The Lord of the Harvest

Scripture Reading

But when he saw the multitudes, he was moved with compassion on them, because they fainted, and were scattered abroad, as sheep having no shepherd. Then saith he unto his disciples, The harvest truly [is] plenteous, but the labourers [are] few; Pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that he will send forth labourers into his harvest.

Matt. 9:36-38

Parable of Harvests

The only use of the word harvest in the New Testament is from the metaphor representing lost people, or lost souls in the world. The laborers are those that preach the gospel message to the lost and the Lord of the harvest is God. In John’s gospel account, the words of Jesus further elaborate upon this theme as he spoke to his disciples, “Say not ye, There are yet four months, and [then] cometh harvest? behold, I say unto you, Lift up your eyes, and look on the fields; for they are white already to harvest. And he that reapeth receiveth wages, and gathereth fruit unto life eternal: that both he that soweth and he that reapeth may rejoice together.” [John 4:35-36]

As with the natural process of harvesting crops, Jesus alluded to the fact that now is the time to harvest the lost souls of the world, as in …white already to harvest. It is important to correlate the notion of a natural harvest in that there is only a certain period of time for harvesting before crops spoil, or in this case, before souls are eternally lost. Solomon also made reference to this harvesting theme but more pertinent to nature, “He that gathereth in summer [is] a wise son: [but] he that sleepeth in harvest [is] a son that causeth shame.” [Prov. 10:5] The point to note once again is that a crop must be harvested during a specific period of time.

While a future study will delve into a parable from Matthew 13, for now it is important to give mention of it here due to its relevance to the harvest. In this parable, Jesus relates the kingdom of heaven being similar to a person who sows good seed out in a field. But during the night, his enemy came along and sowed tares in the very same field, tares being invasive weeds. As a consequence, the crops grew from both the good and the bad seeds together in the same field. The helpers of the crop owner inquired with him about this since they knew he planted good seed and they offered to remove the weeds for him. The crop owner however told them to let both the good and the bad crops continue to grow together and then during the harvest time they will be separated accordingly. In this case the crop from good seeds would be harvested and stored but the weeds from bad seeds would be gathered together and burnt.

The relevance of the parable to this week’s scripture reading is that they are in essence bearing the same theme and message. Jesus elaborates on this by sharing the meaning of the parable, “The field is the world; the good seed are the children of the kingdom; but the tares are the children of the wicked [one;] The enemy that sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the world; and the reapers are the angels.” [Matt. 13:38-39] Without sharing too much of the parable at this time the notable verse is when Jesus states, “Then shall the righteous shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Who hath ears to hear, let him hear.” [Matt. 13:43]  This parable should resonate with anyone who has ever asked that daunting question of how can a loving God allow evil in the world since we can see here that both are being permitted to exist until harvest or end time.

Lift up your eyes, and look on the fields; for they are white already to harvest.

John 4:35b

Sheep and the Shepherd

In this next section, let us now have a look at the first part of this week’s scripture study; “But when he saw the multitudes, he was moved with compassion on them, because they fainted, and were scattered abroad, as sheep having no shepherd.” The use of the terms sheep for followers of the Lord and shepherd for the Lord have roots going back to ancient Israel. In this section therefore, several scripture references will be provided to see this theme throughout the entire Bible of the sheep and the shepherd.

For example, Moses spoke to the Lord  in preparation of appointing Joseph into an oversight role of the Israelites, “And Moses spake unto the LORD, saying, Let the LORD, the God of the spirits of all flesh, set a man over the congregation, Which may go out before them, and which may go in before them, and which may lead them out, and which may bring them in; that the congregation of the LORD be not as sheep which have no shepherd.” [Num. 27:15-17] Further to this, during a long discourse between the king of Judah and the king of Israel this same reference was also used, “And he said, I saw all Israel scattered upon the hills, as sheep that have not a shepherd.” [1 Kings 22:17]

The ancient prophets also used this same metaphor upon receiving prophetic messages from the Lord, “For thus saith the Lord GOD; Behold, I, [even] I, will both search my sheep, and seek them out. As a shepherd seeketh out his flock on the day that he is among his sheep [that are] scattered; so will I seek out my sheep, and will deliver them out of all places where they have been scattered in the cloudy and dark day.” [Ezek. 34:11-12]  Another case in point is from one of the minor prophets foretelling of events involving Israel and the shepherd in noted in this passage, “For the idols have spoken vanity, and the diviners have seen a lie, and have told false dreams; they comfort in vain: therefore they went their way as a flock, they were troubled, because [there was] no shepherd.” [Zech. 10:2]

Then shall the righteous shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Who hath ears to hear, let him hear.

Matt. 13:43

One of the ancient prophets also wrote this memorable phrase indicating how the Lord Jesus Christ, would fulfill his sacrificial mission for the atonement of people’s sins, “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth.” [Is. 53:6-7]

Two more scripture references from the Old Testament merit mention in this study. David wrote of his self admission in this regard acknowledging his humble place before the Lord, “I have gone astray like a lost sheep; seek thy servant; for I do not forget thy commandments.” [Ps. 119:176]  In another one of the ancient prophet’s statement from the Lord it is interesting to see the cross connection between lost sheep and forgetting their resting place in the Lord, “My people hath been lost sheep: their shepherds have caused them to go astray, they have turned them away [on] the mountains: they have gone from mountain to hill, they have forgotten their restingplace.” [Jer. 50:6]

All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.

Isaiah 53:6

This verse provides a helpful transition point forward to the New Testament with an example Jesus gave again referencing a shepherd and his sheep, illustrating the remarkable compassion of the Lord, “What man of you, having an hundred sheep, if he lose one of them, doth not leave the ninety and nine in the wilderness, and go after that which is lost, until he find it? And when he hath found [it,] he layeth [it] on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he cometh home, he calleth together [his] friends and neighbours, saying unto them, Rejoice with me; for I have found my sheep which was lost.” [Luke 15: 4-6]

As Jesus was preparing his disciples to go forth into the local communities to witness on his behalf over the coming kingdom of heaven, he instructed them initially to follow in his footsteps and to limit their focus, “But go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” [Matt. 10:6]  Then most notably, he once again referenced his followers as sheep, “Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves.” [Matt. 10:16]

As Jesus further prepared his disciples for his imminent departure from them, he referenced a prophetic verse, “I will smite the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock shall be scattered abroad.” [Matt. 26:31b] This would no doubt have resonated with the Jews since he was quoting from the Old Testament prophet recorded centuries before, “Awake, O sword, against my shepherd, and against the man [that is] my fellow, saith the LORD of hosts: smite the shepherd, and the sheep shall be scattered: and I will turn mine hand upon the little ones.” [Zech. 13:7]

I am the door: by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture.

John 10:9

Jesus is the Eternal Shepherd

The last part of this week’s scripture study will briefly relate how a long discourse Jesus spoke to his disciples from the Gospel of John ties in with this week’s scripture. Here, Jesus gives a wonderfully encouraging parable starting with this proclamation, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that entereth not by the door into the sheepfold, but climbeth up some other way, the same is a thief and a robber. But he that entereth in by the door is the shepherd of the sheep.” [John 10:1-2]  As Jesus then began to explain the parable to his disciples he stated quite emphatically to them, Then said Jesus unto them again, Verily, verily, I say unto you, I am the door of the sheep.” [John 10:7]

The use of the phrase verily, verily, brings added emphasis to his comments, translated as truly, truly or surely, surely. There is one other important point to this heartwarming parable shared by Jesus in this passage of scripture as he said, “I am the door: by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture.” [John 10:9]  Jesus fills in the blanks by noting the salvation that awaits his sheep who follow him, hence the phrase …find pasture.

Apostle’s Reinforcement

To close off this study on the Lord of the Harvest, the apostles of Jesus also gave reference to this same illustration such as Peter’s description from one of his two letters, “For ye were as sheep going astray; but are now returned unto the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls.” [1 Pet. 2:25] For some readers, this may prove most comforting, encouraging and reassuring to know that Jesus is indeed the true shepherd of his sheep. For other readers, perhaps the quest for independence, self-sustainment and being in charge of their own destiny, may be in conflict with realizing and submitting to the Lord Jesus Christ as the great shepherd. If this is so, please give contemplation over this potentially irreconcilable dilemma you may be facing in life.

…our Lord Jesus, that great shepherd of the sheep…

Heb. 13:20

Readers may recall the many phrases used by Jesus during his endearing sermon on the mount such as poor in spirit, mourn, meek, hunger and thirst after righteousness, merciful, pure in heart, and peacemakers. These are all characteristics of his followers by humbly submitting their life over to him as Lord and Saviour. For it is only in Christ where we can truly possess his magnificent righteousness upon us as the writer so eloquently wrote, “Now the God of peace, that brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, Make you perfect in every good work to do his will, working in you that which is wellpleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ; to whom [be] glory for ever and ever. Amen.” [Heb. 13:20-21]

Bible Study Questions

  1. In this study on the Lord of the Harvest, why do you think Jesus often spoke in parables and metaphors to describe more complex subjects of religion?
  2. What does it mean when Jesus says the fields are already white unto harvest?
  3. What do the tares represent in the parable from Matthew 13? Hint Matt. 13:38-39
  4. Who do the sheep represent throughout all of these parables and prophetic statements?
  5. In John 10:1-2, when Jesus says, I am the door of the sheep, it also means he is the way, the truth and the life to eternal salvation (John 14:6) true or false?
  6. Why do you think so many people reject the notion of Jesus becoming the shepherd and bishop of their souls?
  7. From Heb. 13:20-21, who is it that works in you as a Christian as Lord of the Harvest?

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