Sheep or Sons?


A study of how God identifies members of the body of Christ.

After hearing multiple pastors proclaim their “flock” are “sheep” there was something unsettling about this terminology. In this study, my goal is to explore if members of the body of Christ (the Church) are sheep or sons.

In the Old Testament and the Gospels, the non-leaders of the Jewish nation are identified as “sheep”. Let’s consider some of the examples.

In Numbers 27 is the first occurrence when the people are called sheep.

12 And the LORD said unto Moses, Get thee up into this mount Abarim, and see the land which I have given unto the children of Israel. 13 And when thou hast seen it, thou also shalt be gathered unto thy people, as Aaron thy brother was gathered. 14 For ye rebelled against my commandment in the desert of Zin, in the strife of the congregation, to sanctify me at the water before their eyes: that is the water of Meribah in Kadesh in the wilderness of Zin. 15 And Moses spake unto the LORD, saying, 16 Let the LORD, the God of the spirits of all flesh, set a man over the congregation, 17 Which may go out before them, and which may go in before them, and which may lead them out , and which may bring them in ; that the congregation of the LORD be not as sheep which have no shepherd . 18 And the LORD said unto Moses, Take thee Joshua the son of Nun, a man in whom is the spirit, and lay thine hand upon him;

God is giving Moses his final instructions at the end of his life. He warns Moses that he does not want His congregation to be like a sheep without a shepherd.  Then he informs Moses that his successor will be Joshua, a man in whom is the spirit. Moses and Joshua both have the spirit of God but nobody else in the congregation has the spirit of God upon them. Remember this point as the study progresses.

In 1 Kings 22 the prophet, Micaiah, reveals the next occurrence.

16 And the king said unto him, How many times shall I adjure thee that thou tell me nothing but that which is true in the name of the LORD? 17 And he [the prophet] said, I saw all Israel scattered upon the hills, as sheep that have not a shepherd: and the LORD said, These have no master: let them return every man to his house in peace.

Israel did not have a leader with the spirit of God to guide them.

The third occurrence is in 2 Samuel 24 where David (a man with the spirit of God) describes his people as sheep.

6 And when the angel stretched out his hand upon Jerusalem to destroy it, the LORD repented him of the evil, and said to the angel that destroyed the people, It is enough: stay now thine hand. And the angel of the LORD was by the threshing place of Araunah the Jebusite. 17 And David spake unto the LORD when he saw the angel that smote the people, and said, Lo, I have sinned, and I have done wickedly: but these sheep, what have they done? let thine hand, I pray thee, be against me, and against my father’s house.

In the book of Psalms God compares his people to sheep on 10 occasions(Psalm 44:11, 44:22, 49:14, 74:1, 78:52, 79:13, 95:7, 100:3, 119:176, 144:13). For example in

Psalm 100

3 Know ye that the LORD he is God: it is he that hath made us, and not we ourselves; we are his people and the sheep of his pasture.       

In the book of Jeremiah, there is a stern warning to pastors.

Jeremiah 23

1 Woe be unto the pastors that destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture! saith the LORD. 2 Therefore thus saith the LORD God of Israel against the pastors that feed my people; Ye have scattered my flock, and driven them away, and have not visited them: behold, I will visit upon you the evil of your doings, saith the LORD. 3 And I will gather the remnant of my flock out of all countries whither I have driven them and will bring them again to their folds, and they shall be fruitful and increase. 4 And I will set up shepherds over them which shall feed them: and they shall fear no more, nor be dismayed, neither shall they be lacking, saith the LORD.

In the Gospel’s Jesus Christ identifies who he is sent to deliver.

Matthew 15

24 But he answered and said, I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel.

After the day of Pentecost, there are only 4 occurrences comparing people to sheep.

Acts 8

32 The place of the scripture which he read was this, He was led as a sheep to the slaughter; and like a lamb dumb before his shearer so opened he, not his mouth:

This is a quote from Isaiah 53:7

Romans 8

36 As it is written, For thy sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.

This is a quote from Psalm 44:22

Hebrews 13

20 Now the God of peace, that brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant,

This is a reference to Jesus Christ. The book of Hebrews is addressed to born again Jews which are still zealous for the Mosaic Law.

1 Peter 2

25 For ye were as sheep going astray, but are now returned unto the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls.

This book is written to members of the twelve tribes (from the 12 sons of Israel), the Jews.

All of these occurrences are addressed to the Jews and not to the church.

Now let’s see how the members of the church are addressed.

Romans 8

14 For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God. 15 For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father. 16 The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God: 17 And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together. 18 For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us. 19 For the earnest expectation of the creature waiteth for the manifestation of the sons of God.

1 Corinthians 4

14 I write not these things to shame you, but as my beloved sons, I warn you.

2 Corinthians 6

18 And will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty.

Galatians 4

5 To redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons.

6 And because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father.

Philippians 2

15 That ye may be blameless and harmless, the sons of God, without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom ye shine as lights in the world;

Galatians 4

6 And because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father.

7 Wherefore thou art no more a servant, but a son; and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ.

1 John

1 Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God: therefore the world knoweth us not, because it knew him not. 2 Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is .

Why were Jews in the Old Testament called sheep and the Church members called sons? This is a fair question to ask.

In the Old Testament, the spirit of God was only placed upon a select few which included Prophets, Priests, some Kings, and some craftsmen/artisans. These people had the spirit of God UPON them to fulfill a purpose. The spirit could be removed or lost. Nobody else had the spirit of God and therefore were unable to communicate with God or discern spiritual matters. Since sheep are dumb and defenseless then they require a shepherd to lead, guide and protect them. Therefore most Jews were spiritually blind and required a spiritual leader.

In the church, every member is born again and therefore have Christ in them (the spirit of God) which provides them sonship since they are born again (born from above) of incorruptible seed (1 Peter 1:23). In Romans 8:15 and Galatians 4:5 the translation states that we are adopted. The translators could not fathom that we could be sons of God by birth but we are sons by birth since adoptions do not entail seed or birth concerning the parent(s).

Praise God that we are sons of God that can cry Abba Father.  We are Heirs of God and joint-heirs with Christ.

The final point is that a sheep is of a different nature than a shepherd and even the smartest sheep will never grow up to be a shepherd.  However, a son is of the same nature as all leaders in the body of Christ. The only difference is maturity and calling. A Son of God can rise to be a leader in the church because we are all born again with the same seed. Hallelujah!!!!


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