Harry Whittaker
Studies in the Gospels

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 hours.

"All ye shall be offended (caused to stumble) because of me this night."

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 and resurrection.

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 loved Him.

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 4:28).

Exact fulfilment

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 were.

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" (26:56).

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.

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