The Great Shepherd

“Now may that God of peace, who brought up from the dead that Shepherd of the sheep, (become great by the blood of an aionian covenant,) even our Lord Jesus.” —Hebrews 13:20, Diaglott

DAVID is a type of Christ, and it is significant that he was both a shepherd and a king. His selection by God to be Israel’s rightful monarch is recorded in I Samuel 16. Prior to this incident, Saul had been anointed king by Samuel, the last of Israel’s judges. He felt that Israel had rejected him as a judge when they wanted a king, but God told Samuel that Israel had “rejected me [God], that I should not reign over them.” (I Sam. 8:7) Although Saul was a good ruler when he began his reign, he rapidly fell from God’s favor when he violated his commandments. His rejection is mentioned in I Samuel 15:23, “For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry. Because thou hast rejected the Word of the Lord, he hath also rejected thee from being king.”

Later, God asked Samuel, “How long wilt thou mourn for Saul, seeing I have rejected him from reigning over Israel? Fill thine horn with oil, and go, I will send thee to Jesse the Bethlehemite: for I have provided me a king among his sons.” (I Sam. 16:1) Thus, upon instructions from God, Samuel went to Jesse’s house to anoint a successor to Saul. All Jesse’s sons came before Samuel, but none was chosen by God. Samuel was puzzled and asked, “Are all your children here?” (I Sam. 16:11), and Jesse answered, “There remains yet the youngest and he keeps the sheep.” David was brought before Samuel, and God instructed him to anoint David as Israel’s king. It is noteworthy that before David became a king he was a shepherd. “Now therefore so shalt thou say unto my servant David, thus saith the Lord of hosts, I took thee from the sheepcote, from following the sheep, to be ruler over my people, over Israel.”—II Sam. 7:8

David’s life as a shepherd well illustrates our Lord’s care, concern, and responsibility which he has for the welfare of his people, “the sheep of his pasture.” (Ps. 100:3) For example, the incident when David rescued a lamb from being devoured by a lion shows his loving care for his flock. Our Lord, too, has many times delivered his sheep from that lion “who walketh about seeking whom he may devour,” namely, Satan, the adversary of God. (I Pet. 5:8) He also will slay every ravenous beast that comes against the sheep of his pasture in this present Gospel Age, and in the Millennial Age to follow.

Jesus spoke of himself as a shepherd in the tenth chapter of John. The reference to thieves and robbers was pointed at the Pharisees, who, just prior to these words, had tried to discredit Jesus in the incident concerning the healing of the man who had been born blind. As the man who had been healed withstood the Pharisees and knew that Jesus was sent of God, so Jesus said in reference to his true sheep, “A stranger they will not follow, for they know not the voice of the stranger.” (John 10:5) To all whom God has called in this Gospel Age, Jesus says, “I am the door of the sheep. All that ever came before me are thieves and robbers. … The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I am come that they may have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.”—John 10:7-10

Jesus’ reference to sheep ‘not of this fold’ (John 10:16) concerns the world of mankind in the Millennial Age. The Good Shepherd has laid down his life not only for the sheep of the Gospel Age but also for the sheep of the Millennial Age. We are glad that the love of the Good Shepherd is broader than many people have imagined, and that he has life and blessings in store for the whole human race. It will be this same Good Shepherd, who laid down his life for his sheep, who will utter his voice and “all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come forth; those who have done good to the resurrection of life; and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of judgment.”—John 5:28,29, RSV

These lessons given by Jesus were inspired by preceding incidents. Hence, as recorded in the ninth chapter of John, when Jesus spoke to the scribes and Pharisees following their attempts to discredit the miracle of healing the man born blind, he said, “If ye were blind, ye should have no sin: but now ye say, We see; therefore your sin remaineth.” (John 9:41) If there were no chapter divisions, the events of John nine would flow into the lesson of the tenth chapter. The healing of the man born blind is a picture of the blessing of all the contrite of heart in Israel who recognized themselves as sinners and were healed by Jesus. These followed the Good Shepherd through the door of the sheepfold, coming out from under the Law Covenant and into the grace covenant.

Jesus said to his disciples, “Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.” (Matt. 7:15) The Apostle Paul used a similar illustration when he told the elders of Ephesus, “For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them.” (Acts 20:29,30) Both were warning the Lord’s people that wolves would imitate sheep to catch the sheep. Through false doctrine, many sheep are lured away from the sheepfold and the protection of the Good Shepherd.

Sheep have many characteristics, such as meekness, docility, defenselessness, harmlessness. They also have a tendency to stray: “All we like sheep have gone astray” (Isa. 53:6); “Israel is a scattered sheep.” (Jer. 50:17) The inclination of sheep to stray has been verified many times by those who are shepherds. From their experience they have observed that it does not seem to matter how green the grass is in the pasture of feeding, there always seems to be an odd sheep roaming to see if the grass is greener on the other side of the hedge; and if it can find a little hole to squeeze through, it leads the way and others follow. Many sheep have jumped to their destruction by this tendency to stray and follow an errant leader. But Jesus said, “My sheep know my voice and they follow me.” I f brethren should find themselves to be thus tempted, they would do well to heed II Timothy 3:15, which says, in part, “Thou hast known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.”

Jesus said, “When he putteth forth his own sheep, he goeth before them, and the sheep follow him: for they know his voice. And a stranger will they not follow, but will flee from him: for they know not the voice of strangers.” (John 10:4,5) One of the lessons we learn from these verses is that sheep which follow the shepherd go forward; they stray neither to the right nor left, but strictly follow the shepherd. As Paul says in Hebrews 10:39, “We are not of them who draw back unto perdition; but of them that believe to the saving of the soul.”

Many lessons concerning the shepherd and his sheep were difficult for the disciples to understand, as we note in John 10:6: “This parable spake Jesus unto them: but they understood not what things they were which he spoke unto them.” In order to help them understand, Jesus said, “I am the door.” The only way into this sheepfold was through Jesus, who was speaking to the Pharisees as well as to his disciples. He later mentioned “the hireling” (John 10:12) who fled when he saw the wolf coming. The Pharisees and others who had claimed the right to lead Israel were like the hirelings, seeking the prestige of a shepherd, but with selfish aims. In so doing, they were fulfilling the prophecy of Isaiah 56:11, “They are shepherds that cannot understand: they all look to their own way, every one for his gain, from his quarter.”

Thus it was that when Jesus said to the people of Israel, “I am the Good Shepherd” (John 10:11), the scribes and Pharisees criticized him. In the incident involving the healing of a man blind from birth, they said, “We know that this man [Jesus] is a sinner.” (John 9:24) In Luke 15:1, a similar criticism was made: “Then drew near unto him all the publicans and sinners for to hear him. And the Pharisees and scribes murmured, saying, This man receiveth sinners, and eateth with them.” This led Jesus to speak a parable unto them: “What man of you, having an hundred sheep, if he lose one of them, doth not leave the ninety and nine in the wilderness, and go after that which is lost, until he find it? And when he hath found it, he layeth it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he cometh home, he calleth together his friends and neighbors, saying unto them, Rejoice with me; for I have found my sheep which was lost. I say unto you, that likewise joy shall, be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine just persons, which need no repentance.”—Luke 15:4-7

This parable pictures as the sheep of God’s pasture all of the human race, and the angelic host too—the lost sheep being Adam and his race. As the poet wrote:

But none of the ransomed ever knew
    How deep were the waters crossed,
How dark the night the Lord passed through
    Ere he found the sheep that was lost.
Out in the desert he heard its cry,
    Sick and helpless, and ready to die.

It reminds us of the passage in Psalm 102:19, “For he hath looked down from the height of his sanctuary; from heaven did the Lord behold the earth.” Again we hear the poet ask:

Lord, what are those blood drops all the way
    That mark out the mountain tract?
They were shed for the one that went astray
    Ere the shepherd could bring him back.

Thus, when Jesus said, “I am the Good Shepherd,” as recorded in John 10:11, he also said, “The Good Shepherd giveth his life for the sheep.” And this he gladly did.

The sheep this wonderful shepherd tended first, were members only of the nation of Israel. In Matthew 15:22-24 we read of the woman of Canaan who came to Jesus and said, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, thou son of David; my daughter is grievously vexed with a devil. But he answered her not a word. And his disciples came and besought him, saying, Send her away; for she crieth after us. But he answered and said, I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” Also, when Jesus sent forth his twelve apostles, he told them, “Go not into the way of the Gentiles, and into the city of the Samarians enter ye not: but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” Soon the time of exclusive favor to Israel ended, and God raised up Paul to bring the Gospel to the Gentiles. On their first missionary trip, Paul and Barnabas said boldly to the people of Israel, “It was necessary that the Word of God should first have been spoken to you: but seeing ye put it from you, and judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life, lo, we turn to the Gentiles.” (Acts 13:46) Thus it was, starting with Cornelius and continuing from that day forward, Gentiles were brought into the sheepfold, too. Paul said in Romans 1:16, “I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek.” This order of God’s dealing and extended favor is reiterated in Romans 2:9,10, “Tribulation and anguish, upon every soul of man that doeth evil, of the Jew first, and also of the Gentile; but glory, honor, and peace, to every man that worketh good, to the Jew first, and also to the Gentile.”

The eighteenth chapter of Matthew records another lesson with regard to straying sheep. Although it might appear that it is the same as the one given previously in Luke 15 concerning the lost sheep, the application is different. First, we need to note several important points. Matthew 18:11, which speaks of “saving that which was lost” is spurious and not found in the oldest manuscripts; therefore, this sheep is not lost. The background for this lesson is also different from the one in Luke 15. In Matthew 18:1-10 Jesus gives a lesson in humility, using a child as an example. Addressing his disciples, he told them what must be done to enter into the kingdom, while avoiding pitfalls that would hinder them. In doing so, Jesus referred to “one of these little ones [a member of the little flock]” several times before he used the illustration of the sheep going astray, and does so again in the concluding statement. “It is not the will of your Father which is in heaven, that one of these little ones should perish.” (Matt. 18:14) The lesson, therefore, is that Jesus, as the Good Shepherd, will not abandon the one who goes astray until every effort has been made to restore and purify such an one.

Contemplate the wonderful meaning of the scripture, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life”! As we try to comprehend the love of the Father and his Son shown in John 3:16, we can relate its message to Isaiah 40:11. There we see how Jesus, as the Good Shepherd, cares for those who belong to him. As Jesus said, “Other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd.”—John 10:16

At the time of Jesus’ first advent, his disciples loved their shepherd very much. As Jesus approached his final hours on earth, he continued to use the illustration of a shepherd, saying, “All ye shall be offended because of me this night: for it is written, I will smite the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock shall be scattered abroad.” (Matt. 26:31) Jesus was quoting an Old Testament prophecy, “Awake, O sword, against my shepherd, and against the man that is my fellow, saith the Lord of hosts: smite the shepherd, and the sheep shall be scattered: and I will turn mine hand upon the little ones.” (Zech. 13:7) The latter part of this verse could be paraphrased, “I will use my power to protect the ignoble ones, the poor of this world, rich in faith.” And well did Jesus know how perplexed and desolate his followers would feel as their shepherd was smitten. Thus he promised, “But after I am risen again, I will go before you into Galilee.” In other words, the shepherd would lead them again. Peter, of course, answered, “Though all men shall be offended because of thee, yet will I never be offended.” But Jesus said otherwise, as he told Peter, “Verily I say unto thee, that this night, before the cock crow, thou shalt deny me thrice.” But Peter was insistent and said, “Though I should die with thee, yet will I not deny thee.” (Matt. 26:32-35) Just as our Lord foreknew, Peter denied knowing Jesus. Jesus was forsaken by all, as prophesied. The cup that the Father had poured was drained to its bitter dregs in order that the world might be saved.

When sending his disciples forth to preach the Gospel, Jesus forewarned them by saying, “Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves. But beware of men: for they will deliver you up to the councils, and they will scourge you in their synagogues; and ye shall be brought before governors and kings for my sake, for a testimony against them and the Gentiles.” (Matt. 10:16-18) A better translation of Matthew 10:18 is found in the Revised Standard Version, which says, “You will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear testimony before them and the Gentiles.” All of this came to pass. The record of Paul’s experiences in Acts 25:13-27 and 26:1-32 contains outstanding examples of this type of testimony.

Jesus had promised, “After I am risen, I will go before you unto Galilee.” He had been seen by his disciples and appeared unto them after his resurrection, but then he disappeared. As time passed and they waited, not knowing what to expect, Peter said, “I go a fishing,” and the others answered, “We also go with thee.” (John 21:3) That night they caught no fish. But when the morning came, a stranger stood on the shore and told them to cast the net on the right side of the ship. As had happened once before when Jesus called them to be his disciples, so again they were not able to draw the net because of the huge number of fish. Immediately they recognized him and said, “It is the Lord!”

As the disciples came to the shore, Jesus was waiting for them. He reminded Peter of the night when the Shepherd was smitten, and that he had denied the Lord thrice. He did it in a subtle manner by asking Peter three times, “Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me more than these?” When Peter replied in the affirmative, Jesus told him, “Feed my lambs.” The mantle of responsibility was now upon the shoulders of Peter to care for the Lord’s lambs.

The ministry of Peter and the other apostles, and all of the church called during this Gospel Age, ends in the climax of their glorification. It has been prophesied, “O Zion, that bringest good tidings, get thee up into the high mountain, O Jerusalem, that bringest good tidings lift up thy voice with strength; lift it up, be not afraid; say unto the cities of Judah, Behold your God! Behold the Lord God will come with strong hand, and his Arm shall rule for him: behold, his reward is with him, and his work before him. He shall feed his flock like a shepherd: he shall gather the Iambs with his arm, and carry them in his bosom, and shall gently lead those that are with young.”—Isa. 40:9-11

The fulfillment of this wonderful prophecy will be made possible because “the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the root of David, hath prevailed.” (Rev. 5:5) And we, as his followers, will be with him, if we are faithful. As Peter has said, “When the chief Shepherd shall appear, ye shall receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away.” (I Pet. 5:4) Let us heed the words of that Great Shepherd in order that we can be with him forever.

Dawn Bible Students Association
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