The Fine Shepherd and “This Fold” of His
1, 2. (a) How did King David describe Jehovah at Psalm 23:1? (b) Why was it appropriate to liken Jehovah to a shepherd and Israel to his sheep?
“JEHOVAH is my Shepherd. I shall lack nothing. In grassy pastures he makes me lie down; by well-watered resting-places he conducts me.” With those words the onetime shepherd boy and harpist, but later a king of the nation of Israel, opened up one of his much-loved melodies.—Psalm 23:1, 2.
2 To no other nation but ancient Israel could another psalmist write the words of Psalm 95:6, 7: “Let us kneel before Jehovah our Maker. For he is our God, and we are the people of his pasturage and the sheep of his hand.” Though its human king might be likened to a shepherd, the nation of Israel could be likened to sheep having the very highest Shepherd, Jehovah God. He is the finest Shepherd that could be imitated by men who serve as figurative shepherds in a congregation of Jehovah’s dedicated people.
3. How was the referring to Jehovah as a Shepherd appropriate even in connection with Jesus?
3 King David foreshadowed Jesus Christ, only the latter is far greater than David of old, who was his royal forefather. Quite appropriately he would be able to quote and voice the words of David: “Jehovah is my Shepherd.” Did not his forerunner, John the Baptizer, refer his bystanding listeners to the approaching Jesus Christ and say: “See, the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world”? (John 1:29, 36) In speaking of Jesus as a Lamb, of the sheep family, John may have had in mind the words of Isaiah 53:7: “He was being brought just like a sheep to the slaughtering.” And in the very last book of the Bible, from Revelation 5:6 forward, the glorified Jesus is 28 times spoken of as a figurative Lamb.
4. How did Jesus become like a sheep in a sheepfold and what was that sheepfold?
4 By a miraculous birth on earth he had been born into the nation of Israel, in the year 2 B.C.E. Thus he came under the Law covenant that Jehovah, the Shepherd of Israel, had made with that chosen people. That Law covenant, with its Ten Commandments, had been mediated in behalf of the nation of Israel by the prophet Moses. (Galatians 4:4, 5) And Jesus, as a member of that chosen people, was born as one of the figurative sheep of which Jehovah was the Supreme Shepherd. Jesus himself was thus in a figurative sheepfold, the favored relationship with the Divine Shepherd as protected by the wall-like Mosaic Law covenant.
5. What is the reason for taking a different view of the sheepfold of John 10:1?
5 Are we here identifying the “sheepfold” of John chapter 10, verse 1, with the Mosaic Law covenant arrangement? Why, yes! The former explanation of the sheepfold as being the Abrahamic covenant was based on the view that John chapter 10 mentioned directly only one fold, and if that were so, then the Abrahamic covenant would be its logical meaning. However, further study of this chapter showed that Jesus actually spoke of more than one sheepfold. Thus, as we will see, an adjustment in explanation proved fitting.
6. How do you feel about such adjustments in understanding of Biblical points?
6 Such adjustments become necessary from time to time, for Proverbs 4:18 tells us that “the path of the righteous ones is like the bright light that is getting lighter and lighter until the day is firmly established.” Oh, apostate opposers of truth “gnash their teeth” at such progressive revelations, but this does not disturb us. (Acts 7:54) Rather, we thank Jehovah that “light itself has flashed up for the righteous one, and rejoicing even for the ones upright in heart.” (Psalm 97:11) We are confident that you will rejoice to know just what meaning Jesus’ illustration of the sheepfolds has for you and all others of Jehovah’s Witnesses today.
An Early Sheepfold, Under the Law
7. With regard to the Israelite sheepfold, how did Jesus take on a new role in 29 C.E.?
7 What, then, of that sheepfold of the Mosaic Law covenant? After Jesus had been baptized by John the Baptizer, and he had been anointed with Jehovah’s holy spirit and had undergone 40 days of temptation in the wilderness of Judea, Jesus Christ came as a spiritual Shepherd to the Israelite sheepfold in the year 29 C.E. Jesus Christ said that he had specifically been sent to “the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” (Matthew 10:6; 15:24) Up until his baptism he had simply been one of the natural Israelites living within the sheepfold arrangement of the Mosaic Law covenant. But now, having been anointed and begotten by Jehovah’s spirit, Jesus Christ could come to that sheepfold in his new role as “the fine shepherd.”—John 10:11.
8. Who was the figurative doorkeeper of John 10:3, and how so?
8 John the Baptizer was the first one to recognize Jesus as the True Shepherd appointed by the Supreme Shepherd, Jehovah God. Jesus did not come to plunder the sheepfold but came on legitimate business. Honorably he could present himself as a spiritual Shepherd to the sheepfold of the nation of Israel. In line with the prophecy at Malachi 4:5 (compare Matthew 11:12-14; Luke 1:13-17), John had been assigned by the Supreme Shepherd to be the figurative “doorkeeper” of the Israelite sheepfold. (John 1:15, 17, 19-28; 10:3) John recognized the credentials of Jesus Christ as the Undershepherd of Jehovah God and was at once ready to admit him, to identify him as the foretold Messianic Shepherd who would call his sheep by name and lead them out to pasture.
9, 10. How did Jesus fit his own description of a shepherd, and how did Israelite shepherds deal with their sheep?
9 Jesus matched his own description of the True and Fine Shepherd, as stated in these words at John 10:1-5: “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.”
10 The shepherd in ancient Israel became very familiar with his sheep. He would have a general call peculiar to himself by means of which he would call all his sheep together to receive his personal attention. Furthermore, he gave an individual name to each one of his sheep. Obediently each sheep would respond when its individual name was called out. The sheep knew the caliber and timbre of the voice of their own shepherd and so would not respond to the voice of strangers.
11. How should we personally feel about Jesus’ role as a Shepherd?
11 Parallel to this, what a comfort it is to us to be assured that our spiritual Shepherd knows each one of us by name and can give us his personal care and attention! May we not be like many of the listeners of Jesus’ day in not getting the thrust of his meaningful comparison. As a warning example to us, it is written at John 10:6: “Jesus spoke this comparison to them [his Jewish listeners]; but they did not know what the things meant that he was speaking to them.”
12. Who were the “strangers” that Jesus spoke of, and how was that the case?
12 Other Israelites who came and claimed to be the promised Messiah, or Christ, were the ones whom Jesus branded as strangers. They failed to be introduced as Jehovah’s Messianic Shepherd by his appointed “doorkeeper,” who was John, the one to whom Jesus himself came in order to be baptized. In this, Jesus made no mistake. (Matthew 3:1-7; Mark 1:1-7; Luke 3:1-9) It was for the purpose of protecting the people that Jesus now saw good to identify himself as the One whom Jehovah was sending to them as their spiritual Shepherd and to expose the fraudulent shepherds.
A New Fold Under the Fine Shepherd
13. What change did God make as to his sheepfold?
13 The important thing is for a person to get into the right sheepfold, back then and today. Is that to suggest that there could be a change in sheepfolds approved by Jehovah God? Yes. What Jesus went on to say in John chapter 10 and what the historical facts show—both of these indicate that God was going to replace the Israelite sheepfold under the Law with a new fold. Note this as we continue with Jesus’ words.
14, 15. Why is it evident that in John 10:7-10 Jesus referred to a new sheepfold?
14 “Therefore Jesus said again,” at John 10:7-10, “‘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.’”
15 Observe from this passage that Jesus speaks of himself as the door of the sheepfold he now mentions, the door into this sheepfold of the Supreme Shepherd, Jehovah God. Jesus was not the figurative door into the sheepfold of natural Israel, for he himself had been born into it by his birth from the Jewish virgin Mary. Jesus was not the doorlike mediator of the Law covenant by means of which the nation of Israel had been brought into an exclusive relationship with Jehovah God. It was long before Jesus’ earthly birth that Jehovah God had said to the nation of Israel: “You people only have I known out of all the families of the ground.” (Amos 3:2) It was out of the symbolic Jewish sheepfold that the true Undershepherd of Jehovah God was to call the first sheep of his flock and to lead them into a special spiritual pasturage. So Jesus must now have begun speaking of a new sheepfold for which he, the Fine Shepherd, was in another sense the door.
16. (a) What earlier indication had there been that Jehovah was going to have a new sheepfold? (b) How did Jesus show that the new sheepfold was about to come into being?
16 Those Jews who refused to become his sheeplike disciples felt that theirs was the only sheepfold that Jehovah God had in mind and that it was bound to keep on existing into the indefinite future. They did not take into account the “new covenant” that Jehovah God had promised to establish according to the prophecy of Jeremiah 31:31-34. This meant a new relationship with Jehovah God and, hence, a new figurative sheepfold. Jesus Christ was not the door into a sheep pen that was to become obsolete, no longer enclosed by the wall of Jehovah’s protection. (Hebrews 8:7-13) On the night of celebrating his last Passover with his Jewish disciples, Jesus said some significant words when serving them Passover wine. He gave a symbolic meaning to the wine, saying: “This cup means the new covenant by virtue of my blood, which is to be poured out in your behalf.”—Luke 22:20; Matthew 26:27-29.
17, 18. (a) What was this new sheepfold for which Jesus was the Fine Shepherd? (b) How could he also be likened to the door of this new fold?
17 Jesus Christ was to be the door to an enduring sheep pen, one that would supersede the former sheep pen for the natural Israelites under the Mosaic Law covenant. When Jesus left his disciples behind on earth and ascended to heaven 40 days after his resurrection from the dead, he ascended still in possession of his right to perfect human life, a right that he had not forfeited by any sin in the flesh. (Isaiah 53:3-12; Acts 8:30-35) Hence, he was equipped to serve as a Mediator and apply this life-right, symbolized by his blood, in the sealing of a new and better covenant in behalf of his disciples on earth. This he did at the latest by the day of Pentecost of 33 C.E., when the holy spirit was poured out upon his obedient Jewish disciples waiting in Jerusalem.
18 These disciples thus were brought into the new covenant, and a new sheep pen came into existence, that of relationship with Jehovah God on the basis of the new covenant sealed by the blood of Jesus Christ. The symbolic sheep in this new pen were begotten by Jehovah’s spirit and anointed with his spirit. Jesus Christ was the door to this pen as well as Jehovah’s appointed Fine Shepherd over the sheep inside this pen, or fold.
19. In what way was the prophecy at Zechariah 13:7 fulfilled?
19 During the parts of three days that Jesus was under arrest and was dead in the grave, he had to hand over the care of his sheeplike disciples wholly to the Supreme Shepherd, Jehovah God. Then it was that the utterance of Jehovah at Zechariah 13:7 was fulfilled, namely: “Strike the shepherd, and let those of the flock be scattered; and I shall certainly turn my hand back upon those who are insignificant.” The hand of the Almighty Shepherd, Jehovah, was turned back upon these insignificant disciples, until they were again turned over to his resurrected Undershepherd, Jesus Christ.—Matthew 26:31, 32.
20. How does John 10:16 lead to the expectation of yet another fold coming to be, and why should that concern us?
20 But with this new sheepfold under the Fine Shepherd in mind, note that in John 10:16 Jesus said: “I have other sheep, which are not of this fold; those also I must bring.” Does this not indicate that he would have another, a second, fold for which he would serve as the Fine Shepherd? If so, when would it exist and who would be the sheep in it? These are most timely questions, and their answers can have a direct bearing on your hope and everlasting prospects. So let us examine the matter.
How Will You Answer?
□ How was Jesus born into a sheepfold, and who was its Shepherd?
□ Jesus came in what new role in 29 C.E.?
□ John the Baptizer served in what capacity regarding the Israelite sheepfold?
□ What was the new sheepfold for which Jesus was the Fine Shepherd?
□ What indicates that yet another sheepfold was to come?
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As the figurative doorkeeper, John the Baptizer welcomed the Fine Shepherd, Jesus
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Jesus led his sheep into a new sheepfold. What was it?