April 8 – Christ Our Shepherd

You were like sheep going astray, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.

1 Peter 2:25

 

Today’s verse is the apostle Peter’s allusion to Isaiah 53:6, which says, “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned, every one, to his own way; and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.” If the Lord had not provided a sacrifice for sin, He could never have brought us into His fold.

The task of a shepherd is to guard sheep. The Greek term for “shepherd” in 1 Peter 2:25 can also be translated as “pastor.” That, along with the word translated as “overseer,” describe the responsibilities of elders (cf. 1 Pet. 5:2). Jesus guards, oversees, leads, and supervises His flock. He said, “The good shepherd gives His life for the sheep” (John 10:11). That’s exactly what He did to bring us to Himself.[1]


Believers’ Perfect Shepherd Through Suffering

For you were continually straying like sheep, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Guardian of your souls. (2:25)

As he concluded this passage, Peter once more alluded to Isaiah 53, “All of us like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; but the Lord has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him” (v. 6). If God had not determined that all believers’ sins should fall on Jesus, there would be no shepherd to bring God’s flock into the fold.

The phrase were continually straying like sheep describes by analogy the wayward, purposeless, dangerous, and helpless wandering of lost sinners, whom Jesus described as “sheep without a shepherd” (Matt. 9:36). The verb rendered have returned (epestraphēte) carries the connotation of repentance, a turning from sin and in faith a turning toward Jesus Christ. But Peter’s readers had trusted in Christ’s substitutionary death and turned to Him for salvation. Like the prodigal son in Luke 15:11–32, they had turned away from the misery of their former sinful life (cf. Eph. 2:1–7; 4:17–24; Col. 3:1–7; 1 Thess. 1:2–10) and received new life in Christ (cf. Eph. 5:15–21; Col. 3:8–17; 1 Thess. 2:13–14). All who are saved come under the perfect care, provision, and protection of the Shepherd and Guardian of their souls.

The analogy of God as shepherd is a familiar and rich theme in Scripture (cf. 5:4; Ps. 23:1; Ezek. 34:23–24; 37:24). Jesus identified Himself as God when He took the divine title and named Himself the “good shepherd” (John 10:11, 14). Shepherd is an apt title for the Savior since it conveys His role as feeder, leader, protector, cleanser, and restorer of His flock. And believers as sheep is also an apt analogy because sheep are stupid, gullible (a sheep called the “Judas sheep” in modern times leads the other sheep to slaughter), dirty (the lanolin in sheep’s wool collects all kinds of dirt), and defenseless (they have no natural defensive capabilities). (See the discussion of shepherding in chapter 23 of this volume.)

The term Guardian (episkopos) serves as a synonym, another term describing Jesus’ care for His flock. It is the word usually translated “bishop” or “overseer,” which along with Shepherd also describes the responsibilities of the pastor or elder (cf. 1 Tim. 3:1–7; Titus 1:5–9). Later in this letter, Peter uses both root words when he exhorts elders to “shepherd the flock of God … exercising oversight not under compulsion, but voluntarily, according to the will of God” (5:2). By His death and resurrection for His flock, the Lord has become the Shepherd and Guardian of their eternal souls. In suffering, He became their example, their substitute, and their shepherd.[2]


25 Rhetorically speaking, Peter finds it necessary to remind his readers that, formerly, “you were like sheep going astray” (cf. Isa 53:6), as he has already suggested earlier in the letter (1:14, 18; 2:10). But “now you have returned [epestraphēte, GK 2188].” Doubtless his own returning is in the back of the writer’s mind; he knows what it means to be restored (“when you have turned back [epistrepsas], strengthen your brothers,” Lk 22:32).

Given the delicate nature of the themes being addressed (unjust suffering, mistreatment, showing respect to all, confidently entrusting ourselves to God who vindicates), it is fitting that this section concludes with the sheep/shepherd metaphor, reminiscent once more of Isaiah 53:6–7. The shepherd tends the flock, and in so doing he selflessly cares for the sheep, recovering those who stray. He alone is aware of dangers lurking that threaten the flock’s welfare. Christ’s example is compelling for several reasons. Not only did his vicarious suffering bring about redemption and not only did he not respond in kind, but through his own suffering he also established solidarity with the saints. Because “we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but … who has been tempted in every way—yet was without sin” (Heb 4:15), the saints can “approach the throne of grace with confidence.” It is there that they “receive mercy and find grace to help [them] in [their] time of need” (4:16).

Christ is here depicted as both “Shepherd” and “Overseer of your souls.” The designation “Overseer” (episkopos, GK 2176, hence the English “bishop”) is not intended to denote an ecclesiastical title (and thereby suggest a later date for the epistle, as some commentary assumes). In a secular milieu, episkopoi are governors or administrators who supervise law and maintain public safety; thus, rich in what it suggests, the term reinforces the fact that Christ is concerned for—and superintends—the saints’ welfare. He guards them in a multifaceted way. Not incidentally, Paul addresses the elders of Ephesus in very similar terms. He calls them both to “be shepherds of the church of God” and be “overseers” thereof, which was “bought with his own blood” (Ac 20:28). These attributes, which Christ himself exhibits toward the church and which inhere in the sheep/shepherd metaphor, are emphasized again later in the epistle’s concluding exhortations (5:2–4); the elders are to demonstrate the same qualities as they shepherd the flock of God.[3]


2:25 Before conversion, we were like sheep going astray—lost, torn, bruised, bleeding. Peter’s mention of straying sheep is the last of six references to Isaiah 53 in this passage:

v. 21

 

Christ … suffered for us (cf. Isa. 53:4, 5).

 

v. 22

 

He committed no sin, nor was deceit found in His mouth (cf. Isa. 53:9).

 

v. 23

 

When He was reviled, He did not revile in return (cf. Isa. 53:7).

 

v. 24

 

Who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree (cf. Isa. 53:4, 11).

 

v. 24

 

By whose stripes you were healed (cf. Isa. 53:5).

 

v. 25

 

For you were like sheep going astray (cf. Isa. 53:6).

 

When we are saved, we return to the Shepherd—the good Shepherd who laid down His life for the sheep (John 10:11); the great Shepherd who “tends with sweet, unwearied care the flock for which He bled,” and the Chief Shepherd who will soon appear to lead His sheep into the green pastures above—from which they will never stray.

Conversion is returning to the Guardian of our souls. We were His by creation, but became lost through sin. Now we return to His keeping care, and are safe and secure forever.[4]


[1] MacArthur, J. (2001). Truth for today : a daily touch of God’s grace (p. 113). Nashville, Tenn.: J. Countryman.

[2] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2004). 1 Peter (pp. 173–174). Chicago: Moody Publishers.

[3] Charles, D. J. (2006). 1 Peter. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Hebrews–Revelation (Revised Edition) (Vol. 13, pp. 325–326). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[4] MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (pp. 2265–2266). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

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