The Sheep and the Goats

INDEX:
* A Parallel Prophecy?
* The Differences in the OT and NT Prophecies
* The Reward of the Sheep
* The 'Double Bind'
* Who Was the Prophecy of Ezekiel Addressing?
* The Condemnation of the Goats
* Doing Good for Jesus' Brothers

A Parallel Prophecy?

At Matthew 25:31-33, it is recorded that Jesus said, 'When the Son of Man arrives in his glory along with all of the messengers, he'll sit down on his glorious throne and all nations will be led before him. Then he'll separate the people as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He'll put the sheep on his right, but the goats on his left.'

So, was Jesus speaking of separating the righteous from the unrighteous for what Revelation 16:16 refers to as the Battle of Armageddon here, as many religions teach? That doesn't appear to be the case, for notice that he didn't mention any battle. And according to Revelation 16:13, 14 (which is the only scripture that speaks of Armageddon), that great battle will be fought against the kings and armies of this world (gr. oikoumenes or, habitation), not within those of Jesus' flock (for more information, see the document, 'Armageddon – When?'). And notice that these words of Jesus at Matthew 25 appear to be a quotation from the prophecy of Ezekiel 34:17, which says in the Septuagint:
'Then, from among you, My sheep,
Says Jehovah, the Lord,
{Look!} I'll separate the sheep from the sheep,
And the rams from the goats
.'

The Hebrew text reads similarly: 'I will judge between one sheep and another, and between rams and goats.'

We suspect that Jesus was in fact quoting from this verse, for almost everything that he taught included direct quotations from the Hebrew prophecies. And if you look at the surrounding verses in Ezekiel 34, you'll see that it is foretelling the time when Jesus (My servant David) will do the same separating work of which he was speaking at Matthew 25:31-33. So, this is why we suspect that both prophecies are speaking of the same groups of 'sheep.' However…

The Differences in the OT and NT Prophecies

But notice that in the previous verse (Ezekiel 34:13), these words were written:
'I'll lead them out of the nations…
I'll gather them from many regions,
Then bring them [back] to their land,
Where on IsraEl's mountains, I'll graze them…
In the valleys and homes of their land
.'

So, despite the similarities of these two prophecies, there do appear to be some significant differences. For the prophecy in Ezekiel is speaking of the lost sheep of IsraEl, who in a modern fulfillment would likely be those who call themselves Christians (for more information, see the linked document, 'JeruSalem and 'the IsraEl of God''). But in Matthew's text, it appears as though Jesus was speaking of a separating of the righteous from the unrighteous of the nations or world (or at least, that's what most religions teach). For notice the specific words that Jesus is quoted as using at Matthew 25 32 (gr. ta ethne, often translated as the gentiles) are almost always used in reference to non-IsraElites. So the verse (as we currently have it) reads, 'all the nations (gr. panta ta ethne) will be led before him'… and this gives us the impression that peoples of the nations – those who are not IsraEl – are the ones that will be separated as either sheep or goats.

So, why the differences if was Jesus was in fact quoting from the prophecy in Ezekiel? Well, understand that many texts in Matthew have been corrupted and therefore, all the religious teachings that quote this verse could be wrong! For we know from extensive research that the book of Matthew (though the most quoted Gospel today) is the most corrupted of the four Gospel accounts of Jesus' life, since it differs significantly in several places from what is written in the books of Mark, Luke, and John (yes, it really does). And what we are suggesting is that the quotation of Jesus' words at Matthew 25:31 ties the nations a bit too closely to the sheep and the goats, and this appears to give us a wrong understanding of what Jesus meant.

Notice that 'the nations' are also mentioned in Ezekiel's text, and just a couple of missed words in the account of what Jesus said would imply the wrong thing. So what we are urging you to do is to keep an open mind on the true meaning of this verse. For there is no other scripture that speaks of a separating of the sheep in the parallel Gospels of Mark, Luke, and John. So, as is quite unusual for the Bible, we have no parallel reference to compare in order to prove that someone actually changed Jesus' words. The only other place in the Gospels where Jesus speaks of two different flocks of sheep doesn't have anything to do with a separating, but with two flocks that will become one (at John 10:16).

So if Jesus was in fact quoting the prophecy of Ezekiel 34 here (and we suspect that he was), he clearly wasn't talking about an Armageddon or a pre-Armageddon judging of all the peoples of the world, as most think. Rather, he seems to have been talking about judging those whom he deemed to be 'his people' before giving the righteous among them an inheritance, which is implied by the fact that he is described as separating the sheep from the goats among the same flock.

The Reward of the Sheep

Then take another look at the reward for those whom Jesus described as being declared to be 'sheep' in the account of Matthew 25. Notice that it says in verse 34 that they will 'Inherit the Kingdom.' This is interesting, because some have taught that 'inheriting the Kingdom' meant that such ones will inherit a Kingdom here on the earth, since the separating of the sheep and goats was clearly being done on the earth, and there is no reference thereafter that speaks of the sheep as being taken into heaven. Yet, this seems to be the same thing that is spoken of at 1 Corinthians 15:50, where we read, 'I tell you this, brothers: Flesh and blood cannot inherit God's Kingdom, nor can [something] corruptible inherit something that's incorruptible.'

This scripture (1 Corinthians 15:50) is often quoted to prove that the righteous will be changed into spirit bodies and then taken to heaven, where they will 'inherit the Kingdom' as co-rulers with Jesus. And since this seems to be the same type of reward that Jesus said 'the sheep' will receive at Matthew 25:34, then Jesus would have been saying that those whom he finds to be 'sheep' will also be taken to heaven as rulers in his Kingdom. But is this the correct understanding? Possibly not, for there is some likelihood that there is also a common wrong understanding about the true meaning of Paul's words at 1 Corinthians 15:50. For more information about the possible meaning of these words, see the linked document, 'God's Promise of an Inheritance,' under the subheading 'A Contradiction?'

So if 'inheriting the Kingdom' doesn't necessarily imply being taken to heaven; then notice the similarities to the reward of the sheep as described in Ezekiel 34:22-31, which is clearly speaking of things that will happen on this earth:
'So, I will rescue My sheep,
And no more will they serve as [your] plunder;
For between ram and ram, I will judge.
I will raise a shepherd for them,
And My servant David, will tend them…
He'll be a shepherd who cares about them.
Then, I Jehovah, will be their God,
And My servant David, will rule in their midst…
Yes, I Jehovah, have spoken.
An Agreement of peace, I'll make among them,
And I'll wipe the fierce beasts from their land.
Then, they will dwell in the deserts,
And in the forests, they'll sleep …
The trees in the plains will then yield their fruit;
The ground will yield all her strength;
And in the hope of peace, they'll dwell in their land …

For, you are My people, O house of IsraEl,

Says Jehovah, the Lord.
You people are the sheep of My pasture,
And I am Jehovah, your God.'

The 'Double Bind'

On the other hand, if Jesus wasn't quoting the prophetic words of Ezekiel 34 at Matthew 25:31-33, and he really was just talking about a separating of the sheep from the goats among the 'nations' at or sometime before Armageddon, then we end up in a 'double bind' situation. For if 'inheriting the Kingdom' means inheriting life in heaven; then what did Jesus mean when he said (at Matthew 5:5), 'The meek are blest, For they will inherit the earth?' And what was meant by the words of Proverbs 2:20-22, where we are told, 'But, smooth are the roads that the righteous have found; for the meek will inherit the land, and the honest are those who'll remain. Then only the upright will camp in the land, and those who'll be left are the holy. Disrespectful ways will be gone from the land, and those who break laws will be banished'?

Also, who is this righteous 'IsraEl' that was spoken of by EzekiEl and all the rest of the Prophets, and how do they differ from the 'sheep?' Notice that both groups are spoken of prophetically at Isaiah 49:22, 23, where God promised:
'Look, says Jehovah, the Lord;
I'm lifting My hand to the nations,
And to the islands, I'm raising My sign.
Then they'll hold your sons to their chests,
And your daughters, they'll lift on their shoulders.
Their kings will then serve as your [butlers],
And their queens will be your wet nurses.
Before you, they'll bow to the ground,
And they'll lick the dust from your feet
.'

As you can see, in Isaiah we find a prophecy that speaks of 'the nations' serving 'IsraEl' in earthly (not heavenly) situations.

Who Was the Prophecy of Ezekiel Addressing?

Notice that the entire prophecy found in Ezekiel 34 was addressed to the unfaithful leaders (kings, prophets, and priests) of IsraEl. For we read in verse 2:
'O son of man;
Against the shepherds of IsraEl,
You must now prophesy!

Tell them that thus says Jehovah, the Lord:
O you shepherds of IsraEl;
Do shepherds graze for themselves,
Or do sheep graze for the shepherds?

Then the Prophecy goes on to say (in verses 20-23):
'Because of this, says Jehovah, the Lord;
{Look!} I'll separate the strong from the weak.
For you pushed them away with your shoulders and sides,
And the weak, you gored with your horns…
You squeezed them out and pushed them aside!
So, I will rescue My sheep,
And no more will they serve as [your] plunder;
For, between ram and ram, I will judge.
'

The Condemnation of the Goats

Then, what about 'the goats' of Jesus' prophecy (or the rams of EzekiEl's Prophecy)? The fact that Jesus said that they will be 'cursed into the fire of the ages that was prepared for the Opposer and his messengers,' shows that they aren't the ones who are just considered to be 'the unrighteous;' for Paul (the Apostle), when speaking in his own defense before the Jewish religious court (Sanhedrin) said in reference to the Pharisees (at Acts 24:15): 'And I have this hope in God, which they (the Pharisees) also share, that there's going to be a resurrection of the righteous and the unrighteous.'

So according to Paul, the unrighteous will also be resurrected. Therefore, it appears as though the 'goats' or 'rams' are a third group that is mixed in among the sheep but are not the 'unrighteous' who will be resurrected. So if Jesus was really quoting from the prophecy of EzekiEl, he was likely talking about those 'Christian' leaders who have been mistreating and misleading his flock of 'sheep,' and he was saying that these won't be resurrected, but that they will forever gone. For notice that he said (in verse 46): 'Then these will go off into age-long (aiōniŏn) punishment (kolasin), but the righteous into age-long life.'

Doing Good for Jesus' Brothers

What is the basis of the judgment which determines who the 'sheep' are and who the 'goats' are? As Jesus said, it all depends on how they treat his 'brothers.' And just who are Jesus' brothers? He said (at Matthew 12:49): 'Whoever does all that my Father in heaven wishes is my brother, sister, and mother.'

So, it appears as though Jesus answered this question. For although some teach that Jesus' 'brothers' consist of a special group who are found so righteous that they are chosen by God and given the reward of life in heaven (the 'Saints'); Jesus said that whoever does God's Will is his brother. Thus it appears as though we can all be found to be sheep if we will simply show love for each other and care for each other's need during periods of trial.

Then, are we saying that Jesus' words about the sheep and the goats in Matthew 25 are corrupted, and that the prophecy in Ezekiel 34:17 is what he quoting? This is what we have concluded. But unfortunately, as is true in the case of other questionable scriptures found in Matthew (6:10, 24:3, and 28:19, 20), we don't have any parallel accounts in Mark, Luke, or John to prove exactly what he actually said or what he may have been quoting. However, it is strange that Mark (who evidence shows wrote his Gospel in Greek based on the Aramaic Gospel of Matthew) and Luke (who also referenced the Gospel of Matthew when researching his Gospel account) would have missed these words if they were as important to Christians then as they are considered to be to us today.

To return to the previous document, select the Back arrow on your browser

Home Page