Judgment at Jerusalem
by David Allen Lewis
The judgment of the sheep and the goats has long been a
source of intrigue to theologians and Bible students.
Misappropriation of this important passage of Scripture leads to
doctrinal fantasies that affect the quality of one's eschatological
views concerning the end of this age. On the other hand, a clear
understanding of Matthew 24:31-46 has a most salutatory effect on our appreciation of our position in Christ as well as giving us answers to some of the most intriguing questions presented to our minds as we approach the time
of the Lord's Coming.
Some of the things that we will try to answer in this essay
1. When does the judgment take place in relation to other
2. Who are the nations: the sheep and the goats?
3. What does the outcome of this judgment show us?
4. Who are the Shepherd-King's (Christ's) brethren (the
recipients of good deeds)?
5. Is this a parable or a prophecy?
6. What comes after this event?
The Revelation of the Son of Man
"When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels
with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory" (Matthew 24:31).
This passage does not describe the rapture of the church nor does it
describe the great White Throne Judgment. It refers to the visible second
coming of Jesus Christ which takes place at the end of the 70th week,
designated as the tribulation. The judgment of the sheep and goats takes
place at the end of the tribulation to determine who of earth's natural folk
will be allowed to enter the millennium to rebuild the earth after the
calamitous ruin of the wars and plagues of the great tribulation. The
sheep are the people who will repopulate the planet during the visibly
manifested kingdom of God of 1,000 years duration.
"And before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them
one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats"
It is singularly important at this juncture that we identify what is meant by
nations (Gr. ethnos). It is the conclusion of this author that nations, as
such, are not referred to in this passage of Scripture. The Greek word
ethnos is used in the New Testament 164 times. The word is translated
variously as follows: "Gentiles" 93 times; "nations" 64 times; "heathen" 5
times; "people" 2 times. In general, the term "nations" is commonly used
to describe the human race.
In addition, it is interesting to note that the Hebrew equivalent of ethnos
(goyim) is translated into the word "nation" 374 times; "heathen" 143;
"Gentiles" 30; and "people" 11. We will demonstrate in the exposition of
this text that the word is used here, not as the general concept of nations,
but rather as people. So we would understand the meaning of verse 32 to
be: "And before him shall be gathered all people comprising the nations
of this world." One can only conclude that it is individual people and not
whole nations that are being judged.
"And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left.
Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of
my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of
the world" (Matthew 25:33, 34).
One thing is sure: No one will inherit the kingdom and everlasting life
because he is a Norwegian, a Scot or an African. By the same token, no
one will be sent to hell because of a national identity. God does not have
two ways of salvation. People are saved not by works, but by the grace of
God through the redeeming work of Calvary.
The sheep on His right hand are those individuals who are saved as a
result of the witness of the 144,000, and comprise a company of people so
vast that no man can number them. See the seventh chapter of Revelation.
Obviously the antichrist will murder many who resist him, but the beast is
not as powerful as some have thought him to be. Many new post-rapture
tribulation believers will escape out of his hand. These new believers are
the sheep in this future judgment. The sheep receive salvation, not
because of their national identity, but because they will receive Christ as
their personal Savior. Their good deeds are a product of their transformed
hearts. Salvation is not a reward for good deeds.
Christ's Distressed Brethren - Hungry, Thirsty, Naked, Sick, in Jail
For I was an hungered, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave
me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: Naked, and ye clothed me: I
was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me. Then
shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an
hungered, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink?
When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed
thee? Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee? And
the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch
as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have
done it unto me (Matthew 25:35-40).
In the traditional mode of interpretation in this fascinating passage, the sheep and goat nations are generally identified as
literal nations. We think that seeing the sheep and
goats not as national entities but as the individuals who comprise the nations is much more reasonable and in line with the context
of the entire Bible. Thus the sheep are
those people who treated Christ's brethren with mercy and true Christian charity.
Tribulation Brethren of Our Lord, the King
Christ's "brethren" refers to the 144,000 Israelites, 12,000 from every tribe of Israel, a mighty company of tribulation witnesses
for the Lord. The post-rapture converts from all
the Gentile nations will react with goodwill and kindness to the 144,000 Jewish evangelists. This is a natural reaction, amplified
by the Holy Spirit's anointing and guidance
upon the new believers.
The reason we identify Christ's brethren primarily as Jews will be apparent. The only recognizable human groups on earth during the
1. Israelites, including 144,000 Jewish preachers of the
Gospel. Scripture regards all of Israel to be Christ's
brethren according to the flesh. (See Romans 9:3-5.)
2. The tribulation-time Gentile converts. Saint Paul describes
born-again people as former Gentiles. (See 1 Corinthians
12:2, Ephesians 2:11-12.)
The goyim, or unsaved, pagan Gentiles.
Only people in categories one and two could ever qualify as Jesus' brethren. Never, in any age, would unbelieving pagan goyim be
thought of as Christ's brethren.
Salvation by Nationality? By Works?
This entire account of the judgment of the sheep and goats proposes a problem as it is normally translated in our English Bibles. On
the surface, it seems that the passage
teaches that salvation is received because of national identity (sheep nations), through good works.
Even more distressing is the idea that people who are part of a goat nation are damned to eternal hell because of their nationality
and because everyone in that goat nation
has neglected the works spoken of by the Son of Man who sits upon the throne.
Salvation by Faith
Nothing could be further from the truth. To think that salvation comes by any means other than God's merciful grace through faith is
not recognizable as being a Biblical
teaching. It is absolutely grotesque!
St. Paul teaches, "For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest
any man should boast. For we are his
workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them" (Ephesians
Works Are Important, Too
The great apostle of faith advocates our premise exactly. The phrase, "created in Christ Jesus unto good works," can be applied to
Jesus' teaching in the prophecy of
Matthew chapter 25 regarding the sheep and goats. The people who will treat Christ's brethren with kindness do so because they are
saved. It is not the reverse, to wit, they
are not saved by their mitzvot (good deeds).
Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his
angels: For I was an hungered, and ye gave
me no meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me not in: naked, and ye clothed me not: sick,
and in prison, and ye visited me not. Then
shall they also answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungered, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison,
and did not minister unto thee? Then shall he
answer them, saying, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me (Matthew
Entire Nations In Hell?
At this juncture we note again that one is not damned because of his
nationality, so it is individuals and not entire nations that are being
judged. If the traditional mode of interpretation were followed, we would
have entire nations being cast into hell with individuals having no
opportunity to accept or reject Christ.
"And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous
into life eternal" (Matthew 25:46).
This is no parable. It is a prophecy of definite future events! Verse 46
powerfully drives home the fact that this passage is set in a post-
tribulation scenario in which Jesus judges the people of planet earth.
Every living person on earth at the end of the tribulation is sent into hell,
or is granted entry into the millennial kingdom, saved forever.
The subjects of the judgment are twofold. First of all, there are the goats
that are damned for eternity. This damnation results from a rejection of
God's plan of salvation. They are incorrigible rebels who have slavishly
followed the beast, have received his mark and worshiped his image. Their
neglect of good deeds is a testimony of their hatred for the chosen
people, the Jewish nation, and it reflects the unredeemed condition of
their souls. No one is damned because of his or her national identity.
The second group is the sheep, representing those who will be saved in
the tribulation and who survive the wrath of the antichrist. These
survivors stand as redeemed individuals before the Judge and are
rewarded with entrance to the kingdom because they accepted Jesus
Christ as personal Savior and Lord. Their good deeds are displayed as
evidence that they truly know Jesus as their Savior.
Millennium after the Judgment
The tribulation-redeemed people (who survive martyrdom) will be
subjects of Christ's kingdom during the 1,000 year reign of Jesus on the
throne of David in Jerusalem.
The millennium, however, is an idyllic age, not a perfect
age. There will be occurrences of sin, rebellion, death and punishment
You may wonder how saved people, living in the millennium under the
reign of Jesus Himself could possibly become rebels? After all, was not
their reward eternal life (verse 46)? The answer is very simple. They
cannot and will not rebel.
The original earthlings who are allowed entrance into the millennial
kingdom are all saved people. They are saved after the rapture of the
church. They hide from the antichrist and are not beheaded by the
henchmen of the beast. They stand in the judgment when everyone living
on earth at the end of the tribulation will be called before the judgment
How Can It Be?
The sheep people who enter the millennium may be few in number.
Having passed the test in the Matthew 25 judgment, they have eternal life
and cannot and will not rebel against Jesus but they will have children
and grandchildren and great grandchildren. Ideal living conditions
characterize the earthly kingdom. Poverty and hunger are a thing of the
past. There will be no wars. Under this umbrella of physical grace, the
population could easily reach 20 billion in 1,000 years.
Those born in the millennium will hear the preaching of the Gospel and
must decide whether or not to accept Jesus as Savior. Even under the
wonderful conditions on planet earth when no one will be hungry and
there will be more than adequate housing for everyone, when wild animals
will be tame and peace prevails everywhere, Jesus has to rule with an iron
scepter to keep order (Psalm 2:9; Revelation 12:5; 19:15).
"Never again will there be in it an infant who lives but a few days, or an
old man who does not live out his years; he who dies at a hundred will be
thought a mere youth; he who fails to reach a hundred will be considered
accursed" (Isaiah 65:20 NIV). A thousand years' worth of generations will
build the greatest civilization earth has ever known. However, the
offspring of the early pioneer millennialists will not be coerced to except
Christ as Savior. The purpose of the millennial age is to finally prove that
the fallen human heart inclines toward evil, unless the individual calls
upon God for salvation. Even with Satan bound up during the 1,000 years and Jesus ruling the earth, there is rebellion, especially at the very end of the millennium. See Revelation 20.
Except a Man Be Born Again
God has no grandchildren. He only has sons and daughters. Jesus' dialogue with Nicodemus as recorded in John's Gospel expresses it
this way, "Jesus answered and said
unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God" (John 3:3). (Also see John
3:7, 1 Peter 1:23.)
Only One Plan of Salvation
Let us emphasize one more time that God does not have two or more plans of salvation. The only salvation is provided for us by the
death of Jesus on the cross and
empowered by His victorious resurrection from the dead. This provision applies to pre-Christian, Old-Covenant believers as well as
all who are saved in the Church Age and
further to all who will be saved in the tribulation and in the millennium. Isaiah points out that the kingdom age will be the
greatest time of bliss for humanity since the fall from
A curious fact is that the Hebrew prophets, with their Near East mind-set did not, in many cases, manifest a high regard for
chronological arrangement of ideas. This
challenges our Western mode of straight-line thinking. We seem to be fanatics for chronology. Isaiah 65 is a good example of
Oriental construction and expression of ideas:
Behold, I will create new heavens and a new earth. The former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind. But be glad
and rejoice for ever in what I will create,
for I will create Jerusalem to be a delight and its people a joy. I will rejoice over Jerusalem and take delight in my people; the
sound of weeping and of crying will be heard in it
no more (Isaiah 65:17-19).
This portion of Isaiah's prophecy refers to the eternal state of the redeemed. In verse 20 he reverts to predicting millennial
conditions, many of which are temporary:
Never again will there be in it an infant who lives but a few days, or an old man who does not live out his years; he who dies at a
hundred will be thought a mere youth; he
who fails to reach a hundred will be considered accursed. They will build houses and dwell in them; they will plant vineyards and
eat their fruit. No longer will they build
houses and others live in them, or plant and others eat. For as the days of a tree, so will be the days of my people; my chosen
ones will long enjoy the works of their hands.
They will not toil in vain or bear children doomed to misfortune; for they will be a people blessed by the LORD, they and their
descendants with them. Before they call I will
answer; while they are still speaking I will hear. The wolf and the lamb will feed together, and the lion will eat straw like the
ox, but dust will be the serpent's food. They will
neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain," says the LORD (Isaiah 65:20-25).
Verse 25 beautifully describes the taming of all wild beasts and indicates the fact that peace will prevail on God's earth. While it
is not specifically mentioned that this is the 1,000 year phase of the eternal kingdom, premillennialists will agree that this is the case.
We know that many unredeemed people born in the millennium will be deluded when Satan is loosed from the abyss and goes abroad
throughout the world deceiving
vulnerable, unsaved people who have already begun to question the person and authority of Jesus. This, not Armageddon, is
absolutely the final conflict of the ages.
No General Judgment
Scripture does not teach a general judgment for all humanity. But let me tell you briefly about two other judgments that lie in the
future. (For more information, see Chapter 12,
Believers Bow Before the Bema.) One is the Bema judgment when, after the rapture, all believers from Adam until the rapture (some
say only church believers) will be
evaluated according to their works, not to determine whether they are saved or
lost, but to determine what works they have done which deserve rewards. Everyone in this Judgment is saved before he arrives there.
Some receive great rewards. Some
receive no rewards, but they are saved:
Now if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble; Every man's work shall be made
manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it
shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man's work of what sort it is. If any man's work abide which he hath built
thereupon, he shall receive a reward. If any
man's work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire (1 Corinthians 3:14-15).
This Bema judgment of believers takes place right after the rapture of the church. Paul speaks of it as "The judgment seat of
Christ" before which all believers must appear.
Back on Earth
While this is going on in heaven, the seven-year tribulation unfolds on earth. At the end of the tribulation, Jesus will come back
to earth with all the holy angels and with the
raptured, glorified church in His entourage. (See Revelation 19:8, 14.)
In Revelation 19 and 20, the writer, John, describes how Messiah defeats antichrist at Armageddon. Satan, the false prophet and the
antichrist are incarcerated in the lake of
fire. "And the beast was taken, and with him the false prophet that wrought miracles before him, with which he deceived them that
had received the mark of the beast, and
them that worshiped his image. These both were cast alive into a lake of fire burning with brimstone" (Revelation 19:20). And the
devil that deceived them was cast into the
lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are, and shall be tormented day and night for ever and ever
After Ten Centuries of Peace
The judgment of the sheep and goats takes place. The millennium begins. At the end of the 1,000 years, Satan is loosed for a season.
He deceives many, builds an army,
attacks Christ at Jerusalem, and is defeated, nevermore to have access to planet earth. The Second Resurrection of all the wicked dead takes place.
The Great White Throne Judgment
The millennium comes to an end. The battle of Gog and Magog II is over. Satan is cast into the Lake of Fire. Now it is time for the
final and last of all judgments: the great
White Throne judgment.
And I saw a great white throne, and him that sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away; and there was found no
place for them. And I saw the dead, small
and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were
judged out of those things which were
written in the books, according to their works. And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the
dead which were in them: and they were
judged every man according to their works. And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. And
whosoever was not found written in the book of
life was cast into the lake of fire (Revelation 20:11-15).
This is not a judgment to decide who is saved and who is lost. That has already been decided by each individual, in this life, on
this earth. Since all redeemed persons are
already resurrected in the first resurrection, this is a judgment of the damned. This event is to reveal the degree and intensity
of punishment each sinner will endure in the
Lake of Fire.
No More Wars, Poverty, nor Death - Never Again
And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea. And I
John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem,
coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying,
Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they
shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their
God. And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there
shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there
be any more pain: for the former things are passed away. And he that
sat upon the throne said, Behold, I make all things new. And he said
unto me, Write: for these words are true and faithful (Revelation 21:1-
The Great Invitation
Behold, I come quickly: blessed is he that keepeth the sayings of the
prophecy of this book. And, behold, I come quickly; and my reward
is with me, to give every man according as his work shall be. And the
Spirit and the bride say, Come. And let him that heareth say, Come.
And let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will, let him take the
water of life freely.
He which testifieth these things saith, Surely I come quickly. Amen.
Even so, come, Lord Jesus. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be
with you all. Amen (Revelation 22:7, 12, 17, 20, 21).