Ezekiel 34:1–35:15, Revelation 17:1–18, Job 37:16–24, John 10:10–15
Most of us are familiar with Psalm 23 that begins with, “The Lord is my shepherd,” but the Old Testament also uses that image to describe the spiritual leaders of Israel. Sometimes they did well, but in the days of Ezekiel, God sent the prophet to warn and rebuke them.
“Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel; prophesy, and say to them, even to the shepherds, Thus says the Lord God: Ah, shepherds of Israel who have been feeding yourselves! Should not shepherds feed the sheep? You eat the fat, you clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the fat ones, but you do not feed the sheep. The weak you have not strengthened, the sick you have not healed, the injured you have not bound up, the strayed you have not brought back, the lost you have not sought, and with force and harshness you have ruled them. So they were scattered, because there was no shepherd, and they became food for all the wild beasts. My sheep were scattered; they wandered over all the mountains and on every high hill. My sheep were scattered over all the face of the earth, with none to search or seek for them.” (Ezekiel 34:2–6)
Several verses later after more description of their disobedience, Ezekiel writes, “For thus says the Lord God: Behold, I, I myself will search for my sheep and will seek them out. As a shepherd seeks out his flock when he is among his sheep that have been scattered, so will I seek out my sheep, and I will rescue them from all places where they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness.” (Ezekiel 34:11–12)
Much earlier in Israel’s history, Job’s youngest advisor, Elihu, says of God, “The Almighty—we cannot find him; he is great in power; justice and abundant righteousness he will not violate. Therefore men fear him; he does not regard any who are wise in their own conceit.” (Job 37:23–24)
Elihu was right in that we cannot find God, at least not by ourselves. Our sin separates us from Him. However, God said He would search us out and rescue us. Elihu also said that the Lord does not regard those who think too highly of themselves, but here I differ with him. If God ignored the conceited, who would be saved? The very essence of sin is that “I can do this without God” attitude. Unless He seeks us out, we will not seek Him, never mind find Him.
Several hundred years later, God kept His promise. He came clothed in flesh, fully man yet fully God. He said that He came to seek and to save the lost. He also said, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep.” (John 10:10–15)
Jesus did more than those spiritual leaders of past ages. They offered up sacrificial animals to atone for sin, but He offered up Himself. They gave spiritual advice, but He came to live in our hearts and be our strength and guide for eternity. Jesus is both the Shepherd and the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.
However, as the OT so clearly describes, many will be called, but few will follow Jesus as His sheep. In the end, the division will become clearer as godless kings who follow the beast “will make war on the Lamb, and the Lamb will conquer them, for he is Lord of lords and King of kings, and those with him are called and chosen and faithful.” (Revelation 17:14)
The Lamb died as a sacrifice for our conceit and rebellion. The Lamb lives to rescue the sheep that He calls from the wickedness of their own sin and the violence of God’s enemies. This Lamb is also the Shepherd, and also the Lord of lords, the King of kings, and the Savior of the world.