Sheep and Goats

By Ray Hollenbach   •   March 24, 2009

When Jesus was asked to describe His second coming, He answered first with warnings, second with stories, and finally with a plain statement about “when the Son of Man comes in is glory.”

The fifth and final discourse in Matthew’s gospel provides a vivid picture of Jesus standing just outside the Temple in Jerusalem as He tells his followers about the second coming. The irony could not have been greater. Even as Israel rejected the first coming of Jesus, He spoke to them of His second coming.

With each pronouncement in Matthew 24 and 25, Jesus’ words become more and more forceful. Now, in his final saying, Jesus speaks plainly enough for us to hear Him twenty centuries later. (Matt: 25: 31-46)

The words of Jesus in a single verse are breathtaking: “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory.” (Matthew 25:31) These statements fall on us with breathtaking rapidity. The carpenter from Nazareth claims plainly to be the Son of Man described in Daniel’s prophecies from centuries before (Daniel chapter 7); He will command all the angels of heaven; and He will sit on a throne of judgment that oversees all of human history.

What kind of person could make such claims? What kind of person claims that he will return after a long absence, sit on a throne, and separate the gentle from the stubborn? What kind of person declares that his choices alone qualify people for everlasting reward or eternal punishment? Jesus not only predicts his return, he issues a warning that the second coming will not be like the first.

Christian writer C.S. Lewis reminds us that we cannot separate the teachings of Jesus from his astounding claims about himself. In a famous essay Lewis points out: “Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronising nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.” (Mere Christianity, 1952)

In his first appearance on earth Jesus is “the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.” (John 1:29) Jesus reveals in Matthew 25 that in His second coming He will return as the judge of all humanity. His bold statements outside the Temple that day force us to re-evaluate all we have learned about His teaching.

Jesus not only called the religious leaders of his day into account. He is calling us into account even now. Just as His resurrection was the Father’s vindication of Jesus’ claim to be the Savior of the world, so his second coming will be the vindication of His claim to be Lord of Heaven and Earth.

After describing the difficulties of the last days and telling stories about His return Jesus calls us to choose what we will do with His teaching. We can recognize Him as Lord now or in the day of His coming. Indeed, we should make our choice now because in the day of His coming the time for choosing will be over. The day of His coming tilts the scale from our choices to His final judgments.

In these final words about His second coming Jesus says plainly that He will separate the sheep from the goats. In that day our opinions about ourselves will not matter. Only His opinion will matter. In that day Jesus sets people aside for eternal reward or everlasting punishment. But we can do something about our destiny now, before that day. We can bow before Him now.

In the second coming only Jesus’ choice will matter. Our choices matter now. How important is that choice set before us? It is so important that at the second coming all the angels in heaven assemble to witness the results. It is so important that God Himself prepared His Kingdom “before the foundations of the world.” The words from Matthew’s gospel are not set before us to satisfy our curiosity. They are divinely inspired to set before us the most important choice we will ever make–will we be sheep or goats in God’s eyes?

Ray Hollenbach, a native of Chicago, has been the pastor of Vineyard Campbellsville (KY) for eleven years. His desire is to see the Kingdom of God advance in Campbellsville and beyond, as well as to see the next generation of leaders raised up and released into ministry.