- ¶ 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: 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: 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: For I was an hungred, 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 hungred, 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. 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 hungred, 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 hungred, 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. And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal. (Matthew 25:31-46)
There are many things in the scriptures that we do our best to interpret. A popular teaching is that Matthew 25:31-46 is that one must have done some good works to get saved or to stay saved, and I can see where people are coming from when they believe that. I believe there's a more spiritual interpretation instead of taking all of it literally. And the spiritual understanding may have been what Jesus was teaching us.
Starting with verse 32 we can see He's talking about groups of people, not individuals:
- 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: (Matthew 25:32)
And He mentions sheep and goats:
- And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left. (Matthew 25:33)
- I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep. (John 10:11)
- I am the good shepherd, and know my [sheep], and am known of mine. (John 10:14)
- But ye believe not, because ye are not of my sheep, as I said unto you. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any [man] pluck them out of my hand. My Father, which gave [them] me, is greater than all; and no [man] is able to pluck [them] out of my Father's hand. (John 10:26-29)
Obviously, if those who are saved are the sheep, they'll be going to heaven:
- 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 25:34)
Then He states the qualification for this group of sheep:
- For I was an hungred, 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. (Matthew 25:35-36)
Can we find parallel scriptures for these points? I believe we can. How can we feed the hungry or sate the thirst of someone in a spiritual sense?
- I am that bread of life. Your fathers did eat manna in the wilderness, and are dead. This is the bread which cometh down from heaven, that a man may eat thereof, and not die. I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever: and the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world. (John 6:48-51)
- And Jesus said unto them, I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst. (John 6:35)
How can we take a stranger in, if interpreted spiritually?
- That at that time ye were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world: (Ephesians 2:12)
- Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God; (Ephesians 2:19)
- ¶ Unto Adam also and to his wife did the LORD God make coats of skins, and clothed them. (Genesis 3:21)
- [Saying], Blessed [are] they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered. Blessed [is] the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin. (Romans 4:7-8)
- For in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed upon with our house which is from heaven: If so be that being clothed we shall not be found naked. (2 Corinthians 5:2-3)
- I counsel thee to buy of me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich; and white raiment, that thou mayest be clothed, and [that] the shame of thy nakedness do not appear; and anoint thine eyes with eyesalve, that thou mayest see. (Revelation 3:18)
Visit the sick?
- The Spirit of the Lord [is] upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, (Luke 4:18)
- But when Jesus heard [that], he said unto them, They that be whole need not a physician, but they that are sick. (Matthew 9:12)
Or go to the prisoner?
- To open the blind eyes, to bring out the prisoners from the prison, [and] them that sit in darkness out of the prison house. (Isaiah 42:7)
I'm sure you can see what I'm getting at. The saved are the sheep and since they've received the gospel, they can impart it to others by the grace of God, and some do. Therefore, as a group they're performing these actions.
Moving on to the goats, supposing they haven't received and believed the gospel (and therefore they're hungry, thirsty, naked etc.), how can they preach it to others (e.g. how can they feed others if they're hungry, sate the thirst of others if they're thirsty, clothe others if they're naked)? They don't even have the indwelling of the Holy Ghost, and I would say they don't have the proper message to give, either, so they couldn't possibly perform those actions, certainly not as a group.
If we take the sayings at face value, both groups perform these kinds of good works in the world. Catholic charities come to mind, but the Catholic church does not preach the gospel. So the problem encountered with the literal interpretation is, why was Jesus saying the goats didn't do those things if many of them, and, arguably the group, did do those things? I have to think it's because that isn't the way this was meant to be understood.