Jesus spans time and history
On January 1 we celebrate the beginning of a new year. One of the titles of God and Jesus Christ is “the Alpha and the Omega”, which reminds me of beginnings and endings (Rev. 1:8; 21:6; 23:13NIV). As alpha is the first letter of the Greek alphabet and omega is the last, this title means “first and last” or “beginning and end” and everything in between. It signifies the whole alphabet, “A to Z”, or completeness. An equivalent analogy in time would be “24/7” with regard to a week or “1 January to 31 December” with regard to a year. So “Alpha and Omega” is a poetic way to say that God and Jesus are eternal.
This interpretation is confirmed by the related titles, “the first and the last” (Rev. 1:17; 2:8; 22:13) and “the beginning and the end” (Rev. 21:6; 22:13). This truth is introduced in the Old Testament where God is said to be with the first generation of mankind and with the last and the Creator and Sustainer of the universe (Is. 41:4; 48:12-13). In this regard He is unique (Is. 44:6). He exists in the distant past, the present and the distant future: “who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty” (Rev. 1:8). He alone knows the future.
Jesus spans time and history. He was there at the beginning of time and history and He will be there at the end of time and history. When all of God’s purposes on earth are achieved and His salvation is completed, Jesus will say “It is done” (Rev. 21:6). This is consistent with the fact that He created time, He controls history and He is eternal.
When John was afraid he was reminded “Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One; I was dead, and now look, I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades” (Rev. 1:17-18). He was assured that his destiny was controlled by the living God. Later Jesus encouraged John by the prospect of rewards for faithful service: “Look, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to each person according to what they have done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End” (Rev. 22:12-13).
Jesus is also described as “the pioneer and perfecter of faith” (Heb. 12:2), which also conveys a sense of beginning and ending. Besides being the founder and originator of the Christian faith, He also finished His work of salvation and is a perfect example of a life a faith.
As we face the end of one year and the beginning of another let’s remember that Jesus Christ is the Alpha and the Omega. Whatever He says in the Bible about the past, present and the future is trustworthy. Let’s trust Him and allow Him to reign in our lives.
Written, January 2012
At the start of a new year, people often reflect on the past and look ahead to the future. In this article we look at the promise of the “new covenant”, which was given in the past and looks ahead to the future.
A covenant is an agreement or a promise between individuals or groups of people. The first covenant, or the old covenant, was the law that was given to the Children of Israel via Moses at Mt Sinai. It promised blessing for obedience but threatened death for disobedience. The law was a covenant of works. But because it depended on people’s obedience, it could not produce righteousness. The new covenant was given so that people would become conscious of their sin (Rom. 3:20; 7:7). It showed them they could not keep it, so they would then be ready to receive a Savior.
The phrase “new covenant” is mentioned first in Jeremiah 31:31-34, which is quoted in Hebrews 8:8-13.
“This is the covenant I will establish with the people of Israel after that time, declares the Lord. I will put my laws in their minds and write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. No longer will they teach their neighbor, or say to one another, ‘Know the Lord,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest. For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more” (Heb. 8:10-12NIV).
This covenant was “new” (the Greek word commonly used meant “unique”) because:
- It depends on God, not people (“I will”, v. 10, 12); being unconditional, whereas the law was conditional on people’s obedience (v.9); and emphasises what God will do, not what people must do.
- God’s laws will be in their minds and on their hearts (v.10a), so that everyone will know the Lord and have a close relationship with Him (v.10b, 11).
- People receive forgiveness of sins and an eternal inheritance (v.12; Heb. 9:15).
The new covenant was announced at a low time of Israel’s history; the nation had largely turned from God to idolatry. At this time God used prophets to announce that the Jewish people would be captured by the Babylonians and scattered amongst other nations but afterwards they would be restored to their land of Canaan. The new covenant is characterised by everlasting peace and prosperity (Is. 54:9-10; 55:3-13; 59:20-21; 61:1-8; Jer. 50:4-5; Ezek. 16:60-63; 34:25-31; 37:15-28; Hos. 2:14-23). At this time the Jewish people will prosper in their own land under Christ’s rule.
When we look at the Old Testament references, we see that the blessings of the new covenant are both physical and spiritual. They are “better promises” than the old covenant (Heb. 8:6).
The promise of the new covenant was given to the Jews (Heb. 8:8) and will be fulfilled when the Lord comes to set up the Millennial kingdom (Rev. 20:2,4). “I do not want you to be ignorant of this mystery, brothers and sisters, so that you may not be conceited: Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in, and in this way all Israel will be saved” (Rom. 11:25-26a). The mystery (a new revelation) is that the largely Gentile church must first be gathered in the rapture, before the spiritual hardness of Israel is healed when a Jewish remnant will be saved out of the coming great tribulation to live in God’s kingdom on earth.
Lessons for us
What has this promise, given to the Jews, got to do with us today? Because the Jews rejected the Messiah, the gospel was offered to the Gentiles. The Gentile church was another mystery that was revealed to Paul and he used the term “new covenant” to describe the gospel of God’s grace (2 Cor. 3:6).
In the Lord’s Supper, Jesus said that the cup of wine represented “the new covenant in my blood” (1 Cor. 11:25). The death of Christ forms the basis of spiritual blessings for the Church as well as the covenantal physical and spiritual blessings promised to the nation of Israel. Christ was a mediator for both Old Testament and New Testament believers and for those who will believe and enter the Millennial kingdom. In the meantime, some of the blessings of the new covenant are enjoyed by all believers— the spiritual blessings, not the physical ones. For example, we have forgiveness of sins, a close relationship with the Lord and the indwelling Holy Spirit
In the future Israel will be blessed under the rule of the Lord in the Millennium (Hos. 3:5); while believers will reign with Him over the universe (Eph. 1:22-23). What wonderful promises!
Written, January 2009
New Year’s day is celebrated in Sydney, Australia with a magnificent fireworks display. In Old Testament times the Jews celebrated the New Year as well. They had two calendars, a religious one and a civil one, that were six months apart – similar to our financial year and calendar year. The first month of the religious calendar, Nissan, is in the spring (Northern Hemisphere) when Passover is celebrated. However, the Jewish new Year is in Tishri, the seventh month of the religious calendar, in autumn, when the Jewish new Year festival, Rosh Hashanah is observed. “Rosh Hashanah” means “first of the year.”
In Biblical times this day was called the Festival of Trumpets and ram’s horns were blown, no work was done and special sacrifices were offered to the Lord (Lev. 23:23-25; Num. 29:1-6). The trumpets made a joyful noise on the new year and the Jews looked ahead committing the nation to God for the coming year. Most other Jewish festivals looked back to God’s deliverance (Passover, Unleavened Bread, Tabernacles), to God’s provision (Firstfruits, Pentecost), and to atone for their sins (Day of Atonement).
We look ahead
Christians also look back and look ahead. For example, in the Lord’s supper we look back to the crucifixion, but we only do this “until He comes”, then we look ahead. Let’s see at what Paul had to say about this topic.
In Philippians 3:12-15 (TNIV) he wrote “… I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. All of us, then, who are mature should take such a view of things.”
Just before these verses, in Philippians 3:4-6, Paul listed his impeccable heritage and personal achievements such as, “confidence in the flesh … circumcised … a Hebrew of Hebrews … a Pharisee … persecuting the Church … faultless.” He once thought these things were valuable, but after being saved he considered them worthless compared with the infinite value of knowing Jesus Christ as Lord. Instead of living for these things, he wanted to live as Jesus lived. He was willing to suffer like Jesus and to be a martyr. Then he looked ahead, repeating the phrase “I press on”. And he gave two reasons for pressing on.
Paul pressed on
First, “I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me” (v.12). When did Christ take hold of Paul? When He confronted him on the road to Damascus. On this occasion the Lord said to a man named Ananias, “This man is My chosen instrument to proclaim My name to the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel. I will show him how much he must suffer for My name.” (Acts 9:15-16). Also, Paul was to be an example of what Christ can do in a person’s life. He pressed on to fulfil the purpose for which he was saved. And his was a lifetime mission, that’s why Paul wrote to the Philippians, “I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it” (v.13).
Second, Paul said ” I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus” (v.14). Like a runner in a race, Paul’s goal was to finish the race of life and receive the crown of righteousness at the Judgement Seat of Christ and to enjoy the blessings of heaven (2 Tim. 4:8). The spiritual race is a lifetime marathon! There is no retirement in the spiritual life!
Besides this he said, “Forgetting what is behind” (v.13), looking ahead and not turning back to the past. It’s hard to walk or run if you are looking back! Paul wanted to advance, not retreat. In fact he was “straining toward what is ahead” (v.13) – looking ahead and moving ahead!
God looks ahead
God also looks ahead. For example, before the tenth plague God instructed the Israelites to ask their Egyptian neighbors for articles of silver and gold and take these on their exodus or departure (Ex. 11:2). What was the purpose of this? Wouldn’t these just add to the weight of their luggage on the long journey? He was looking ahead to the building of the tabernacle, and providing them with the materials they would need in the future, even though they had no idea at the time what they would need (Ex. 25:1-8).
So God is always looking ahead. Whatever you are going through now may just be God preparing you for tomorrow. It may be God giving you the tools that you will use years later. We don’t know what is ahead. But let’s remember that God has prepared us for it, and He causes everything to work together for our good (Rom. 8:28).
In the coming year, let’s be like Paul and “press on” to fulfil the lifetime purpose for which God has called us, and continue to use our abilities and talents for Him. Let’s resolve this new year to press on towards the finish of the race of life, not looking back, but looking ahead and moving ahead with the Lord.
Published, January 2012
At the “real” start of the third millennium
This is the first month of a new year and of a new millennium. As the first year was 1 A.D., so 1000 A.D. was the last year of the first millennium. Likewise, the last year of the second millennium was 2000 A.D., which means that 2001 is the first year of the third millennium. So the celebrations that were held twelve months ago should have been called the beginning of the 2000s, not the beginning of the third millennium, which actually begins this month.
Although one day, month or year is not necessarily more important than another (Rom. 14:5), we all like to celebrate important dates such as birthdays and wedding anniversaries. These are milestones that remind us of significant events along the road of life. Let’s look at some important events that God wants us to remember and celebrate.
Remember the Creator
After the universe was created in six days the Bible says, “By the seventh day God had finished the work He had been doing; so on the seventh day He rested from all His work. And God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it He rested from all the work of creating that He had done” (Gen 2:2-3 NIV). This is not the rest that follows weariness, but the rest of satisfaction and completion of a job well done (Gen. 1:31).
The Sabbath was to be observed by the Israelites as a day of rest from everyday work, as a reminder of their God who rested after His work of creation (Ex. 31:14-17). The principle of one day’s rest in seven was established in Old Testament times for the benefit of individuals, families, employees and even animals (Ex. 20:10; Mk. 2:27). Its establishment in the account of creation implies that it is meant for everyone, not just for Israel.
It is said that God “blessed the seventh day and made it holy” (Gen. 2:3; Ex. 20:11). This indicates two purposes for the Sabbath rest –as a gift (or blessing) from God for the well-being of humanity, and a special (or holy) day for God. Besides physical rest, it also means remembering the Creator and praising God for His provision for us. He had given us life and time, and on this day we are to give some time back to Him.
So, the Sabbath rest is God’s milestone pointing out His goodness to everyone as their Creator as we pause for a regular weekly break from work. Remember, the wisest man that ever lived said, “Remember your Creator in the days of your youth” (Eccl. 12:1). Creation reveals the Creator’s eternal power and divine nature .(Rom. 1:20). But this is less evident when life becomes more troublesome and less enjoyable. Unfortunately, those who reject this revelation, choose to worship idols instead of “the God who made the world and everything in it” (Rom. 1:23,25; Acts 17:24).
Remember the Redeemer
The Israelites were given a second reason for observing the Sabbath day: “Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that the LORD your God brought you out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm” (Dt. 5:15). It was a weekly reminder of their miraculous deliverance from slavery in Egypt. This act of God is called “redemption,” which means “buying back” or “ransoming from captivity.” Christ was a “redeemer” in that by His sacrificial death He paid the ransom for our sinfulness and so delivered us from slavery to sin and its penalty (Eph. 1:7).
So, the Sabbath is also God’s milestone pointing out His mercy toward His chosen people as their redeemer. As the Sabbath rest included employees, the Israelites were to show a loving concern to others (Dt. 5:14). This was confirmed when Christ healed the man with a shrivelled hand on the Sabbath (Mk. 3:1-5).
Jesus said that He was Lord of the Sabbath and demonstrated this as the Redeemer of the world (Mt. 12:8; Lk. 4:16-21). The Sabbath was “a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in. Christ” (Col. 2:17). After the day of Pentecost, it was more important to remember God’s great salvation for mankind’s sins than to remember the deliverance of the Jews from Egypt. Consequently, the early Christians met for worship and the collection of monetary gifts on the first day of the week in memory of Christ’s resurrection (Acts 20:7; 1 Cor. 16:1-2). Christian worship on Sunday replaced Jewish observance of the Sabbath. It is interesting to note that according to Leviticus 23:15, the day of Pentecost (Acts. 2:1) may have been on the first day of the week. However, some authorities state that the Pharisees believed that the Sabbath referred to here is the holy day of Passover which fell on a different day each year.
The Jews also celebrated their release from slavery in the first month of each year. As God’s people in Old Testament times, they were given a series of annual religious festivals by God. These festivals commemorated occasions when God had reached out in power to intervene for the Jews or had provided for them in a time of distress. It reminded them of God’s presence and activity among them.
The first and most important of the festivals was the Passover, which was celebrated in the first month of the religious year (Ex. 12:1-30; Lev. 23:4-8). The Hebrew calendar is based on the 29.5 day lunar cycle. Their first month commenced after the spring equinox and is equivalent to March/April inour calendar. As their months began at new moon and the Passover began on the fourteenth of the month, the Passover corresponded with a full moon. Easter is its direct equivalent in our calendar, being the Sunday after the first full moon on/after March 21.
The Passover corresponded with the beginning of the grain harvest (Dt. 16:9) and it commemorated the deliverance and exodus of the Jews from slavery in Egypt during the reign of Pharaoh Neferhotep 1 (Ex. 12). This was achieved in a miraculous way through the death of a lamb and smearing the lamb’s blood on their door frames. The plague of death to all the first-born sons in Egypt “passed over” the Jewish households with the sign on the door frames. Soon afterwards the Egyptians urged the Jews to leave their country.
Like the Sabbath, these religious festivals were said to be “a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ” (Col. 2:17). Paul referred to Christ as “our Passover Lamb” (1 Cor. 5:7). So the Passover was an illustration of Christ’s sacrifice for us. As the death of the Passover lamb saved the Jews from death, so Christ’s death can save us from the punishment of eternal death in hell. The similarity is emphasized by the fact that Jesus was crucified at the time of the Passover celebration (Jn. 18:28; 19:14).
When Jesus Christ celebrated the Passover with His disciples, He instituted the Lord’s Supper by relating the breaking of bread and the drinking of wine to His coming death (Lk. 22:7-20). His followers were told to do this in His remembrance (1 Cor. 11:2326). Believers are told, “Whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes” (1 Cor. 11:26). So, the annual Passover was replaced by the weekly Lord’s Supper (Acts 20:7).
Now and forever
It’s obvious that God wants us to remember and celebrate His great achievements in creation and redemption. This can be done by a regular weekly break from work and by a regular partaking of the Lord’s Supper. These are two of the most important things we can do this week, month, year and millennium –and they will refresh us physically and spiritually.
Such celebrations are not only for now but are for eternity, as the role of God the Father and the Lord as Creator and Redeemer is the theme of the great future celebration in heaven: “You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for You created all things, and by Your will they were created and have their being … You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because You were slain, and with Your blood You purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation” (Rev 4:11; 5:9).
Published, January 2001
The word “Christian” means a follower of Christ. The beginning of a new year is a good time to focus on some of the words He spoke – in particular, His first words, His most important words and His last recorded words – and determine how well we are following Him.
His First Words
When He was 12 years old, Jesus stayed behind to talk with the teachers in the temple while His parents headed for home after the festival of the Passover. When they returned and found Him, Mary said, “‘Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you.’ ‘Why were you searching for Me?’ He asked. ‘Didn’t you know I had to be in My Father’s house?’ But they did not understand what He was saying to them. Then He went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them. But His mother treasured all these things in her heart. And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men” (Lk. 2:48-52 NIV).
The two different fathers mentioned in this passage show the two main relationships of His youth. First, He was aware of His unique relationship with God. At 12 years, He was doing God’s business. Of course, that’s why He came to earth. One example of this relationship was that He prayed regularly. Second, He obeyed His parents. They were part of His human family. Later He said, “Whoever does God’s will is My brother and sister and mother” (Mk. 3:35). All believers are part of His spiritual family. One example of this relationship was His compassion for people. He saw them as “sheep without a shepherd” and wanted to care for them like a hen cares for her chicks (Mt. 9:36; 23:37). So, this incident and the Lord’s first recorded words show that His two main relationships were with God and with people.
His Most Important Words
During His ministry, one of the Jewish religious leaders asked Jesus which was the most important commandment. “The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these’” (Mk. 12:29-31).
The Jews had at least 600 laws at this time. When asked which was the most important, Jesus said to put God first and people next. He simplified their complex religious requirements into two relationships – with God and with others. Our priorities should be likewise – God first, people next and selfish things last.
His Last Recorded Words
Before Jesus ascended, the apostles asked Him: “‘Lord, are You at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?’ He said to them: ‘It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by His own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be My witnesses … to the ends of the earth.’ After He said this, He was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid Him from their sight” (Acts 1:6-9).
They expected the earthly kingdom to commence, but didn’t know that this wouldn’t happened until after the gospel was taken to the Gentile nations. Instead the Lord promised the Holy Spirit to give them power to witness for Him across the known world. Witnessing is introducing people to God. This mission for the apostles, which is also the Church’s mission, involves the two relationships already mentioned – with God and others. They would no longer have the Lord to guide them physically, but all believers now have the Holy Spirit to guide them spiritually.
Starting today, let’s devote our lives to God’s business – really giving Him top priority, and really loving one another – the essence of Jesus’ most important words.
Published, January 2010
Each new year brings new opportunities and new challenges. Each year is a new year for us; it is not exactly the same as any other year. Some things change and we move into different seasons of life as our age increases.
From earliest times, days, months and years were determined by observations of the sun and moon. The average length of a year according to the earth’s motion around the sun is 365.2422 days. The International Calendar, which is based on the Gregorian Calendar, begins the year on January 1, the day the Roman Senate annually took office. During the Middle Ages, January 1 was given the name “New Year’s Day.” Prior to that time, the year commenced on March 25 or December 25.
The Jewish sacred year (in the Old Testament) began near the spring equinox in the northern hemisphere, and the civil year near the fall (or autumn) equinox. On the first day (Rosh Hashanah) of the civil year (according to Judaism today) they celebrated the creation of the world; this is the Feast of Trumpets (Lev. 23:23-25). The Jewish New Year’s Day in 2007 is sunset September 12, 2007 to sunset September 13, 2007.
As the Islamic calendar is about 11 days shorter than the Gregorian calendar, the date of the beginning of the year changes by 11 days each year, and the cycle of twelve lunar months regresses through the seasons over a period of about 33 years. This means that important Muslim festivals, which always fall in the same month Hijri, may occur in different seasons over time. Also, over 33 years, their New Year’s Day moves steadily across all the seasons of the year.
The Chinese New Year starts on the second new moon after the winter solstice, which ranges between January 21 and February 21. For example, in 2007, the Chinese year begins on February 18.
It’s good to be able to see the big picture of what’s happening in our world. According to the Bible the big picture is:
Creation – In the beginning of time, God created the heavens and the earth and all that is in them.
Fall Into Sin – Adam and Eve’s disobedience caused the creation to become cursed. Life now involves struggles and suffering.
Jesus Christ – He’s the One who came to a sin-filled world as our Savior, to save us from our sins.
New Creation Through Jesus – Beginning with His followers and ending with a new heaven and a new earth, God is in the business of making things new.
When we look at the probable date of the writing of the books of the Bible, we see a gap of about 480 years between Nehemiah (430 bc) and James (48 ad). The books before the gap are called the Old Testament, and those after, the New Testament. Jesus heralded the New Testament; He came to earth during the gap between the two testaments. The word “testament” means covenant or agreement; in this case the agreement is between God and humanity. In the Old Testament there is the covenant of the Law. In the New Testament we find the covenant of grace which came through Jesus Christ.
The word “new” occurs 192 times in 174 verses in the New International Version of the Bible. Here are some new things in the New Testament.
Jesus said “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you love one another” (Jn. 13:34-35).
The Christianity that Jesus brought into the world was like new wine compared to the old wine of the Old Testament Law (Mt. 9:16-17). New wineskins (traditions and ways of doing things) were required to hold this new wine; they were different from Judaism.
After the last supper Jesus said, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood, which is poured out for you” (Lk. 22:20). This means that the new covenant promised in the Old Testament (Jer. 31:31-34) was based on Christ’s death. Also, after His death, Jesus was placed in a new tomb (Mt 27:60).
The gospel is “a new and living way” (Heb. 10:20). Believers have a new life like Christ’s resurrection life (Rom. 6:4). This is described as “a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come” (2 Cor. 5:17). Also, they serve God in the new way of the Spirit (such as, love and liberty), and not in the old way of the written code (such as, fear and bondage) (Rom. 7:6).
In heaven, believers will sing a new song: “You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because You were slain, and with Your blood You purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation” (Rev. 5:9). Christians “are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness” (2 Pet. 3:13).
John’s vision was this: “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Now the dwelling of God is with men, and He will live with them. They will be His people, and God Himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.’ He who was seated on the throne said, ‘I am making everything new!’” (Rev. 21:1-5).
What A Vision!
Let’s keep this vision before us in the year ahead. We anticipate the Lord’s return soon because it is the next event in God’s timetable towards the new heaven and new earth.
Published, January 2007
This New Year, remember …
Sheep were important animals for the ancient peoples. They provided food to eat, milk to drink, wool for making cloth, and hides and bones for many other uses. Adam’s son Abel kept flocks of sheep for these purposes, and also used them in sacrifices as well (Gen. 4:2-4).
Shepherds were employed to take care of the flock by leading them to grass and water, and by protecting them from wild animals. They also cared for weak, sick and injured animals and made sure that all the sheep had sufficient rest. We can learn much about the role of the shepherd by reading Psalm 23, Ezekiel 34 and John 10.
A good shepherd enjoyed a close relationship with his flock. The sheep recognized his voice and he knew each of them by name. Because of this, they willingly followed the shepherd as he moved about. There was no need to force the sheep or have dogs muster them as modern graziers often do. Also, flocks would have been smaller in Bible times than they are in many countries today. In those days, a flock of 100 sheep would have been considered large (Mt. 18:12).
To protect the flock at night against predators, the shepherd either provided a safe enclosure, or stayed out in the fields to guard them (Lk. 2:8). He was required to defend the sheep against attacks from wild animals. Remember, David had to kill a lion and a bear when he was a shepherd (1 Sam. 17:34-37).
Sheep tend to follow one another, and, therefore are easily lead astray. That is why sheep without a shepherd eventually become scattered around the countryside and are seen as being helpless (Mt. 9:36; 26:31). Shepherds counted their sheep regularly and searched for any that were lost or had strayed away. When they found them, they brought them back to the flock. So, in Bible times there was a caring relationship between a shepherd and his small flock.
David, The Shepherd
David, who was born in 1040 BC and eventually became king of Israel, was such a shepherd (1 Sam. 17:15). The experience of caring for his father’s sheep enabled him to develop an appreciation for an important attribute of God.
David became popular after he killed Goliath, the Philistine giant. As David’s military victories and his popularity increased, King Saul became jealous. This jealousy developed into hatred, and Saul pursued David to kill him. During this period David lived as a fugitive, seeking refuge in various places and moving around constantly to avoid Saul and his men (1 Sam. 18-30). He feared for his life.
David’s feelings at this time are recorded in many of the Psalms (Ps.18, 54, 56, 57, 59, 142). He cried out to God for help in times of danger, distress and desperate need. He described God as his shield, refuge, stronghold, fortress, rock and his salvation. He found that God gave help, deliverance, victory, safety, security, protection, sustenance, strength, guidance, direction, peace, hope and love. He claimed this about God: “You, O God, are my fortress, my loving God … You will go before me” (Ps. 59:9-10).
The roles that David saw in God are similar to those of a shepherd, which David knew from his youth. This thought is expanded in Psalm 23, which begins with this metaphor: “The Lord is my Shepherd.”
David realized that God provided all his needs (Ps. 23:1), including rest, refreshment and restoration (vv. 2-3). He should not be afraid or worried because God guided and guarded his life (vv. 3-4). In fact, God was always available to help in all circumstances. He wrote, “You are with me.” Similarly, his ancestor Jacob, who had also been a shepherd, acknowledged “the God who has been my shepherd all my life” (Gen. 48:15).
This illustration is repeated in the New Testament where Christ said, “I am the Good Shepherd” (Jn. 10:11). Here Christians are likened to being Christ’s sheep. This means that the Lord knows all about us (vv. 3, 14, 27), guides us (v. 4), feeds us (v. 9), protects and preserves us (v. 28), lays down His life for us (vv. 11, 15), gives us life in all its fullness (v. 10), and gives us eternal life that cannot be taken away (vv. 28-29).
Like David, believers can say “the Lord is my Shepherd.” We should know that He is always present to help us no matter what the circumstances are, because “we are the people of His pasture, the flock under His care” (Ps. 95:7).
Jesus told His followers “I am with you always” (Mt. 28:20). He told Paul, who was facing much opposition in Corinth, “Do not be afraid … For I am with you, and no one is going to attack and harm you” (Acts 18:9-10). Then, in turn, Paul reminded the believers in Corinth, “Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you?” (2 Cor. 13:5).
The Lord has promised that He will never leave us nor desert us: “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you” (Jn. 14:18). We become more aware of His nearness as we surrender to God and resist Satan (Jas. 4:7-8). In fact, nothing can separate us from the love of Christ (Rom. 8:35-39). Like the Good Shepherd that He is, He promised, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you” (Heb. 13:5).
In times of turmoil and trouble it is good to know that our Lord is near and that He cares for us. We do not need to ask Him to be with us, He already is. He is our Shepherd.