This passage is not written in parable form; it is a prophetic declaration concerning a specific future event. We are, once again, reminded that the Olivet Discourse is written chronologically. Matthew wrote:
"When the Son of man shall come in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, then shall He sit upon the throne of His glory: and before Him shall be gathered all nations: and He shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats: and He shall set the sheep on His right hand, but the goats on the left" (Matt. 25:31-33).Jesus, the Son of God, identifying Himself as "the Son of man," as He often did, presents a picture of His Second Coming. Matthew referred to Jesus as the "Son of man" twenty-nine times in his Gospel, seven of which appear in the Olivet Discourse. His return will be accompanied by His angels. Even though this passage does not mention the Church coming with Him, we know, from elsewhere in the Word, that we will (Jn. 12:26; 14:3; 2 Cor. 5:8; 1 Thes. 3:13).
Many have confused this judgment of the nations as being the Great White Throne Judgment of Revelation 20:11-15, but the judgment of the nations occurs prior to the Millennial Kingdom (Matt. 25:34). This judgment is of the living, those who survived the Tribulation, but the Great White Throne Judgment follows the one thousand year reign of Christ, and is a judgment of the resurrected dead.
The judgment, spoken of in the Olivet Discourse, is based upon how those "nations" treated "His brethren" during the Tribulation (Matt. 25:40, 45). Picture the scene. Jesus is seated on "the throne of His glory" (v. 31). All of Israel, and all born again believers, the true Church, are seated at His feet facing those being judged. I believe Revelation 4:4 and 21:12-14 support this view.
All the "nations" have been "gathered-up" by the angels, and are standing before Him (v. 32). The text uses the word "nations" to refer to the Gentiles. In other words, all people other than God's chosen nation, Israel. "Nations" is used throughout the Bible to refer to the Gentiles. Here, the Greek translated "nations" is ἔθνος (ethnos) and it is a neuter noun. Those being judged, translated "them" is αὐτός (autos), a masculine pronoun. This judgment is foretold in Joel 3:1-2).
Those who treated His “brethren” well are called “sheep,” and are permitted to enter His Millennial Kingdom (Matt. 25:34). Those who mistreated His “brethren,” are called “goats,” and are sentenced to “everlasting punishment” (Matt. 25:46).