Chapter 8: Christ as Shepherd
by Walter A. Boyd, N Ireland
Shepherds and shepherding have an evident prominence in the Holy Scriptures. It was Henry Law who said in relation to shepherding that it is "here that Scripture lends abundant aid to multiply interest"1. He goes on to point out that "the first to enter the gates of heaven was "righteous Abel, a keeper of sheep". David … called to sit upon Israel’s throne. What was his early occupation? … God took him from the sheep folds. Who are the first to hear from an angel’s lips the good tidings of the Saviour’s birth? They were shepherds abiding in the field … Thus sacred thoughts exalt the shepherd-life."2
- 1 Law, Henry. “Christ is All”. Tentmaker Publications, 2005.
The Shepherd ministry of the risen Christ cannot be understood in isolation from other Scriptural truths; there are a number of related passages of Scripture that are foundational to it. We will make brief reference to these as we move through the chapter. Shepherding was a function undertaken by God from the very beginning of His dealings with men: in Gen.48.15 where God deals with individuals and families, Jacob says that "God … fed me all my life long unto this day". Jacob’s word for "fed" means to ‘feed as a shepherd’. When we come to Exodus, where God takes up His dealings with the descendants of Jacob collectively, known for the first time as "My people", Ex.3.10, the activity of God as the Shepherd of His people again is manifested in His care for Israel. In Num.27.15-17 Moses asks God to "set a man over the congregation, which may go out before them, and which may go in before them, and which may lead them out, and which may bring them in; that the congregation of the LORD be not as sheep which have no shepherd." In the threefold division of the Old Testament Scriptures, the Law, the Prophets and the Writings3, reference is made frequently to that ministry. Indeed, in Ps.80.1 God is called the "Shepherd of Israel". In the New Testament, Christ is seen exercising shepherd care before, on, and after the cross. His death and resurrection brought Him into a new sphere of shepherding, or, shall we say, with another flock.
- 3 Ex.13.18; Deut.8.15; Ps.78.14,53; 106.9; 107.7; 136.16; Isa.48.21; 63.1,2,13; Jer.2.17.
It has often been pointed out that the three shepherd titles for Christ in the New Testament relate beautifully to the trilogy of Psalms, 22-24. In Psalm 22 we see the Good Shepherd, Jn.10.14, Who dies for the sheep that are wayward. In Psalm 23 we see the Great shepherd, Heb.13.20, Who cares for the sheep that are in the wilderness. In Psalm 24 we see the Chief Shepherd, 1Pet.5.4, Who comes to reward the shepherds that have worked with the sheep.
In relation to the Person of Christ as the Shepherd, it is important to notice the part played by the resurrection. The resurrection is the vindication of the sacrifice offered by the Good Shepherd: God was satisfied with the atonement made by His Son when He laid down His life in sacrifice and shed His blood upon the cross. That vindication is confirmed by the words, "They took Him down from the tree, and laid Him in a sepulchre. But God raised Him from the dead" Acts 13.29,30. The doctrine of the risen Christ is not an option for Christians, it is not an appendix to the message of the gospel; it lies at the very heart of Christianity and the gospel. It has been well said that "without it Christianity would have been stillborn, for a living faith cannot survive a dead Saviour"4. The resurrection is heaven’s endorsement of Christ’s once-for-all sacrifice as being sufficient to satisfy the demands of God’s throne with regard to sin.
- 4 Lewis, Peter, “The Glory of Christ”. Moody Press, 1997.
The resurrection is also the foundation of His continuing work in heaven as the Great Shepherd Who constantly provides for the needs of His sheep. As the Good Shepherd He gave His life in death upon the tree; now, as the Great Shepherd and the Chief Shepherd upon the throne, He cares for His own. The title "the Great Shepherd" speaks of Christ in relation to His sheep and the title "the Chief Shepherd" speaks of Him in relation to His under-shepherds. In His incarnation and crucifixion, Christ demonstrated His interest in sinful men; He came to provide salvation and to be their Saviour. In His ascension and exaltation, that interest in mankind did not diminish but continues in His present ministry at "the right hand of God", Heb.1.3; 8.1; 10.12; 12.2. At incarnation He took upon Himself "the likeness of sinful flesh" Rom.8.3, which entailed experiencing the weakness which marks fallen humanity: He knew tiredness, hunger, thirst, sadness, in fact all the normal vicissitudes of life, yet without any taint of sin, Heb.4.15. In exaltation He left those experiences behind and sits now upon the throne of heaven in a "glorious body" Phil.3.21, that knows no tiredness, hunger or sadness. However, even though He is enthroned in glory He is "touched with the feeling of our infirmities" Heb.4.15. The "likeness of sinful flesh" was necessary in the Divine plan of providing salvation for sinners. The "glorious body" is necessary in the Divine plan of providing ongoing Shepherd care for those He has saved. His body of glory, an ascended and exalted Saviour, is the authenticating evidence of heaven’s acceptance of His sacrifice as the Good Shepherd, and is also the foundation of His ministry as the Great Shepherd at the right hand of God. His ministry as the Good Shepherd Who died for the sheep must have the resurrection to signal its completeness, and His ministry as the Great Shepherd at God’s right hand must have the resurrection for its commencement. In His life, death and burial, weakness was mingled with strength; but in His resurrection, ascension and exaltation it is all strength, all glory and all majesty without any weakness or shame. His love and care for ruined mankind were seen in Him coming down in veiled glory; His love and care for redeemed men are seen in His going up in revealed glory. The love and care shown by our Shepherd ought to fill our hearts with adoration and worship. The Lord is my Shepherd, Ps.23.1, what a sublime truth!
- Thy path on earth, the Cross, the grave,
- Thy sorrows all are o’er;
- And, O, sweet thought! Thine eye shall weep,
- Thy heart shall break no more.
- (Edward Denny)
The risen Saviour’s care for those whom He has saved has various aspects, some of which are covered in chapters 5 – 7 of this volume. This chapter will look at the risen Christ’s ministry as the Shepherd of His sheep. That ministry is presented in an eight-fold way in this chapter:
- • The Shepherd and His Sheep, Jn.10.14; Heb.13.20
- • The Shepherd and His Suffering, Zech.13.7
- • The Shepherd and their Souls, 1Pet.2.25
- • The Shepherd and His Sufficiency, Ps.23.1
- • The Shepherd and His Shepherding, Isa.40.11
- • The Shepherd and Shepherds, 1Pet.5.4
- • The Shepherd and His Scrutiny, Rev.1.13; 2.2,9,13,19; 3.1,8,15
- • The Shepherd and His Sovereignty, Matt.25.31; Rev.7.9 ff.
THE SHEPHERD AND HIS SHEEP - Jn.10.14; Heb.13.20
"I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth His life for the sheep." Jn.10.11;
"Now the God of peace, that brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, make you perfect in every good work to do His will, working in you that which is well pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ; to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen." Heb.13.20,21.
Undoubtedly, every child of God appreciates the theme of Christ as "the Good Shepherd" Jn.10.11, Who laid down His "life for the sheep" 10.15. Had He not died for us, we would have had no understanding of Him or relationship with Him. That relationship with Christ as the Shepherd is because we heard His call in the gospel as "the door of the sheep" 10.7, and entered by Him and were saved, 10.9. We have come to appreciate and value the painfulness of His sufferings and the preciousness of His blood "for the sheep" 10.11,15. He valued His sheep so highly that He was prepared to give His life that they might be rescued, Lk.15.4, and have life, Jn.10.10. Giving "His life for the sheep" 10.11, meant the provision of His blood as "the blood of the everlasting covenant" Heb.13.20. The blood of Christ shed on the cross established an everlasting covenant and we who are saved are secured by that unbreakable, everlasting covenant. In Heb.13.20, the A.V. reads, " through the blood of the everlasting covenant", but J.N.D. reads, "In the power of ..." and he gives "in virtue" in his footnote. This means that in the power of His blood, God will perfect every good work in His sheep so that they please Him in doing His will.
It is also equally important to appreciate Christ’s ministry as "the great Shepherd of the sheep" Heb.13.20. In the title "The Good Shepherd" our minds are directed to His death; as "The Great Shepherd" our minds are directed to His resurrection: "Now the God of peace, that brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep …". In the title "The Good Shepherd", Scripture uses the word kalos for "good" [that which is of itself excellent] to emphasise the moral excellence in His Person and sacrifice; in the title "The Great Shepherd", the word megan for "great" [from which our English prefix ‘mega’ is derived] is used to emphasise His majestic eminence in His position and resurrection. In resurrection He is "great"; He is above all others in position, power and prestige. How great is He? His greatness is unsearchable; in every sense He is as great as God can be. In every respect He is the Person our Shepherd should be. He has every power our Shepherd will need. He can supply any provision we as sheep shall ever need. Our Shepherd is great in every duty He undertakes for the flock. He is great in His knowledge of His sheep; He knows every characteristic and idiosyncrasy that we have, Jn.10.14. He is great in feeding His sheep; He leads us to where the freshest pasture abounds, Ps.23.2. He is great in the protection He affords for His sheep; Paul could testify to this when he said, "I was delivered out of the mouth of the lion" 2Tim.4.17. He is great in administering healing to the sheep: "He healeth the broken in heart, and bindeth up their wounds" Ps.147.3. He is great in the provision of a safe fold for the sheep at the end of their day of travelling. As the shadows lengthened and the night fell, the eastern shepherd brought his flock back to the stone-enclosed fold. So too, our Great Shepherd is guiding us at the end of our day towards the safety of the heavenly enclosure, where we "shall dwell in the house of the Lord for ever" Ps.23.6. Even in heaven we will follow our beloved Shepherd "whithersoever He goeth" Rev.14.4; He "shall feed them, and shall lead them unto living fountains of water" Rev.7.17.
- Jesus is our Shepherd, wiping ev’ry tear
- Folded in His bosom what have we to fear?
- Only let us follow whither He doth lead,
- To the thirsty desert, or the dewy mead.
- Jesus is our Shepherd; with His goodness now,
- And His tender mercy, He doth us endow.
- Let us sing His praises with a gladsome heart
- Till in heaven we meet Him, nevernore to part.
- (Hugh Srowell)
The present ministry of Christ as the Great Shepherd is to lead the sheep. As the Good Shepherd He has called and found the sheep, now as the Great Shepherd He leads and cares for them as His flock. The use of sheep is a good picture for men in their weakness and inability to find their own way; they must be led continually. If left to themselves they will wander and be overwhelmed by disease and danger. As sinners who had "gone astray" Isa.53.6, we needed the Good Shepherd to rescue us from danger. As believers in a wilderness pilgrimage we still need the Shepherd to lead and care for us, and the Great Shepherd does that constantly. The duty of a sheep is to submit to the leading and accept the care of the shepherd: so too, we need to submit to the care and leading of the Great Shepherd. Yet, like sheep, it is in our nature to be independent and there is great danger in that. Safety for a sheep lies in following the shepherd. There is safety for us as He leads through His Word, as we read the Scriptures personally we should be seeking the pathway of obedience to Him. Disobedience leads into danger. Another aspect of His leading is that He has enlisted the service of His under-shepherds in the assembly to lead us as we listen to them, when they feed us with the Word of God, and watch their steps. In doing this we are submitting to their guidance.
One prominent characteristic of sheep, highlighted by the Lord Himself, is that they instinctively listen for the shepherd’s voice, Jn.10.3,4,14,16,27. Similarly, Christians can discern the voice of the true Shepherd from every other voice. The leading of the Great Shepherd is through the Holy Spirit: "As many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God" Rom.8.14. As we read the Scriptures we should listen for the voice of the Shepherd. The more we listen for the Shepherd, the easier it will be to discern His voice as He speaks to us by the Spirit through His Word.
When Jn.10.16 speaks of "one flock and one Shepherd", J.N.D., it has a special message and importance for the nation of Israel as "His sheep"; however, there can be no doubt that it also refers to saved Gentiles as well as Jews. The purpose of Christ was to be the Shepherd over a single flock that consists of saved Jews and Gentiles, one united flock, no longer separated by "the middle wall of partition" Eph.2.14. Every person saved since Pentecost is part of His blood-bought Church and is a sheep in His "one flock". One flock and one Shepherd; how simple, yet how profound is God’s plan! The emphasis is not on Christians as individual sheep but upon the aggregate; one single flock. Correspondingly, the emphasis is on one single Shepherd to look after that one flock.
As sheep we have been rescued in the past and we have a responsibility in the present to please Him by doing His will. He has paid for us by His blood and placed us within His flock. By the power of that same blood He perfects us, brings us to completion, or to the fulfilment of everything He has in store for His sheep. The death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus are fundamental to all that we have and are.
THE SHEPHERD AND HIS SUFFERING - Zech.13.6,7
"And one shall say unto him, ‘What are these wounds in thine hands?’ Then he shall answer, ‘Those with which I was wounded in the house of my friends.’ 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."
The suffering of the Good Shepherd was necessary in His care for the sheep. The Old Testament is replete with pictures of the Lord Jesus Christ as the promised Messiah for Israel. Zechariah brings Him before us as the suffering Shepherd of Jehovah in chapter 13. Of all the Old Testament prophets, Zechariah’s writing has been described as the most Messianic and eschatological. He was one of the later prophets to write in our Old Testament, and it is interesting to observe that titles and prophetic descriptions of the Lord Jesus used by earlier prophets are used again by Zechariah; many of the Messianic titles used by Isaiah are also used by Zechariah. See, for example: "Servant" - Zech.3.8; Isa.42.1: "Branch" - Zech.3.8; 6.12; Isa.4.2; 11.1: "King" - Zech. 9.9; Isa.32.1; 44.6: "Shepherd" - Zech.13.7; Isa.40.11.
Zechariah describes graphically the Shepherd’s suffering by the words "wounds" and "smite" 13.6,7. It should be pointed out that a division of opinion exists between respected students of the Scriptures as to whether this passage in Zechariah is Messianic, but this author is satisfied, for reasons that are too numerous to list in full here, that vv.6,7 are a Messianic revelation5. An important reason for seeing Christ in these verses is the immediate context of chapters 12 and 13, where the "burden of the word of the Lord for Israel" concerns Jerusalem being "a cup of trembling unto all the people round about" 12.1,2, and being placed under siege by the nations, 12.9. Israel, the nation that for so long had rejected God’s Word and the Messiah, will repent, 12.10-14, be cleansed and converted, 13.1-9. This surely points forward to end time events and the return of Christ in glory to set up His kingdom. Another reason for seeing 13.6,7 as Messianic is the context of chapter 14, where Jerusalem will enjoy a miraculous deliverance, 14.4, and become the centre of the millennial kingdom of Christ, 14.8,9.
- 5In the flow of thought in the passage the reference to wounds more easily belongs to the Messiah in v.7 than to the false prophets of vv.1-5. Zechariah uses the tactic of continuing the development of a thought that he had previously concluded by abruptly introducing a new subject. 12.10 is taken up again in 13.6 in the same way as 9.8b promises security for Israel during millennial days yet it follows a prediction of the rise to power of Alexander the Great in 9.1-8a.
- The flow of thought in the passage seems to return to a discussion of the ‘pierced’ One of 12.10.
- There are no grammatical reasons why v.6 should not apply to Christ and there are two very strong reasons why it should apply to Him:
- The location of the wounds (in His hands) links to the ‘smiting’ of Christ at Calvary.
- The fact that those wounds were inflicted in Jerusalem, the same ‘house’ as that of the disciples who loved Him belonged to (the word ‘friends’ in the expression ‘the house of my friends’ has that implication).
- To link v.6 with the false prophets does not meet every demand for an adequate explanation of the verse.
It is most interesting to observe Zechariah’s two references to Israel’s mistreatment of Christ, and to note the order in which they are placed. Firstly, he refers to the piercing of Christ, 12.10, to bring the minds of his readers to the event of the crucifixion. The word "pierced" means ‘to pierce through with a weapon’. Having brought our minds to the wounded side of Christ on the cross, Zechariah then corroborates his evidence by referring to the hand wounds in 13.6. The smiting of 13.7, is, therefore, concluded to involve piercing and wounds in His hands. What better identification of Christ and His crucifixion could Zechariah make?
That the wounds were inflicted by another is confirmed in 13.6: "I was wounded in the house of my friends". Christ was wounded in the house of His friends; the Jewish house is in view here: "He came unto His own, and His own received Him not" Jn.1.11. He was not wounded by His friends, His disciples, but in the house of His friends; it was the Jewish authorities and the Roman soldiers who inflicted the wounds in His hands, and that took place outside the city of Jerusalem, the capital city of His own nation.
The wounds were inflicted upon One Who is described as "My shepherd"; "My fellow". What a beautiful attestation to the Deity of Christ. He is Jehovah’s Shepherd and Jehovah’s Fellow, the "Shepherd" sent by God, 1Jn.4.14, and the "Fellow" equal with God, Phil.2.6. The idea in the word "Fellow" is an equal, of a nature common with. The ‘smiting’ was inflicted at the command of Jehovah, v.7 opens with this command: "Awake, O sword against My Shepherd ... My fellow". Though wicked men thought themselves to be in control of the crucifixion of the Lord Jesus, it is evident that heaven superintended the whole event! The actions of God in smiting, 13.7, and of men in wounding and piercing, 12.10; 13.6, unite in the crucifixion of the Lord Jesus. Jehovah acts to raise a weapon of death against the Good Shepherd so as to bring blessing to the very ones who had rejected Him. What grace, and, at what a cost!
The wounds were visible. Just as Thomas was convinced by the wounds that were apparent in the risen Christ, Jn.20.27,28, so too, Israel in a day to come will "look upon [Him] whom they have pierced" 12.10. The Lord invited Thomas to inspect the pierce-wound in His side and the wounds in His hands, the same wounds that are spoken of by Zechariah in 12.10 and 13.6. The wounds that convinced Thomas of the identity of the risen Christ will also convince the nation of the identity of the returning Christ.
- When my life’s work is ended and I cross the swelling tide,
- When the bright and glorious morning I shall see;
- I shall know my Redeemer when I reach the other side,
- And His smile shall be the first to welcome me.
- I shall know Him, I shall know Him,
- As redeemed by His side I shall stand,
- I shall know Him, I shall know Him,
- By the print of the nails in His hand.
- (Fanny J. Crosby)
THE SHEPHERD AND THEIR SOULS - 1Pet.2.25
"For ye were as sheep going astray; but are now returned unto the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls."
Peter is describing what we once were and what we now are. At one time we were "going astray" [continually being led astray] but are now permanently returned to "the shepherd and overseer" J.N.D. of our souls. 1Pet..2.25. This suggests, at the very least, repentance. We voluntarily returned from our straying to the One upon Whom "the Lord hath laid … the iniquity of us all" Isa.53.6. The One to Whom we have returned is now permanently our Shepherd, and as that, He is the Overseer of our souls. He has undertaken the watchful care of our souls. Later in this chapter we shall see the nature of that care and how it is administered by Him.
- Our souls are in God’s mighty hand,
- We’re precious in His sight;
- And you with I shall surely stand
- With Him in glory bright.
- ( C. Wesley)
THE SHEPHERD AND HIS SUFFICIENCY - Ps.23.1
"The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want."
This well-known Psalm brings before us the absolute sufficiency of the Shepherd for every need of His sheep. They "shall not want". With Him there is no lack, whether in the giving of His life for the sheep, or the watchful care He now exercises as the Shepherd and Bishop of our souls; He is abundantly able! He is able to see every care-worn brow and provide for every need; He needs none to inform Him of the state of His sheep. The Shepherd and Bishop of our souls knows what we need and will provide:
- • Rest – "He maketh me to lie down in green pastures"
- • Refreshment – "He leadeth me beside the still waters"
- • Restoration – "He restoreth my soul"
- • Righteousness – "He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness"
- • Reassurance – "I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me"
- • Refilling – "My cup runneth over".
Just as there was Divine sufficiency in the life that He laid down upon the cross for the sheep, so too, there is Divine sufficiency in the life that He now lives upon the throne for His sheep. The Shepherd and Bishop of our souls is the risen Christ; He lives, never to die again. We can depend upon His sufficiency for our every need until He lands us safely in the heavenly fold.
The term for shepherd in our Old Testament is translated a number of other ways that add interest to our study. In Gen.4.2, Abel was "a keeper of sheep", reminding us of the security our Shepherd provides: we are "kept by the power of God" 1Pet.1.5. In Gen.37.2, Joseph "was feeding the flock", which reminds us of the sustenance He provides. Col.2.19 speaks of "the Head, from which all the body by joints and bands having nourishment ministered." Prov.13.20 uses the same Hebrew word to describe a companion, indicating the things they share. In Jn.15.14 the Saviour says to His own, "Ye are My friends" as He shares information about the future. Christ fulfils every aspect of these words: He is the Keeper to give security, the Feeder to give sustenance and our Friend to share with us the secrets of His Father’s will.
Peter experienced Him as the Shepherd Who gathers His sheep, when he heard the message delivered by the women who had met the risen Saviour at the tomb: "But go your way, tell His disciples and Peter that He goeth before you into Galilee: there shall ye see Him, as He said unto you" Mk.16.7. The wayward sheep called Peter was restored. The two disciples on the way to Emmaus were joined by the risen Christ on their journey: "Jesus Himself drew near, and went with them" Lk.24.15. The worrying sheep were reassured. The Shepherd knew their weakness and failures and was on hand to restore and strengthen.
The Shepherd of "your souls" has given a ministry in relation to the souls of His sheep to the under-shepherds, Heb.13.17, "Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you." Overseers in an assembly have a responsibility that mirrors that of the Lord Jesus Christ in caring for the souls of the sheep.
THE SHEPHERD AND HIS SHEPHERDING - Isa.40.11
"He shall feed His flock like a shepherd: He shall gather the lambs with His arm, and carry them in His bosom, and shall gently lead those that are with young."
This chapter in Isaiah brings Christ before us as the Sovereign and Shepherd of Israel, and while it has a future millennial fulfilment, we can see in it the character of His shepherding, how He cares for His sheep. He has a concern for:
- • The whole flock – ‘He shall feed His flock"
- • The new-born lambs – "He shall gather the lambs with His arm and carry them in His bosom"
- • The nursing ewes – He "shall gently lead those that are with young".
Those who are under-shepherds in the assembly can learn from the Chief Shepherd; they should emulate Him. They ought to be marked by the diligence He showed in feeding the flock; by His tenderness in caring for the young; by His gentleness in leading those who are bringing lambs to the birth. The genuine features of a shepherd are created by love for the flock; it is an essential quality for all who undertake the responsibility of shepherding in an assembly. It is a sad reflection upon assembly life today that these features of Christ are not as often seen as they should in some who claim to be shepherds. Christlikeness will produce the same shepherd care as He has. Without Christlikeness there will be no genuine love and care for the sheep: tenderness and gentleness will be things longed for by the sheep but not experienced. A ‘shepherd’ who is harsh or uncaring is not worthy of the name.
The order in which these characteristics of the Divine Shepherd are given is not without significance. The first priority is the feeding of the whole flock. Assembly shepherds should ensure that there is food in sufficient quantity and of an appropriate type for the varied needs of everyone in the assembly. It should be a matter of prayerful exercise that they be directed by God in identifying the differing needs for food among the flock. Also note that it is the whole flock that is fed. There was not a separate feeding time for the young lambs and one for the ewes; the whole assembly should be gathered for times of feeding on the Word of God. This will mean that older saints will have to exercise patience when what they regard as ‘the basics’ is taught for younger saints. In return, the younger saints will have to be prepared to stretch their minds to digest the stronger meat being given for the older saints.
After feeding the flock, the next priority is to "gather the lambs" and "carry them in His bosom". The shepherd does not feed the flock, then walk off and leave them to their own devices. He helps the young lambs along the difficult parts of the journey by lifting them by the arm of His strength and carrying them in His bosom, the place of affection. A true overseer in the assembly will notice when the new-born Christians are unable to manage a steep hill or negotiate a dangerous ledge on the pathway of life, perhaps a personal difficulty of some sort. He will be quick to detect when a new-born Christian is exposed to danger and needs to find a place of support in trial, or a place of shelter from attack by the enemy.
After lifting and carrying the new-born lambs, the shepherd will turn his attention to those a little longer in the flock: the ewes that are nursing young. For those more mature saints, the responsibility of the shepherd is to lead and guide them in a path that is pleasing to the Chief Shepherd.
This beautiful verse by Isaiah has a very definite challenge for overseers today; are they providing food for the flock; are they providing protection for the young; are they directing the pathway for the mature to follow? Are these duties being performed in love and with tenderness? We are living in a world where harshness is commonplace and thought for others is not a priority. The assembly should be a place where tenderness and thoughtfulness are manifested, especially and essentially by those charged with the responsibility of shepherding. As overseers manifest the characteristics of Christ in their lives they will be "ensamples to the flock" 1Pet.5.3.
These are daunting responsibilities, and for them to be realised in the life of an overseer, Christ must work in him and through him. The desire and ability for the overseer to shepherd the flock comes from his daily communion with Christ Who is the Chief Shepherd. The overseer must enjoy the shepherd care of Christ personally, so that, he in turn, can show that same care to others. If he is going to feed the sheep, he must first be fed from the hand of Christ. How will an overseer determine what kind of care the various sheep need? Some individuals require more attention than others. Some are prone to spiritual injury or illness. Some are to be found making trouble. Some are very emotional. The under-shepherd who is in constant touch with the Chief Shepherd about the needs of the flock will never be at a loss in meeting the needs that arise.
THE SHEPHERD AND HIS UNDER-SHEPHERDS - 1Pet.5.1-4
"The elders which are among you I exhort, who am also an elder, and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that shall be revealed: Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind; Neither as being lords over God’s heritage, but being ensamples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd shall appear, ye shall receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away."
The Under-Shepherds’ Description
In this passage Peter equates the role of an elder with that of an under-shepherd discharging responsibilities that have been given to him by the Lord Jesus Christ as the Chief Shepherd. Peter describes the work of the elder in shepherd terms. This is important for us today. Being an elder is not about being the boss or implementing management strategies. While it is true that the elders have authority and will make arrangements in the assembly, that is not their primary role; it is shepherding. However, it is true that diligent shepherds will make arrangements for the flock so that there will be nothing haphazard or sloppy in the affairs of the assembly.
When he wrote these words of exhortation to elders, Peter’s mind likely drifted back to a morning on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. It was there, after a frustrating night of fishing that produced nothing, that the disciples were fed with bread and fish by the risen Christ, and Peter was charged to look after the lambs and the sheep, Jn.21.10-17. After the Saviour’s example in providing food for His sheep, Peter was given a threefold responsibility: "Feed my lambs" v.15; "Shepherd my sheep" v.16, J.N.D.; "Feed my sheep" v.17.
The Under-Shepherds’ Devotion
Were these three statements to Peter needless repetition by the Lord? Not at all! Peter learned from this encounter that his love for the Lord is a priority in all service. Before each charge with its differing responsibility is given, Peter must reaffirm his love for the Lord. This is an echo of the love and affection for Christ that we saw in the last section (The Shepherd and his Shepherding). Without devotion to and love for Christ, Peter could not fulfil his role as an elder. Similarly today, an elder cannot function properly in the assembly without an evident love for Christ. This is the starting point in his qualifications. That love and devotion to Christ will be manifested in an elder’s love and devotion to the flock, and will be reflected in his service towards the sheep.
The Under-Shepherds’ Discernment
Peter also learned that to be a successful shepherd he must understand the composition of the flock, that it comprises lambs and sheep (we also saw that in the previous section, The Shepherd and his Shepherding). There are sheep at varying stages of life and maturity in the flock; they all need the attention, care and affection of the shepherd(s).
He further learned that caring for the flock consists of two primary functions: feeding and tending as a shepherd. There needs to be a consistent diet of wholesome food appropriate for the lambs and the mature sheep. There needs to be a constant watch kept for the well-being of the whole flock. Spiritual discernment is an essential quality in an elder. This is not just Biblical knowledge, but spiritual discernment is never seen without Biblical knowledge. This is not intellectual ability; but, spiritual discernment knows how to use intellectual ability for the glory of God and the good of the flock. This is spiritual insight and wisdom that are gained by spending time with the Chief Shepherd.
The Under-Shepherds’ Diligence
With those principles firmly established in Peter’s mind from his conversation with Christ on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, he later writes to those he views as "fellow elders". Peter is writing from experience as a shepherd and, thus, Divine inspiration and personal experience combine to give weight to what he says.
He prefaces his teaching on shepherding by saying that he is "a witness of the sufferings of Christ" and "a partaker of the glory that shall be revealed" 5.1. He looks back to the cross and forward to the glory. This indicates that Peter took his responsibility in shepherding very seriously, having received it from the One Who suffered as the Good Shepherd and is coming again as the Chief Shepherd. Again we note that he remembered well the words of the Lord in John 21: "Feed My lambs" v.15; "Shepherd My sheep" v.16, (J.N.D.); "Feed My sheep" v.17. He would have remembered equally well Who it was that spoke to them, the risen Saviour Who had promised to return. Elders (and, indeed, sheep) who appreciate and understand the cross of Christ and the coming of Christ will be diligent in their duties.
For those under-shepherds who have fulfilled their role diligently there awaits "a crown of glory that fadeth not away" 5.4. The shepherding that will be rewarded in that coming day is that which followed the instructions of Christ and the example of Peter as a fellow elder: "feed[ing] the flock" 5.2, and "being ensamples to the flock" 5.3. Before the crown is awarded the under-shepherd’s life will be assessed; did it fulfil the requirements of 1Timothy chapter 3 and Titus chapter 1? His labours will be assessed; did they follow the example and exhortations of the "fellow elder" Peter; did he feed the flock; did he accept the responsibility to feed them willingly with a ready mind; did he live as an example among the flock and not as a lord over the flock? His love will be assessed; did it reflect love for the flock? Of a number of crowns that are awarded for faithfulness and service, this one is only for the under-shepherds who fulfil their responsibilities with diligence. It is a crown "that fadeth not away", indicating there is an eternal reward for temporal service. What grace! On that day the true shepherds will be conspicuous by their crowns. How sad it will be that some who thought themselves to be shepherds will be conspicuous by the absence of this crown.
The picture that Peter employs is of the Chief Shepherd in overall responsibility for both the flock and the under-shepherds. The sheep are responsible to the under-shepherds, and the under-shepherds are responsible to the Chief Shepherd.
THE SHEPHERD AND HIS SCRUTINY
When reading about shepherds in both the Old and New Testaments, it is apparent in almost every passage that a shepherd should be on constant vigil. So often the picture is of the shepherd keeping constant scrutiny of the flock and the surrounding countryside. Like the watchman in Ezek.3.17, he is always alert to the possibility of attack. Ezekiel, Jeremiah, Isaiah and Habakkuk speak about the duties of the watchmen appointed to warn and secure the flock. Thomas Jefferson, the third president of the United States of America (1743 – 1826), said that "eternal vigilance is the price of victory"6. Jefferson spoke of political victory, but the principle is even more important for the local assembly if it is to defeat the enemy and remain secure from false teaching and doctrinal defilement.
- 6 Bartlett, John. “Familiar Quotations”. Little, Brown & Co., 1982.
The risen Christ is constantly scrutinising the flock and the activity of the sheep: we see this in the letters to the seven churches in Revelation chapters 2 and 3. To each church He says "I know". Every writer of the New Testament epistles alerts the recipients of dangers, and calls them to spiritual awareness and watchfulness. The example of watchfulness by the Chief Shepherd and the New Testament writers should be emulated by elders in an assembly. There should be constant scrutiny and watchfulness as they care for the sheep. It happens too often that danger suddenly bursts upon a sheep or an assembly and no-one has noticed it coming. Spiritual shepherds will be attuned to the eye of the Chief Shepherd and will be able to see danger for the flock as He sees it.
At first glance it seems unusual that David saw the rod and staff as necessary to bring comfort to the sheep, Ps.23.4. However, as the sheep would watch the shepherd with the rod to give protection from marauding wild beasts, they would feel relaxed and at ease. The rod protected the sheep from immediate danger, and the staff served to gather the sheep together and guide them on a secure pathway. Likewise, the shepherd of Christ’s flock must be vigilant and carry the rod and staff. He must be able to detect wrong teaching and harmful influences. Having detected the danger or harm, he then should act immediately to bring safety and security. When the sheep sense the presence and protection of the Shepherd there is peace and progress for the flock.
- There is a fold whence none can stray
- And pastures ever green,
- Where sultry sun, or stormy day,
- Or night is never seen.
- There is a Shepherd living there,
- The Firstborn from the dead,
- Who tends with sweet unwearied care
- The flock for which He bled.
- (John East)
THE SHEPHERD AND HIS SOVEREIGNTY
The future reign of Christ as Sovereign for one thousand years upon earth, where He was once rejected, is a glorious truth that we cannot examine in detail in this chapter, but a consideration of it can be found in the last three chapters of the Assembly Testimony book "The Glory of the Son". That reign will see shepherd activities by the risen Christ.
At the end of the Great Tribulation there will be The Judgment of the Living Nations, Matt.25.31 ff, in which it will be determined from among those alive on earth after those dreadful days, who will enter the millennial kingdom. In this judgment, the authority of Christ as the Sovereign is seen in the valley of Jehoshaphat, Joel 3.2,12; Zech.14.3-9, when "as a shepherd He divideth His sheep from the goats" Matt.25.32. He makes that separation on the basis of their treatment of "My brethren" during Tribulation days, Matt.25.40. The Shepherd, described as "King", shall say to the sheep, "Come, ye blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world" 25.34. To the goats he will say, "Depart from Me into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels" 25.41.
The Shepherd ministry of Christ will then be seen throughout His millennial reign. The Sovereign Shepherd Who identified His sheep at the end of the Great Tribulation and brought them into millennial blessing will then as "the Lamb which is in the midst of the throne … feed them, and … lead them unto living fountains of waters …" Rev.7.17. Here the word "feed" is ‘to tend as a shepherd’ and involves more than providing food, it entails complete care for every need of the sheep. The "Lamb" will lead them, as a shepherd leads sheep, to refreshing fountains of living water.
Christ reveals Himself in Scripture in many offices and with many responsibilities. We have taken just one slice of that revelation, His office as Shepherd, to explore in but a scanty way His Person and work. We have traced the Divine Shepherd right back to the early books of our Bible and seen that, what He does now in His present office as Shepherd, is not a completely new office, but one that has been executed continually in accordance with the dispensational setting and time frame in which it is found. His unending work, unfailing watchfulness and unequalled wisdom as our Shepherd ought to draw worship and adoration from our hearts.
- My Shepherd is the Lamb,
- The living Lord Who died;
- With all things good I ever am
- By Him in love supplied.
- He richly feeds my soul
- With blessings from above,
- And leads me where the rivers roll
- Of everlasting love.
- His love so full, so free,
- Anoints my head with oil;
- Goodness and mercy follow me,
- Fruit of His grief and toil.
- When faith and hope shall cease,
- And love abides alone,
- I then shall see Him face to face,
- And know as I am known.
- (John Beaumont)