Q. Who are the goats in the Sheep and the Goats in Mt 25:31-46? Are they in the church?

A. There are some clues in the passage itself:

  • Mt 25:32-33 All the nations will be gathered before Him; and He will separate them from one another, as the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats33 and He will put the sheep on His right, and the goats on the left.
  • Mt 25:41 Then He will also say to those on His left, ‘Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels;
  • Mt 25:45-46  Then He will answer them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.’ 46 These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

The goats are the nations on the Son of Man’s left when He sits on His throne for the Final Judgment. They are the accursed ones who did not do any acts of kindness to the least of the Lord’s brothers and are sentenced into the eternal fire for eternal punishment. Some see the term “nations” literally as countries or people groups, but it is unlikely that entire countries will treat the unfortunate in Mt 25:35-36 without pity or compassion. Others use the term “nations” as a multitude of individuals of the same nature or genus. This is more likely and my view.

There are other clues based on the figurative usage of “goats” in the Bible. In the OT, goats typically represent oppressors and wicked men, e.g.

  • Ezk 34:17 As for you, My flock, thus says the Lord God, ‘Behold, I will judge between one sheep and another, between the rams and the male goats.
  • Zech 10:3a “My anger is kindled against the shepherds, And I will punish the male goats;

Goats look like sheep, but there are differences. In appearance, goats have horns, hair, and their tails point up. Sheep (except for the Merino) don’t have horns, have wool, and their tails point down. In personality, goats are more curious and independent and tend to get into more trouble. Sheep are more timid and have a strong flocking instinct. Goats lead goatherds, while sheep follow shepherds. These characteristics are like the differences between the unrighteous and the righteous. Goats push, take, destroy and bully, just like the unrighteous. Sheep depend on their shepherd to lead and protect them like the righteous.

Are there goats in the church? I believe yes, just as there are tares among wheat in the kingdom of heaven. In Israel, goats and sheep are often kept in the same flock (Gen 30:32, 35). In church, the unrighteous are among the righteous too, and often you can’t tell them apart because they look similar. Only by observing how they behave over time can you distinguish between the two. But there are no goats in the Church, the Body of Christ, as only genuine Christians are members of Christ’s body.

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