Sheep and goats have many similarities, but they are distinctively different. One way to tell the difference is to look at their tails. A goat’s tail goes up, while sheep tails hang down. They also behave differently. While goats eat leaves, twigs, vines, and shrubs, browsing for food, sheep are grazers, feasting on grass. Sheep stick together, while goats are curious and independent.
In today’s passage, Jesus is telling a series of parables. He then describes what will happen at His Second Coming, “when the Son of Man comes in his glory” (v. 31). He will separate people like a shepherd separates sheep from goats. What was the difference? He bases this decision on their actions with regard to the poor, the sick, the imprisoned, and other needy or low-status persons. The sheep fed the hungry, clothed the naked, and visited the sick and the imprisoned (vv. 35–36), while the goats did not.
This parable illustrates the difference between true and false followers of Christ. The sheep were true disciples because they did what Christ would have done, and therefore it was as if the good deeds had been done for Christ Himself. The goats, on the other hand, did not, and it was as if they had failed Christ Himself in His hour of need. That’s the principle in this passage: “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me” (vv. 40, 45).
These people have a different destiny. True followers of Christ, the sheep, are given eternal life and welcomed into God’s kingdom (v. 34). The goats, false followers, are sent to eternal fire and punishment (vv. 41, 46).
>> Are you a sheep or a goat? True followers of Christ act with the compassion of their Shepherd. This shows them to be true believers, saved by faith. While we aren’t redeemed by good works, our behavior testifies to the genuineness of our faith.