The Sheep, the Goats, and the Judgment

One of people’s hang-ups about full preterism is that they feel that the Great White Throne Judgment sounds too momentous to apply to less than the sum total of humanity rather than those who died before AD 70 alone. Has the judgment of the nations occurred yet? Revelation 20 depicts the “General Resurrection” as the time when “the rest of the dead” resurrected at the end of the Millennium would be judged. Enter the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats.

Judgment in the Olivet Discourse

Most of Matthew 24 and 25 are in red (Jesus’ words), with no interruptions after verse 3. In fact, the rest of the passage is a response to verse 3, forming an unsegmented pericope. The disciples look at the beautiful Herodian temple, apparently scoping out what they thought would be their inheritance when Christ took the reins in His Kingdom. Jesus responds by predicting the temple’s destruction, saying, “not a stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.” Josephus the Jew describes how this literally took place after the first century siege when the Romans noticed the precious metal between the stones and decided to extract it by pulling them apart.

Now, this is very interesting. On hearing this ominous prophecy, the disciples ask an important question: “…When will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” As I stated above, the following verses until the end of chapter 25 is entirely unbroken narrative. Can there be any doubt that this entire passage is related to the same time of the “end” and the same “coming”? Or did Jesus just decide to change the subject to another “coming” mid-stream to make things interesting?

Watch this: 24:30-31 and 33-34 read, “At that time the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and all the nations of the earth will mourn. They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory. And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other…Even so, when you see all these things, you know that it is near, right at the door. I tell you the truth, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened.”

At the end of chapter 25, Jesus launches into the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats. Let’s look at it here:

When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. 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. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. 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.” Matthew 25:31-34 NIV

Is this the same event? I believe it’s clear that it is. Notice the parallels:

    “The Son of Man” comes “with great glory” (24:30), “in his glory” (25:31)Angels accompany Him

    The nations are called into account (24:30) and (25:32)

    Separation is made between the righteous and unrighteous (24:31, 25:32)

Please tell me you can see that these are the same event! If so, and if the first was to occur before that generation passed away, the second one must have as well. This means that the judgment of the nations is not a future apocalyptic event at some postulated close of human history. Rather this was what happened when the dead were raised, some to a resurrection of life and the others to a resurrection of judgment (John 5:29; cf. Daniel 12:2). This is the judgment of the living and dead that Paul said was “about to” occur in 2 Timothy 4:1.

This judgment was to coincide with the coming of the Son of Man on the clouds (cf. Matt 24:30) depicted in 1 Thessalonians 4, which also describes the Resurrection of the Dead. Hades/Sheol (the holding grounds of the dead awaiting judgment) is no more: those who die from now on do not wait for judgment because Sheol was thrown into the Lake of Fire after all its denizens left it to stand before the Great White Throne for judgment (Rev. 20:11-15). Notice that only a preterist who believes that Sheol has been destroyed can claim that a soul receives its reward or judgment immediately upon death. This is why the voice from heaven told John in the midst of a chapter describing the reign of the living and resurrected saints, “Write: Blessed are the dead that die in the Lord from now on. ‘Yes,’ says the Spirit, ‘they will rest from their labor, for their deeds will follow them.'” (Rev. 14:13)

These passages are all tied together with the same language: that’s why it’s dreadfully inconsistent to accept preteristic understandings of some things and hang onto a concept of another fulfillment at some point in the future. Just how many times do the dead need to rise and be judged? It’s on this basis that some have pushed the concept of multiple fulfillments (how far can you fill past full?) to get out of this quandary and salvage their hope for an apocalypse in the future in which the physical universe will come thundering down. How disturbing is it to be so invested in such a thing?

The Sheep and the Goats

So the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats isn’t about a future judgment of all humanity throughout history — but what is it about?

Chiefly, this parable is yet another proclamation of the irrelevance of race in the New Covenant. It is remarkably parallel to the parables of the Wedding Banquet and the Ten Virgins (the latter which Jesus recounted immediately prior to the Sheep and the Goats parable), in which the importance of ethnic Israel is shown to pass away with the Old Covenant. This story was meant to rankle the Jewish leaders of the time. For them, the only imaginable outcome of this judgment was that the division of sheep and goats would go straight down the line: Law-keeping Israel as the sheep, all other nations as the goats. Yet shockingly, in what I think is probably the primary point of the parable, Jesus puts all nations on equal footing, scandalously lumps Jew and Gentile together, and determines who are wicked and who are righteous based on his own standard, a right he has as the King who came (cf. Daniel 7:13, “He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all peoples, nations and men of every language worshiped him.”). The discerning Shepherd distinguished acts of compassion initiated and accomplished by regenerate believers from mere rote implementation of a particular race’s rules and regulations, discriminated behavior from ethnicity, and this is how the Shepherd determined who was who.

To a certain extent, I think this standard was always the real standard underlying even the Old Covenant. But Israel had long since lost sight of this, despite the instruction of such prophets as Micah (see Micah 6:8). With the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the temple, God called them on it once and for all.

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