The “Fine Shepherd” and the “Little Flock”
“Have no fear, little flock, because your Father has approved of giving you the kingdom.”—Luke 12:32.
1. To what do the psalmist David and the prophet Isaiah liken Jehovah as a caretaker?
THE onetime shepherd boy of Bethlehem, King David, opened up one of his inspired psalms with the words: “Jehovah is my Shepherd. I shall lack nothing.” (Ps. 23:1) A fellow Bible writer, the prophet Isaiah, also likens Jehovah to a shepherd, saying: “Like a shepherd he will shepherd his own drove. With his arm he will collect together the lambs.” (Isa. 40:11) But Jehovah has an undershepherd. Appropriately he calls him “David my servant.”
2 Hundreds of years after King David had died, Jehovah inspired another Bible writer, Ezekiel, to prophesy: “And my servant David will be king over them, and one shepherd is what they will all come to have; . . . and David my servant will be their chieftain to time indefinite.” (Ezek. 37:24, 25) That prophecy must refer to Jehovah’s undershepherd, the Greater David, Jesus Christ. On the night of Nisan 14, 33 C.E., when Jesus Christ was betrayed and taken into custody and brought to trial before his enemies, there came the fulfillment of the prophecy of Zechariah 13:7: “‘O sword, awake against my shepherd, even against the able-bodied man who is my associate,’ is the utterance of Jehovah of armies. ‘Strike the shepherd, and let those of the flock be scattered.’” Jesus Christ himself applied the prophecy that way.—Matt. 26:31; Mark 14:27.
3, 4. (a) Why did sin remain with those Jews who disputed with him regarding his cure of the man born blind? (b) Later, at the wintertime festival of dedication of the temple, why did not Jesus classify the Jews disputing with him among his “sheep”?
3 Jesus Christ was therefore quite in order, and not self-assuming, when he made a comparison of himself with a shepherd and called himself “the fine shepherd.” (John 10:6, 11, 14) This occurred in connection with his miraculously curing a man that had been born blind. Unbelievers of his own people disputed with him over this, and they asked: “We are not blind also, are we?” What followed this challenging question? “Jesus said to them: ‘If you were blind, you would have no sin. But now you say, “We see.” Your sin remains.’” (John 9:40, 41) Some time later, during the festival of the dedication of the temple of Jerusalem, in the wintertime (December) of 32 C.E., Jesus said to certain unbelieving Jews who encircled him:
4 “The works that I am doing in the name of my Father, these bear witness about me. But you do not believe, because you are none of my sheep. My sheep listen to my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. And I give them everlasting life, and they will by no means ever be destroyed, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. What my Father has given me is something greater than all other things, and no one can snatch them out of the hand of the Father. I and the Father are one.”—John 10:19-30.
5. In John 10:1-5, to what did Jesus liken the forerunner who would introduce him to Israel?
5 Those unbelievers not only rejected the testimony that the works of Jesus bore as to his identity, but also rejected the testimony of the forerunner of Jesus, the man who introduced Jesus to the Israelites as the Messiah, the Christ. Jesus referred to the need for the true shepherd to have such identification or credentials, when he said: “Most truly I say to you, He that does not enter into the sheepfold through the door but climbs up some other place, that one is a thief and a plunderer. But he that enters through the door is shepherd of the sheep. The doorkeeper opens to this one, and the sheep listen to his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has got all his own out, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, because they know his voice. A stranger they will by no means follow but will flee from him, because they do not know the voice of strangers.”—John 10:1-5.
“THE SHEEPFOLD” AND “THE DOORKEEPER”
6. Why was the symbolic “sheepfold” into which the “doorkeeper” introduced him not the Law Covenant arrangement?
6 What, now, do “the sheepfold” and “the doorkeeper” mean, inasmuch as Jesus became a carpenter at Nazareth and never was a shepherd of literal sheep? First of all, the “sheepfold” did not picture the Law Covenant arrangement that Jehovah God set up with the nation of Israel through Moses as mediator. Certainly Jesus did not need to be introduced into the Law Covenant arrangement by some Jewish “doorkeeper,” as it were. Jesus had been born into that arrangement. Galatians 4:4, 5 says: “But when the full limit of the time arrived, God sent forth his Son, who came to be out of a woman and who came to be under law, that he might release by purchase those under law.” To release them by purchase, Jesus died.
7. (a) On what day in 33 C.E., did Jehovah abolish the Law Covenant arrangement with Israel, and why? (b) Why, from Pentecost of 33 C.E. onward, was there no Law Covenant arrangement out from under which Jesus might lead the Jews?
7 So as to present the purchase price to God, Jesus was raised from the dead on the third day of his death in 33 C.E. On the 40th day counted from his resurrection day Jesus ascended back to heaven. Ten days after that came the Jewish springtime festival of Pentecost, Sivan 6, 33 C.E. On that day God used him in pouring out holy spirit upon his disciples waiting in Jerusalem. This meant that he had appeared in God’s presence to offer the value of his perfect human sacrifice in order to release by purchase all humans sold under sin, including Jews. Accordingly, on that day, Jehovah God abolished the Law covenant and replaced it with the promised new covenant, making it not with Jews but with the spirit-begotten disciples of the Mediator, Jesus Christ. (Col. 2:13, 14) Thus there was no longer any Jewish Law covenant out from under which the Shepherd Jesus might lead believing Jews.
8. (a) What, therefore, did the “sheepfold” represent? (b) So, for what were the natural offspring of Abraham looking?
8 In the light of the above, the question presents itself even more insistently, What does the “sheepfold” mentioned by Jesus in John 10:1 truly symbolize? Unquestionably it must represent something earlier and more comprehensive and longer lasting than the Law covenant of 1513 B.C.E. That was the Abrahamic covenant. When the patriarch Abraham crossed the Euphrates River into the Promised Land in 1943 B.C.E., God’s promise went into effect toward him and his future offspring: “I will bless those who bless you, and him that calls down evil upon you I shall curse, and all the families of the ground will certainly bless themselves by means of you.” (Gen. 12:3) Years later, when Abraham showed willingness to offer up his son Isaac in sacrifice, God added to his promise: “And by means of your seed all nations of the earth will certainly bless themselves due to the fact that you have listened to my voice.” (Gen. 22:17, 18) From then onward the descendants of Abraham began looking for that “seed” to come. So the “sheepfold” symbolized the Abrahamic Covenant arrangement. The sheeplike ones embraced within it would picture those waiting for the promised “seed” to come.
9. Whom would the “doorkeeper” not let past him into the “sheepfold”?
9 Whether such sheeplike ones knew about the “seed” beforehand or not, they would welcome it when it was made known and presented to them. Anyone trying to get ahold of those “sheep” by false means in order to exploit them would be “a thief and a plunderer.” The “doorkeeper” of the sheepfold would not introduce such a false Christ or Messiah. Anyone getting past that “doorkeeper” and through the “door” would be the true “shepherd,” the Abrahamic “seed.”
10. Who did that “doorkeeper” prove to be, and according to what prophecy?
10 Who, though, was that “doorkeeper”? It proved to be John the Baptizer, a man of the priestly family of the tribe of Levi. God had promised to send a forerunner ahead of the promised “seed” of Abraham. In Malachi 3:1 it was foretold: “‘Look! I am sending my messenger, and he must clear up a way before me. And suddenly there will come to His temple the true Lord, whom you people are seeking, and the messenger of the covenant in whom you are delighting. Look! He will certainly come,’ Jehovah of armies has said.” (Mark 1:1-11) John was therefore looking for the coming of the promised ‘seed of Abraham’ and, accordingly, he was a sheeplike person the same as those who were in the sheepfold of the Abrahamic Covenant arrangement. However, John was put to death after a year or more of his special ministry. So he did not survive till Pentecost of 33 C.E. to become one of the “little flock” of anointed heirs of the heavenly kingdom.—Matt. 11:11-14; 14:1-12; Luke 12:32; Gal. 3:16.
11. (a) How did Jesus confirm John the Baptizer as being his forerunner? (b) Of what covenant was Jesus the “messenger” when accompanying the Lord Jehovah to the temple?
11 In discussing what part John the Baptizer played in the outworking of Jehovah’s purpose, Jesus said to the Jews: “This is he concerning whom it is written, ‘Look! I myself am sending forth my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way ahead of you.’” (Matt. 11:10) Thus Jesus applied the prophecy of Malachi 3:1 to John the Baptizer as the one sent ahead of Jehovah and of his “messenger of the covenant.” Jesus Christ, who accompanies the Lord Jehovah to the temple for inspection, is the messenger, not of the Law covenant, but of the Abrahamic covenant. Those within the Abrahamic Covenant arrangement who had faith in Jehovah’s prophecies were looking forward to the coming of this Messianic “messenger.”
12. What did John the Baptizer say as to how he came to “know” the basic one of the ‘seed of Abraham’?
12 Concerning the principal and basic one of the ‘seed of Abraham,’ John the Baptizer said: “I viewed the spirit coming down as a dove out of heaven, and it remained upon him. Even I did not know him, but the very One who sent me to baptize in water said to me, ‘Whoever it is upon whom you see the spirit coming down and remaining, this is the one that baptizes in holy spirit.’ And I have seen it, and I have borne witness that this one is the Son of God.”—John 1:31-34.
13. (a) When did John the Baptizer open the “door” to the true Shepherd? (b) To what kind of ‘seed of Abraham’ was John then pointing?
13 Jesus did not sidestep going through the “door” into the sheepfold. At 30 years of age he went to John the Baptizer to be immersed in water. After spending 40 days in the wilderness under temptation, he confidently returned to where John the Baptizer was with a number of his disciples. As he approached the figurative “doorkeeper” of the Abrahamic Covenant sheepfold, John saw him coming and cried out: “See, the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29, 36) Not the Lamb that takes away the sin of the nation of Israel, but “the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world.” John the Baptizer thus opened the figurative “door” to the true Shepherd who had the necessary identification or credentials from the Universal Shepherd, Jehovah God. In directing the attention of his disciples to the approaching Jesus, John was not pointing to a mere circumcised Jew and fleshly descendant of earthly Abraham. No, he was pointing to the Anointed One, the spirit-begotten descendant of the Greater Abraham, Jehovah God. He was the principal or primary one of that “seed” of the Heavenly Abraham by means of whom all the families of the ground will bless themselves.
14. (a) On approaching the “sheepfold,” was Jesus looking for just natural Jews and other humans in general? (b) How could a Middle Eastern shepherd call an individual sheep to him?
14 He therefore deserved to be admitted by the “doorkeeper” into the figurative “sheepfold,” the Abrahamic Covenant arrangement. He was the true shepherd, and he came looking, not for Jews or other humans in general, but for those who would respond to the opportunity to become with him part of the composite ‘seed of Abraham’ through whom blessing would come to all nations. The majority of the natural Jews rejected him, but a remnant of the fleshly Jews did accept him. These were the “sheep” that listened to his voice. So, when he called “his own sheep by name,” they responded, and he led them out to pasturage. In the Middle East the shepherd used to assign an individual name to each of his sheep.
15. (a) How will the shepherd issue a general call to all his flock at one time, and why will they not be deceived into following “strangers”? (b) For whom today is that a safe example to follow?
15 However, when the shepherd wanted to call all his flock together to him at one time, he would sound out a general call, say, a rattling sound like Dr-r-r-r-r-rt at a certain tone level and with a caliber of voice not reproducible by other shepherds. So it is that, “when he has got all his own out, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him,” because they detect the inimitable quality of his voice. Their ears are sharp enough to detect who are “strangers” and imitators. They will not be deceived into following such suspicious and, maybe, evil-designing “strangers.” This is a good example for the sheeplike ones who make up the “little flock,” to whom it is the good pleasure of the approving Greater Abraham to give the Kingdom, to follow carefully.
16. Why did the Jews not grasp the meaning of the comparison that Jesus spoke to them about the shepherd and his flock?
16 Do we today understand the meaning of what Jesus was there speaking about? As regards the unbelieving Jews who were in the Law Covenant arrangement, they did not grasp how the comparison that Jesus was making fitted. As the account says: “Jesus spoke this comparison to them; but they did not know what the things meant that he was speaking to them.” (John 10:6) They did not know the voice of the Messianic Shepherd, and he did not know them and call them by their personal names. Self-induced blindness prevented them from identifying him. May we today not be like them.
“THE DOOR OF THE SHEEP”
17. According to John 10:7-10 to what other feature of a sheepfold did Jesus liken himself?’
17 At this point Jesus changed figures of speech to illustrate another vital feature of the matter. “Therefore Jesus said again: ‘Most truly I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. All those that have come in place of me are thieves and plunderers; but the sheep have not listened to them. I am the door; whoever enters through me will be saved, and he will go in and out and find pasturage. The thief does not come unless it is to steal and slay and destroy. I have come that they might have life and might have it in abundance.’”—John 10:7-10.
18. (a) Who on earth tries to act as a doorkeeper to Jesus as the symbolic “door”? (b) Of what class did Jesus speak as a feature of the “conclusion of the system of things,” and does this class serve as a doorkeeper to Jesus as the “door”?
18 Let us note that Jesus does not speak of a “doorkeeper” in connection with himself as being a “door.” He does not speak of a so-called “vicar of Christ,” some head of a religious sect who claims to have infallibility. Jesus said: “I am the door of the sheep.” And some months later he added the claim: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6) This does not leave out of account that, when Jesus gave his lengthy prophecy on “the sign of [his] presence and of the conclusion of the system of things,” he did foretell a “faithful and discreet slave,” whom his master would “appoint . . . over all his belongings.” (Matt. 24:3, 45-47) But this refers to a “slave” class of his faithful, discreet followers to which he would commit the oversight of his visible belongings on earth, especially during this “conclusion of the system of things.” However, such an appointment does not make that “slave” class Jesus’ “doorkeeper.”
19. How great a “flock” do those in the sheepfold of the Abrahamic Covenant arrangement make up, and through what way of entry is their salvation?
19 Jesus is the figurative “door” to those sheeplike followers of his who are made part with him of the ‘seed of Abraham.’ So they are in the “sheepfold” of the Abrahamic Covenant arrangement. All together, they make up only a “little flock,” comparatively speaking, just 144,000 under him their Shepherd. They make up, as it were, the 12 tribes of spiritual Israel, and they stand upon the spiritual Mount Zion with Jesus Christ, “the Lamb” of God. (Luke 12:32; Rev. 7:1-8; 14:1-5) They owe their salvation to a heavenly inheritance, not to some vicegerent of Christ, but to the one who is “the door of the sheep.” For Jesus said: “Whoever enters through me will be saved, and he will go in and out and find pasturage.” (John 10:9) Speaking for the “little flock” with the heavenly hope, the apostle Paul refers to “our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have gained our approach by faith into this undeserved kindness in which we now stand; and let us exult, based on hope of the glory of God.”—Rom. 5:1, 2; Eph. 2:18; 3:12.
20. How has Jehovah’s undershepherd stood out in contrast with the “false Christs and false prophets” that “have come in place of” him?
20 In his prophecy regarding the “conclusion of the system of things,” Jesus foretold that “false Christs and false prophets” would arise with great deceptiveness. These have “come in place of” the true Christ, and the deceived persons who have followed such impostors have been stolen away religiously and slain and destroyed spiritually, if not actually. (Matt. 24:3, 24, 25; John 10:8, 10) On the other hand, Jesus came as a lifesaver, and to provide for human creatures to enjoy a life in greater abundance than they have now, a life in perfection everlastingly and within the provisions for safety made by the Great Shepherd over all, Jehovah God. So his self-sacrificing undershepherd, Jesus Christ, is the one for us to follow, if we desire to gain eternal life as “sheep” of God.