The Parable of

The Sheep and The Goats

The Mandates of Matthew 25 Page 4

Strangers and Pilgrims on the Earth Part II

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Bread Upon The Waters Ministry

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It's Judgment Day

We all know about this one. It is Judgment Day. No beating around the bush about that in this Parable. It is Jesus Himself doing the judging, as we are told elsewhere that He will really do (Matthew 7:21). But what's this? Instead of human beings standing in judgment before His throne, we find sheep and goats. Now remember, everyone in these Parables is a Christian, or at least considers himself such. So what we have here are two kinds of Christians. Some might say that the sheep are real Christians and the goats are pseudo-Christians. But, as we will show, what really makes the difference is obedience. And it isn't what many Christians think is obedience.

They Are All Christians

As said in the Introduction to this section, these are in fact all real Christians. To the Jews of Jesus' day, sheep and goats were two forms of the same animal.  Again, in Leviticus 16:9 & 10, it is a goat that bears the sins of Israel on the Day of Atonement; not a lamb. Both the sheep and the goats are true-believing Christians.

What Makes The Difference

Again, we know, superficially, what makes the difference between the sheep and the goats. This Parable is the least figurative of the Three. Jesus lays the reasons flat out, why the sheep are rewarded and the goats rejected: To the sheep, He said:

"Inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me"

And of course He said the opposite to the goats. And we all know the things that Jesus said the sheep did do and the goats didn't:

"I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink, I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me, I was in prison and you came to Me.".


"Come, you blessed of My Father, and inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world!"

This is all understood, though all too many Christians don’t take this seriously enough; neither the qualifications, nor the promise, nor the warning. As stated in the Introduction, you cannot take the Bible too seriously. To ignore this is to be a goat, in the terms of the Parable. For you who take it seriously, and above all, who act on it, well;

"...what eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor has entered into the heart of man, the things which God has prepared for those who love Him..."

.....are what awaits you!

For you who don’t, you better hope you don’t find out what awaits you!

The Misunderstanding

For all that is understood about this Parable, and as well known as the Parable is, there is one small matter in which it has been widely misunderstood. This misunderstanding has been the cause of so much waste of Christian time, money, and material that it boggles the mind to consider it. In some cases, it has brought severe chastisement to Christians who thought they were being obedient. It has also, in an indirect way, been the cause of needless suffering among other Christians. The whole issue surrounds the definition of one key term in the Parable. This definition is the cornerstone on which proper understanding and application of this Parable rests. Yet this key term has been widely misunderstood. The result is that many Christians who thought they were being obedient servants to God were in fact committing effective rebellion, and thus the waste. The definition I’m talking about is how we understand the phrase, "the least of these My brethren". For general purposes, we can leave out the "the least of these" and concentrate on defining "My brethren". It is of critical importance that we correctly, in strict Scriptural terms, understand who His "brethren" are.

Who are "His Brethren"?

In the eyes of the unsaved who are familiar with the Parable (many are) and in the thinking of many Christians, this phrase refers to the entire human race, without qualification. This kind of thinking is related to the idea of the universal brotherhood of all men. Although this idea sounds good, it has been astutely noted by many teachers and scholars of the Word that it is not in the Bible. That is to say, from the standpoint of Scripture, all men are not brothers! This is one of those hard Biblical truths that even Christians often find difficult to accept. The thing that makes men brothers is that they have the same father. It has been noted that although God is the Creator of all mankind, He is the Father only of Christians (and, in a different sense, the nation of Israel). You may recall that Jesus called the Jewish leaders who opposed Him, "....(sons) of your father the devil". Spiritually speaking, He meant it. See John 8:42-44. In the Old Testament, Ahab, king of Israel was severely rebuked by a prophet when he called a pagan king "my brother". See I Kings 20:31-43. In fact, the Bible says that it was that sin that led to his death. Remember that what applied to Israelites versus Gentiles in the Old Testament applies to Christians versus unbelievers in the New.

In keeping with principles of sound doctrine, we will allow Scripture to interpret Scripture. We will call upon Jesus Himself to tell us who He meant by "My brethren". He gave us His definition of the term in Matthew 12:46-50:

  1. While He was still talking to the multitudes, behold, His mother and His brothers stood outside, seeking to speak with Him.

  2. Then one said to Him, "Look, Your mother and Your brothers are standing outside, seeking to speak with You."

  3. But he answered and said to the one who told Him, "Who is my mother and who are my brothers?"

  4. And He stretched out His hand toward His disciples and said, "Here are My mother and My brothers!

  5. For whoever does the will of My Father in heaven is My brother and sister and mother."

Jesus told us that His brothers are those who are obedient to God. He refused to even acknowledge His blood relatives as His brothers! Which is to say, "His brethren" are our fellow Christians. And that as opposed to unbelievers, whoever they are. The people whom Jesus referred to as "My brethren" in the Parable are our fellow Christians, and no one else. To apply this term to non-Christians is a very serious error. The main point of this Parable is that we must be diligent about being servants to our fellow Christians. Furthermore, with the phrase, "the least of these", He was telling us that we are to put no qualifications on which of our fellow Christians we will be servants to, an idea that is echoed all through the New Testament. See, for example, James 2:1-9. The poor James referred to were the poor within the Church, as shown in verse 5. We must be servants equally to all our fellow Christians, regardless of their ethnic, social or economic status. We won’t be ready for the Tribulation if we don't.

In the Upper Room (John 12:34 & 35) Jesus emphatically told His disciples that they would be known by the fact that they loved one another. He said nothing about loving outsiders. Again, in Matthew 20:25-28, Jesus told His disciples that anyone who wished to be great among them must be a servant to all of them. Yet again, He made no mention of service to outsiders. He spoke only of our attitude and behavior toward our fellow Christians. These two passages are only a small fraction of the number of New Testament passages that support this idea. (See the "Love One Another" page.) Jesus meant for us to focus on being servants to each other. The overwhelming emphasis of the New Testament is on our being servants to our fellow Christians.

Possible Objections

Some would counter this doctrine by bringing up the Golden Rule (Matthew 7:12), the commandment to do unto others as you would have them do unto you. This is, incidentally, a different way of expressing the commandment to love your neighbor as yourself. In most cases, it really means giving others the same courtesy and respect that we would want for ourselves. It can mean, in many cases, nothing more than practicing common courtesy. (You'd be surprised to realize how often Christians fail to do even that.) You can do that in your daily Christian walk without going out of your way to be anyone’s servant.

Again, some would counter this doctrine by invoking the Parable of the Good Samaritan, in Luke 10:30-37. Let’s look at the situation in this Parable in detail: the victim had been robbed, stripped naked, wounded (we presume he was bleeding) and left for dead by thieves. What the Good Samaritan did was a spontaneous, one-shot response to an obvious, legitimate, and in fact urgent need. Although he took full responsibility for the man he helped, there is nothing in the Parable to suggest that he made an ongoing ministry of helping people that way. The Bible never forbids us to help the unsaved; rather, it tells us to put the priority on helping our fellow Christians (See Galatians 6:10). We should only make an ongoing ministry of helping Christians. Every Church should have, as part of its ministry, a program to give ongoing assistance to the needy within the congregation (that is exactly what is being referred to in Acts 6). But very few Churches ever do.

Again, if we help the unsaved, it should be in the form of spontaneous one-shot acts of mercy and generosity, in response to obvious, legitimate needs. A minor example was the incident   when, a man  walking along the street in New York City late at night, found a woman (not homeless) laying unconscious on the sidewalk. He quickly went to the nearest pay phone and called the police, and then kept watch over her until they came. Which was all he reasonably could do. Another was a minor incident when a Christian called a locksmith for an elderly lady who was locked out of her apartment. These incidents were, in a small way, examples of being a "Good Samaritan". There are people, including some Christians, who would have done nothing. But we should not give to the unsaved as an ongoing ministry. When we do help the unsaved, it should be done under the same general circumstances as what the Good Samaritan did: a spontaneous, one-shot response to an obvious, legitimate, and urgent need.

Pearls Before Swine

In a well known but rarely understood part of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus warned us not to "cast your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn and rend you." (Matthew 7:6). Note that this is in the same passage as the Golden Rule! Furthermore, it is part of a passage that upholds the highest standards of Christian behavior. Yet here is Jesus telling us, in so many words, that there are people that we as Christians are not supposed to help. The man that the Good Samaritan helped was the victim of thieves.  Christians who are running programs that help the homeless are frequently feeding thieves! Sometimes those thieves show what they are by robbing and otherwise abusing the very Christians who feed them.  (This writer has seen this happen.) If they don’t, it’s only because they know better than to "bite the hand that feeds them". There was an incident in a Church in New York City less than two years before this was written wherein the Church building was looted and seriously vandalized by hoodlums who had been eating the meals that that Church served to the homeless. The damage was of such extent that it shut down the Church. Those Christians violated the commandment to not cast pearls before swine, with exactly the results Jesus warned us about.

There’s a similar idea to not casting "pearls before swine" in the admonition to "Let the dead bury their dead" (Matthew 8:22). Christians should not do anything for the unsaved that they can very well do for themselves. Doing such things is poor stewardship. More than that, any Christian who takes it upon himself to be a servant to the unsaved is setting himself up to be unnecessarily abused, (again, this writer has seen this happen) and that is not God’s will.  You can get persecuted enough for really being obedient, without bringing suffering on yourself with disobedience. One of Satan’s snares for Christians, especially for those who don’t know sound doctrine, is to get them to be more "righteous" than the Bible calls upon them to be. Remember, you can go off the narrow path to the right as well as to the left (Joshua 1:7).

For example, the Bible says "Let him who has TWO coats give to him who has none" (Luke 3:11). The devil’s reading of this commandment is "Let him who has ONE coat give to him who has none." The devil will try to get Christians to believe and act on this kind of falsehood. A demand based on this kind of lie is likely to come out of the mouth of an unsaved person. It will be often accompanied by a comment like "What kind of Christian are you, anyway?" Christians are likely to fall for this, because, to some extent, the temptation to be overly righteous is linked to the temptation of pride. When a Christian falls for it, he gets hurt. Then hes likely to get discouraged and/or get mad at God and backslide. But understand; GOD DOES NOT ASK THIS KIND OF THING OF US!!! If you hear this question, don't give the person who uses it a penny. It's the devil talking. The Bible says that any giving that is asked of us is based on what we have, not what we don’t have. See II Corinthians 8:12-14. No Christian is asked by God to give to the point that he puts himself into genuine hurt.  And even then, the context of the passage (chapters 8-10) is about giving to help other Christians. If there is a limit on our giving to help our fellow Christians, how much more to giving to the unsaved?

There is an erroneous idea that pervades much of what is currently called Christian ministry to the effect that it is the duty of Christians to solve all the problems of the world. Biblically, the real job of Christians is to build the Church. That is, to get people saved and build them up in the faith, knowledge and love of the Lord Jesus Christ. See Ephesians 4:1-16. Along the way, that will mean giving many of them material help at one time or another. It requires us to be servants to one another, and this is a skill of Christian living that we all must learn. We have enough to do learning to serve each other, and doing what the Lord told us to do, without taking on things He didn’t mandate. Yet there are many Christians who believe that we should be servants to the unsaved world, and who are running ministries that are trying to do that. They frequently point to Old Testament passages like Isaiah 58:5-8 to support their doctrinal position. There are two problems with that, as far as sound doctrine is concerned.

The Authority of the New Testament

First of all, the words of Jesus supercede what the Old Testament says, and so, by extension, do the rest of the teachings of the New Testament. This is the intent of what God said about Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration in Matthew 17:5: "This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. Hear Him!" Now, note that Jesus was standing there talking to Moses and Elijah. Moses represented the Law. Elijah represented the Prophets. When the Father said of Jesus, "Hear Him!", He meant, "Listen to Him!; as opposed to listening to the Law and the Prophets." There is a major parallel between the Transfiguration and the giving of the Law at Mount Sinai in the Book of Exodus. In each case, a new revelation of the Word of God was being declared. Since Jesus told us who we are supposed to serve, we must interpret the words of the Old Testament, such as the passage in Isaiah referred to above, by His words. Jesus specifically told us who we are supposed to serve.

Secondly, we must remember, once again, that just about everything in the Old Testament that had to do with Jews versus Gentiles now applies to Christians versus the unsaved. Just about everything that the Israelites were called upon to do in the way of charity was for their fellow Israelites. They were strictly told not to oppress foreigners in their midst, but they were not told to go out of their way to serve them. And they definitely were not told to give assistance of any kind to the surrounding Gentile nations. Remember; we are spiritual Israel. We are supposed to do our works of charity mainly for our fellow "Israelites".

Again, the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats calls upon us to be diligent about being servants to our fellow Christians. And that in the sense of meeting their basic material needs. Yet this is where many Christians have failed miserably. This writer knows some real horror stories about cases where Christians were in desperate need of material assistance from their fellow Christians, and didn’t get it. In one such incident, God raised up the help that was needed from neighbors that weren’t Christian at all. And that is to the shame of the Christians who didn’t help. He has also seen cases of needy Christians who were turned away empty-handed from programs that were helping the unsaved homeless. Christians have refused, on the grounds of obeying the rules of their programs, to help their needy brothers. Those "obedient" Christians are going to find out one of these days that, in the sight of Jesus, they are goats! And that, no matter how much they may have thought that they were doing what they were supposed to do. Any rule in any ministry that forbids a Christian to help a needy Christian, is evil! Regardless of the circumstances! Obeying such a rule is sin! It is "shutting up your heart against your brother" (see I John 3:17). God will not bless Christians for obeying such rules!

When Christians set themselves up to be servants to the unsaved, that isn’t God’s will. Our service to others is meant to increase the love between Christians, strengthen the Church, and be a testimony for Jesus. It is not supposed to subsidize sinful lives, as ministries that help the unsaved frequently do. Christians shouldn’t support ministries that serve the unsaved. Churches that are running such ministries should shut them down and start organizing to help the needy in their own midst. They won’t get grants from the government or praise in the secular media for this, but see Luke 6:26. Incidentally, many ministries that serve the unsaved do get help from the government (at least in the U.S.A.) and this is a very dangerous thing. Those grants usually have rules attached. If the rules are violated, the people running the ministry in question can be in real trouble. There was a minister that this writer knew who went to prison, through no fault of his own, except ignorance, in a case like that. A ministry that this writer was once involved in had to be completely shut down because of the consequences of taking government money on government terms. This highlights the error of compromise with the world. If Christians do what the Bible says to do, they will get blessed, and ministries that do are likely to see their numbers growing rapidly. (Remember: Numbers do matter!) See Acts 4:34 & 35, and 6:1-7. By the way, the widows in Acts 6 were widows in the Church. See also I Timothy 5:9-16.

So keep it in mind that you are commanded to be a servant to your fellow Christians, and that you will not be ready for the Tribulation if you do not put this into practice. There is something that God has given or will give you to do that involves serving your brothers and sisters in Christ. Whatever it is, do it. Or else!

See also "Love One Another" and "Keeping My Brother's Money".

What will you do if you find yourself in the Great Tribulation and realize that you weren't ready?

We will address that question in the next Part of this section of this site,

"Going Through The Fire"

beginning with the following page,

"The Tribulation Begins"

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Contact Author, William D. Brehm