“To the extent that you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.”
1, 2. (a) What parables did Jesus tell his close friends? (See opening picture.) (b) What do we need to know about the parable of the sheep and the goats?
JESUS was talking to his close friends Peter, Andrew, James, and John about something very interesting. After telling them the parables of the faithful and discreet slave, the ten virgins, and the talents, Jesus told his friends another parable. In it, he spoke about a time when “the Son of man” will judge “all the nations.” He said that “the Son of man” will separate people into two groups, one described as the sheep and the other as the goats. And he described an important third group, the King’s “brothers.”
2 Like the apostles, Jehovah’s servants in our time have also been interested in this parable because the lives of people are involved. Jesus said that some will receive everlasting life but that others will be destroyed. This is why it is very important that we know what the parable means and what we must do to receive everlasting life. So in this article, we will answer the following questions: How has Jehovah helped us to understand this parable? How do we know that the parable emphasizes the preaching work? Who should preach? And why is it important for people to be loyal now to “the King” and his “brothers”?
HOW HAS JEHOVAH HELPED US TO UNDERSTAND THE PARABLE?
3, 4. (a) What do we need to know to understand this parable? (b) In 1881, how did the Watch Tower explain this parable?
3 To understand what the parable of the sheep and the goats means, we need to know (1) who is “the Son of man,” or “the King,” who are the sheep and the goats, and who are the King’s “brothers”? (2) when does “the Son of man” separate, or judge, the sheep and the goats? and (3) why are some called sheep and others called goats?
4 In 1881, the Watch Tower said that “the Son of man,” or “the King,” is Jesus. And it explained that the King’s “brothers” were not only those who will rule in heaven with Jesus but also all people who will live on earth when they become perfect. The Watch Tower said that people would be separated during the Thousand Year Rule of Christ and that those who imitated God’s love in everything they did would be called sheep.
5. In 1923, how did God’s people understand the parable?
5 Later, Jehovah helped his people to understand this parable more clearly. In 1923, the Watch Tower of October 15 said that “the Son of man” is Jesus. But then it used Bible verses to explain that the “brothers” in the parable refer only to those who will rule with Jesus and that they would all be in heaven during the Thousand Year Rule. It also said that the sheep refer to those who will live on earth under the rule of Jesus and his brothers. And since the parable says that these ones help the King’s brothers, the separating, or judgment, would need to happen while these anointed brothers of Jesus are still on earth, before the Thousand Year Rule begins. The article also said that the sheep would be those who believe in Jesus and who believe that the Kingdom will bring a better life.
6. In 1995, how did our understanding of the parable change?
6 For many years we thought that people were judged by means of the preaching work in this time of the end. If they accepted our message, they were sheep, and if they rejected the message, they were goats. But in 1995 the way we understood the parable changed. The Watchtower compared Matthew 24:29-31 (read) with Matthew 25:31, 32 (read), and explained that Jesus will judge people during the great tribulation when the Son of man “comes in his glory.” *
We are so grateful that Jehovah has helped us to understand Jesus’ parables
7. What does the parable mean?
7 Today, we understand the parable of the sheep and the goats clearly. We know that “the Son of man,” or “the King,” is Jesus. The King’s “brothers” are those who are anointed with holy spirit and who will rule in heaven with Jesus. (Romans 8:16, 17) “The sheep” and “the goats” are people from all nations. They will be judged toward the end of the great tribulation that will soon begin. And we know that Jesus will judge people according to how they have treated the anointed ones who are still on earth. We are so grateful that Jehovah has helped us over the years to understand this parable and the other parables in Matthew chapters 24 and 25!
THE PARABLE TEACHES US THAT THE PREACHING WORK IS VERY IMPORTANT
8, 9. Why did Jesus call the sheep “righteous”?
8 Jesus did not use the words “preach” or “preaching work” in the parable of the sheep and the goats. So how do we know that the parable teaches us that the preaching work is very important?
9 To find the answer, we first have to remember that Jesus was teaching a lesson by means of a parable. He was not talking about real sheep and goats. So in the same way, he did not mean that every person who will be judged as a sheep should give food and clothes to the anointed, look after them when they are sick, or visit them in prison. No, Jesus described the sheep as “righteous” because they view the anointed as his brothers and because they are loyal to the anointed during these difficult last days.
10. How can the sheep help Christ’s brothers?
10 When Jesus gave the parable of the sheep and the goats, he had been talking about what would happen in the time of the end. (Matthew 24:3) For example, he said: “This good news of the Kingdom will be preached in all the inhabited earth.” (Matthew 24:14) And then, just before he spoke about the sheep and the goats, he gave the parable of the talents. Jesus told this parable to teach the anointed ones that they must work hard in the preaching work. But there are only a small number of them left on earth, and there is so much work to do! The anointed have been told to preach to “all the nations” before the end. As we learn in the parable of the sheep and the goats, “the sheep” help Jesus’ brothers. And one of the best ways they can do this is to help Jesus’ brothers with the preaching work. But is it enough just to donate money for the work or to encourage them to do the preaching work?
WHO SHOULD PREACH?
11. What question might some ask, and why?
11 Today, there are eight million disciples of Jesus, and most of them are not anointed. Jesus did not give them the talents. He gave the talents to his anointed brothers. (Matthew 25:14-18) So some may ask, ‘If Jesus did not give them the talents, do they really need to preach?’ Yes. Let us see why.
12. What do we learn from Jesus’ words found at Matthew 28:19, 20?
12 Jesus commanded all his disciples to preach. After Jesus was resurrected, he told his followers to “make disciples” and to teach them “all the things” he had commanded. So these disciples also had to obey Jesus’ command to preach. (Read Matthew 28:19, 20.) It is clear that all of us must preach, whether we hope to live in heaven or on earth.
All of us must preach, whether we hope to live in heaven or on earth
13. What do we learn from the vision that John saw?
13 From the book of Revelation, we learn that the preaching work would be done both by the anointed and by others. Jesus gave the apostle John a vision of a “bride” who invites people to come and drink water that gives life. The bride refers to the 144,000 anointed ones who will rule with Jesus in heaven. (Revelation 14:1, 3; 22:17) The water refers to Jesus’ ransom sacrifice that will help people to have life without sin and death. (Matthew 20:28; John 3:16; 1 John 4:9, 10) Anointed ones zealously teach people about the ransom and how they can benefit from it. (1 Corinthians 1:23) But the vision mentions another group of people who are not anointed but who have the hope of living on earth. They too are commanded to tell people: “Come!” And they obey that command by teaching others the good news. So this vision shows that all those who accept the message of the good news must preach to others.
14. How do we obey “the law of the Christ”?
14 All who obey “the law of the Christ” must preach. (Galatians 6:2) Jehovah expects all who worship him to obey the same laws. In the past, he expected both Israelites and foreigners living with them to obey his laws. (Exodus 12:49; Leviticus 24:22) Of course, today we do not need to obey all the laws given to the Israelites. Instead, whether we are anointed or not, we must obey “the law of the Christ.” One of the most important things Jesus taught us is to love. (John 13:35; James 2:8) We must love Jehovah, Jesus, and people. And the best way we show that love is by telling people about the good news of the Kingdom.
15. Why can we say that Jesus commanded all his disciples to preach?
15 What Jesus said to a few of his disciples can sometimes refer to many disciples. For example, Jesus made a covenant with just 11 of his disciples and promised them that they would rule in his Kingdom. But 144,000 will rule with him. (Luke 22:29, 30; Revelation 5:10; 7:4-8) And after Jesus was resurrected, only a few of his disciples heard his command to preach. (Acts 10:40-42; 1 Corinthians 15:6) But all of Jesus’ disciples in the first century obeyed that command. (Acts 8:4; 1 Peter 1:8) Today, too, we know that we must preach, even though we have not heard Jesus’ voice telling us to do this work. In fact, there are eight million of us doing the preaching work. We know that by preaching, we show that we truly have faith in Jesus.
NOW IS THE TIME TO BE LOYAL
16-18. How can we loyally help Christ’s brothers, and why should we do this now?
16 Satan is fighting more and more against Christ’s anointed brothers who are still on earth, and he knows that he has only “a short period of time” left. (Revelation 12:9, 12, 17) But despite Satan’s attacks, the anointed continue to lead the preaching work and more people than ever before are hearing the good news. Clearly, Jesus is with the anointed, and he is guiding them.
It is an honor to help Christ’s brothers
17 We feel that it is an honor to help Christ’s brothers by preaching. We also help by donating money and working hard to build Kingdom Halls, Assembly Halls, and branch offices. When we loyally obey the elders and other brothers appointed by “the faithful and discreet slave,” we show that we want to help Christ’s brothers.
18 Soon the remaining anointed ones will receive the final sealing. Then the angels will let go of “the four winds of the earth,” and the great tribulation will begin. (Revelation 7:1-3) Before Armageddon begins, Jesus will take the anointed to heaven. (Matthew 13:41-43) So if we want to be judged as sheep when Jesus comes, now is the time to be loyal to Christ’s anointed brothers.
^ par. 6 For a detailed discussion of this parable, see the articles “How Will You Stand Before the Judgment Seat?” and “What Future for the Sheep and the Goats?” in the October 15, 1995, issue of The Watchtower.