(John 10:11a ESV) 11 I am the good shepherd.
Jesus now changes figures of speech. No longer is he the door; he’s the shepherd.
He borrows his language from Ezekiel 34 —
(Eze 34:15 ESV) 15 I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I myself will make them lie down, declares the Lord GOD.
The theme of Eze 34 is God’s unhappiness with the “shepherds” of Judea. The political and religious rulers (there was no real distinction in those days) had led the people into idolatry and had corruptly used the people for their own purposes. As a result, God declares that he will reject the people’s shepherds and be their shepherd himself.
Sound familiar? Jesus is saying to the leaders that, in God’s eyes, the current state of Judea is just as bad as in Ezekiel’s time — and Ezekiel’s complaints led directly to the destruction of the Temple by Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonian Exile.
Thus, simply by declaring, “I am the Good Shepherd,” Jesus implies —
* Jesus is God. After all, in Ezekiel, it’s YHWH who will become the Jews’ true shepherd.
* The religious leaders would be removed from power by God.
* Jesus would step in and take over their role as shepherds. The leadership of God’s children would be moved from earthly political leaders to Jesus himself.
(John 10:14b-15 ESV) I know my own and my own know me, 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep.
Jesus compares the relationship he will enjoy with his sheep with the relationship he enjoys with the Father. They will “know” each other.
Superficially, we can see that the true sheep, the sheep who believe, will recognize Jesus for who he is. That’s true. But Jesus is pointing toward something much deeper — a mutual knowledge akin to the sharing he enjoys with God.
The closest earthly analogy I can think of is marriage. Married couples grow to know each other very well. Jesus is saying that his sheep will come to know him as well as we know our spouses — better, even.
This is surely part of the “life abundantly” Jesus had just promised. The abundant life isn’t so much about knee-deep alfalfa for the sheep as a relationship with the Shepherd that is incredibly intense and intimate.
(John 10:16 ESV) 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.
V. 16 is surely a reference to the expansion of the Kingdom to include the Gentiles, as had long been prophesied — and yet largely ignored by the Jews, who were failing to be a light unto the world, as they were called to be.
(Isa 56:6-8 ESV) 6 “And the foreigners who join themselves to the LORD, to minister to him, to love the name of the LORD, and to be his servants, everyone who keeps the Sabbath and does not profane it, and holds fast my covenant — 7 these I will bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer; their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.” 8 The Lord GOD, who gathers the outcasts of Israel, declares, “I will gather yet others to him besides those already gathered.”
This was a hard lesson for the Jewish leaders, who claimed God’s blessings by virtue of their descent from Abraham.
(John 10:17-18 ESV) 17 “For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. 18 No one takes it 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.”
Jesus then reveals his willingness to die for his sheep — which would be true of any good shepherd. Indeed, he insists that the Father has given him a choice, and because he has chosen the path of death, the Father loves him.
There is important implications of this passage for contemporary shepherds of God’s church. I’m not going to delve into them here, because we covered them in some depth in the Creation 2.0 series. Here are the links —
As I said, John 10 opens the door into rich materials on the topic. I’m sure these posts don’t exhaust the subject.
(John 10:19-20 ESV) 19 There was again a division among the Jews because of these words. 20 Many of them said, “He has a demon, and is insane; why listen to him?”
Remember, “the Jews” is idiomatic for the Jewish leaders. And being blind guides, some respond with slander. Rather than investigate in order to see, they prefer the path of darkness.
(John 10:21 ESV) 21 Others said, “These are not the words of one who is oppressed by a demon. Can a demon open the eyes of the blind?”
Obviously enough, Jesus’ ability to heal the blind — especially the blind — showed him to have God’s blessing, because the Old Testament credits God with the ability to blind and to heal the blind.
As a result, the Jewish leaders were divided, fearful to come to faith, but unable to find a way to explain Jesus’ miracles and words other than by faith.