208. "Smite the Shepherd (Matt. 26:31, 32; Mark 14:27, 28)
On the way to Gethsemane, or perhaps after they had arrived
there, Jesus made the last of several attempts to cushion the faith of his
disciples to the tremendous jolt which was inevitable in the next few
"All ye shall be offended (caused to stumble) because of me
Earlier in his ministry he had pronounced a dreadful curse on
the man who would cause one of these "little ones" to stumble: "It were better
for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in
the depth of the sea" (Mt.18 :6,7). Yet now Jesus himself was to be the occasion
of it. But really their own inadequate understanding of God's purpose in him was
the root cause, and Judas's traitorous work the means.
The imperative of Old Testament prophecy
And all this was to be according to the prophets: "For it is
written, I will smite the shepherd, and the sheep shall be scattered." All
through his ministry Jesus had shown himself strongly aware of the fact that his
work and experiences were bound to conform to what was already written
concerning him in the Old Testament, but towards the end this emphasis
intensified; and the same theme, properly appreciated by his biographers in
later days, was continued with fulness of detail in their records of his death
Many a Scripture which is enigmatic and mysterious to the
modern reader must have been luminous and crystal-clear to the discerning mind
of the Son of God, thus providing for him both encouragement and acute
discouragement as he learned the things that God had in store for the One who
Here was a Scripture which specifically included his disciples
also. It was written for them as well as for him. In quoting, Jesus deliberately
changed the wording from "smite thou" (Hebrew), or "Smite ye" (Greek LXX),to "I
will smite," thus emphasizing the divine purpose in it all (compare Is.53
:6,10), "to do what thy counsel determined before to be done" (Acts
The details of Zechariah 13:7-9 need to be taken in
conjunction with the earlier prophecy of chapter 11, in which the shepherd of
God's flock is made to cease from his work, the price of his labours being a
mere thirty pieces of silver. Thus the bond of the covenant between God and His
nation is broken, and the people are thenceforward committed to the authority of
shepherds who are blind, worthless, or tyrannical.
Here, in chapter 13, the Shepherd who is God's "fellow" and
who is nevertheless smitten by the power of organized government ("Awake, O
sword;" cp. Rom.13 :4) is plainly Jesus.
Yet no sword was used against Jesus, even though men came
"with swords and staves to take him" (Mt.26:55; and note Ps.22 :20).
"Awake, O sword" is rhetorical apostrophe addressed to the
wielder of the sword; compare: "Lift up your heads, O ye gates" (Ps.24:7)
addressed to the gatekeepers of Zion.
It is perhaps possible to go a step further and see the
wielder of the sword not as some human authority but as an angel (Num.22 :23;
Josh.5 :13) under whose unseen direction Roman and Jewish powers alike
The Hebrew text uses an unusual word for "the man that is my
fellow." All the other eleven occurrences of it come in Leviticus with
reference to offences against or by one's fellow man. Here it is used of God's
"fellow" who never committed any offence against any.
Is it possible to infer from the sequence of phrases: "Smite
the shepherd, and the sheep shall be scattered," that when Jesus was arrested in
Gethsemane he was actually smitten (by Malchus, the high priest's servant?)
before the disciples "all forsook him and fled"?
Rather remarkably, another prophecy uses the same terminology:
"All my bones are scattered abroad" (Ps.22 :14)—as though emphasizing the
figure of the Lord's Body and its members.
The "little ones" in the prophecy are Christ's disciples. God
turned His hand upon them for good at a time when the minority of the nation
("the third part") was to be refined and cherished as the true people of Jehovah
and the majority were to be "cut off and die'—a judgment that came in
A.D.70, and will yet happen again. It is interesting to note the number of times
Jesus appropriated this phrase "the little ones" from Zech 13 :7-Mt.18
:4,5,6,10,U; Lk.12 :32; Jn.13 :33.
Pusey ("Minor Prophets") seems to imply that some of the
leading Jewish rabbis (e.g. Ibn Ezra and Abarbanel) were apparently driven by
Christian polemics to consider seriously the appropriateness of the details of
this prophecy to Jesus of Nazareth.
The immediate fulfilment required that "the sheep of the flock
be scattered abroad "(cp. Jn.16 :32), and within the hour it came to pass: "All
the disciples forsook him, and fled," and this—Matthew is careful to
underline—'that the scriptures of the prophets might be fulfilled"
Reassurance: "After I am risen"
Yet it was to help them, and not to discourage, that Jesus
spoke these words, for he continued: "But after I am risen again, I will go
before you into Galilee."
Here, one would think, is the plainest of all plain assertions
of ultimate triumph. Yet nothing is more clear from the resurrection narratives
that the utter unexpectedness of it all: "And their words seemed to them as idle
tales, and they believed them not. . . Yea, and certain women also of our
company made us astonished which were early at the sepulchre . . . And certain
of them which were with us found it even so as the women had said: but him they
saw not" (Lk.24:11,22).
So these words of Jesus would only become meaningful on the
third day. And thus also it will be, doubtless, at the Second Coming, with many
a prophecy now shrouded in mystery or neglect. This would be specially true of
the phrase "I will go before you (as a shepherd) into Galilee." Angels "looked
down with sad and wondering eyes," heard these words marvelling, and later
repeated them with gladness in the echoing emptiness of the tomb (Mt.28 :7).
There is here not only a continuation of the figure of Shepherd and sheep
(cp.Jn. 10 :4; Mk.10 :32; Heb.13 :20), but also an implicit instruction that
they stay in Jerusalem until after his resurrection.
In later days this mention of Galilee would be greatly
treasured because of its symbolic value, as implying the preaching of the gospel
to the Gentiles. Jerusalem and its temple were to be disowned.
But at the time the words were spoken, they must have been
meaningless to these bewildered men.