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Sheep Goats Judgment and Social Justice Gospel?
In Defense of the Faith
Friday, April 27, 2018
Alf Cengia

What's the link between the Sheep Goats Judgment and Social Justice Gospel? Can people be saved by doing good deeds? Do the verses in Matthew 25:33-46 support a cross plus works Social Gospel model? Or is there something else happening here?

When did we see you sick, or in prison, and come to you?' "The King will answer and say to them, 'Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of mine, even the least of them, you did it to me.' Mat 25:39-40

Pope Francis made news (again) when he responded to a boy's touching question as to whether his atheist father went to heaven after he died. Francis assured him that, though his father was an unbeliever, he was now in heaven and that the boy should pray to him.

The pope is no stranger to controversial remarks supporting inclusivity which appear to depart from the Catholic Catechism. He has stated for instance that: “Sin, even for those who have no faith, exists when people disobey their conscience.” Notably the Bible contradicts him regarding conscience (Jeremiah 17:9).

Likewise Tony Campolo is cited saying:

I place my highest priority on the words of Jesus, emphasizing the 25th chapter of Matthew, where Jesus makes clear that on Judgment Day the defining question will be how each of us responded to those he calls “the least of these.”

Campolo and Pope Francis appear to proclaim a salvation based on the cross plus social works. If pressed, they'll affirm the primacy of the cross. But this is generally missing from their narratives.

It isn't my intention to get into the salvation-by-grace-cross-plus-works gospel debate in this article. Others have done a great job addressing it. For a response to Campolo see Cameron Buettel's article at Grace To You. See also GotQuestions' article on why the salvation by works view is predominant.

The Monergism Website has a list of resources exploring what Scripture has to say regarding salvation, grace and works. One doesn't need agree with everything on this site. However, it's vital we understand how salvation biblically applied.

If the Sheep and Goat Judgment passages do not support salvation by social works, what is going on?

It has long been a pet peeve of mine that the church mine-quotes selected Bible passages and contextualizes them for today and the church. Classic examples are when ethnic Israel passages from Psalms and the prophets are applied to the church or social issues.

Some modern applications can be valid. Yet too often the original (and still applicable) context is forgotten. Such is the case in the Sheep and Goat Judgment texts.

We must understand the context of Matthew 25. It follows after chapter 24 where Jesus answers various eschatological questions posed by the disciples. Jesus talks about the future destruction of Jerusalem and a still future event commonly known as the Abomination of Desolation.

Contra preterism, the AoD did not occur during 70AD. But what immediately follows the Aod is three and a half years of tribulation which Jesus calls the worst time in history. It will be so severe that unless Christ intervenes no flesh will be saved alive (Matt 24:21-22). This is followed by Christ's premillennial return.  Zechariah chapters 12 to 14 provide context (see also Zec 12:3, 9, 14:3 etc).

For more on this read Lyndon Unger's blog.

In his Commentary on Matthew (Behold the King) Stanley Toussaint suggests that there are three groups of people mentioned in the Sheep-Goats Judgment. These are Sheep and Goats (2) and Israel (1).

Some think the "brothers of mine" (Matt 25:40) simply refers to Christians. But Toussaint argues that this, in context, refers to the godly remnant of Israel (Jews). The Sheep-Goats comprise the Gentile nations. The Sheep act kindly to Christ's brothers, while the Goats ignore their suffering.

Toussaint writes:

Passiveness and even belligerence toward the Jewish proclaimers of the kingdom is the attitude of those who have no heart for the kingdom. None will have any excuse since the gospel will have been proclaimed to all (Isaiah 24:13-15; Matthew 24:14). ~ Behold the King (p 291)

Dr Arnold Fruchtenbaum (Footsteps of the Messiah) agrees. He writes:

During the Tribulation, the Jews will become the dividing line for those who are believers and for those who are not. Only believers will dare to violate the rules of the Antichrist and aid the Jews. Their pro-Semitic acts will be the result of their saved state. As James would say it, they will show their faith by their works. But the unbelievers will demonstrate their unbelief by their anti-Semitic acts.... (p 367)

As an aside some disagree with Toussaint's reference to Jewish proclaimers. Many non-pretribulationists deny that the 144,000 from the tribes of Israel perform an evangelistic function. They assert the church is present throughout, or part of, the 70th week of Daniel and performs that role.

Yet posttribulationist Nathaniel West believed the 144,000 are saved and sealed at the beginning of the 70th week as a result of the ministry of the two witnesses. West called the 144,000 an “Israelitish Future Church” and saw them as evangelists. See George Ladd (The Blessed Hope p 45).

The cumulative affect of Replacement Theology and the proclivity to allegorize prophecy (if one pays attention to it at all) has led many away from the eschatological content of the Sheep-Goats Judgment. No wonder many theologians strive to re-interpret the warning in Gen 12:3 away from ethnic Israel.

The 70th week of Daniel is a time of trial and wrath. Those who struggle with the severity of the Sheep-Goat judgment might ponder the testing surrounding the taking of the Mark of the Beast. This is a unique period of wrath and judgment on this world which ushers in Christ's premillennial return.

God still loves Israel despite its sins, just as He loves the Gentile elect. We can trust that God will redeem Israel because we can trust His Word in redeeming us. Hence the blessing and cursing in Gen 12:3 still apply to Israel.

All should take fearful heed.... 

And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life. Matt 25:46

If you ever happen to find yourself in the Tribulation, will you be a Sheep or a Goat?

About Alf Cengia

Last week: The Church is Under Seige

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