“For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls” (1 Pet. 2:25).
Christ, being the fulfillment of the law of Moses and the prophets (Matt. 5:17), also fulfills the revelation of God as the Great Shepherd. This revelation of Jesus as the shepherd of God’s people (John 10:11) is well known, but we should not let its familiarity cause us to overlook the deep meaning of this metaphor. To know Christ as the Great Shepherd is a privilege, and it tells us a great deal about our Savior.
In the first place, to apply the shepherd metaphor to Jesus is to reveal Him as one with Yahweh, the true God and covenant Lord of Israel. We noted a few days ago that it was not unusual in the ancient Near East for the shepherd metaphor to be applied to pagan gods and kings alike, with the kings of other nations becoming other deities in the pantheon of gods that those nations served. Israel was unique in that even though the Israelites understood their king and their God as shepherds, the king was not placed alongside Yahweh as one god among many. The Lord was the king’s shepherd in ancient Israel (Ps. 23:1). Yet even though the Davidic shepherd-king was not considered a separate god in ancient Israel, there was nothing to preclude Yahweh, the divine shepherd-king, from becoming incarnate as one of David’s sons so that the final king of Israel from David’s line would share identities with the creator God. This is exactly what happened in the person of Jesus of Nazareth (John 1:1–18), who is inseparably true God and true man.
Shepherd imagery is also applied to Jesus in today’s passage, as Jesus is called “Shepherd and Overseer” of our souls (1 Peter 2:25). The Greek term for “overseer” here (episkopos) is the same one translated as “overseer” in 1 Timothy 3:2 and Titus 1:7 in the ESV, or as “elder” in other English translations. The overseer or elder is the person in the church charged with caring for the souls of the people, so 1 Peter 2:25 has special reference to how Christ redemptively cares for His lambs. The context of the passage shows how this is accomplished — through removing our sin and making us able to live unto righteousness (vv. 21–24).
We should also note that even though the Lord appoints elders in the church to tend His sheep, Jesus remains the Good Shepherd of His people. His care is perfect, for He knows the secrets of our hearts and how best to care for them.
Coram DeoLiving before the face of God
It is a great thing indeed to know Christ as the Good Shepherd. While His under-shepherds will fail us at times, His care for us is perfect, and it is impossible for Him to fail in tending to our needs. When we are discouraged with our leaders, let us not bicker and complain about them; rather, let us pray for them and continue trusting our entire selves to Christ, being encouraged that He is working out His purposes in our midst.