out of immoral conduct to the full image of God on the human plane as possessed by Father Adam in the beginning.
The entire Millennial Age will be needed to bring about these blessed conditions. Righteousness will then reign as sin does now (2 Peter 3: 13). Whoever will sin will suffer promptly, hence all the nations will seek to avoid sin. The world in general will then be a grand place, where “they shall not hurt nor destroy” and where “the inhabitant shall not say, I am sick” (Isaiah 11: 9; 33: 24). The curse shall be gradually rolled away, and eventually there will be no more sorrow, no more crying, no more dying (Revelation 21: 4) – the blessing of God, bringing perfection, will prevail.
The Basis of Judgment
The trial of the Millennial Age will be an individual judgment. Everyone’s character will be fully evaluated by the Great Judge, and each person will be determined to be either a “sheep” or a “goat” – what appropriate symbols, for the chief characteristic of a literal sheep is its meekness, whereas those of literal goats are its waywardness and insubmissiveness! Every one of the sheep will be placed at the right hand of God’s favor; whereas all of the goats will fall out of His favor, though they will still continue to receive the Kingdom’s blessings, and render outward obedience to its laws (verse 33).
The Judge will not make His decision known until the “little season” which follows the conclusion of the Millennial Age. He will say to the “sheep” at His right hand, “Come, ye blessed of my Father [the kind that my Father is pleased to bless and to grant everlasting life!], inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world” (verse 34). This is not the Mediatorial Kingdom, which will end at the close of the Millennial Age, but the Kingdom which God gave to Father Adam, but which he lost through disobedience, and which Christ redeemed by the sacrifice of Himself.
Then the goats will be sentenced, as follows: “Depart from me, ye cursed [doomed ones], into everlasting fire [destruction], prepared for the devil and his angels” (verse 41). You have been granted all the privileges, blessings and experiences of the thousand years of contact with righteousness, truth and the spirit of God (Joel 2: 28); yet you only render outward obedience, but at heart are out of harmony with God. I cannot recognize you as My sheep, nor can I present you to the Father blameless and irreprovable. You must be destroyed in the Second Death.
Both the “sheep” and the “goats” show surprise at what the Judge declared to be the basis of His judgment. To the sheep He said, “I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me” (verses 35, 36). To the goat class He said, “I was an hungred, and ye gave me no meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me not in: naked, and ye clothed me not: sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not” (verses 42, 43).
Both the “sheep” and the “goats” claimed that they had no knowledge of any such experiences. When did we minister unto Thee? When did we fail to minister unto Thee? The answer was, Inasmuch as ye did it unto one of the least of these, My brethren, or did it not unto him, ye did it, or did it not, unto Me (verses 37-40; 44, 45).
Characteristics of the Sheep Class
We here see a great principle that will be operating in the Millennial Kingdom. Our Lord is not referring to people who will then be literally hungry, thirsty, naked, sick, or in prison. What does He mean? With the establishment of the Millennial Kingdom, all who possess the spirit of Love will be happy to provide spiritual food and water to the spiritually hungry and thirsty; to help cover their nakedness with the merit of Christ; to help the sin-sick back into harmony with God; and to pray for the awakening of those in the prison-house of death.
All those who take pleasure in that work will be revealing themselves as “sheep,” whereas those who will be careless respecting their consecration vow, and merely selfishly enjoy the Millennial blessings themselves, will be marking themselves as “goats.”