Gospel of John: The Good Shepherd


Jesus the reader of hearts and discerner of souls knew the people were still trying to understand all that he was saying to them, so Jesus expanded on the shepherd illustration. In the summer, when the sheep were left overnight out in the fields, the shepherds each had enclosures they would put their flock in and lay down in the open entrance way as a human gate. In this way, none of the sheep would venture out, over their shepherd, and no person or animal could get in without alerting the shepherd.

In the first illustration the True Shepherd leads the sheep out.

In this illustration, the Good Shepherd leads the sheep in

Amen, Amen, I say to you, that I AM the gate of the sheepfold. All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. I AM the gate: whoever entered through me will be saved from peril, injury, or suffering, will be restored to health, and will go in and out and will find pasture.

Jesus to the listeners, John 10:7-9

Saved

The word saved means delivered safe and sound. It is the kind of word used to say a person has recovered from a severe illness, or come through a bad storm, or survived a disaster. Jesus, as the living door, acts as a barrier against the thieves and robbers, and also keeps the sheep from wandering away.

Go in and out

The last of what Jesus said was a Hebraism: go in and out meaning, all the time, in every circumstance.

You will recognize this phrase in a famous passage from the Torah:

You shall put these words of mine in your heart and soul, and you shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and fix them as an emblem on your forehead.

Teach them to your children, talking about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise.

Write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates, so that your days and the days of your children may be multiplied in the land that the Lord swore to your ancestors to give them, as long as the heavens are above the earth.

Deuteronomy 11:18-21 (NRSV)

Good Shepherd versus False Shepherd

Now Jesus began to make some pointed comparisons between himself, the good shepherd and the false shepherds who were really not shepherds at all, but hired hands.

  1.  10:10: It is a matter of life and death. All the thieves and robbers have to offer the sheep is death and destruction. Jesus offers the absolute opposite, abundant life, rich satisfying, overflowing with goodness and joy. In fact,
  1. 10:11:“I AM the Good Shepherd.” That word good means intrinsically good and beautiful, worthy, valuable, and virtuous. The kind of goodness that can only properly be attributed to Almighty God. It is because of his goodness that Jesus lays down his life for his own.

Shepherds were actually not required to die for their sheep. If it came down to that, a shepherd could legitimately run away from a lion, or some other threat to their life. But that is not what the good shepherds did in Israel’s history. Remember King David as a shepherd boy with his sling shot. The good shepherd knew how to protect their sheep, even when their own lives were in peril.

  1. 10:12-13, The hired hands prioritize their own welfare, leaving the sheep to be scattered by the wolves. Why? Because it is just a job. The sheep are of no real concern to the hired hand. The sheep represent a paycheck, that is all.

Unlike the hired hand,

I AM the Good Shepherd, and I know my own and my own know me, even as the Father knows me and my life I lay down on behalf of the sheep.

Jesus, John 10:14-15

That word know refers to an intimate relationship, it involves the mind, heart, and spirit. Just as the Father and the Son intimately love each other, so Jesus intimately loves his own, you and me who respond to him in faith.

The primary difference between the good shepherd and the hirelings is that the good shepherd actually loves and is invested in the sheep.

The hired hand just wants to get their paycheck.

Jesus is the Good Shepherd because he has the interest of his sheep as a priority. Jesus does not seek to exploit the ones he loves.


Sheep of Another Fold

I imagine the people looking out to the hills of Judea, able to see, perhaps, a flock here and there, for from the temple mount there was a wonderful panoramic view of the countryside. Many of them had herded sheep and goats when they were growing up, or knew shepherds. Most people lived close to the land, and even city folk would have known about flocks and herds, for it was in the very roots of their nation’s family tree.

Perhaps even the faint voice of one or another sheep bleating in the distance added to Jesus’ pastoral theme. Of course these things were true of good shepherds, did they not all know that? Many would have been nodding their heads, musing. There might have been a slight sense of unease, wondering if Jesus really meant to imply their religious rulers were thieves and robbers. How could that be true? Were they not seeking to purify Israel, to return Israel to the theocracy it once had been?

But still, this was good teaching that strengthened the bones, and they were inclined to believe this faith healer and worker of wonders. Perhaps he was Messiah.

The breeze had begun to pick up, pungent with temple incense, it swirled about them. Several people lifted their faces to feel the cool air brushing past, and to breath deep of the frankincense and myrrh, scented with aloes. These were the prayers of the people, lifted up every morning and every evening unto the Lord.

Both heavy and light, healing and entrancing, the sound of the priests’ chanted invocations emanating faintly from with the temple’s inner courts were the undersong to the Good Shepherd’s instruction.

Jesus’ voice carried along with the wind, and it was as though he was standing next to each person, his words were so near.

“But then I have a sheepfold which is not of this fold: and those I am likewise constrained to bring, and they will listen to my voice, and they will become one flock, only one shepherd.”

Many startled awake.

Who could he mean? They questioned each other with sideways glances and lifted shoulders. Some looked over to the Court of the Gentiles, just inside the portico. Others looked out to the city, filled with those of the faith from throughout the near-lying Diaspora. Some had heard of his excursion to Samaria. Them?


This last part is my imagining of the scene, combined with my translation of John 10:16.

[Jesus as Shepherd | The LUMO Project, http://www.freebibleimages.org

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