The Good Shepherd

John Chapter 10

“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (John 10:11). “The works that I do in my Father’s name, they bear witness to me” (John10:25. Scriptures taken from the Revised Standard Version, RSV.)

by Jeffrey Earl

The Good Shepherd

The Gospel of John Chapter 10 contains two main themes — “Jesus as the Good Shepherd” in verses 1 to 21, and “I and the Father are One” in verses 22 to Following the miracle of healing the blind man in Chapter 9, the parable of the Good Shepherd is aimed at the scribes and Pharisees. They had criticized Jesus for healing the blind man on the Sabbath and did not believe the man had been born blind.

Jesus as the Good Shepherd

As Chapter 10 begins, Jesus gives a parable (or figure) about a thief and robber who climbs into a sheepfold with the intention of stealing the affection of the sheep. In contrast, Jesus states that only the good shepherd enters by the door because the gatekeeper or “porter” (representing the Law) recognizes the shepherd and opens the door for him to come in. Jesus had to obey and fulfill the Law by his sacrifice in order to gain entrance to the sheep.

The sheepfold represented the nation of Israel which was in a covenant relationship with God. The thief and robber climbed into the sheepfold and tried to deceptively lead the sheep out. The stranger and thief likely represent scribes and Pharisees who led Israel astray. They sought honor and wealth for themselves, told the people to follow their traditions, and insisted that the people follow the law to the letter, even though they failed to follow it themselves. Jesus said of these leaders, “they bind heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with their finger” (Matthew 23:4).

Ezekiel Chapter 34 prophesied about these shepherds and their failure to feed the sheep: “You eat the fat, you clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the fatlings; but you do not feed the sheep” (verse 3). In addition to the scribes and Pharisees, there were other false leaders and “Messiahs” around the time of Jesus such as Theudas and Judas the Galilean (Acts 5:36-37). They arose, misled their followers, and eventually scattered them. However, the true sheep do not follow the stranger because they do not know his voice. The true shepherd knows his sheep by name and they respond when called.

When comparing verses 2, 7, and 9 of John Chapter 10, Jesus is mentioned as being both the good shepherd and the door. In verse 2, Jesus enters “by the door,” while in verse 7, he says “I am the door of the sheep.” Apparently, the picture of what the door represents changes from the Law in verse 2 to Jesus in verse 7. Jesus entered by the door (verse 2) and perfectly obeyed the Law. After his death, he became the door (verse 7) and the true Shepherd to lead the flock to salvation (verse 9). Once gaining entrance into the sheepfold, Jesus leads his sheep out of the sheepfold of the Law to the pasture of the family of God. Verse 4 describes the shepherd going before the sheep to lead them, rather than “pushing” or herding them to the pasture. The sheep follow the shepherd voluntarily.

This parable can also be applied throughout the Gospel Age. The stranger and thief are Christian leaders and ministers who lead their flock astray by not following the sound teachings of scripture. Their misleading doctrines include the trinity, eternal torment, immortality of the soul, the mass, higher criticism (alleging that parts of the Bible are an allegory and not to be taken literally, etc.), the loosening of morality (e.g., trivializing marriage and traditional family structure, accepting same sex marriage), advocating for social justice and equity by any means including violence, promoting racial division, etc. Other church leaders are influenced by money and personal glory and continually seek donations to enable their ostentatious lifestyle. The true sheep or followers of Christ can discern between the good shepherd and these strangers by their voice and their actions. “He who has an ear, let him hear” (Revelation 2:7). Christ calls to his followers by name when the Christian answers the Lord’s “call.”

The apostle Paul warns us about these false shepherds in 2 Timothy 4:3,4. “For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own likings, and will turn away from listening to the truth.” There is a similar warning in 2 Timothy 3:13, “evil men and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceivers and deceived.” In Matthew 24 Jesus warns the Church about these: “See that no one leads you astray” (verse 4 ESV). Verses 11, 23, and 24 also speak about false prophets and false Christs that could lead even the elect astray. While there are true and false shepherds, there are also the true and false (nominal) Church to be separated into the “little flock” of sheep and false sheep. Another example of separate flocks is found in the parable of the wheat and tares (Matthew 13:24-30,36-43).

In John 10:11-13, Jesus says that he is the good shepherd that lays down his life for the sheep. He contrasts himself to the “hireling” or hired worker who does not know nor cares for the sheep. Later, the “hireling” flees when a wolf threatens the flock, not wanting to risk his life to defend them. The “hireling” could represent the scribes and Pharisees who did not feel a responsibility for the care or welfare of the people. The wolf is an animal that preys on the sheep. This likely represents the scribes and Pharisees who devoured widow’s houses so they could enrich themselves (Mark 12:40). In Matthew 7:15 the warning is given, “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.”

In verse 16 Jesus states, “I have other sheep, that are not of this fold; I must bring them also” (Verse 1). Why is there another sheepfold? There are two views of this. The first is that they represent the Gentiles who were later invited (“other sheep”) after only some of the lost sheep of the house of Israel responded to Jesus’ call and followed him. The small number of Jewish sheep will be combined with the Gentile sheep into one flock of 144,000. The second view is that the other sheep represent the world of mankind, including unfaithful Israel who will later be taught to follow Christ in the earthly kingdom.

I and the Father are One

Starting at verse 22 and continuing until the end of the chapter, the subject changes. Now, Jesus describes his relationship to his Father. This enrages the Jews who respond by first wanting to stone him, and later to arrest him.

Verse 22 states that this took place during the annual Feast of Dedication, which occurred in December. There were three official dedications mentioned in the Scriptures: the Tabernacle, Solomon’s Temple, and Zerubbabel’s Temple. Commentators believe the Feast of Dedication mentioned here was instituted by Judas Maccabeus with his purification of the temple in 164 BC after it had been defiled by Antiochus Epiphanes. During this time, the Jews gathered around Jesus and asked him if he were the Christ. Jesus replied using similar language to that in the early part of Chapter He responds that they were not his sheep because they did not follow him.

Then he addressed his true sheep, saying no one is able to snatch (or pluck) his followers out of his hand. Only the actions of his followers can separate themselves from Jesus. This occurs when they deviate from the scriptures or fail to follow Jesus’ words. Jesus added that the sheep who listen and follow him “shall never perish,” meaning that they will not go into second death. Then he distinguished between himself and his Father, stating his true sheep cannot be snatched out of either his or his Father’s hand, and it was the Father who gives him the sheep.

However, in verse 30, Jesus seemingly contradicts this distinction when he says that “I and the Father are one.” Verse 30 is used by Trinitarians to explain that the Father and Jesus are of the same essence, co-eternal and co-equal in power. The actual relationship between the two is better explained using other scriptures from the book of John. Chapter 14 provides a good description of this relationship in verses 20, 24, 28 and 31: “(20) I am in my Father, and you [his disciples] in me, and I in you … (24) the word which you hear is not mine but the Father’s who sent me …(28) I go to the Father; for the Father is greater than I … (31) but I do as the Father has commanded me.”

The oneness that the Father and Son have is in purpose, not in being. This is stated in John 17:11, 21-23 when Jesus was praying to his Father for the oneness of his disciples. He said, “that they may be one, even as we are one.” In John 5:22-23, Jesus added, “the Father judges no one, but has given all judgment to the Son, that all may honor the Son, even as they honor the Father.” In other words, the Father is allowing the Son to judge the sheep as to whether they are worthy to be of the “little flock.”

The Jews responded by taking up stones. Jesus asked them, for which of the good works “do you stone me?” The Jews answered that they were stoning him for blasphemy because Jesus made himself to be God. Jesus answered that there are many gods, quoting Psalms 82:6,7, “I say, ‘You are gods, sons of the Most High, all of you; nevertheless, you shall die like men, and fall like any prince.’” This statement refers to the Little Flock, who in their glorified state can be considered gods. It should be noted that Satan is also a god, the “god of this world” (2 Corinthians 4:4). Therefore, Jesus made himself out to be a god, but not God, his Father. Again, he said he was the Son of God and was doing the works of his Father. The Jews tried to arrest him, but he escaped since it was not yet his time to die.

The chapter closes with Jesus going to the place where John had baptized people. Many came to him “and many believed in him there” (John 10:40-42).

Summary and Conclusion

Chapter 10 focuses on Jesus gathering, tending, and warning his sheep about a thief, a stranger, a hireling, and a wolf. These enemies would mislead, fail to protect, and even attack and devour his flock. The danger to the flock grows as each new enemy is introduced. This applied in both Jesus’ time and throughout the Gospel Age with the true and false Church. Jesus repeatedly says that he would give his life for his sheep (verses 11, 15, 17, and 18), unlike any enemy of the flock.

The second part of the chapter describes the close relationship he enjoys with his Father. They have a oneness of purpose and his Father gave Jesus the power to select and care for his sheep. At the end of Chapter 10, Jesus was accused of something much more serious than just healing on the Sabbath — blasphemy. This accusation would eventually lead to his condemnation and sacrificial death.