Matthew 25:31-46


As we proceed now to the last of the three parabolic-type allegories (finishing chapter twenty-five), it’s even more important that we remember that the context hasn’t changed.

One more time… the disciples have inquired of Jesus (chapter twenty-four, verse three), concerning His Parousia and consummation of the age.  And He has spoken to them now without interruption – all recorded by Matthew… a discourse covering two full chapters of his Gospel.  And Jesus hasn’t changed the topic.

Twice He has told them… “in no way would this generation pass until all of these things take place.”  Then He goes back to the prophetic Word again and again to satisfy their anxious curiosity – revealing the immediacy of the fulfillment of that prophetic Word.  In other words, the next forty years (this generation) would experience the “fullness” of the mysteries that have been hidden from the foundation!

He answers their questions about His Parousia and consummation of the age.  Remember… the inquiry of the disciples and the response of Jesus, are both concerning His Parousia.  The focus of the entire two chapter discourse, although many details are brought forth from the prophets about what will happen in Israel and to Israel – the focus of the entire two-chapter discourse) is Jesus’ Parousia!  The question nor the answer are to be understood from the viewpoint of the disciples, or that of Israel’s leadership, or that of Rome, or even that of the elect Remnant of God.  The question and the answer are to be understood from Jesus’ perspective.  The question is concerning His Parousia; the answer is concerning His Parousia!  He is Logos… the “fullness” of the Word of God.

To see it any other way would be like examining the moral demise of our country through the eyes of those who participated in that moral demise and brought it to pass – as the confluence of an incalculable number of uncontrollable events.  In other words… an accident!  Many would say… “It just happened!  What’s so bad about it?”

But, you see, the things being described by Jesus are not accidental!  They were all prophesied by the prophets who were being moved by the Spirit of God.  And the God of history and the God of creation and the God of all the nations was working to bring His will to pass… from His perspective… by His will.

So as we read the text and seek out the Truth, the questions we need to ask (and answer) are similar to the ones the disciples asked!  They asked:  “What is the sign of Your Parousia and consummation of the age?”  What is it that Jesus is doing and about to do?”

So the appropriate questions have little to do with how servants and employees are supposed to act while their employer is away on a trip… or whether we’re to keep oil lamps and additional fuel handy at all times… or whether we are to stay in a state of heightened anticipation due to an imminent eschatological event!

The prophets had prophesied a radical discontinuity in history; one in which The Son of Man would be crowned “King” and given all power in Heaven and Earth.  And the old would be destroyed in a “flood” of wrath similar to the deluge in Noah’s time.  And the elect people of God (the prophesied “remnant”) were to “flee” into the mountains where they would be sheltered under the “wings” of the Father!  (One prophet says that God will split the mountains around Jerusalem in order that His people could safely flee!)

But the prophets called this the “Day of the Lord”; Luke said “the Day of Vengeance.”  But the King, having made the “old” desolate, the “Dayspring” would dawn on a new Heavens and a new earth in which God would put His Law in the hearts of His people, and He would be their God and they would be His people.  It would be a new and better covenant than the old one, because the perfect sacrifice would have been made rather than “foreshadowed” as in the old one!  And those covered in the blood of the Lamb of God would “persevere” (stay under) in faithfulness and obedience … unlike the former betrothed of God!  She, Israel, was a harlot; the new Israel is faithful!

And all of this would happen in this generation.  In no way would this generation pass until all of these things took place!  Chapter twenty-five includes three parabolic-type allegories having to do with these things… the first having to do with the coming of the Bridegroom and the crying out in the night:  “Hosannah (save now); Alleluia… blessed be He Who comes in the Name of the Lord.”

The second allegory, which we heard last Lord’s Day, has to do with the Lord Who went away to receive His Kingdom and returned as Sovereign King!  (One who is sovereign is one who originates law, and who has the power to bring sanctions against lawbreakers.)

Both of these allegories reflect the Word of the prophets concerning the Parousia of Messiah!  One… the Bridegroom comes for the betrothed; the other… the King Who comes to rule and judge His people!  Both focus on the Christ, don’t they?  They both illustrate what Jesus is about to do!  They reflect that which is shortly to come to pass… with regard to God’s Messiah!

And the disciples of Jesus (soon to be apostles) will spend the next forty years preaching and teaching and writing the inspired canon and establishing the Church… the whole time under severe persecution… and anticipating the imminent Parousia of the Bridegroom/King in this generation!

And now (before the chapter is over, and before the discourse is completed, and in the same context) we have a third allegory.  And this one, because it’s in the same discourse and the same context, and because the first two have to do with the imminent Parousia of God’s Messiah, (this one) will have to do with the imminent Parousia of God’s Messiah!

In those ways it will be the same as the other two… a different parabolic allegory reflecting some aspect of the Parousia of Christ and His Kingdom; but (in all those ways just stated) the same.

So.  Having said all of that (having to do with how the allegory is to be interpreted) let’s quickly run through the text.  And as we do that, you see if you can determine the very center of it.  And remember, the “Parousia” is the active Presence of the King, and all that goes on because of His Presence.  And the “consummation of the age” (as we’ve already determined) is the King’s “termination” of all that is old and the establishment of a new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.

So listen now as you look at your text.  As verse thirteen says (directly from Daniel chapter seven), the “Son of Man” shall be ushered by all the holy angels of God into the Presence of the Father (having been crucified and resurrected); and He will be given glory and power and dominion and a Kingdom.  “And He shall sit upon His glorious throne….”  To “sit” upon the throne is to assume the Kingdom.  A “sitting” king is a reigning sovereign.  That’s why Jesus put it like that here in His parable.

Jesus did not sin; but He was made sin in order that He might substitute His Own righteous obedience for God’s elect people – making reconciliation where, before, there was only enmity.  And for His willing and obedient inglorious humiliation and suffering and death, He was to be resurrected and given the Kingdom by His Father for His faithful obedience.

There’s more to say about this verse, but I’ll leave it for now for the sake of this quick overview and come back later.

Verse two.  Having assumed the rulership of it all, all the peoples are “convened” before Him, which is a “figure” signifying His ultimate authority over them all.  The word “convened” is the word from which comes the Jewish synagogue.  And it’s used here in a way similar to that found in Genesis chapter thirty-five when God blessed Jacob.  Verse eleven says:  “And God said unto him, I Am God Almighty.  Be fruitful and multiply; and a nation and a company of nations shall be of you, and kings shall come out of your loins.”

A “company of nations” is this word that we’ve translated “convened.”  The rulership and authority of the newly-crowned King would be over a “company” of peoples.  The “convention” or “assembly” of the peoples is a part of the structure of the allegory.  The point of it is to illustrate the absolute authority of the risen and ascended Divine King over all peoples.  The figure of their “assembly” illustrates that they are all under His authority.  And it doesn’t matter (to His authority) whether they acknowledge it… they are under it!  It is a “display” of His Authority over all men and all nations.

But as verse two says, He shall separate them as a shepherd separates sheep from goats.  In that great “company of peoples” (nations), the “sheep” will be set apart out from His right, and the “goats” out from the left (verse thirty-three).

Then (in verse thirty-four) the King will say to those to the right (the sheep), those who are presently in a state of having always been blessed of the Father (that’s the sense of the perfect, passive participle), Come… receive to you (inherit is a good word) the Kingdom which is presently in a state of having always been in process of being prepared (perfect passive participle) since the foundation (laying, casting down) of cosmos!

Then (directly from Isaiah fifty-eight and Ezekiel thirty-four), the King shall relate to them all the means by which the people of God are to be shepherded.  And the “sheep” will be credited with having done all of them to the King.  The “sheep” won’t know they’ve done that, and they will ask the King when they did it!  And He will say, “In as much as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to Me.”  (verse forty)

Then He will say to the ones out from His left, “Depart from Me you who are in a present state of having always been cursed (perfect passive participle), (depart from me) into the eternal fire which is in a present state of having always been in process of being prepared (perfect passive participle) for the devil and his angels!”  (verse forty-one)

They will be told that they have not done to the King the things that a good shepherd does (Isaiah fifty-eight)!  But this group protests and says, “When did we not do those things to You?”

And the King shall say, “When you didn’t do them to the least of these (“My brothers” understood), you didn’t do them to Me!” (verse forty-five) 

Then in the last verse Jesus says, “and they (those out to the left) will go away into eternal punishment.  But the just (the righteous… those who are presently in a state of being blessed of God, and who are credited with having ministered to the King – and who didn’t claim anything!), (the just) into life eternal.”

Now.  That’s the structure of this third parable about the imminent Parousia of Christ.  Remember, the first concerned the appearance of the Bridegroom to receive His bride to Himself, and found that she had become a harlot during the betrothal; the second was the lord who went far away from home to receive his kingdom, and there were many who didn’t wish him to reign over them!  What might you think this last one concerns?

Even though it is an elaborate allegory, it is much more open and direct in its purpose; and its references to the Law and the Prophets are very specific.

Let me give you only two or three examples of that.  And, as usual, these Older Testament passages will open up the meaning for us; and then we can go ahead with a full interpretation of the parable (it will be almost automatic at that point!).

The first example comes out of the first verse (verse thirty-one of our text – I said we’d be back to it).  It is the reference to all the angels.  The “myriads upon myriads” of angels… the host of heaven… appear in the visions of the prophets (and therefore on the pages of Scripture) only at certain events.  This, of course, being one of them… Daniel chapter seven (which we’ve read so many times) being the prophecy of the crowning of the King!   Jesus almost quotes that prophecy here in verse thirty-one one at the coming of the King in His allegory.

But listen now to an almost exact replica of Jesus’ allegory in another occasion in which the myriads of angels appear.  This is Deuteronomy thirty-three.  This is where Moses is blessing Israel and recounting what God had done.  At verse one:


“And this is the blessing with which Moses the man of God blessed the children of Israel before his death.  And he said, ‘The Lord is come from Sinai… with the ten thousands of His angels on His right.  And He spared His people; and all His sanctified ones are under thy hands.  A fiery Law went out from his right, the Law which Moses charged us – an inheritance to the assemblies of Jacob.”


At the point at which God chose and separated out His people, and constituted them and gave them His Sovereign original Law and its sanctions, the myriads of the angels were with Him, just as they are here in Jesus’ allegory.

The same is also true of the prophecy of Zechariah in chapter fourteen.  He says, in referring to the last days in Israel, that Yahveh will come with all His holy angels and shall separate out the remnant… who will flee to His Sovereign protection through a split in the Mount of Olives.  There shall be judgment and deliverance… then the Lord shall be King over His possession; and Rivers of Living Water will flow from Jerusalem to the nations.  This is an obvious prophecy of the King of Kings, and His Gospel flowing out to the nations.

And then back, of course, to the Daniel chapter seven passage in which the Throne of God is seen… with fire coming out, and with myriads of angels.  And the Son of Man came with the clouds of heaven into the Throne-room of God and He was given a Kingdom over which He had absolute sovereignty… all of that pictured here in our parable in verse thirty-one.  And the Sovereign Ruler separated out His people (just as in the Deuteronomy passage, and in the prophecy of Zechariah) and judged righteously by the sanctions of His Own original Law, freely giving righteousness to His people on the right, and justly separating the others to eternal judgment!

These three passages are almost identical in language and purpose:  the myriads of angels; the separating out of an elect people; and the application of the sanctions of Divine Sovereign Law!  The hosts of angels are there in each of the three cases to carry out the decrees of the Lawmaker.  And that’s exactly the image which Jesus portrays in this parable this morning.

And lastly I want to deal with this allusion to the shepherd in verse two.  Just as the shepherd sets the sheep apart from the goats, the King, in righteous judgment, will set the people apart!

Shepherds did set sheep apart from goats.  They are two different kinds of animals.  And their characteristics are different.  Goats are hairy and have a very strong odor, and they are aggressive by nature… pushing and shoving.  (In fact the name “he-goat” has the same Hebrew root as “hairy.”  And you remember that Isaac, blind and near death, could tell the difference between his sons Jacob and Esau by Esau’s odor and body hair.  He was called a “hairy” man… the same root as “he-goat.”  And Jacob was elect and loved by God; but Esau was hated and reprobated by God!  They were set apart!  And Jacob became the father of many nations… synogogued (convened) at the right of the King!)

But there are two main passages in which God condemns the “shepherds” of Israel.  Isaiah fifty-eight describes the wicked leadership of Israel as participating in solemn fasts (hypocritically, of course), and ripping off the people of God at the same time!  And He says to them:  “Isn’t this the fast that I have chosen… to loose the bands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, to free the oppressed and break every yoke, to give bread to the hungry, gather the outcasts, and clothe the naked?”  You fast?  And rip the people off at the same time?  My Temple?

You see, these are the things by which the newly enthroned King (in our parable), whose Parousia was imminent, judged the people on his left to eternal fire!

And then, lastly, there is that great Ezekiel chapter thirty-four in which the whole chapter is taken up in prophesying against the shepherds of Israel.  For thirty-one verses he lists their evils and mistreatment of the scattered flock of God.  They have left them hungry and thirsty and naked and sick and in prison!!  But The Good Shepherd will seek them out and gather them and heal their wounds and set a table before them. 

And through Ezekiel God says:


“…therefore thus saith the Lord God unto (the shepherds):  ‘Lo I, even I, will judge between the fat and the lean.  Because you have thrust with side and with shoulder, and pushed all the diseased with your horns til you have scattered them to the outside (goats’ behavior), therefore will I save my flock, and they shall no more be a prey; and I will judge between ram and ram.  And I will set up One Shepherd over them, and He shall feed them… even My servant David.”


In a day of deep, dark clouds the great Shepherd of the Sheep will come (the Parousia) and judge between the sheep and the goats.  And the shepherds of Israel will suffer the sanctions of the Law of the King for every drop of blood spilled of God’s righteous elect from Abel to the present.  (23:35; 24:9)

God loves His elect sheep and knows each of them by name.  And Christ the Lord came to save them by His Own blood.  If a cup of cold water is given to the least of these in His Name, then it has been given to Him.  And if it has not been done to the least of these then it has not been done unto Him.  Entrapments are inevitable; but woe unto the one through whom the entrapment comes (Matthew eighteen).  For if the least of these newborn babes is entrapped, then it would have been better for that man to have been cast into the lake tied to a millstone.  The sheep are His; the babes are His; the elect of God are His.

This parable is clearly the parable of the Good Shepherd who sets His Own sheep apart from the rest.  At His Parousia He judges righteously and gives safety and eternal life to those who belong to Him.  And He gives the just reward to those who are not.  It is a parable of separation.  Israel is to be separated out and destroyed; and God’s elect from all the nations are to be gathered (synagogued).