Sermon session


Session #147 Separated

Scripture Matthew 25:31-46

Summary Jesus’ final teaching about the separation of the sheep and the goats is easy to read but not quite as easy to understand or to accept. Henson tackles some tough questions in Matthew 25:31-46. Who are the nations? Who are the brethren? Who are the ones being separated? Who is Jesus really referring to?


31 “When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory. 32 All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats. 33 And He will set the sheep on His right hand, but the goats on the left. 34 Then the King will say to those on His right hand, ‘Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: 35 for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; 36 I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.’ 37 “Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink? 38 When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You? 39 Or when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ 40 And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.’  41 “Then He will also say to those on the left hand, ‘Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels: 42 for I was hungry and you gave Me no food; I was thirsty and you gave Me no drink; 43 I was a stranger and you did not take Me in, naked and you did not clothe Me, sick and in prison and you did not visit Me.’ 44 “Then they also will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to You?’ 45 Then He will answer them, saying, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.’ 46 And these will go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” Matthew 25:31–46

We have come to the final parable in Matthew 25 of the final kingdom discourse about Kingdom Readiness. By now, we should have already noted a very clear pattern in the preceding parables. All were directed at disciples; illustrated what constitutes being Ready or Not Ready; featured two distinct categories and contained a conditional promise as well as a consequential warning

In considering how best to present this teaching, the word SEPARATED kept coming up. We will thus consider these three points as we unpack this passage.

Separated by Christ

Jesus, the Son of Man, the Shepherd and the King will be separating the sheep and the goats (Daniel 7:13-14, Revelations 20:11-15, Ezekiel 34, John 10:11). They will be separated into two categories (sheep and goats) to His right hand and left hand.

The separation will be according to what they have done to Jesus and for Jesus (Matthew 25:34-36, 41-43)

 “All the nations” (ethne) will be separated. To interpret who “all the nations” refer to, we must consider these together with ‘least of My brethren”. A popular interpretation was that the “least of My brethren” refer to those who are poor and needy, leading to a call to social justice. All the nations will be judged and separated by how they treat these. Another interpretation was that “My brethren” refers to the Jews/Israel. Since Jesus was a Jewish, nations therefore refers to the Gentiles, or people groups or countries in today’s terms, who will be judged and separated according to how they treat Jews/Israel. Both sound right and plausible but both are inaccurate. Firstly, it will not be entire nations or countries that will be judged collectively. According to the word used for ‘them’ (masculine autous) in Matthew 25:32, it points to individuals not people groups. Secondly, it is not Jews or Gentiles but both Jews and Gentiles that will be judged. Thirdly, the focus of this teaching is not merely the poor/needy/sick, but more precisely, how believers/followers of Jesus Christ treat one another!

Those who will be separated by Christ are judged according to how they treat those who are separated in Christ.

Separated in Christ: My Brethren

Consider Mathew 25:40, 45, where Jesus used the words “My brethren”.

The key to understanding this passage of teaching lies in what Jesus meant when He refers to “My brethren”. Adelphos (brethren) refers to members of the same family, same tribe, countrymen; belonging to the same community. 

In Matthew 12:48-49, when asked about His mother and brothers, Jesus expanded and extended family relationships to His disciples – all who believe and follow Him, who do the Father’s will. Teaching on kingdom relationships, Jesus expected kingdom people to look out for one another and not cause anyone to sin or fall, especially the “little ones”, a phrase that carried the same tone as “the least of these My brethren” (Matthew 18:6). Instead of jostling for titles and positions, He told the disciples that they were all equal as brothers, with the same heavenly Father (Matthew 23:8-9).

Clearly, “My brethren” refers to disciples, believers and followers of Jesus Christ, both Jew and Gentiles (Ephesians 2:14-18). This is consistent with all the other “readiness” parables which we have already studied. Against the eschatological backdrop, followers of Jesus may be subject to hardship and challenges. Many will suffer rejection, persecution and even lack, resulting in situations that Jesus described in this passage. Other followers are expected to look out for these “brethren” and do their very best to help them and in doing so, “they have served Jesus’. This passage is not about social action or social justice in general, but the response of nations to disciples in need.  

In Matthew 25:37-45, we see that both groups (sheep and goats) were surprised, not about salvation, but about having ministered/not ministered to Jesus directly. These works are not the basis of salvation but the evidence of salvation (James 2:14-18, 26). If indeed we are saved in Christ, separated in Christ and sealed in Christ, then we will serve Christ and one another accordingly.

Separated With/From Christ

The separation by Christ is into two categories with two separate outcomes. The sheep on the right hand are those who ministered to Jesus by serving the brethren. They are welcomed to enter the fullness of the kingdom and experience the abundance of  eternal life. The goats on the left hand are those who claimed to be believers but had nothing to show for it. They are cast out forever from the presence of God into a place of everlasting punishment (Matthew 25:34, 41, 46).

Both outcomes and places have been “prepared”. Which are we preparing for?


This teaching concludes the 5th and final kingdom discourse in the gospel of Matthew. It closes the discussion about the coming of Jesus and the disciples’ question about the end of age.

All who claim to be saved – Christians, separated in Christ , will be judged and separated by Christ Himself. There are only two categories of believers: ready/not ready; prepared/unprepared; faithful/unfaithful; profitable/unprofitable; and sheep (believers who look out for other believers) and goats: (so-called believers who do not). All will be separated: either to be with Christ in His kingdom forever, or separated from Christ for all eternity.

Amidst the many speculations and interpretations about the end times and the signs of the times, one thing is crystal clear: Jesus repeatedly reminds believers, through the parables, to be ready and prepared for His return.