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Parables: The Sheep and the Goats

What do Christians believe about God's judgement?


In Matthew Chapter 25:31-46, Jesus teaches about a King who sits on his throne and divides his people into two groups, just as a shepherd would divide the sheep from the goats. He then explains that how the people have lived and treated one another will determine their future in his kingdom. Those who are kind to others (the sheep) will enter Heaven, those who aren’t kind (the goats) won’t.

This passage in Matthew’s is understood to show Christians how important it is to help people. However, as it is part of Jesus’ teaching about the end times, Christians believe it also gives a number of clues about the end-time events and about the judgement of humanity.

The idea of judgement can appear a scary subject to discuss and one that most people would want to avoid. It can almost be seen as ‘if you don’t behave in this life then you are setting yourself up for an eternity of suffering in the next.’

God can be viewed as an angry and vengeful judge waiting to punish everyone who sins. This became an important teaching during the middle-ages when the church held much political power and wealth. At this time teaching about judgement was used as a tool to keep people in their place, with the threat that if they didn’t do as they were told by those in authority they would suffer in the next life. There are some people who still adopt these beliefs today. They often look to the Old Testament to support their viewpoint seeing God as One who rewards goodness with blessing and evil with wrath.

In contrast, there are others who emphasise the teaching that one day everything that has gone wrong on earth will be put right by a merciful and loving God. Some take this further and believe that how they live doesn’t really matter because God will give them a second chance after death and there won’t really be any consequences for their actions.

The God of the Old and New Testaments

When looking at the Bible it’s important to realise that the God spoken of in the Old and New Testaments is the same God. In the Old Testament God calls the Jewish people to live differently among the nations so that His goodness, mercy, faithfulness and justice will be seen. God is clear to them that if they don’t follow him, they will bring trouble on themselves. Time and again God’s people go away from him and through their disobedience trouble is visited on them but God always cares for them in their troubles and makes a way back to him. God promises them that a saviour will come to them but not just for them for all people. This is something that the prophet Isaiah spoke about Isaiah 49:1-7.

Christians believe that Jesus is the fulfilment of that promise, believing that salvation has come through him, by the grace of God. This parable however teaches that although salvation is open to all this does not mean that the impact of our actions can be dismissed.

The Parable of the Sheep and the Goats shows that the way we treat others is really important because Jesus identifies with everyone. If people reject or ignore the needs of others, they are rejecting and ignoring God. Likewise, in blessing others, people are also being a blessing to God.

Christians believe that the presence of God in their lives should affect how they live and treat others because one day they will stand before Jesus and answer for how they have lived.

A key to understanding this parable is to keep in mind the person of Jesus depicted in the gospels, that is a Jesus who loves and cares for people. A Jesus who is a fair judge.

Read Matthew 25:31-46 Consider:
  • Who is the king?
  • Why is the king described as a shepherd?
  • Who are the sheep and who are the goats?
  • Why are the sheep and goats separated?
  • What did the sheep do that was so good?
  • What did the goats do?
  • Is the king's response a just and fair one?
  From reading Jesus' words, Christians believe Jesus will return as judge and king. All people will be judged when Jesus returns. People will be separated into two groups, those considered righteous (right) and those unrighteous (not right).
  • The good people (sheep) will inherit eternal life and the Kingdom of God
  • The bad people (goats) have no place in this kingdom and are sent away.