ON the SHEEP and the GOATS

A response to the article by A.E.Knoch concerning Matt. 25:31-46.

First of all, it seems to me that the passage in view is the conclusion of a body of the sayings of Jesus, begun in ch. 24:3 when "the disciples came to Him privately."  The CLNT, and rightly so, I think, puts this entire passage in quotes.  Then ch. 26:1 indicates a break, or a change of context, with the words, "when Jesus finishes all these sayings."
Immediately prior to this Jesus had spoken words against the scribes and Pharisees in ch. 23, ending that discourse speaking of their undergoing the judging of Gehenna (vs. 33), and then speaking of Jerusalem as a whole (vs. 37-39) saying, "left is your house to you desolate."  Note that here He spoke of many times wanting to assemble them "in the manner a hen is assembling her brood under her wings."  That would have been an assembling for care and protection.  But this was not to be.

Instead we see the prediction of the demolishing of the buildings of the sanctuary, which we all know happened in A.D. 70.  Instead of an assembling as a brood, we see the prediction of their fleeing and taking flight (ch. 24:16-21).  Did this not also occur?  I am wondering if "the consummation" spoken of in 24:14 was speaking of "the end" of their system of worship, with the destruction of the sanctuary and of Jerusalem .  By this time the evangel of the kingdom had been heralded in that whole inhabited area.  But to press this point is not the intent of this letter.

From 24:23 to the end of the chapter Jesus gives various descriptions and characteristics regarding "the presence of the Son of Mankind."  Vs. 31 speaks again of an assembling through the use of messengers with a trumpet (a figure of a "message").  This assembling is of His people.

In vs. 37-42 we see examples of the suddenness of His judgment.  The chapter ends with an example of His coming "in an hour which you are not supposing" (vs. 44), and "on a day for which he is not hoping and in an hour which he knows not" (vs.50).  I suggest that in all of these, He is referring to coming to His people.  In the days of Noah there was not yet the distinction of "Jews and non-Jews."  A few were righteous, most were unrighteous.

The point of this example is the suddenness, the unexpectedness, of His visitation in judgment.  The two in the field would not likely be the one a Jew, the other a Gentile.  I suggest that these are both His people, but one suffers His judgment and is "taken" as were those who were taken by the deluge.  The example of the "faithful and prudent slave," as compared to "that evil slave," is set within the same lord's house.  Note that the slave who is cut asunder is appointed his part "with the hypocrites" -- the same term Jesus had just been applying to the scribes and Pharisees, who were still His people!

Now we come to ch. 25, and we see the same line of thinking continued.
Some were ready for the coming of the bridegroom, some were stupid and unprepared.  But all were "virgins,"  all were part of the same society: His people.

Next He gives the example of "a man traveling," who "calls his own slaves" and gives money for them to work with, then he is returning "and settling accounts with them."  The faithful slaves are rewarded, the "wicked and slothful slave" suffers loss and is cast into outer darkness where he laments and gnashes his teeth -- along with the hypocrites of ch. 24:51.  What happened to him?  He simply lost his job and was removed from his position in the household, or business.  He was now homeless and jobless.  But he is still a part of the same society, one of God's people.

Now we come to the wonderful (for I suggest that this is part of the "good news") passage in vs. 31-46.
Why should we suppose that all of a sudden Jesus has changed the format or the setting or the subject matter of this long discourse?  I suggest that the problem lies in the translation of ta eqnh as "the nations."  May I quote from Kittel's Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, Vol. II, p. 369: "'ethnos'" in the NT.  1.  This word, which is common in Gk. from the very first, probably comes from 'ethos,' and means 'mass' or 'host' or 'multitude' bound by the same manners, customs or other distinctive features.  Applied to men, it gives us the sense of people; but it can also be used of animals in the sense of 'herd' or of insects in the sense of 'swarm' .... In most cases 'ethnos' is used of men in the sense of 'a people'." 

It seems to me that since Jesus is speaking in terms of sheep and kids, that the words "herds" or "multitudes" may be more appropriate for this passage.  All along, up to this point in these sayings, He has been referring to His people, His household.  A kid was a clean animal and could be used in a sacrifice.  He was not severing the sheep from the dogs or the swine.  I submit that this gathering is the same assembling spoken of in ch. 24:31.  If you insist on the word being translated "nations," then I suggest a word of clarity be added and it read, "gathered [from] all the nations."  This sense seems consistent to the entire passage.

Further, it would seem from the picture being drawn that since the "Shepherd" is severing one species from another, that it is evident that both up to this point have been a part of His herd.
Jesus is here using this figure to once again show that when He is coming He makes a distinction, such as between the wise and the stupid, or between the faithful and the useless.  This is a time of reward, or the suffering of loss.  Knoch has well pointed out the absence of believing as being an ingredient in this figure.  All that is discussed is good works, or the absence thereof.

But let us look further, at the terms "sheep" and "brethren."  In John 10:24-27 we see Jesus saying to the Jews (vs. 26), "But you are not believing, seeing that you are not My sheep, according as I said to you."  These were Israelites, Jews, but they were not His sheep.  Vs. 27 gives a designation of sheep, "My sheep are hearing My voice, and I know them, and they are following Me."  Recall Matt. 25:12 where the bridegroom said to the stupid virgins, "I am not acquainted with you."

In a broad sense, Israel was figured as sheep (e.g. Ps. 100:3; Isa. 53:6; Jer. 50:6; etc.).  However, we see Jesus making a distinction here in John 10:26, as He did between virgins and servants in Matt. 24 & 25.  Perhaps this is what Paul was referring to in Rom. 11:7 where he said, "yet the chosen encountered it.  Now the rest [of Israel ] were calloused ..."  This would fall in line with Lu. 12:32 , "Do not fear, little flocklet,  for it delights your Father to give you the kingdom."  Matt. 13:11 gives further light, where Jesus says to the disciples, "To you has it been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of the heavens, yet to those [the ones who were not disciples] it has not been given."

In Lu. 8:21 Jesus makes this statement: "My mother and My brethren are these who are hearing the word of God and doing it."  Paul refers to this same group when he speaks of those "who are called according to purpose, because whom He foreknew, He designates beforehand, also, to be conformed to the image of His Son, for Him to be Firstborn among many brethren." (Rom.8:28,29)  Paul uses the term "brethren" throughout his letters to refer to those of the body of Christ.  Thus, how you treat His "body" is how you treat Him.

To differentiate between the body of Christ and the Israelites in general, Paul inserts the qualifying phrase "my relatives according to the flesh" when he calls Israelites "brethren" in Rom. 9:3.  In Rom. 10:1 Paul distinguishes between Israel, who he had just been talking about in the previous verses, and his brothers in Christ when he says, "Indeed, brethren, the delight of my heart and my petition to God for THEIR sake [or, "on behalf of them;" some later MSS read "on behalf of Israel"] is for salvation."  Thus, to assume that the phrase "the least of My brethren" refers to the nation of Israel , in Matt. 25:40, is, I think, erroneous.

What is the difference between the sheep and the kids?
The sheep produced the fruit of the Spirit -- Love -- without ever taking note of it.  They were not aware of this fruit.  It was the automatic produce of the mature life of Christ that was within them.  It was evident that they were disciples ("By this all shall be knowing that you are My disciples, if you should be having love for one another."  John 13:35).  Their good works were just a mature outflow of His life.  Their reward was to "enjoy the allotment of the kingdom."

What of the kids?
They were just still "kids." -- pardon the pun.  There was no fruit of the Spirit in their lives.  To change the metaphor, they just needed to be pruned to produce fruit.  As you know, the word translated "chastening" in the CLNT is the noun "kolasis," from the verb "koladzo," which Thayer lists as, "1. prop. to lop, prune, as trees, wings.  2. to check, curb, restrain."  Among the meanings Kittel lists are "to cut short," "to lop," "to trim."  Consider the metaphor in John 15:1-2, "I am the true Grapevine, and My Father is the Farmer.  Every branch in Me bringing forth no fruit, He is taking it away, and every one bringing forth fruit, He is cleansing it [with eonian fire?], that it may be bringing forth more  fruit."  Changing the metaphor again, let us look at Heb. 12:5-7, "My son, do not be neglecting (giving little care to) the Lord's discipline (education, child-training), neither be exhausted (dissolved) being continually convicted (exposed, reproved, put to the test) under Him, for whom the Lord is loving (continuously loves), He is continuously disciplining (child-training), and He is repeatedly scourging every son whom He is taking alongside with His hands (accepting, receiving).  If you are remaining under discipline (child-training), God is continuously being brought (offered) toward you as sons.  For what son exists whom a father is not disciplining?" (Mitchell version)  So these kids are not ready to enjoy the allotment of the kingdom -- YET!  But Christ is treating them as sons!

Returning to the metaphor of a branch being lopped off, we see in John 15:2 & 6 that "Every branch in Me bringing forth no fruit, He is taking away .... If anyone should not be remaining in Me, he is (or, was -- aor.) cast out as a branch, and is withered (or, it withered).  And they are gathering them, and into the fire are they casting them, and they are being burned."  This seems quite similar to the figure of the kids being sent from Him "into the fire eonian" in Matt. 25:41.

But let's look to Romans, where Paul uses the "branch" metaphor in ch. 11:17, "Now if some of the boughs are broken out ..."  What happens to a bough when it is broken out of a tree?  It withers, doesn't it?  Is it true, then, that these too are being gathered into the fire and are being burned?  Has this not happened, both literally and figuratively, to the Jews throughout history ever since?  But the hope is found in vs. 23, "Now they also, if they should not be persisting in unbelief, will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again!"  I suggest that this same principle applies to the kids that are pruned in Matt. 25:46.

St. Matthew 25:31-46
Here you must observe that the passage is a parable; and that the parable is concerning nations, not individual men, as our Lord Himself tells us at the very onset (verse 32):

And before Him shall be gathered all nations, and He shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from his goats.

Goats Dear As Sheep
You must also remember, if you intend to found any conclusion on the parable, or to infer from words spoken of nations conclusions which touch the lot and fate of individual men, that the Judge is here set forth in the tender and familiar form of a Shepherd: that to the Eastern shepherd his goats are well-nigh, if not quite, as dear as his sheep; and that the left hand of a Judge or Ruler is the next best place to his right hand. Nay, more, you must mark--and this is a point which does not appear in our Authorized Version--that our Lord speaks in a certain gentle and kindly, even in a pitiful and caressing tone, of those who are ranged on the left hand of the Judge. The words he uses for them is not "goats." In verse 32, he speaks of the Shepherd as dividing his sheep, not from His goats, but from his "kids"; and in verse 33, he takes a still tenderer tone, and speaks of the Shepherd-Judge as setting His sheep on His right hand, but His "kidlings" - diminutive of kids, and, like all such diminutives, an expression of affection - on His left.

These considerations, these hints of mercy and compassion, may well make us careful as to the conclusions we deduce from this great passage.  And even when the veil of parable falls aside, and when we seem to get clear and distrinct statements, at least on the fate of nations, if not on that of their individual units, we have still to remember that the Judge is depicted as rendering to everyone the due reward of his deeds, and of all his deeds.  It is implied that if anyone has so much as given a cup of cold water to the least of Christ's brethren, he, though himself not a brother, shall in no wise lose His reward.

This Age & That Which Is To Come
And, finally, we have to examine the terms in which these future rewards are expressed.  To those who stand on His left hand, the Judge is represented as saying, "depart from me, ye cursed [self-cursed], into the aeonial fire."  Now I have no wish to abate the impressive sadness, the awful severity of these words.  "The wrath of the Lamb" of God must be very terrible.  And to hear Him whose gracious lips have always hitherto said,"Come unto me" say "depart from Me" will be an experience so sad, a surprise so terrible, as that I can well believe every man who hears that rebuff from His meek and gracious lips will wish that he had never been born; yes, and wish he had never been born even though he understands that he is banished from the presence of Christ only for an age, only that the age-long fire may consume his sins and burn out his unrighteousness.  But to say that those who have rejected Christ in this present age are to be doomed to an everlasting banishment from His mercy is to contradict Christ himself, who expressly tells us that all manner of blasphemy against the Son of Man may be forgiven both in this age and in that which is to come.  And, moreover, it is to import a new meaning into the meaning "aeonial", which, as we have seen, means "age-long," and to import it quite unnecessarily, since if we take our Lord as meaning that a rejection of Him in this age will be punished by banishment from Him in the age to come, we find a very good and sufficient sense in His words; whereas if we take Him as meaning that to reject Him in this brief life is to be excluded from His love forever, we not only strike a note utterly discordant with the tender and pitiful tone He speaks throughout the parable, but we also introduce that vast, unreasonable, unjust disproportion between our deeds here and their results hereafter from which reason and conscience alike revolt.

And what are we to say to the closing words [verse 46] of the parable?  "These shall go away into aeonial punishment, but the righteous into life eternal."  Well, we may say this, take the phrase "aeonial life" to mean here, as elsewhere, life in Christ, the spiritual life distinctive of the Christian aeons, and "aeonial punishment" to mean here, as elsewhere, the discipline, the punishment distinctive of the Christian aeons, the punishment which those inflict on themselves who adjudge themselves unworthy of that life, and the words make a very good and reasonable sense, a sense so reasonable that we need to search for no other.  And mark, in this case at least, we cannot put a darker sense into the words of Christ except by trifling with them, and implying that we know what He meant better than He did Himself.  For the word rendered "punishment" [kolasis] is a very peculiar one.  In its primary use, when it is applied to natural processes, it means "pruning," i.e., pruning bushes and trees in order that they may bring forth more fruit.  When it is used figuratively, when it is applied to moral processes, it means corrective discipline, discipline by which character is pruned and made more fruitful in good works.  The Greek has two words for "punishment", kolasis, the word used by our Lord and timoria, a word also used in the New Testament [Hebrews 10:29]:  and the distinctive meanings of these two words are defined by Aristotle himself. [RHET.I.,10,17]

Corrective Punishment
The one word, that used by Christ, denotes, He says, that kind of punishment which is intended for improvement of the offender; while the other denotes that kind of punishment which is intended for the vindication of law and justice.  And even the advocates of endless torment admit that the word selected by Christ means, according to the Greek meaning, remedial discipline, punishment designed to reform and improve men, to prune away their defects and sins.  Archbishop Trench, [Synonyms of the New Testament, pp. 23, 24], for example, after adverting to the well known distinction between the two words, confesses that while the latter is used to indicate "the vindictive character of punishment, the former indicates punishment as it has reference to the correction and bettering of the offender."  And I do not know where we shall find a sadder instance of the way in which good men suffer their theories and traditions to warp their judgment than may be found in the fact that, after thus defining the original and proper sense of the word used by Christ, this good and learned man proceeds to say that it would, however, be "a very serious error" to take the word in its proper sense here.  We, on the contrary, maintain that it would be something worse than an error to take it in any but its usual and proper sense and, therefore, we conclude that our Lord meant precisely what He said; viz., that the wicked should go away from his bar to be pruned, go away into an age-long discipline by which they should be castigated for their sins, yea, and saved from their sins by the corrective discipline of His loving wrath.  For that would not be a corrective discipline which left man unimproved forever; that would be a strange sort of "pruning", which was not at least designed to produce fruit.

"We must all die and are like water spilled on the ground that cannot be gathered up again; but the Lord does not take away life instead He deviseth ways for the banished to be restored."

*Literally "for the banished to not be banished"

We Get The Parables Of Jesus Wrong
I'd like you to think about these two parables of Jesus, and the reason why is because most of the time we get the parables of Jesus wrong. We pick them up, and we think that Jesus is telling us what we ought to do. You know, they're sort of lessons in loveliness. If we can master the lesson in the parable, we can turn out to be perfect peaches or something else. But the point is that parables are not first of all about us. The parables of Jesus are first of all about how God works in this world - the mysterious, strange, bizarre, odd way that God deals with us, because the parables are very strange things. Jesus is a genius of story-telling, and what you have to watch most of all with Jesus in his parables are the small twists, the little turns and the details you don't notice. I can have read a parable for twenty-five years, preached on it twenty-five times, and in the twenty-sixth year all of a sudden see something I never saw before; and it has been buried there all along.

Three Parables About Lostness
So I'm going to start in on the parable of the lost sheep. This is in the 15th chapter of St. Luke's Gospel. And that chapter, incidentally, contains three parables about lostness: the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost son, the great parable of the prodigal son. The first thing that Luke says when this parable begins, is that the tax collectors and the sinners were drawing near to Jesus to hear him. The scribes and the pharisees grumbled about this. They complained about this and they said, "This man welcomes sinners, and he eats with them, and therefore he's a bad person."

Not Much Of A Messiah
Now, obviously Jesus, by many people's minds, was thought to be a perfect candidate to be the promised Messiah who would fulfill God's will for Israel and do all sorts of wonderful things in the world. People like the scribes and the pharisees didn't think that Jesus was much of a Messiah candidate if he could associate with tax collectors and sinners. Tax collectors were mostly crooks in those days, and sinners meant what it means now. Everyone's favorite sin is something sexual, and the sinners most likely were prostitutes. Jesus spent a lot of time welcoming those people, eating with them, talking with them, visiting them, and otherwise consorting with them, so they didn't like this. It's apropos of this remark: "This fellow eats with sinners and welcomes them!", that Jesus tells the parables of lostness.

Of Course Not
"I want you to imagine that you have one hundred sheep," he says to the pharisees and the scribes around him. "I want you to imagine that you have one hundred sheep and that you lose one of them. Now, wouldn't you, therefore, go out after the lost one until you find it?" Well, what's the real answer to that question? The real answer to that question is "of course not." Nobody in his right mind who's in the sheep business has one hundred sheep, loses one, leaves the ninety-nine to the wolves and the coyotes, and goes chasing off after one. You cut your losses, forget about the lost sheep, and go on with the ninety-nine. So Jesus' question is perverse. It's odd. It's ironic. Who among you would do this? Who among you wouldn't go out and do this? Everybody wouldn't! They wouldn't go out and do this sort of thing. And, therefore, then he says, "And when you find that, what would you do with the sheep if you'd actually done this?" You would put the sheep on your shoulder, and then notice what Jesus says. He doesn't say, "Then he goes back to the ninety-nine and gives this little sheep back to his mother sheep," or something else. What Jesus says is that he puts the lost sheep on his shoulders and goes to his house. He goes home.

Jesus Never Returns To The 99
In this parable, Jesus never goes back to the ninety-nine sheep. The ninety-nine sheep are a set-up. Jesus has divided the flock into one sheep and ninety-nine sheep, and he's not trying to make two different groups. You know, ninety-nine who don't get lost, and one who does. I think the real meaning of the one and the ninety-nine is that the one lost sheep is the whole human race as it really is. And the ninety-nine "found" sheep who never get lost are the whole human race as we think we are. And the ninety-nine; therefore, are not a real piece of business in this. The one lost sheep stands for all of us, and this says that the only thing the shepherdGod, the God characteris interested in, is going after the lost, and, if necessary, the shepherd will go out of the sheep ranching business to find the lost, and God, therefore, will go out of the God business, of the business of being the kind of God we turn God into the God who's a bookkeeper, the God who's the divine infinite "watch-bird" who's keeping records on everybody, and if you don't do it right, he's not going to bother with you anymore. That's the business that God goes out of when he goes after the lost because he only wants to come and find sinners. He doesn't want anything else. And then Jesus asks the last question in this one, and he says, "I say to you that there is more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance." The proof of this is, of course, did you ever meet any of those ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance? No, you didn't. There isn't one in the whole world. So this proves the set-up that Jesus is only interested in finding the lost; that God, in Christ, is only interested in finding the lost.

The Lost Coin
Now, he follows this parable up with the parable of the lost coin, and Jesus changes the image. The God character in this parable is not a shepherd. It's a woman. It's a very strange woman. As the shepherd is sort of crazy to go chase one sheep and leave ninety-nine to the wolves, so this woman is even crazier. It says this woman has ten coins, and I like to think, just to bring it up to date, that what this woman has is ten Susan B. Anthony dollars in a nice wooden case with red velvet lining and little recessed partitions for each of the ten Susan B. Anthony dollars. And every morning she gets up, and she looks in there and pats them and polishes them and puts them back down again. She gets up one morning, and one of her precious Susan B. Anthony dollars is missing so what does this woman do? She is as crazy as the shepherd, if not crazier, because she stops her entire life. She stops anything she had to do that day. She stops whatever housework she was going to do, and she lights a light, and goes into all the dark corners. She sweeps, and sweeps, and sweeps, and looks under everything for the whole day until she finds this coin. And what does she do when she finds it? Interestingly enough, like the shepherd Jesus never says she puts it back in the box. It says she gets on the phone to her friends and her neighbors and says, "Come on over, I'm going to have a party. I found my lost coin."

And now I'm sure that these friends and neighbors say, "Gertrude, you found a coin, right? And we're supposed to come?"

She says, "Yes. I have cream soda, and I have ring dings, and you're going to come over, and we're going to celebrate my lost coin."

Certainly they'd say, "Yes, Gertrude, we'll come." But they are not that enthusiastic. But the point is, she is. And this woman proves something. In the lost sheep, you can develop some pity for the poor, little lost sheep. You can feel bad, you know, that it's injured or hurt or fearful and all that. But you can't work up any pity for a lost coin. A lost coin never knows it's lost. One place is as good as another. The point is that what these two parables put together say is that what governs God's behavior to us is not our sins. It's not our problems. It's his need to find us. These parables go by the need of the finder to find, not about the need of the lost to be found. That's obvious. We always knew that. We could have gone to our graves knowing that. The great thing is that the universe is driven by the need of the finder to find all of us in our lostness. And that, of course, is the beginning.

The Lost Son
And the last of the three parables in this chapter is the lost son, which commonly goes by the name of the prodigal son because we misname these parables. Interestingly enough, obviously this parable should be called the parable of the forgiving father. Now, what I want to do is set-up the parable a little bit, and tell it to you quickly. I'm not going to go through the whole thing, just because I hope it's familiar. But a man has two sons, and the youngest son comes to him and says, "FatherDadput your will into effect and split up the entire inheritance right now between me and my brother." You know what that is in so many words? That's: "Drop dead, Father." He's suggesting that the father put his will into effect. And the father does it. He gives all the cash that's loose to the younger son. He gives the entire property, like South Fork, in "Dallas,"some big spreadto the elder brother, and the father sits on the porch for the rest of the parable, at least for a little bit of it, and retires from things.

Wine, Women & Song
The younger son takes the money and goes to a far country. He has wine, women, and song; blows all his money, ends up feeding pigs, and sits there and says one day, "Oh, as I think of my father's servants, they eat better than I do. I'm going to go home, and say, 'Father, I've sinned against heaven and against you. I'm not worthy to be your son. Make me a hired servant.'" Now, that is not a sinner who was repentant, yet. Because what he's said: "Father, I'm a no-good son," and "Father, I've sinned against heaven and before you," is true. That's fine. That's pretty good for repentance. But "Make me a hired servant" is not a repentance. That's a plan for life. That's a plan to con his father into accepting him back instead of coming back as a no-good son. So he comes home. He comes down the road and when he's a half mile off, his father sees him. He runs down the road, falls on his neck and kisses him, and after the forgiveness and the father's kiss, the son makes his confession. He says, "Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I'm not worthy to be your son." And he leaves off the hired servant business. The father then goes immediately to the thing that ended the other parables. He goes to the party. He calls for the rings on his fingers, the shoes on his feet, and says: "Kill the fatted calf, and let us eat and be merry. My son was dead, and he's alive, was lost, he's found." And they have a party, and there's music and dancing and everything else. Then Jesus brings in the other lost son. He's the ninety-nine. He's the nine other coins in the box. He thinks he's found. He comes in, and he's whining.

All These Years I Have Been Such A Good Boy
He says, "All these years I have been such a good boy, and done your will and done all these wonderful things, and you never even gave me a goat to have a party with my friends. But when this son of yours who has wasted his substance with whores comes home, then you give him the fatted calf." And he won't go in. What this son has donethough he thinks he's a found character and he's a wonderful bookkeeper and has got everything else rightwhat he has done, is come into the courtyard of the house, with a party inside, and he has brought hell with him. He is the hell of his own bookkeeping, the hell of his own complaining. He has brought hell with him.

What Does The Father Do?
What does the father do? The father's the God character. What does the father do? The father goes out into the courtyard once again, like the shepherd, like the woman, to seek the lost. The need of the finder to find. He goes out there, and he talks to his son, and he says, "Look, son, Arthur, everything I have belongs to you. You could have had fatted calf three nights a week if you wanted. All you had to do was build the stalls. You have the money. You have no imagination, Arthur. You know what I would like you to do, Arthur? I would like you to shut up, go inside, kiss your brother, and have a drink." And the wonderful thing about this parable is that Jesus, genius of a storyteller that he is, has ended it so that it doesn't end.

It Has Never Ended
At the end of the parablesuppose you saw it in a filmyou have the music and the sounds of the feasting and the laughter inside the house. You have the father and the elder brother standing in the courtyard, and the way the film ends is, it ends with a freeze frame: father, elder brother, joyful music over in the back. And for two thousand years this has been read in the church, every year people have read it in the Bible endlessly, endlessly. For two thousand years, that's where the story has ended. It has never ended. The father always seeks the lost son, and the lost son is not just the prodigal, it is at the end, the prodigal's already found now, he's home free, but the other one is not, because he won't come into the party. Consequently, the other thing you could say about this, it's not only for two thousand years that that parable has stood with that freeze frame, it will stand there forever because God will forever stand. We say Jesus, between when he died and when he arose, descended into hell. He descended to the lost. This is the last truth of the parable of the prodigal son, that for all eternity God still seeks those in hell. If I go down into hell, Thou art there with me. We cannot get away from the love that will not let us go because God, who in all these parables represented by the shepherd, and the woman, and the father, never ceases to seek and to find the lost.

Greek has a word and an expression that means "eternal", but aion is not one of them. Aion is an age (singular). The punishment in St. Matthew 25, comes from the word "kolasis" which means to prune and is used in a disciplinary sense and not a penal one.  "Moreea" would be used in a penal (vengeance) sense, not kolasis which means correction and is rooted in kolazo leading to the same result: purging and pruning.

New Thayers Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament defines "kolasis" as "CORRECTION, punishment, penalty"
The Latin Vulgate translated " aionion" as "aeternus" from which we get the English words eternal and eternity. The KJV translators, instead of going back to the Greek, went to the Latin Vulgate and translated "aeternus". Translating that as "eternal" is based on Latin theology (Roman Catholicism). It was absolutely essential to Augustinian theology with its blightening emphasis on the doctrine of predestinarianism to mistranslate the Greek adjective "aiwnion " and put on it a meaning which the Greek will not for a moment allow in its respective applications to salvation and judgment.

The Greek word for "everlasting" is aidiois
Remember, "eternal" means without beginning or end. Only God is eternal. Everlasting means without end. aiwnion means age, but aidiois (plural) means "everlasting" or perpetual. The other way of saying "everlasting" is eis toys aiwnas twn aiwnwn. One is an adjective that means "everlasting", the other is a noun.

Scripture talks about everlasting life, but when it's talking about "aionian" life, that's not it. This passage is talking about age-lasting life and age-lasting punishment (chastisement).

Sheep & Goats
Numbers 18:17 "But the firstling of a cow, or the firstling of a sheep, or the firstling of a goat, thou shalt not redeem; they are holy: thou shalt sprinkle their blood upon the altar, and shalt burn their fat for an offering made by fire, for a sweet savour unto the LORD."

Goats are clean animals. If you look in the OT, consistently it makes statements such as the one in Exodus 12:5: "Your lamb shall be without blemish, a male of the first year: ye shall take it out from the sheep, or from the goats:"

The lamb for the sacrifice could come from sheep or goats. Goats are clean. If goats are a clean animal that doesn't need redeeming throughout Scripture, why would He suddenly change His mind that they are unclean in this one instance?

I know of few serious Biblical scholars that recommend Strong's for serious study. Strong's is better than nothing, though. Dana and Mantey's "A Manual Grammar of the Greek New Testament" is a good work. Moulton and Milligan's "The Vocabulary of the Greek New Testament" is good. "The Analytical Greek Lexicon" is good. William D. Ramey's series is excellent. Griesbach, Tischendorf, and any of a number of serious Greek students that have no pre-conceived agenda to push are good.

Accurate translations are available, although some are pricey. Rotherham's is quite nicely translated, but not quite as readable. Young's is good. Weymouth's is good. Green's is nicely written, but translates along the KJV instead of the Greek.
www.inthebeginning.org has some excellent resources. www.concordant.info has an excellent freeware program that concordantly translates the NT, without pre-conceived bias.

Comparing the papyrii, Aristotle, Plato, Hericlitus and others are also good ways to get a grasp on the language itself.

Even in the original language, there are minor differences between serious scholars, but why add to the confusion with mis-translating words and making them say something that the Greek will not at all accept? aiwnion cannot by any sane reason (other than general concensus based on Catholicism) be translated as "eternal". Unless the Holy Spirit made a mistake when the writers were told what to write, this passage is not referring to eternal life or everlasting life. We know it's not referring to eternal life; only God is eternal.

Jesus Christ draws distinction between sheep and goats. Sheep and goats are both clean animals. The sheep are righteous and the goats aren't, but they are both groups of believers. Those on the right hand go to age-lasting reward, those on the left to age-lasting chastisement. 

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