“I am the good shepherd,” Jesus said.
Did he dream up this image? Or was it a widely used metaphor?
Why good shepherd? Were there bad shepherds?
Who were the thieves and robbers, trying to climb in some other way?
What makes Jesus the gate of the sheep?
This podcast (36 minutes, from Riverview Joondalup, 10 October 2021) will transport you from the children’s picture-book image of a little lamb in Jesus’ arms to a more expansive image: humanity’s true shepherd, the gate of the sheep.
The conversation in John 10 grew out of a confrontation between Jesus and some synagogue leaders about how to care for God’s flock. Jesus had healed someone of blindness, he could see Jesus was the Christ, the leader anointed by God. The synagogue leaders threw the man out of the synagogue, saying they would ostracize anyone who recognized Jesus as the God-appointed leader. Jesus sought out the rejected man. So, who was caring for God’s flock and who was caring only about their power? (John 9).
Paraphrase of John 10:1-18 (compare NIV):
10:1-5 You can tell the true shepherd by how he enters his position. He doesn’t need to grasp power, because the Gatekeeper of the flock opens the way for him. He doesn’t need to coerce the flock, because the sheep trust his voice.
10:6-9 This approach to leadership is something the rulers of this world do not understand, so Jesus openly stated that he is the gateway for God’s human flock to come back under his governance. God sacked the Davidic kings who came before him because they were bad shepherds who used the power to benefit themselves — like thieves and robbers who fleece and eat the sheep (compare Ezekiel 34). Since then, some violent leaders had claimed power (like Aristobulus), but they did not lead the people to safety. Jesus claims to be the gateway to safety for his people: coming in for protection; going out for pasture.
10:10-13 The previous “shepherds” were thieves who wanted power over the sheep for their own benefit (stealing, killing, destroying). By contrast, Jesus wants to protect and provide for God’s flock: keeping them alive, ensuring they do well. He does this not by seeking power over them but by giving everything for them: even his own life. Those who want leadership to benefit themselves will never do that.
10:14-15 What matters for the good shepherd is how he relates to the sheep: he knows them, and they know him. That’s a reflection of how he relates to the Father of the family, the heavenly shepherd of the human flock. The good shepherd reveals the heart of the Father, and the Father reveals himself in the Son giving his life for the flock.
10:16 The Father’s flock extends beyond the crowd in Jerusalem for the Passover of AD 30. For six centuries, God’s flock had been scattered across the world like sheep without a shepherd. The good shepherd is conscious of his role to gather God’s flock under his leadership, just as Ezekiel had said when they were first scattered: “My servant David will be king over them, and they will all have one shepherd” (Ezekiel 37:24).
10:17 His Father chose him to shepherd his human flock because Jesus would give his life for the sheep. And the Father would give him back his life — the ultimate evidence that Jesus had not taken power, but had been given power to reign.
10:18 While killing God’s anointed leader would seem to be the ultimate expression of human sin, the good shepherd had no interest in seeking justice for himself. He had come to Jerusalem knowing what would happen. He had come to give his life for the sheep. That is how God uses his authority. That’s the authority the good shepherd received from heaven. That’s how the good shepherd uses his authority to rescue the human flock.