Weatherford Democrat

October 19, 2012

COLUMN: The sheep and the goats, heaven and hell

The Rev. Lou Tiscione
CNHI

— What’s the “bottom line”? Jesus taught about the “bottom line.” One of the most frequent themes of Jesus’ teaching was judgment. Jesus said that there will be a final accounting given to God. (Matthew 11:20-24) He instructed His disciples to fear the one who can destroy both body and soul in hell. (Matthew 10:28)

Jesus was a master teacher. He used parables to teach His followers about the Kingdom of God. He also used those same parables to confuse those who were destined to perish. (Matthew 13:10-17 and Isaiah 6:9-10) All the parables of Jesus have a cumulative effect. That is, each one builds upon the previous. The final parable, Matthew 25:31-48, is about judgment. It is undeniable to all who read the Bible that God is holy and He will judge the world. Judgment has been given to the risen Lord Jesus. When He returns, He will put an end to all that is unholy and evil.

We would do well to examine that final parable that is referred to as the “Parable of the Sheep and the Goats.” For the sake of brevity, I want to draw attention to the beginning and the end of the parable.

Jesus gave the time of judgment. He said, “When the Son of Man comes in His glory.” (Matthew 25:31) The exact date was not specified. But, clearly, the day of judgment is what the prophet Joel referred to as “the Day of the Lord.” The apostle John was given a vision of that day, “Then I saw a great white throne and Him who was seated on it. From His presence earth and sky fled away, and no place was found for them.” (Revelation 20:11)

Jesus used the title “Son of Man” when speaking of Himself. This was a familiar Old Testament description of the Messiah, the king of righteousness. Jesus said that He would come in His glory. That is, when He returns, He will not come as the savior, but as the king who has all glory and honor and power. He will come sitting on His glorious throne. This is figurative language describing the absolute power and authority that Jesus possesses and will exercise.

The initial actions of King Jesus are clearly stated. Jesus said that He will have all nations gathered before Him. No one will escape this divine appointment. Immediately, Jesus said that He will separate the sheep and the goats. The sheep are described as those “who are blessed by My Father.” (Matthew 25:34) They are said to inherit the kingdom that was prepared for them from the foundation of the world. In other words the sheep are those whom God chose in eternity to be in Christ. (Ephesians 1:4-6)

In the parable, Jesus described characteristics of sheep. The sheep discovered that as they ministered to Jesus’ brothers, they were ministering to Jesus. The sheep’s behavior was not a checklist of reasons for being “sheep.” It was a declarative statement that described the behavior of sheep.

The Bible teaches that those who are in Christ live differently by God’s grace in the Holy Spirit. In the context of the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats, sheep live like sheep. James wrote about the genuineness of saving faith. “So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” (James 2:17) The Apostle Paul also wrote concerning the lives of “sheep” (believers). “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.” (Galatians 5:16)

The parable ends with the fact of an eternal hell. Jesus said, “Depart from Me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.” We learn that the basic horror of hell is separation from God. The “goats” are commanded by Jesus to depart from Him. Their eternal home was prepared by God for the devil and his angels. The goats will share this residence forever. The bottom line is the reality of heaven and hell. God has chosen those who will live with Him forever. This truth may not tickle men’s ears, but God has promised to raise the dead by His word in concert with His spirit.