“When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory. 32 All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats. 33 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.’
41 “Then He will also say to those on the left hand, ‘Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels: 42 for I was hungry and you gave Me no food; I was thirsty and you gave Me no drink; 43 I was a stranger and you did not take Me in, naked and you did not clothe Me, sick and in prison and you did not visit Me.’
44 “Then they also will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to You?’ 45 Then He will answer them, saying, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.’ 46 And these will go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” — Matthew 25:31-46.
Sheep (v.32) — The image of Christ’s people as sheep is found in Ezek. 34 and is a part of Jesus’ teaching (10:16; 18:12). The division concerns individuals, not nations.
It is difficult to identify with certainty who “the goats” are: (1) those who have rejected the gospel or (2) those who have an outward profession only. Both groups call Jesus “Lord” (cf. Matthew 7:21-23). This judgment seems to be limited to those who have, at least outwardly, responded to the gospel. Therefore it is similar in meaning to the parable of the soils (cf. Matthew 13). The pressures of end-time events and the lack of love for other believers (cf. 1 John. 2:9,11; 3:15; 4:7-21) will clearly reveal false professions (cf. Matthew 13:21,22; 1 John. 2:19).
“and He will separate them from one another” — Much like the wheat and tares (cf. Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43) could not be separated until judgment day, so the sheep and the goats wait until the last day for all to see the fruit of their lives. Also notice there are only two categories.
“the least of these my brothers” (v.40) — Christ’s disciples (10:42;12:48, 49; 18:14), not the poor and needy in general. The judgment of the nations depends on how they respond to Christians and to the gospel (10:40–42), not only because it is through the testimony of Christians that the Gentiles can hear and believe (Rom. 10:14), but also because Christ identifies with His people. Their suffering is His suffering, and compassion shown to them is compassion shown to Him.
However, we should do good to all! “Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith” (Galatians 6:10).
“Then He will also say to those on His left, ‘Depart from Me'” (v.41) — Hell’s worst aspect is the separation from fellowship with God (cf. Matthew 7:23; Luke 13:27). God does not send humans to hell; they send themselves by their lifestyle choices.
“into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels” — Hell was not made for humans, but for angelic beings in rebellion. The horrors and torments of hell are so far beyond human vocabulary and finite conceptions that the Bible used the most vivid imagery possible. Most of the metaphors come from the always burning garbage dump outside Jerusalem in the valley of the sons of Hinnom called “Gehenna.” Jesus often spoke about it (cf. Isaiah 33:14; 66:24; Matthew 3:10, 12; 5:22; 7:19; 13:40, 42, 50; 18:8, 9; Jude 7; Revelation 14:10; 19:20; 20:10, 14, 15; 21:8).
“And these will go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into eternal life” (v.46) — The same term [aiōnos] that describes heaven as everlasting is applied to hell as everlasting (cf. Matt. 18:8; 19:16; Mark 3:29; 9:48; 10:17; Luke 18:18; Jude 7; Rev. 20:10; also with “eternal judgment” in 2 Thess. 1:9 and Heb. 6:2). Daniel 12:2; John 5:29; and Acts 24:15 describe a resurrection of both the righteous and wicked.