According to the New Testament Jesus Christ executes the pastoral office in the only true and effectual way. In the ultimate sense he alone is the Shepherd of the sheep and the Savior of his people. For this reason he told his disciples in John 10:16 that “there shall be one fold and one shepherd.” Therefore as the people of God we know that the whole of our care and the totality of our salvation belongs to Jesus Christ, who according to the Belgic Confession of Faith is “the only universal Bishop and the only Head of the Church” (Art. 31).
The purpose of this post is to substantiate the claim of the foregoing statement in a highly structured way, by showing that Christ executes a threefold saving ministry in the office of Shepherd, consisting of (1) Redemption, (2) resurrection, and (3) Return. For this I want to look at three New Testament texts: first, John 10:11 (Redemption), second, Hebrews 13:20 (Resurrection), and third, 1 Peter 5:4 (Return).
The Redeeming Shepherd; John 10:11
In John chapter 10 Jesus provides us with a definitive contrast. On the one side, he lays out the characteristics of bad (or better, false) shepherds, who in verse 8 he identifies as “thieves and robbers.” The thief, says Jesus, “comes only to steal, kill, and destroy” (v 10). He is not interested in what he can provide for the sheep, nor yet how he might protect and preserve the sheep. Instead, he is only interested in what he can gain from them. In verse 12 he is called a “hireling” who “cares not” for the sheep. When he sees a wolf coming, his only concern is for his own safety. And by a sinful but predictable act of self-preservation, the robber “leaves the sheep” to be “caught” by the wolf and “scattered.” Jesus tells us plainly that he is describing “all who ever came before [him]” (v 8).
In stark contrast to all of this stands the only good shepherd, who in verse 11 Jesus identifies as himself. The description of Jesus as good means that his mission is fundamentally different than that of thieves and robbers, hirelings and cowards. The good shepherd is not motivated by greed, nor shaken by the fear of danger. His purpose is to protect and secure the health, safety and overall well being of his sheep.
I have come in order that they might have life, and have it more abundantly. (v 10)
This means that unlike the false shepherd who runs from the wolf, Jesus stands to protect his sheep, and by an act of sacrificial love, ultimately lays down his life in their behalf.
In verse 11 we read,
I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep.
The death of Jesus Christ forever secured the lives of his people. At the cross of Calvary, he laid down his life for us, and with his precious blood has fully satisfied for all our sins and redeemed us from all the power of the Devil. As the crucified shepherd, he opens the doors of eternal life, and extends an invitation to every lost and wandering sheep. “By me if any man enter in, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture” (v 9).
The Risen Shepherd; Hebrews 13:20
In Hebrews chapter 13 the apostle Paul reminded his readers that their crucified shepherd was no longer on a cross, and no longer in a tomb. Rather, according to the terms of the “everlasting covenant” the good shepherd became the “great shepherd” by his resurrection from the grave.
Now the God of peace, that brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant… (v 20a)
Continuing in his saving pastoral capacity, Jesus is now risen from the dead to gather his people back to himself. His purpose now, having recovered them from sin, is to renovate them for service. With all power in his hand, and all authority both in heaven and on earth, Jesus Christ has inherited the task of perfecting his church and preparing them for glory. Jesus, who is now seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty, is currently and continually performing the powerful work of sanctification in the lives of his people.
According to the text the goal is to,
make [them] perfect in every good work to do his will, working in [them] that which is well pleasing in his sight. (v 20b)
The same shepherd who died is the same shepherd who rose, and ascended to his heavenly throne. He who at one time suffered is now and forever sovereign. The savior who protects his sheep is the savior who preserves them to the end, so that without any possibility of failure, “he who began a good work in [us] will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ” (Php. 1:6).
The Returning Shepherd; 1 Peter 5:4
In agreement with Paul, the apostle Peter tells us that there is coming a day when Jesus Christ will return. In his appearing, says Peter, he will fully and finally distribute that great, eternal, and “incorruptible inheritance” that he has “reserved in heaven” for them (1:4). The certainty of that day is secured by the resurrection of Christ from the dead (1:3) and the hope of the believer is sustained by the power of God Himself (1:5).
At the second coming of Jesus Christ his people will,
rejoice with joy unspeakable, receiving the end of [their] faith, the salvation of [their] souls. (1:8)
Interestingly, Peter goes on to tell us that when Jesus comes again he will come as the “chief shepherd” of his people, whose coming means that their salvation is now complete. But the fact that he is the chief shepherd indicates that for the present time, he has appointed undershepherds to serve in his name.
In 5:1 he writes,
The elders which are among you… when the chief shepherd shall appear, ye shall receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away.
In other words, in addition to the incorruptible inheritance he provides for all his people, there is a special reward for those who willingly and faithfully participate in the work of pastoral ministry.
The Undershepherds of Christ
Having shown that Jesus Christ executes a threefold redemptive ministry in the office of Shepherd, it may be of some benefit to consider further, how pastors and elders are to function in their God-ordained role as undershepherds. Lord willing, I will take up this topic in an upcoming post.