ACST 37: The Guide

SDC11547Jesus described the Holy Spirit’s ministry in some detail. He said “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you.”[1] That description of the Holy Spirit’s ministry suggests a number of principles which help believers understand whether a word or thought is from him:

1. He is the Spirit of truth. No teaching or action or policy that involves deception or false implications is of the Holy Spirit. By contrast, any teaching or action or policy that champions and celebrates truth might possibly be from the Holy Spirit. One has to be careful, because the Adversary is quite capable of using many truths to hide his lies. However, truthfulness and honesty in ministry is a telling sign of the Holy Spirit’s guidance.

2. His purpose is to guide the church into all the truth. He is not simply one to champion or reveal a part of the truth, and let believers go on living with lies and half-truths in other areas of their lives. His veracity is comprehensive. His goal is to help believers understand and communicate the whole counsel of God.

3. The Holy Spirit acts as an emissary. He is an agent of Jesus Christ, delivering Christ’s counsel, and forwarding Christ’s commands. He is not a free agent – which means that he is not given authority to rescind or reinterpret what Jesus said as recorded in the Gospels. Instead, he is responsible to those words. Just as Jesus submitted to the Father in all things, so the Holy Spirit has submitted to Christ’s will and words in what he has done. That is his function. He continues the task of making disciples of all nations with all the same rules and policies intact.

4. His ultimate goal is to glorify Christ, just as Christ’s ultimate goal is to glorify the Father. To glorify someone is to enhance his reputation. For example, I glorify my wife by praising her for what a good wife she is to me. I also glorify her by living a good life and being a good husband and father myself. My actions reflect upon her because we have a relationship. When the Holy Spirit does great things it reflects upon the greatness of Christ.

The Holy Spirit accomplishes all these things (at least partly) by working with and within the church. He guides believers upon the Christ-track. He keeps them from getting off the Christ-track. He exerts influence – the same kind of influence that Christ did as he walked the desert roads of Galilee and Judea.

It take a Person

When God decided to step into the mess that this planet had become he cared enough to send the very best. He sent a person: Jesus of Nazareth. When Jesus decided to continue his ministry after he left for heaven, he did not change plans. He sent another like himself. This was the meaning behind Jesus’ prediction that the Father would send another helper.[2] That word another means another of the same kind.[3] Since Jesus had begun the rescue of humanity from Satan’s grasp, it stands to reason that the one sent after him would be like him – a person.

Humanity has always been cheated by the gods (spirit-beings represented by the idols) who offer another way. The gods of the nations suggest that humans can manipulate their environment in order to get better luck, or harm an opponent. The suggestion involves the assumption that this world operates by means of impersonal, mechanistic laws. The gods behind pagan idolatry teach that what humans need is power to control the way things are. If you have the right source of power, you can get things going to your advantage regardless of your relationship with God.

Into that atmosphere, Jesus came preaching that the kingdom of God is not a matter of just doing acts of righteousness, but of being children of our heavenly Father.[4] What matters is not power, but relationship and living up to that relationship. That is why it was necessary for Christ to come as a teacher. He showed us how to live like children of God. An impersonal influence could not have done that.

Likewise, when Jesus left us to go back to his heavenly Father and ours, he entrusted the task of guiding us into God’s footsteps with another person: the Holy Spirit.

He is a person

In chapter 16 the major arguments for the personality of the Holy Spirit were presented in summary form, but this is an important place to review and accentuate that summary. Seeing the Holy Spirit as a person is not just important to give evidence for the doctrine of the Trinity. It also helps believers better understand who the Holy Spirit is, and what kind of role he plays in our lives.

Masculine Pronouns

Especially when the ministry of the Holy Spirit is being explained, the scriptures use masculine pronouns to refer to him:

John 14:17 “…even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.”

John 14:26 “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.”

John 15:26 “But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me.”

John 16:13-14 “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you.”

If the authors the Gospels wanted to preserve the concept of the Holy Spirit as an influence or power from God, they would have only had to substitute the neuter definite article for all of these masculine ones. To do so would have been consistent with the word spirit as it is neuter.[5] The choice of the Gospel writers to use the masculine definite article accentuates all the other evidence of the personality of the Holy Spirit.

He Initiates Actions

The Holy Spirit takes the initiative and does things that no mere influence can do:

John 15:26 “But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me.”

Romans 8:14 “For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.”

John 14:26 “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.

John 16:15 All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.

1 Corinthians 2:10-11 “…these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God.”

Romans 8:26 “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.”

1 Corinthians 12:8-11 “To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills.

So, the Holy Spirit is not simply an instrument in God’s hands. He is a person who the Father uses to perform his will, just as Christ is.

He Can Receive Actions

Personhood involves the ability to receive and respond to other actions as well. Those who deny that the Holy Spirit is a person often see the actions above as having been simply actions of the Father. So, the Holy Spirit is simply another term for God in action. But why would the scriptures specifically point out the Holy Spirit as the recipient of certain actions if the term was merely a nickname for the Father? The New Testament speaks of the Holy Spirit as being acted upon:

Acts 5:3 “But Peter said, ‘Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back for yourself part of the proceeds of the land?’”

Acts 5:9 “But Peter said to her, “How is it that you have agreed together to test the Spirit of the Lord? Behold, the feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out.””

Mark 3:28-29 “”Truly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the children of man, and whatever blasphemies they utter, but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin””

The Holy Spirit’s Role As Discipler

Discipling requires acting in such a way that the way to live is communicated in both words and deeds. Jesus could do that because he could show his disciples how to live and he could explain to them the principles of God’s kingdom. The Holy Spirit can do the same thing – through us. He uses our tongues to speak, and our hands to heal. As a disciple, he continues what Jesus started by using disciples to make new disciples. He reveals God to the unbeliever; explains God to the ignorant, and shows God’s love and power to the needy. Just as Jesus was the world’s guide to God’s new covenant life, so the Holy Spirit takes up that responsibility – through the church.

In The Spirit

That is why when the church is said to do anything significant it is said to do it “in the Spirit” or “in the Holy Spirit.” Our actions as believers are guided (and – yes, influenced) by the Holy Spirit. He is living out Christ’s life through us:

Acts 19:21 “Now after these events Paul resolved in the Spirit to pass through Macedonia and Achaia and go to Jerusalem, saying, “After I have been there, I must also see Rome.””

Romans 8:9 “You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him.”

Romans 9:1 “I am speaking the truth in Christ- I am not lying; my conscience bears me witness in the Holy Spirit-“

Romans 14:17 “For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.”

1 Corinthians 12:3 “Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking in the Spirit of God ever says “Jesus is accursed!” and no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except in the Holy Spirit.

1 Corinthians 14:2 “For one who speaks in a tongue speaks not to men but to God; for no one understands him, but he utters mysteries in the Spirit.”

Ephesians 6:18 “…praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints”

Philippians 2:1-2 “So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.

Colossians 1:7-8 “… Epaphras … has made known to us your love in the Spirit.”

1 Thessalonians 1:5 “because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction. You know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake.”

Jude 1:20 “But you, beloved, build yourselves up in your most holy faith; pray in the Holy Spirit

Revelation 1:10-11 “I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet saying, ‘Write what you see in a book and send it to the seven churches…’”

Revelation 4:2 “At once I was in the Spirit, and behold, a throne stood in heaven, with one seated on the throne.”

Being a disciple takes more than some extra strength from a supernatural power. It involves a lifetime of decisions based on principles that sometimes seem to contradict each other. In those cases, what is needed is not a force that leans the disciple in the right direction. What is needed is a Counselor who can work with the believer to get her to see God’s will against a background of several good or bad possibilities.

The NIV translation of the Bible uses the word Counselor to translate the title Jesus uses for the Holy Spirit.[6] A friend of mine objected to the term because it made him think of a staff member of a camp, complete with shorts and a whistle. He argued that the Holy Spirit is more than that. That is true. The Holy Spirit is more than that. Yet, the term is helpful to understand the special role that God’s Holy Spirit has is helping disciples be disciples. He is a person who resides in us, and helps us be the kind of people who reflect Christ’s glory by doing what Christ wants us to do.

When Christians Fail

One final question must be introduced at this point. If disciples of Christ are being counseled by the Holy Spirit, why is it that they often say or do the wrong thing. Christians make mistakes, and sometimes intentionally sin. The simplest answer is that Christians have the freedom to reject the Holy Spirit’s influence just as those who sat under Christ’s discipling ministry did. The guidance of the Holy Spirit is not overwhelming. We are still free to choose our own path even when the Guide is showing us the correct one. If the Holy Spirit were simply an influence from God, it stands to reason that the influence would be effective. But since the Holy Spirit is a person, everyone who hears his voice has the option to heed it or reject it. When Christians fail their heavenly Father it is because they choose to ignore the counsel of the Counselor. We always live to regret those choices.

Learning to Be Sensitive to His Counsel

Christians sometimes are so busy doing their own thing that they leave no room for the Holy Spirit to do his thing. The Bible calls that quenching the Holy Spirit.[7] In that metaphor, the Holy Spirit is like a fire, and believers who are not sensitive to his counsel put the fire out. He wants to accomplish some things in our lives but often we have our own agendas and do not let him do his work.

Willful sin in disciples’ lives can bring emotional grief to the Holy Spirit.[8] This also can leave disciples unaware of their master’s will, because it further reduces their ability to hear his voice. We bring sorrow to the person that Jesus gave us for our own joy and strength. He will never leave us, but he will only do for us what we allow him to.

Becoming more sensitive to the Holy Spirit’s guidance involves several steps.

1) Repent of all known sin, and ask the Lord to reveal any unintentional sins.

2) Get into the Bible on a regular basis so that you can know God’s revealed will. Read the whole Bible, not just the parts you think you understand or the parts you think are relevant.

3) Pray for guidance on issues where the Bible is silent or your understanding of it is unclear.

4) Discuss issues and plans with other Christians because the Holy Spirit works through spiritual gifts possessed by the body of Christ, the church.

5) Also read the writings of other Christians on the subject, since the Holy Spirit is not limited to speaking through this generation or people in your present location or denomination.

God has given us another Wonderful Counselor in the Holy Spirit. His ministry is as various as he is, but part of what he does is guide believers so that they learn his word correctly, and make the right decisions in life. May we be the generation that takes full advantage of this awesome gift.

[1] John 16:13-14.

[2] John 14:16.

[3] The Greek word is allelos, as opposed to heteros, which means another of a different kind.

[4] Matthew 5:16, 45,48; 6:1,9,14,26,32; 7:11,21.

[5] The Hebrew word ruach is both masculine and feminine. Hebrew does not have a neuter gender. It may be that the Greek pneuma suggests the same kind of versatility, not the absence of personality, but a title that could fit either gender.

[6] John 14:16, 26; 15:26; 16:7.

[7] 1 Thessalonians 5:19.

[8] Ephesians 4:30.

Bell’s Base Cards

lovewins Rob Bell does a masterful job of shaking the foundations of the modern theology of human destiny in his new book entitled Love Wins.[1]  He exposes the fact that much of what people say about salvation and human destiny is not based on the Bible, therefore does not hold up to the scrutiny of direct questioning. He dares to ask direct questions – many of them.

His tactic is similar to that of knocking down base cards in someone’s house of cards. A house of cards can be an enormous thing, but it is only as strong as the first few cards one lays out. Those base cards serve as the foundation. If they are stable, one can build fortresses out of flimsy cards upon them. But topple those base cards and the entire thing falls apart.  Bell has identified some flimsy base cards in modern theology: the idea that only professing believers will go to heaven and its corollary that all others will suffer in hell forever.

He attacked those familiar base cards by appealing to scripture after scripture to show that the Bible addresses very different issues. He wanted to show that the whole of modern theology about human destiny was built upon assumptions that do not come from the Bible.  He accomplished that mission. Each chapter in the book identifies a presupposition, and then proceeds to topple it by going to the text of scripture and comparing the presupposition to what scripture actually says. In short, Bell does theology and he does it well.

Nevertheless, Bell’s book is destined to be much maligned.  He has taken on subjects which are practically taboo for evangelical Christians.  “Heaven when you die” and “conscious eternal suffering for the lost” are concepts that are too holy for most good church people to investigate.  Expect Bell to be branded a hopeless Universalist. Expect retaliation. Expect The DaVinci Code all over again.

…And rightfully so.  Any good theologian worth his or her salt makes a difference.  Bell has swung a pendulum, and one should expect the thing to swing back in the other direction. Paul told the Corinthians that “there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized.”[2]  Bad theology can mobilize good theology.

With that in mind, let me tell you where I think Bell has it wrong.  He spends numerous pages showing that the gospel message is not about going to heaven when you die – then he puts the saved in heaven when they die. He can do no other, because for Bell (and most of his opponents) the human soul has to live eternally somewhere.  Bell sweeps away all of the scriptural evidence that he has amassed against the concept that heaven is a destination. In the end, he says what he has been arguing against.

He agrees with his opponents that all human beings are immortal, except that, unlike them, he argues that their immortality gives human beings hope for restoration to God even after their bodies die. He argues from scripture that God is love and therefore never gives up on his own. So, as long as there is life, there is hope. He argues for the concept of future probation on the basis of two premises: God never stops loving, and human beings never stop living.

Herein is the problem: none of Bell’s opponents want to deny either of those premises.  They believe that God is both loving and just.  They want to agree with what the Bible says about his love, but not forget that it gives equal time to his wrath.  When they talk about Judgment Day, they envision that it will be just that – a day in which God will judge humanity, and determine the eternal fate of everyone.  They cannot envision a Judgment Day that extends to however many years and centuries needed to purge humanity of all sin and rescue all. Hence, they must believe that death seals the fate of all.

The all important doctrine that Bell and most of his opponents agree upon is the concept of innate immortality: that all humans are born immortal. That doctrine will lead Bell’s opponents to insist on eternal conscious suffering in hell for the lost. It leads Bell to insist that a loving God would never condemn people to such a fate for a limited life of sin; therefore he must give opportunity for restoration.

Allow me then – in Rob Bell fashion – to suggest that it is that presupposition that keeps both Bell and his opponents from seeing what the Bible says about the destiny of the lost.   The Bible says that only God is immortal.[3]  Immortality is a promise from God that Christ will give to the saved – it is not an innate characteristic of every human.[4]  For anybody to live anywhere forever, they must have eternal life. Eternal life is promised to the saved only.[5]

What, then, is the destiny of the lost?  The God of justice who gave us his truth in his word has decreed that the lost will be destroyed.[6]  Since the wages of sin is death, they will die.[7]  They will be appropriately punished according to the decree of a God who is both loving and just, and then they will be no more.[8]  They have been granted one life to live.  That one life is a gift of grace from God. Nobody deserves to live forever.  God is under no obligation to give unbelievers an eternal life, either to suffer, or to repent. He is sovereign, and if he has decided that the wages of sin is death, no theologian has the right to convert the sentence.

Bell wrote a book about a victory.  He envisions an eternity in which all sin is forgiven, all wrongs are righted, and love wins.  He is absolutely right. Love will win because God will win.  God will win because he is God, not because he is love. His love and justice work together to produce a heaven and earth without evil. Our participation in that victory is not a given. Some will not make it. That is what it ultimately means to be lost. In the end, God wins. Reader, where do you stand before God? Don’t take his patience for granted.


[1] Rob Bell, LOVE WINS: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived.  (Robert H. Bell, Jr. Trust, 2011).

[2] 1 Corinthians 11:19.

[3] Romans 1:23; 1 Timothy 1:17; 6:16.

[4] Romans 2:7; 1 Corinthians 15:53-54; 1 Timothy 1:10.

[5] Matthew 25:46; John 3:15-16, 36; 4:14; 6:27, 40, 47, 54, 68, 10:28; 12:25; Acts 13:46, 48; Romans 2:7; 5:21; 6:22; 1 Timothy 6:12; 1 John 5:11; Jude 1:21.

[6] Matt. 10:28; 22:7; Luke 17: 27, 29; 20:16; 1 Cor. 3:17; 6:13; 15:24, 26; Heb. 10:39; 2 Peter 2:12; Rev. 11:18.

[7] Matt. 21:41; John 5:24; 8:51; Romans 6:16, 23; 1 Cor. 15:26, 54; James 5:20; 1 John 3:14; Rev. 21:8.

[8] Psalm 104:35; Ezekiel 26:21; 27:36; 28:19.

on Romans 14:8 NLT


Russell from Maine writes:

“I too have been doing daily devotions from Romans the past couple weeks.

Yesterday morning I was doing my devotional from Romans 14, which I believe you will be getting to in a few days.  I read the chapter from the New Living Translation and then from the New King James translation. I was struck by the way the NLT dealt with verse 8. It says in the NLT

“While we live, we live to please the Lord. And when we die, we go to be with the Lord. So in life and in death, we belong to the Lord.”

The above translation of the NLT is quite different from the NKJV which says:

” …if we die, we die to the Lord.”

And the NIV

“. and if we die, we die for the Lord.”

And the ESV:

“. and if we die, we die to the Lord.”

My question for you, would you say this phrase “we go to be with the Lord”  a biased translation of what the Greek actually says? It sure looks that way.

Have a great day my friend.




Thanks for the excellent observation. It is most certainly an example of sectarian bias in translation. The Greek text does not imply what the NLT implies. In fact, in their first revision of the NLT text (2004) the translators corrected the verse. It now reads:

“If we live, it’s to honor the Lord. And if we die, it’s to honor the Lord. So whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord.”

This revision is consistent with how the text has been interpreted throughout the centuries, as is evidenced by this quote from John Calvin:

“(The apostles) were delivered (from prison in Jerusalem – Acts 5:19) so they could continue their strenuous efforts in preaching the Gospel and courageously challenging their enemies, even if they had to bravely face death. … because they knew they had to live and die to the Lord, they did not abandon his commandment.”[1]

Actually there is no preposition in the text. The dative definite articles are all one has to go on, so most modern translations follow those versions you quoted and simply render the phrase “live to the Lord… die to the Lord” or “live for the Lord… die for the Lord.”

The point that Paul was making gave no reassurance about the intermediate state except that he affirmed that at death the believer’s status does not change. The dative definite article can also be rendered “in” resulting in the translation: “live in the Lord… die in the Lord.”  Either way, Paul’s overall point is that we believers have a responsibility to withhold from judging other believers because we are not their Lord. He will judge us all when he returns.

[1] John Calvin,  Acts  (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 1995), 77-78.

ACST 36: The Messiah

temptation-of-jesusWhen Jesus asked his disciples who he was, Peter answered “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”[1] His answer not only covered the person and nature of Christ, but described his role and work as well. That one word “Christ” says it all. It is helpful to “unpack” that term, because it has a long history, and it reveals much about what Jesus was called to accomplish.


The word Christos is the Greek equivalent to the Hebrew Mashiach, a noun related to the verb Mashach, meaning to spread or smear with oil. In ancient times, oil was used as a means of keeping the head clean of lice, and to preserve cleanliness. Those associated with worship were anointed for this purpose, in order to keep the process of ritual sacrifice pure and untainted.

Somewhere early on in history, other persons whose work was deemed as important as that of the priests were anointed as well. The symbol took on enhanced meaning. It came to be understood that an anointed priest, or ruler, or prophet has not only the ritual purity and holiness needed for the job, but special abilities as well. Therefore, to acknowledge someone as anointed is to acknowledge his or her divine calling and enablement.

The title suggested both the authority to function in accordance with one’s calling, and the responsibility to do such in a righteous and wise manner. Those who were anointed were considered under the special protection of God, and as having a divine mission that should not be interfered with.

The Coming Messiah

Very early in the Old Testament it became clear that all of these anointed individuals are but types of the one anointed one to come: the Messiah, who would appear in history and affect salvation for God’s people. The Bible weaves together many pictures of this coming leader, not all of which are directly connected to the term Messiah, but all of them accurately describe Christ and his work.

He will Give Himself for God’s Purpose

The earliest hint of the Messiah’s ministry is the LORD’s prediction to Satan that he would encounter a foe in battle from among the children of Eve. God tells the serpent “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.”[2] The prophecy is obscure, but it is clear that some conflict will take place in the future in which both parties will suffer harm, but the serpent’s harm will be the most severe. Christians understand this to be a reference to the fact that Jesus came to give up his life by crucifixion in order to rescue us from Satan’s grasp.

Jesus affirmed that “the Son of Man came … to give his life as a ransom for many.”[3] He came not to find himself but to lose himself, to give himself so that others might live. His role was to be a sacrifice. As God’s anointed one, he was particularly qualified for that task. As the sinless Son of the Father, he had the holiness and sinlessness necessary for his life to serve as the ransom for ours. By his blood he “ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation.”[4]

The night in which this great sacrifice happened, Jesus got together with his disciples and shared a special meal with them. It was the Passover meal, which celebrated God’s deliverance of the Israelites from God’s judgment through the death-angel. They were celebrating deliverance through the death of the sacrificed lamb. But Jesus added to the ritual. “And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.””[5]

Suddenly, the Passover event itself becomes a symbol of a much greater event. The unleavened bread of the Passover was originally a symbol of the haste in which the Israelites would suddenly be delivered from their captivity. They would not even have time to properly leaven their bread and let it rise. It was to be eaten without yeast. Now, however, Jesus tells his disciples that this bread was a symbol of his own body, which he was going to give for them – and us. The absence of leaven in the bread is a symbol of the absence of sin in the savior. Here again is evidence that the Messiah would give his life for those that he rescues.

Another Old Testament story took on new significance as Jesus explained its meaning in relation to himself and his work:

I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not as the fathers ate and died. Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.”[6]

Most modern readers find this discourse a little too creepy to handle. But they might take comfort in the fact that the ancients who heard Jesus say these things were just as troubled. Jesus was not encouraging cannibalism. He was trying to make a similar point to the one he had made about the Passover bread. The Manna in the wilderness was God’s gift to his people who had a need they could not fill by themselves. They needed God’s grace to sustain them. In the same way, Jesus body and blood would meet the human need for deliverance and eternal life.

Jesus was once again predicting his death on the cross. To feed upon Christ’s flesh and drink his blood was not to partake in communion. It was to believe in his death as an atonement for sin. The context of this passage is the feeding of the 5000 (John 6:1-15). Later, the people were pursuing Jesus because they wanted another meal. Jesus tells them “Do not labor for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal.”[7] They respond to this by asking what they should do to labor for that food. Jesus says, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.”[8]

Central to the work of Jesus as the Messiah is that he would come down from heaven, just like the Manna did. His death on the cross was a gift of God’s grace. All anyone has to do to accept that free gift is to believe. Like the Manna, those who refuse to believe and receive what God freely provided would die, because there was no other option. The Messiah would freely give his life. But that sacrifice would only suffice to bring eternal life if it was believed and received.

The Good news tells us that Christ’s death is sufficient to pay the sin-debt owed by everyone. Paul tells us that Christ died for all.[9] He gave his life as a ransom for all.[10] That does not mean that everyone will be saved, but does mean that everyone could have been saved. If all had believed and received the gift of Christ’s death, then all would have received the promise of eternal life, along with the hope of the resurrection that would begin that eternal life.[11] As the Messiah, Jesus made the resurrection possible for all by giving of himself at Calvary.

The Messiah’s giving of himself began long before that fateful day when he was crucified. His entire life was an act of giving and a sign of his grace. He had all the riches of heaven, yet he chose to forsake them and come to earth to save us. When the apostle Paul was encouraging the Corinthians to be generous, he pointed out that they should imitate Christ “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.”[12] Christ’s giving began with the incarnation, and culminated on the cross.

The Messiah had us in mind when he came to this world to die. He was the sacrificial lamb who “gave himself for our sins to deliver us.”[13] The lives we now live in the flesh we should live by faith in the Son of God, who loved us and gave himself for us.[14] We should “walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”[15] Husbands should “love (their) wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.”[16] Since “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, (then we should) die to sin and live to righteousness.”[17] Since “he laid down his life for us, (then) we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.”[18]

The Messiah’s purpose was to deliver us from the consequences of sin. Paul says “For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him.”[19] He “gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.”[20] He “has freed us from our sins by his blood and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father.”[21]

He will Proclaim God’s Prophecies

Another function that the Messiah was to perform was to be God’s ultimate prophet. He would proclaim God’s word as no one had before, and no one would after. The LORD had promised Moses “I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers. And I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him.”[22] Out of that prediction there emerged an entire institution of the prophets who spoke for God for centuries. Some prophets were true prophets, and some were false prophets. Some merely spoke God’s words; others backed up what they said with miracles. But the people of God were always expecting the prophet to arrive. They expected the Messiah to speak for God in a way unlike any of the other prophets.

The Mosaic corpus ends with these words:

And there has not arisen a prophet since in Israel like Moses, whom the LORD knew face to face, none like him for all the signs and the wonders that the LORD sent him to do in the land of Egypt, to Pharaoh and to all his servants and to all his land, and for all the mighty power and all the great deeds of terror that Moses did in the sight of all Israel.[23]

The people expected more than a spokesman for God. They looked for someone who knew God intimately like Moses did. They expected a man who could wield the staff of God in his hands, and separate the waters of the red sea. They longed for a prophet who could command the quail and Manna to appear to feed them. They expected power.

Yet, ironically, for the prophet to be like Moses, he must also be a man of peace. He must have possession of power, yet operate in humility. He must be a great leader, yet also be God’s servant. He must have the ability to lead skillfully, which means that he must endure the faithlessness and complaining of his followers. He must have the brilliance to know God’s thoughts, and yet be capable of communicating those thought on the people’s level.

Jesus communicated God’s prophecies to his generation with clarity and power. He had the advantage of being the one and only Son of the Father. He said “All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.”[24]

The prophet was to be a kind of person who would reveal how God felt in any given situation. He or she had to have a hand on God’s pulse. If God was angry, the prophet needed to express that anger. If God was compassionate, the prophet was to show that mercy and pity. The prophet’s job was to know God and to make him known.

John describes Jesus’ messianic ministry in this way: “No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.”[25] Through the Messiah, God’s Word “became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.”[26] Like no one else – not even Moses – Jesus revealed God to us.

Jesus described God as our Father who is in heaven.[27] The phrase signifies both intimacy and distance. It speaks of one with whom we can have a relationship, yet not as though among equals. The relationship he describes is son-ship. If we imitate the character of our heavenly Father, then we are acting like his sons. When our Father sees our acts of righteousness done merely to please him, then he will reward us. But if we do our acts of righteousness merely to please other humans, he knows and withholds his reward. We should fear our Father in heaven. Our relationship is such that his will is our first consideration. Even though Christ is sends us out like sheep among wolves, we should not fear the wolves. They can only kill us. The Father has power to destroy us in hell. So we should fear his displeasure above all other fears.[28]

Jesus’ words are to be the basis for our lives. He told us to make disciples of all nations by baptizing people into his name and teaching them all his commands. He fulfills the role of the ultimate prophet. The writer of Hebrews tells us that “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world.”[29] Now, at last, when know how God feels. He reacts to things just as his Son did.

He will Mediate God’s Provisions

The Messiah would not only be the ultimate prophet, but he would also be the ultimate priest. He is the only being ever capable of serving in that exalted position, “For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all.”[30] That personal relationship with God that allows us to call him our heavenly Father could never had happened if it were not for Christ’s mediation.

As our great high priest, the Messiah can empathize with us when we are tempted to fall short of God’s perfection, “For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.”[31] He understands the thoughts that go through our minds. He does not just know those thoughts like someone who memorizes a song. He understands the thoughts and feelings like the original author of the song.

Jesus is appointed high priest after the order of Melchizedek. Like the high priest under Aaron’s priesthood, he could empathize with God’s people because he was one of them.[32] But unlike the ordinary priests, Jesus could mediate God’s position perfectly because he never sinned. He never stopped being God the Son. Since he now has resurrected eternal life, he is able to “save to the uttermost” all those who put their faith in him, since he is able to intercede for them continually.[33] He does so on the basis of new promises God has offered as part of his new covenant.[34]

The provisions of this new covenant speak to a new relationship with God in the present, and a new inheritance from God in the future. Jesus is “the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, since a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions committed under the first covenant.”[35] If Jesus had not died on the cross, the transgressions that kept us tied to the laws of the old covenant would still be hanging over all humanity, keeping us at enmity with God. Since Jesus has taken the guilt for those transgressions away, we are free to inherit eternal blessing instead of eternal shame and destruction.

Under the old covenant, the blood of the innocent cried out for retribution and seeks justice. That was the blood of Abel: the first person murdered. Under the new covenant, the blood of the innocent cries out for repentance and offers grace. That is the blood of Christ on the cross. Believers who claim to be under the new covenant of grace should be careful to live up to its provisions offered by Christ. Because…

you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel. See that you do not refuse him who is speaking. For if they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less will we escape if we reject him who warns from heaven.[36]

The most dangerous kind of life to live is that of a “Christian” who does not fear God. Such a person claims that Jesus is his Messiah, yet refuses to follow him. The author of Hebrews says that such a person is worse off than those who pretended to live under the provisions of the Old Covenant, mediated by Moses. Our mediator is the Son of God himself.

He will Lead God’s People

Another role expected of God’s Messiah is that of leadership and guidance. The One who was to come was to be the Good Shepherd, who leads, guides, protects and provides for God’s people. This aspect of Messiah’s leadership was clearly seen in the analysis of the shepherd texts in chapter 35.

The leadership role of the Messiah was also described in royal terms. Jeremiah prophesied: “Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In his days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell securely. And this is the name by which he will be called: ‘The LORD is our righteousness.’”[37] Isaiah adds: “Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this.”[38]

Jesus admitted that he was the king that the Old Testament prophets had predicted. When Pilate asked him if he was the king of Israel, Jesus replied “You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world- to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.”[39] He was not evading the question. He was affirming that his was divinely ordained leadership, and that other leaders (like Herod, Caesar, and Pilate himself) were leading people away from the truth.

The wise men came to Jerusalem looking for the new “king of the Jews” who had been born.[40] Nathaniel’s reaction to Jesus was “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!”[41] The Gentiles sought to have Christians brought to justice for treason against Caesar, because they were “all acting against the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, Jesus.””[42]

When Jesus rode into Jerusalem for his triumphal entry, he chose a donkey’s colt, specifically because he was fulfilling a scripture about the Messiah as a king: “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”[43] To ride into town on a humble animal was not only a sign of his humility, but it also had been done by ancient kings to demonstrate their strength. The idea was that a strong animal was not needed if the victory was already sure. This was exactly how he was received. John records “So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, crying out, and “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!””[44]

But ultimately it will be known by all that Jesus is more than just king of one ethnic group. He will reign over all ethnic groups. When the song is sung praising Christ for his leadership, it will sound like this: “Great and amazing are your deeds, O Lord God the Almighty! Just and true are your ways, O King of the nations!”[45] He is king of kings and Lord of Lords.[46]

He will Fulfill God’s Plan

God had planned for his Son to be born on earth[47] to a virgin.[48] He would be from the lineage of Jesse,[49] and be a descendant of King David.[50] He would be born in the little town of Bethlehem, in Judah[51] but raised in Nazareth, a town in Galilee.[52] News of this birth would cause a massacre of infant boys in a town called Ramah, north of Jerusalem.[53] As a child, this son would go to Egypt, and then return from it.[54]

After growing up, this young man would take on a mission to both restore the tribes of Jacob and to be a light to the Gentile nations as well.[55] He would deliver people from physical ailments,[56] and also set them free from spiritual bondage.[57] He would then be rejected,[58] betrayed,[59] and killed for the transgressions of God’s people.[60]

After fulfilling God’s plan in all these (and many other) details, Jesus was raised from the dead, which was also part of God’s plan.[61] He commissioned his church to continue making disciples of all nations because he is not yet finished fulfilling God’s plan. One day Christ will suddenly return to this earth to claim his rightful place as king of the universe. This is Christ’s destiny. It is what he was anointed for.

[1] Matthew 16:16.

[2] Genesis 3:15.

[3] Matthew 20:28.

[4] Revelation 5:9.

[5] Luke 22:19.

[6] John 6:48-58.

[7] John 6:27.

[8] John 6:29 {emphasis mine}.

[9] 2 Corinthians 5:14-15.

[10] 1 Timothy 2:6.

[11] John 6:39.

[12] 2 Corinthians 8:9.

[13] Galatians 1:4.

[14] Galatians 2:20.

[15] Ephesians 5:2.

[16] Ephesians 5:25.

[17] 1 Peter 2:24.

[18] 1 John 3:16.

[19] 1 Thessalonians 5:9-10.

[20] Titus 2:14.

[21] Revelation 1:5-6.

[22] Deuteronomy 18:18 (see also 18:15).

[23] Deuteronomy 34:10-12.

[24] Matthew 11:27.

[25] John 1:18.

[26] John 1:14.

[27] Matthew 5:16, 45, 48; 6:9, 14, 26, 32; 7:11; 23:9.

[28] Matthew 10:16-28.

[29] Hebrews 1:1-2.

[30] 1 Timothy 2:5-6.

[31] Hebrews 2:18.

[32] Hebrews 5:1-10.

[33] Hebrews 7:25.

[34] Hebrews 8:6.

[35] Hebrews 9:15.

[36] Hebrews 12:22-25.

[37] Jeremiah 23:5-6.

[38] Isaiah 9:7.

[39] John 18:37.

[40] Matthew 2:2.

[41] John 1:49.

[42] Acts 17:7.

[43] Zechariah 9:9.

[44] John 12:13.

[45] Revelation 15:3 {The word for nations is the same word often rendered Gentiles}.

[46] 1 Tim. 6:15; Rev. 17:14; 19:16.

[47] Isaiah 9:6-7; Mark 1:1; John 1:1-3, 14.

[48] Isaiah 7:14; Matthew 1:1-2, 16.

[49] Isaiah 11:1-5, 10; Romans 15:12; Matthew 1:6, 16.

[50] Isaiah 16:5; Matthew 1:1-2a, 6, 16.

[51] Micah 5:2; Matthew 2:1.

[52] Isaiah 9:1-2; Matthew 2:22-23; 4:13-16.

[53] Jeremiah 31:15; Matthew 2:16-18.

[54] Hosea 11:1; Matthew 2:14-15.

[55] Isaiah 49:6; 42:1-4, 6; Matthew 12:14-21.

[56] Isaiah 29:18; 35:5-6a; Luke 7:20-22.

[57] Isaiah 61:1-2; Luke 4:16-21.

[58]Psalms 69:8; Matthew 21:42.

[59] Zechariah 11:12; Matthew 26:14-15.

[60] Isaiah 53:8; 1 Peter 2:24.

[61] Isaiah 53:8, 11; Matthew 28:2, 5-7, 9.

ACST 35: The Good Shepherd

jesus-the-good-shepherd It is an axiom that “no good deed goes unpunished,” and that was true in the life of Jesus. John records in chapter nine of his Gospel that Jesus did the good deed of restoring sight to a blind man. The Pharisees learned about it, and concluded that Jesus was “not from God.”[1] They reasoned that a leader sent from God would have the good sense not to heal anyone on the Sabbath.

They could not see beyond their narrow, legalistic worldview to recognize who Jesus really was. Jesus commented on this event by saying “For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and those who see may become blind,”[2] When the Pharisees who overheard what he said figured out that he might have been referring to them — the leaders in Israel – they asked him if that were the case. He responded “If you were blind, you would have no guilt; but now that you say, ‘We see,’ your guilt remains.”[3] Their guilt was in claiming to lead people to God when – in fact – they were leading them away from Christ.

That is the context in which Jesus gives his “Good Shepherd” monologue. It can be found in the first eighteen verses of John 10. A shepherd is a person who is trusted and appointed by the owner of the sheep and goats to look after them. He provides for their needs by leading them to where they can find sustenance. He protects them from predators and their own foolish tendency to get lost. If he is a good shepherd, he is even willing to put his own life on the line to protect and save his sheep from danger. In his Good Shepherd monologue, Jesus asserted that he is the divinely appointed leader of God’s people, and that the Pharisees and others like them are not.

The Door

Again, it must be understood that Jesus was talking to the Pharisees, who fancied themselves the super-spiritual leaders of God’s people. In the first ten verses of his Good Shepherd monologue, Jesus is explaining to the bad shepherds why they are bad shepherds. To do that, he uses the metaphor of a door. The door of which he speaks is not the door to a house, but is something that shepherds are familiar with.

In Bible times a shepherd would sleep in the opening of a desert

pen to personally guard the only access to his precious livestock.

With this cultural context in mind, Jesus could as easily say “I am

the gate” as “I am the Good Shepherd.” As a symbolic gate, the

shepherd was the only means by which someone could have access

to the fold.[4]

The Pharisees assumed that — since they studied and revered the Torah — God had automatically qualified them for spiritual leadership. Jesus affirmed the reality of spiritual leadership of God’s flock, but denied that the Pharisees were qualified. The reason: those Pharisees had not entered through the door. They did not have a relationship with God through his only Son.

Not having entered through the door, the Pharisees were seeking to gain access to the flock some other way. That makes them not shepherds, but thieves. They were attempting to steal something that was not theirs: the sheep. They were attempting to gain the loyalty and obedience of God’s people.

The result of this attempted robbery would be bad for the sheep. The Good Shepherd would come (to the fold) in order to ensure abundant life for them. They would “go in and out and find pasture.”[5] The false shepherds come (into the pen) only for the purpose of stealing, killing and destroying the flock.[6] Jesus was referring to the false leaders of his day, but the same is true of all those who attempt to lead God’s people without having first established a relationship with God through Jesus, the door.

The Protector

From verse eleven, Jesus takes up the question which is undoubtedly on the minds of the Pharisees as they listen to Jesus condemn them as false shepherds: “What makes you the good shepherd?” To answer that question, Jesus changes the scenario a little bit. Now, the danger is not from false shepherds seeking to steal the sheep, but from the wolf who wants to snatch and scatter them.

Jesus continues to be the door of protection for the sheep, but now he is called on to put his own life in danger to protect his sheep. He qualifies as the good shepherd because he “lays down his life for the sheep.”[7] He is willing to do whatever it takes to ensure the safety of the flock. It is obvious that Jesus refers to his own impending death on the cross here. The sheep needed more than just protection. They needed deliverance. Only by sacrificing his own life would the good shepherd ensure the preservation of the lives of those he was responsible for.

The Owner

Why does Jesus lay down his life for the sheep? He does it because his relationship with God’s people is not the same as that of the false shepherds. The false shepherds are hired hands. He is the owner of the sheep. When the wolf comes, the hired hands run away because they are not willing to pay the ultimate price to protect those under their charge. The owner knows the sheep and cares for them. The sheep know the owner, and respond to him when he calls them by name.

As the owner of the sheep, Jesus has plans to increase his flock. He has other sheep who are not part of the present fold. He has plans to bring those other sheep into the fold so that there will be “one flock, one shepherd.”[8] Those who advocate forms of universalism see this statement by Jesus as affirming that there are several ways to God. We must understand, however, that the context in which Jesus speaks does not allow that interpretation of his words.

The whole intent of Jesus’ Good Shepherd monologue is to show that God has specifically chosen his only Son to be the only way to salvation. Jesus condemned the Pharisees for – in a sense – taking his place and attempting to steal the sheep. He insisted on being the door through which everyone must pass in order to be a part of the flock.

Likewise, as the only Son of the owner (the Father) Jesus is uniquely qualified as the Good Shepherd because only he will lay down his life for the sheep. No one in the past or the future will be able to do this – only Jesus Christ.

The Son

Unlike all those leaders who had gone before Jesus, and all of us who come after him, only the Son is uniquely qualified to give his life as an atoning sacrifice to rescue the entire flock from the ravening wolf – sin and death.[9]

He has a unique relationship with God the Father. He says “The Father knows me and I know the Father.”[10] His relationship with the Father implies that there is no impediment – nothing comes between the two. For the rest of us, sin keeps us from having that kind of relationship with God. For Christ, eternally sinless, no such impediment exists. This sinless state puts Christ in the unique position in that only he can be the sacrifice to undo the damage that sin has done to humanity.

Only Christ has been charged by the Father with the task of redeeming humanity by his blood. How it must have enraged the Pharisees when Jesus told them that he has received that special charge from his Father![11] From that moment, many who had probably been open to Jesus’ message turned against him completely, claiming that he was either insane or demon possessed.[12]

They might have accepted that Jesus was a good teacher, or even a good moral leader, but Jesus would not allow them to stay there. He must either be the sinless sacrifice that God exclusively uses for the rescue of humanity, or not. Accept him or reject him, but either way he is the Good Shepherd and there is no other.

As the Son, Jesus is the only one with the legal right (authority) to lay down his own life to atone for humanity’s sin, and to take it up again by resurrection.[13] For anyone else to presume to die for humanity’s sin would be madness indeed. Only a perfect sacrifice can ever cover the sins and pay the debt of another. Even if you or I dared to go to the cross ourselves, we could not atone for our sin. The only way a sinful human could ever pay for his sins is by suffering and destruction in hell.

Therefore, if you want to do it your way, hell is your only option. Either you enter by door number one, the divinely ordained Door which leads to abundant and eternal life through resurrection – or you take the exit door which leads to misery and destruction. There is no door number three.

Jesus’ death was no accident. In his Good Shepherd monologue he indicated that he would intentionally lay it down (on the cross) and would intentionally take it up again (through the resurrection).[14] It was part of the Father’s plan to rescue all his lost sheep and bring them all back into the fold – into an eternal relationship with him.

How Jesus Taught

Jesus demonstrated that he is the Good Shepherd by how he taught. Mark mentioned that those who heard him teaching “were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one who had authority, and not as the scribes.”[15] He was not merely passing on information that could be read in a book. He was reflecting a relationship that he had with his Father in heaven. He was reflecting a relationship that he had with his followers (sheep) here on earth. His authority was intrinsic, not derived.

What He Did

Jesus demonstrated that he is the Good shepherd by doing what no other shepherds could do. He brought deliverance by healing and rescuing the demon possessed, and passed on the authority for his followers to do the same. Believers today can minister healing and deliverance as well, but we must be careful to do so for the same purpose. We are to demonstrate not that we are something, or that the power to heal and exorcise demons is something, but that Jesus is something. The miracles should enforce the message, and the message must be who Jesus Christ is.

Jesus demonstrated that he is the Good Shepherd by laying down his life for the sheep. Only he was qualified to do that. Only his blood could atone for the sins of lost humanity. Only his blood, and not anything else added to it!

It is the blood of Jesus alone that delivers you. If you think that it is because of your faith, then you will always be wondering, “Do I have enough faith?” No my friend, it is His blood alone that saves. And when God sees that you see that it is the blood alone that saves, He calls that faith in the blood, and every plague will pass over you! God wants you to know that it is Jesus’ blood alone that saves because every time you think that your deliverance depends partly on God and partly on you, you will not have a settled peace in your heart. But when you know that it is the blood alone that saves, you will have an unshakable peace.[16]

The Good Shepherd alone is responsible for the preservation and protection of the sheep. The sheep cannot take credit for following. They cannot claim superior position in the flock because of their wisdom or status. Every one of the sheep are safe because of the faithfulness of the shepherd – and nothing else.

Access to the Father

Paul was probably thinking of Jesus as the Door of the sheep when he said that “through him we both (Jews and Gentiles) have access in one Spirit to the Father.”[17] It was he (Paul) who answered definitively who the other sheep were that Jesus had alluded to.[18] The flock to whom Jesus was speaking were Jews. The other sheep would be the Gentiles, because the door would allow them access to the sheep-pen as well. The law was a barrier to keep Gentiles out. Jesus was a door that would open to let all believers – Jew and Gentile – in. He provided access to the Father. So the Jewish Paul could encourage the Gentile Ephesians by saying “So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God.”[19]

The Blood of the Eternal Covenant

The author of Hebrews mentions that Jesus is “the great shepherd of the sheep” and “the blood of the eternal covenant” in the same sentence.[20] He was apparently drawing attention to the fact that Jesus, in fulfilling his role as the divinely appointed shepherd laid down his life for the sheep. He ties this act of sacrifice with the eternal covenant. That means that what Jesus did was not just sufficient to repeal the effects of sin for a time, but forever. What Jesus did on the cross will never have to be repeated. Once paid, the price need never be brought forth again.


Leaders in the new covenant community would come to see themselves as under-shepherds – responsible to provide and protect the flock until Christ the Chief Shepherd appears.

So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.[21]

Peter’s advice to the elders shows how under-shepherds are supposed to exercise oversight:

1. Their work must be voluntary, not under compulsion. They must do what they do for the same reason that the Good Shepherd did what he was called to do: out of compassion and love for the sheep.

2. Their work must be a labor of love, not a job for a salary. Peter was not arguing against compensation. He would agree with Paul that the church must not “muzzle the ox while it treads the grain.”[22] Peter himself probably received funds to sustain his apostolic work.[23] But he also knew the danger of the temptation to do ministry for profit. He warns that passion for the work itself should motivate ministry, not passion for profit. The under-shepherd works ultimately for the unfading crown of glory which the Chief Shepherd will give when he appears.

3. Their work must be in demonstration of submission, not a demand for submission. They were to be examples to the flock, not domineering over those in their charge. Jesus offered himself as an example of how his disciples were to do that.

You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.[24]

Secure in the Shepherd’s Hand

Jesus went on to describe his role as the Good Shepherd and what that would mean for the sheep. He said he was in the process of giving his sheep “eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand.”[25] He talks about salvation in terms of certainty and security – yes, eternal security.

The reason for that promise of eternal security is not that the sheep have done something, but that the shepherd has done something. That is why – on the one hand – believers can talk about being eternally secure – because once God saves you, you are always saved. On the other hand, unbelievers who have half-heartedly prayed a sinner’s prayer, and then have gone on to live the same sinful, unrepentant life that they lived before cannot claim eternal security. Salvation is not based on what the believer does but what the Good Shepherd did. It is not based on my response to the call of God to repent. It is based on Christ’s response to the call of God to die.

Those who have truly repented — and endeavor to live the life of repentance that the Good Shepherd called them to — will know the security of living in the shepherd’s hand. They will know that they are safe, and that no one will be able to snatch them from the protective grasp of their savior. This security will not give them license to sin, but will encourage them not to sin. If they sin, they will feel the displeasure of the shepherd who holds them firmly. Because of their relationship, they will strive to obey their shepherd, not to take advantage of his grace.

[1] John 9:16.

[2] John 9:39.

[3] John 9:41.

[4] Timothy S. Laniak, While Shepherds Watch Their Flocks. (HigherLife Development Services, Inc., 2007), 141.

[5] John 10:9.

[6] John 10:10.

[7] John 10:11.

[8] John 10:16.

[9] Neither the thief of verse 10 nor the wolf of verse 12 is a direct reference to Satan. Jesus is not teaching about Satan but himself. As the Door he protects us from false leaders, as the sacrificing Son he took on sin and death and defeated them at the cross.

[10] John 10:15.

[11] John 10:18.

[12] John 10:20.

[13] John 10:17.

[14] John 10:18.

[15] Mark 1:22.


[17] Ephesians 2:18.

[18] John 10:16

[19] Ephesians 2:19.

[20] Hebrews 13:20.

[21] 1 Peter 5:1-4.

[22] 1 Corinthians 9:9; I Timothy 5:18.

[23] This assumption is based on the fact that Paul argued in 1 Corinthians 9 that “those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel” (14), but that Paul said that he and the others on his missionary team “have not made use of this right, but we endure anything rather than put an obstacle in the way of the gospel of Christ” (12). Peter and the other apostles probably made use of the right to receive compensation for ministry.

[24] Matthew 20:25-28.

[25] John 10:28-29.