Fold is a term used in the Bible to refer to a group of people, often God’s chosen people – Israel. It carries connotations of a flock of sheep under the care and protection of a shepherd. Understanding the biblical meaning of fold gives insight into God’s relationship with His people.
In both the Old and New Testaments, the word “fold” is used metaphorically to describe God’s people. Like a shepherd gathering his sheep into an enclosure for safety and care, God gathers his chosen ones into His fold.
- Fold refers to a group of God’s people, like a flock of sheep.
- It signifies God’s protection and care for His people.
- God gathers His chosen ones into His fold.
- Jesus is the gateway into God’s fold.
- Entering the fold requires hearing and following Jesus’ voice.
- Being part of God’s fold means security, community and spiritual nourishment.
The imagery of the fold communicates divine promises of protection, belonging and nurturing for those who faithfully follow the Lord. Tracing how this term is used throughout Scripture gives insight into the nature of God’s relationship with His chosen ones.
Old Testament Usage of “Fold”
In the Old Testament, the word “fold” is specifically associated with sheep and shepherds. It refers to an enclosure where sheep are kept for protection from predators and harsh weather. The people of Israel are repeatedly referred to as the sheep of God’s hand or pasture (Psalm 95:7, Psalm 100:3).
God promises to gather Israel from among the nations and bring them back into their own land, like a shepherd gathering his flock:
“For thus says the Lord GOD: Behold, I, I myself will search for my sheep and will seek them out. As a shepherd seeks out his flock when he is among his sheep that have been scattered, so will I seek out my sheep, and I will rescue them from all places where they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness.” (Ezekiel 34:11-12)
Here, God promises to retrieve His scattered sheep and bring them into the safety and security of His fold. This promise was initially fulfilled when Israel returned from exile in Babylon. It continues to be fulfilled as Jews from around the world return to Israel today.
Jesus as the Gate of the Sheepfold
In the New Testament, Jesus picks up on the Old Testament metaphor of God’s people as His flock and describes Himself as the gate of the sheepfold:
“Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep…I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture.” (John 10:7,9)
Jesus is making a radical claim here to be the only way into God’s flock. As the gate, He controls access to the safety and nourishment of being part of God’s people. Jesus as the door communicates that salvation is found exclusively through faith in Him.
Jesus contrasts Himself with thieves and robbers who try to sneak into the sheepfold without going through the gate. This may refer to the Pharisees and religious leaders of His day who were false shepherds, misleading God’s people. Jesus is the one legitimate gateway into God’s fold.
Hearing and Following Jesus’ Voice
In the same passage, Jesus says His sheep hear His voice, follow Him and receive eternal life (John 10:27-28). Those who listen to His words and obey Him demonstrate that they are part of His flock. He leads His sheep to good pasture and protects them from danger.
Hearing Jesus’ voice means accepting His claims to be the Son of God and following His teachings. It requires faith and obedience to enter the security of His fold through the gate of Jesus.
Jesus says there are other sheep that are not yet part of His fold and He must bring them in as well (John 10:16). This hints at the inclusion of the Gentiles in God’s people in addition to the Jews. Jesus gathers sheep from every nation into His one flock under Himself as the Good Shepherd.
Unity and Nourishment in the Fold
Being part of Christ’s flock means joining with other believers in harmony:
“There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” (Ephesians 4:4-6)
Though from diverse backgrounds, Christ’s sheep are united under Him. We celebrate the oneness we have in Jesus.
The sheep also find nourishment in the fold:
“Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation— if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.” (1 Peter 2:2-3)
God’s word is likened to milk that helps baby Christians grow and thrive. We feed on Scripture together and spur each other on to maturity in Christ.
Responsibility of Shepherds over the Flock
Elders and overseers are cautioned to be good shepherds over the flock God has entrusted to them:
“Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood.” (Acts 20:28)
Leaders bear responsibility to lead and teach with integrity so as not to mislead Christ’s sheep. They must guard the flock from false teaching and harmful influences.
The Bible warns about the danger of false shepherds who exploit and scatter the sheep instead of faithfully caring for them (Jeremiah 23:1, Ezekiel 34:2-6). God promises to remove unfaithful shepherds and gather His flock to Himself.
As the Chief Shepherd, Jesus provides the ultimate example of self-sacrifice and tender care for His sheep (1 Peter 5:4). Under-shepherds today must follow His pattern.
Security and Rest in the Sheepfold
Through these biblical references to the sheepfold, we see a beautiful picture of the security and rest God provides for His people:
“He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul.” (Psalm 23:2-3)
Like a weary sheep lying down in lush grass near a calm stream, we find spiritual nourishment and refreshment in Christ’s flock. We have the safety of the protective fold and the comfort of the Good Shepherd’s constant watch over us.
Even when we walk through dark valleys, we have nothing to fear because our Shepherd is always with us, guarding us with His rod and staff (Psalm 23:4). He brings confidence, renewal and steadfast love.
Our Eternal Home in God’s Flock
Someday we will dwell with the Lord forever in perfect peace:
“For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” (Revelation 7:17)
This is the eternal home God is preparing for His flock. Through the redeeming blood of Christ the Lamb, we have a glorious future in God’s everlasting sheepfold!
The biblical metaphor of the sheepfold illustrates God’s loving protection and care for His chosen people across the ages. Jesus is the door through whom we enter into saving relationship with the Shepherd. As His sheep, we find security, community and nourishment for our souls in the flock of God.
Tracing the concept of the fold throughout Scripture gives insight into the nature of God’s relationship with His people. From Israel in the Old Testament to the church in the New Testament, God faithfully gathers His flock and shepherds them.
Jesus identified Himself as the gate of the sheepfold, making it clear that salvation is found through faith in Him alone. Listening to the voice of Christ and following Him gives access to the safety and nourishment of God’s flock.
God makes beautiful promises of protection, belonging, and spiritual nourishment to those who trust in Jesus. As the Good Shepherd, Jesus models selfless devotion to the sheep as He lays down His life for us.
Our eternal destiny is living in God’s flock under Christ’s tender care and guidance. When we wander astray, God seeks us out to bring us home. As the sheep of His pasture, we can rest securely in the fold of our faithful Shepherd.