Calvary Road Baptist Church



Earl Radmacher wrote,


“The figure of the flock is one of the broadest in application of any of the figures used of the church. In the Old Testament, Israel is called ‘the Lord’s flock’ (Jer 13:17; cf. Zech 10:3). Jesus referred to his small circle of disciples as the ‘little flock’ (Luke 12:32). Again, the term is used of the church on several occasions (cf. Acts 20:28; 1 Pet 5:3). In addition to these are the repeated references to the sheep that compose the flock (cf. John 10:16; 21:15-17) and to the Shepherd of the flock (John 10:2-16; 1 Pet 2:25; 5:4; Heb 13:20). Although this figure is rich with potential for application, there are a few things that deserve special note, for this figure is used to speak of relationships within the church.”


Except for his misunderstanding the church to mean everyone who is a Christian while I am convinced the church refers to a congregation, I concur with his comment just read. Jeremiah 13.17 reads,


“But if ye will not hear it, my soul shall weep in secret places for your pride; and mine eye shall weep sore, and run down with tears, because the LORD’s flock is carried away captive.”


Next, Zechariah 10.3:


“Mine anger was kindled against the shepherds, and I punished the goats: for the LORD of hosts hath visited his flock the house of Judah, and hath made them as his goodly horse in the battle.”


Jeremiah writing at the beginning of the Babylonian captivity and Zechariah writing after the Babylonian captivity, we see in the words of both prophets that the house of Judah is identified as “the LORD’s flock” by Jeremiah and “the LORD of hosts hath visited his flock the house of Judah” by Zechariah. Let us be careful to recognize that because the house of Judah is characterized as the LORD’s flock in the Old Testament by use of a figure of speech does not therefore mean that using the same figure of speech in the New Testament necessarily mean that the same thing is being referred to. I contend that the use of the flock metaphor in the Old Testament and in the New Testament speaks more to the kind of relationship the LORD exercises than it does to the identity of the flock. This will become obvious as we proceed. A challenging consideration arises when thought is given to the Lord Jesus Christ’s description of His men as the “little flock” in Luke 12.32. Of course, this takes place after the Lord Jesus Christ has called the twelve to be apostles, Luke 6.13. This leads me to conclude, since the Lord Jesus Christ founded the church during His earthly ministry, and since the first members of the church of Jesus Christ were the apostles,[2] that the phrase “little flock” is a fair representation of the church of Jesus Christ when it was comprised of but twelve men recently selected.

Does the Lord Jesus Christ by His use of the word flock when He addressed His apostles mean that they are “the Lord’s flock” in the same sense as the house of Judah when so labeled by the prophets Jeremiah and Zechariah? Keep in mind that the church in Ephesus was identified as “the flock” by the Apostle Paul in Acts 20.28, though they were undoubtedly a mostly Gentile Christian congregation:


“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.”


Consider as well the Apostle Peter’s use of the term in First Peter 5.1-3:


1      The elders which are among you I exhort, who am also an elder, and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that shall be revealed:

2      Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind;

3      Neither as being lords over God’s heritage, but being ensamples to the flock.


How can Peter’s comments not be in reference to a particular congregation of Christians, since elders cannot feed all of Christianity, and because Peter refers to that “which is among you”? How can elders be examples to the flock if the flock is everywhere and not rather a local congregation? As well, how can elders take oversight over all Christians? No, this concept of the flock is meaningful only when referring to a congregation or congregations and not to all sheep everywhere. All sheep everywhere is not a flock in anyone’s thinking. Therefore, congregations are rightly understood to be flocks of God and a church is the flock of God.

The question, remember, is whether “the LORD’s flock” in Jeremiah and “his flock” in Zechariah, though using the same figure of speech is referring to the same thing in the New Testament. Is the house of Judah in the Hebrew scriptures the same thing as a New Testament church congregation? Granting that the same figure of speech is used with both, the notion of the flock, is the Old Testament usage and the New Testament usage of that figure of speech therefore the same? To help us answer the question I would like to compare and contrast what we conclude from our study of God’s Word about the nation of Israel and the church of Jesus Christ:


The distinctions between Israel and the church.


J. Dwight Pentecost has summarized in his classic work Things To Come what Lewis Sperry Chafer has set forth in his famous Systematic Theology, listing twenty-four contrasts between Israel and the church of Jesus Christ which show us conclusively that these two groups can not be united into one, but that they must be distinguished as two separate entities with whom God is dealing in a special program. These contrasts may be outlined as follows:


(1)    The extent of Biblical revelation: Israel is dealt with in nearly four-fifths of the Bible; the church of Jesus Christ is dealt with in about one-fifth of the Bible.

(2)    The Divine purpose: Israel is the beneficiary of the earthly promises of the Abrahamic, the Palestinian, the Davidic, the New, and the Mosaic covenants; the church of Jesus Christ is the beneficiary of the heavenly promises in the gospel.

(3)    The seed of Abraham: With respect to Israel the seed of Abraham is his physical seed, of whom some become a spiritual seed; whereas with the church of Jesus Christ a spiritual seed is in view.

(4)    Birth: With respect to Israel a physical birth occurs that produces a blood kin relationship with those descendants of Abraham who are also in covenant with God; whereas with respect to the church of Jesus Christ a spiritual birth occurs that establishes a relationship with Christ as a precursor to church membership.

(5)    Headship: With Israel father Abraham is the patriarchal head of the covenant nation; in the church of Jesus Christ it is the Lord Jesus who is the head of the church.

(6)    Covenants: Israel is in covenant with God through the Abrahamic and all the subsequent covenants; the church of Jesus Christ is indirectly related to the Abrahamic and the New covenants.

(7)    Nationality: Israel is one nation; the church of Jesus Christ is comprised of members from all nations.

(8)    Divine dealing: Israel is dealt with by God on both a national and an individual basis; the church of Jesus Christ is dealt with by God on a congregational and an individual basis.

(9)    Dispensations: Israel is seen in scripture in all ages from the time of Abraham; the church of Jesus Christ is seen in scripture only in this present age.

(10)  Ministry: Israel has been engaged in no missionary activity and has been given no overt gospel to preach; the church of Jesus Christ has been charged with the Great Commission to fulfill and has been given the gospel to proclaim.

(11)  The death of Christ: Israel bears national guilt for rejecting Christ and will someday be saved by Him; the church of Jesus Christ is comprised of those now saved on the merits of Christ’s sacrifice.

(12)  God the Father: Israel is related by a peculiar relationship with God as the rejected Father to the nation;[3] those who are members of the church of Jesus Christ are related individually to God the Father through faith in His Son Jesus Christ.

(13)  Christ: Toward Israel the Lord Jesus is as yet the unrecognized Messiah, Immanuel, and King;[4] the church of Jesus Christ owns Jesus Christ as Savior, Lord, Bridegroom, and Head.

(14)  The Holy Spirit: Several men in Israel had some experience with the Spirit when He came upon them temporarily; those in the church of Jesus Christ are continually indwelt by the Spirit.[5]

(15)  Governing principle: Israelites beginning with Moses were under the Mosaic Law system until Christ’s crucifixion;[6] the church of Jesus Christ is guided by the principle of grace.[7]

(16)  Divine enablement: The nation of Israel was provided with no ongoing and usual supernatural enablement but was commanded to keep the Law; the church of Jesus Christ is enabled by the indwelling Holy Spirit.

(17)  Two farewell discourses: The nation of Israel was given the rejected Savior’s Olivet discourse; the church of Jesus Christ comprised of the apostles was given the upper room discourse.

(18)  The promise of Christ’s return: The Lamb of God who was slain will visibly return to Israel in power and glory as the Lion of the tribe of Judah and as the King of kings and Lord of lords for judgment at the time of His second coming; the church of Jesus Christ will be caught up to meet the Lord Jesus Christ in the air seven years before His Second Advent in the Rapture.[8]

(19)  Position: Israel occupies the position of a servant; the church of Jesus Christ occupies the position of members of the family.

(20)  Christ’s earthly reign: Israel will be His subjects during the millennial kingdom; the church of Jesus Christ will be co-reigners with Him during His millennial kingdom reign.

(21)  Priesthood: Israel had a priesthood; the church of Jesus Christ is a priesthood.

(22)  Marriage: Israel is the LORD’s unfaithful wife; the church of Jesus Christ is our Lord’s bride.

(23)  Judgments: Israel must face judgment; the church of Jesus Christ has been delivered from all judgments, with the Judgment Seat of Christ being a time of rewards.

(24)  Positions in eternity: Israel is comprised of the spirits of just men made perfect in the new earth; the church of Jesus Christ will be the church of the firstborn in the new heavens.


These clear contrasts, which show the distinction between Israel and the church, make it impossible to identify the two in one program. Therefore, the flock figure of speech in the New Testament does not refer to the same entity as the flock figure of speech in the Old Testament.[9]

[1] While I am convinced the New Testament does not support his understanding of the church, I am indebted to Earl D. Radmacher, What The Church Is All About: A Biblical And Historical Study, (Chicago: Moody Press, 1978, reprinted from 1972 Western Conservative Theology Seminary edition originally titled The Nature Of The Church), pages 298-307.

[2] 1 Corinthians 12.28

[3] 1 Samuel 8.7

[4] Acts 2.22-23

[5] Romans 8.9; Ephesians 1.13-14

[6] Deuteronomy 5.1-3; Romans 3.19

[7] John 1.17

[8] 1 Thessalonians 4.13-18

[9] I have modified to reflect my own convictions excepts from J. Dwight Pentecost, Things To Come, (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1958), pages 201-202 and Lewis Sperry Chafer, Systematic Theology, Vol. IV, (Dallas, TX: Dallas Seminary Press, 1948), pages 47-53.

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