How to Prepare for the Lord's Return
The Sheep and the Goats and the Judgment of Nations
How do we prepare for the last days? That’s a question Jesus once answered for His disciples, with three different illustrations.
Near Jerusalem one day, not long before His arrest and crucifixion, the disciples ask Jesus about the signs of the end of the age and the coming of the Kingdom:
Now as He sat on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to Him privately, saying, “Tell us, when will these things be? And what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?”—Matthew 24:3
In response, looking out over Jerusalem, Jesus gave a very detailed answer. He told the disciples—and also us, today—how to discern the signs of the end. He warned them about the Tribulation and the “beginnings of sorrows.”
…False prophets will rise up and deceive many. 12 And because lawlessness will abound, the love of many will grow cold. 13 But he who endures to the end shall be saved. 14 And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come.—Matthew 24:11-14
Ready for His Return
Jesus also spoke about the importance of being ready for His imminent return and shared two parables related to it. The first was the parable of the ten virgins in Matthew 25:1-13. Five were wise and properly prepared to meet the Bridegroom, Jesus. But five were foolish and unprepared. They weren’t ready. They asked for more time, but by then it was too late:
“Afterward the other virgins came also, saying, ‘Lord, Lord, open to us!’ 12 But he answered and said, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, I do not know you.’
13 “Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour in which the Son of Man is coming.”—Matthew 25:11-13
The moral of the Parable of the Virgins is that the first and most important judgment we will receive is based on whether or not we have a personal relationship with Jesus. Do you? Do your loved ones? If not, there is still time.
Investing in His Kingdom
The second parable is known as the Parable of the Talents. It’s about a master who entrusted riches to his servants. He gave one man five talents. (In this context, a “talent” is not a skill but a unit of weight, representing a very large sum of money.) Another man received two talents and a third man got one talent.
The master then went on a long journey. After he returned, he lavishly rewarded the men with the five talents and the two talents because they had wisely invested his money. Both had a profit to show for it. “Well done, good and faithful servant,” the master told each of them. “Enter into the joy of your lord.”
But then the master severely punished the man who’d been given the one talent. Why? Because that man didn’t invest the money. Fearful, he hid his money in the ground and refused to obey or serve the master:
“But his lord answered and said to him, ‘You wicked and lazy servant, you knew that I reap where I have not sown, and gather where I have not scattered seed. 27 So you ought to have deposited my money with the bankers, and at my coming I would have received back my own with interest.’”—Matthew 25:26-27
All of us have “talents” the Lord has entrusted to us. For those who use them to serve the Lord before He returns, there will be lavish, eternal rewards. But it’s bad news for those who refuse to serve the Lord.
The Sheep and the Goats
After Jesus told the two parables, He then told a true story about how He will take the nations at the Final Judgment and separate them as a shepherd separates sheep and goats.
“And He will set the sheep on His right hand, but the goats on the left. 34 Then the King will say to those on His right hand, ‘Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: 35 for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; 36 I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.’ 37 “Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink? 38 When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You? 39 Or when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ 40 And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.’”—Matthew 25:33-40
Lately, you might have heard some people use the word “sheep” as an insult. But in this case, Jesus spoke positively about being a sheep. In this passage, you definitely want to be counted among the sheep.
But another group, the goats, refused to care for the vulnerable. To them, Jesus told them how they had neglected to feed the hungry, take in strangers, or care for the sick. He sent that group into eternal punishment.
Take note: The measure God will use to separate us is how we treated hurting and vulnerable people—in particular, the Jews.
When reading the story of the sheep and goats judgment, many people miss a very important phrase Jesus used: “…inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren…” (Matthew 25:40). Jesus is referring here to the Jews, who were His racial brethren.
We know from all of Scripture that God commands us to love people and to be merciful to those who are hurting and in need. But this reference to the sheep and goats judgment is more than that. It refers to a wholesale judgment of the world based on the way the world treats Jewish people. For many professing Christians, that should be very scary. It is amazing to me that any believer in Christ could be antisemitic—someone who is prejudiced against or hostile toward Jews. After all, our Savior is a Jew. I didn’t say He was a Jew. I said He is a Jew. His mother Mary is a Jew.
Every single person who wrote the Bible is a Jew. One hundred percent of those present on the day the church was born was a Jew.
Gentiles like me were grafted in to a Jewish community of believers on the day the Holy Spirit fell upon Cornelius’ household. When that occurred, we were graciously invited into the Jewish church. But once the church grew outside of Israel to the point that it was primarily Gentile-led, things shifted. An attitude against the Jews slowly developed.
The Evil of Replacement Theology
In 1543, the German professor of theology and leader of the Reformation, Martin Luther, published a pamphlet called On the Jews and Their Lies in which he urged persecution of the Jews. He wrote that the Jews were “no people of God,” among other terrible things. Unfortunately, Luther’s writings and teachings about Israel and the Jews went on to develop into a supposedly “Christian” doctrine called Replacement Theology.
This doctrine taught that the New Covenant through Jesus Christ was more important than the Old Covenant, which God made exclusively with the Jewish people. It taught that today’s Church represented the people of God, but that term no longer applied to the Jews. In other words, Replacement Theology said modern believers hold a special place in God’s heart, but Israel had no place as a special nation or people.
Obviously this was wrong back then and it is still wrong today.
However, this belief went on to influence many spiritual and political leaders through the centuries—including Adolf Hitler. Luther’s belief in Replacement Theology entrenched the church in an arrogant and self-righteous campaign to prove Israel’s complete rejection by God. For centuries, it resulted in Jews being despised, rejected and kept from prominence in any area of society.
I am ashamed to say that there are still many churches and Christians who still teach Replacement Theology today. And even though I believe that the church is God’s chosen Bride and salvation comes exclusively through faith in Jesus, I also believe the Jews are still special to God by covenant. They are a chosen people. God is not yet finished with them.
An Everlasting Covenant
In Genesis 12:3, God said this to Abraham:
“I will bless those who bless you,
And I will curse him who curses you;
And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”
That promise was a part of the everlasting covenant God made with Abraham and the Jewish people. This covenant is still in effect today. And for that reason, all of us should be very careful how we speak about and treat Israel and the Jewish people—especially “the least of these.”
From the signs happening in the world today, I believe Jesus will return soon. I am excited about that and am ready to meet Him. Because of the these two parables and the description of judgment Jesus gave in Matthew 24 and 25, I can measure my preparedness in three ways:
I know Jesus and have a personal relationship with Him.
I use my “talents” to serve Him and invest in His church and His Kingdom.
I love the Jewish people and the nation of Israel. I bless them with my mouth, my money and my actions.
I hope every person reading this article can say the same thing! That is why Jesus told us how to prepare for the coming judgment—so we could be ready when the end times come.