Readers know that I while I have written books, articles and a blog about the history of the ten tribes of Israel, my posts have recently focused on prophetic topics as so much is happening in the world that indicates biblical prophecies are moving towards their inevitable fulfillments. However, this post will be different. Periodically, I write on salvational biblical teachings, and this is one such occasion. I realize that I write to an audience that is overwhelmingly Christian, and I also realize that Christians of all kinds of denominations and associations access my website and read my blog. As Christians interested in the subject of how biblical prophecies are being fulfilled in the modern world, we need to remind ourselves that while we are to make every effort to understand biblical knowledge and prophecy 2 Peter 1:19), there are many kinds of biblical knowledge and prophetic understanding that are not “salvational.” This post is about one of Jesus Christ’s parables that is prophetic, but it also has a salvational message…and a warning specifically for Christian believers living in the latter days of our age. It is Jesus Christ’s parable of the “sheep and goats,” which is found in Matthew 25:31-46. When Jesus was asked by his disciples about the timing of his second coming (Matthew 24:3), Christ gave an answer that lasted two chapters which concluded with this parable. I think we can understand that parable has special significance for the latter-day church because Jesus Christ included it in his response about the time that would precede and announce his second coming.
It is my concern that some Christians entirely miss the point that Jesus Christ makes in this parable. It is about the time when Jesus will judge his followers (Matthew 25:31), and he divides them into the sheep (those he accepts into his kingdom) and the goats (those that are excluded). Both groups seem to be surprised by Jesus’ judgments, and the “goats” are shocked that Jesus considers them “goats” because they were convinced that they were among the saved. This parable’s point is entirely consistent with I Corinthians 13:1-8 which tells us that love (“charity” in the KJV) is the most important of all spiritual gifts. Indeed, this passage clearly indicates that it is more important than all the other spiritual gifts. Mathew 25:31-46 specifically tells us Jesus Christ is looking for a particular type or aspect of showing, love, that must be manifested by believers in this life or they will not be invited into his kingdom. There are many spiritual gifts that can be manifested in people’s lives to a large or small extent, but the type of love that Jesus demands in this parable is a “pass-fail” requirement which believers must have demonstrated in this life or Jesus declares them to be unready for membership in his kingdom.
When one reads through the parable of the sheep and goats, Jesus invites the “sheep” into his kingdom because they did minister to the human needs of fellow Christians even though they believed them to be “the least” of Jesus’ brethren (emphasis added).” He rejects the “goats” because they did not minister to the human needs of fellow Christians who they thought were “the least” of Jesus’ brethren. The “goats” are stunned and object, saying they don’t remember ever rejecting Christ in any such way. Christ tells them that during their lifetimes, they had refused to help believers who Jesus regarded as “his brethren.” Somehow, the “goats” consistently had refused in their lifetimes to assist entire classes of fellow Christians because they (the “goats”) did not regard these other Christians as worthy of their assistance. By rejecting fellow Christians in whom Jesus Christ dwelt via his Holy Spirit, they unknowingly had also rejected Jesus Christ himself. How could this happen? The answer is as simple as it is easy to miss.
Revelation is a book which addresses the latter days of our age, and chapters 2-3 begin the book with Jesus Christ’s messages to his latter-day followers in seven very broad church categories. It is evident from reading the descriptions of these seven churches that they accurately reflect the vast differences among modern believers scattered across many church denominations with radically different levels of knowledge, types of church structures, attitudes, socioeconomic conditions, etc. This prophecy accurately depicts the very denominationalized state of Christianity in our modern, “latter day” period of time. For example, one group (“Ephesus”) has tremendous levels of knowledge while others have little knowledge and some are embracing false doctrines or heresies (“Pergamos” and “Thyatira”). Some latter-day Christians are rich and mistakenly assume this means they are in good spiritual condition (“Laodicea”) while others live in a state of continual persecution and even experience martyrdom (“Smyrna”). Some are very alive spiritually (“Philadelphia”), and one group is all but dead (“Sardis”). However, Jesus Christ acknowledges all of these Christians as his brethren and he acknowledges them all to be his churches. When he looks at his people, Jesus Christ does not “save” people based on their denominational membership or level of doctrinal understanding. If readers have not read my ebook, A New Look at the Seven Churches of Revelation, I strongly urge you to do so as it offers a much more in-depth examination of this topic than can be put in a post. What is surprising in Revelation 2-3’s prophecy about Christians in the latter days is that believers with the highest level of accurate biblical knowledge are among the groups regarded by Jesus as being in the greatest danger of being rejected by him. These believers are typified by the church called “Ephesus” and while they are commended for their biblical knowledge and doctrinal accuracy, they are close to being rejected because they lack….love (Revelation 2:4-5). What kind of love? I Corinthians 13 shows love is manifested in many different ways. The parable of the sheep and goats reveals the specific kind of love Jesus Christ demands in his followers to be considered “sheep” who will enter his kingdom.
All human beings naturally gravitate toward helping their families and those close to them. Many Christians are diligent about helping the poor and needy among their family, their relatives, their local church congregation and their overall denomination. Such Christians are confident that they are “sheep” in Jesus’ eyes when he may see them as “goats.” Such Christians are only helping others in their own family, their own congregation and their own denomination. In other words, they are only helping people who psychologists would define as people who are part of their “extended self.” Jesus referred to this kind of self-giving in Matthew 5:46-47 wherein he told his disciples that if they only showed love to their own brethren and their own in-group (the example of publicans/tax collectors is given), Jesus says “What reward have you?” In other words, even the despised tax collectors of Jesus’ time could help people within their extended self community. What Jesus is saying here is consistent with Matthew 25’s parable. If, in this life, believers have only helped people who are in their personal “comfort zone,” Jesus has no “reward” for them in his kingdom. He wants people in his kingdom who have, in this life, demonstrated a willingness to help other believers who are outside of their personal comfort zones( in other words, people who are not in their family, their church congregation or their denomination). Jesus wants people in his kingdom who are as broad-minded and inclusive as Jesus himself is in defining who is among “his brethren.” Consider the words Jesus used in the sheep and goats parable. People were admitted to or rejected from his kingdom based on whether they had satisfactorily demonstrated to Jesus Christ they were willing to assist needy fellow believers who were outside their comfort zones–even thought Jesus Christ had accepted them as his brethren. To put it simply, Christians who chronically demonstrate to Jesus Christ that they are unwilling to help people in other Christian denominations or groups who are “outside their comfort zone” can expect to be labeled “goats” at the Judgment.
Latter day prophecies warn about wars, famines, pestilences, persecutions, etc. in the latter days. These kinds of conditions will generate lots of Christians (and non-Christians) who will be in need of food, clothing, shelter, emotional support, etc. Will you only help those inside your denomination or congregation or will you help Christians in other denominations as well? Will Catholics and Protestants help each other? Will Greek Orthodox believers and Mennonites help each other? Will Coptic Christians and Evangelicals help each other? Will Messianics and Sabbatarian believers help Pentecostals and vice versa? Will Mormons and Lutherans help each other? I could go on and on, but I’m sure you grasp my point. Matthew 25’s warning about it being critically-important that all believers be willing to meet the human needs of other Christians even if they regard them as “the least” in the Christian family would have no meaning unless Jesus Christ made sure everyone was so tested to see if they would help other believers outside their comfort zones. In the prophesied troubles of the latter days, some believers will be in a position to give help and others will be in a position to need help. What if a region of a nation is hit by a massive earthquake or some kind of disaster and people have to flee from that region for help? People who thought they were in a secure geographical and financial position may suddenly become destitute if such an event happens. Will fellow Christians open their homes to shelter and feed strangers who are Christians from different backgrounds and denominational belief systems? When/if this type of crisis happens, Jesus Christ will be closely watching to see who are the “sheep” and who are the “goats” among his followers. For example, if a major hurricane devastates part of the USA, Christian service groups like Operation Blessing of the CBN and Samaritan’s Purse of the Billy Graham organization take collections and bring food, clothing and shelter to people in a stricken area. Other Christian charities include The Union Gospel Mission, The Salvation Army, Catholic Family Charities, etc. The Seventh-Day Adventist Church has a variety of charitable outreaches. Does your church/denomination have charitable outreaches to which you can contribute money or time? There are lots of ways that Jesus Christ can test us in the circumstances of our lives to see if we help others outside our comfort zones and people who have no ability to repay us. Jesus can purposefully send people or even “angels unawares” (Hebrews 13:1-3) to be put in our path to test us to see if we will help others in need or whether we will refuse to help them. Maybe “Jesus” has already tested you via the people you see at interstate exits or in parking lots with a cardboard sign asking for help. Those people are strangers outside your comfort zone, and they will never be able to repay you. Do you help them? Jesus loves a cheerful giver (II Corinthians 9:7). Are you one? A person can also give to others via donating their time and effort to helping others, giving emotional support and praying for them, etc. if one does not have surplus funds to give, one can still pray for the needs of others to be met.
Why does Jesus demand that we demonstrate to him, in this life, that we can step outside our comfort zones and help Christians (or non-Christians) who are outside our denomination or who hold doctrinal beliefs and worship practices with which we are not comfortable? The answer is obvious when we consider what is promised in the kingdom of God. When Jesus returns, a prophecy about the coming of the Messiah in Isaiah 62:11 states “behold, his reward is with him and his work before him.” When he returns, “salvation” is not going to consist of having angels pamper you in heavenly five-star hotels. The “reward” that Jesus brings is to diligently help him with his “work” of rescuing, healing, comforting and saving mankind. Jesus is coming to help and save all nations and all people, regardless of their backgrounds or belief systems. He needs his saints to be ready, willing and able to help anyone in any religion or nation to which he assigns them. One thing is certain. The saints at the beginning of the Millennium will be assigned to help a humanity that will have been put through hell on earth in the latter-day traumas; these people will be the survivors who will have all kinds of urgent needs. Most people who will live as physical human beings as the Millennial kingdom of Jesus Christ starts will have lived their entire lives far outside the religious and cultural “comfort zone” of modern Christians. This explains the importance of Matthew 25’s parable of the sheep and goats. Jesus cannot use people in his kingdom who are uncomfortable or unwilling to help people outside their comfort zones, because that is what all the saints will be doing in the kingdom of God. When Jesus sees Christians, in this life, who were unwilling to help even their fellow Christians who were outside their religious comfort zones, then Jesus knows these people will be unable to function in situations where they must minister to people who are going to be far outside their personal comfort zones. Jesus wants people in his kingdom whom he has seen, in this life, helping others who are outside their comfort zones…because that is all they will be doing for some time at the beginning of the millennium. The most immediate need at the beginning of the millennium will be to meet the human needs of the survivors of the latter-day traumas–food, water, clothing, shelter, etc.–the very things mentioned in Matthew 25’s parable of the sheep and goats.
Everyone’s situation is very different. If you have been a type of person that has helped only those inside your family, congregation and denomination, Matthew 25’s warning in the parable of the sheep and goats should move you to go outside your comfort zone with some of your giving. If you don’t know where to start, you could call a food shelf in your city or region and volunteer to donate money or time. There are so many people in need of help and there are many ways to help them. Show Jesus Christ you can be a cheerful giver to others, especially the “down and out” Christians or people who you may have thought are “the least” worthy of your help.
For a more in-depth examination of this very broad subject, please read my articles, A New Look at the Seven Churches of Revelation, Jesus Christ’s Five Warnings to the Latter-Day Church and listen to my audio message, Are You Ready to Rule?