Category Archives: The Gospel of John

Sheep Beaters

Our Lord uses the imagery of sheep to refer to His people, a reference that is used throughout Scripture.  In turn, He as our Great Shepherd leads us into green pastures and beside still waters.  The picture of a sheep is not a flattering one.  Largely ignorant, defenseless, and prone to wander, these adjectives often combine to leave the sheep exposed to predators, such as lions and bears who sought out the sheep of the young shepherd David or wolves, whom Paul promised would soon inhabit the Church at Ephesus from within.  Even with the natural imagery of David and the spiritual ascription by Paul, a more striking, sinister description is given in Ezekiel 34, that of unfaithful shepherds.  Why do I say this is worse?  Because sheep can spot a lion or bear and while a wolf in sheep’s clothing, spiritually speaking, could certainly wreak havoc on a flock, it would seem to pale in comparison to a flock that followed an unfaithful, uncaring, inattentive shepherd.  Each of those predators listed above can harm the sheep, but an unfaithful shepherd can harm the flock and leave the gate open for those predators to enter in.  Note the passage from Ezekiel below:

“The word of the Lord came to me: 2 “Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel; prophesy, and say to them, even to the shepherds, Thus says the Lord God: Ah, shepherds of Israel who have been feeding yourselves! Should not shepherds feed the sheep? 3 You eat the fat, you clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the fat ones, but you do not feed the sheep. 4 The weak you have not strengthened, the sick you have not healed, the injured you have not bound up, the strayed you have not brought back, the lost you have not sought, and with force and harshness you have ruled them. 5 So they were scattered, because there was no shepherd, and they became food for all the wild beasts. 6 My sheep were scattered; they wandered over all the mountains and on every high hill. My sheep were scattered over all the face of the earth, with none to search or seek for them.

7 “Therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the Lord: 8 As I live, declares the Lord God, surely because my sheep have become a prey, and my sheep have become food for all the wild beasts, since there was no shepherd, and because my shepherds have not searched for my sheep, but the shepherds have fed themselves, and have not fed my sheep, 9 therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the Lord: 10 Thus says the Lord God, Behold, I am against the shepherds, and I will require my sheep at their hand and put a stop to their feeding the sheep. No longer shall the shepherds feed themselves. I will rescue my sheep from their mouths, that they may not be food for them.”

Summarizing:

  1. Unfaithful shepherds do not feed the flock of God (vs. 2)
  2. Unfaithful shepherds use the flock of God for their own benefit (vs. 3)
  3. Unfaithful shepherds butcher the flock of God (vs. 3)
  4. Unfaithful shepherds fail to care for the flock of God (vs. 4)
  5. Unfaithful shepherds fail to protect the flock of God (vs. 5)
  6. Unfaithful shepherds fail to shepherd the flock of God (vs. 5)
  7. Unfaithful shepherds beat the flock of God (vs. 4-5)

With this brief synopsis of the indictments levied by God against the unfaithful shepherds of Israel, there is one particular phrase that caught my attention, “with force and harshness you have ruled them.” Ezekiel 34:4 The summation of all that God has to say with regard to unfaithful shepherds culminates with this indictment, “You have ruled my sheep forcefully and harshly” resulting in a scattering of the flock and causing them to be open prey for the predators.  Instead of shepherds, God finds sheep beaters.

Though in context, this passage deals specifically with Israel and her unfaithful leaders, is there an application that can be drawn from it for today regarding 1. The presence of unfaithful shepherds today and 2. God’s attitude towards those who unfaithfully shepherd His sheep?  The answer to the question of modern application would seem to be a resounding yes on both points.  In Acts 20:28 the Apostle Paul instructs the leaders of the Church at Ephesus to “Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood.” While the ESV translates the phrase above “to care for the church of God” the NASB, more appropriately translates it, “to shepherd the church of God.”  This is to be preferred because of the imagery Paul uses earlier in the verse as he refers to God’s church as His “flock.”  Likewise in 1 Peter 5:1-5 we read,

“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: 2 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; 3 not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. 4 And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory. 5 Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”

In Peter’s language you can nearly hear the OT background of Ezekiel’s record of God’s indictment against unfaithful shepherds.  Finally, Jude refers to ungodly people who have crept in unnoticed as “shepherds feeding themselves” (Jude 1:12) again likely drawing on the imagery of Ezekiel 34.

The application to be drawn from these passages is that unfaithful shepherds have been in the Church (of Israel – QAHAL Israel) and unfaithful shepherds are currently in the Church (Christ’s NT Church) and God’s warning, objection, and accusation against these unfaithful leaders remains a constant.

What then are we to conclude about unfaithful shepherds in Christ’s Church today that are guilty of one or all of those indictments mentioned above?

  1. They exist and operate today much like they have done throughout the history of the Church.
  2. They have always operated out of selfish motivation and personal ambition to suit the desires of their own flesh.
  3. They operate under the title of “shepherd” which they wrongly assume grants them authority to treat the sheep however they see fit.  It is difficult therefore, to imagine any scenario where this title is one granted by the Holy Spirit and not assumed by the will or plans of man.
  4. They fail to follow the pattern of the Great Shepherd, who not only cares for His sheep, but has laid down His life for them.
  5. They have been marked out long ago for condemnation.

Jesus instructs us in John 10:1-5 of how His sheep are to respond to unfaithful, false, shepherds,

Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door but climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber. 2 But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. 3 To him the gatekeeper opens. The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4 When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. 5 A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers.

And again,

7 So Jesus again said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. 8 All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. 9 I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture. 10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. 11 I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. 13 He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. 14 I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep.”

Christ’s sheep will not follow the voice of an unfaithful shepherd, a voice that is as a stranger to them.  In fact, not only will they choose not to follow, but they will flee from him (John 10:5).  The motivation of the hireling or unfaithful shepherd is clear, self-centered and self-seeking, leaving the sheep as prey for the predator.  Just because someone has assumed the title or role of pastor/shepherd does not automatically mean they are faithful.  Consequently, sheep are not obligated in any way to follow him.

For more on the relationship of Ezekiel 34 and John 10 see here: http://voiceoftruthblog.com/shepherds-feed-the-sheep

And here: http://voiceoftruthblog.com/sermon-of-the-week-12512-i-am-the-good-shepherd

Jacob’s Ladder – The Messiah Jesus Christ

A fascinating, yet often confused element to understanding the Bible is the way that the New Testament uses, quotes, or otherwise alludes to the Old Testament.  We’ve seen it in several recent posts, specifically the Apostle John’s quotation by John the Baptist concerning the name Lamb of God, which is packed full of Old Testament nuances, ascribed to Christ.  We needn’t move far from this passage in John 1 before we encounter another strong, clear example of the NT use of the OT, this time from our Lord Jesus Christ.

In John 1:43-51, we find a passage describing the calling of Nathaniel in what might otherwise be an overlooked detail.  However, as is always the case in Scripture, there is much more for us to glean.  Notice the following observations from the passage:

  • Phillips recognition of the promised Messiah (vs. 45)
  • The basis for his recognition is the OT, i.e. “Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote” (vs. 45)
  • Nathaniel’s hesitation to believe without seeing (vs. 46)
  • Jesus’ observation of Nathaniel’s character (vs. 47)
    • Note the contrast with Nathaniel’s statement in vs. 46
  • Nathaniel’s encounter with the Lord (vs. 48-49)
    • He believes
  • Jesus’ promise of better things to come (vs. 50)
  • Angel’s ascending and descending on the Son of Man (vs. 51)
    • A clear reference to the OT, Genesis 28:12

With these general observations made, there are really two that I want to focus on.  First is Philip’s recognition of Jesus in verse 45 and his statement on the expectation of the Old Testament.  When Philip says to Nathaniel, “We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph” what are we to make of this?  Where is he referring to in the OT?  When we read the OT or hear it preached are our thoughts immediately transferred to Christ?  Should they be?

Jesus uses similar language when He meets with His disciples after His death and resurrection.  In Luke 24:27 we read, “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself “ and again in Luke 24:44-47 “Then he said to them, ‘These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.’ 45 Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, 46 and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, 47 and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.”

With this in mind, we can see clearly that the OT anticipation of the coming Messiah was fulfilled in the person and work of Jesus Christ and we can better understand that all of the Old Testament types, shadows, and allusions were pointing toward Him.

Which brings us to the second observation, the reference to Genesis 28:12.  Note the passage from Genesis 28 in context:

10 Jacob left Beersheba and went toward Haran. 11 And he came to a certain place and stayed there that night, because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones of the place, he put it under his head and lay down in that place to sleep. 12 And he dreamed, and behold, there was a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven. And behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it! 13 And behold, the Lord stood above it and said, “I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac. The land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring. 14 Your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south, and in you and your offspring shall all the families of the earth be blessed. 15 Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land. For I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.” 16 Then Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I did not know it.” 17 And he was afraid and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.”

18 So early in the morning Jacob took the stone that he had put under his head and set it up for a pillar and poured oil on the top of it. 19 He called the name of that place Bethel, but the name of the city was Luz at the first. 20 Then Jacob made a vow, saying, “If God will be with me and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat and clothing to wear, 21 so that I come again to my father’s house in peace, then the Lord shall be my God, 22 and this stone, which I have set up for a pillar, shall be God’s house. And of all that you give me I will give a full tenth to you.”

jacobsladderThis fascinating vision given to Jacob becomes the object upon which Christ draws attention in the passage from John 1.  Jesus asserts that we are not to expect an actual ladder to be constructed from heaven and earth, that was the mistake of those who built the Tower of Babal in Genesis 11 (likely contrasted here in Genesis 28).  Instead, He takes this vision of Jacob and applies it directly to Himself, as a pathway upon which angels will ascend and descend.

Christ is the fulfillment of the OT type seen in Jacob’s dream.  He, and He alone, is the bridge, or ladder, between God and man (or heaven and earth as it were).  Upon Him, i.e. through His person and work, do angel’s ascend and descend as a picture of the access to God the Father that Christ has provided through His life, death, and resurrection.  “…No one comes unto the Father except through me.” John 14:6 It is by way of Christ and no other that access can be granted to God.  He is the only “way, truth, and life.”  Jesus is the better and true ladder of Jacob’s vision, where the glory of the holy God condescends to meet with sinful man.

Behold, The Lamb of God

Behold, The Lamb of God

John 1:29 “The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”

In the first chapter of John’s Gospel, the Apostle sets the framework for his account of Jesus’ life by turning our attention to the Old Testament.  This is evident in verse 1, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” as he brings readers to recall Genesis 1:1, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.”  The idea of God, more specifically Jesus Christ (see Hebrews 1) as Creator is expounded upon by John in verse 3, “All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.”

With one eye focused on the text of John and the other on the Old Testament, the discerning reader will be equipped to not only understand what God’s inspired word says in John, but also how the words of his gospel can inform one’s  understanding of the Old Testament.  This is precisely the case with our subject verse of John 1:29.

John the Baptist is quoted here referring to Jesus as “the Lamb of God”.  With our attention already keenly cast on the use of the OT in this first chapter of John (the Apostle), we should immediately began recalling where, if anywhere, we may have encountered an OT reference like this.  For those unfamiliar with the OT, most good Bible’s have a cross-reference system either in the center column or the margins of their pages.  If used properly, these can prove to be invaluable.

Using either recall or your cross-references, you may find that when John uses the title “the Lamb of God” he likely has Exodus 12 in mind.  Turning to this passage of the Old Testament, we find ourselves in the context of the Israelite captivity in Egypt and the implementation of plagues upon Pharaoh.  The final plague is promised in chapter 11,

“So Moses said, ‘Thus says the LORD: About midnight I will go out in the midst of Egypt, and every firstborn in the land of Egypt shall die, from the firstborn of Pharaoh who sits on his throne, even to the firstborn of the slave girl who is behind the handmill, and all the firstborn of the cattle. There shall be a great cry throughout all the land of Egypt, such as there has never been, nor ever will be again. But not a dog shall growl against any of the people of Israel, either man or beast, that you may know that the LORD makes a distinction between Egypt and Israel. And all these your servants shall come down to me and bow down to me, saying, ‘Get out, you and all the people who follow you.’ And after that I will go out.’ And he went out from Pharaoh in hot anger. Then the LORD said to Moses, ‘Pharaoh will not listen to you, that my wonders may be multiplied in the land of Egypt.’”

It is with this context in mind that we read of the Passover Lamb in Exodus 12.  God instructs Moses to tell all the congregation to acquire a lamb, without blemish (Ex. 12:5) for sacrifice.  The people were instructed to kill their lambs at twilight on the specified day.  They were to sprinkle its blood on the doorposts and the lintel, then roast and eat the flesh.  When God passed through the land of Egypt to enact judgment through the death of their firstborn (both man and beast), He would, “see the blood” and “pass over” the house.  This is where the memorial feast of Passover got its name.

There is more we could glean from this OT passage, but for now our understanding of John’s use of “Lamb of God” in John 1:29 is better informed.  Likewise, this imagery of a lamb is again used in Isaiah 53:7, “He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth.”  Additionally, the requirement of God to Moses that the lamb should be without spot or blemish is recounted in 1 Peter 1:19, “but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot.”

Reading the OT by itself can often provide a limited picture of understanding.  Yes, they can be understood in their context, i.e. we can read of God requiring the Israelites to slaughter a lamb and sprinkle the blood, but without allowing the New Testament to inform our understanding of the OT, we miss out on a lot of key passages pertaining to Christ and run in danger of misinterpretation.

Passages such as these, where a person, place, event, or institution points or alludes to another person, place, event, or institution use what is called typology.  It commonly occurs between the OT and NT and provides continuity between the two, particularly as it relates to God’s plan of redemption.  In our case here, the Passover lamb is the type and John’s reference to Jesus as the “Lamb of God” makes Jesus the antitype.  Another common use of typology involves what is called the archetype.  An example of this would be the “pattern on the mountain” (Ex. 25:9; Heb. 8:5) that God shows Moses for construction of the tabernacle.  This pattern was the heavenly temple of God (Rev. 11:19, et.al.) and would be the archetype.  We know this because Moses constructed the tabernacle and Solomon eventually the temple, both of which would be the type.  What then is the antitype, or the greater temple?  It is Jesus.  In Matthew 12:6 Jesus says, “I tell you, something greater than the temple is here” and in John 2:19 He says, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.”  According to John 2:21-22, we know that this was indeed a reference to Jesus’ death and resurrection.

The New Testament is filled with rich references to the Old Testament such as this one from John 1:29.  Far from breezing through the Bible, it pays to take time and study, use cross references, and meditate on God’s Word.  Doing so will allow for a greater understanding of God’s Word, fuller revelation of Himself, and cause for worshipping God who in His infinite wisdom has determined the beginning from the end.