Sermon: Many Are Called, But Few Are Chosen (Part Twelve)

#1504

Given 31-Aug-19; 65 minutes

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Like the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats, culturally and biblically the "left" symbolizes evil and deceit. In Latin, the adjective sinister refers to the left-hand. Ecclesiastes 10:12 teaches that a wise man's heart is on the right while the fool's heart is on the left. In the parable, we learn that the King places the sheep on his right hand, the goats on his left. The sheep represent those who have consistently heard the Master's voice and will enter the Kingdom, while the goats represent those who face the Lake of Fire. Numerous scriptures symbolize the right, including Psalm 16:11, which describes joy at God's right hand. In the Atonement sin-offering, both goats symbolize the removal of sin, one through sacrifice and the other through its carrying of sin into the wilderness. When goats and sheep commingle, the goats become aggressive, sneaky and disobedient. Goats are loners, uncooperative, and stingy. In the parable, the sheep enter into God's Kingdom because they have shown compassion to others. The test of knowing God is 1.) keeping His commandments, 2.) loving Him, and 3.) loving and serving the brethren (I John 4:2-3). Because God loves us, we should love one another. This love will be manifested in sincere efforts to serve. Recognizing a need among the brethren but failing to follow through with concrete help is a sin of omission.

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You are very familiar with the political term “the Left,” and what it is now associated with and represents: violence (including abortion), deceit, agitation, intolerance, incivility, decadence, perversion, and anti-Christian verbal and physical persecution.

Why are they called the Left? Is this a new term for this type of behavior? Or, did the Left become this way through time?

Listen to these titles and bylines from various World Net Daily (WND) Whistleblower Magazine articles:

The Left Seeks to Rob Us of Our Past

Year Zero—where history is torn down and obliterated—is happening now in the U.S. By Don Feder, Nov 2018

Leftist Violence: A Natural outgrowth of Authoritarian Ideology

Current mayhem just a taste of what Democrats would be like if they regained majority power. By David Limbaugh, Nov 2018

Democrats and the Dark Art of Projection

Why those on the left accuse their opponents of the evil they do. By David Kupelian, Jan 2019

The Left will make 2019 a Dark Year

Will use the levers of government to keep the American people in a constant state of agitation. By Dennis Prager, Jan 2019

The Giant Liberty-Sucking Sound from the Left

While smearing others as ‘intolerant,’ their own intolerance has exploded into naked totalitarianism. By David Limbaugh, Jan 2019

Leftist Contempt for Middle Class Values

They do not consider themselves bound by the normal conventions of civics and decency. By Dennis Prager, Jan 2019

Abortion Extremism: The Left’s Secular Sacrament

For the first time ‘pro-choice’ forces are daring to reveal their true intentions. By David Limbaugh, Feb 2019

This cancerous manipulation by the Left is easily seen, affecting every aspect of our lives in the world. Is this merely a modern manifestation or does this kind thing have an origin and a history?

Solomon set forth the value of wisdom by stating that a wise person has the quality of heart and mind that will protect him from danger.

Ecclesiastes 10:2 A wise man's heart is at his right hand, but a fool's heart at his left.

This is stated in the words, "is at his right hand." The right hand is typically the best exercised, strongest, and most ready; and to the contrary, the left is less used, weakest, and less prepared.

So, the wise preacher succinctly shows that the control which the wise man has over his own emotions, and desires, and the carefulness with which he acts, contrasts with the recklessness of the fool, who has no restraint over his own feelings and desires, and has no control of his tongue.

The right hand and the left are used in Scripture to express good and evil. The wise man is always active in doing good; the fool, in nonsense or evil.

Matthew 25:33 "And He will set the sheep on His right hand, but the goats on the left."

With this in mind, we come now to the last recorded teaching of Jesus Christ in Matthew’s gospel: The Parable of the Sheep and the Goats. But it is not strictly a parable. Strictly speaking, the passage on the last judgement is much more prophetic than parabolic. Only the part about the sheep and the goats is a parable. And this rather brief comparison eminently serves Jesus’ purpose in teaching His followers the doctrine of the judgment. It is a dynamic description of the judgment, using a few symbolic elements: a shepherd, sheep, and goats.

This story is unique to Matthew and is an appropriate ending to the chapters in which Jesus speaks of His return. The story builds on the two previous parables and on the illustrations in chapter 24. The illustrations in chapter 24 and the first of the parables in chapter 25 stressed the need to be ready when Christ returns. The parable of the talents taught the need for faithful work and service, which will be rewarded at the judgment.

The final story is of the judgment itself.

There is also a progression. In the Parable of the Wise and Foolish Virgins, the women who were not ready are only shut out from the banquet—the wedding of the firstfruits to Jesus Christ. In the next parable, the wicked, lazy servant is thrown out into the darkness. In the story of the sheep and the goats, those who have ignored the needs of Christ’s brothers are cursed with the final death.

Jesus briefly refers to a common pastoral scene of His day in the Parable of the Sheep and Goats. A shepherd herds a mixed flock of sheep and goats.

Notice some comparisons regarding the characteristics of the sheep and of the goats. In areas where grazing is sparse because of drought, goats tend to browse rather than graze. They mingle with the sheep, but neither sheep nor goats seem to have been given a temperament to become intimately acquainted. When evening comes, sheep listen to the shepherd’s voice, while goats may choose to ignore his call. At nightfall, sheep prefer the open air in contrast to the goats, which cannot take the cold and must be sheltered.

The shepherd puts the sheep to the right and the goats to the left. He does not separate ewes and rams, which are sheep and goats. He sets apart the two species.

Symbolically, he puts the sheep on his right side and the goats on his left. Sheep are more valuable than goats, and their white fleece, in distinction from the black-colored skin of the goat, stands out as a symbol of righteousness. A goat has long been associated with something sinister, shady, and evil.

Let us take a closer look at the Parable of the Sheep and Goats.

Matthew 25:31-32 "When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory. All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats.”

In the light of my earlier description of the political left today, verse 33 is very interesting.

Matthew 25:33 “And He will set the sheep on His right hand, but the goats on the left.”

Notice the predominance of right-handedness in the Bible provided in social assembly, oaths and agreements were affirmed with the right hand; expressions of fellowship were sealed with a right-handed handshake; and giving and receiving were done with the right hand.

Galatians 2:9 And when James, Cephas, and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that had been given to me, they gave me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship, that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised.

The right hand may be used whenever particular emphasis, distinct identification, or full and energetic participation of a biblical character is intended.

It is interesting and instructive in the instance of the consecration of Aaron and his sons to the priesthood. In recounting this event the narrator takes great pains to prepare the reader for the climactic portion of the ceremony—the symbolic seal of ordination.

The blood of the sacrificial ram for ordination is placed on the right earlobe, right thumb and big toe of the right foot of the new priests.

Leviticus 8:22-24 And he brought the second ram, the ram of consecration. Then Aaron and his sons laid their hands on the head of the ram, and Moses killed it. Also he took some of its blood and put it on the tip of Aaron's right ear, on the thumb of his right hand, and on the big toe of his right foot. Then he brought Aaron's sons. And Moses put some of the blood on the tips of their right ears, on the thumbs of their right hands, and on the big toes of their right feet. And Moses sprinkled the blood all around on the altar.

By this action each is reminded of his solemn duty to hear and obey God's Word, undertake his holy work, and walk in his ways. Similar emphases may be found in the ritual for cleansing of the leper.

The right hand is the preferred one in patriarchal blessings (Gen 48:17-20); solemn oaths are made via the uplifted right hand; and the risen Christ is portrayed as holding seven stars (the "angels" of the seven churches) in his right hand, before placing his right hand of comfort on the awestruck, prostrate John.

Revelation 1:16-17 He had in His right hand seven stars, out of His mouth went a sharp two-edged sword, and His countenance was like the sun shining in its strength. And when I saw Him, I fell at His feet as dead. But He laid His right hand on me, saying to me, "Do not be afraid; I am the First and the Last.”

The right hand is used particularly as a figure of speech in which a term for a part of something refers to the whole of something or vice versa to emphasize God's person and actions. For example, in Psalm 48, God's right hand is said to be "filled with righteousness."

Psalm 48:10 According to Your name, O God, so is Your praise to the ends of the earth; your right hand is full of righteousness.

God's right hand is also said to be filled with effective might.

Psalm 80:15-17 And the vineyard which Your right hand has planted, and the branch that You made strong for Yourself. It is burned with fire, it is cut down; they perish at the rebuke of Your countenance. Let Your hand be upon the man of Your right hand, upon the son of man whom You made strong for Yourself.

Psalm 89:13 You have a mighty arm; strong is Your hand, and high is Your right hand.

With His right hand He delivered Israel out of Egypt.

Exodus 15:6 "Your right hand, O Lord, has become glorious in power; your right hand, O Lord, has dashed the enemy in pieces.”

God is a saving God who judges His adversaries and delivers trusting believers from theirs. Accordingly, we can find in God a source of omnipresent help and strength, because in Him we can expect present security, protection, sustenance and joyous victory, as well as the hope of eternal pleasures.

Psalm 16:11 You will show me the path of life; in Your presence is fullness of joy; at Your right hand are pleasures forevermore.

To be at the right side is to be identified as being in the special place of honor. Thus, the full participation of the risen Christ in God's honor and glory is emphasized by His being at God's right hand.

Acts 2:33-34 “Therefore being exalted to the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He poured out this which you now see and hear. "For David did not ascend into the heavens, but he says himself: 'The Lord said to my Lord, 'Sit at My right hand.’”

Hebrews 1:3 who being the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person, and upholding all things by the word of His power, when He had by Himself purged our sins, sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high.

From there He will return to judge the world, welcoming believers to blessings on His right while assigning the wicked to the left as we see in the Parable of the Sheep and Goats.

Matthew 25:34 "Then the King will say to those on His right hand, 'Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.’"

Matthew 25:41 "Then He will also say to those on the left hand, 'Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels.’”

This passage forms part of a well-attested right hand/left hand theme emphasizing completeness or totality, often with concentration on a fixed goal.

Citizens of Nineveh cannot tell their right hand from their left, and thus are totally spiritually ignorant. And, in Jonah God says,

Jonah 4:11 “And should I not pity Nineveh, that great city, in which are more than one hundred and twenty thousand persons who cannot discern between their right hand and their left—and much livestock?"

Whereas, in Proverbs 3:16, godly wisdom offers long life in the right hand, riches and honor in the left. This refers to the complete abundance of blessings of the wisdom from above.

The wise person chooses the right path:

Ecclesiastes 10:2 A wise man's heart is at his right hand, but a fool's heart at his left.

And thus, avoids such spiritual dangers as idolatry and lawlessness.

Above all, godly individuals, and especially spiritual leaders, are to let their lives be ruled by God's Word, not deviating toward the right or toward the left, so that they may enjoy proper success.

Deuteronomy 5:32-33 "Therefore you shall be careful to do as the Lord your God has commanded you; you shall not turn aside to the right hand or to the left. You shall walk in all the ways which the Lord your God has commanded you, that you may live and that it may be well with you, and that you may prolong your days in the land which you shall possess.”

Also,

Joshua 1:7 “Only be strong and very courageous, that you may observe to do according to all the law which Moses My servant commanded you; do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may prosper wherever you go.”

So, that is a general overview of right-handedness in Scripture.

Now let us look at left-handedness.

Matthew 25:33 “And He will set the sheep on His right hand, but the goats on the left.”

The left side and left-handedness play a distinctively negative role in many languages. The word sinister derives from the Latin term that means, "on the left side."

Left and right, though, can be merely neutral descriptions.

In the Bible we find both neutral and negative uses. When used for directions, left pointed to the north, because it was on one's left side when facing east. Abraham gave Lot the choice of directions to pursue—right or left hand—with no suggestion that either was preferable.

Most uses suggest no value or preference to either; they simply identify the one in question. Deuteronomy 5:32 says, that one should go straight and not veer either to right or left.

Paul uses weapons of righteousness to defend his ministry in both his right and left hands.

II Corinthians 6:7 By the word of truth, by the power of God, by the armor of righteousness on the right hand and on the left.

But a few uses suggest a distinctly negative value for the left side. When Jacob stretched out his hands to bless Ephraim and Manasseh, he deliberately crossed his arms, putting his left hand on Manasseh the firstborn. Joseph objected since the right hand of blessing should have been placed on the oldest.

It is arguable as well that Jesus' reference to the outcome of the king's judgment of the sheep and goats shows the negative value of the left: The goats consigned to the judgment are on His left hand.

Now let us spend some time looking at how the Bible depicts goats.

Matthew 25:33 “And He will set the sheep on His right hand, but the goats on the left.”

The Azazel

The primary mention of goats in Scripture relates to their part in the Old Testament sacrificial system. Bulls, rams, goats, lambs, doves, and pigeons were all used, some of them interchangeably, to burn in sacrifice to God for the purpose of atonement and worship.

Goats, however, played a distinct symbolic role in the ceremonies required by God for the annual Day of Atonement. In those ceremonies, and in several other scriptural passages, goats primarily give us a picture connected with sin, its consequences, and the need for atonement and forgiveness.

Once a year, God instructed the Israelites, that atonement had to be made for all the sins of all the people, who would then be clean before the Lord. On the tenth day of the seventh month, the high priest was to take with him into the most holy place a young bull for a sin offering for himself and his household, two male goats for a sin offering for the people, and two rams for burnt offerings.

The two goats constituted the most unique and symbolic element of the Day of Atonement: the priest cast lots to select one goat "for the Lord" and the other for the Azazel.

The first goat was slaughtered, its blood taken into the most holy place and its body taken outside the camp and burned. The book of Hebrews symbolizes the costly death of Christ, who also "suffered outside the city gate" to take away our sins.

But when Jesus offered Himself as the perfect sin offering—one sacrifice for sins, for all time—He finished the sacrifice and sat down at the right hand of God. The high priest presented the other goat alive before the Lord, laying his hands on the goat's head and confessing over it for all the Israelites' sins, putting them on the goat's head, and then sending the goat away into the desert. That Azazel (literally, "goat of removal"), carrying all the sins of the people far away, becomes a symbol of Christ as well, who took our sins on Himself in order to remove them from us "as far as the east is from the west."

Psalm 103:12 As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us.

The picture of substitutionary atonement in these lowly goats is a beautiful and holy one, not to be forgotten, even though a more consistent pattern connects Christ's death with the sacrifice of the lamb offered for the guilt offering and for the Passover sacrifice.

Wildness

Other scriptural mentions of goats attribute more of a natural wildness to them than to lambs and sheep. They are more often pictured, for example, on the high mountains or leaping about or pushing to the head of the flock.

In Daniel's prophetic vision a great goat, representing a powerful empire, charges across the whole earth without touching the ground and attacks a huge horned ram (a rival empire), knocking him down and trampling on him.

The process of separating out one kind from another, for purposes of tallying, breeding, and sacrificing, occurred regularly.

Ezekiel as well used this process as a picture of judgment. Distinguishing between one sheep and another, and between rams and goats, symbolizes the judgment of God on Israel for their ungodly treatment of the poor and needy.

Ezekiel and Jesus both talk about love for the rest of the flock, specifically about the sharing of water and food with the weak and lowly, the ones with whom the shepherd identifies.

In Ezekiel's picture, however, there are good and bad sheep, and rams, and goats.

In the New Testament picture, the sheep are saved and the goats are lost. In Jesus' parable of final judgment, God is no longer judging the nation of Israel; rather, He is calling out of all the nations one peculiar people who are his own.

Matthew 25:32 “All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats.”

Ezekiel prophesied about this Shepherd and His sheep. His flock will be finally distinguished as one kind, His own sheep, the ones who truly followed Him. The goats come to represent all the others who mixed with the flock but who were not known by the shepherd as His own. Goats, then, are most often associated in Scripture with sin in one way or another.

In the sacrificial system, goats carried sin; and in Jesus' parable, they are the ones whose sin has not been forgiven. Biblically, the pictures of goats illustrate the human need for the forgiveness of sin.

When their characteristics are connected with people, goats are impulsive and unpredictable, devious and contrary. The grass is always greener on the other side! They are never content with what they have.

Let me give you some examples of somethings to guard against.

You may be a Goat IF—

1. You are contrary to almost everything someone else says. If someone says, “The sky is blue;” you say, “No, the sky is gray.” Or, you try to “one-up” others in a conversation.

2. You live your life in what you think are the gray areas of your thoughts and actions; that is, you are often seeing how close to the edge of the cliff you can get.

3. You only keep the letter of the law and neglect the spirit of the law, which is the law’s intent.

4. You do not see anything in your character that needs improved upon.

5. You are not a man or woman of your word; in other words, you lack integrity.

6. You do not care about the welfare of your brothers and sisters in Christ, the church.

7. You have no loyalty to your brothers and sisters in Christ. Or, you do not enjoy fellowshipping with them.

8. You never serve your brothers and sisters in Christ with your time and effort, especially in their time of need.

9. You are ‘stingy’ with God’s tithes and offerings, which means you are a tightwad when it comes to helping the brethren in need. With regard to tithing, you do not tithe a full ten percent on the increase of your labor. The first tithe is for witnessing and the administration of the church. The second tithe is for the proper keeping of the feasts of the Lord. The third tithe every three years on a seven-year cycle for the needy in the church. Keeping five percent is not tithing. The word “tithing” means ten percent.

10. You complain about, and want to change the way church administration is being administered. But the church must not be run as a corporation, as some have mistaken it to be. It is a family where the spiritual health of the members takes precedence over—by far supersedes—financial bottom lines. And, ministers must be shepherds, not policemen.

Remember, in Numbers 12, where Miriam and Aaron dissented against Moses?

Numbers 12:9-11 So the anger of the Lord was aroused against them, and He departed. And when the cloud departed from above the tabernacle, suddenly Miriam became leprous, as white as snow. Then Aaron turned toward Miriam, and there she was, a leper. So Aaron said to Moses, "Oh, my lord! Please do not lay this sin on us, in which we have done foolishly and in which we have sinned.”

These ten things are not a complete list. They are just something to help you apply the principle involved here—something for you to think about and if need be, do something about.

Goats Positive

Lest we think that goats are irredeemably bad animals in the Bible, we find a minor idea that grows out of the fact that goats' hair is used in making valuable cloth (as cashmere is made from goats' hair today). The curtains of the Tabernacle were made from goats' hair.

In addition, we notice that the enraptured lover in the Song of Songs intended a compliment when he compared his beloved's hair to that of a flock of goats moving down the slopes of Gilead.

While this could suggest a sketchy visual picture of cascading hair, or hair flowing in the wind, it is more likely a value image in which the beloved's hair is compared to its most valuable counterpart in nature.

Despite the negativity, goats are intelligent, sensitive, playful, and quick to respond to individual attention and affection.

Now let us continue in Matthew 25.

Matthew 25:31 “When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory.”

Matthew 25:33-34 “And He will set the sheep on His right hand, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on His right hand, 'Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.’”

Interestingly, without explanation Jesus shifts from the image of the Son of Man to that of King. Why does Matthew use these two titles? Certainly, the identification of Jesus as the Son of Man with the human race is self-evident. The transition from Son of Man to King becomes meaningful, however, in the light of the prophecy of Daniel, where the Son of Man comes with the clouds of heaven.

Daniel 7:14 Then to Him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and His kingdom the one which shall not be destroyed.

The Son of Man, indisputably, is King, and on Judgment Day speaks as sovereign judge.

Matthew 25:34-40 “Then the King will say to those on His right hand, 'Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: for 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.' “Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, 'Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink? When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You? Or when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?' And the King will answer and say to them, 'Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.'”

The deeds of the righteous are deeds of love and mercy unwittingly performed for Christ Himself, because it is from the heart, since it is driven by righteous character. Six times Jesus uses the first-person pronoun ‘I’ compared to the selfless ‘you’ in speaking to the righteous.

The righteous have shown human responsibility and genuine concern in all their deeds. They have proved to be worthy citizens of the Kingdom of God. They will be given the privilege of taking possession of the Kingdom. In their daily activities they showed faithfulness and diligence because of who they truly are—Christ-like.

They will receive their reward at the appointed time. In the little things of life, the righteous demonstrate their love and loyalty. They cared for the people with whom Christ identified Himself. But who are these people who became recipients of the love and kindness of the righteous? This is the surprise question put to Jesus: “Lord, when did we see you hungry?” Neither the sheep nor the goats are surprised at the right-hand or left-hand side Christ assigns them. But they are surprised at the reasons He gives for His judgment.

The basis—the foundation—of His judgment is how they treated Christ! Of course, their treatment of Christ reveals itself in how they treated those in whom Christ lives, through His Spirit.

In the New Testament, Christ identifies Himself with His followers. A memorable illustration of the bond between Christ and His followers is Paul’s encounter with Jesus on the Damascus Road. “Why do you persecute Me?” Jesus asked. Paul was, in reality, persecuting His followers.

Jesus is one with His followers, because every believing Christian is a brother or sister of Christ. Thus, by persecuting the believers, Paul persecuted Jesus.

My Brethren

Matthew 25:40 “And the King will answer and say to them, 'Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.'”

Who are the least of these My brethren? “The least of these My brethren” or, “the least of these brothers of mine,” refers to Christ’s disciples—to all true Christians. This would mean that the reaction to them and their gospel determines the nation’s fate.

In Matthew 10, Jesus said to the disciples,

Matthew 10:40-42 "He who receives you receives Me, and he who receives Me receives Him who sent Me. He who receives a prophet in the name of a prophet shall receive a prophet's reward. And he who receives a righteous man in the name of a righteous man shall receive a righteous man's reward. And whoever gives one of these little ones only a cup of cold water in the name of a disciple, assuredly, I say to you, he shall by no means lose his reward."

Jesus does not use the word “brethren” or “brothers” when referring to the world, to unbelievers, or to the unconverted in Matthew’s gospel. In Matthew, “brethren” or “brothers” means “disciples—all who follow Christ, or all true Christians.

Matthew 12:48-50 But He answered and said to the one who told Him, "Who is My mother and who are My brothers?" And He stretched out His hand toward His disciples and said, "Here are My mother and My brothers! For whoever does the will of My Father in heaven is My brother and sister and mother."

This emphasis of, “the least of these My brethren,” does not mean that the Bible is unconcerned about the poor and the oppressed. It is very concerned! We read about them often.

But that is not the thought in Matthew 25:40. What Jesus means in verse 40 is that the fate of individuals depends on how they relate to Christ’s followers, which means how they also relate to Him.

Jesus is not specifically speaking of benevolence to the poor and suffering in general, but of kindness to His poor and suffering ‘brethren’ for His sake.

True disciples will pass an examination, not because they are trying to pass an examination, but because they will love Jesus’ spiritual brothers and sisters, and therefore Jesus Himself.

Goats will fail because, of course, they will not particularly care for Jesus’ brothers and sisters, and thus will be rejecting the Messiah Himself, just as Saul of Tarsus, in persecuting Christians, was actually persecuting Jesus.

This understanding of the separation of the sheep and the goats should not surprise us, because it is one of the tests the apostle John gives in his first letter as to how we can know we are Christians.

John has three tests:

The first is whether we believe that Jesus is God come in human flesh.

I John 4:2-3 By this you know the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God, and every spirit that does not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is not of God. And this is the spirit of the Antichrist, which you have heard was coming, and is now already in the world.

The second is whether we obey Christ’s commands.

I John 2:3-6 Now by this we know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments. He who says, "I know Him," and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But whoever keeps His word, truly the love of God is perfected in him. By this we know that we are in Him. He who says he abides in Him ought himself also to walk just as He walked.

The third is whether we love other Christians.

I John 4:7-11 Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love does not know God, for God is love. In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.

This last test is the one on which the story of the separation of the sheep and goats depends, because the issue is whether we love and care for Christ’s followers, hence, whether we love Christ. This is what determines our destiny. The goats on the left-side would do whatever needs to be done, if they thought that by merely doing superficial things for their spiritual brothers they would achieve God’s Kingdom.

So, Jesus exposes any hypocrisy that might affect His judgment of the sheep and the goats, so that the basis of His judgment would be clear and just. What Jesus is looking for in us is genuine love from the heart, not a forced, fake love.

The attitude of the sheep reflects the genuine love of God from the heart. As the sheep respond to their brethren's needs, they are united with them in their trial and concern, which results in, at one and the same time, their own innocent, instinctive, sincere alignment with Christ.

Apparently, they are not even aware of what their inspiration is for doing it. This is a genuine kind of love that cannot be counterfeited.

John 13:35 “By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”

The reaction of the goats is quite different. They are deficient in how to truly live God's way of give, and are indifferent to their brethren’s needs. They do not realize that they are rejecting their Savior and King, since He lives in the people whom they will not serve.

Omission/Commission

The individuals designated goats were judged because they did not trust Jesus Christ and give evidence of that faith by caring for His brethren. When people think of sins, usually they think of sins of commission, but there are sins of omission as well. The goats are condemned because of their sins of omission.

James 4:17 Therefore, to him who knows to do good and does not do it, to him it is sin.

Not doing good is the moral equivalent of doing evil. When we compare the two judicial sentences in Matthew 25:34 and 41, we discover some interesting truths.

To begin with, the sheep were blessed of the Father; but it does not say that the goats were "cursed of the Father."

The sheep inherit the Kingdom, and inheritance is based on birth. Because they had been born from above through faith, they inherit the Kingdom.

This Kingdom was prepared for these saved individuals, but Matthew 25:41 does not state that the final fire was prepared for the goats. It was prepared for the Devil and his angels. If sinners listen to Satan and follow his ways, they will end up where he ends up—in the final fire.

Let us notice another thing as well. The wicked are condemned in this story not because of some great evil they have done, but for their simple neglect of doing good. The people spoken of here are not the great sinners of the world. They are the “good” people by human standards who occupy seats in churches and serve on humanitarian boards.

Therefore, when the judgment comes, they are astonished. They are like the foolish virgins who cannot understand why the groom will not open the door for them, or the servant who cannot perceive why the Eternal is not satisfied by his zero-growth performance.

As in these previous parables of the ten virgins, and of entrusted wealth, so in this picture of the great examination, it is not so much wrong-doing that brings the severest censure, as it is the utter failure to do good. The desire to do good comes from the mind of God imparted to us.

In contrast, the sheep will be ushered into the Kingdom to share in Christ's glory. The church will be reigning with Christ, and Israel will enjoy the fulfillment of the promises made through the prophets. All of creation will share in the glorious liberty of God's children. Jesus Christ will rule from David's throne in Jerusalem, and peace will reign for 1,000 years.

Because the sheep had developed their intimate relationship with Christ through prayer, Bible study, fasting, and obedience, they have love by way of a regular infusion of the Spirit of God.

Romans 5:5 Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us.

The sheep are simply unconsciously and unaffectedly good, kind, sympathetic, and concerned—attributes of character that cannot be contrived.

Faith and Works

Whether we love others has direct bearing on the relationship of faith and works. We know we are saved by faith alone apart from works according to the explicit teaching of the New Testament.

Ephesians 2:8-9 For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.

But if that is the case, as we believe it to be, how is it that judgment can also be based on works, as in the story of the separation of the sheep and goats or even in the Parable of the Talents? The answer, of course, is that passages that speak of judgment based on works are merely saying that it, like all judgments, will be based on demonstrable evidence. The works Christians perform do not save them, but the works are evidence that Christians love and trust the Father and the Son.

In other words, this judgment reflects on the highest level what we attempt on a much lower level to do. When we do so, we look for what we call a credible witness, meaning a verbal profession of faith in Christ supported by a consistently righteous way of life. An inconsistent life invalidates the witness, however sincerely it may be expressed.

In the case of any given individual, what matters is whether he has, during his earthly life, given evidence of his faith in Jesus Christ—a life in harmony with Christ’s commands and example.

But there is a point worth noting. The evidence of a credible Christian is not how many great works have been performed for God, how many churches have been built or sermons preached, or millions of dollars given to God’s work. The proofs of conversion are not “great” things at all. They are little things, as most people think of them: sharing food with a brother who is hungry; giving water to a sister who is thirsty; welcoming a stranger; offering clothes to one who needs clothing; or caring for the sick. It is because these are little things that the righteous do not even remember having done them.

Matthew 25:37-39 "Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, 'Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink? When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You? Or when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?'

It is also because these are little things, that the unrighteous did not do them. They might have done them if someone important, such as Jesus, had been there. But they had not seen anyone like that.

Matthew 25:44 "Then they also will answer Him, saying, 'Lord, when did we see You hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to You?'

Of course, they only delude themselves by such comments, because they would not have helped even an important person in a truly selfless way. They would have done it only for what they could have gotten in return.

Conclusion: Do These Things

Why does Jesus say these terrible things? Is he trying to frighten us? No. What good would that do?

People usually are not frightened into conversion. They may be frightened into believing that there is a God. But when they are in a foxhole with bullets whizzing by, or explosions all around, they are not frightened into conversion.

Jesus is warning us, particularly if we suppose that we are right with God when we are not right with Him, we will not be ready for Christ when He comes.

When Peter tells us in II Peter 1 to make our calling and election sure, he also explains in II Peter 1:5-7 how it should be done. He says that we must add goodness to faith, knowledge to goodness, self-control to knowledge, perseverance to self-control, godliness to perseverance, brotherly kindness to godliness, and love to brotherly kindness. In other words, we must develop Christian character. But then he also adds rightly in II Peter 1,

II Peter 1:10-11 Therefore, brethren, be even more diligent to make your call and election sure, for if you do these things you will never stumble; for so an entrance will be supplied to you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

It is only by doing them that we show we have the life of Jesus Christ within.

Matthew 25:41-46 "Then He will also say to those on the left hand, 'Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels: for I was hungry and you gave Me no food; I was thirsty and you gave Me no drink; I was a stranger and you did not take Me in, naked and you did not clothe Me, sick and in prison and you did not visit Me.' "Then they also will answer Him, saying, 'Lord, when did we see You hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to You?' Then He will answer them, saying, 'Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.' And these will go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into eternal life."

KJV, NKJV: everlasting punishment

ESV, NIV, ASV, NET: eternal punishment

NCV: punished forever

And an intriguing one:

YLT (Young’s Literal Translation): punishment age-during

Is this really an everlasting or eternal punishment? According to Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, the Greek word aionios (E-on-e-os) translated into the words: everlasting, eternal, forever, and age-during, “describes duration, either undefined but not endless; or undefined because endless.”

Aionios is also used of the sin that ‘hath never forgiveness,’ (Mark 3:29), and of the judgment of God, from which there is no appeal, (Hebrews 6:2), and of the fire, which is one of its instruments, (Matthew 18:8; 25:41; Jude 7), and which is elsewhere said to be ‘unquenchable,’ (Mark 9:43).

The use of aionios here shows that the punishment referred to in II Thessalonians 1:9, is not temporary, but final, and accordingly, the phraseology shows that its purpose is not remedial but retributive.

The everlasting fire is basically a physical fire which only consumes physical things. The end result is everlasting, not the punishment. His fire is age-lasting only. It only lasts as long as it takes to consume the evil human beings.

The meaning depends on the context in which it is found. The word aionios indicates punishing, not corrective; vengeful, not curative. There is a finality of judgment, not a continuation of it. The translation “everlasting punishment” would be better rendered “final punishment.”

II Thessalonians 1:3-12 We are bound to thank God always for you, brethren, as it is fitting, because your faith grows exceedingly, and the love of every one of you all abounds toward each other, so that we ourselves boast of you among the churches of God for your patience and faith in all your persecutions and tribulations that you endure, which is manifest evidence of the righteous judgment of God, that you may be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you also suffer; since it is a righteous thing with God to repay with tribulation those who trouble you, and to give you who are troubled rest with us when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with His mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on those who do not know God, and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. These shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power, when He comes, in that Day, to be glorified in His saints and to be admired among all those who believe, because our testimony among you was believed. Therefore we also pray always for you that our God would count you worthy of this calling, and fulfill all the good pleasure of His goodness and the work of faith with power, that the name of our Lord Jesus Christ may be glorified in you, and you in Him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.

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