My posts mostly focus on an analysis of prophetic fulfillments taking place in global geopolitical events, but at times we all need to remember what is most important in our Christian lives. The most important thing in any Christian’s life is his/her relationship with Jesus Christ and, through Him, with God the Father. Seeing prophecies being fulfilled as we reach deeper into the latter days should boost our faith, to be sure, but at some point we will reach a tipping point in the prophetic sequence of events where abstract analysis of world events could well become secondary to survival and meeting essential needs for oneself and one’s family. There are a variety of on-line analysts, both religious and secular, who are warning that this tipping point is coming soon, and some even warn that it may come within a a matter of months. I will not prognosticate when a major crisis will occur, but it will come. When it comes, it will likely come suddenly. When this time comes, God will be watching his believers on earth to see if they are “sheep” or “goats” in his judgment. This post is about Jesus Christ’s instruction and warning to latter-day believers that is found in Matthew 25:31-46.
I’m sure all Christian readers are aware that the “parable of the sheep and goats” is one of Jesus Christ’s well-known parables, but did you realize that this parable is also a prophetic warning specifically to his followers in the latter days? In Matthew 24:3, Jesus’ disciples asked him privately: “…when shall these things be, and what shall be the sign of your coming, and of the end of the world?” Readers of the Bible can easily see that Matthew 24 contains Jesus’ answer to this question, but it can be overlooked that Jesus’ answer to this question continues through Matthew 25:46. If you have a red-letter version of the Bible, it is readily apparent that Jesus’ answer to the disciples’ question continues for two chapters. The discourse given by Jesus Christ in Matthew 24-25 is all a prophecy about various aspects of the latter days. He climaxes this prophecy with his parable of the sheep and goats–which addresses instructions/warnings to his believers in the latter days when things get tough…really tough.
First allow me a digression. In many Bible translations, Jesus’ disciples’ question asks about “the end of the world,” but this is a bit of a mistranslation which has enormous implications. The actual Greek word translated “world” is “aion,” which literally means “age,” not “world.” The disciples’ question and Jesus’ answer address the end of this current “age” of mankind, not the end (or extinction) of the world itself. This world is scheduled to experience more ages after this current age concludes with the return of Jesus Christ. Paul’s reference in Ephesians 2:7 to “the ages to come” is evidence of this fact. To gain insights into the ages to come after our current age concludes, please listen to my audio message, How Many Will God Save?. The Bible reveals that God’s plan for mankind spans several ages, not just this current one.
Matthew 24 records that Jesus answered his disciples’ question with many pieces of information about the latter days that will climax with his coming. One persistent theme is that the latter-day believers will be surprised that Jesus Christ returns at a time earlier than any of them expect (Matt. 24:42-44, 45-51 and Matt. 25:1-13). I believe it is significant that Jesus concludes his answer to the disciples’ question with a warning to latter-day believers in Matthew 25:31-46. This parable/prophecy about what tests believers will face in the latter days is critical to everyone’s salvation. It is that important.
Jesus warns latter-day believers (us!) that there will be trying circumstances when believers face imprisonment, hunger and thirst, a lack of shelter, inadequate clothing, etc. These are a listing of the necessities of life. At some point in the latter days, many Christians will lack these things. It is already happening. Christians are being turned into impoverished refugees by ISIL/ISIS in Syria and Iraq. Some are held captive and others martyred. Boko Haram in Nigeria is doing the same things to Christians in that nation. So far, such crises are too remote for most western Christians to care much about in a personal sense. However, when the prophecy of Revelation 17-18 is fulfilled and the global monetary/financial system collapses for an unspecified time, many Christians will lose jobs, homes, savings, means of support, etc. That is one time when many Christians will either experience the trials prophesied in Matthew 25:31-46, or they will be tested to see if they are “sheep or goats.” Their admittance into the Kingdom of God in the first resurrection will be decided by their actions at that time. Jesus tells us in this parable that, if we have the means of helping others with their human needs, he holds us responsible to provide assistance to fellow believers. If we do, he considers us loyal “sheep” and admits us into his kingdom, but if we deny such help to others, Jesus warns that he will reject us from being admitted into his kingdom for he will judge us to be “goats.”
Many reading this may think that this means that one must have a willingness to help one’s Christian friends and fellow-congregants in whatever church group or denomination you belong, etc. That is surely true, but Jesus’ instruction goes far further than this. In Matthew 25:40 and 45, he tells everyone that his decision about whether they are sheep or goats is based on their reaction to whether they helped other believers even if they regarded such needy people as the least of Jesus’ followers. This means that Jesus doesn’t decide whether you or I will be a sheep or goat on the basis of whether we help our “in group”–what ever we determine that to be. He assumes both the sheep and goats will do that. Everyone helps those who we perceive to be part of our “extended self.” He acknowledges that even the publicans, the scorned tax collectors of Jesus’ human time, would do that much (Matthew 5:46-47). No. Jesus is telling us that his determination of whether we are sheep or goats is when we are faced with the decision of whether to help or not help someone who Jesus accepts as a follower, but toward whom we are dubious about whether this needy believer is “worthy” of our help. Denominational barriers can run deep. Will Protestants help Catholics in need? Will Catholics help Protestants in need? Will staid, doctrinally-oriented Sabbatarians help Pentecostals or vice versa? Will Messianic believers who believe the Divine Names must be pronounced a certain way help believers who call the Savior “Jesus Christ?” Will traditional Christians who call the Savior Jesus Christ help needy believers who believe they can only refer to the Savior as Yahshua Ha’ Messiah (or a variant of that Hebrew Name). The crises at the end of this age will be global in nature. Some readers of this post live in other parts of the world, not in western nations. Will Coptic and Armenian Christians help each other if one is in need? I think you get my point. Given the advance warning in Matthew 25:31-46 that we will encounter such tests in the latter days, Jesus is very likely to arrange for each of us to be tested in this manner to see if we are “sheep” or “goats.”
The “sheep” will be helping to provide for the human needs of any other believer regardless of their affiliation or practices or level of biblical knowledge. The “goats” will help only those in their own denomination, sect or congregation, but will refuse to help those believers who are in denominations who “don’t have as much knowledge,” “don’t observe the right days,” “don’t have the same Christian diet,” etc. Paradoxically, the Bible warns that it is those with the most biblical knowledge who are most likely to be “goats.” In another message to latter-day believers in Revelation 2:1-7, Jesus warns very knowledgeable and doctrinally-discerning Christians (called the “Ephesian” believers) that he is close to “removing their candlestick” from his presence because they lack love. Paul gives the same warning in I Corinthians 13 that if one does not have love toward others, it does not matter in God’s eyes how much knowledge or prophetic insight they have. Also, the simple act of showing love to others in need is far more important in God’s eyes than doing miracles with vast faith, speaking in another language, or some “showy” Christian gift. Indeed, I Corinthians 13:3 warns that one can even give a lot to others and it is done for nought in God’s eyes. How can this be? The answer is easy. If some Christian leaders or laity in the future announce their giving in press conferences or make sure TV cameras are there when they give their gifts to others, Christ regards them as no better than the Pharisees who elicited disgust in Jesus Christ. Matthew 6:1-4 warns us that all giving should be done selflessly to help others, not selfishly in a manner where people publicize their giving to show everyone how “righteous” they are. Also, it is possible that the “Christian survivalist” types may become “goats” in Jesus eyes, because, in a severe crisis, they will have retreated to their fortresses and boltholes to shelter themselves and remove themselves from any needy people so they can focus on taking care of just themselves.
We have no idea what challenges may be ahead of us. What if some locale has a major natural disaster of epic proportions (an earthquake, tsunami, volcano, drought, etc.), and millions of people, including many Christians of various denominations and belief systems, become refugees and desperately need all kinds of help. This could happen here in the United States. What if hundreds of thousands of families need to shelter with other families in other states (or nations) not affected by the disaster. Will you help? It would be wise, I believe, to offer assistance to some type of Christian family to insure some shared values. However, will you help another refugee family only if they share a long list of “major doctrines” with you? If that becomes your standard, then are you not refusing to help someone who you regard as “the least” of Jesus Christ’s brethren (the very attitude Jesus warns against in Matthew 25:40 and 45)?
We are watching the prophetic clock tick down to major tipping points where traumatic dislocations of all kinds could occur. When these events occur, keep in mind there may be circumstances where you will have to decide whether to help someone in need or not, and that it may be at that very instance that the eyes of Jesus Christ are most upon you. It is your decision at that point that will lead Jesus Christ to decide whether you are a sheep or goat in his eyes.
For a more in-depth examination of this topic, I urge you to read my article, Christ’s Five Warnings to Latter-Day Believers, available at the “Articles” tab at the top of my website’s homepage.