Matthew 26:31; Luke 12:32; John 10:16
There are three expressions in the gospels in connection with the flock: (1) “the sheep of the flock shall be scattered” (Matthew 26:31); (2) “Fear not, little flock” (Luke 12:32); and (3) “there shall be one flock, one shepherd” (John 10:16). There is the scattered flock, the little flock, and the one flock. The first expression is used in connection with the government of God, the second with regard to our place under the care of the Father and His good pleasure concerning us, and the third is linked with the thought of the good Shepherd, who gives His life for the sheep, and the unity known in all the sheep having one Shepherd.
Although the first expression had especial reference to those who were associated with the Lord as Messiah here, it also has an application to ourselves as coming under similar governmental dealings. Because of the state of His earthly people, God had to smite the Shepherd. This expression does not refer to atonement, though what wrought atonement then took place. It alludes to God’s governmental action in smiting Christ as Messiah. Every possibility of blessing was presented in Christ to God’s earthly people. But instead of appreciating God’s gracious proposals, religious man desired to remain away from God. The Lord could say, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem … . how often would I have gathered thy children as a hen gathers her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!” (Matthew 23:37). Hence judgment, not blessing, must be their portion, and since they are to be judged, their Messiah has also to be cut off and have nothing. (See also Psalm 102). How very deeply the Lord felt this! Many psalms speak of His sorrows in this connection; for the smiting was from Jehovah. “Awake, O sword, against my shepherd, even against the man that is my fellow, saith Jehovah of hosts” (Zechariah 13:7).
How could there be unity if Christ be not owned? How could God allow His people to remain as one if He who was their only true Centre be refused? No, the Shepherd must be smitten and the sheep scattered. God could not allow to continue that which should have been a testimony to Him, if it cease to bear its true features, if Christ has not His place. If the staff “Beauty” is broken, if the relationship of the people with God is broken, the staff “Bands” can exist no longer; the brotherhood between Judah and Israel ceases (Zechariah 11:7 – 14).
Is there not a parallel to these circumstances in the history of the church? Could God allow the outward unity of the church to continue if He who is the only Centre be not owned? Hence, in the government of God, the divisions of the church have become a proverb. Its hundreds of fragments, and the scattered condition of the flock, speak of the solemn action of God’s government. The wheels of God’s government have rims so high that they are terrible! And therefore any attempt at outward reunion would be a rebellion against God’s government and would bring disaster.
We cannot ignore this. To assume the condition of the flock to be other than it is, to assume the glory of Jerusalem when only Galilee becomes us, is to find ourselves without support.
Galilee? Yes; there is Galilee. The Lord held out a very precious promise to His followers even in so dark a day as Matthew 26, when He was betrayed and crucified. The sheep were to be scattered, and His own would have to share in the common shame.But He adds, “after that I shall be risen, I will go before you to Galilee” (verse 32). So again the angel in Matthew 28:7, “he goes before you into Galilee, there shall ye see him”. And thus it occurred. “But the eleven disciples went into Galilee to the mountain which Jesus had appointed them” (verse 16).
Far away from Jerusalem with its desolate temple, in the little-thought-of Galilee there was a spot where Jesus was seen! In Matthew’s account there could be no gathering in Jerusalem. God had already set Jerusalem aside virtually. The Lord had left the temple; He had foretold its utter destruction; He had pronounced the severest woes on the religious leaders of the day. But there was Galilee. Who was in the secret to meet Him there? How little alive was Jerusalem to that wondrous meeting in Galilee! In that publicly despised place there was a mountain where a few of the scattered flock were meeting the risen Christ. Again we may say, What a meeting!
And this has an answer today. Is there anything that answers to Galilee? There is. As we recognise the evil marking that which bears the name of Christ, as we realise that Christ is morally outside the Laodicean condition of a self-sufficient church, and as we hear the Lord’s command that every one who names His Name should depart from iniquity (2 Timothy 2:19), we are enabled to take a path answering to meeting the Lord in Galilee. We may follow righteousness, faith, love and peace with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart. It is a despised position, as Galilee was; but we shall find support there.
In the triumph of His glorious resurrection He says, “All power has been given me in heaven and upon earth” (Matthew 28:18). Only those who knew the rejected and risen Christ, and who had obeyed His commands, heard those wonderful words. And the Lord adds that He would be with them. The Sun of God’s world, that great Source of power, was to faith already risen. What a change from the position of Matthew 27, when crowned with thorns and robed in scarlet He was mocked by those who bowed the knee to Him. That was public. It was a thing not done in a corner. It took place in Jerusalem, the centre of the religious world. And therefore it could only be in Galilee that they could see Him. They obey His commands, they render homage to Him and they have His support.
So it is also today. Have you obeyed His commands, dear reader? Have you found this hallowed spot? It is a despised but a hallowed place. And only if we obey the Lord’s commands can we find it.
The “little flock” is spoken of in Luke 12. In striking contrast to the covetous-prudence which marks the nations of the world, the Lord calls attention to the dependence on God which should mark His own. The chapter opens by showing the moral gain of fearing God alone, confessing Christ the Son of man, and depending upon the Holy Spirit. These features should always mark us.
An appeal by one of the crowd to the Lord that He should speak to his brother to divide an inheritance, affords the Lord an occasion further to develop the subject of dependence on God. The nations of the world seek after things of this life. Questions such as, What shall we eat? what shall we drink? how shall we dress? engage them. But the Lord’s disciples are not to be so occupied nor to be in anxiety. Their Father knows they need these things. They are to seek His kingdom and all these things would be added. “Fear not, little flock, for it has been the good pleasure of your Father to give you the kingdom”, the Lord says. The kingdom of the Father refers to the heavenly side of the world to come. Hence the reference to providing treasures in heaven. Poor in this world, rich in faith, heirs of the kingdom, were to be their traits.
It has been remarked that the gospel of Luke presents the interest of heaven in men. Matthew presents what is dispensational and the rule of heaven on earth. In John what is in nature spiritual and heavenly is brought before us, as well as what is divine manifested here below. But in Luke heavenly sympathy and the interest of heaven in men are seen, and man’s place in heaven is suggested. Hence the “little flock” have a heavenly portion.
The little flock reminds us of the four things which are little upon earth, one of which is the ant who prepares its meat in summer (Proverbs 30:24, 25). How entirely new to a Jewish mind such a thought as providing treasure in heaven must have been!
The earthly inheritance is to be eclipsed by the heavenly. The wisdom of the ant is to find its antitypical counterpart. Our hearts are where our treasure is. This is one side. It is our Father’s good pleasure to give us a heavenly portion. Rich in faith: our riches and interest are connected with heaven. On the other hand our Father will take care of us here. Nothing is so apt to hinder our enjoyment of heavenly things as seeking after earthly ones, or anxiety as to them. Our Father knows what we need. But He is not caring for us in order to make us more comfortable or better off here. He cares for us that we may be free from care, and hence at liberty to seek what is our real portion and set our minds on things above.
“Little flock”. How the very words rebuke all earthly pretension. Anything great here is out of keeping with this. What failure marks the assembly in this respect. She is called to follow One for whom there was no room in the inn, who had not where to lay His head and who died on the cross.
As to the religious world, a position morally answering to Galilee should be ours. As to earthly things, the thought of the “little flock” forbids anything great. Heeding the teaching of the epistle to the Hebrews would place us outside the camp, bearing His reproach. This answers to Galilee. The exhortations in the epistle to the Colossians would lead our hearts from earth to heaven. Glory and display belong to another day; the little flock cannot be great here. Their treasure is Christ ‘in a brighter sphere’. The closing utterances of Stephen in Acts 7 show us our treasure — Christ in glory; the baptism of the Ethiopian in Acts 8, and the passage quoted from Isaiah, shew us our place here — “his life is taken from the earth” (Acts 8:33).
“There shall be one flock, one shepherd”. This expression is found in John 10:16. The Lord died to gather together unto one the children of God which were scattered abroad.
What we are religiously and naturally often prevents practical unity. The flock is one in divine life. Hence, to realise the unity of the flock in a practical way, it is first necessary for each to pass through experience answering to that of the blind man of John 9. His is the history of a sheep being led out of the Jewish fold. We must move after the Lord individually. The Lord is outside and He calls us by name. How sweet this individual call by the Lord! It was a similar call that Peter had when he left the boat and walked on the water to go to Jesus. If we do not have the sense of a call from the Lord, we may easily return to that which we have professedly left. But if we hear His voice we follow Him and we could not go away from Him. (See John 6:68).
To follow the Lord as here spoken of is not quite following in His steps where He was, as the epistle of Peter says. John 10 refers to following Him so that we find ourselves in His company and in the company of the flock. The Lord led His sheep, who were in the Jewish fold, out of these associations; and He brings His “other sheep” out of their associations. Everybody has some circle of associations in which he morally lives according to his natural life. It may be in religious, political or social associations. But in following the Shepherd, who has called us by name, we find ourselves outside these associations and within the circle of the “one flock”. The sheep have all heard the Shepherd’s voice and followed Him. “There shall be one flock, one Shepherd”.
How encouraging it is to get this view of the saints! Whatever the place of outward reproach, even a Galilee, however little they may be here as to circumstances, there is a dignity and a greatness in the “one flock” that surpasses any religious glory or earthly importance. If we recognise this, it delivers the heart and lifts it above every religious or national distinction. The good Shepherd died for us and has called us by name and brought us to one flock. We cannot recognise anything less than this, and there certainly cannot be two flocks.
It is in this circle eternal life is known. “I give them life eternal” (John 10:28). The various conditions that go to make up man’s life naturally — what is called life — are but the elements of death. A man can live in those conditions — religious, political or social — and have no link with the Shepherd and no life morally Godward. All that is necessary to live in these conditions is the life he inherits from his parents, the stock of fallen Adam. But eternal life lies outside of these conditions. It consists in the enjoyment of the moral conditions which will obtain and be maintained in power in the world to come. In that day all will know God, all will be subject to Christ, and men will love one another. Victory over the power of sin and death will be known in the presence of Christ here, whose rule will be universally owned.Hence to know eternal life today we must in our souls reach these conditions, and thus spiritually anticipate the moral elements of the world to come. To have life we must follow Christ out of the conditions prevailing in this world which are morally those of death.
If we have heard the Shepherd’s voice (whose voice is the voice of the Son of God) we are brought into the enjoyment of the conditions of eternal life; we pass out of death into life. We are in the light of God; we move as following Christ, and we find the company of the flock. The flock is the christian circle of which Christ is the Centre.
The gospel of John presents the flock from the divine standpoint. Every sheep is included in the “one flock”. But although this is so, some questions may rightly be raised. Have we realised our place in the flock? Are we recognising its unity in a practical way? Have we any experimental knowledge of eternal life? Or are we content with the mere statements that there is one flock, that the Shepherd gives to the sheep eternal life, without being exercised as to some realisation of the things themselves? This is surely not the object for which the scripture was written. Things are to be real and living. And whatever the outward break up of that which bears the name of Christ, “one flock” still subsists.
May it be ours, dear reader, accepting our position in the common shame of the church, to obey the Lord’s command; to be marked by the features of the “little flock”; and, hearing the Shepherd’s voice, to follow Him, proving the unity of one flock and experiencing the blessing of eternal life.
Words of Grace and Comfort, Volume 3, pages 95 – 103.