Following the telling of three parables where the central character returns after a lengthy absence to either save or judge his people, Jesus concludes His Olivet Discourse with a description of that final judgment. He does not describe this “Judgment Day” in terms of a courtroom trial, but rather as the sentencing of those for whom a verdict has already been established. The picture Jesus paints of that Day is one of grandeur and majesty, wherein He comes in glory to be seated on His throne accompanied by angels. In an allusion to Ezekiel 34:17-19, Jesus concludes the discourse with an apocalyptic description of how a shepherd of a flock separates his sheep from the goats.
There is an inherent nature whereby sheep are differentiated from goats. The sheep, whom God fashions to occupy His kingdom, are naturally concerned with the welfare of others – in particular the three basic human needs of food, shelter, and companionship. This concern, which is natural for sheep, is far from the thoughts of the goats, who are concerned with self-preservation. Although the Gospel clearly teaches that one is not saved on the basis of his good deeds or humanitarian efforts, it also teaches that the bearer of genuine faith applies his faith in a life of concern for others. The sheep, who are naturally carrying out what is in their hearts by serving others, are surprised to discover that their action of love is in fact serving the Lord Jesus, Himself. A major interpretive crux in the text lies in Jesus’ words in verse 40, as we seek to know exactly who are, the least of these, my brothers, toward whom we are to exercise love and mercy. We will discuss this on Sunday.