Jesus is the “Good Shepherd…” (John 10:10-15). “I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep. But he that is an hireling, and not the shepherd, whose own the sheep are not, seeth the wolf coming, and leaveth the sheep, and fleeth: and the wolf catcheth them, and scattereth the sheep. The hireling fleeth, because he is an hireling, and careth not for the sheep. I am the good shepherd, and know my sheep, and am known of mine. As the Father knoweth me, even so know I the Father: and I lay down my life for the sheep….”
Jesus is the “Chief Shepherd…” (1 Peter 5:4) “And when the chief Shepherd shall appear, ye shall receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away…”
A shepherd is one who tends, protects and feeds a flock of sheep. He spends his time and energy ensuring that the sheep of his flock will not stray into danger, that they will find adequate food and water and that they will be protected from predators and thieves. A good shepherd knows sheep and he understands that they can be very unwary at times and are prone to getting themselves lost or trapped someplace, from which they can’t extract themselves without help.
A good shepherd knows his own sheep and can identify the individuals that belong in his flock. A shepherd also knows how many sheep are in his flock and when he notices one missing, he goes looking for it immediately. He knows that if he waits and hopes that the sheep might come back of its own accord, that there’s a chance, however slight, that it won’t because it will get lost, trapped or killed by a predator away from the safety of the flock. He also knows there is a good chance it is doing just fine. That perhaps it lingered a few minutes longer in the meadow while eating or drinking and it will catch up. A conscientious shepherd, though, will take the time to look for the sheep as soon as he realizes it is not present, just to verify that it is safe. If the sheep has wandered far away he will go and look for it and bring it safely back to the flock if he is able.
A good shepherd will also ensure that the sheep are provided for with regard to food and water. Sheep need to be fed constantly; they need to be led to fresh grass every day. They will not grow, thrive and reproduce when there is not enough food for them to eat. In times of drought, the sheep do no give birth to as many lambs as they do in good years. Without adequate food, enabling the ewes to produce milk, the lambs which are dependent upon that milk for food will starve to death. That is what a shepherd does.
What is a chief Shepherd?
Sometimes, a shepherd will have so many sheep that they will be divided into separate flocks so that they can have room to multiply and find new pastures. The chief shepherd will then appoint other shepherds to oversee the different flocks that comprise the greater flock. That chief shepherd will only select men to oversee his flocks that he knows are qualified; that he knows are conscientious men, able to protect, feed and tend his flock as if it were their very own.
When the chief shepherd assigns men to watch over a particular flock, he does so with full knowledge that some of the sheep will not be returned to him. If he assigned shepherds to oversee a flock of 100 sheep and only 90 of the sheep are returned to the fold, he is going to want to know what happened to the other 10. The under-shepherds are going to have to give an accounting as to what happened to those sheep. If they lost 5 to predators, while vigorously attempting to defend their sheep – the chief shepherd will understand and commend them for their efforts. If they lost 4 more who wandered off and fell into trouble, but they diligently made every effort to find and recover these lost sheep, again the chief shepherd will understand. But if they lost 1 sheep to theft when they were not keeping watch and made no effort to recover that sheep – the chief shepherd would be angry, would hold them accountable and would mete out punishment.
The figure of the “Chief Shepherd” applies to Jesus as the “head of the church…” (Ephesians 1:21-22) As Chief Shepherd, Jesus is the head over the entire flock of God (the church universal) made up of numerous smaller flocks (local congregations of the church of Christ.) Just as a chief shepherd would appoint other shepherds to oversee, protect and feed each individual flock, Jesus has appointed elders (bishops, pastors, shepherds – all synonymous terms) over each individual congregation of His church. As Paul confirmed to the elders from the church at Ephesus, “Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood…” (Acts 20:28) And just as the chief shepherd would hold his under-shepherds accountable for any lost sheep, Jesus will hold elders accountable for any lost souls. “Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you…” (Hebrews 13:17)
But do not forget, as Hebrews 13:17 implies, that it is the responsibility of each Christian to submit to Christ by obeying the shepherds that He has appointed to oversee His flock.