ACST 35: The Good Shepherd

jesus-the-good-shepherd It is an axiom that “no good deed goes unpunished,” and that was true in the life of Jesus. John records in chapter nine of his Gospel that Jesus did the good deed of restoring sight to a blind man. The Pharisees learned about it, and concluded that Jesus was “not from God.”[1] They reasoned that a leader sent from God would have the good sense not to heal anyone on the Sabbath.

They could not see beyond their narrow, legalistic worldview to recognize who Jesus really was. Jesus commented on this event by saying “For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and those who see may become blind,”[2] When the Pharisees who overheard what he said figured out that he might have been referring to them — the leaders in Israel – they asked him if that were the case. He responded “If you were blind, you would have no guilt; but now that you say, ‘We see,’ your guilt remains.”[3] Their guilt was in claiming to lead people to God when – in fact – they were leading them away from Christ.

That is the context in which Jesus gives his “Good Shepherd” monologue. It can be found in the first eighteen verses of John 10. A shepherd is a person who is trusted and appointed by the owner of the sheep and goats to look after them. He provides for their needs by leading them to where they can find sustenance. He protects them from predators and their own foolish tendency to get lost. If he is a good shepherd, he is even willing to put his own life on the line to protect and save his sheep from danger. In his Good Shepherd monologue, Jesus asserted that he is the divinely appointed leader of God’s people, and that the Pharisees and others like them are not.

The Door

Again, it must be understood that Jesus was talking to the Pharisees, who fancied themselves the super-spiritual leaders of God’s people. In the first ten verses of his Good Shepherd monologue, Jesus is explaining to the bad shepherds why they are bad shepherds. To do that, he uses the metaphor of a door. The door of which he speaks is not the door to a house, but is something that shepherds are familiar with.

In Bible times a shepherd would sleep in the opening of a desert

pen to personally guard the only access to his precious livestock.

With this cultural context in mind, Jesus could as easily say “I am

the gate” as “I am the Good Shepherd.” As a symbolic gate, the

shepherd was the only means by which someone could have access

to the fold.[4]

The Pharisees assumed that — since they studied and revered the Torah — God had automatically qualified them for spiritual leadership. Jesus affirmed the reality of spiritual leadership of God’s flock, but denied that the Pharisees were qualified. The reason: those Pharisees had not entered through the door. They did not have a relationship with God through his only Son.

Not having entered through the door, the Pharisees were seeking to gain access to the flock some other way. That makes them not shepherds, but thieves. They were attempting to steal something that was not theirs: the sheep. They were attempting to gain the loyalty and obedience of God’s people.

The result of this attempted robbery would be bad for the sheep. The Good Shepherd would come (to the fold) in order to ensure abundant life for them. They would “go in and out and find pasture.”[5] The false shepherds come (into the pen) only for the purpose of stealing, killing and destroying the flock.[6] Jesus was referring to the false leaders of his day, but the same is true of all those who attempt to lead God’s people without having first established a relationship with God through Jesus, the door.

The Protector

From verse eleven, Jesus takes up the question which is undoubtedly on the minds of the Pharisees as they listen to Jesus condemn them as false shepherds: “What makes you the good shepherd?” To answer that question, Jesus changes the scenario a little bit. Now, the danger is not from false shepherds seeking to steal the sheep, but from the wolf who wants to snatch and scatter them.

Jesus continues to be the door of protection for the sheep, but now he is called on to put his own life in danger to protect his sheep. He qualifies as the good shepherd because he “lays down his life for the sheep.”[7] He is willing to do whatever it takes to ensure the safety of the flock. It is obvious that Jesus refers to his own impending death on the cross here. The sheep needed more than just protection. They needed deliverance. Only by sacrificing his own life would the good shepherd ensure the preservation of the lives of those he was responsible for.

The Owner

Why does Jesus lay down his life for the sheep? He does it because his relationship with God’s people is not the same as that of the false shepherds. The false shepherds are hired hands. He is the owner of the sheep. When the wolf comes, the hired hands run away because they are not willing to pay the ultimate price to protect those under their charge. The owner knows the sheep and cares for them. The sheep know the owner, and respond to him when he calls them by name.

As the owner of the sheep, Jesus has plans to increase his flock. He has other sheep who are not part of the present fold. He has plans to bring those other sheep into the fold so that there will be “one flock, one shepherd.”[8] Those who advocate forms of universalism see this statement by Jesus as affirming that there are several ways to God. We must understand, however, that the context in which Jesus speaks does not allow that interpretation of his words.

The whole intent of Jesus’ Good Shepherd monologue is to show that God has specifically chosen his only Son to be the only way to salvation. Jesus condemned the Pharisees for – in a sense – taking his place and attempting to steal the sheep. He insisted on being the door through which everyone must pass in order to be a part of the flock.

Likewise, as the only Son of the owner (the Father) Jesus is uniquely qualified as the Good Shepherd because only he will lay down his life for the sheep. No one in the past or the future will be able to do this – only Jesus Christ.

The Son

Unlike all those leaders who had gone before Jesus, and all of us who come after him, only the Son is uniquely qualified to give his life as an atoning sacrifice to rescue the entire flock from the ravening wolf – sin and death.[9]

He has a unique relationship with God the Father. He says “The Father knows me and I know the Father.”[10] His relationship with the Father implies that there is no impediment – nothing comes between the two. For the rest of us, sin keeps us from having that kind of relationship with God. For Christ, eternally sinless, no such impediment exists. This sinless state puts Christ in the unique position in that only he can be the sacrifice to undo the damage that sin has done to humanity.

Only Christ has been charged by the Father with the task of redeeming humanity by his blood. How it must have enraged the Pharisees when Jesus told them that he has received that special charge from his Father![11] From that moment, many who had probably been open to Jesus’ message turned against him completely, claiming that he was either insane or demon possessed.[12]

They might have accepted that Jesus was a good teacher, or even a good moral leader, but Jesus would not allow them to stay there. He must either be the sinless sacrifice that God exclusively uses for the rescue of humanity, or not. Accept him or reject him, but either way he is the Good Shepherd and there is no other.

As the Son, Jesus is the only one with the legal right (authority) to lay down his own life to atone for humanity’s sin, and to take it up again by resurrection.[13] For anyone else to presume to die for humanity’s sin would be madness indeed. Only a perfect sacrifice can ever cover the sins and pay the debt of another. Even if you or I dared to go to the cross ourselves, we could not atone for our sin. The only way a sinful human could ever pay for his sins is by suffering and destruction in hell.

Therefore, if you want to do it your way, hell is your only option. Either you enter by door number one, the divinely ordained Door which leads to abundant and eternal life through resurrection – or you take the exit door which leads to misery and destruction. There is no door number three.

Jesus’ death was no accident. In his Good Shepherd monologue he indicated that he would intentionally lay it down (on the cross) and would intentionally take it up again (through the resurrection).[14] It was part of the Father’s plan to rescue all his lost sheep and bring them all back into the fold – into an eternal relationship with him.

How Jesus Taught

Jesus demonstrated that he is the Good Shepherd by how he taught. Mark mentioned that those who heard him teaching “were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one who had authority, and not as the scribes.”[15] He was not merely passing on information that could be read in a book. He was reflecting a relationship that he had with his Father in heaven. He was reflecting a relationship that he had with his followers (sheep) here on earth. His authority was intrinsic, not derived.

What He Did

Jesus demonstrated that he is the Good shepherd by doing what no other shepherds could do. He brought deliverance by healing and rescuing the demon possessed, and passed on the authority for his followers to do the same. Believers today can minister healing and deliverance as well, but we must be careful to do so for the same purpose. We are to demonstrate not that we are something, or that the power to heal and exorcise demons is something, but that Jesus is something. The miracles should enforce the message, and the message must be who Jesus Christ is.

Jesus demonstrated that he is the Good Shepherd by laying down his life for the sheep. Only he was qualified to do that. Only his blood could atone for the sins of lost humanity. Only his blood, and not anything else added to it!

It is the blood of Jesus alone that delivers you. If you think that it is because of your faith, then you will always be wondering, “Do I have enough faith?” No my friend, it is His blood alone that saves. And when God sees that you see that it is the blood alone that saves, He calls that faith in the blood, and every plague will pass over you! God wants you to know that it is Jesus’ blood alone that saves because every time you think that your deliverance depends partly on God and partly on you, you will not have a settled peace in your heart. But when you know that it is the blood alone that saves, you will have an unshakable peace.[16]

The Good Shepherd alone is responsible for the preservation and protection of the sheep. The sheep cannot take credit for following. They cannot claim superior position in the flock because of their wisdom or status. Every one of the sheep are safe because of the faithfulness of the shepherd – and nothing else.

Access to the Father

Paul was probably thinking of Jesus as the Door of the sheep when he said that “through him we both (Jews and Gentiles) have access in one Spirit to the Father.”[17] It was he (Paul) who answered definitively who the other sheep were that Jesus had alluded to.[18] The flock to whom Jesus was speaking were Jews. The other sheep would be the Gentiles, because the door would allow them access to the sheep-pen as well. The law was a barrier to keep Gentiles out. Jesus was a door that would open to let all believers – Jew and Gentile – in. He provided access to the Father. So the Jewish Paul could encourage the Gentile Ephesians by saying “So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God.”[19]

The Blood of the Eternal Covenant

The author of Hebrews mentions that Jesus is “the great shepherd of the sheep” and “the blood of the eternal covenant” in the same sentence.[20] He was apparently drawing attention to the fact that Jesus, in fulfilling his role as the divinely appointed shepherd laid down his life for the sheep. He ties this act of sacrifice with the eternal covenant. That means that what Jesus did was not just sufficient to repeal the effects of sin for a time, but forever. What Jesus did on the cross will never have to be repeated. Once paid, the price need never be brought forth again.


Leaders in the new covenant community would come to see themselves as under-shepherds – responsible to provide and protect the flock until Christ the Chief Shepherd appears.

So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.[21]

Peter’s advice to the elders shows how under-shepherds are supposed to exercise oversight:

1. Their work must be voluntary, not under compulsion. They must do what they do for the same reason that the Good Shepherd did what he was called to do: out of compassion and love for the sheep.

2. Their work must be a labor of love, not a job for a salary. Peter was not arguing against compensation. He would agree with Paul that the church must not “muzzle the ox while it treads the grain.”[22] Peter himself probably received funds to sustain his apostolic work.[23] But he also knew the danger of the temptation to do ministry for profit. He warns that passion for the work itself should motivate ministry, not passion for profit. The under-shepherd works ultimately for the unfading crown of glory which the Chief Shepherd will give when he appears.

3. Their work must be in demonstration of submission, not a demand for submission. They were to be examples to the flock, not domineering over those in their charge. Jesus offered himself as an example of how his disciples were to do that.

You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.[24]

Secure in the Shepherd’s Hand

Jesus went on to describe his role as the Good Shepherd and what that would mean for the sheep. He said he was in the process of giving his sheep “eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand.”[25] He talks about salvation in terms of certainty and security – yes, eternal security.

The reason for that promise of eternal security is not that the sheep have done something, but that the shepherd has done something. That is why – on the one hand – believers can talk about being eternally secure – because once God saves you, you are always saved. On the other hand, unbelievers who have half-heartedly prayed a sinner’s prayer, and then have gone on to live the same sinful, unrepentant life that they lived before cannot claim eternal security. Salvation is not based on what the believer does but what the Good Shepherd did. It is not based on my response to the call of God to repent. It is based on Christ’s response to the call of God to die.

Those who have truly repented — and endeavor to live the life of repentance that the Good Shepherd called them to — will know the security of living in the shepherd’s hand. They will know that they are safe, and that no one will be able to snatch them from the protective grasp of their savior. This security will not give them license to sin, but will encourage them not to sin. If they sin, they will feel the displeasure of the shepherd who holds them firmly. Because of their relationship, they will strive to obey their shepherd, not to take advantage of his grace.

[1] John 9:16.

[2] John 9:39.

[3] John 9:41.

[4] Timothy S. Laniak, While Shepherds Watch Their Flocks. (HigherLife Development Services, Inc., 2007), 141.

[5] John 10:9.

[6] John 10:10.

[7] John 10:11.

[8] John 10:16.

[9] Neither the thief of verse 10 nor the wolf of verse 12 is a direct reference to Satan. Jesus is not teaching about Satan but himself. As the Door he protects us from false leaders, as the sacrificing Son he took on sin and death and defeated them at the cross.

[10] John 10:15.

[11] John 10:18.

[12] John 10:20.

[13] John 10:17.

[14] John 10:18.

[15] Mark 1:22.


[17] Ephesians 2:18.

[18] John 10:16

[19] Ephesians 2:19.

[20] Hebrews 13:20.

[21] 1 Peter 5:1-4.

[22] 1 Corinthians 9:9; I Timothy 5:18.

[23] This assumption is based on the fact that Paul argued in 1 Corinthians 9 that “those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel” (14), but that Paul said that he and the others on his missionary team “have not made use of this right, but we endure anything rather than put an obstacle in the way of the gospel of Christ” (12). Peter and the other apostles probably made use of the right to receive compensation for ministry.

[24] Matthew 20:25-28.

[25] John 10:28-29.

Author: Jefferson Vann

Jefferson Vann is pastor of Piney Grove Advent Christian Church in Delco, North Carolina. You can contact him at -- !

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