Bible Question:

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.

Bible Answer:

Matthew 25:31-46 describes 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. Matthew 25:31-33 (NASB)

Jesus’ Second Coming

Scripture teaches that at sometime in the future, a period of great distress will occur on this earth. It is called the Tribulation. The study Prophecy of The Future  provides an explanation of the timeline of future events such as the Rapture, the Tribulation, the millennial 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. Matthew 24:29-31 (NASB)

When Christ returns to earth in the future, He brings those Christians who were raptured before the tribulation ( 1 Thessalonians 4:14-18; Revelation 3:5; 19:7, 14) within Him to the battle of Armageddon (Revelation 19:7-21).

Sheep & Goat Judgment

After the battle Armageddon Jesus tells us that He will place the sheep, Christians, on His right and non-Christians on His left (Matthew 25:31-46). Those who are placed on His right will go into the millennial kingdom (Matthew 25:34). This kingdom starts as an earthly kingdom and one-thousand years later transitions into a heavenly kingdom (Revelation 20:2, 4-5; Revelation 21:5-7; 1 John 5;5 and Revelation 2:11). Those on His left will go into eternal punishment which is hell or the Lake of Fire (Matthew 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 occurs because of one’s view of the end times held by dispensationalists and non-dispensationalists (amillennialists and postmillennialists). Non-dispensationalists say Matthew 25:31-46 is the Great White Throne judgment. But there are several reasons why this cannot be true.

The Sheep and Goat Judgment

First, if the non-dispensationalists are correct that the sheep and goat judgment occurs at the Great White Throne judgment, then everyone should be sent to the lake of fire, according to Revelation 20:11-15. Even the sheep should be sent into eternal punishment since everyone who stands before God at the Great White judgment goes to eternal punishment or the Lake of Fire (Revelation 20:5-6, 14-15). But this cannot be true since earlier in Revelation 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 Revelation 20:4-6, 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. Revelation 20:4-6 (NASB)

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. Revelation. 20:11, 13-14 (NASB)

Second, in Matthew 25:31 Jesus sits on a glorious throne and in Revelation 20:11 Jesus sits on a great white throne, which is a throne of judgment. The first throne, the glorious throne, is a time of victory and the second is a sober time.

Finally, the sheep and goat judgment is for those who are living (Matthew 25:31). In Revelation 20:4-15, there are two resurrections – for dead people. At the end of Revelation 19:20-2, we find that living persons who received the mark of the beast and who worshipped his image will be immediately judged. This is the time of the Sheep and Goat judgment will occur.

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. Revelation 19:20 (NASB)

Conclusion:

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.

Suggested Links:

If I were left behind on Judgment Day, can I still be saved?
Prophecy of The Future
The King Reigns!
Bema Seat - Judgment of Christians