Jesus says, I am the Good Shepherd

What does he mean?

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

This statement of Jesus follows hot on the heels of “I am the door” and is part of the same conversation that Jesus had with the Pharisees. It seems his main illustration (or mini parable) at the beginning of John chapter 10 regarding the shepherd and sheepfold is not getting through to them, so he puts it across yet another way “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” I'm the shepherd who has the flock's best interest at heart, unlike you Pharisees who only look after your own needs and ignore the people.

Any shepherd worth his salt would defend and lay down his life for the sheep. A hired hand has no such attachment! If trouble or danger comes – he's off! The sheep are not his property. Jesus is saying all those who are against him are like this. He alone is the true shepherd, the real deal! The Pharisees are like hired hands, bad shepherds. They have no care, no concern for the sinner. They held themselves aloof, they only care for themselves! They do nothing for the people. It’s a damming verdict!  Instead of defending Israel from spiritual dangers, they left the people to the wolves. They were the exact opposite of “good” shepherds.

Jesus presses the point home, I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep 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)

Jesus was subtly showing them the reason why he came into the world, to lay down his own life as a ransom for many. He came to be a substitute, his death for our life! This was the plan of God's salvation all along. Jesus has God the Father's blessing and agreement, they are one on this.

The word “know” that Jesus uses here, is a word used in Hebrew scripture to explain a special, close, loving relationship. You may remember scripture says Adam knew Eve. He didn't just intellectually know Eve. He loved her! Jesus uses the word to describe the deep loving relationship within the Godhead. And that love is extended to a people whom he will die for on the cross. “I know my sheep.” It’s an amazing thing to comprehend that we are loved with such a strong love, a fierce love, a protecting love, a saving love, a self-sacrificing love that is willing to go all the way to the cross.

Jesus goes on “No one takes it (life) 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.” (John 10:18)

Those who were present and heard Jesus speak these words, were divided into two camps. There were those who said he has a demon, and insane, and those who confessed that these words could not be uttered by someone possessed and who could heal the blind! Jesus' words always divide opinion, it is exactly the same today. What do you think of Jesus?

This whole conversation between Jesus and the Pharisees is exactly prophesied by the prophet Ezekiel many years before.

"This is what the Sovereign LORD says: woe to you shepherds of Israel who only take care of yourselves! Should not shepherds take care of the flock? You eat the curds, clothe yourselves with the wool and slaughter the choice animals, but you do not take care of the flock. You have not strengthened the weak or healed those who are ill or bound up the injured. You have not brought back the strays or searched for the lost. You have ruled them harshly and brutally."  (Ezekiel 34:2)

These are scathing words written by Ezekiel! But so true of how Jesus converses with the Pharisees in John's gospel. 

“Thus says the Lord GOD. Behold, I am against the shepherds, and I will require my sheep at their hand and put a stop to their feeding the sheep. No longer shall the shepherds feed themselves. I will rescue my sheep from their mouths, that they may not be food for them." (Ezekiel 34:10)

Okay Ezekiel, but what's going to happen then to the sheep?

"I will rescue my flock; they shall no longer be a prey. And I will judge between sheep and sheep. And I will set up over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he shall feed them: he shall feed them and be their shepherd. And I, the LORD, will be their God, and my servant David shall be prince among them. I am the LORD; I have spoken." (Ezekiel 34:22-24)

This astonishing prophecy Of Ezekiel has now been fulfilled in Jesus Christ. He is “my servant David” spoken of by Ezekiel. God will set over his people ONE shepherd, and Jesus is his name. No wonder Jesus said to them “I am the good shepherd.” The Pharisees and others listening should have known their own scriptures and understood who Jesus was claiming to be.    

God says through Ezekiel there are other sheep, not just in Israel. I will bring them out from the peoples and gather them from the countries. (Ezekiel 34:13) Yet Jesus says the same thing. "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) The conclusion can only be Jesus is God.

The Sucker Punch

Now soak in Jesus' final sucker punch spoken to the disbelieving crowd. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand. I and the Father are one.” (John 10:27-30)

The sheep are safe in Jesus' hands. What a comfort that should bring to our souls. The Father and the Son are united in their desire to save the sheep. How, why? I and the Father are one!  One in purpose, and essence. God says through Ezekiel there are other sheep, not just in Israel. Jesus in John 10:16 says he has other sheep elsewhere whom he has to seek and find.

The Jews now knew full well what Jesus was claiming! The light bulb went on! They picked up stones to stone him, and Jesus asked them why. Their reply was this “It is not for a good work that we are going to stone you but for blasphemy, because you, being a man, make yourself God.”  (John 10:33)

Do you now understand what Jesus was saying and claiming? Do you accept Jesus to be the Son of God, the second person of the trinity, the one who was promised to be the saviour of his people? Are you a lost sheep whom Jesus is calling today? Or are you still hardening your heart? Are you being drawn to the saviour, or are you pushing him away?

Are you saying, I'm not lost, I'm not a sheep – what is he talking about? Instead, may your eyes be opened to the reality and truth of these words. Yes Lord Jesus, your words are true. I need to be saved.

Forgive me my sins, and come and live in my heart, and I will gladly follow you. May the Holy Spirit come and give sight to the blind this day, and open your eyes to see him, as he really is:
The saviour, the shepherd of your soul.


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Knowing God J.I.Packer

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Prayer - Experiencing awe and intimacy with God Timothy Keller

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Christ Our Life Michael Reeves

This wonderful book looks at the person and work of Christ, from his preexistence and eternal Sonship, through his incarnation, life, death, resurrection and ascension, to his return. It considers and applies the theological significance of all this, looking especially at how all our salvation and life is found in Christ.

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