The 2001 Commentaries

Who Are the Sheep and the Goats?

info All commentaries are written by volunteers, readers, or supporters of our Bible translation project. These are not official views of our project; we are not a religious denomination and we do not establish doctrine. These commentaries reflect a variety of views and some disagree with each other.


A Parallel Prophecy?

At Matthew 25:31-33, it is recorded that Jesus said:

‘When the Son of Man arrives in his glory along with all of the messengers, he’ll sit down on his glorious throne and all nations will be led before him.
Then he’ll separate the people as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.
He’ll put the sheep on his right, but the goats on his left.’

So, was Jesus speaking of separating the righteous from the unrighteous for what Revelation 16:16 refers to as the Battle of Armageddon here, as many religions teach? Not if Jesus was actually quoting the scripture found at Ezekiel 34:17, which says in the Septuagint:

Then, from among you, My sheep,
Says Jehovah the Lord,
{Look!} I’ll separate the sheep from the sheep,
And the rams from the goats

Notice that the Hebrew Masoretic text of this verse also reads similarly:

‘I will judge between one sheep and another, and between rams and goats.’

We have brought this up because we suspect that in Matthew 25, Jesus was in fact quoting from this verse in Ezekiel. For almost everything that he taught included direct quotations from the Hebrew prophecies to show how those prophecies were being fulfilled. Also, if you read the verses that surround verse 17 in Ezekiel 34, you’ll see that this prophecy was foretelling the time when Jesus (My servant David) would do the same sort of separating work that he was later quoted as speaking at Matthew 25:31-33. And this is why we strongly believe that both prophecies are speaking of the same groups of ‘sheep.’


The Differences in the OT and NT Prophecies

Notice that in the previous verse in Ezekiel (Ezekiel 34:13), these words were written:

‘I’ll lead them out of the nations
I’ll gather them from many regions,
Then bring them [back] to their land,
Where on IsraEl’s mountains, I’ll graze them…
In the valleys and homes of their land.’

So notice that this prophecy in Ezekiel is really speaking of the lost sheep of IsraEl.
Whereas Jesus’ words as quoted in Matthew’s text appear to be speaking of a separating of the righteous from the unrighteous of the world (or at least, that’s what most religions teach). So, why would there be differences in the meaning if was Jesus was in fact quoting from this prophecy in Ezekiel?

Well, understand that we have found many texts in Matthew that are badly corrupted.
And therefore, we realize that all the religious teachings that are based on this verse in Matthew could in fact be wrong, because this could be – and seems to be – a mis-rendering of what Jesus actually said!

We know from our extensive research in translating that the book of Matthew (though the most quoted Gospel today) is also the most corrupted of the four Gospel accounts of Jesus’ life, since it differs significantly in several places from what is written in the books of Mark, Luke, and John (yes, it really does). And what we are suggesting here is that the quotation of Jesus’ words at Matthew 25:31 ties the nations a bit too closely to the sheep and the goats. So if this is what happened; this scripture (as it is rendered in modern Bible texts) misrepresents the point of what Jesus was saying.

And yes; as Bible Translators, we not only have the right but the DUTY to question the translating and authenticity of each Bible verse, and especially where we have found several nearby verses that we know have been changed through the centuries, as is true of the book of Matthew.

You might notice that ‘the nations’ are also mentioned in Ezekiel’s text, and you can see that just a couple of missed words in the account of what Jesus said would imply the wrong thing. So what we are urging you to do is to keep an open mind on the true meaning of this verse.

Please understand that we aren’t being dogmatic and we aren’t trying to come up with some new doctrine; we’re just questioning the true meaning of this verse as it has been received. For there is no other scripture that speaks of a separating of the sheep in the parallel Gospels of Mark, Luke, and John. And as the result, we have no parallel references with which to compare this verse in order to prove whether Jesus’ words had been changed though the centuries or not (which we have found to be true of several other verses in Matthew). In fact, the only other place in the Gospels where we find Jesus speaking of two different flocks of sheep is at John 10:16, which isn’t speaking of a separating, but of two flocks that will be joined together as one.

Yet if Jesus was quoting the prophecy of Ezekiel 34 here (and we suspect that he was), he clearly wasn’t talking about an Armageddon or a pre-Armageddon judging of all the peoples of the world, as most think. Rather, he seems to have been talking about judging those whom he deemed to be ‘his people’ before giving the righteous among them an inheritance. This is implied by the fact that the sheep and the goats (or ‘the sheep and the sheep’) are not part of two different flocks (Jesus’ followers and people of ‘the world’), but they seem to be part of the same flock.

The Reward of the Sheep

Then take another look at the reward for those whom Jesus described as being declared to be ‘sheep’ in the account of Matthew 25.

Notice that in verse 34, it says that they will ‘inherit the Kingdom.’ This is interesting, because it implies that the Kingdom they will inherit is here on the earth, since the sheep and the goats (the good and the bad) are found only here… and there is no reference thereafter that speaks of the sheep as being taken into the heavens.

You can see that this seems to be the same reward that is spoken of at 1 Corinthians 15:50, where we read:

‘I tell you this, brothers: Flesh and blood cannot inherit God’s Kingdom,
Nor can [something] corruptible inherit something that’s incorruptible.’

Notice that here, Paul was also writing about those who would ‘inherit the Kingdom.’

Yet, 1 Corinthians 15:50 is often quoted to prove that the righteous will be changed into spirit bodies and then taken to heaven, where they will ‘inherit the Kingdom’ as co-rulers with Jesus. So, is this the same reward that will be given to ‘the sheep’ of Jesus’ prophecy in Matthew 25, or have many religions come to a wrong understanding of what Paul was really saying in 1 Corinthians 15? The latter conclusion is what we suspect is true. (See the linked document, ‘God’s Promise of an Inheritance,’ under the subheading, ‘A Contradiction?’).

Therefore, if ‘inheriting the Kingdom’ doesn’t necessarily imply being taken to heaven; then notice the similarities to the reward of the sheep as it is described in Ezekiel 34:22-25, 31 (which is clearly speaking of things that will happen on this earth):

‘So, I will rescue My sheep,
And no more will they serve as [your] plunder;
For between ram and ram, I will judge.

‘I will raise a shepherd for them,
And My servant David will tend them…
He’ll be a shepherd that cares about them.
Then I (Jehovah) will be their God,
And My servant David, will rule in their midst…
Yes, I (Jehovah) have spoken.

‘An Agreement of peace, I’ll make among them,
And I’ll wipe the fierce beasts from their land.
Then, they will dwell in the deserts,
And in the forests, they’ll sleep

You are the sheep of My pasture And I am Jehovah your God.

The ‘Double Bind’

On the other hand, if Jesus really wasn’t quoting the prophetic words of Ezekiel 34 at Matthew 25:31-33, and he was just talking about a separating of the sheep from the goats sometime before Armageddon, and if Paul (at 1 Corinthians 15:50) was really saying that those who inherit the Kingdom will do so in heaven;
Then we end up in a ‘double bind’ situation.

For if ‘inheriting the Kingdom’ means inheriting life in heaven; then, what did Jesus mean when he said (at Matthew 5:5), “Blest are the meek, For, they will inherit the land”?

And what was meant by the words of Proverbs 2:20-22, where we are told:

‘But, smooth are the roads that the righteous have found;
For the meek will inherit the land,
And the honest are those who’ll remain here.
Then, only the upright will camp in the land,
And those who’ll be left are the holy.
Disrespectful ways will be gone from the land,
And those that break laws will be banished’.

Also, who is this righteous ‘IsraEl’ that was spoken of by EzekiEl and all the rest of the Prophets, and how do they differ from the ‘sheep?’ Notice that both groups are spoken of prophetically at Isaiah 49:22, 23, where God promised:

Look, says Jehovah, the Lord;
I’m lifting My hand to the nations,
And to the islands, I’m raising My sign.
Then they’ll hold your sons to their chests,
And your daughters, they’ll lift on their shoulders.
Their kings will then serve as your [butlers],
And their queens will be your wet nurses.
Before you, they’ll bow to the ground,
And they’ll lick the dust from your feet

As you can see, in Isaiah we find a prophecy that speaks of ‘the nations’ serving ‘IsraEl’ in earthly (not heavenly) situations.

Whom Was the Prophecy of Ezekiel Addressing?

Notice that the entire prophecy found in Ezekiel 34 was addressed to the unfaithful leaders (kings, prophets, and priests) of IsraEl. For we read in verse 2:

‘O son of man;
Against the shepherds of IsraEl,
You must now prophesy!

Tell them that thus says Jehovah, the Lord:
O you shepherds of IsraEl;
Do shepherds graze for themselves,
Or do sheep graze for the shepherds?

Then the Prophecy goes on to say (in verses 20-23):

Because of this, says Jehovah, the Lord;
{Look!} I’ll separate the strong from the weak.
For you pushed them away with your shoulders and sides,
And the weak, you gored with your horns…
You squeezed them out and pushed them aside!
So, I will rescue My sheep,
And no more will they serve as [your] plunder;
For between ram and ram, I will judge.

The Condemnation of the Goats

Then, what about ‘the goats’ of Jesus’ prophecy (or the rams of EzekiEl’s Prophecy)? Notice that Jesus said concerning them (at Matthew 25:31):
‘Then he will say to those on his left:
Leave me, you who’ve been cursed into the age-long fire that was prepared for the Opposer and his messengers.’

As you can see, these aren’t the same as those whom Paul (the Apostle) was speaking of when he said (at Acts 24:15):

‘And I have this hope in God, which they (the Pharisees) also share, that there’s going to be a resurrection of the righteous and the unrighteous.’

So clearly, the ‘goats’ or ‘rams’ that are mixed in among the sheep are not the ‘unrighteous’ that will be resurrected. Rather, Jesus was likely talking about those ‘Christian’ leaders (or slaves) that have been mistreating and misleading his flock of ‘sheep,’ and he was saying that these won’t be resurrected, but that they will forever gone.

For notice that he said (in verse 46):

‘Then these will go off into age-long (aiōniŏn) punishment (kolasin), but the righteous into age-long life.’

Doing Good for Jesus’ Brothers

Then, what is the basis of the judgment that determines who the ‘sheep’ are and who the ‘goats’ are?
As Jesus said, it all depends on how they treat his ‘brothers.’
And just who are Jesus’ brothers? He said (at Matthew 12:49):

Whoever does all that my Father in heaven wishes is my brother, sister, and mother.’

So it appears as though Jesus answered this question. For while some teach that Jesus’ ‘brothers’ consist of a special group that are found so righteous that they are chosen by God and given the reward of life in heaven (the ‘Saints’); Jesus said that whoever does God’s Will is his brother.

Thus it appears as though we can all be found to be sheep if we will simply show love for each other and care for each other’s need during periods of trial.

Then, are we firmly stating that Jesus’ words about the sheep and the goats in Matthew 25 are corrupted, and that the prophecy in Ezekiel 34:17 is what he quoting? Though we have concluded this; as we said:

We don’t have any parallel accounts in Mark, Luke, or John (as we do in the case of the questionable scriptures found at Matthew 6:10, 24:3, and 28:19, 20) to prove that he actually said or was quoting something else. However, it is strange that Mark, whom evidence shows wrote his Gospel in Greek based on the Gospel of Matthew (which was written in Hebrew or Aramaic), and Luke, who wrote in Greek and also referenced the Gospel of Matthew when researching his Gospel account, would have missed these words if they were as important to Christians then as they are considered to be today.

The Likely Real Meaning of the Sheep and the Goats

We believe that the point that is missed by the miscopying or mistranslating of this prophecy of the sheep and the goats (if that’s what happened) is that this story appears to be a continuation of the description of the ‘faithful slaves’ that Jesus had just been talking about in the previous verses.

For it appears as though the three slaves that were given a ‘coin’ to invest for their lord the king really represent the leaders and teachers among his disciples, and the description of the sheep and goats (from the content of the prophecy in Ezekiel) seems to be a warning to them (religious leaders) that they must either treat the Lord’s brothers well, or they will not only fail to inherit the Kingdom, but they will also receive ‘age-long punishment.’

Yes, we realize that our suggested application of the scripture doesn’t agree with the popular translation of the text in Matthew as even we have rendered it in this Bible, or with all the teachings that have been based on the sheep-and-goats theme. However, we trust that Jesus was in fact quoting the scripture in Ezekiel, and that this story is not a description of God’s judgment of mankind in general. Though we don’t expect everyone to agree with this conclusion, we are offering it with its evidence for your consideration.

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