The prophet Isaiah, in what is obviously a Messianic prophecy, described the Messiah: "He shall feed his flock like a shepherd: he shall gather the lambs with his arm, and carry them in his bosom, and shall gently lead those that are with young" (Isa. 40:11). Jesus of Nazareth twice declares himself to be the Good Shepherd (John 10:11,14). It is this writer's conviction that Jesus, by making this declaration, affirms himself to be the Messiah of Old Testament prophecy.
In the first ten verses of John 10, Jesus refers to himself as the door of the sheepfold through whom the shepherds and sheep must enter to have access to the sheepfold. The sheepfold of that day was a fortified enclosure with a guarded door used by several shepherds to house their sheep at night. In the mornings the shepherds would come into the fold to lead their sheep out to the pasture lands. The only legitimate way that one could enter the fold was through the door. Those who entered any other way were "thieves and robbers." Each shepherd's sheep would hear his voice and would follow him.
Jesus seems to be making the point here that most of the leaders (shepherds) of Israel at that time were not real shepherds of the people but thieves and robbers -- leaders without the welfare of the people at heart, but their own selfish interest. If they had been true shepherds they would have recognized him as the Messiah and would have gone through him into the fold, because he is "the way, the truth and the life" (John 14:6). True sheep would hear those shepherds' voices and follow them because they came to them through Christ.
In verse 11, Jesus shifts the figure from his being the door of the fold to his being the shepherd of the sheep. He calls himself the "Good Shepherd" in contrast to hirelings or hired shepherds. As a shepherd who owned the sheep, he would naturally care more for the sheep than a hired shepherd. Again he is likely comparing himself to the corrupt religious leaders of his day. Those leaders, like hirelings, were more interested in their own profit and welfare than they were in the welfare of the people. This is evident from the information given in the New Testament about the Jewish hierarchy (cf. Matt. 23).
The Good Shepherd Cares
As the Good Shepherd, Jesus cares enough to see that his sheep are properly fed. "He makes (them) to lie down in green pastures" (Ps. 23:2). But his care extends far beyond just seeing that they have green grass to eat, he guards his sheep with his very life (John 10:11). Unlike the hireling (v. 12), he does not leave the sheep to fend for themselves when the wolf comes. He stays and protects the sheep even to the point of laying down his life for them.
Jesus makes clear that his laying down his life for his sheep was a willing sacrifice. He said, "No man taketh it from me, but I lay it down myself" (v. 18a). When Peter tried to prevent his arrest with the sword, he declared, "Thinkest thou that I cannot now pray to my Father, and he shall presently give me more than twelve legions of angels" (Matt. 26:53)? Jesus went to the cross of his own free will in obedience to the commandment received of his Father (v. 18c). He truly learned "obedience by the things which he suffered; And being made perfect, he became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him" (Heb. 5:8-9). Because of this he was loved of His Father (v. 17) and ought to be loved by everyone of us -- even enough to lay down our lives for him (Luke 14:26).
Not only did Jesus have the power to lay down his life, he also had the power to take it up again (v. 18b). Daniel King points out, in his excellent commentary on John, "The Lord also places before us in this passage the detail that he has the power not only to surrender his life, but also to take it again. Usually New Testament Scripture underscores the power and volition of the Father in raising the Son (Acts 2:32; Rom. 6:4; 1 Pet. 1:21, etc). Here he takes up his life again at the Father's command. His own volition enters into the process, according to this explanation at the Lord's own mouth" (Truth Commentaries: The Gospel of John 208).
Without the power to take his life up again in the resurrection, his sacrifice for his sheep would have been incomplete. It is the raised Shepherd that went as our high priest with his own blood, shed when he laid down his life for his sheep, into the holy place (Heb. 9:12). He remains there at the right hand of God continuing to care for his sheep "ever living to make intercession for them" (Heb. 7:25).
The Good Shepherd Knows
Because he owns, loves, and cares for his sheep, the Good Shepherd knows his sheep. To a hireling each sheep is likely just a statistic, but to a good shepherd each has a name and is called by it (v. 3). In the days when most rural families raised and slaughtered their own animals for food the children of one family adopted a little pig and gave it a name. By the winter at "hog killing time" this little pig had grown to the point that it had to become meat for the family table. The father noticed that the children were not eating any of the meat and asked why because they had always loved pork before. One of the children said, "But, this pig had a name!" That made a big difference. To the Good Shepherd we are not just sheep, we are sheep with names. He knows each of us well enough to call us by name. He loves and cares for each of us individually and personally. Rather than just looking at and caring for the flock as a whole, he looks at and cares for each one of the flock with personal attention. It is great to know that "God so loved the world" enough to give his Son for it (John 3:16). It is also great to know that he "purchased the church with his own blood" (Acts 20:28). But it is even greater to know that God loved me enough to give his Son and that he purchased me with his blood. As one of his sheep, I am not lost in the crowd, I have his personal attention and care -- enough that if I go astray that he will "leave the ninety-nine" in a secure place and come to find me. This is why there is rejoicing in heaven over one sinner repenting (Luke 15:3-10). God's knowledge and care for us is personal.
In times of difficulty when the world seems to be crumbling around us and people's faith is being overthrown it is a comfort to know that "nevertheless the foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal, The Lord knoweth them that are his. And, Let every one that nameth the name of Christ depart from iniquity" (2 Tim. 2:19). When we are tempted and tried it is wonderful to have one who knows us better than we know ourselves and is able to understand and supply our needs: "Seeing then that we have a great high priest, that is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our profession. For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need" (Heb. 4:14-16). One "who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it" (1 Cor. 10:13). The Good Shepherd knows the abilities and limitations of his sheep and deals with them accordingly.
The Sheep Know His Voice
Jesus declares that he knows his sheep and they know him (v. 14). They follow him because they know his voice (v. 4). They do not know the voice of strangers (v. 5). This is what sets them apart as being his sheep -- they know his voice. One of the characteristics of the new covenant is that "all shall know (the Lord), from the least of them to the greatest of them" (Jer. 3:34; Heb. 8:11). One cannot become and remain one of the Good Shepherd's sheep without knowing and listening to him. The attitude must be "Speak, Lord; for thy servant heareth" (1 Sam. 3:9). One must do all in the name (by the authority) of the Lord (Col. 3:17).
One Fold and One Shepherd
Jesus declares that his sheep "shall
hear my voice, and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd" (v. 16).
The Lord never intended that his people should be divided into many folds (churches).
"There is one body" (Eph. 4:4). He went to the cross that he might
reconcile us unto God in one body (Eph. 2:16). The body is the church (Eph.
1:22-23). Had he wanted two bodies surely he would have made one for the Jews
and another for the Gentiles. It was God's eternal plan to bring all together
in one fold. When people hear the voice of Jesus they will be together in one
fold. It is when they come under the influence of the "hireling" that
comes and scatters them (v. 12).
The Sheep Not of This Fold
Who are the other sheep "not
of this fold" (v. 16)? In spite of what Mormons and others speculate, Jesus
is obviously speaking of the Gentiles. At the time that he spoke his "fold"
was made up of Jews. It remained so during his personal ministry and through
the early days of the church -- until Cornelius' household, the first Gentile
coverts, were brought into the fold by hearing the voice of Jesus as preached
by Peter (Acts 10). Paul, the apostle, spent most of his life bringing the "other
sheep" into the fold as the apostle unto the Gentiles (cf. Rom.
The Chief Shepherd
Not only is Jesus the Good Shepherd, he is the Chief Shepherd. Elders in local congregations are God's shepherds or pastors with the responsibility to "shepherd the flock" among them (1 Pet. 5:2, NKJV). The flock (church) must submit to and obey them because they watch for their souls (Heb. 13:17) and will give account to the Chief Shepherd. In performing their roles as under shepherds, they must do it as humble servants and keep in mind that they are accountable to the Chief Shepherd (1 Pet. 5:4) who himself is "meek and lowly in heart" (Matt. 11:28). They will have to answer to him.
Elders need to keep in mind that they are under shepherds and not behave like they are chief shepherds. There is only one "presiding elder" -- Jesus Christ. Unlike the Chief Shepherd, their judgment is not infallible. They are subject to mistakes. Peter, who was an elder as well as an apostle, is a prime example of this (Gal. 2:11). The sheep are under obligation to follow them only as they follow Christ. While those that rule well are worthy of "double honor," and we are to honor and obey them, it is not a sin to question their actions and judgment when we believe them to be wrong, or even to rebuke them if they sin (1 Tim. 5:17-20). They are not "lords over God's heritage" nor should they act like it (1 Pet. 5:3; cf. Matt. 20:25-28). Jesus is King, Lord, and Shepherd. No mere man is capable of wearing all three of those hats. Elders must remember that they have been honored only by being appointed shepherds (and under shepherds at that) and not anointed King or Lord. As shepherds, they are to lead and not bully the sheep because both they and the sheep must give account to the Good/Chief Shepherd.
The voice of the Good Shepherd is heard today through the gospel, and it still rings loud and clear: "Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls" (Matt. 11:28). We need to heed his voice.
by Edward O. Bragwell, Sr. -- Via Truth Magazine, November 17, 2005, Volume LI, Number 11
Return to the General Articles page
Home / Bible studies / Bible Survey / Special Studies / General Articles / Non-Bible Articles / Sermons / Sermon Outlines / Links / Questions and Answers / What Saith The Scriptures /Daily Devotional / Correspondence Courses / What is the Church of Christ / Book: Christian Growth / Website Policy / E-mail / About Me /