As we discussed yesterday, the most probable interpretation of vss. 1-6 is that they’re referring to a future time in which idolatry and false prophecy will be stamped out in Israel after the Messiah returns. In this age, out weapons are spiritual: prayer, proclaiming the Message of Jesus as found in the Bible, persuasion, etc. What doesn’t work with those methods, we leave between a person and the Lord. But in that Age, after Christ returns, there won’t be any room for doubt and no room for worshiping any God but the true one.
Now we come to a shift in the focus. 11:15-17 talked about a false shepherd, one with whom the Lord was disgusted. This false shepherd only cared about himself, not his sheep or his responsibilities. But this Shepherd is the “man who is close to” the Lord. This is talking about the Good Shepherd, the One who will lay down his life for his sheep. So what’s this passage talking about?
This, once again, is a great case to be made for the “partially then/complete in the future” motif we’ve been seeing a lot. It was definitely at least partially fulfilled in the First Coming. Jesus said that verse 7 was fulfilled at the Last Supper, and he applied it later when his disciples fled in a panic and were scattered at his arrest.
You might be wondering about the last part of vs. 7: The Shepherd will be struck and “I will turn my hand against the little ones.”? What? Well, it is true that it’s possible to translate “against” here as “upon”; in other words, the Lord will put his hand “upon” (as in protecting) the little ones. But quite frankly, most seem to translate it as “against” based on the context. This is talking about the Lord’s sovereign plan, which is to strike the shepherd and “strike” the “little ones.” It’ll look like they’re abandoned. Of course we know from the rest of his word that he'll never really leave nor forsake his children.
But the rest of the passage makes very little sense if you believe it was completely fulfilled at his first coming. You might try to claim that the destruction of the land (in vs. 8) was fulfilled when Rome destroyed it in A.D. 70. And Jesus said that this would be a direct result of Israel’s rejection of their Messiah. There was certainly a lot of loss of life there—probably not a full two-thirds of the population, but a lot.
But verse 9 makes a wonderful promise, which has definitely not been fulfilled in any way yet that makes sense. It says that the all the remaining one-third who survive the destruction of verse 8 will turn wholeheartedly back to the Lord:
“They will call on my name
and I will answer them;
I will say, ‘They are my people,’
and they will say, ‘The Lord is our God.”
In no way has this been fulfilled among Israel since the days of the first century. Thank the Lord, there’s been a remnant chosen by grace that have turned to the Messiah. But their numbers, regrettably, are nowhere near the majority or even a significant plurality.
So assuming that it’s “then partial/future complete,” then what can we learn from it?
I think first and foremost this is a great reminder of how much we desperately need our Shepherd/Savior. When our Shepherd was “struck,” all of his followers folded like a house of cards in a windstorm. The wonderful news is that that was a one-time affair. But we should keep in the forefront of our heads: “Apart from me you can do nothing.” If he ever did turn his back on us, or if by some crazy set of circumstances he ever was taken away from us by force, that would be it for us. Without the Shepherd, the sheep would not only be defenseless but dead.
It also reminds me that everything does have a purpose. There is no such thing as purposeless suffering. To say that these folks are going through a terrible time is to really understate it. But the Lord will bring them out to the other side of it all, and both they and he will say in the end “It was worth it. To bring us to this point of intimate communion, it was worth it all.”
Aren’t you glad?
Lord Jesus, I know full well what I can do without you. And I know what would happen if you ever did leave me or forsake me. But you won’t. Never ever ever. Thank you.