The Bible is filled with language that pictures God’s people as sheep and the LORD as their shepherd. This is the most famous.
“The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.” – Psalm 23:1-2
But are you a lost sheep? The answer may surprise you.
A careful study of the many sheep and shepherd passages will reveal that the sheep metaphor in scripture refers to God’s nation of Israel.
When God led Israel out of Egypt by Moses, they became his sheep that he led to find water and food in the wilderness.
“Thou leddest thy people like a flock by the hand of Moses and Aaron.” – Psalm 77:20
“But made his own people to go forth like sheep, and guided them in the wilderness like a flock.”
– Psalm 78:52
It was the shepherd’s responsibility to physically provide and protect the sheep until he led them into their promised land. If the sheep of Israel separated themselves from God or the land he gave them, they were considered lost.
The Egyptians were not the lost sheep. They were enemies to God’s flock.
Jesus came when Israel had spiritually departed from the Lord, and many were scattered throughout the ancient world. Jesus came as Israel’s good shepherd when he said:
“I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep.” – John 10:11
Israel was lost, but they had always been God’s sheep. Jesus came to gather them together and bring in greener pastures (the kingdom).
When Jesus came he knew there would be wolves among the sheep. False teachers and unbelieving rulers were not lost sheep, they were “ravening wolves” (Matt 7:15). It was the believing remnant of Israel that Jesus gave the name “little flock” in Luke 12:32.
We know that Jesus was not sent to minister to Gentiles from his statements in Matthew:
“Go not into the way of the Gentiles, and into any city of the Samaritans enter ye not” – Matthew 10:5
“I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” – Matt 15:24
Gentiles are not lost sheep. Only Israel could be lost sheep. They were found if they heard the voice of the shepherd King: Christ Jesus.
Gentiles were never promised a land of green pastures. Gentiles were never promised physical protection and blessing. Gentiles are at home all over the world, and do not need to be gathered into one place like sheep.
We are Body Members not Sheep
Likewise, Paul never calls the new creature, the church, which is the Body of Christ, sheep, nor does he refer to Christ as our Shepherd.
Today, in this dispensation of grace, where Israel is fallen, there is not a single lost person in the Body of Christ. The only way to be lost today is if you do not know the gospel that saves. If you are not saved, you are not a member of the one Body of Christ.
“But if our gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost” – 2 Corinthians 4:3
If you are saved you are not lost. If you are a member of the Body of Christ, you are not a sheep. The lost sheep were a specific people in the Bible: Israel. Israel’s shepherd was their Messiah.
We in the church are called soldiers, ambassadors, athletes, warriors, and builders. All of these are sent out to build, win, fight, and represent according to God’s already provided instructions.
The lost sheep of Israel waits for their shepherd to return for them to receive their promises. We do not need a shepherd, nor our Head to be present for us to be who God made us. Israel will never be who God made them until they are led into their kingdom by their Shepherd.
We are already members of Christ’s Body. Our Head is in heaven, but we are in His Body already.
When the church sees itself as sheep, then it is perceived as the helpless victims of persecution and affliction waiting for a Shepherd. When the church takes its rightful identity as members of Christ’s body, then we become more than conquerors now in all things through Christ (Rom 8:34-39).
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For more about the sheep and the shepherd, listen to this lesson.