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The Good Shepherd

by Stephen Davey Scripture Reference: John 10:1–21

As followers of Jesus Christ, we are sheep under the care of our Good Shepherd. We can rest in the truth that He knows us, loves us, and desires and initiates a relationship with us. How could we be any more blessed? How could we be any more obligated to serve and worship Him?


After the Feast of Tabernacles in John 7, Jesus has remained on in Jerusalem, patiently teaching, even as He endures the antagonism of the scribes and Pharisees. We saw in chapter 9 how He miraculously healed a blind man, which angered the religious leaders even more.

What happens next is also recorded in the Gospel of John. In chapter 10 Jesus delivers one of the warmest, most personal messages found in the Gospels. It will also serve as a rebuke to the leaders of the nation, Israel’s false shepherds.

Now before we dive in, let me remind you of Jeremiah 23 and Ezekiel 34, where Israel’s leaders are called shepherds—shepherds who led the nation astray. The prophets then predicted that the Messiah would be a true Shepherd who would restore and bless the nation. And you can be sure the Pharisees know all about these Old Testament passages.

Here in John 10 Jesus will present Himself as the one true Shepherd God promised to send to Israel.[1] Chapter 10 begins with Jesus speaking:

“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.”

Verse 6 tells us that the crowd does not understand what Jesus means. So, in verse 7 Jesus is a bit more direct. He says, “I am the door of the sheep.”

In that day, a shepherd would make a simple enclosure for his flock by piling rocks to set up a circular wall. Because there was not any door to this makeshift corral, he would actually lie down in the opening—he essentially became the door. Nothing could go out, or come in, except by going, as it were, through him.

Now if this crowd still missed the point, Jesus goes on to clarify even further in verse 9, saying, “I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture.” In effect, He’s saying, “If you want to join the flock, I am the only way in!”

With that, Jesus begins to point out the differences between Himself and the false shepherds, the false teachers of Israel—particularly the Pharisees. He says in verse 10, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they [the sheep] may have life and have it abundantly.”

The word for “thief” is kleptēs. From it, we get the word kleptomaniac. The Greek word here refers to someone who steals with cunning and stealth. These false teachers are not stupid, by the way. They are smart and strategic in misleading the sheep.

They kill and destroy the flock. I think it’s interesting that the word translated “kill” indicates killing for food. In other words, these false shepherds do not really want to protect the flock; they want to live off the flock.

In verse 11 Jesus changes the analogy a bit to emphasize what kind of Shepherd He is. He says, “I am the good shepherd.” And what is it about this Shepherd that makes Him so uniquely good? Well, Jesus tells us, “The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” The Lord will repeat this statement in verses 15, 17, and 18. This expression “lay down his life” clearly refers to our Good Shepherd giving up His life as a sacrifice in order to save His flock.

Jesus then goes on to emphasize the contrast between a good shepherd and a false shepherd:

“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. He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.” (verses 12-13)

The false shepherd is in it for the money; he is not in it for the protection of the sheep. The false shepherd wants to fleece his sheep, not feed his sheep. The good shepherd cares about his sheep. So, Jesus is making the case here that He is the Good Shepherd by way of His sacrifice for the sheep and His care and concern for the sheep.

He offers even more proof in verses 14 and 15, where He says, “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.” This Greek verb for “know” is ginōskō, which refers to intimate knowledge that comes through personal relationship. The verb tense indicates Jesus takes the initiative in knowing His sheep and His sheep knowing Him!

Beloved, if you are in His flock, you got there because He made it possible for you to know Him. He opened your eyes to the truth of who He is. And you are learning all the time, more and more, about who He is. But Jesus says here that He knows you and me just like the Father knows Him and He knows the Father. We are always learning about Him. But He already knows everything about us—as intimately and completely as He and His Father know each other.

That means He already knows the best about you and the worst about you; so, He isn’t going to learn something about you that will make Him kick you out of the flock. He already knows you fully and completely, and He has already forgiven you when you put your trust in Him.  

But there is even more to Jesus’ goodness as the one true Shepherd. His goodness embraces all who come to Him by faith. Jesus says in verse 15, “I lay down my life for the sheep.” And who are those sheep?

Well, the Gospels make it clear Jesus is the Jewish Messiah who came to the Jewish nation. They clearly are the primary object of His earthly ministry, so it might be tempting to think He has only them in mind when He speaks of His sheep.

But listen to what Jesus says in verse 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.”

Now this announcement no doubt shocks many of the Jews who hear it. But if there are some Gentiles present, Jesus’ words are incredibly encouraging to them. Those non-Jewish people whose hearts are tugging at them to believe in Jesus and give their lives to this Good Shepherd might have been wondering if they are invited. Well guess what; He will lay down His life for them as well.

Jesus goes on to reveal in verses 17-18 that all these promises hinge on His sacrificial death and resurrection. And His death will not be forced upon Him. He will lay down His life willingly. He’s not only the Shepherd, but He will also become the sacrificial lamb, dying for the sins of the world.

Now with this announcement, the listening crowd is divided. Many think He is out of His mind, that He is deluded, if not demon-possessed. Others in this crowd are confused; they can’t imagine that one who is demonized would be performing such wonderful miracles. And of course, there are some who believe He is indeed the Good Shepherd.  

Beloved, the same reactions are taking place today. Jesus is still dividing people, as it were, based on their understanding of who He is. But what He said is still true: His sheep know Him and follow Him.

So, let me ask you, do you know Him as your Shepherd? Are you following Him today?

[1] J. Dwight Pentecost, The Words and Works of Jesus Christ (Zondervan, 1981), 293-94.

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