The Parables of Jesus, Lesson 9: The Parable of the Final Judgment


In the last Lesson, we studied The Parable of the Ten Virgins and The Parable of the Talents, which all deal with being prepared to meet Jesus.  They both dealt with our Lord’s return on the Last Day and its significance.  Today, we learn what happens after Christ’s return—in a parable.

We can understand this parable better if we are aware of the usual, Jewish conceptions of judgment in Jesus’ day.  To help us appreciate it, we read an excerpt from the Book of Enoch, a non-Scriptural, Jewish end-times work, dating from just before Christ.  The New Testament book of Jude references it (Jude 1:14-15), and Paul expects the readers of 2 Corinthians to know it when he mentions the “third heaven” (2 Corinthians 12:2).

In Enoch 62-63, we read:

In that day, all the kings, the mighty, the exalted, and those who possess the earth… will be terrified when they see the Son of Man sitting on the throne of his glory.  All the kings, the mighty, the exalted, and those who rule over all the earth will fall on their faces before him.  They will set their hope on the Son of Man, petition him, and plead for mercy.

Then the Lord of Spirits will hurry to expel them from his presence.  Their faces will be full of confusion, and darkness will grow deeper on their faces….   And they will cry, “Light has vanished from before us, and darkness will be where we will live forever.  For we did not believe in him, we did not praise the name of the Lord of Spirits; we did not praise the Lord for all his works.  No, we trusted, instead, in the scepter of our kingdom and our magnificence.”

This passage reveals what most Jews expected to happen at the Last Judgment: The mighty rulers of the Gentile nations, which oppressed Israel, will finally confess the supremacy of their God (the Lord of Spirits) and His Messiah (the Son of man).  They will regret not believing in Him and be banished into darkness.

Will Jesus teach this in His parable?


The Parable Begins

Some hesitate to call this section of Scripture a “parable.”  The reasons for this vary, which include not wanting others to “allegorize” away the final judgment.  However, when we read Jesus will place the sheep on His right and the goats on His left, we know this isn’t literal.  People are not sheep and goats.

Within the context of Matthew, this sorting follows two parables.  So, it makes the best sense to see this section as a parable, while we recognize the dangers of “allegorizing” away the parts we may not like.  Further, within the corpus of Jewish writing, 1 Enoch labels such pictures of the final judgment involving the “Son of Man,” who is also called a “king,” as a “parable.”  So, we should not let current hesitations of using the term “parable” to keep us from calling what this section is—a parable.

Read Matthew 25:31-33

  • Who is the “Son of Man” and what does sitting on a “glorious throne” signify?


  • What is this “Son of Man” doing with the assembled people?


  • What does “all the nations” show about who is part of this assembly?


“sheep and goats”: Some shepherds separated goats and sheep at night.  Goats needed more warmth, making enclosures for them typical.  Sheep preferred the open air and would remain outside if safe.

“nations”: Greek, ethne, which can also mean “Gentiles.”  This corresponds to the Hebrew goyim, the nations of the world, not the Israel of God.  The Jews in Jesus’ day expected the nations to be separated from one another based on their treatment of Israel.  The sheep would be those Gentiles who supported Israel; the goats, those who oppressed them.

  • What can the Son of Man recognize about people, though outwardly they may appear the same?


The Son of Man can tell the true nature of those assembled before Him as clearly as a shepherd can distinguish between a sheep and a goat.


The Sheep

Read Matthew 25:33

  • Where are the sheep and goats separated?


“sheep”: A metaphor as a consistent description of God’s people, including Israel (Ezekiel 34; Matthew 9:36, 10:6, 15:24) or Jesus’ disciples (Matthew 10:16, 26:31, quoting Zechariah 13:7, and John 10).

“right”: The honorable or fortunate place to be (1 Kings 2:19, Psalm 110:1).

Read Matthew 25:34

  • Why are the sheep the sheep?


  • Why does someone inherit something?


  • When was this inheritance planned to be given to the sheep?


  • For someone to inherit “the kingdom” means he is what to the King?


Read Matthew 25:35-36

“for”: Greek, gar, to denote a continuation or explanation.  What then follows reveals what those with this inheritance did, not the cause of why they inherited “the kingdom.”  In fact, how can what they do influence what they inherit since that was “prepared … from the foundation of the world.”

  • What did the sheep do revealing themselves to be sheep (not making them sheep)?


Read Matthew 25:37-39

  • How do the sheep respond?


  • If they did the deeds the Son of Man mentioned, why were they unaware of this? In other words, where was their focus?


Read Matthew 25:40

For a better understanding of Matthew’s context, we read Matthew 10:40, 42: “Whoever receives you receives me [Jesus] …  And whoever gives one of these little ones even a cup of cold water because he is a disciple, truly, I say to you, he will by no means lose his reward.”

  • What does Jesus reveal about their “good works”?


“brothers”: a term reserved for Jesus’ disciples in Matthew’s Gospel (12:49-50; 18:15, 21, 35; 23:8; and 28:10).

“least of”: An expression synonymous for “little ones.”  In Matthew 10:42; 18:6, 10, and 14, the little ones are disciples.  In 10:42, they are missionaries who endured persecution.  This also recalls Jesus’ earlier descriptions of the disciples in Matthew 12:49-50.

  • Who then are “the least of these my [Jesus’] brothers”?


  • What is Jesus not saying about those who are not His brothers?


The Goats

Read Matthew 25:41

  • What happens to the goats?


  • Was “the eternal fire” prepared for the goats? If not, what does this say about why they are there?


Read Matthew 25:42-43

“for”: Here, we find the same Greek word, gar, denoting a continuation or explanation for why the goats are condemned.  Their lack of deeds is not the cause of their condemnation, but, instead, reveals it.

  • What did the goats not do?


Read Matthew 25:44

  • Why are the goats, likewise, perplexed?


Read Matthew 25:45

  • Whom did the goats not serve through “the least of these”?


  • Because they did not serve Jesus, who then are the “least of these”?


  • Why couldn’t the goats serve “the least of these”? What were they not part of to do this?


The focus of the Last Judgment has nothing to do with being Jewish but being within the kingdom of God.  Only those in God’s kingdom can inherit “the kingdom.”  Only those within the kingdom can serve Jesus by serving the “least of” His “brothers.”

Read Matthew 25:46

  • What is the eternal status of the goats?


  • What is the eternal status of the sheep?


Understanding cause and effect are critical to understanding this parable.  The Greek word “gar,” “for,” is the linchpin to this.  All the works of the sheep did not make them righteous.  No, their works revealed their righteousness.  “For” reveals this.  The righteous do righteous works.  The works of the unrighteous are unrighteous.  “Whatever does not proceed from faith is sin” (Romans 14:23).


The Source of Our Righteousness

Read Matthew 26:1-2


What this Parable Doesn’t Teach

This parable is often the “go to” section of the Bible, which pastors and others use to emphasize the Christian’s obligation to the poor within a society.  This is an ethical reading of the parable, which does not derive from the parable itself.  For “the least of these my brothers” are those within the Church.  Because they are Christians and have Jesus within them (2 Cor 13:5), we are serving Jesus through them.

The parable, however, doesn’t negate Scripture’s teachings to attend to the needs of the hungry or the poor.  This just isn’t the focus or intention of this parable.  Jesus is teaching us something else.

If we want to encourage Christians to help those outside the Church, there are other passages for this.

The Old Testament has some, though they are all within the context of being the people of Israel.

The Prophet Isaiah chastised the Israelites for fasting but ignoring those around them in need.

Isaiah 58:6-7:

6 “Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke?  7 Is it not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover him, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?”

Ezekiel 18:1, 5, 7:

1 The word of the Lord came to me: …  “If a man is righteous and does what is just and right— … 6 if he … 7 does not oppress anyone, but restores to the debtor his pledge, commits no robbery, gives his bread to the hungry and covers the naked with a garment …

Within Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount extols helping non-believers.

Matthew 5:14-16

14 “You are the light of the world.  A city set on a hill cannot be hidden.  15 Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house.  16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.

Matthew 5:42: “Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.”

From the Epistles, Philippians 2 is a legitimate section encouraging us to help others.  As Jesus gave His life for all (John 3:16), His example spurs the Christian to help others as he can.

Philippian 2:1-7:

1 So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, 2 complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.  3 Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.  4 Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.  5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.


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