Here in the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats Jesus is summarizing the repeated admonition He has been making in the Olivet discourse to His disciples to be on the alert and keep watch lest His coming take them by surprise, as was happening at that very time to the Jewish religious leaders. As the truth of Christ’s word was even then separating the believing from the unbelieving Jews, so would it also come to separate the sheep from the goats in all nations as that truth of His word, which is the throne of His glory from which He reigns, went forth through His disciples to establish God’s kingdom on earth as it is in heaven; cf. Mat 28:18-20. Also here in this parable—just after His final rejection by the Jewish leaders and about to be crucified—Jesus for the first time clearly identifies the Son of Man (which title He has used throughout His ministry to refer to Himself) as the King (Mat 25:31,34). For as we have now come to understand, His kingdom and glory, though much greater, are not at all like the kingdoms of this world and their glory. Likewise, those who will inherit His kingdom are not at all like those who inherit the kingdoms of this world, but are referred to as sheep, for their only defense in the world against the wolves that prey upon them is to look to the Shepherd, Himself the Lamb of God.
What did Jesus tell His disciples through the parable that He will say to the sheep He has separated to His right hand by the truth of His word? See Mat 25:34. What does inherit indicate about man’s own efforts to establish a kingdom of righteousness and God’s grace in providing him that for which he himself had not labored? Cf. Deut 6:10-11, Josh 11:23, 24:13, Psa 105:44. What does this remind us about the importance of our relationship to God through Jesus Christ? Can one be an heir to His kingdom who has not been born again into His family? Cf. Rom 8:16-17, Gal 3:29, 4:1,7, Eph 3:6.
When the King says to those who are blessed of His Father to come and inherit the kingdom, is that something that is entirely passive as if there is nothing left for them at that stage to do? Notice that the verb used by Jesus is an imperative, an active command. Notice also that inherit means to take possession, and it is this same word (κληρονομέω) that was used repeatedly in the LXX to translate God’s command to the Israelites to enter in and possess the land that He promised them as an inheritance and that typifies the kingdom of God that Christ would have those inherit who are blessed of His Father; see Gen 15:1-8, 21:10, 28:4, Exo 23:30, Deut 1:8,21, 2:24,31, 4:1,5,14,37-38, 6:18, 8:1, 9:1, 11:8-12,31, Jos 1:15, 12:7, 14:1-2, 17:14-18:3, Psa 44:3, Isa 49:8, 54:3, 57:13, 60:21. How does this again help us to understand the nature of Christ’s kingdom, how one comes to enter into and possess it, and why the unrighteous shall not inherit it? Cf. 1Co 6:9-10, Gal 5:19-21.
When Jesus says to His sheep that He has separated to His right to come and inherit the kingdom, does He mean as is often understood today to come and have a part in establishing His kingdom that will at some unknown, future time finally be realized, but that they themselves may not see? Notice that the imperative form of κληρονομέω translated inherit in our English text is in the aorist tense. This indicates that He isn’t just inviting His sheep to have a part in the process of possessing the kingdom as it would mean if the imperative was in the present, but to take possession of the kingdom with regard to its actual completion. It is the same difference in aspect between telling an English student to go write on a paper without reference to its actual completion, such as if working on a rough draft or a revision, and telling the student to go write the paper, where the completed project is in view. Hence, we find this exact same aorist imperative form used to command the Israelites to go in and possess the land of their inheritance (Lev 20:24, Deut 1:8, 21, 9:23). This was literally fulfilled when Joshua led the Israelites across the Jordan and “the LORD gave them rest on every side, according to all that He had sworn to their fathers, and no one of all their enemies stood before them; the LORD gave all their enemies into their hand. Not one of the good promises which the LORD had made to the house of Israel failed; all came to pass” (Jos 21:44-45). In the same way, at whatever time the Lord Jesus (Hebrew = Joshua) comes to any nation and sits on the throne of His glory and separates the sheep from the goats by the truth of His word, He invites those on His right to come and inherit the kingdom with a view to actually possessing that land of their promised inheritance along with all of the good promises made in regard to it.
Consider that after receiving its inheritance in the land of promise the nation of Israel was later dispossessed from that land for its disobedience; should we then necessarily assume that our inheritance in the kingdom of God cannot also be lost through unrepentant sin? See Deut 11:13-17, 30:15-18, 2Ki 17:24, Heb 2:1-3a, 10:26-31. In what way has this been true not only of the Jews, but of various churches throughout our own Church age? Besides individual churches and liberal denominations in our own day, consider how the Church that was established by the apostles and thrived in what we know today as North Africa and the Middle East was almost completely dispossessed by Islam, and remains so today. Consider too how the churches of Europe, which was the cradle of the Reformation, are now mostly empty, dispossessed by secularism.
In this light, as we look beyond the application of this parable “now” to the “not yet” of its future, final fulfillment, what is our great hope communicated by the exact grammatical form used of a completed inheritance in God’s kingdom that will never be lost because we shall finally have been made like Him? Cf. 1Jo 3:2.