Studies in the Gospel of John
Lesson 29: “The Good Shepherd”
Chapter 10 of John’s Gospel is divided into two parts and consists of two entirely separate “sermons” of Jesus. The first one is in verses 1 through 21. The second one, recorded in verses 22 through 29, was given at least three months later at the “Feast of Tabernacles” following the miracle of sight given to a man born blind and under pressure from the Jews in verses 1 through 21 not to give Jesus the glory for the miracle. Remember that John’s gospel is not a “biography” like the other three gospels. John was choosing various things that Jesus said and did, to show that He actually was the Son of God.
However, since in both sermons Jesus describes Himself as a good shepherd, these are linked together in this one chapter. If we are going to fully appreciate this beautiful picture of Jesus as the good shepherd, we need to focus on it from in the light of the characteristics of Eastern shepherds of that day. Since the two sermons are so similar we will look only at the first one.
So let’s think first about the context in which Jesus painted this portrait of Himself as a good shepherd. It is helpful to recognize that the first part of the chapter is a continuation of chapter 9 and of the Lord’s comments about the Pharisees who had just cast the man whom Jesus had healed blindness out of their synagogue. The Pharisees, who in verses 22 and 34 should have acted as “spiritual shepherds” of the blind man, instead robbed him of his rightful entrance into God’s own house.
So Jesus uses this information about the difference between good shepherds and false shepherds to illustrate what the Pharisees did to him and are trying to do to others. It is a precious thought to realize that Jesus was thinking of His courageous follower personally when He gave some of His most beautiful promises, in John 10. Probably the formerly blind man was still standing before Jesus, cast out by the false shepherds, but now being led out into new pastor by the good shepherd.
By way of outline, the chapter is divided into four parts:
The Instruction about good shepherds – verses 1 through 6
The Identification of the good shepherd – verses 7 through 18
The Insurrection against the good shepherd – verses 19 through 39
The Identification with the good shepherd – verses 40 through 42
So let’s begin our study by looking at Jesus’ instruction about good shepherds in verses 1 through 6. And the first thing we see is the characteristics of false shepherds in verses 1 and 5
Most assuredly I way to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door, but climbs up some other way, the same is a thief and a robber. (5) “Yet they will by no means follow a stranger, but will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers.”
In these verses Jesus encourages the excommunicated man to realize that the people who cast him out of the synagogue were not true shepherds of God’s people. On the contrary, in God’s eyes they were thieves and robbers who tried to steal sheep and hurt them. And He gives two proofs that they were not true authorized shepherds. First, they refused to “enter” in the prescribed way. – verse 1.
If the Pharisees had been true shepherds they would have entered the fold by God’s prescribed way: by faith in the promises of Abraham and the prophets, which pointed to Christ the Messiah.
But because they refused God’s way and tried to lead the sheep by the wrong way, Jesus called them thieves and robbers of God’s sheep, (John 10:1 and 8) The second way we know that they were false shepherds was that the sheep would not follow them, but actually fled from them – verse 5.
Yet they will by no means follow a stranger, but will flee from him for they do not know the voice of strangers
Since in Jesus’ day sheep would be with their shepherd for years, a real relationship developed between them. God’s true “human” sheep in terms of Jesus’ illustration, instinctively refused the voice of the teaching of the Pharisees. This is exactly what the formerly blind man had done in chapter 9. So this is another characteristic of false shepherds. They are powerless to drawtrue sheep after them.
But by contrast, in verses 2 through 4. Although later Jesus is going to specifically speak of Himself as “the good shepherd,” here he speaks of generally of what constitutes a true shepherd. And He emphasizes two characteristics: First, the true shepherd enters by the door, in verses 2 and 3.
But he that enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep (3) “to him the doorkeeper opens, and the sheep hear his voice and he calls his own sheep by name and calls them out
The true shepherd boldly entered by the prescribed way, the door. In the terms of this parable “the door” would be the prophecies of the Old Testament, which Christ fulfilled when He came. The guardian of the “doorkeeper” probably represents the Holy Spirit. It was the power of the Holy Spirit which revealed Him to the sheep as the True Shepherd: To Him the doorkeeper opens, and the sheep hear His voice.
The second characteristic of the true shepherd is that he knows and cares for the sheep, in verses 3 through 5. There are three points to notice about this: First, He knows each sheep by name – verse 3b. The giving of a name in the Bible always means penetration into the person’s true character or the changing his disposition. In Genesis 32:28 God changed Jacob’s name (cheater) to “Israel” “A Prince with God.” When Jacob struggled with Him and demanded a blessing. Likewise, in John 1:42 Jesus changed Simon’s name (a little stone) to Peter (a rock.) Revelation says that in heaven all believers will be given a new name. In scripture this is always a proof of intimate personal contact and affection. So this phrase describes God’s relationship to individuals who truly belong to Him as a conscious Person to person relationship.
The third characteristic of the true shepherd is that he leads his sheep out to new pastures. And here is an example: when the Pharisees turned out the new believer, Jesus found him and led him out with Him in verse 4
And when he brings out his own sheep he goes before them; and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice.
Hebrews 4:15 says that He was tempted in all points as we are, yet without sin. Through the work of the Holy Spirit He gives guidance through all the pressures and questions of life.
So that is “the instruction about good shepherds.” With that, John goes on to give us the identification of the good Shepherd in verses 7 through 18. It was natural that sooner or later Jesus would speak of Himself as “the shepherd” of the sheep because this revelation is throughout both and Old and New Testaments. The earliest reference to it is in a mysterious prophecy of Genesis 49:24 where god is referred to as “the shepherd, the stone of Israel.” Later he is described as leading His people like a flock by the hand of Moses and Aaron (Psalm 77:20). He Was David’s own shepherd in Psalm 23.
How wonderful in this age of unrest, uncertainty, insecurity, with the future unknown, to know that when we are “with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:3) that God the great shepherd of the sheep” will make sure of our safety and the meeting of all of our needs, both inward and outward.