The Good Shepherd

1 “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door but climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber. But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. To him the gatekeeper opens. The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers.” This figure of speech Jesus used with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them.

So Jesus again said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture. 10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. 11 I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. 13 He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. 14 I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. 17 For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. 18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.”

19 There was again a division among the Jews because of these words. 20 Many of them said, “He has a demon, and is insane; why listen to him?” 21 Others said, “These are not the words of one who is oppressed by a demon. Can a demon open the eyes of the blind?” John 10:1-21 ESV

In this teaching, Jesus continues His use of contrasts, using His own mission and ministry to distinguish Himself from the religious leaders of Israel. John has arranged his gospel account in such a  way that the religious elite’s growing antipathy for Jesus is clearly evident. Their hatred for Him is clear. But their disdain for the people under their care is also hard to miss. They showed no signs of empathy for the blind man who was given the gift of sight. Angered by his glowing praise of Jesus, they callously cast him out of the synagogue. These were the same men who had publicly humiliated a woman by dragging her before Jesus and accusing her of adultery. To them, she had been nothing more than another tool used to construct their case against Jesus. They despised her for her sinfulness and would have had no problem seeing her stoned for her blatant disregard for God’s laws.

Yet, sadly enough, the people looked up to these men. They revered and even feared them. In the eyes of the average Israelite, these men were the enforcers of the Mosaic law, policing the behavior of the people and punishing all those who disobeyed. But what made it worse was that these men appeared to be icons of virtue, constantly promoting their own spiritual superiority and religious zeal. They proudly presented themselves as models of righteousness who had earned special favor with God for their faithful adherence to His laws.

But in these verses, John records the words of Jesus that paint a starkly different image of these men. Jesus never addresses them directly, but it is easy to see that He has them in mind. Immediately after they had callously cast the formerly blind beggar out of the synagogue, Jesus had taken the effort to find him and reveal Himself to Him. And the result was that the man believed and worshiped Jesus as the Son of Man. This man received far more than his physical sight. He was given the opportunity to see the one who had healed Him and who could also deliver him from a life of spiritual darkness due to sin.

In this passage, Jesus uses the metaphor of a shepherd to distinguish Himself from the religious leaders of Israel.  This imagery would have resonated with His audience because of its familiarity. Everyone would have understood the nature of the shepherd’s role. And they would have been well aware of the differences between a good and a bad shepherd.

So, when Jesus began to outline these differences, everyone would have understood exactly what He was talking about. The real question would have been who He had in mind when He talked about the thief, robber, and stranger. It was quite obvious that Jesus was presenting Himself as the alternative, even referring to Himself as “the good shepherd” (John 10:11 ESV). So, who were these bad shepherds Jesus seemed to be comparing Himself to? And who did He have in mind when He referred to the “hired hand” who “cares nothing for the sheep” (John 10:13 ESV)?

It’s not clear whether anyone in the crowd connected Jesus’ words with the religious leaders. All John tells us is that “there was again a division among the Jews because of these words” (John 10:19 ESV). Even these well-educated and intelligent men seemed to miss the point of what Jesus was saying. They weren’t able to see that Jesus was exposing their failure to shepherd well the sheep whom God had placed under their care. Jesus had exposed them as thieves, robbers, and hired hands, who cared more for themselves than they did for the sheep. And Jesus was simply echoing the words of His Heavenly Father, recorded hundreds of years earlier by the prophet Ezekiel.

“What sorrow awaits you shepherds who feed yourselves instead of your flocks. Shouldn’t shepherds feed their sheep? You drink the milk, wear the wool, and butcher the best animals, but you let your flocks starve. You have not taken care of the weak. You have not tended the sick or bound up the injured. You have not gone looking for those who have wandered away and are lost. Instead, you have ruled them with harshness and cruelty. So my sheep have been scattered without a shepherd, and they are easy prey for any wild animal. They have wandered through all the mountains and all the hills, across the face of the earth, yet no one has gone to search for them.” – Ezekiel 34:2-2-6 NLT

Because of their knowledge of the Scriptures, the scribes and Pharisees should have made the connection but, once again, they reveal their spiritual blindness by failing to comprehend the truth found in the Word of God.

Yet, Jesus fully understood what Ezekiel had written and presented Himself as the true shepherd who knows His sheep and calls them by name. He was the fulfillment of the promise made by God centuries earlier.

“For this is what the Sovereign Lord says: I myself will search and find my sheep.  I will be like a shepherd looking for his scattered flock. I will find my sheep and rescue them from all the places where they were scattered on that dark and cloudy day.” – Ezekiel 34:11-12 NLT

“I will search for my lost ones who strayed away, and I will bring them safely home again. I will bandage the injured and strengthen the weak. But I will destroy those who are fat and powerful. I will feed them, yes—feed them justice!” – Ezekiel 34:16 NLT

Jesus had come to redeem and restore the lost sheep of God’s flock. He presents Himself as “the door” through which the sheep of God must come. There is no other way into the abundant pastureland God has prepared for His sheep than through His chosen Shepherd: His Son.

In this passage, Jesus deftly weaves together a series of metaphors concerning Himself that present a vivid portrait of His divine mission. He portrays Himself as the Good Shepherd who leads and feeds the flock of God with tender compassion, calling them by name and guiding them to safety. But He is also the door of the sheepfold, the very means by which they find access into the abundance of God’s presence. Jesus was the ultimate fulfillment of David’s portrait of the faithful shepherd.

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
   He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
   He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness
    for his name’s sake. – Psalm 23:1-3 ESV

But Jesus would do more than simply lead and feed. He would provide protection against the enemy, who seeks to steal, kill, and destroy (John 10:10). As the Good Shepherd, Jesus would lay down His life on behalf of His Father’s sheep. It would be just as John the Baptist had declared. Jesus would become the sacrificial Lamb of God who sacrifices His life so that the sheep of God might have access to His heavenly sheepfold.

Jesus makes it quite clear. “I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture” (John 10:9 ESV). He is the exclusive access point to the Father. He will later reiterate this bold claim to Thomas.

“I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. – John 14:6 ESV

But Jesus doesn’t sugarcoat the manner in which the sheep find access to the Father. It will be through His death.

“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” – John 10:11 ESV

The religious leaders were not about to sacrifice their lives for anyone. They weren’t even willing to bow the knew before the Son of God. They refused to submit their wills to that of the Father. And when the Good Shepherd appeared in their midst, they were unable to hear His voice. But there would those who, like the formerly blind beggar, would hear Jesus ask, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” and would respond, “Lord, I believe” (John 9:35, 38 ESV). Jesus reveals that there will be others.

“I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.” – John 10:16 ESV

This is His veiled reference to the Gentiles, who will also become part of God’s flock. Like the Samaritan woman, they too will hear the voice of the Good Shepherd and respond in belief. They will recognize the call of God, coming from the lips of the Son of God, offering them living water, the bread of life, and the promise of an eternity marked by peace, contentment, joy, and righteousness.

But it would only come one way. The Good Shepherd would have to lay down His life for the sheep.

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. – John 10:14-15 ESV

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

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