New Testament · Parables · Simple Truths

Parable Surprises – Sheep and Goats

I have learned much in our journey through the parables. Not enough, but much. As this is the last of my posts in this series on the parables, I would appreciate your thoughts and comments. I am considering a series on the miracles of the Lord Jesus and would appreciate if this is of interest to any who may be following.

On to our parable! This parable is of sheep and goats. Two animals that are easily distinguishable. I think!

Lets read the passage and then dig in.

Matthew 25:31-46

31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. 34 Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? 38 And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? 39 And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ 40 And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’ 41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ 44 Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ 45 Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ 46 And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

Questions to Consider

Who were the audience?

The disciples, those who were following Him.

When did the Lord give this parable?

Jesus spoke this parable two days prior to the Passover.

When Jesus had finished all these sayings, he said to his disciples, 2 “You know that after two days the Passover is coming, and the Son of Man will be delivered up to be crucified.” – Mat 26:1-2 ESV

Where did the Lord teach the parable?

Jesus had been teaching His future apostles, those who would lead the ekklesia, truths on the mount of Olives

As he sat on the Mount of Olives the disciples came to him… – Mat 24:3a ESV

Why did the Lord give this message?

The purpose of this message as I understand it, is to instruct His men of the extent and power of His Kingdom, of the coming judgement, of His method of judging and can be outlined as follows

  • The King has authority of all nations (The nations are gathered before Him)
  • The King divides the nations into two groups (This implies they were together previously)
  • The King rewards both the groups on behavior towards the “least of these my brothers
  • The King judges based on linking the least of these my brethren with the King
  • The King will judge with surprising outcomes for both groups.

What was the message for the original audience?

During the time of this parable, goats and sheep were not as we see them today. Their appearance was not as distinct as we find today. Consider Genesis 30:32, where Moses describes both sheep and goat as being speckled and spotted.

let me pass through all your flock today, removing from it every speckled and spotted sheep and every black lamb, and the spotted and speckled among the goats, and they shall be my wages. – Gen 30:32 ESV

It was not uncommon for a flock to contain both sheep and goats during this time and this parable would ring true to the original hearers.

Consider Leviticus 5:6

he shall bring to the LORD as his compensation for the sin that he has committed, a female from the flock, a lamb or a goat… – Lev 5:6 ESV

The original audience, the disciples were listening to the Messiah speak of the separation of two types of animals from a flock, not based on appearance, but based on the actions of the animal. What they did.

But I must ask. The sheep did things for the least of these my brothers. These things that were performed on the weak and powerless were acts of mercy and kindness. That seems obvious at this point.

But I need to understand who the Lord is referring to when he mentions “the least of these my brothers”?

I have always, until forced to consider it in this post, assumed the “the least of these my brothers” to be the physical, national brothers of the Messiah. Those who have their roots in the nation of Israel. Of course this is a result of my previous fascination with dispensational theology, which I have abandoned.

But ideas linger, and this is one that may be challenged with this passage. This needs to be discussed a bit later, as I am drifting a wee bit!

What is the message for us today?

One item that I have always assumed is that those who are “the least of these my brothers” is referring to the poor, weak and imprisoned, sometimes defining the least of these my brothers as Jewish “brothers” of Jesus.

As an aside, as many of you know, I live in Houston Tx, and the streets are full of the poor and destitute. My wife, who works in a store on a busy intersection, often comments on the organized efforts of the “poor and destitute” beggars who drive up to the intersection and pile out of a relatively nice vehicle, and take their stations for the day. Scam artists are out there and we need to have discernment in our efforts to be loving and kind. One characteristic we watch for are the condition of the shoes. If the “beggar” has nice shoes, it seems apparent they are not poor and destitute.

But I digress

Who are we, as believers to consider as “the least of these my brothers“, when we hear the Lord speak in this parable. I find it curious that the Lord appended His description of “the least of these” with “my brothers” Of course I can find no specific instance in the New Testament where national Israel is defined as Jesus family/brothers, but I do find multiple instances where the New Testament describes believers as His brothers. Consider Matthew 12:48-49, where His mother and brothers were requesting His presence while He was teaching.

48 But he replied to the man who told him, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” 49 And stretching out his hand toward his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! – Mat 12:48-49 ESV

Another passage that comes to mind is when the author of Hebrews reminds us that Jesus is not ashamed to call those sons that He is bringing into glory his brothers.

11 For he who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one source. That is why he is not ashamed to call them brothers, – Heb 2:11 ESV

Jesus’ family are those who are His disciples. His brethren (and sistren) are those of faith, not of the flesh. This may seem obvious to some, but I did not catch this truth in the story of the sheep and goats for decades.

Please understand this specific teaching in Matthew 25 does not allow us to ignore the needs of the general population. This is not the intent of the parable nor my wanderings in this post. Each of us are to seek to relieve others of suffering, but as the apostle Paul teaches in Galatians, there is a priority of believers for believers to minister to.

10 So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith. – Gal 6:10 ESV

One concluding thought.

If Jesus is referring to believers as the poor and destitute that are receiving the mercy, that tells us that it is the believers that are in the prisons, that are hungry, thirsty, poor, naked and sick. Believers are not exempt from the suffering of this world, and may be exposed to greater suffering based on our identification with our Brother Jesus.

As believers, we need to prioritize our efforts on those we know as followers as the Lord leads us. My understanding of this parable has taken a turn for the better after my simple rumination. Will you look for ways to bless those in the Body of Christ, those in the Family of the Son, who are suffering, and going without.

May the Lord help us all to know the best way to minister.

Please don’t forget to let me know your thoughts on a future series on the Miracles of the Lord Jesus. Your input and suggestions are always welcome.


Thanks again for coming to visit. I hope you found something of interest in this post and would appreciate a comment, to begin a discussion.

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