A sheepish theology (part 2)

Nobody wants to be a sheep.

Sheep are followers, not leaders. They don’t become CEOs, presidents, or generals. They don’t win prizes for their talent or brilliance.

What do they do? Well, let’s see.

  • They go astray or get lost (Isa 53:6; Matt 10:6; Luke 15:3-6; 1 Pet 2:25).
  • They scatter when there’s trouble (Zech 13:7; Matt 26:31).
  • They fall into pits and need to be rescued (Matt 12:11,12).
  • They are often threatened by wolves (Matt 10:16).
  • They are routinely slaughtered (Ps 44:22; Rom 8:36).

They need a shepherd in the worst possible way. Who’s up to the task? John tells us, in his glorious vision of our heavenly hope: “the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of the water of life, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes” (Rev. 7:17, NRSV).

“The Lamb will be their shepherd.” Now there’s an interesting turn of phrase for you. It captures perfectly the upside-down, backwards, inside-out nature of God’s kingdom. The Suffering Servant is King, and the sheep need a Lamb to go before them.

There are two words for “lamb” in the New Testament; they appear in various forms a total of 34 times, and all but two of these are from the pen of John. And of these 32 uses, 29 are found in the book of Revelation. There, the Lamb is the one who is slain, whose blood was shed (5:6,12; 7:14: 12:11; 13:8). The image is one of a sacrificial Passover offering, foreshadowed even in the words of John the Baptist as he declared Jesus to be the Lamb of God (John 1:29,36).

But then, there’s the other side.

In Revelation 5, the Lamb is also the conquering Lion, the only one worthy to open the heavenly scroll, the one who sits on the throne and receives the worship of all the living creatures and the elders. The Lamb is the one whose wrath causes the most powerful people of the earth to run and hide (Rev 7:12-17). The Lamb is the Lord of lords and King of kings (Rev 17:14), and the bridegroom of the church, his saints (Rev 19:7-9; 21:9-14).

Biblically, that the last word about what it means to be the Lamb. Not suffering, but glory; not powerlessness, but power and dominion.

And the Lamb is our shepherd. We have a shepherd who knows all about powerlessness and suffering, but for whom such humility and humiliation is the path to glory.

If that’s the case, what changes about our attitude toward being sheep?