By Edgar Jones
The papers recently published on this site, The Hard and the Narrow and The One Flock and the One Shepherd, began a series of short papers, continued here, that investigate the church and related conceptions in the Holy Logos, the Holy Words uttered by Jesus of Nazareth. We urge you to read also the companion paper entitled The Ecclesia According to Jesus.
On close examination of the Greek gospels, it turn out that Jesus never uttered the word church or its Greek equivalent, kyriakos, that, literally defined, means "of the Lord." The Greek word that Jesus uttered is ekklesia, that refers in general to an assemblege of persons called out and congregated at a particular place. Its English equivalent is ecclesia. Therefore this paper has it focus on the ecclesia, in particular we seek here to identify the terms in the pastoral metaphor that Jesus used to describe it. We are not here speaking of the church, although we will, in closing, draw some conclusions that involve what Britons and Americans call "the church." An extensive discussion of this terminology is on this site at
In all the gospels, Jesus spoke directly of the ecclesia on only two occasions. We should quote him here in passing:Matthew 16:18 And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build myI have elsewhere shown that, in these occasions when Jesus referred to the ekklesia, he was not speaking of what, in Christendom, men identify as the Church. He spoke instead of his synagogue that he would build on the foundation of the good confession uttered by Peter. It consists of all the children of God whom he has called out from the world to assemble before him on the last day. In a related topic I have also shown how the Church has become distinguished from the synogogue of Jesus (that he called his ekklesia) as defining the synagogue of the Gentiles.
church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it.
Matthew 18:17 If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he
refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.
So, Jesus had very little to say about his ekklesia as such, mentioning it only on two occasions and that recorded only by Matthew. But he does bring it forth in very revealing metaphors, especially in the Fourth Gospel, to which we now turn.
This metaphor, involving sheep, goats, pastures, folds, flocks, shepherds, strangers, thieves and robbers is not original with Jesus. He lifted it from the Prophets and the Psalms, where it generally applied to the nation of Israel as the sheep and to either the Lord or their kings as shepherds. The most familiar of these texts is the 23rd Psalm, that begins, "The Lord is my Shepherd . . .. " Other prophetic texts include Isaiah 40:11, Jeremiah 31:10, Ezekiel 34 and Zechariah 13:7. Jesus specifically identified himself as the shepherd in the latter of these texts, where it is written of him,
I. The Pastoral MetaphorAwake, O sword, against my shepherd, against the man who stands next to me," says the LORD of hosts. "Strike the shepherd, that the sheep may be scattered; I will turn my hand against the little ones.So, Jesus chose to teach about his ekklesia by use of this metaphor. The Hebrews were a pastoral people and had a deep appreciation for the images that it sparks in the imagination so that this was aptly chosen for teaching his Jewish disciples. It is also particularly illuminating to me due to the pastoral experiences with farm animals during my youth. How vivid the memory! The memory is of the many mornings when I took the cows and their calves forth to pasture, and the evenings when I gathered them and brought them back to the barn for milking.
II. The Shepherd
To examine this metaphor we must go to the Fourth Gospel. We will quote here the full text, which you should read carefully to get a sense of appreciation for this entire metaphor, then we will focus on the details. There we find Jesus saying:John 10:1 "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;This is one of Jesus' most complex metaphors, being packed by the answers to numerous questions. The first one we will ask is, "Who is the shepherd?"
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."
6 This figure Jesus used with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them.
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 heed them.
9 I am the door; if any one 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 hireling and not a shepherd, whose own the sheep are not, 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 hireling and cares nothing for the sheep.
14 I am the good shepherd; I know my own and my own know me,
15 as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep.
16 And I have other sheep, that are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will heed my voice. So there shall be one flock, one shepherd.
17 For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life, that I may take it again.
18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again; this charge I have received from my Father."
19 There was again a division among the Jews because of these words.
20 Many of them said, "He has a demon, and he is mad; why listen to him?"
21 Others said, "These are not the sayings of one who has a demon. Can a demon open the eyes of the blind?"
22 It was the feast of the Dedication at Jerusalem;
23 it was winter, and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the portico of Solomon.
24 So the Jews gathered round him and said to him, "How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly."
25 Jesus answered them, "I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father's name, they bear witness to me;
26 but you do not believe, because you do not belong to my sheep.
27 My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me;
28 and I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish, and no one shall snatch them out of my hand.
29 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.11 I am the good shepherd.Repeated for special emphasis, Jesus identifies himself as the Shepherd so that there can be no doubt or uncertainty. Jesus undoubtedly sees himself as fulfilling the following prophecies from the Law and the Prophets:
14 I am the good shepherd; I know my own and my own know me,Ezekiel 34:22 I will save my flock, they shall no longer be a prey; and I will judge between sheep and sheep.We repeat once more for emphasis, so that there can be no doubt: Jesus is the shepherd.
23 And I will set up over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he shall feed them: he shall feed them and be their shepherd.
Ezekiel 37:24 "My servant David shall be king over them; and they shall all have one shepherd. They shall follow my ordinances and be careful to observe my statutes.
Zechariah 13:7 "Awake, O sword, against my shepherd, against the man who
stands next to me," says the LORD of hosts. "Strike the shepherd, that the sheep may be scattered; I will turn my hand against the little ones."
He is the Good Shepherd.
But are there other shepherds of the flock of God? Successive shepherds? Undershepherds?16 And I have other sheep, that are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will heed my voice. So there shall be one flock, one shepherd.There is only one shepherd. This expression, "one shepherd" also has prophetic preceedent in addition to the two from Ezekiel highlighted above:Ecclesiastes 12:11 The sayings of the wise are like goads, and like nailsThese collected sayings are surely to be identified with the utterances of Jesus. The advice of Ecclesiastes, "My son, beware of anything beyond these." is just as valid today as when first penned. The Holy Logos, the utterances of Jesus from the gospels, are collected sayings given by one shepherd, and they are like nails firmly fixed.
firmly fixed are the collected sayings which are given by one Shepherd.
12 My son, beware of anything beyond these.
III. The Sheep
Carefully searching Jesus' pastoral metaphor above will quickly identify the sheep. He identifies them as follows:1. v. 4 The sheep follow him, for they know his voice.Do you see the common element in this fourfold identification? It is the voice of the Shepherd! It is the words of the Shepherd -- the wonderful words of Jesus! It is the hearing of that voice and the following of that Shepherd that identifies the sheep. There are no other determinants.
2. v. 5 A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers.
3. v. 27 My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me;
4. v. 16 And I have other sheep, that are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will heed my voice.
They are to be identified, not only by what they hear -- the voice of the Shepherd -- but also by what they do not hear. They do not hear the voice of strangers. We will get to the strangers a bit later. For now, we need only emphasize the simple fact, as set forth by Jesus the Shepherd, that the sheep are defined only by what they hear and what they do not hear; by the Shepherd they know and the shepherds they do not know; by the Shepherd they follow, and the shepherds they do not follow.
In the ancient pastoral scene, the Hebrew shepherds knew their sheep, and the sheep, their shepherd, and they knew the shepherd by his voice. As indicated by Jesus above,
he is the Shepherd who enters the sheepfold by the door, and calls his own sheep by name; the sheep, hearing that voice and their own names, respond only to that Shepherd. They do not respond to the stranger, the strange shepherd, who seeks to lead them out, to that "thief and robber."
Jesus is the Shepherd but he is more than the Shepherd:9 I am the door; if any one enters by me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture.It is as the door that he controls access to the sheepfold, and no one enters by any other means except by stealth, by climbing in some other way.
IV. The Thief and the Robber1 "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;And how does one enter by the door? Is it not by heeding the voice of the Shepherd? For it is the Shepherd who leads the sheep out, and who brings them in, and who protects and guards them. Those who seek to enter the sheepfold by any other means than through following the Shepherd and his voice, are strangers and robbers who, to get in amongst the sheep in any case, must "climb in some other way."
We can readily identify these strange shepherds, for they are those who do not know the voice of the Good Shepherd, yet who seek to enter the sheepfold. I will name two and leave it to you to name others, for we can be sure that Jesus wants us to identify them, lest they lead us astray. Remember -- the sheep do not hear the voice of strangers! There was a man by the name of Saul (Paul), a Jew from Tarsus, in Cilicia (modern Turkey) who wrote many of the documents in the New Testament. That he did not know the voice of Jesus is clearly evident by the absence of that voice from the documents he wrote. The other is a man by the name of Muhammad, an Arab of Mecca, in Arabia, who also shows in the document written by him (the Koran), that he did not know the voice of the Shepherd, for he gives no attention to his words. Each of these men is a thief and a robber, and the sheep do not hear them.
Are you listening? The sheep do not hear them!
Ever since their day, there has been a continuing troop of strangers deceiving the world, but the sheep do not heed them. This very day, there are multitudes of strangers, "thieves and robbers" who are busy attempting to steal the sheep from the Good Shepherd, and they have deceived many. But they have not deceived the sheep, because the sheep do not heed the voice of the stranger! And these strangers, every one of them, are easily identifiable by the sheep: they are those strange shepherds who pay little or no attention to the voice of the Shepherd.
During all the ages before Jesus of Nazareth came into the world seeking his sheep, there were strange shepherds hard at work in the task of deception. Of them all, Jesus said,8 All who came before me are thieves and robbers; but the sheep did not heed them.During all the centuries since Jesus of Nazareth came into the world, this troop of strange shepherds did not cease their deceptions. Of these, including the many, many who are active this very day, Jesus said:Matthew 24:11 And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray.We do not name our contemporaries as among the strange shepherds, in hope that they will repent and yet learn to enter the sheepfold by the door. But they are hard at work throughout all Christendom, and they are leading very many people astray!
V. The Flock
Anyone can rightly conclude that the flock of the Good Shepherd consists of the sheep that heed his voice. They constitute the one, the only, the true ecclesia. They are those whom he has called out from the world and who, heeding the voice of the Shepherd, follow him out of the world so as to become "not of this world."
Jesus never left anything to chance or risked our misunderstanding him justifiably. This flock consists of the sheep, not only from the Jewish fold, but from every fold, which he also emphasized as follows:16 And I have other sheep, that are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will heed my voice.Thus it was that Jesus commissioned his disciples to be his witnesses, to carry his voice, to every nation on the globe, literally,Acts 1:8 But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Sama'ria and to the end of the earth.While history continues, the voice of the Good Shepherd continues to ring out through the world as his followers, the sheep, repeat those precious words and thus witness to their Good Shepherd to the ends of the earth. At any time and in any clime, they are always the few, and their local gatherings will always be small. Jesus described the typical gathering of his disciples (his sheep) in the world in saying,Matthew 18:20 For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I inIts size is also confirmed by this utterance of the Lord,
the midst of them.Luke 12:32 Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom.This is the ecclesia, the gathering of sheep that, called out from the world to follow the Good Shepherd, then follow him in the company of the few. The sheep follow in full faith and confidence in their good Shepherd, looking to and eagerly straining and stretching out to that last final gathering in, of all the called out ones, to the consummation of his kingdom. He promised it as follows:Matthew 25:31 "When the Son of man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne.It is just so that the ecclesia of the Good Shepherd will at last be called out from the world and gathered together to become . . . an eternal ecclesia!
32 Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate them one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats,
33 and he will place the sheep at his right hand, but the goats at the left.
34 Then the King will say to those at his right hand, 'Come, O blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world;
35 for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me,
36 I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.'
37 Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when did we see thee hungry and feed thee, or thirsty and give thee drink?
38 And when did we see thee a stranger and welcome thee, or naked and clothe thee?
39 And when did we see thee sick or in prison and visit thee?'
40 And the King will answer them, 'Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.'
If we are to identify the ecclesia, we must identify the sheep, for it is the sheep that are called out of the world to constitute the ecclesia, or little flock, of Jesus. But we have seen, above, that the sheep are those who follow the Shepherd, who hear his voice, and who do not hear the voice of strange shepherds.
But when we investigate the church, The Christian Church if you will, we find human beings who cannot possibly be identified with the sheep of the ecclesia, for they do not hear the voice of the Good Shepherd. Hearing the voice is the acid test! To be sure, they talk much about him and profess with earnest breath their belief in him and devotion to him but their conduct and the form of their institution betrays the reality.1. Do they hear the voice of the Good Shepherd, who support violent means of overcoming evil?These are but a few of the telling questions we should ask concerning the membership of the churches as we consider whether they represent the ecclesia of Jesus. I concluded, long long ago, that they do not represent Jesus or his ecclesia. It does not follow that we can point to any churchman or woman and specify such as being other than the sheep of his pasture. We are not permitted to make such individual judgments. But we are only stupid if we do not make the judgments necessary to identify the strange shepherds and the strange sheep (goats) that, in general, constitute the church. How else would we know to flee from them? Remember the word of our Good Shepherd:
2. Do they hear the voice of the Good Shepherd, who consider themselves persons of the world, citizens of the state and the nation that is of this world?
3. Do they hear the voice of the Good Shepherd, who honor the love of life?
4. Do they hear the voice of the Good Shepherd, who publicly display their piety?
5. Do they hear the voice of the Good Shepherd, who follow the doctrines of men other than Jesus, and have other teachers?
6. Do they hear the voice of the Good Shepherd, who esteem what men esteem and seek the honor of men?
7. Do they hear the voice of the Good Shepherd, who demand justice but are stingy with mercy?
8. Do they hear the voice of the Good Shepherd, who trust in a sacrifice of atonement?
9. Do they hear the voice of the Good Shepherd, who divide themselves into many separate denominations?
10. Do they hear the voice of the Good Shepherd, who claim fathers on the earth, both in the church and in the family?
11. Do they hear the voice of the Good Shepherd, who believe that God is so unjust as to inflict a horrible punishment on the one innocent child for the sins of the guilty ones?
12. Do they hear the voice of the Good Shepherd, who hear the voices of the many strange shepherds?John 10:5 A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers.
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