What We Miss About the Sheep Metaphor

By: Michael Simmelinkimages


We have misunderstood ourselves. Not the first time you’ve been told this, I know, but we really have to change how we understand the imagery of sheep. This ba-aaaattle (only one, I promise) occurs on a subconscious level as we have read and heard about sheep in the Scriptures over and over. Without realizing it, we have conglomerated all these references into a stew. And our dilemma is that the stew is inaccurate.

Our confusion starts with how the Scriptures refer to Jesus. Jesus is confusing because he is referenced as both a lamb and a shepherd. John the Baptist called him the Lamb of God,  and Revelation 5 presents imagery of the 24 elders falling before the lamb seated on the throne. But the prophet Micah also said the Messiah was going to “shepherd his flock,” and even Jesus himself says that he is the good shepherd.  He is both the innocent lamb, sacrificed in our place, and the shepherd who guides us. It’s illogical, but he can do that because he’s God.

And every shepherd needs a flock. That’s where the Church comes in. Jesus sent out his disciples as lambs amidst the wolves.Passages in John imply that the Church is made up of sheep following Jesus as shepherd. This all really makes sense when you think about the agriculturally based lifestyle many of the original Bible readers embodied.

But we don’t fully get this metaphor.

We mash up a hybrid lamb in our minds. We want to take the perfect and holy lamb of Jesus, white as snow, and think that the whole flock looks like that. We picture a bunch of cute lambs leaping and bounding in a pasture, so the Church looks like a swarm of countless pounds of soft, fluffy wool.

But Church, that’s not us.

We are sheep. Full-grown. Ugly. Loud. Annoying. Stupid. Awkward as hell. Take a minute and think about how attractive a full-grown sheep is. The wool is not white, but brown from dirt and feces. A sheep is hardly able to take care of itself. In large-scale slaughterhouses, a herd is led from pen to pen by a Judas goat (EEP! Biblical reference in farming jargon!) and the herd doesn’t resist. Google image something along the lines of “dumb” and “sheep” and you will get hundreds of photos of sheep looking incompetent. I sincerely hope you find the “baby don’t herd me” meme.

We are not anywhere near the Lamb of God, who is without blemish or spots. So Christians, let’s get this right. We’re not as snuggly as we perceive ourselves to be. Without Jesus as our shepherd, and also our perfect sacrifice, we’re screwed. We’re directionless, selfish, incompetent, crap-stained sheep.

Isaiah 53:6 so beautifully puts it into perspective for us.

“All we like sheep have gone astray;
we have turned—every one—to his own way;
and the Lord has laid on [Jesus]
the iniquity of us all.”

Church, let’s understand what we really are, and let’s understand how much we need our shepherd.


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