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Parables Bible Study 15: The Sheep and the Goats

Title: Parables Bible Study 15: The Sheep and the Goats

Subject: The Kingdom of Heaven and the Second Coming

Age: 13+ years

Location: Matthew 25:31-46

Handout for note taking: Bible Study Worksheet

Begin the Bible Study with a prayer. Read the passage, and then allow time for quiet reflection. Share the following notes on the parable.

The Parable of the Sheep and the Goats, the Last Judgment, is also known as the Judgment of Works. It is found within Matthew Chapter 25, a chapter of parables. The two parables prior, the Parable of the Ten Virgins and that of the Talents, emphasize:
"How the time and. . .gifts are to be sanctified: that is, by unselfishly putting them at the service of others, particularly of those in need. Since these two are specifically parables ‘of the kingdom,' it is obvious that, for one who believes in Christ, doing God's will in this life is the basis on which he will be judged and gain entrance into the kingdom.[1]"

This parable is a Sunday reading that ends the preparatory readings for Great and Holy Lent. It is a wake up call to Christians and a reminder that at the end of each life comes judgment, and inheritance of the kingdom will come to those who cared for the needy. This is not just a parable but it is also a description of the second coming and the universal judgment of humanity. The parabolic element of this passage is found in verses 32 and 33. It is a judgment scene, apocalyptic scene, and a prophecy of things to come.

Let's compare the second coming to Christ's first. In the Lord's incarnation He arrives humbly, a small child born in a cave and manger. In His dreadful Second Coming, He will arrive in glory with His holy angels, on His throne of judgment and all of humanity will be brought before Him. Acts 1.11 says, "…Men of Galilee, why do stand gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will so come in like manner as you saw Him go into heaven." As our Lord was escorted by the heavenly bodiless powers to heaven so also will He return.

In terms of glory, our Lord is about to be crucified, but His death was a voluntary self-sacrifice. John Chapter 16 offers a description of the Last Judgment that will ring in the disciples ears as they witness His upcoming arrest, trial, and crucifixion, and it will provide them hope and a lens through which to view the humiliation of their God. Jesus deliberately uses the title, "Son of Man," to remind us of the permanent connection and union that exists between God and us, through Himself. He is forever and ever, the perfect God-Man, and as such will He come to judge the living and the dead.

In a comparison of sheep and goats, a goat is wild, it is not easily led, a goat obviously produces no wool, and it often seeks to wander near cliffs and down in ravines. Sheep, however, are mild, they hear and obey the voice of their shepherd, they produce wool and milk, and their nature is gentle. The criteria for the final judgment include mercy towards the needy. The actions described by the Lord have an echo of the words of the prophet Isaiah, specifically in 58.1-12. The necessary combination of the fast and prayer is all of the religious life with works of mercy.

It includes works produced from faith. Consider James chapter 2 in which he discusses how we act toward our brothers, favoring the well-dressed and shunning those less fortunate. We can fool ourselves when it comes to our faith, therefore a mere intellectual or spiritualized faith can not save, but rather, acts of mercy to the needy can save our souls.

The characters of this parable include the King. The Lord refers to Himself now as a King. Luke 22.30 includes another reference to the kingdom, "that you may eat and drink at My table in My kingdom, and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel." John 18.36 is the verse that contains Jesus' message, "My kingdom is not of this world…"

The reward for the righteous is for those who inherit the Kingdom receive the blessing of the Father. This is the greatest gift of all! In verse 34 Jesus tells the righteous of their inheritance. Those blessed by the Father do not receive nor do they take the Kingdom. Rather, they are blessed to receive it. The invitation to receive the Kingdom from the Father makes sense, because once God has become your Father, by doing His will, then His Kingdom belongs to you because your are His child[2]. The Kingdom naturally belongs to the children of God.

For further consideration:

  • Romans 8.17, "We are the children of God: and if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ."
  • Ephesians 1.11, "In Him also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestined according to the purpose of Him who works all things according to the counsel of His will."
  • 1 Peter 1.4-5, "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for you"

The good are told, "Come, you blessed of my Father." The bad are told, "Depart from Me, you cursed." They are condemned. While our blessing comes from the Father, our condemnation finds its origin with and in us, essentially we condemn ourselves. In other words, God does not condemn, in fact the place of torment was not even prepared for humanity but for the Devil and his angels. However, since humanity chose to participate with the Devil, we enter into a place of torment that is in-human, not even created for humans, fit not for men. On the other hand, God had prepared for humanity from before all time the Kingdom. Imagine then the great pain our God must feel when one of His children of their own free will decide to go to that place not created or intended for them.

The good exhibit the spiritual maturity and condition of being unaware of their charity, see verse 37, "Lord, when did we see You hungry…?" Jesus is found in the poor and needy. Verses 40 and 45 tell us this. Jesus identifies with the person in need through His love, care, and compassion. Jesus is the person in need through the incarnation and His mystical "taking on" of all humanity; Jesus as prophesied, the one low and despised and therefore missed and overlooked. See Zechariah 9.9, "Behold, thy King cometh unto thee: He is just, and having salvation; lowly, and riding upon an ass." See also Isaiah 53.3, "He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not."

For consideration and reflection: What is the fruit of our faith?

Allow time for discussion. If time permits, read the passage once more.

End the bible study with a prayer.

[1] The Parables, Archbishop Dimitry, SVS Press, p. 96.
[2] Ibid., p. 99.

Prepared by Fr. Evan Armatas

Click the link to return to the Parables Bible Study page or continue to the next Parables Bible Study session: The Publican and the Pharisee.