False Shepherds Dismissed from God’s Service
WHEN God established the Christian congregation he provided, through Christ, for shepherds and teachers. (Eph. 4:11) The apostle Peter, himself a Christian shepherd, strongly admonished: “Shepherd the flock of God in your care, not under compulsion, but willingly; neither for love of dishonest gain, but eagerly; neither as lording it over those who are God’s inheritance, but becoming examples to the flock.”—1 Pet. 5:2, 3.
Shepherds in the Christian congregation are not rulers. However, in the nations professing to be Christian, there are rulers, both religious and governmental, who claim to care for the people as shepherds. And they are spoken of as shepherds in the Scriptures. Whether these stand in their position by God’s appointment or not, God holds those presenting themselves as shepherds highly responsible to him, because the lives and well-being of people are involved. If any such responsible men prove to be false, they will receive heavy judgment. (Jas. 3:1) For our comfort and to provide warning to those in such positions, God caused his prophet Zechariah to enact a drama foreshadowing things to come.
A PROPHETIC DRAMA
At that time Jehovah God had a “flock,” namely, his covenant people Israel. He made direct appointment of Zechariah as shepherd, saying: “Shepherd the flock meant for the killing, the buyers of which proceed to kill them although they are not held guilty. And those who are selling them say: ‘May Jehovah be blessed, while I shall gain riches.’ And their own shepherds do not show any compassion upon them.”—Zech. 11:4, 5.
The flock belonging to God had been brought into a very bad condition by their shepherds, who had no interest in the flock’s welfare, nor compassion for their oppressed state. At the time that Zechariah was appointed he gave attention to some of these shepherds. He tells us: “I finally effaced three shepherds in one lunar month, as my soul gradually became impatient with them, and also their own soul felt a loathing toward me.” (Zech. 11:8) Just who these three shepherds were, we are not told. But because he had been appointed by the Most High God, Zechariah had the superior authority among them, so that he could dismiss the three men.
Zechariah was carrying out his shepherding job, as he said, “in your behalf, O afflicted ones of the flock.” (Zech. 11:7) He loved God’s flock. So when he became impatient, it was not with the afflicted sheep, but with the three delinquent shepherds. On their part, they “felt a loathing” toward Zechariah because of his faithfulness and compassion in shepherding the flock. On his part, he disapproved of their ways and schemes.
In being appointed as a shepherd, Zechariah foreshadowed the “fine shepherd,” the Lord Jesus Christ. When Jesus was sent by his Father to be a shepherd of God’s flock of Israel, their rulers, particularly the religious leaders, had been sadly mistreating the people. What situation did Jesus find? We read: “On seeing the crowds he felt pity for them, because they were skinned and thrown about like sheep without a shepherd.”—Matt. 9:36.
Who, in that time, were the “three shepherds” whom Jesus Christ effaced, cut off, dismissed from their assumed positions? The record of Jesus’ life shows no three individual men as fulfilling the prophetic pattern. Evidently the three shepherds whom the prophet Zechariah discharged picture three classes of men in Jesus’ time. Three classes do appear in the record, who had governmental as well as religious power in Israel. These were (1) the Pharisees and (2) the Sadducees, both of which classes were represented in the Jewish Sanhedrin at Jerusalem. That judicial body had governmental functions to some extent under the Roman governor, as well as religious functions. Thus a certain Nicodemus, a Pharisee member of the Sanhedrin, was “a ruler of the Jews.” (John 3:1, 2; 7:50-52) The Sanhedrin was quite divided between Pharisees and Sadducees. (Acts 23:1-9) Besides such Jewish sectarians, there were also (3) the Herodians, the “party followers of Herod.”—Mark 12:13.
JESUS CHRIST DISMISSES “THREE SHEPHERDS”
Similar to the feeling of the “three shepherds” toward Zechariah as a shepherd, these three groups quickly “felt a loathing” toward Jesus Christ as the Messianic shepherd. They plotted or cooperated together against Jesus to discredit him in the eyes of the flock of Israel. (Matt. 22:15, 16, 23; Mark 3:6) From the very start of his earthly ministry Jesus refused to have anything to do with those self-seeking ruling groups, that is, as far as joining in with them is concerned. Finally, toward the close of his ministry, his soul did become “impatient” with them. On public occasions he put all three groups to silence as far as government and doctrine were concerned. The symbolic ‘one month’ in which Jesus dismissed these groups actually marks a short period of time at the close of his ministry.
The ‘effacing’ was climaxed on Nisan 11, 33 C.E., only a few days before they brought about Jesus’ death at the hands of the Romans. The apostle Matthew (22:15-46) reports the thoroughness with which Jesus refuted, exposed and silenced each of these three classes, in turn, as being unqualified and unfit to shepherd the flock. Matthew writes concerning the Pharisees and the Herodians:
“Then the Pharisees went their way and took counsel together in order to trap him in his speech. So they dispatched to him their disciples, together with party followers of Herod, saying: ‘Teacher, we know you are truthful and teach the way of God in truth, and you do not care for anybody, for you do not look upon men’s outward appearance. Tell us, therefore, What do you think? Is it lawful to pay head tax to Caesar or not?’ But Jesus, knowing their wickedness, said: ‘Why do you put me to the test, hypocrites? Show me the head tax coin.’ They brought him a denarius. And he said to them: ‘Whose image and inscription is this?’ They said: ‘Caesar’s.’ Then he said to them: ‘Pay back, therefore, Caesar’s things to Caesar, but God’s things to God.’ Well, when they heard that, they marveled, and leaving him they went off.”
Later the Sadducees came, to receive their dismissal:
“On that day Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came up to him and asked him: ‘Teacher, Moses said, “If any man dies without having children, his brother must take his wife in marriage and raise up offspring for his brother.” Now there were seven brothers with us; and the first married and deceased, and, not having offspring, he left his wife for his brother. It went the same way also with the second and the third, until through all seven. Last of all the woman died. Consequently, in the resurrection, to which of the seven will she be wife? For they all got her.’
“In reply Jesus said to them: ‘You are mistaken, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God; for in the resurrection neither do men marry nor are women given in marriage, but are as angels in heaven. As regards the resurrection of the dead, did you not read what was spoken to you by God, saying, “I am the God of Abraham and the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob”? He is the God, not of the dead, but of the living.’ On hearing that, the crowds were astounded at his teaching.”
Finally, Jesus completed his dismissing of the “three shepherds” by showing the Pharisees their error in denying that he was the Son of God:
“Now while the Pharisees were gathered together Jesus asked them: ‘What do you think about the Christ? Whose son is he?’ They said to him: ‘David’s.’ He said to them: ‘How, then, is it that David by inspiration calls him “Lord,” saying, “Jehovah said to my Lord: ‘Sit at my right hand until I put your enemies beneath your feet’”? If, therefore, David calls him “Lord,” how is he a son?’ And nobody was able to say a word in reply to him, nor did anyone dare from that day on to question him any further.”
Here God’s direct representative, his Fine Shepherd, Jesus Christ, publicly exposed these classes as shepherds of no value, as disapproved by Jehovah God. Shortly after that he uttered a scathing denunciation of them.—Matt. chap. 23.
ALL FALSE SHEPHERDS SOON TO DISAPPEAR
Inasmuch as Jehovah took action against the false shepherds in the days of Zechariah and again when Christ was on earth, we can be assured that he will take action against the modern-day false shepherds. Zechariah was inspired to prophesy about the deserved judgment to come upon the “valueless shepherd”: “To the sheep being effaced he will give no attention. The young one he will not seek, and the broken sheep he will not heal. The one stationing herself he will not supply with food, and the flesh of the fat one he will eat, and the hoofs of the sheep he will tear off. Woe to my valueless shepherd, who is leaving the flock! A sword will be upon his arm and upon his right eye. His own arm will without fail dry up, and his own right eye will without fail grow dim.”—Zech. 11:15-17.
What is the situation among the people today? Are they not like sheep “effaced” or lost out of the picture, broken and unhealed, fed upon by corrupt, graft-taking shepherds, who devour them even to their “hoofs”? Jehovah says that, because they do not really represent him and do not have his blessing, their “arm” of power and ability will wither up and their “right eye,” their best eye for discerning remedies and for governmental oversight, will grow dimmer and dimmer. We can see that even now men in “shepherding” positions are greatly confused and embarrassed. In the coming “great tribulation” upon this world Jehovah will destroy that “valueless shepherd” class altogether.
The destruction of the false shepherds will mean deliverance from oppression for those who look to Jesus Christ as the “fine shepherd.” (John 10:11) God says, through his prophet Isaiah: “By the ways they will pasture, and on all beaten paths their pasturing will be. They will not go hungry, neither will they go thirsty, nor will parching heat or sun strike them. For the One who is having pity upon them will lead them, and by the springs of water he will conduct them.” (Isa. 49:9, 10; compare Revelation 7:9-17.) Let all who desire life in peace and happiness look into the Bible, discern the leading of God’s “fine shepherd” and follow in the way of life as he directs.