Bible Study – The Good Shepherd

The images of “Shepherd” and “sheep” are used frequently throughout the Bible to represent God and His people, an all-encompassing and all-sufficient relationship. The 23rd Psalm begins with these beautiful words; “The Lord is my shepherd“. God always does what is best for His people. Jesus, in this parable, is claiming the title “the Good Shepherd” for Himself. Those who are called to minister to God’s people are often called “under-shepherds” in the New Testament, and those we minister to are often called our “flock“. We are to tend to the well-being of those whom God has placed in our care, and we are to do it as unto the Lord, because we are accountable to Him.

Parable of the Good Shepherd
10 “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter by the door into the fold of the sheep, but climbs up some other way, he is a thief and a robber. 2 But he who enters by the door is a 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 leads them out. 4 When he puts forth all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. 5 A stranger they simply will not follow, but will flee from him, because they do not know the voice of strangers.” 6 This figure of speech Jesus spoke to them, but they did not understand what those things were which He had been saying to them.

This passage is figurative. (John 10:6) There are 8 components of the extended metaphor in this section: The shepherd is the caretaker and owner of the sheep. The sheep (flock) are the animals that the shepherd loves and cares for. The thief is the one who tries to steal the sheep away from their rightful owner, the watchman is the one who opens the gate only for the shepherd, the hired hand watches the sheep, but lacks the dedication of the shepherd. The wolf is a predator that terrorizes kills and scatters the flock, and the sheep pen is the protective enclosure in which the flock is kept for safety during the night.

He begins in 1-6 with the thief; the thief enters the pen by any manner other than through the gate. He sneaks in by some form of subterfuge for the express purpose of stealing the sheep away from the flock. The man who enters by the gate is the shepherd, who is recognized by the watchman as the legitimate shepherd. In addition, he is also recognized by the sheep that love and trust him. He calls them by name (has a deep relationship with them) and they will follow him where ever he goes. They will not follow anyone who is not the shepherd, because they are strangers to the sheep; they only follow the shepherd.

7 So Jesus said to them again, “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. 8 All who came before Me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not hear them. 9 I am the door; if anyone enters through Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture. 10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.

Jesus begins to make His point beginning at verse 7. Jesus Himself is the gate; no one enters the flock except through Him. If they enter the pen through Jesus, they will be saved and have life to the full. The thief on the other hand, enters the pen by a means other than Jesus; his motive is to steal, kill and destroy. The sheep do not follow such a person.

Jesus is not only the gate, but He is the Good Shepherd. He is the “good” shepherd because when all others run away, He will lay down His life for the salvation of the sheep. His caring is so great for His sheep that He will die for them.

11 “I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep. 12 He who is a hired hand, and not a shepherd, who is not the owner of the sheep, sees the wolf coming, and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. 13 He flees because he is a hired hand and is not concerned about the sheep. 14 I am the good shepherd, and I know My own and My own know Me, 15 even as the Father knows Me and I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep. 16 I have other sheep, which are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will hear My voice; and they will become one flock with one shepherd. 17 For this reason the Father loves Me, because I lay down My life so that I may take it again. 18 No one has taken it away from Me, but I lay it down on My own initiative. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This commandment I received from My Father.”

In this final section, vv. 14-18, Jesus sets out the theology of His coming sacrifice on the cross. He will willingly lay down His life for His flock. No one will take it from Him, for His act is voluntary. It is authorized and ordained by His Father in Heaven, for it will result in the redemption of all mankind. This act will not only seal the salvation of His sheep, but redeem mankind back to fellowship with God, something that has been absent from creation ever since Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden. This will also highlight the separation of those within the flock, and those without the flock; nothing will ever be the same again. Jesus is also implicitly stating that the Gospel, hence salvation, will also go to the Gentiles, whom He will bring together under His shepherding-care as one flock.

19 A division occurred again among the Jews because of these words. 20 Many of them were saying, “He has a demon and is insane. Why do you listen to Him?” 21 Others were saying, “These are not the sayings of one demon-possessed. A demon cannot open the eyes of the blind, can he?”

We find the reaction of the people in 10:19-21. The reaction of the crowd is typical; His opponents, unable to refute what He has said seek to marginalize Him with ridicule. Once again they claim He must be demon-possessed and ask “Why listen to him?” What else can they do if they insist on opposing Him? The others (v. 21) say exactly the words that their leaders fear, pointing out that Jesus is not saying things a demon-possessed person would say, and then dropping their trump card: “Can a demon open the eyes of the blind?” There is nothing that the opponents of Christ can say to that. These people who believe Jesus have had their eyes opened; now they can really see… and Jesus isn’t quite finished…

Jesus Asserts His Deity
22 At that time the Feast of the Dedication took place at Jerusalem; 23 it was winter, and Jesus was walking in the temple in the portico of Solomon. 24 The Jews then gathered around Him, and were saying to Him, “How long will You keep us in suspense? If You are the Christ, tell us plainly.” 25 Jesus answered them, “I told you, and you do not believe; the works that I do in My Father’s name, these testify of Me. 26 But you do not believe because you are not of My sheep. 27 My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; 28 and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand. 29 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. 30 I and the Father are one.”

This passage is a continuation of the discussion regarding who the Jews’ father was. In that passage (9:13-34) the discussion was about the opponents of Jesus and their “father”, while this passage sets out very clearly whose Son Jesus is. It has often struck me as interesting that over the centuries, people who deny the Lordship of Christ will often claim that He neither claimed to be God or the Son of God. In fact, there are groups who call themselves Christian who are confused on this point today. Here, Jesus is clear and precise about exactly who He is. Please note that while the discourse of the text follows 10:1-21, the occasion has shifted to the Feast of Dedication which is now known to us as Hanukkah, a celebration of the driving out from Judea of the Syrian Greeks. It celebrates the re-dedication of the Temple after it had been refurbished after that occupation, a nationalistic celebration of the (former) glory of the nation…

John sets the scene and then the dialogue begins; “are you the Christ?” Jesus responds by indicating that He has identified Himself by His miracles, but they have refused to believe because they are not His sheep, going back to the analogy from the previous text. Since they are not His sheep, they do not believe what He says even though He has confirmed His sayings to them. Those who are His followers (sheep) hear His voice and believe. While many have taken this to mean all kinds of things doctrinally speaking, what is very clear is that when a person decides to follow Jesus, understandings clear up considerably.

Jesus amplifies what He said in verse 10, that His sheep would have “abundant life” to add that they will have “eternal life”. Eternal life would appear here to have two characteristics: First that they cannot be destroyed, i.e. that they will live forever. Second, they cannot be stolen away from the Father’s hand, which is to say that no one, human or otherwise, can steal eternal life from you. In verse 30, Jesus makes a statement that is theologically so significant that it cannot be overstated. “I and the Father are one.” This is a type of “I AM” statement, only here it is “We ARE”. In doing this, Jesus is alluding to the name of God: I AM. By placing Himself into this title, he has added a new dimension to the Shema of Deut. 6:4, “Hear O Israel: The Lord our God. The Lord is one.” This is the monotheistic foundation of their faith and Jesus has just included Himself into it monotheistically. He is not doing this in a mystical way of somehow having achieved divinity, but as a foundational premise reminiscent of John 1:1. While doing this, He continues to maintain a distinction between the two; He did not say “I am the Father”.

31 The Jews picked up stones again to stone Him. 32 Jesus answered them, “I showed you many good works from the Father; for which of them are you stoning Me?” 33 The Jews answered Him, “For a good work we do not stone You, but for blasphemy; and because You, being a man, make Yourself out to be God.” 34 Jesus answered them, “Has it not been written in your Law, ‘I said, you are gods’? 35 If he called them gods, to whom the word of God came (and the Scripture cannot be broken), 36 do you say of Him, whom the Father sanctified and sent into the world, ‘You are blaspheming,’ because I said, ‘I am the Son of God’? 37 If I do not do the works of My Father, do not believe Me; 38 but if I do them, though you do not believe Me, believe the works, so that you may know and understand that the Father is in Me, and I in the Father.” 39 Therefore they were seeking again to seize Him, and He eluded their grasp.

Quite naturally, they want to kill Him at this point.

This time, Jesus doesn’t slip away; He asks them to justify their desire to kill Him. His opponents tell Him they are not doing it because they deny His miracles, but because He has committed blasphemy in claiming to be God. Isn’t it odd that so many “scholars” think He never made that claim? According to the Law, these opponents had a point (Lev. 24:16) however they overlooked the possibility that He might be telling the truth. Then He added this: Jesus answered them, “Is it not written in your Law, ‘I have said you are “gods”’? If he called them ‘gods,’ to whom the word of God came—and Scripture cannot be set aside— what about the one whom the Father set apart as his very own and sent into the world? Why then do you accuse me of blasphemy because I said, ‘I am God’s Son’? Do not believe me unless I do the works of my Father. But if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me, and I in the Father.” Again they tried to seize him, but he escaped their grasp.

OK, let’s be honest: This is a difficult passage! Jesus’ quotation of Psalm 82:6, “I have said you are gods” can make you crazy if you aren’t careful, and much has been written and argued about it. I prefer to take a simpler look at it… Consider the fact that it is a parenthetical side comment that is not expounded on because it isn’t the main part of the argument Jesus is making. The structure of the argument made in vv. 34-38 points to a conclusion that looks like this:

1. In the context of Psalm 82, the term “gods” is not a term denoting divinity, but humans were referred to as “sons of the Most High” (v. 6).

2. These “mere men” received the Word of God, yet they died as mere men.

3. Scripture (the Word of God they received) cannot be broken (thwarted).

4. I have been sent to you as the Living Word by God.

5. I am God’s Son

6. My true identity has been proven by the miracles I have performed

Therefore:

1. You can only deny me by denying the truth of Scripture

2. You should pay me greater honor than anyone in your history before.

3. You must believe the miracles you have seen

4. I am the Son of God (Messiah)

40 And He went away again beyond the Jordan to the place where John was first baptizing, and He was staying there. 41 Many came to Him and were saying, “While John performed no sign, yet everything John said about this man was true.” 42 Many believed in Him there. (John 10)

It wasn’t the time for Jesus to die quite yet, so He retreated back into the familiar and reasonably “safe” area beyond the Jordan where John the Baptist had baptized Him. Bethabara (John 1:28) was a well-known “ford” across the Jordan River.

Jesus wants to be YOUR Good Shepherd. Have you turned your life over to Him?

In Christ,
Steve

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