If there’s one thing more exciting than discovering ancient treasure buried in the land of Israel, it’s finding ancient treasure from shipwrecks deep under the sea! Last week, marine archeologists announced that they’d found an ancient ring from the time of the early church, depicting Jesus as the Good Shepherd.
Treasure hunting in the shipwrecks of Caesarea
Teams of divers have been searching the seas along the coast of Israel in hotspots like Caesarea for historical artefacts for years, but this recent haul has caused great excitement.
“It was waiting for us for almost 2000 years to bring it to light”. (Jacob Sharvit, Director of Marine Archaeology Unit, IAA)
Sharvit and his team were delighted to find a whole hoard of treasure from two separate shipwrecks. They found Roman coins, a bronze eagle and maritime equipment along with a tiny red gemstone with a harp etched onto it. But the most exciting find was the impressive gold ring which they believe belonged to a Christian from the time of the early church.
The thick, golden band holds a green gemstone bearing the image of a shepherd carrying a lamb over his shoulders.
They surmize that it most likely belonged to a Christian, possibly someone with wealth and status, who may have belonged to the early church community that had developed in Caesarea. You may remember from the Bible (Acts 10) that it was in Caesarea that Peter first shared the Good News with Gentiles. The Roman centurion who had called for Peter to come instantly believed and were filled with the Holy Spirit right then and there. Over the years, the community grew and became more established. By the third century, the Roman Empire had adopted Christianity as a religion and so believers were no longer marginalized in society. Mr Sharvit explained,
“This was the first instance of a non-Jew being accepted into the Christian community. From here, the Christian religion began to be disseminated across the world.”1
The image of the Good Shepherd
The image of Jesus as the Good Shepherd comes from a couple of places in the New Testament. In Luke 15, Jesus tells a parable of a shepherd who leaves 99 sheep to find the one who got lost:
“Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.” (Luke 15:5-7)
It’s wonderful that in this chapter we get a glimpse into His heart for the lost, and that heaven rejoices whenever a sinner repents. As my pastor (in Hebrew we literally call pastors “shepherds”) once put it, heaven doesn’t rejoice when we do good deeds, but when sinners repent and come home! This beautiful image of the shepherd joyfully hoisting the sheep on his shoulders is a metaphor for Jesus seeking out sinners to bring them into the fold.
“For the Son of Man came to seek and save the lost.” (Luke 19:10)
Indeed, Jesus elaborates explicitly on this subject in John 10:
“I am the Good Shepherd. I know My own and My own know Me, just as the Father knows Me and I know the Father. And I lay down My life for the sheep. I have other sheep that are not from this fold; those also I must lead, and they will listen to My voice. So there shall be one flock, one Shepherd.” (John 10:14-16)
Jesus said that He was sent to “the lost sheep of Israel” (Matthew 15:24), but the “other sheep” He speaks of here, who were not from that fold, are those from the Gentile nations that He would also lead to salvation.
He is the One Shepherd over us all.
In both passages, as the scribes and Pharisees would have well understood, Jesus is referring back to a prophecy in Ezekiel 34. Through His prophet, God expressed His grief and anger over how badly those in positions of responsibility were caring for His people. The people, His flock, were left malnourished. unprotected, and exploited by those who were supposed to be shepherding them. So, God says, He will come Himself to be that Good Shepherd:
Thus says Adonai Elohim:“Behold, I am against the shepherds and I will demand My flock from their hand. I will dismiss them from tending the flock. The shepherds will no longer feed themselves. I will rescue My sheep from their mouth, so they will not be food for them.” For thus says Adonai Elohim: “Here I am! I Myself will search for My sheep and seek them out.” (Ezekiel 34:10-11)
When Jesus declares that He Himself is the Good Shepherd, He is claiming to be the very One who promised to come and search for His sheep. He is clearly claiming to be God by identifying Himself as the fulfilment of that promise.
Indeed, later in the chapter (which is well worth a read in its entirely, by the way) God indicates that His coming as the Shepherd would be through the line of David:
“I will set up One Shepherd over them, My servant David—He will tend them, He will feed them Himself and be their shepherd.” (Ezekiel 34:23)
Jesus used exactly those words, echoing that there would be One Shepherd over one flock, both Jews and Gentiles who were to be brought into the fold. So it’s kind of wonderful that the little tiny gemstone found among the treasure close by the Good Shepherd ring was blood red with the harp of David upon it. It serves as a reminder of why Jesus came to us 2000 years ago, to seek and to save the lost – both Jew and Gentile. It reminds us that Jesus is our Promised Messiah from the line of David, who was once was a humble shepherd, but became a great king.