Jesus begins the parable of the sheep and the goats by saying it takes place when He returns in His glory, with all the angels, to sit on His throne in heavenly glory. (Matthew 25:31)

At that time all the nations will be brought before the Him, and He will separate them “as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left” (verses 32–33). Other verses to consider:

Immediately after the tribulation of those days . . . 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. (Matthew 24:21-30)

During my research I felt there was an important link to Revelation chapter 14.

Revelation 14:6-13 describes how the first angel commands the people on earth to worship God; the second angel declares that Babylon the Great has fallen; the third angel warns that anyone who worships the beast and his image will drink of the wine of God’s fury.

Revelation 14:14-20 moves on to the harvest of the earth when one “like a son of man” comes into view. He has a sharp sickle in his hand. “Take your sickle and reap, because the time to reap has come, for the harvest of the earth is ripe.”

Could the "vine of the earth" who are harvested and "trampled in the wine-press of God's wrath" be linked to the goats in Jesus' parable in Matthew 25 who "go away to eternal punishment"?

I found a related article here: Who are the Sheep and the Goats in Matthew 25? However, it does not specifically answer my question as to when the separating of the sheep from the goats takes place.

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    Just to point out that the "one like a son of man" does not reap the vine of the earth. He starts the first reaping of the harvest of the earth. But another heavenly one, with another sickle, is then commanded to scythe the grapes from the earth's vine, for trampling in the winepress of God' wrath. That is not what happens to those gathered in the first reaping. It's only the second reaping that links to the 'goats'. The first reaping links to the 'sheep', and there's no indication of any time-gap between the first and the second reapings. Hope that helps.
    – Anne
    May 25, 2022 at 16:20
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    Up-voted +1 but I also think that @Anne 's comment answers the question. Perhaps Anne will compose a full answer ?
    – Nigel J
    May 25, 2022 at 21:53

3 Answers 3


It's actually chapter 24 verses 29 and 30 where Jesus starts to explain when, exactly, this separating work takes place and, clearly, it has not begun yet. There are phenomenal celestial signs, with the sign of the Son of Man appearing in the heaven. The tribes of the earth are smitten as they "see the Son of Man coming upon the clouds of the heaven, with power and great glory." That is when Christ's chosen ones are gathered from all parts of the earth.

More information is detailed in chapter 25. Christ unexpectedly comes in his glory, with all the angels, and Christ sits on a glorious throne. Before him are presented all peoples of all nations, "and he shall separate them from one another, as the shepherd doth separate the sheep from the goats. (vs.32)

This marries in perfectly with Revelation chapter 14. Christ's chosen ones being gathered from the earth to him corresponds with vs. 15 - the first reaping of the end-time harvest, which immediately sees the second reaping of that same harvest, when all others are cast into the wine-press of the wrath of God.

In order for all the living and the dead to be gathered before Christ's judgment throne, they all have to receive resurrection bodies. Those are bodies made fit for whatever eternal destiny they are judged to have coming to them (Revelation 20:11-15).

Here is how an exposition of the book of Matthew puts it, with the heading "The Prophecy of Messiah and the Kingdom, chapter 13" before linking that in with comments on chapter 25:

"Only at the resurrection of the dead with the manifestation of the wheat and the tares, the sheep and the goats, will it become clear what was and what was not of the kingdom. So that not until the day of judgment would all that is of God be gathered to glory out of all the generations which preceded, from first to last.

...These seven parables foretell the inception, infiltration, and permeation of corruption, hardly visible in the beginning but overwhelming at the end. The parables give the history of the sowing and effect of the word of the kingdom throughout time till the day of judgment...

The coming in of the multitude of these usurpers - at first indistinguishable in the common reception of the same seed - would wax worse and worse, till the kingdom at the end of this present age would bear no resemblance at all to its appearance in the beginning. Judgment, terrible and inexorable, fiery and overwhelming, immutable and everlasting, will appear in the coming day of retribution.

This will result in an eternal separation of the true from the false - the sheep from the goats - alike raised from the dead out of all generations, reaching even to that selfsame hour in which Jesus spoke these prophetic parables as he sat in the ship addressing the multitudes on the sea-shore in Galilee." The Evangel According to Matthew - An Exposition, pp 25-26, John Metcalfe

Then comes connecting thoughts about Matthew chapter 25, wherein:

"Jesus reveals the apocalyptic vision of the end of the temple, of Jerusalem, and of the world... That day of wrath and judgment will be as sudden and unexpected as was that of the flood in the days of Noah. The judgment will be as inexorable, falling upon every faithless servant. Of the ten virgins, the folly of the five will exclude them.

Of all the flock, not one of the goats shall escape that judgment which is according to works, despite their convictions to the contrary, and for all their loud and loving profession of Christ.

Every one of these shall go away into everlasting punishment. But the righteous - for that is the character of the sheep - shall enter into life eternal." (Ibid. pp 43-44)

The main point for this answer is the totally unexpected timing of the start of a series of events, with no gap inbetween them, culminating in the separating of the sheep from the goats, before Christ's throne of judgment. There will be a tipping-point in world events, just as there was in the days of Noah, when the two reapings of the one end-time harvest shall begin, and all the living and the dead will receive new, resurrection bodies to stand for judgment before Christ. The sheep are separated from the goats at that point.

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    Great answer! Just one question. What about the 1000 years that comes before the final judgement (Revelation 20:4-6)? +1 :)
    – Rajesh
    May 26, 2022 at 14:52
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    @Rajesh Well, what about it, indeed! I suggest that that does not affect my answer to the Q because the Q is not concerned with the 1000 years (being literal or not) or the 7 years of tribulation (being literal or not) nor where in the end-time period these happen. If the 1000 years covers the time from Christ's ascension till his return, then they cannot be a literal 1000 years, and they end immediately at Christ's return. That accords with my answer but I won't comment further as this is not what the OP asked about.
    – Anne
    May 26, 2022 at 15:10
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    Ahh, that's called amillennialism, right? I know about that theory but I haven't studied it. It sounds interesting and also consistent with a lot of what is said in the NT, such as stuff in Matthew 24-25 and 1 Corinthians 15. It solves a lot of apparent problems. I'll have to study it in more debt, but I like it so far. It's just that Revelation 20 makes the 1000 years seem so literal, to the point that interpreting it figuratively as you do seems absurd. Although somehow it also seems right. Very confusing... :( Once again, great answer!
    – Rajesh
    May 26, 2022 at 16:06
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    @Rajesh - There are many conflicting views about the millennial reign of Christ Jesus but my question has nothing to do with that. Whether the thousand years is literal or not, whether there are seven years of tribulation or not, is immaterial. We take Jesus' words in Matthew and his words in Revelation and compare the two. Our eternal salvation depends only on being judged as one of the "sheep" and that is why we have to take our stand for Christ Jesus NOW, and focus on Him alone, and not waste time on the reasoning of men. The millennium will happen according to God's will, not our ideas.
    – Lesley
    May 27, 2022 at 10:28
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    @Lesley "Whether the thousand years is literal or not ... is immaterial." I'd say no. If there really is a literal thousand years, then the sheep (the righteous) are judged 1000 years before the goats (the unrighteous). But Matthew 25:31-46 makes it seem that both the sheep and goats are judged at the same time, at Christ's return. This also creates problems for ECT, since Jesus makes it clear that He will kill the unrepentant living on earth at the time of His return. If His return initiates the final judgement, then physical death is their punishment, not eternal life on the lake of fire.
    – Rajesh
    May 28, 2022 at 14:32

My particular view is that these time periods concerning what leads up to the 1000 years of Kingdom rule, whether you accept that as literal or not, is irrelevent, kind of like trying to figure out the day or hour that God's day is due. These are things which the Father has placed in his own jurisdiction. Acts 1:7. The emphasis of this parable/prophecy is that believers keep themselves in God's love, forever and that while there is still evident time to help others adjust their conduct before it is too late, which we will never figure out 100% until it occurs. Although it may be enjoyable to speculate, it does not belong to us, yet.


This "separation" must not be confused with the imagery of the "coming in the clouds" of Matthew 24. All those events were to happen within "this generation" (i.e. the first century). There is a change of subject matter at 24:36 which then relates to the grand Second Coming of which one of the concomitants is the Final Judgment!

The separation of sheep and goats is at the End of the World, and this imagery is simply a different example similar to the Separation of the good fish and bad fish are given in Matthew 13. Also the Separation of the wheat from the Tares.

Notice that this Separation of animals results in "Eternal Consequences" so it is indeed dealing with the End of the World as we know it. And this occurrence is without warning as the illustrations just given by Jesus, deftly show.

So when are the sheep separated from the goats? At an indefinite time in the future!

Confusion ought to be dispelled by noting that Matthew 25:31 does not say that "Jesus comes to set up His Kingdom" as you stated in this question. He already reigns! (Mt. 28:18. Mk. 1:15, Luke 9:27, Acts 2:32-36) Rather, "Jesus comes to sit on His (judgment) throne," is what the scriptures said.

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