The Shepherd Who Knows His 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” (vv. 14–15).- John 10:11–16
When Jesus introduces the figure of the shepherd in John 10:3, He does so with imagery that suggests the shepherd’s intimate knowledge of his flock. In calling to his sheep, the shepherd does not utter merely a general cry for all of his lambs to come. Instead, he calls them by name. He has such deep love for and knowledge of his sheep that he calls for them individually.
Today’s passage expands on that picture of intimacy. Jesus tells us that He is the true and good shepherd who knows His sheep (vv. 14–15). Jesus is not an aloof leader or distant figure who is barely aware of His people. Instead, our Good Shepherd knows us by name and with an intimacy that parallels His knowledge of the Father and the Father’s knowledge of Him. No one, not even we ourselves, knows us better than Christ does. And just think of what a marvelous thing that is. Jesus knows us far better than we know ourselves, including the worst parts of us—and He still loves us.
The depth of our Savior’s love is seen in His willingness to die for us. As the Good Shepherd, He lays down His life for us (v. 11). Ancient shepherds might, in the course of defending their flocks from predators, end up dying, but when it happened it was an accident. Shepherds did not go to their flocks every day with the intention of dying for them. But Jesus came with the express purpose of dying in place of His sheep. And note that He dies only for His sheep. He does not lay down His life for other flocks, but only for His own. His atonement is for His people alone, and it guarantees their redemption. Ezekiel 34:11–24 prophesied that the Lord God Himself would come as the messianic king and shepherd to redeem His people and provide for all their needs. John 10 helps us understand that the means by which He does this is by taking on a human nature and, as a man, suffering and dying in place of other men and women.
All of Christ’s sheep will hear and respond to His voice, as John 10:16 indicates, including sheep that are not yet part of His fold. The reference here is to the gentiles who, during the ministry of Jesus, were largely outside the visible flock of God. But Jesus has His elect among the gentile nations as well, and as the gospel goes forth, these elect sheep join the visible flock—the church. Divine election makes one a sheep, and the elect show that they have been chosen by hearing the gospel and following Christ.
John Calvin comments on John 10:16, “We are already God’s sheep, before we are aware that He is our shepherd.” Christ’s sheep, in the first instance, do not choose Him but He chooses them. The love that Jesus has for us is so great that He loved us in eternity past. He loved us even before we knew Him and even before we existed. If you are in Christ and tempted to doubt His love for you, remember that He has loved you from eternity.
Passages for Further Study