Were the sheep in Matthew 25:31-45 called righteous because of what they did?

The statement was made, “the righteuos in mathew 25, who do not know who Jesus is, got in because they did a good work for one of the least of His brothers.”

We have to examine the scripture carefully, but we will see the above statement is incorrect. We begin with the scripture itself.

Matthew 25:31-46

31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. 34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

40 “The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’

41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’

44 “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’

45 “He will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’

46 “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”

In Mt 25:33-35, Jesus said the King (Christ) will separate the people into two groups – sheep and goats. The sheep ARE those who are called righteous, but you must notice that we are NEVER told what criteria was used to separate the sheep from the goats.

Matthew 25:31-33

31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

We are told in verse 34, that the sheep are told to take their inheritance, and what it is.

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.”

In verses 35-36, we are told the evidence these people had of their righteousness – things they did in life – not the reason they were separated.

35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

The ‘For’ in verse 35 does not indicate a reason for the separation of the sheep from the goats. It is the conjunction that indicates what the sheep did in life, but not why they did it; neither does it indicate the criteria used in the separation of the sheep from the goats. The criteria (from the context) was that they were righteous, the ‘for’ indicates the evidence they had for being righteous, but not the reason they were righteous.

We see in verses 37-39 that the righteous did not realize what they were doing and question it.

37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

And Jesus tells them in verse 40,
40 “The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’
Then we see in verse 41 what will happen to those who are goats – they go to the eternal fire,
41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.
And we see in verses 42-43 the infamous ‘for’ again. But once again, this does not indicate why the goats were not righteous, merely that it gives evidence to the fact that they were not righteous.
42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’
In verse 44, we see that, like the righteous, the unrighteous did not realize what they were doing and question it.

44 “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’

But Jesus is clear in His response,

45 “He will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’

They had failed to do what shows one is righteous. And because of that lack of evidence of righteousness, we see in verse 46,

46 “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”

So no, the people called sheep in this passage were not called righteous because of what they had done. They were called righteous because they gave evidence of the righteousness they had.  What they did was because of the reason they were righteous. I say this because scripture is clear no one is righteous (Romans 3:10) without Christ. It is through faith in Christ that we are justified (Romans 5:1-2).  It is through the death of Christ that we are made righteous (Romans 4:23-25; 5:19) if we trust in Him (John 3:16).  It is because these people, called sheep, DID know Christ and had the love of God in their hearts that they were separated and it was this love for God that caused them to do good things – the faith of which Paul wrote in Ephesians 2:8 engendered an outward manifestation in actions, which was the faith combined with actions of which James wrote in James 2:20-24. The good things were evidence of the faith they must have had.

Advertisements

8 Responses

  1. Well said, Wb., well said.

  2. […] So yes. God recognizes different sins. God hates certain sin. Yet, God sees all sin alike – it is whatever is not from faith. But doing “bad” things does not mean we are defined by those. We are defined by the faith we have, which is reflected in what we think and do. […]

  3. I understand your concern here about the passage in Matthew. Allow me to suggest that the passage has a broader context that eliminates your concern for the righteousness of the sheep.

    The key to the passage is found in verse 31 of the passage where Jesus states that He will sit on His glorious throne. Why is this key? Because the Gospel of Matthew is written to unbelieving Jews, not Christians, and their understanding of the kingdom of God resided in a national concept of militaristic glory, not spiritual. When Jesus ascends to heaven in Acts 1 we find a 40 day period of instruction for the apostles that will enlighten them as to when Jesus will manifest Himself to the nation as King. Its Acts 2 that demonstrates Jesus as having received the promised throne of David (which is God’s throne). Jesus’ kingdom (reign) is expressed as beginning in 33 AD in Acts 2. Its at this time that the sheep and goats are separated. The Jew that happened to read this in or around 60 AD recognizes that Jesus did establish His kingdom after His death, burial, resurrection, and ascension, and fulfilled the promise of bringing in the new covenant (Jeremiah 31:31-34). This Jew’s ear, if discerning, understands that a sheep is a description of an Israelite who received Jesus as Messiah, and a goat is an Israelite who didn’t. The kingdom is a present reality in 60 AD with Jesus sitting on His heavenly throne ruling all nations. Those sheep who received Jesus were Israelites who received apostles, prophets, or believers bringing the truth of Jesus as the Messiah. They “clothed, fed, visited, etc….” the messengers of the good news of the kingdom and put their trust in the message those messengers brought, the Gospel. They are likened as having received (inherited) the “kingdom” that the King will give (emphasis on give) them because of their acceptance of Jesus as that King, the Messiah. They do not inherit anything based on deeds for the deeds were not performed with a view of merit, but of joyful love for the messengers of this new covenant. And if that is so, then they gave joyful love to the one who gave the messengers their mission, Jesus.

    • I disagree wioth your limitations that the goats were jews who had not accepted Jesus and the sheep were jews who had. I think the application is actually all believes being sheep and all nonbelievers being goats.

      I agree that what they do is a reflection of the faith and love they have for God through Christ – which was the whole point in the post itself. The things we do are a manifestation of the love and faith we have for God through Christ – if we have faith and love, we will do the things the sheep did, if we do not have faith and love we will do the things of the goats.

  4. Thank you for your reply wb. God bless your study of the Scriptures.

    I’m afraid that my post was a little brief. I wanted to add that broader context to Matthew if I could. Please respond if you feel compelled. The broader context is that Matthew was written to a Jewish population that had not yet trusted in Jesus as their Messiah. They are unbelievers. Do you agree with this? If so, that means the context of Matthew is written providing convincing proofs that Jesus is who he claimed to be. For example, this Gospel begins with the genealogy that a Jew living in and around Israel would count as significant. Furthermore, the virgin birth, the ministry of John, etc, etc. The point: the entire Gospel of Matthew is not an apostolic exercise in Christian psychology. This was not written to Christians. True, the Gospel circulates with Christians and we have it in our Bible, but this doesn’t detract from its intent, which is to convince unbelieving Jews that Jesus is the Christ (over and over again). Do you agree?

    My fear is that far too many texts of Scripture have been used to build concepts for which they were never intended. I will add to this post later on this evening. Thank you.

    • All the gospels were written to show Christ’s superiority in some area.

      I agree that the original audience of Matthew was most likely Jewish in nature, the majority of whom would have been unbelievers.

      But just because it was written to unbelieving Jews does not mean it does not apply to believing Gentiles.

      Just because its purpose was intended to show the superiority of Christ as King does not mean it does not also show the humblenessness of spirit required by God of believers.

      But my original premise of whether the sheep were righteous because of what they did or who they believed in still stands: they were called righteous because of their faith in Christ – not because of their actions. Their actions flowed from their faith. You in fact agreed with that, so I am uncertain as to why you are writing something that appears to conflict with that.

  5. a word of GOD, is alive, and can be used in every area, not only for jewish, but the word of god is used to change PEOPL

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: