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Sheep or goat? (12/15/2004)
From: Keith Lockwood

Matthew 25:31-46 has long been used to teach the doctrine of eternal torment in hell for unbelievers. If one were to take a more discerning look at this section of scripture he/she would find that it conflicts with what the Bible teaches about God's salvation. In Verse 32 we are told that all nations will be gathered before Christ and that the nations will be separated into sheep and goats. Note that nations are gathered, not individuals to be judged. Many teach that the passage starts out dealing with nations, then shifts to the individuals, but the scripture does not give this indication. From Verse 40 and 45 we see that the criteria for this judgment is how the nation treated Christ's brethren; i.e. the nation of Israel. This shows us that there are 3 groups of nations here to consider: the "sheep" nations, the "goat" nations, and thirdly the nation of Israel (Christ's brethren). If this were the scene of man's final judgment, then salvation would be determined by how our nation treated Israel! This would conflict with what the Bible teaches about salvation through faith.

So, what is this section of scripture describing? It is describing when Jesus will return to the earth and set up His earthly kingdom (Rev. 5:10), in which Israel will take its place as the nation of priests (Ex. 19:6). This takes place a full thousand years before the white throne judgment (Rev 20:5). At this time Jesus will judge the nations by how they treated the nation of Israel during the tribulation period. Those nations which treated Israel humanely will enter into Christ's kingdom for the millennium. Those nations which mistreated the nation of Israel will endure chastisement during the millennium. There are a number of Old Testament passages which confirm this, namely Joel 3. Nations that plundered Israel will be plundered (Joel 3:5). Nations which enslaved Israel will be enslaved (Joel 3:8). Nations that scattered Israel will be scattered (Joel 3:2). Nations that persecuted and destroyed Israel, will be persecuted and destroyed (Joel 3:19, also see Isaiah 14:1-3, Jer. 30:16, 20, Jer. 49:1-39, Zep. 2:1-15). The sentence will fit the crime.

It is important to interpret this section of scripture (i.e. Matthew 25:31-46) according to the light given us through the Old Testament prophets as opposed to pulling it out of context to fit man's vain tradition of eternal torment in hell for the individual unbeliever. 


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