Luke 15:1-4, Then all the tax collectors and the sinners drew near to Him to hear Him. And the Pharisees and scribes complained, saying, “This Man receives sinners and eats with them.” So He spoke this parable to them, saying:
“What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he loses one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness, and go after the one which is lost until he finds it?” (NKJV) Many scholars agree the one hundred sheep are Christians where one sheep has gone astray and Jesus will search out the one sheep which is lost until He finds it.
The phrase in the wilderness is also translated as open pasture in some versions of the Bible. The original Greek word is erémos and is an adjective meaning solitary or desolate. Its usage as an adjective is deserted, desolate, wasted. It can also mean, as a noun, the desert, according to Strong’s Concordance, specifically to the east and south of Jerusalem. Strong’s also uses the word as of a person: deserted, abandoned, desolate.
According to HELPS Word-studies, erémos is a barren place that provides needed quiet or freedom from disturbance, a desert where God richly grants His presence and provides for those seeking Him, where He shows Himself strong in limiting difficult scenes of life. So far, in my studies, I have noticed two major types of wilderness. One is John the Baptist’s wilderness where he was baptizing with water for repentance, a wilderness where it was basically open pasture country with not many inhabitants. The other wilderness I have noticed is Jesus’ wilderness, where He went after becoming baptized by John, a wilderness where there were all types of dangers and where satan tempted Jesus with ways to escape some of the hardships of the dangerous deserted wilderness, but these ways were mirages that would have ended in disaster for Jesus and everyone under His care.
Jews would have understood dividing sheep into 100 parts because this is how they thought. The Greek word for sheep is probaton and figuratively means someone easily led one way or the other way and can refer to any animal that grazes or goes out to pasture, but especially refers to sheep and is properly referring to that which walk forward, but usually refers to small cattle like sheep or goats and not large cattle like horses.
Scribes and Pharisees were self-righteous, meaning they claimed themselves to be more righteous than other people based on their heritage, social status, education and/or public actions, amongst other things. They could have been a toxic environment for any person not like themselves, creating a harsh wilderness for those sinners who had given up hope because they may have thought the world had given up hope on them.
Some scholars have believed Jesus might be referring to leaving the angels in Heaven and coming down to earth to save people, but there is a problem with this theory. Angels are never referred to as sheep and fallen angels like satan are never sought after by Jesus for the purpose of salvation. We should never pray for satan. The adversary is satan, whom Jesus defeated at the cross, making our carnal mind the enemy of God, which is one reason why evil spirits are constantly trying to bombard our minds with lies and deception.
To me, the deeper meaning of the first part of this parable might be that Jesus left the departed people in Abraham’s Bosom to come to earth and save all people here that are lost, which, after His resurrection and ascension, Jesus took those with Him to Heaven that were in Abraham’s Bosom. Then, the Father sent the Holy Spirit down to earth at pentecost to continue the works and the Ministry of Jesus until Jesus sets up His Millennial Reign on earth.
Certainly, inhabited places on earth are more like Jesus’ wilderness than John’s wilderness, with evil deception and snares all around, creating many possible outcomes to many possible scenarios, but, the Holy Spirit is omnipresent guiding all people to the truth who continually seek Jesus. All people are in need of daily repentance, at the minimum, because no one is righteous except the One, Jesus Christ, who died for the unrighteous, which is everyone else. We all can have a righteous heart in the eyes of Jesus, which is a heart that continually pursues Jesus through all the opposition of the adversary, a heart that does not blame Jesus for things which seem evil, a heart full of faith, a heart truly sorry for its erroneous ways and a heart that continually realizes the error of its ways and always tries its best to turn from the ways of the unrighteous heart to the way of the righteous heart, Jesus Christ.