Summary: Under-shepherds and the Chief Shepherd, that Great Shepherd of the Sheep, Jesus.
THE GREAT SHEPHERD AND THOSE WHO RULE
1. Those Who Rule Over You.
The earlier exhortation to ‘Remember’ our leaders probably implies showing respect to those who are still with us, and honouring those who have since died, by following their example. Scan their lives and look at the outcome of their conduct! They have spoken the word of God, and we are to follow their faith (Hebrews 13:7; cf. Hebrews 6:12).
This does not mean we follow blindly, or else the warning not to be ‘carried about by diverse and strange teachings’ (Hebrews 13:9) would have been unnecessary. Nevertheless, our present passage begins by enjoining us to “Obey them that have the rule over us” and “submit” ourselves (Hebrews 13:17). This leads to a qualification provided by the Apostle Paul elsewhere, where he exhorts: ‘Be ye followers of me, inasmuch as I also am of Christ’ (cf. 1 Corinthians 11:1).
Now leaders, if they are functioning properly, “keep watch” for our souls, and “must give account” to God (Hebrews 13:17). All the more reason to honour them! However, the writer does not want us to set our leaders upon a proverbial pedestal: rather, he says, “Salute ALL them that have the rule over you, and ALL the saints” (Hebrews 13:24); and “Grace be with you ALL” (Hebrews 13:25).
The writer, as a leader himself, asks for prayer for himself and his fellow-workers. They are sure they have a “good conscience, in all things willing to live honestly” (Hebrews 13:18; cf. Acts 23:1; 2 Corinthians 1:12). The writer “beseeches” his Hebrew readers thus to pray, that he might “be restored to them the sooner” (Hebrews 13:19).
2. The Chief Shepherd and His under-shepherds (1 Peter 5:1-4).
Elsewhere, Peter instructs church elders how to behave - and how not to behave - in relation to the ‘flock’ over which they are overseers. The Apostle reminds them that they are under-shepherds of the ‘chief Shepherd’ - to whom they will be held accountable at His appearing and rewarded accordingly.
3. The Great Shepherd of the Sheep (Hebrews 13:20-21).
The closing benediction of the letter to the Hebrews is addressed to the God of peace, who brought again from the dead “our Lord Jesus, that great shepherd of the sheep” through the blood of the everlasting covenant. The peace spoken of is the holistic healing and salvation which comes from Jesus’ sacrifice. The resurrection of the Lord Jesus is proof of the efficacy of that sacrifice.
The covenant is an eternal covenant, whereby our sins and iniquities are remembered no more (cf. Hebrews 10:16-17). The blood of the covenant is His blood, shed on Calvary for His people’s sins. Jesus is the Shepherd of Israel (cf. Psalm 80:1), but His flock includes those out of every nation, throughout all of time, who respond to His call.
Jesus is the good shepherd, who gives His life for the sheep (cf. John 10:11). The shepherd calls His own sheep by name, and He leads them out. Those who hear the voice of Jesus will follow Him, and He leads us beside the still waters, and into the paths of righteousness (cf. Psalm 23:2-3).
The blessing asked for in this prayer of benediction (Hebrews 13:21) is that we be made fit to be used of God in the accomplishment of his will. This happens only through His inwardly working in us that which we should afterwards work out. All this is asked - and done - “in Jesus’ Name. Amen.”
As we draw to the end of our studies in the Epistle to the Hebrews, the writer makes one final appeal to his Hebrew brethren, that they would heed his word of exhortation: “for I have written a letter unto you in few words” (Hebrews 13:22). We also should pay attention: not only to this, but to all Scripture. We should read attentively, and listen well, that we might discern what the Lord is saying to the churches in our own day.
In Hebrews 13:23-24 we see the church to be made up of brethren, leaders and saints, including Gentiles as well as Jews - ‘all one in Christ Jesus’ (cf. Galatians 3:28), “that great shepherd of the sheep” (Hebrews 13:20). “Grace be with you all. Amen” (Hebrews 13:25).