Jesus’ Allusion Concerning Sheep & Wolves (Updates ~ 4/2014)
Jesus, in speaking about these false prophets used the allusion (an indirect reference to something or somebody by using symbolism) of them coming to the people as “wolves in sheep’s clothing” (see #1) in order to take advantage of them. We understand that Jesus used the allusion of sheep in describing people, which we should look at first in gaining greater understanding of what Jesus was communicating.
First, we should examine Jesus’ allusion regarding sheep in describing God’s people (Israel) and Believers (the church), and goats symbolizing unbelievers.
Sheep have no natural defenses within their environment, yet quite often they seem to be unaware of this; in the same way that believers have no natural defense against sin, the devil, or the world; without the protection of their shepherd, or the indwelling of His Spirit, yet many times they seem to forget this fact.
Sheep have a tendency to wander off (Luke 15:6) without ever thinking about it, most the time when they’re in danger, they have no idea of how dangerous it really is, with their focus stuck in what is right in front of them, having no concerns about the greater picture. They are self-centered, yet are unaware of it. They are not very surefooted, subject to falling off the side of cliffs; they display very little discernment, very similar to many within the church.
Other animals display traits that humans can more easily identify with; such as the intelligence, ingenuity, and comic behavior of monkeys, the cunning and wilfulness of cats, the friendliness of dolphins, or the loyalty of dogs.
Yet sheep are not animals that humans would like to more readily identify with. They are stupid, obnoxious, and noisy. Certain civilizations, such as the Old Egyptian Empire consider sheep to be unclean, defiled, or polluted in the same way that the world considers believers to be unnatural or polluted.
Sheep will over eat, gorge themselves and destroy the fields with no thought of tomorrow living only in the day.
Sheep are prone to flocking behavior, which is behavior where during a time of danger the strongest animals fight their way to the center of the flock, which offers the greater protection from the predators, yet this type of self-centeredness ultimately leads to the destruction of the whole flock as the weakest are on the perimeter, and the strongest are where they could do the least good. How often have we heard it said that the army of God is the only army that kills their wounded while befriending the enemy; therefore making themselves vulnerable at the institutional level which would ultimately lead to their destruction, if it was not for God.
The judgment of both sheep and believers is terrible; they will easily follow a goat that makes a lot of noise, or a wolf in sheep’s clothing because of their refusal to utilize proper Biblical judgment (Matthew 7:16, 20), as if discernment was somehow ungodly or unloving; all of which is completely unBiblical and at the expense of a vibrant living Church that grows in quality as well as quantity.
However, they also have the capability of learning the voice of their master (John 10:27), the one who takes care of them.
When shepherds in the Middle East would go to watering holes, there might be two or three different flocks drinking at the same time. As a Shepherd determines to leave, he would start walking away from the watering hole singing, and the older sheep, who had come to know their master’s voice would follow him, and the little ones, as well as those that weren’t so discerning would follow the group.
Good Shepherds We in America have a hard time understanding Jesus’ analogy concerning sheep as an object lesson, because many times we raise sheep for their meat as compared to the shepherds of Judea which raise sheep mainly for their wool.
We have a tendency to use dogs that drive sheep from behind, biting at their limbs, using force and intimidation; yet this is unlike the shepherds in Israel, who walk in front of their sheep, leading them, setting the example before them to follow concerning where to go, constantly speaking to them.
With the sheep following the shepherd because of his care and concern for them, which facilitates their faith and trust in him.
It was common for the Shepherd to sing as they led their sheep so that the sheep became accustomed to their voice, it was also common for the shepherds to sing the Psalms of Israel.
These shepherds would protect their sheep with their very own lives. At night they would cut a large hole in the middle of a briar bush for the sheep to enter into, with the shepherd sleeping in the entrance (with the shepherd becoming the door ~ John 10:7), in order to protect them.
This is the information we need to understand whenever Jesus speaks about Himself being the Good shepherd, and His people being the sheep, because it is a relationship of trust and faith, as opposed to domination and fear.
The Difference Between Sheep & Wolves Getting back to Jesus’ object lesson concerning wolves. Wolves have very few common traits with sheep, though they both have four legs and a tail.
The tails on sheep serve very little purpose except in covering their anal and sexual organs. They can’t hold their tail’s up, except slightly to keep fecal matter off; they have no ability to actually raise their tail.
In America, we normally cut off (dock) their tails because without bone, only having ligament and cartilage, it is common for them to not raise their tails enough and therefore collect fecal matter which draws parasites, which will bring infection and eventually death .
What is interesting about the Lord speaking of false teachers as wolves in sheep’s clothing (Matthew 7:15) is one of the obvious characteristics of wolves is that they declare their pecking order, their power; by how they hold up their tail. The leader will hold his tail almost straight up, with his lieutenants, sergeants, and corporals progressively holding their tails lower. The tail standing straight up displays complete dominance, power, authority and supremacy. The wolves’ leadership is according to this type of violent dominance, where intimidation and power establish their authority.
With the height of holding their tails as a means of identification of their authority, this is somewhat analogous to the stripes or bars on a soldier’s sleeve or collar which indemnify his rank or authority. Dogs determine who they will fight in order to establish their dominance according to where the tail is held, this is how they survive in their “dog eat dog world.”
Also, the display of submission is seen when they lower their tail and even wrap it under your belly, with the final act of submission being when a dog lies on its back, exposing its jugular and belly to a more dominant dog. The reason this is the ultimate sign of submission is that if a dog is bitten, creating a tear in its belly, when it stands up its intestines fall out, as compared to being bitten on his back which might eventually heal, with other dogs licking it and cleaning it, unlike the wound of the belly.
Jesus’ Guidelines for Leaders
As the good Shepherd, Jesus loves His sheep; in fact Jesus is personification of love, wherein it has been said that 1 Corinthians 13 in addressing love, illustrates Christ especially when it states:
“Love has patience, is kind; love is not envious; love is not vain, is not puffed up; does not behave indecently, does not pursue its own things, is not easily provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices in the truth. Love quietly covers all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails.” (1 Corinthians 13:4-8)
And when it comes to spiritual leadership, the week before Jesus was crucified, Matthew 20:25, records:
“But Jesus called them unto him, and said, Ye know that the princes of the Gentiles exercise dominion over them, and they that are great exercise authority upon them. But it shall not be so among you: but whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister [servant]; And whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant”
The point that Jesus was making was that church leadership would not be as it is in the world, centered upon displays of dominance, power, authority and supremacy, but according to sacrificially serving the followers, which is completely antithetical to how the world leads, which is also analogous with how wolves lead their pack.
Therefore, if you ever look across a valley to a Hill where sheep are grazing, and you see a sheep with his tail sticking straight up, displaying his dominance, power, authority and supremacy; watch closely because you are witnessing a “wolf in sheep’s clothing.”
The point is false teachers and prophets will lead by dominance, power, authority and supremacy. False teachers and prophets may use Biblical words, may exhibit false humility, may speak with lofty expressions concerning love and self-sacrifice; yet it is their dominance and power which will be seen in their pride and arrogance that will indemnify them every time. Please do not misunderstand, each one of us deals with pride on a daily basis, many godly ministers and teachers have issues concerning control or pride.
An awful lot of us who aspire to the title of leader, minister, or pastor; constantly address the pride of life (1 John 2:16), yet, this is not to be confused with the type of manipulation that occurs with false prophets and teachers that must be in total control in order to maintain their income levels and their future profits at the expense of their followers.
The acid test is the pride that is exhibited when they are questioned, or threatened concerning an inability to use God’s Word to validate their assertion, how do they stand up according to God’s Word. Or do they twist God’s Word taking scriptures out of context in order to make their OWN point, demanding that they are anointed of God, filled with the Holy Spirit, if anyone that would dare question them.
Regarding teachers: Do they seek to shackle their follower’s hands, or to wash their feet?
One last thought.
Having raised sheep I understand why so many ranchers hate them, they smell, their noisy, their ignorant, and they need a lot of maintenance.
Yet what is amazing to me in considering the similarities between people and sheep, is that the great Shepherd, became a sheep to save sheep.
Jesus became a man to die for the sins of other men who would place their faith in Him as the Savior of the world, hence John’s expression when he saw Jesus:
“The next day John seeth Jesus coming unto him, and saith, Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.“ (John 1:29)
It has been said that the nails that were driven in His hands did not hold Him to that tree, it was His love for His followers; for you and for me.
1. Matthew 7:15 – “Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.” Also see: Matthew 10:16; Luke 10:3; Acts 20:29. Also see 2 Peter 2:1-22 for a more in-depth description [see our essay on 2 Peter 2]
“The difference between ‘involvement’ and ‘commitment’
is like an eggs-and-ham breakfast:
the chicken was ‘involved’ – the pig was ‘committed’.”
Reprinted and expanded from “Faith ~ Part 2,” at: www.FaithBibleMinistries.com