Examining Matthew 24, Part 13: The Parable of the Sheep and the Goats

by | May 22, 2020 | Examining Matthew 24 Series, Other Sheep, Videos | 8 comments

Welcome to Part 13 of our analysis of the Olivet Discourse found at Matthew chapters 24 and 25. 

In this video, we will analyze the famous parable of the Sheep and the Goats.  However, before getting into that, I wanted to share something eye-opening with you.

One of the regulars on the Beroean Pickets (Beroeans.net) website added a significant thought to our previous discussion into the application of the parable of the faithful and discreet slave, the subject of the last video.  This thought consists of a single scripture that by itself completely overturns the teaching of the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses that there has been no slave for the past 1900 years until 1919.

The scripture I’m referring to is when Peter asked Jesus: “Lord, are you telling this illustration just to us or also to everyone?”” (Luke 12:41)

Instead of giving a direct answer, Jesus launches into his Faithful and Discreet Slave parable.  This parable is tied to Peter’s question, which only gives two options: either the parable applies to only Jesus’ immediate disciples or it applies to everyone.  There is no way to construe a third option, one that would have Jesus implying, ”Neither to you, nor to everyone, but ONLY to a group that will not appear for almost 2,000 years.”

Come on! Let’s be reasonable here.

Anyway, I just wanted to share that morsel of spiritual food and thank Marielle for sharing it with us. 

Now, on to the final of the four parables Jesus shared with his disciples just prior to his arrest and execution, which is the parable of the sheep and goats.

We should start by reading the entire parable, and since the interpretation given this passage by the Organization of Jehovah’s Witnesses will figure in our analysis, it is only fair that we first read it in their version of the Bible.

“When the Son of man arrives in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit down on his glorious throne. 32 And all the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another, just as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 And he will put the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on his left.

 “Then the king will say to those on his right, ‘Come, YOU who have been blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for YOU from the founding of the world.  For I became hungry and YOU gave me something to eat; I got thirsty and YOU gave me something to drink. I was a stranger and YOU received me hospitably;  naked, and YOU clothed me. I fell sick and YOU looked after me. I was in prison and YOU came to me.’  Then the righteous ones will answer him with the words, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty, and give you something to drink?  When did we see you a stranger and receive you hospitably, or naked, and clothe you?  When did we see you sick or in prison and go to you?’  And in reply the king will say to them, ‘Truly I say to YOU, To the extent that YOU did it to one of the least of these my brothers, YOU did it to me.’

“Then he will say, in turn, to those on his left, ‘Be on YOUR way from me, YOU who have been cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the Devil and his angels. 42 For I became hungry, but YOU gave me nothing to eat, and I got thirsty, but YOU gave me nothing to drink. I was a stranger, but YOU did not receive me hospitably; naked, but YOU did not clothe me; sick and in prison, but YOU did not look after me.’ Then they also will answer with the words, ‘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 with the words, ‘Truly I say to YOU, To the extent that YOU did not do it to one of these least ones, YOU did not do it to me.’ And these will depart into everlasting cutting-off, but the righteous ones into everlasting life.”

(Matthew 25:31-46 NWT Reference Bible)

This is a very important parable for the theology of Jehovah’s Witnesses.  Remember, they preach that only 144,000 individuals will go to heaven to rule with Christ.  The Governing Body members are the most prominent part of this group of spirit-anointed Christians, since they claim to be the Faithful and Discreet Slave appointed by Jesus himself just 100 years ago.  The Governing Body teaches that the rest of Jehovah’s Witnesses are the “other sheep” of John 10:16.

“I have other sheep, which are not of this fold; those too I must bring in, and they will listen to my voice, and they will become one flock, one shepherd” (John 10:16 NWT).  

According to Witness teaching, these “other sheep” are relegated to being only subjects of the Messianic Kingdom, with no hope of sharing with Jesus as Kings and priests.  If they obey the Governing Body and zealously preach the Good News according to Jehovah’s Witnesses, they will survive Armageddon, continue to live in sin, and get a chance at everlasting life if they behave themselves for another 1,000 years.

Witnesses teach:

“Jehovah has declared his anointed ones righteous as sons and the other sheep righteous as friends on the basis of Christ’s ransom sacrifice…” (w12 7/15 p. 28 par. 7 “One Jehovah” Gathers His Family)

If there were even one Scripture that spoke of some Christians having the hope of being declared righteous as God’s friends, I’d share it; but there isn’t one.  Abraham is called God’s friend at James 2:23, but then Abraham wasn’t a Christian.  Christians are referred to as God’s children in many scriptures, but never has mere friends.  I’ll put a list of scriptures in the description of this video so you can prove this fact for yourselves. 

(Scriptures that show the real Christian hope: Matthew 5:9; 12:46-50; John 1:12; Romans 8:1-25; 9:25, 26; Galatians 3:26; 4:6, 7; Colossians 1:2; 1 Corinthians 15:42-49; 1 John 3:1-3; Revelation 12:10; 20:6

Witnesses teach the Other Sheep are not adopted as God’s children, but are relegated to the status of friends. They are not in the new covenant, do not have Jesus as their mediator, do not get resurrected to everlasting life, but are resurrected in the same sinful state as the unrighteous that Paul refers to at Acts 24:15.  These are not permitted to partake of the life-saving blood and flesh of Jesus as symbolized by the wine and bread at memorial. 

There is no proof of any of this in Scripture.  So how does the Governing Body get the rank and file to buy into it?  Mostly by getting them to blindly accept speculation and wild interpretation, but even that has to be based on something scriptural.  Just as most churches try to get their followers to buy into the teaching of hellfire by wildly misapplying the parable of Lazarus and the Rich man of Luke 16:19-31, so Witness leadership seizes on the parable of the sheep and the goats in an effort to shore up their self-serving interpretation of John 10:16 to create a clergy/laity class distinction.

Here’s a link for a detailed video analysis of the Other Sheep doctrine, but if you really want to get into the truly bizarre origins of this doctrine, I will put a link in the description of this video to articles written on Beroean Pickets.

(I should pause here for a clarification.  The Bible speaks of only one hope held out to Christians at Ephesians 4:4-6. However, anytime I speak of this one hope, some get the idea that I don’t believe in a paradise earth filled with sinless, perfected humans. Nothing could be farther from the truth.  However, that isn’t the one hope currently offered by God.  We’re putting the cart before the horse if we think that.  First, the Father sets up the administration by which all humanity can be reconciled to him.  Then, through this administration, restoration of humanity back into the earthly family of God is made possible.  That earthly hope will be extended to all those living under the Messianic kingdom, be they Armageddon survivors or resurrected ones.  But now, we are in phase one of the process: the gathering of those who will comprise the first resurrection of Revelation 20:6. These are the children of God.)

Returning to our discussion: Is support for its “Other Sheep” doctrine, the only thing the Organization hopes to get out of this parable? Indeed, not.  The March 2012 Watchtower claims:

“The other sheep should never forget that their salvation depends on their active support of Christ’s anointed “brothers” still on earth. (Matt 25:34-40)” (w12 3/15 p. 20 par. 2)

That means that if you want to be saved, you have to obey the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses. In the now infamous Regional Convention bunker videos, the idea conveyed in the November 2013 Watchtower study “Seven Shepherds, Eight Dukes—What They Mean for us Today” was reinforced.

“At that time, the life-saving direction that we receive from Jehovah’s organization may not appear practical from a human standpoint. All of us must be ready to obey any instructions we may receive, whether these appear sound from a strategic or human standpoint or not.” (w13 11/15 p. 20 par. 17 Seven Shepherds, Eight Dukes—What They Mean for Us Today)

The Bible doesn’t say this. Instead, we are taught that “there is no salvation in anyone else [but Jesus], for there is not another name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must get saved.” (Acts 4:12)

You see how inconvenient that is for a man who is trying to get other men to obey him unconditionally.  If the Governing Body cannot get Witnesses to accept their application of the parable of the sheep and goats to themselves, then they have no basis for claiming that our “salvation depends on our active support of them”.

Let’s pause for a moment and engage our power of critical thought.  The men of the Governing Body are saying that according to their interpretation of the parable of the sheep and the goats, your salvation and mine depends on our giving them absolute obedience.  Hmm… Now what does God say about giving absolute obedience to men?

“Do not put your trust in princes, Nor in a son of man, who cannot bring salvation.” (Psalm 146:3 New World Translation)

What is a prince? Is he not someone anointed to rule, to govern? Is that not what the Governing Body members claim to be?  Let’s listen to Losch speak about this very topic: {INSERT LOSCH VIDEO ABOUT GOD TRUSTING THE SLAVE}

When did this current idea of the other sheep by self-anointed princes originate? Believe it or not, it was in 1923.  According to the March 2015 Watchtower:

“The Watch Tower of October 15, 1923…presented sound Scriptural arguments that limited the identity of Christ’s brothers to those who would rule with him in heaven, and it described the sheep as those who hope to live on earth under the rule of Christ’s Kingdom.” (w15 03/15 p. 26 par. 4)

One has to wonder why these “sound Scriptural arguments” are not reproduced in this 2015 article. Alas, the October 15, 1923 issue of The Watchtower has not been included in the Watchtower Library program, and Kingdom halls were told to remove all old publications many years ago, so there is no way for the average Jehovah’s Witness to verify this statement unless he or she wishes to flout the direction of the Governing Body and go on the internet to research this.

But none of us are constrained by that prohibition, are we?  So, I have obtained the 1923 volume of The Watchtower, and on page 309, par. 24, and found the “sound Scriptural arguments” they refer to:

“To whom, then, do the symbols sheep and goats apply? We answer: Sheep represent all the peoples of the nations, not spirit-begotten but disposed toward righteousness, who mentally acknowledge Jesus Christ as the Lord and who are looking for and hoping for a better time under his reign. Goats represent all that class who claim to be Christians, but who do not acknowledge Christ as the great Redeemer and King of Mankind, but claim that the present evil order of things on this earth constitutes Christ’s kingdom.”

One would suppose that “sound Scriptural arguments” would include…I don’t know…scriptures?  Apparently not. Perhaps this is merely the result of slipshod research and overconfidence by the writer of the 2015 article.  Or perhaps it is indicative of something more disturbing.  Whatever the case, there is no excuse for misleading eight million faithful readers by telling them that one’s teaching is based on the Bible when in fact it is not.

Wait a minute, wait a minute…there’s something about 1923…Oh, right! That was when Judge Rutherford, the foremost member of the Faithful and Discreet Slave according to the current doctrine, was feeding the flock with the idea that the end would come two years later in 1925 starting with the resurrection of “ancient worthies” like Abraham, Moses, and King David.   He even bought a 10-bedroom mansion in San Diego called Beth Sarim (House of the Princes) and put the deed in the name of those “old testament princes”.  It was a nice place for Rutherford to winter and do his writing, among other things. (See Wikipedia under Beth Sarim)

Notice that this major doctrine was conceived at a time when the flock was also being taught yet another end-of-days fantasy. Not much of a doctrinal pedigree, wouldn’t you agree?

Paragraph 7 of the aforementioned March 2015 Watchtower goes on to assure the rank and file: “Today, we have a clear understanding of the illustration of the sheep and the goats.”

Ah, well, if that is the case—if they finally have it right—then how does the Organization interpret the six acts of mercy Jesus speaks of?  How do we quench their thirst, feed them when hungry, shelter them when alone, clothe them when naked, nurse them when sick, and support them when imprisoned?

Since the Governing Body considers itself the foremost of Jesus’ brothers today, how can this parable be applied to them?  How are we to quench their thirst, and feed their hungry stomachs, and cover their naked bodies? You see the problem. They live in greater luxury than the vast majority of the rank and file. So how to fulfill the parable?

Why, by donating money to the Organization, by building up its real estate holdings, and more than anything else, by preaching its version of the Good News. The Watchtower of March 2015 makes this pitch:

“The growing number of prospective sheep count it a privilege to support Christ’s brothers not only in the preaching work but also in other practical ways. For example, they give financial contributions and help to build Kingdom Halls, Assembly Halls, and branch facilities, and they loyally obey those appointed by “the faithful and discreet slave” to take the lead.” (w15 03/15 p. 29 par. 17)

Admittedly, for many years, I accepted this interpretation because like many faithful witnesses I trusted these men, and I accepted their interpretation of the identity of the other sheep as well as the belief that only Jehovah’s Witnesses were preaching the real good news in all the earth. But I have learned to be not so trusting. I’ve learned to demand more of those who teach me. One thing I demand is that they not skip over key elements of a Bible teaching that may be inconvenient to their interpretation.

Have you noticed what elements of this parable have been completely ignored by the organization? Remember that eisegesis is a technique by which one has an idea and cherry-picks Scriptures to support it, while ignoring those that would disprove it. On the other hand, exegesis looks at all the Scriptures and lets the Bible interpret itself. Let’s do that now.

No one wants to die eternally. We all want to live eternally. It follows, therefore, that we all want to be sheep in the Lord’s eyes. Who are the sheep? How can we identify that group so as to make sure we end up as part of it?

Temporal Context

Before we get into the actual context of the parable, let’s look at the circumstances or temporal context. This is one of four parables all given at the same time, to the same audience, under the same circumstances. Jesus is about to depart the earth and he needs to give his disciples some final instructions and assurances.

A common element in all four parables is the return of the King. We have already seen in the first three parables—the faithful slave, the ten virgins, the talents—that application is made to all his disciples and exclusively to his disciples.  Both the evil slave and the faithful slave come from within the Christian community. The five indolent virgins represent Christians who don’t prepare for his return, whereas the five wise virgins are Christians who remain alert and prepared. The parable of the talents speaks of growing the Lord’s investment by cultivating the gifts of the spirit that we have each received.

Another common element in all four parables is that of judgment. Some form of judgment takes place upon the Master’s return. Given this, would it not be that the sheep and the goats also represent two different outcomes which can apply to all of Christ’s disciples?

An element that has caused confusion is the fact that the sheep and the goats are judged based on how they dealt with the needs of Christ’s brothers. Therefore, we assume there are three groups: his brothers, the Sheep, and the Goats.

That’s a possibility, yet we have to remember that in the parable of the faithful and discreet slave, all of Christ’s brothers—all Christians—are appointed to feed each other.  They only become one type of slave or another at the time of judgment.  Is something similar happening in the last parable?  Is it how we treat each other that determines whether we end up a sheep or a goat?

The answer to this question is found in verse 34.

“Then the King will say to those on his right: ‘Come, you who have been blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the founding of the world.” (Matthew 25:34)

The sheep sitting at the master’s right hand inherit the kingdom prepared for them from the founding of the world. Who inherits the kingdom? It is the children of the King who inherit the kingdom.  Romans 8:17 says:

“And if we are children, then we are heirs: heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ—if indeed we suffer with Him, so that we may also be glorified with Him.” (Romans 8:17 BSB)

Christ inherits the kingdom. His brothers are co-heirs who also inherit.  The sheep inherit the kingdom. Ergo, the sheep are Christ’s brothers.

It says this kingdom was prepared for the sheep from the founding of the world.

When was the world founded?  The Greek word here rendered “founding” is katabolé, meaning: (a) foundation, (b) depositing, sowing, deposit, technically used of the act of conception.

Jesus is not talking about the planet but of the moment the world of Mankind came into being, the conception of the first man, Cain.  Before he was conceived, Jehovah had foretold that two seeds or offspring would be at war with one another (see Genesis 3:15). The seed of the women came to be Jesus and through him all those making up his anointed bride, the children of God, Christ’s brothers.

Now consider these parallel verses and to whom they apply:

“However, this I say, brothers, that flesh and blood cannot inherit God’s kingdom, neither does corruption inherit incorruption.” (1 Corinthians 15:50)

“… as he chose us to be in union with him before the founding of the world, that we should be holy and unblemished before him in love.” (Ephesians 1:4)

Ephesians 1:4 speaks of something chosen before the founding of the world and it is obviously speaking about anointed Christians.  1 Corinthians 15:50 also speaks of anointed Christians inheriting the kingdom of God.  Matthew 25:34 uses both these terms which are applied elsewhere to anointed Christians, the “brothers of Christ”.

What is the basis for judgment in this parable?  In the parable of the faithful slave, it was whether or not one fed one’s fellow slaves. In the parable of the virgins, it was whether one remained awake.  In the parable of the talents, it depended on whether one worked to grow the gift left to each.  And now we have six criteria that form the basis for judgment.

It all comes down to whether the ones being judged,

  1. gave food to the hungry;
  2. gave water to the thirsty;
  3. showed hospitality to a stranger;
  4. clothed the naked;
  5. cared for the sick;
  6. comforted those in prison.

In a phrase, how would you describe each of these?  Are they not all acts of mercy?  A kindness shown to someone who is suffering and in need?

What does mercy have to do with judgment?  James tells us:

“For the one who does not practice mercy will have his judgment without mercy. Mercy exults triumphantly over judgment.” (James 2:13 NWT Reference Bible)

To this point, we can deduce that Jesus is telling us that if we want to be favorably judged, we must perform acts of mercy; otherwise, we get what we deserve.

James continues:

“Of what benefit is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but he does not have works? That faith cannot save him, can it? 15 If a brother or a sister is lacking clothing and enough food for the day, 16 yet one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but you do not give them what they need for their body, of what benefit is it? 17 So, too, faith by itself, without works, is dead.” (James 2:14-17)

Acts of mercy are acts of faith.  We cannot be saved without faith.

Let us remember that this parable of the sheep and the goats is just a parable—not a prophecy.  There are prophetic elements to it, but a parable is intended to teach a moral lesson. It is not all-encompassing.  We cannot take it literally.  Otherwise, all you’d have to do to get eternal life would be to find one of Christ’s brothers, give him a glass of water when he’s thirsty, and bingo, bango, bungo, you’re saved yourself for all eternity.

Sorry. Not that easy. 

You will recall the parable of the wheat and weeds, also found in the book of Matthew. In that parable, even the angels couldn’t distinguish which were wheat and which were weeds until the harvest. What chance do we have of knowing who is truly one of Christ’s brothers, a son of the kingdom, and who is a son of the wicked one? (Matthew 13:38) So our gifts of mercy cannot be self-serving. They cannot be restricted to just a few. For we do not know who are Christ’s brothers and who are not. Therefore, mercy should be a characteristic of the Christian personality that we all want to display.

Likewise, let us not think that this involves all the nations literally, in the sense that this particular judgment falls upon every last human alive when Christ sits down on his throne.  How are young children and little infants in a position to show mercy to Christ’s brothers?  How are people in areas of the earth where there are no Christians going to be able to show mercy to one of his brothers? 

Christians come from all nations. The great crowd of Revelation 7:14 comes out of every tribe, people, language and nation. This is the judgment on the house of God, not the world at large.  (1 Peter 4:17)

However, the Governing Body makes the parable of the sheep and the goats about Armageddon.  They claim Jesus will judge the world then and will condemn to eternal death as goats all who are not active members of the faith of Jehovah’s Witnesses.  But there’s an obvious flaw in their logic.

Consider the judgment. 

“These will depart into everlasting cutting-off, but the righteous ones into everlasting life.” (Matthew 25:46)

If the Sheep are the “other sheep,” then this verse cannot apply, for the other sheep—according to the Governing Body—do not depart into everlasting life, but remain sinners and at best, and only get a chance at everlasting life if they continue to behave themselves for the next 1,000 years.  Yet here, in the Bible, the reward is an absolute guarantee! Remember that verse 34 shows it involves inheriting the kingdom, something which only the sons of the King can do.  It is the kingdom of God, and the children of God inherit it.  Friends do not inherit; only the children inherit.   

As we have said before, a parable is often intended to teach a moral lesson in an easy to understand fashion.  Jesus is here showing us the value of mercy in the outworking of our salvation.  Our salvation doesn’t depend on obeying the Governing Body. It depends on our exhibiting loving kindness to those in need. Indeed, Paul called this the fulfilment of the law of the Christ:

“Go on carrying the burdens of one another, and in this way you will fulfill the law of the Christ.” (Galatians 6:2 NWT).

Paul wrote to the Galatians exhorting them: “So, then, as long as we have the opportunity, let us work what is good toward all, but especially toward those related to us in the faith.” (Galatians 6:10)

If you want to understand just how critical love, forgiveness and mercy are to your salvation and mine, read the entire 18th chapter of Matthew and meditate on its message.

I hope you have enjoyed our discussion of the Olivet Discourse found at Matthew 24 and 25. I hope it has proven beneficial to you.  Check the description of this video for links to other videos on other topics. For the archive of previous articles on many topics relating to Jehovah’s Witnesses, check out the Beroean Pickets website. I’ve put a link to that in the description as well.  Thank you for watching.

Meleti Vivlon

Articles by Meleti Vivlon.

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