Jesus: The Good Shepherd

The Good Shepherd would give His life for one lost sheep.

The Good Shepherd would give His life for one lost sheep.

John 10:1 – 29

That Jesus is “the Good Shepherd” is not a new idea.  Children learn about this in Sunday School.  It’s an enduring image of a Savior caring for white, fluffy, bleating sheep; protecting them from wild beasts; keeping them fed, warm, and secure.  But is there more to the figure of “the Good Shepherd” than we first thought?

In Scripture, context is everything.  While our English Bibles (the NIV in our study) insert a chapter break between the last verse of chapter 9 and the first verse of chapter 10, there is no break in the original.  In the new chapter, Jesus continues to speak to exactly the same group of people He was addressing in the previous chapter:  some disciples, some Pharisees, some Jews, and the man born blind, whom Jesus healed.  The last few verses of chapter 9 sets up Jesus’ teaching on “the Good Shepherd.”

Jesus said, For judgment I have come into this world, so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind.  Some Pharisees who were with him heard him say this and asked, What? Are we blind too?  Jesus said, If you were blind, you would not be guilty of sin; but now that you claim you can see, your guilt remains.  (John 9:39-41 NIV84)

What Jesus said here is really quite stunning, considering Jesus has said on numerous occasions that He did NOT come into the world to judge it, but to save the lost.  So what does He mean?  There are two types of people Jesus has in mind here.  First, the blind like the man born blind, whom He just healed.  His blindness was not caused by his actions – he was a “victim of circumstances” – he was literally born in blindness with no choice in the matter.  This kind of blind person, Jesus said, “will see.”  The second type of blind person is represented by the assembled Pharisees, who were willingly blind.  They claimed to see, but they were just as blind as the man born blind, only their blindness was spiritual.  This kind of blind person “will become blind,” or they can’t be helped because they don’t think they need help.  This kind of blind person has deluded himself into thinking he has great spiritual vision, so much so that he leads others who are blind, looking to be led.  In reality, these Pharisees were spiritually blind and were not really leaders or teachers as they portrayed themselves.   They were pseudo-leaders and pseudo-teachers who did more damage than good.

Against these “false shepherds” is “the Good Shepherd,” Jesus.

1.  Jesus leads and saves, John 10:1 – 10

(a)     The genuine Shepherd, verses 1, 2

I tell you the truth, the man who does not enter the sheep pen by the gate, but climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a robber.  The man who enters by the gate is the shepherd of his sheep.   (John 10:1-2 NIV84)

These two verses constitute a mashal – a parable – and even though it is very brief, it is powerful.  The image is that of a sheep pen; a fenced-in yard where the sheep spend the night.  During the day they are led out to pasture.  But the important part of this mashal is not the sheep pen and not the sheep but the two men:  the one who sneaks into the sheep pen and the one who enters the sheep pen the correct way – through the door.  The first man is not a good man, he’s a “thief and a robber,” while the second man is a good man, he’s the shepherd.

Knowing the context makes the parable clear.  A thief is a person who is determined to take another’s private property and a robber is one who uses violence to get the goods.  Of course this first person would never go through the front door because it’s locked at night and it has a door-keeper.  Therefore, this nefarious man will climb over the fence to get what he wants.  This is what the Pharisees were doing. They were hostile to Jesus and they were cheating!  They were trying to sway the people of Israel by tricking them into thinking they (the Pharisees) were great and caring spiritual leaders.  They used intimidation and threats to keep “their people” from leaving them to follow Jesus.  Therefore, the Pharisees were thieves and robbers.

Over against them is Jesus, who had been appointed by God the Father and sent from Heaven to be the Good Shepherd.  He goes in and out of sheep pen through the door.  He doesn’t have to be sneaky with the sheep.  He has no reason to trick them.  They belong to Him!

(b)  The guiding Shepherd, verses 3 – 5

The mashal is over, but Jesus goes on and expands it so as to make His meaning crystal clear.  During the night, the true shepherd has been by his sheep.  He has slept near by, guarding them.  He knows each sheep and each sheep knows him.  He spends so much time with the sheep that they recognize everything about their shepherd; they know how he walks, where he goes, and the sound of his voice.  They’ll follow their shepherd anywhere because they know him and they have come to trust him.  Jesus is describing how real sheep are, but He is also describing how true disciples are.  Jesus, as “the Good Shepherd,” personally knows those who are following Him; those He has saved.

When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice.   But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a strangers voice.   (John 10:4-5 NIV84)

There’s an exclusiveness about being a member of Jesus’ flock.  There is ONE voice we hear.  There is ONE Shepherd we follow.  There is ONE direction we go.  This kind of message may not go over well in our PC-charged age, but it is the way life in the Kingdom is supposed to be.  This  kind of Christ-centered life virtually guarantees one’s protection from heresy and backsliding.  If Christ is your focus, everything else blurs.  The Christian, like true sheep, must continually orient their lives around Christ, the true Shepherd.

(c)  The saving Shepherd, verses 6 – 10

The Pharisees had no clue what Jesus was talking about.  Even though Jesus, the master mashal teller, used an Old Testament analogy, these so-called experts in the Scriptures failed to grasp the truth.  As the old saying goes, “There is none so blind those who will not see.”  The Pharisees, and all those listening who did not understand the meaning of Jesus’ teaching, were literally proving the truthfulness of it!

Therefore, Jesus takes another stab at them.  This time, he doesn’t retell the mashal, He amplifies it.

Therefore Jesus said again, I tell you the truth, I am the gate for the sheep.   All who ever came before me were thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them.”   (John 10:7-8 NIV84)

Again we see just how exclusive the way of faith is.  Christ is the way to Christ.   We live in a day when people who live moral and ethical lives and who say they believe in God are called “Christians.”  No, a Christian is one who knows who Christ is, who listens to Christ, and who follows Christ.  Throughout human history, men have come with wise teachings and helpful sayings claiming they had the keys to heaven, yet even the teachings of Moses had been perverted by the Pharisees as though they were life-giving and life-saving.  Not so, says Jesus.  The way to Christ is only by way of Christ!  The way to obtain eternal life is to become a sheep of the Great Shepherd.

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.  (John 10:10 NIV84)

The work of “the thief,” who we know represents the Pharisees or the religious elite is starkly contrasted with the work of Jesus, “the Good Shepherd.”  The work of one party is the polar opposite to the other!  Even though the Pharisees looked like the real article, the work of Jesus and the ensuing result shows the truth:  He brings life, and that shows how phony the Pharisees really were.

2.  Jesus lays down His life, John 10:11 – 18

Jesus makes His teaching even simpler for the dull-witted Pharisees to grasp.  These verses contain some of the most beautiful claims Jesus ever made about Himself.

(a)     The dedication of the Shepherd, verses 11 – 13

I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”  (John 10:11 NIV84)

The character of the true shepherd, the Good Shepherd, is illustrated by Himself.  The Greek looks a little different than its English translation:

I am the shepherd, the good one.

It’s the adjective that’s important.  Jesus isn’t just a Shepherd, He’s the GOOD one!  But the Greek word used for “good” really means excellent.  Jesus, then, is the Excellent Shepherd!  In every way, Jesus’ character is that of the absolute best shepherd that could possibly exist.

How excellent is His character?  It’s so excellent that not only does Jesus care for His sheep and watch over them constantly, but He would even die for them if need be.  Jesus would give up His own life for the benefit of His sheep, He cares for them so much.   In this statement we have a very basic definition of the Atonement:  Jesus would die only for His sheep. In a sense, the great Atonement wrought at the Cross is only for the benefit of the sheep – the true followers of Christ.

But the point of these three verses is to show how dependable the Good Shepherd is.  A hireling may abandon the sheep if confronted with danger, but not the Good Shepherd!  He’s so excellent He would step in harm’s way to protect His sheep.

(b)  The reach of the Shepherd, verses 14 – 16

I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me just as the Father knows me and I know the Fatherand I lay down my life for the sheep.  (John 10:14-15 NIV84)

Jesus here repeats what He has previously said and emphasizes a number of points.  First, with Jesus, it’s always personal.  He knows His sheep, and they know Him.  This implies that the Pharisees, the false shepherds, were really strangers.  They didn’t really know the sheep and the sheep didn’t know them.

Second, note the sheep belong to the Good Shepherd.  He isn’t tending somebody elses’ herd, He owns each and every sheep in the pen!  No wonder He knows them so well.

Third, Jesus knows His followers as well as the Father knows Him and He knows the Father.  Not only does this show an intimate, personal relationship, but it also describes the kind of knowledge Jesus has:  it’s love.  He doesn’t just know us, He loves us.  That’s the kind of relationship that exists between the Father and the Son and that’s precisely the kind of relationship that exists between Jesus the Good Shepherd and us, the sheep.

But, it goes ever farther.  Look at the scope  or the reach of the Good Shepherd:

I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd.  (John 10:16 NIV84)

The other sheep refer, not to Mormons, but to the future Gentile believers of His day and to future believers yet unborn,!  They all belong to Jesus.  He knows who they are and who they will be.  The foreknowledge of the Good Shepherd is flawless.

God’s love is not just for some, but for all, John 3:16.  Yes, God loves the world, but only some in the world will become part of the great flock.

The voluntary, self-giving nature of Jesus’s sacrifice is given as a kind of climax in His own interpretation of this wonderful mashal:

The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my lifeonly to take it up again.  No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.  (John 10:17-18 NIV84)

The love that exists between the Father and the Son and the self-giving of the Son are so bound together they cannot be separated.  In Christian circles, we often sing hymns or hear Gospel songs that tell us it was out of love for US that Jesus died.  That may be true to an extent, but Jesus did what He did on the Cross because of the great love He had (has) for His Father.

Jesus is very forceful when He speaks of His upcoming death as being His choice and His choice alone.  The enemies of Christ won NO victory when they crucified Him and the followers of Christ need not despair as if He was defeated.

Jesus was always in control of the events leading up to the Cross and beyond.

The death and resurrection of our Lord were not experiences, but deeds.  They were not things that happened to Jesus that He made the best of.  They were deeds of perfect obedience and love – love for His Father and, yes, love for the lost.  It was Jesus’ right to lay down His life.  It was His right to lay it down and also to take it again.  Jesus in these statements reveals that He is, in every sense of the word free.  He is free to do as He wills, within the bounds of His Father’s will.  We humans speak of freedom, but Jesus alone experiences it to the fullest.

It’s little wonder the religious leaders of the day  hated Jesus so much.  Not only did His teachings challenge the status quo, but Jesus was living a life they could only dream of living.  Bound by endless rules and regulations, the Pharisees were locked in a religious prison they themselves made.  But Jesus, as the only truly free Man ever, was free to live and to die – and to live again –  because He chose to.

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1 Response to “Jesus: The Good Shepherd”


  1. 1 Janine July 26, 2013 at 6:56 am

    This is really interesting, You are a very skilled blogger.
    I’ve joined your feed and look forward to seeking more of your wonderful post. Also, I have shared your site in my social networks!


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