The Good Shepherd
“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (Jn.10:11).- John 10:11-21
During the exchange between the Pharisees and Jesus that we looked at yesterday, we saw how Jesus, as the long awaited Shepherd-King, came to call His sheep into the true sheepfold, into which He is the only door. The Pharisees were false shepherds who had led Israel away from faithfulness to God’s covenant, but Jesus is the true Shepherd who never leads His flock astray (John 10:1–5).
John 10:11 gives us the fourth “I Am” saying that we find in the fourth gospel: “I am the good shepherd.” In uttering this statement, Jesus reveals Himself to be the fulfillment of the shepherding metaphor applied to the leaders of Israel under the old covenant. Before the incarnation of the Son of God, David was among the most important shepherds the Israelites ever had. This shepherd-king understood well the task of one who cares for sheep, for he grew up tending these animals. In Psalm 23, he likens himself to a lamb walking fearlessly through the valley of the shadow of death because of the good shepherd who is with him. David, despite his great accomplishments as Israel’s king, understood his need of a greater shepherd, one who would guide and comfort him with rod and staff. This good shepherd, of course, was none other than Yahweh, Israel’s covenant Lord.
Though Jesus is identified with the shepherd depicted in Psalm 23, He does much more than even David described in his writing. Not only is He constantly present with us, leading us and comforting us, He also gives His life for the sake of His sheep (John 10:11). This is most unlike the hireling (v. 12), who does not receive his livelihood from owning the flock of sheep, and has no incentive to stand guard over the animals when he and his sheep are threatened. The Good Shepherd, however, defends the sheep, even unto a horrible death on the cross, which He willingly endured (vv. 15–18).
During Jesus’ earthly ministry, many Israelites had a narrow view of the sheepfold — it could be home only to the ethnic sons of Abraham. But when the Messiah had come, it meant that the messianic age had dawned, along with the enlargement of the sheepfold — Gentiles in the kingdom of God. These sheep, when they hear and follow the voice of the Good Shepherd, are welcomed into His flock (v. 16). Jew and Gentile now come in together through the one Door to follow the one Good Shepherd.
Our Lord has but one flock, and all of the sheep He has purchased with His blood will leave the flocks into which they are born and become His sheep when He calls. All the other flocks are destined for destruction and are ruled by cruel shepherds, but the flock of the Lord is destined for life eternal under the watchful eye of the Good Shepherd. We never need be afraid that this Shepherd will abandon His flock.
Passages for Further Study
1 Sam. 16:1–13; 17