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Why did Jesus call us sheep?

When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. (Matthew 25:31-33)

Sheep and goat

Picture credit: Philipp Peter Roos (Creative Commons)

In John chapter 10, Jesus presents Himself as the good shepherd. He tells us of how deeply He loves His followers (up to the point of giving up His life for them) and how He wants a relationship with them.

What about the sheep? How can we relate to that animal that Jesus used in His metaphor?

Sheep (the animal) have the following characteristics:

  • They are natural followers.
  • They are social, they feel safer in a group.
  • They have a flocking instinct, what makes easier for the shepherd to move them all together from one location to another.

Jesus compares sheep to goats, indicating that He expects us to be like sheep, not like goats.

The goats usually show the following behavior pattern:

  • If they are in an open field, they tend to spread instead of flocking.
  • They have an internal hierarchy, so they fight to be leaders among themselves. Strenght determines who rules.
  • They are also known for escaping their pens.

If we look at the human being, they can show all the behaviors mentioned above. But human beings have one major difference: they can choose.

As human beings we were blessed with free will, and we can choose what we will do. We have instincts, desires, knowledge, and if we choose to, we also have the Holy Spirit. But in the end, we make the choice. We choose what or who to follow.

We can make the choice of being like sheep, as Jesus expects from His followers:

  • We can choose to listen to His voice and follow Him, only Him.
  • We can choose to belong to a group of believers who care for each other and worship Him together.
  • We can choose to walk together and help each other. If one falls down or wanders away, we are there to help them get back to the flock.

As human beings, we have the privilege and the responsibility of being able to choose. Our choices will determine our relationship with Jesus, and, in the end, they will determine how we will spend eternity:

Then the King will say to those on his right, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.” [...]
Then he will say to those on his left, “Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.” (Matthew 25:34,41)

8 Responses to “Why did Jesus call us sheep?”

  1. Joanne Norton January 24, 2012 at 7:48 PM #

    My largest personality issue that can sheep/goat me is an independent attitude.  I”m better now, as I’m aging and learning more and more to trust the Lord to shepherd me, even going after me when I’m the “1 of the 99″.  However, He really is first in my life… more and more and more.  If I live to be 100 [not a desire on my part], I may be even MORE Shepherd-prone.

    Good sharing, writing, examples, thinking.

    • Cris Ferreira January 25, 2012 at 10:57 AM #

      Joanne, I think everyone of us have to fight with that independence attitude, some more than others. And as you said, the more we learn to trust the Lord, the more we are able to learn to be dependent upon Him.
      Thank you so much for your comment, Jo!

  2. Gayle Howell January 25, 2013 at 9:50 PM #

    Ezekiel 34 talks about the evil shepherds, great he-goats and the fat sheep. How they are allowed to trample down the feeding grounds and muddy the waters for the other sheep. I also like the fact that these type of animals “butt” others. “Yeah, but . . . but I think” etc. Taking over and controlling conversations, pushing their own agenda. Just some thoughts to add to your analysis.
    Gayle Howell
    Prayer Coordinator


    • Cris Ferreira January 28, 2013 at 12:12 AM #

      Thanks for enriching the conversation with your comments, Gayle, I appreciate it.
      God bless you!

  3. Prototype Atheist June 25, 2014 at 11:04 AM #

    I’m incredulous, that after analyzing the reasons for why Christians are called sheep, you’ve come to the conclusion that it is a compliment.

    • Cris Ferreira July 31, 2014 at 7:13 PM #

      Hi there! I’m sorry for taking a long time to respond, but I haven’t been following up on this blog in a while.
      Just to be clear, I don’t think it is necessarily a compliment, but it definitely is an honor to be called Jesus’ sheep, and in order to understand that, I ask you to do a creative exercise, will you?
      Imagine that there is a God, creator of everything that exists, supreme in power, a being that we cannot even begin to understand. Someone that can dizimate the entire world with one thought, if he wanted to.
      Let’s say that, instead of giving his creation, men and women, what they deserve, the ones who spend most of their time denying him, or doing things that offend him and that destroy themselves, this almighty God wants to welcome them, and the metaphor he uses to show them how much he wants to take care of them is one of a loving shepherd caring for his sheep, even to the point of giving his life for them.
      If you imagine this, I think you will have a better idea of what I mean.
      A sheep is actually a delightful animal, but one that doesn’t realize how much it needs its shepherd.
      I don’t ask you to agree with me. I am explaining this so you can understand my point, OK?
      Thank for the comment!

      • Prototype Atheist August 5, 2014 at 12:06 PM #

        Yes, I can imagine such a god, and so has humanity, just like every god to ever be recorded. That’s the thing – gods are just ways for humans to cope with the suffering of life and permanence of death. I don’t need anyone controlling my only life and the actions I take during it.

        • Cris Ferreira August 20, 2014 at 6:45 PM #

          Hello there again!
          I do understand your belief, and I do respect it, even though I don’t agree with it at all, of course. But I don’t want to make this longer than it needs to be, I don’t want to waste your time as I expect the same courtesy back.
          I am not sure that you got my point about the sheep and the shepherd, because that’s what your original comment was about. Keep in mind that I don’t expect you to agree with me, I was just explaining my point so I would address your point, and maybe you would understand (again, not agree) the christian relationship metaphor that I explained.
          Anyway, thanks again for commenting. Have a great week!

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