As established in the beginning, the kingdom of God consists of the whole earth under heaven’s management, with humans as God’s agents providing his care to the rest of creation. How we care for the animals is therefore a great analogy for how God cares for us:
Matthew 18:12-14 (original translation, compare NIV)
12 What do you think? Say someone had a hundred sheep, and one was misled from the others. Wouldn’t he leave the ninety-nine on the hills, head off, and search for the misled one? 13 And if it can be found, I tell you truly that his joy over this one is greater than over the ninety-nine that were not misled. 14 None of those who gather around your Father in the heavens want any of these little ones to come to ruin.
This is God’s heart for the whole human family. Neither the Sovereign himself nor any of the angels who gather around his throne and read in his face how he feels when humans mistreat each other (18:10) want any of God’s children to come to harm.
It’s interesting how our translations reinforce our assumptions about guilt. We get the impression that the sheep is at fault if it wanders away (NIV, NLT) or goes astray (ESV, NASB). What Jesus says is the exact opposite. Three times he describes the sheep as deceived or led astray (planaō in the passive voice).
So who is doing the deceiving / leading astray? Actually, that’s a coming theme in Matthew:
- Jesus said the Sadducees were misled (planaō) about the resurrection (22:29). This was the faction that controlled the temple.
- In announcing judgement on the temple, Jesus warned, “Watch out that no one deceives (planaō) you” (24:4, 5, 11, 24).
- The temple leaders accused Jesus of being “that deceiver (planos)” (27:2, compare John 7:12, 47), grounds for executing him (planaō in LXX of Deuteronomy 13:5).
Now that Jesus has been revealed as God’s anointed leader (16:16), the Son appointed by God to lead his people (17:5), confrontation with those who see themselves as the shepherds of Israel was inevitable.
The question Matthew wants the sheep to ask is who they should follow. Those seeking to kill Jesus (12:14; 16:21; 17:23)? Or the one seeking to rescue the deceived sheep and bring them back into the community under God’s reign? Who represents the heart of your Father in the heavens who does not want any of these little ones to come to ruin?
Let’s forget about blaming the sheep, and represent the community of the Shepherd who doesn’t want a single one to come to harm.
Open Matthew 18:12-14.