“Then Jesus said to them, ‘You will all fall away because of Me this night, for it is written, “I WILL STRIKE DOWN THE SHEPHERD, AND THE SHEEP OF THE FLOCK SHALL BE SCATTERED.”’ ” Matthew 26:31
This quote from the Old Testament by Jesus about Himself and His disciples, is found in the thirteenth chapter of the book of Zechariah, verse seven.
As is typical of many Old Testament quotes found in the New, it is a partial quote of the verse. The complete context of the verse reads such: “Awake, O sword, against My Shepherd, and against the man, My Associate,” declares the LORD of hosts. “Strike the Shepherd that the sheep may be scattered; and I will turn My hand against the little ones.” (NAS) That’s the first point we want to make here. Jesus affirmed this prophecy was about Him and His followers. After Jesus quoted this passage, Peter made his now infamous statement: “Even though all may fall away because of You, I will never fall away.” (Matt. 26:33) Again, a reminder. Many Jews (even those from up north around the Sea of Galilee) would be very familiar with the Old Testament writings. The synagogue system (in place since the Babylonian captivity) exposed Jewish boys from a very young age to the Scripture and was the foundation for their learning; from reading, to writing, and to memorization of the sacred writ. Again, this helps us to understand people’s reactions as recorded in the New Testament when certain passages are quoted. Perhaps a bit more context of Zechariah chapter thirteen might be helpful here. “And it will come about in all the land,” declares the LORD, “That two parts in it will be cut off and perish; but the third will be left in it. And I will bring the third part through the fire, refine them as silver is refined, and test them as gold is tested. 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 my God.’ ” (Zech 13:8-9) Now, is it possible Peter had these verses in mind when he responded to Jesus’ statement? Sure, it’s possible. We know that Peter’s words ultimately rang hollow when the time of testing came. We also know that he rebounded, as Jesus said he would, after being sifted by Satan. Back to the context of Zechariah from which Jesus quoted. The LORD, through Zechariah, calls Jesus, “My Shepherd”, and “My Associate”. The Hebrew word here translated associate, is amith. This word carries the connotation of someone who shares the common nature, rights and privileges of another. Jesus was the Associate of God in the truest sense and He Himself said so on numerous occasions in the gospel accounts. The sword to be awakened that will strike His Shepherd, His Associate, is metaphorically the plan of God being put into action. The Shepherd would be struck down as prophesied and the sheep (disciples) would scatter. However, there was a purpose in it. When the temple guard came to arrest Jesus, there was a brief skirmish led by Peter, Jesus’ command to cease resisting, His surrender and “then all the disciples left Him and fled.” (Matt. 26:56b) The Lord’s Shepherd, we know, was struck down. But we also know it was for the purpose of Him being raised up. Because of His resurrection, the promise Jesus had made to Peter about turning and strengthening his brothers, came to be fulfilled. Peter became the firebrand of the message of Christ, and the backbone of the early church in the fires of persecution that followed. However, the prophecy concerning the sheep being scattered didn’t stop there. As the persecution was ratcheted up at the hands of a zealot Pharisee named Saul, the book of Acts records “and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles.” Through the persecution of the church, God’s plan concerning the preaching of the gospel of the glory of Jesus Christ went into other regions, other peoples and ultimately all the world (Some commentators say this is what is meant in Zechariah regarding the LORD turning His hand against the little ones). Should persecution come our way in the form of antichristian government or religions, and scatter us, the proper perspective should be it’s another opportunity for the dispersed latter day flock to spread the message to wherever they have been driven!