In Matthew 25:31, does the dividing of the sheep and goats take place on earth when Christ comes back? Or, does this happen at the great white throne judgment? It sounds like it happens on earth just prior to the 1,000 year reign of Christ.
Matthew 25:31-46 is the sheep and goat judgment.
But when the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne. And all the nations will be gathered before Him; and He will separate them from one another, as the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats; and He will put the sheep on His right, and the goats on the left. (NASB) Matt. 25:31-33
Jesus’ Second Coming
Scripture teaches that at sometime in the future, a period of great distress will occur on this earth. We call it the Tribulation. There is a study and an important question at this site that provides more of an explanation about the timeline of future events such as the Rapture, the Tribulation, the Kingdom, and heaven. Earlier in Matthew 24:29-31, Jesus told us that His return comes after the Tribulation.
But immediately after the tribulation of those days THE SUN WILL BE DARKENED, AND THE MOON WILL NOT GIVE ITS LIGHT, AND THE STARS WILL FALL from the sky, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken, and then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the SON OF MAN COMING ON THE CLOUDS OF THE SKY with power and great glory. And He will send forth His angels with A GREAT TRUMPET and THEY WILL GATHER TOGETHER His elect from the four winds, from one end of the sky to the other. (NASB) Matt. 24:29-31
When He returns to earth in the future, He brings those Christians who died during the tribulation (Rev. 3:5; Rev. 19:11-16, before the tribulation (Rev. 20:4-6) and at the end of the tribulation (Matt. 25:31-33) together. That is the message of Matt. 24:31-33.
Sheep & Goat Judgment
In Matthew 25:31-46, Jesus tells us that He will place the sheep, Christians, on His right and non-Christians on His left. Those He places on His right will go into the kingdom (Matt. 25:34) which starts as an earthly Kingdom and ends up as a heavenly kingdom (Rev. 20:2, 4-5; Rev. 21:5-7; 1 John 5;5 and Rev. 2:11). Those on His left will go into eternal punishment (Matt. 25:46).
Some have said the goat and sheep judgment occurs immediately at Jesus’ Second Coming. Others believe it occurs at the Great White Throne. This difference of opinion is mainly found between dispensationalists and non-dispensationalists such as amillennialists and postmillennialists. Non-dispensationalists say Matthew 25:31-46 is the Great White Throne judgment. But there are several reasons this cannot be true.
First, if the non-dispensationalists are correct that this is the Great White Throne judgment, then everyone should be sent to the Lake of Fire, according to Rev. 20:11-15. Even the sheep should be sent into eternal punishment. But this cannot be true since earlier in Rev. 20:4-6 the Holy Spirit has told us that those who are resurrected earlier – the first resurrection – will not be subject to the “second death.” There are two different resurrections and two different judgments in Rev. 20 (Rev. 20:4-6 and Rev. 20:11-15).
And I saw thrones, and they sat upon them, and judgment was given to them. And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of the testimony of Jesus and because of the word of God, and those who had not worshiped the beast or his image, and had not received the mark upon their forehead and upon their hand; and they came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were completed. This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy is the one who has a part in the first resurrection; over these the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with Him for a thousand years. (NASB) Rev. 20:4-6
And I saw a great white throne and Him who sat upon it, from whose presence earth and heaven fled away, and no place was found for them . . . And the sea gave up the dead which were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead which were in them; and they were judged, every one of them according to their deeds. And death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. (NASB) Rev. 20:11, 13-14
God made a decision or a judgment in order to select those who would reign in the Kingdom.
Second, in Matthew 25:31 Jesus sits on a glorious throne and in Rev. 20:11 Jesus sits on a great white throne. A throne of judgment. The first is a time of victory and the second is a sober time.
Finally, this judgment is for those are living (Matt. 25:31). In Revelation 20:4-15, there are two resurrections – for the dead people. At the end of Rev. 19:20-2, we find that living persons who received the mark of the beast and who worshipped his image were immediately judged. This is the time of the Sheep of Goat judgment.
And the beast was seized, and with him the false prophet who performed the signs in his presence, by which he deceived those who had received the mark of the beast and those who worshiped his image; these two were thrown alive into the lake of fire which burns with brimstone. (NASB) Rev. 19:20
Yes, the Sheep and Goat judgment occurs on earth just before the 1,000 year reign of Christ. Scripture teaches that there are three judgments: Bema Seat judgment, Sheep and Goat Judgment, and the Great White Throne judgment. The Bema Seat judgment is for all Christians. The Goat and Sheep judgment separates the living saints from those who are not. The saints enter the Kingdom both those who were resurrected and those who were still living at the end of the Tribulation. The Great White Throne judgment is for all dead non-Christians.