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John 10:11-13 says,
11 I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep. 12 He who is a hired hand, and not a shepherd, who is not the owner of the sheep, sees the wolf coming, and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. 13 He flees because he is a hired hand and is not concerned about the sheep.
The underlying principle behind this comparison between a good shepherd and a hired hand is the balance between authority and responsibility. A good shepherd is the one in authority over the sheep, and he also knows that he is responsible for their care and safety. The “hired hand” misuses his authority by denying or running from responsibility.
This is about proper leadership, and Jesus was referring to the improper leadership commonly exercised by the Pharisees. The Scriptures refer to all types of leaders as shepherds. Civil leaders are bad shepherds when they take the tithes for their own use. Saul was an example of this, as we read in 1 Samuel 8:15-17,
15 He will take a tenth [asar, “tithe”] of your seed and of your vineyards and give to his officers and to his servants. 16 He will also take your male servants and your female servants and your best young men and your donkeys and use them for his work. 17 He will take a tenth [asar, “tithe”] of your flocks, and you yourselves will become his servants.
In this case, God brought judgment upon the people for desiring a man to rule over them, rather than being satisfied with God’s direct rule. Because Saul was a king and not a priest, many have missed the fact that he was also a prophetic type of the church during the Pentecostal Age. But Saul was crowned on the day of “wheat harvest” (1 Samuel 12:17; Exodus 34:22), which was later known by the Greek name, Pentecost. Thus, he was a type of the church from the day of Pentecost in Acts 2 until the second coming of Christ.
In other words, Saul represents bad leadership in general, both civil and religious. His 40-year reign was a type of the longer cycle of 40 Jubilees during the Pentecostal Age. The main problem is denominationalism, where the people demand a man to rule them, delegating to men the responsibility of hearing the revelation of God. Many of those shepherds fail to hear God’s voice, and many put away the law. Hence, they have no revelation of the law and thus have a very limited understanding of the prophets who applied the law by the revelation of the Spirit.
The Bad Shepherds
In Ezekiel 34:2, 3 we read a condemnation of bad shepherds (leaders) of Israel,
2 Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel. Prophesy and say to those shepherds, “Thus says the Lord God, ‘Woe, shepherds of Israel who have been feeding themselves! Should not the shepherds feed the flock? 3 You eat the fat and clothe yourselves with the wool; you slaughter the fat sheep without feeding the flock’.”
Civil leaders are bad shepherds when they tax the people beyond that which is given to them in the law of God. Religious leaders are bad shepherds when they demand to be supported by their congregations but do not actually feed them with the truth and revelation of God. Isaiah 56:11 says that “they are shepherds who have no understanding.” Jeremiah 10:21 adds, “for the shepherds have become stupid and have not sought the Lord.”
While Israel was in the land of Canaan, the civil and religious leaders’ lack of revelation was the reason the ten tribes of Israel were sent into exile and became “lost sheep.” Jeremiah 50:6 says,
6 My people have become lost sheep; their shepherds have led them astray. They have made them turn aside on the mountains; they have gone alone from mountain to hill and have forgotten their resting place.
The Good Shepherds Will Come
God has had good shepherds throughout history, although there have been times when these are few and hard to find. Any shepherd who truly hears from God and shares his or her revelation with the flock is a good shepherd. If we learn the lesson from King Saul, we will know that a good shepherd is not a taker but a giver.
A good shepherd will teach the people to be responsible to hear God’s voice for themselves, rather than to be dependent upon men. The people must realize that the denominational spirit is deadly, for it replaces God’s direct rule with men’s direct rule, making God’s rule indirect or secondary. Men prefer to follow a vicar of Christ rather than Christ Himself, allowing men to abdicate their responsibility and remain aloof from God Himself.
Ezekiel 34:11-16 says,
11 For thus says the Lord God, “Behold, I Myself will search for My sheep and seek them out. 12 As a shepherd cares for his herd in the day when he is among his scattered sheep, so I will care for My sheep and will deliver them from all the places to which they were scattered on a cloudy and gloomy day… 16 I will seek the lost, bring back the scattered, bind up the broken and strengthen the sick….
This is first a prophecy of Christ, who said, “I am the good shepherd.” Secondly, it is a prophecy of all leaders who follow His example, those who are truly part of Christ’s body. That this is a prophecy of Christ is seen in Ezekiel 34:22, 23,
22 Therefore, I will deliver My flock, and they will no longer be a prey; and I will judge between one sheep and another. 23 Then I will set over them one shepherd, My servant David, and he will feed them; he will feed them himself and be their shepherd.
David himself was a good shepherd. Jesus came as the Son of David, which implies doing the work of His father, David. In that sense, Christ was an Agent, first of His heavenly Father, and secondarily of His earthly forefather, David. I do not think that Ezekiel was prophesying that David himself would be the shepherd ruling Israel in the Kingdom. Yet he will certainly be among the overcomers who are called to rule with Christ on the earth (Revelation 5:10). In the end, David and all of the overcomers will serve as Christ’s agents, so that whatever they do, it will be said that Christ Himself did it. This is possible only because all are in agreement.
Judging Righteously by Love
Christ Himself gave us the ultimate definition of a good shepherd, saying in John 10:14, 15,
14 I am the good shepherd, and I know my own and My own know Me, 15 even as the Father knows Me and I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep.
Many have been introduced to Jesus, but far fewer really know Him. To know Him means knowing His desires, plans, and ways. It also means being in agreement with what He intends to do (prophecy) and how He intends to do it (the law). Most of His sheep have difficulty seeing beyond the next pasture and water hole. Their lives are spent on seeking basic provisions, and they have little time to learn the art of shepherding.
To be a good shepherd, one must know the word of God—the law and the prophets (Luke 24:27), as well as the New Testament. The prophets tell us what God intends to do; the law is the wisdom of God that sets forth the principles by which He will accomplish His will. So the law speaks of sacrifice for sin, prophesying Christ’s death as the Lamb of God to take away the sin of the world (John 1:29). The Sabbath laws give us the overall timing of God’s work in history.
The nature of God is love (1 John 4:8). Every other characteristic of God, including His justice and law-enforcement, is rooted in love and is an expression of His love. If we know God, our own nature will begin to conform to His nature, and we will judge all things through love. This is a key revelation of the proper use of judicial authority.
So we see that love is willing to lay down its life for others—not just friends, but enemies as well (Romans 5:6-10). Hence, when God judges His enemies, He does so for their own ultimate good, not to destroy them, but to save them from themselves and to bring them back into fellowship with Him in the restoration of all things.
Jesus said in John 10:16,
16 I have other sheep, which are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will hear My voice; and they will become one flock with one shepherd.
This has many layers of meaning. Who are those “other sheep”? We may start with those who did not yet believe in Christ during His first ministry on earth. Certainly, His disciples would later be sent out as apostles to find more “lost sheep” among the nations.
On one level, we may see these lost sheep as being the lost sheep of the House of Israel, whose forefathers had been scattered by the Assyrians. I do not doubt this, but it was certainly not limited to those who were genealogical Israelites, for Isaiah 56:6-8 says,
6 “Also to the foreigners, who join themselves to the Lord… 7 even those I will bring to My holy mountain and make them joyful in My house of prayer… For My house will be called a house of prayer for all the peoples.” 8 The Lord God, who gathers the dispersed of Israel, declares, “Yet others I will gather to them, to those already gathered.”
Both the Old and New Covenants were made with the nation of Israel, which included many foreigners from the beginning. The Old Covenant failed because it was based on the will of man to accomplish its purpose. The New Covenant will succeed because it is based on the will of God (John 1:13). Its success, then, must include people of all ethnicities.
Hence, the “other sheep” ultimately means the entire world and is referenced in the promise of the second covenant (Deuteronomy 29:1), which prophesies of the New Covenant. God defined its scope in Deuteronomy 29:14, 15,
14 Now not with you alone am I making this covenant and this oath, 15 but both with those who stand here with us today in the presence of the Lord our God and with those who are not with us here today.
The sheep who were present and who heard the covenant and oath of God through Moses included foreigners who had become Israelites by nationality (Deuteronomy 29:11). But they were only a tiny minority from the other nations. Moses assured them that “those who are not with us here today” were also included in the New Covenant and in God’s oath to make them His people and to be their God (Deuteronomy 29:13).
In the end, Jesus said, “they will become one flock with one shepherd.” There was to be no separation, as in two flocks, one “chosen” and the other not. The dividing wall was abolished in Christ, Paul wrote in Ephesians 2:14-16. The dividing wall in the temple separated Jewish men from the women and gentiles. Hence, to abolish that wall was to reunite ethnic groups and both genders into “one flock.” All who are His are "sheep," regardless of their ethnic background.
This is the work and the judgment of the Good Shepherd.