“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 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.” (John 10:11-13)
On the heels of declaring that He is the door of the sheep, Jesus then declared Himself to be the Good Shepherd. This is the fourth of seven recorded statements found in the Gospel of John which depict Jesus’s deity. The first was “I am the Bread of Life” (John 6:35). The second was “I am the Light of the World” (John 8:12). The third was “I am the door of the sheep” (John 10:7-9). Again, Jesus uses the significant phrase “I Am” (ἐγώ εἰμί; ego eimi) to indicate that He presently and actively exists as Yahweh Incarnate.
The Shepherd metaphor is one of the most familiar in the Scriptures. In the Old Testament, God is called the Shepherd of His people (Psalm. 23:1; 80:1–2; Ecclesiastes 12:11; Isaiah 40:11; Jeremiah 31:10). As such, Jesus is the Good Shepherd to His people, and He came to give His life for their benefit (cf. John 10:14, 17–18; Galatians 1:4; Ephesians 5:2, 25; Hebrews 9:14). The New Testament also identifies Jesus as the “Great Shepherd” (Hebrews 13:20–21) and “the Chief Shepherd” (1 Peter 5:4).
In announcing that He is the good shepherd, in contrast to the false shepherds in Israel’s history who Jesus compared to thieves and robbers (John 10:7-10), Jesus lays down his life for the sheep. Jesus will willingly go to the cross on behalf of the sheep or the elect. This is a direct statement affirming substitutionary atonement (2 Corinthians 5:21).
Jesus act of laying down His life for the sheep is in direct contrast to those so-called spiritual leaders, in Jesus’ day and in ours, who are compared to a hired hand. The hired hand does not have the same commitment, or love, for the sheep as does the Shepherd.
Dr. John Walvoord provides excellent insight into this particular text when he writes, “In contrast with the Good Shepherd, who owns, cares, feeds, protects, and dies for His sheep, the one who works for wages—the hired hand—does not have the same commitment. He is interested in making money and in self-preservation. If a wolf attacks (harpazei, lit., “snatches away”; cf. this same verb in v. 28), he runs away and his selfishness causes the flock to be scattered. Obviously he cares nothing for the sheep.”
Israel had many pseudo prophets, ungodly kings, and false messiahs. The flock of God suffered constantly from their abuse (Jeremiah 10:21–22; 12:10; Zechariah 11:4–17). The church today suffers from the same such abuse by pseudo shepherds, or pastors, who care nothing for the flock except what they can receive from them. This ought not to be but unfortunately is at too many churches in which too believers are hurt by too many false leaders.
Dr. R. C. Sproul writes, “The depth of our Savior’s love is seen in His willingness to die for us. As the Good Shepherd, He lays down His life for us (v. 11). Ancient shepherds might, in the course of defending their flocks from predators, end up dying, but when it happened it was an accident. Shepherds did not go to their flocks every day with the intention of dying for them. But Jesus came with the express purpose of dying in place of His sheep. And note that He dies only for His sheep. He does not lay down His life for other flocks, but only for His own. His atonement is for His people alone, and it guarantees their redemption. Ezekiel 34:11–24 prophesied that the Lord God Himself would come as the messianic king and shepherd to redeem His people and provide for all their needs. John 10 helps us understand that the means by which He does this is by taking on a human nature and, as a man, suffering and dying in place of other men and women.”
Thank you Lord for being our Good Shepherd. Thank you for laying down your life for your sheep. Thank you that you are not a hired hand who does not care for the sheep. Thank you for graciously calling us into the fold.
Soli deo Gloria!