Ecclesiological Metaphors: The Church As A Flock.

God often describes His people as sheep and Himself as the Shepherd. This imagery is first used in the Old Testament.

Ezekiel 34:31 (NKJV)

31 “You are MY FLOCK, the flock of MY PASTURE; you are men, and I am your God,” says the Lord God. 

God’s people also referred to themselves this way. In Psalm 23:1, King David sings, “The Lord is MY SHEPHERD (making him the Lord’s sheep); I shall not want.

This imagery of sheep and shepherd was often used because the Israelites led a pastoral lifestyle. They therefore understood the relationship between a shepherd and his sheep. The shepherd is one who cares for and protects his sheep from wild beasts.

For example, David was a shepherd. In 1 Samuel 17, he recounts an incident he had, as he tended after his sheep.

1 Samuel 17:34-35 (NKJV)

34 But David said to Saul, ‘Your servant used to KEEP HIS FATHER’S SHEEP, and when a lion or a bear came and took a lamb out of the flock, 35 I went out after it and STRUCK IT, and DELIVERED THE LAMB from ITS MOUTH; and when IT AROSE AGAINST ME, I caught it by ITS BEARD, and STRUCK and KILLED IT.

David is not exaggerating. The shepherds in ancient Israel actually risked their lives for their flock. They oftentimes came in harm’s way to safeguard their sheep.

So the Jews understood this metaphor of a sheep and his shepherd very well. Thus, they called God their Shepherd; one who saves and delivers them from harm’s way. Observe the following texts from the Old Testament:

Psalm 80:1 (NKJV)

1 Give ear, O SHEPHERD OF ISRAEL, You who lead Joseph LIKE A FLOCK; You who dwell between the cherubim, shine forth!

Genesis 49:24 (NKJV)

24 But his bow remained in strength, and the arms of his hands were made strong by the hands of the Mighty God of Jacob (from there is THE SHEPHERD, the Stone of Israel).

Psalm 95:7 (NKJV)

7 For He is our God, and we are THE PEOPLE OF HIS PASTURE, and THE SHEEP OF HIS HAND.

Psalm 79:13 (NKJV)

13 So we, Your people and SHEEP OF YOUR PASTURE, will give You thanks forever; we will show forth Your praise to all generations.

Psalm 100:3 (NKJV)

3 Know that the Lord, He is God; it is He who has made us, and not we ourselves; we are HIS PEOPLE and THE SHEEP OF HIS PASTURE.

The shepherd was also responsible for leading his sheep. This is why God often rebuked the Jewish leaders metaphorically as being “bad/irresponsible shepherds.

Ezekiel 34:1-6 (NKJV)

1 And the word of the Lord came to me, saying, 2 “Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel, prophesy and say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord God to the shepherds: “Woe to THE SHEPHERDS (or leaders) OF ISRAEL who feed themselves! Should not the shepherds FEED THE FLOCKS? 3 You eat the fat and clothe yourselves with the wool; you slaughter the fatlings, but you do not feed the flock. 4 The weak YOU HAVE NOT STRENGTHENED, nor have you HEALED THOSE WHO WERE SICK, nor BOUND UP THE BROKEN, nor BROUGHT BACK what was DRIVEN AWAY, nor SOUGHT WHAT WAS LOST; but with force and cruelty you have ruled them. 5 So THEY WERE SCATTERED BECAUSE THERE WAS NO SHEPHERD; and they became food for all the beasts of the field when they were scattered. 6 MY SHEEP WANDERED through all the mountains, and on every high hill; yes, MY FLOCK WAS SCATTERED over the whole face of the earth, and no one was seeking or searching for them.”

The leaders (“shepherds“) at this time were leading God’s people astray. In ancient Israel, the shepherd had hirelings or undershepherds whom he put in charge of the flock while he was away. These hirelings did not really care about the flock (since they were not theirs). So when a beast attacked the sheepfold, they ran for dear life, instead of protecting the flock. God compares the rulers of the Jews at this time to these hirelings. They abandoned God’s sheep when danger came, instead of protecting God’s people.

God is the True Shepherd who never abandons His flock. So when Jesus calls Himself “the Good Shepherd” (in John 10), He is actually teaching from the Old Testament. He is intimating that He is THAT Yahweh whom they knew as Shepherd, in the Old Testament. And unlike the Jewish shepherds, He would WILLINGLY lay down His life for His sheep (the Church).

John 10:11-13 (NKJV)

11 “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd GIVES HIS LIFE for the sheep. 12 But a HIRELING, he WHO IS NOT THE SHEPHERD, one who DOES NOT OWN THE SHEEP, sees the wolf coming and LEAVES THE SHEEP and FLEES; and THE WOLF CATCHES THE SHEEP and scatters them. 13 The hireling FLEES because HE IS A HIRELING and DOES NOT CARE about the sheep.

Jesus was actually referring to the Pharisees here (using the imagery of “the hirelings“). They did not care about God’s people. They were leading them astray. But Jesus is the Good Shepherd; Yahweh of the Old Testament, in human flesh. He cares for His flock, His Church (made up of Jews and Gentiles).

Furthermore, He has now set undershepherds who would watch over His flock. They are called “pastors.” Jesus says they are to feed His flock.

John 21:15-17 (NKJV)

15 So when they had eaten breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me more than these?” He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.” He said to him, “FEED MY LAMBS.”

16 He said to him again a second time, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me?” He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.” He said to him, “TEND MY SHEEP.”

17 He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me?” Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, “Do you love Me?” And he said to Him, “Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You.” Jesus said to him, “FEED MY SHEEP.  

His sheep are to be protected and provided for. The leaders in the Church are to see to this. This same Simon (addressed in John 21) would later write an Epistle (1 Peter) and he gives similar admonition to other Pastors.

1 Peter 5:1-4 (NKJV)

1 The ELDERS (i.e. those who oversee Churches) who are among you I exhort, I WHO AM A FELLOW ELDER and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that will be revealed: 2 SHEPHERD THE FLOCK OF GOD which is among you, serving as overseers, not by compulsion but willingly, not for dishonest gain but eagerly; 3 nor as being lords over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock; 4 and when the CHIEF SHEPHERD (Jesus Christ) appears, you will receive the crown of glory that does not fade away. 

They are instructed to “shepherd the Lord’s flock” (vs. 2). Peter uses the Greek verb “poimainó” (ποιμαίνω) here which refers to care, protection, guidance, leadership (to rule). The Pastor must not be irresponsible with those God has committed to Him. He must ensure that they are well fed, well taken care of, like sheep. How would this happen? The Apostle Paul explains in Acts 20.

Acts 20:28-30 (NKJV)

28 Therefore TAKE HEED to yourselves (the elders at Ephesus) and to ALL THE FLOCK, among which the Holy Spirit has made you OVERSEERS, to SHEPHERD the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. 29 For I know this, that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, NOT SPARING THE FLOCK. 30 Also from among yourselves men will rise up, SPEAKING PERVERSE THINGS, to DRAW AWAY the disciples AFTER THEMSELVES. 

The “shepherding” would involve PROTECTING God’s flock from false doctrine. The Shepherd or Pastor must ensure that God’s people are WELL FED with sound doctrine. This is why God gave Pastors.

Ephesians 4:11 (NKJV)

11 And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some PASTORS AND TEACHERS

The word “pastors” translates the Greek “poiménas” (plural form of “poimen“), which means “a shepherd or herdsman.” This word was used in that culture for those who feed sheep. It was also used METAPHORICALLY for one who teaches (see Mark 6:34).

A Pastor would refer to one who, like the shepherd of Bible days, feeds the sheep. But in contrast to roughages, he feeds by TEACHING. The “food” is God’s Word.

Ephesians 4:11 makes this clear, “And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some PASTORS AND TEACHERS.” The word “and” in-between “pastors” and “teachers” was translated from the Greek word “kai” (καί). Here, it functions as a copulative, that is, it further explains the previously stated. The phrase may therefore be better understood this way, “pastors who are teachers” or “shepherds who teach,” to distinguish the physical shepherd from the spiritual. God gave these kinds of shepherds (i.e. the spiritual, pastors) to feed by TEACHING.

This happens in fulfillment of Jeremiah 3:15, “And I will give you shepherds according to My heart, who will feed you with KNOWLEDGE and UNDERSTANDING.

The Pastors (Eph 4:11) are those shepherds promised. They are given “for the EQUIPPING of the saints FOR the work of ministry, for the EDIFYING (growth) of the body of Christ, till we all come to the UNITY of the FAITH and of the KNOWLEDGE of the Son of God, to a PERFECT (mature) man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; (that is, the saints also are able to teach others and do the work of the ministry), that we should no longer be CHILDREN (immature), tossed to and fro and carried about with every WIND OF DOCTRINE, by the TRICKERY OF MEN, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, (that is, false teachers can no longer deceive the saints, they become discerning) but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ— from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes GROWTH of the BODY for the EDIFYING OF ITSELF in love” (vv. 12-16).

Thus, God gave Pastors (i.e. shepherds who feed by teaching) that the saints can mature SPIRITUALLY. Just like the Shepherd feeds the flock, so the Pastor feeds God’s people; one uses forage, the other is to use THE WORD.

So again, the Church is seen as a COLLECTION of people, under God’s protection and direction. God carries out this protection and direction through men who He HIMSELF has appointed.


© Josh Banks Ministries. 2022.


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