When Jesus separates the sheep and the goats pronouncing judgment upon them, neither one is shocked by the destination, but the reasoning given. The sheep are blessed for the ministered to Jesus in His need, whereas the goats are cursed because they failed. But we shouldn’t mistake this for saying the sheep merited their destination.
The decisive grounds upon which the sheep and goats are divided is that one is comprised of sheep and the other of goats. The deeds of mercy act as an outer mark that identifies the sheep. They are the evidence, not the grounds. Some similar language about those who eat sheep may help.
Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will recognize them by their fruits. —Matthew 7:15-20 (ESV)
The eating of sheep does not make one a wolf; the being a wolf means an appetite for sheep. The bearing of good fruit does not make one a good tree; the being a good tree means bearing good fruit.
The King/Shepherd says, “All sheep may enter,” and then He turns to you and says, “Come, for you are covered with wool.” The wool didn’t make you a sheep. The last thing any sheep will say on that day is, “I got in by the wool on my baaack, baaack, baaack. Yes this wool, I did it.” If so, an interrogation would commence. “Were you always a sheep? Who then transformed you into a sheep? Who gave you the only food, and water (the Spirit and the Word) that then can cause such wool to grow? Who gave you health and life so that the wool could grow? Who protected you and led you beside still waters so that the wool could grow?” The Shepherd gets all the credit. When He says, “Come for you are full of wool,” He is saying, “Look at what I did. See. This one is mine.”
What is the distinctive wool specifically mentioned here are a mark of those who are the Good Shpeherd’s? Love for the church. Shouldn’t we as Christians love all who are destitute? Certainly. Is that the point of this text. By no means. “The least of these,” are “my [Jesus’] brothers.” This language echoes Matthew 10:40-42 and Matthew 18 where the “little ones,” are Jesus’ little ones, His disciples.
One evangelical pastor wrote a popular book titled They Love Jesus but Not the Church. He had some legitimate criticisms of the church, but he missed it with his title. You cannot love Jesus and not love the church. If you fail to love the church, you do not love Jesus. You are a goat.
Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. …If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother. —1 John 4:7-8, 20-21