The Good Shepherd
By John Pennylegion
Good shepherd

“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (John 10:11).

Jesus once asked, “Who do people say that I am?” (Mark 8:27). The disciples had heard many possibilities: John the Baptist, Elijah, and one of the prophets (Mark 8:28). Since that moment, people have been attempting to identify who Jesus is. Some of the claims have been true, while others are far from the truth. 

Who do you say He is? 

In the Gospel of John, Jesus makes seven “I am” statements that specifically focus on His identity. The fourth of these statements is found in John 10, where He says, “I am the Good Shepherd” (John 10:11). One of the unique things about this statement compared to the others is that this is the only one that is personal. The other statements are more abstract: door, way, vine, light, etc. But here Jesus takes on the personal title of “Shepherd.” 

To His original hearers, Jesus’ claim was so outrageous that they accused Him of being demonic or crazy. “There was again a division among the Jews because of these words. Many of them said, ‘He is a demon, and is insane; why listen to him?’” (John 10:19). They accused Him of being demonic because they knew the Old Testament described God as the shepherd (Psalm 23). Thus, this description of God, coupled with Jesus’ self-identification of the same image, makes it clear that Jesus was claiming divinity and authority.

So, they asked, Why listen to him?” That is a good question. Certainly, there are some who hear Jesus’ claims and think, “Maybe the Jews were right, maybe these are the utterances of a crazy person.” But before we disregard Jesus’ statements, we need to see why we should not only listen to Him, but why we should follow Him — because the Good Shepherd pursues us. 

Jesus says, “I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also” (John 10:16). He said, “I must.” Not, I should; not, if I have time; I must. There is resolve in his statement. Jesus must go into the fields, climb the mountains, and enter the cities to find his own. But who are these sheep? 

The Good Shepherd’s Sheep

Just as the language of shepherd harkens back to the Old Testament, so too does the language of sheep. The Jewish people were often described as sheep. One example of this is Psalm 100:3 “Know that the LORD, He is God … we are His people, and the sheep of His pasture.” 

But when Jesus speaks of His sheep, He doesn’t limit this to the Jewish people. He said, “I have other sheep that are not of this fold…” (John 10:16). This reference to other sheep is a declaration that His sheep extend beyond Israel. Jesus’ sheep are throughout the nations. 

This gathering of sheep from other nations was the expectation of the Old Testament. From Genesis, God promised that He would call out His sheep from every tribe and tongue. God said to Abraham, “I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing … and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 12:2–3). 

Since Jesus defends us and makes us part of His flock, we are His. There isn’t a single aspect of our lives that doesn’t belong to Him.

That’s what the Good Shepherd does — He brings blessing to the nations. It was too small a thing for His heritage to be limited to Israel. As Psalm 2:8 says, the nations will be His heritage, the ends of the earth your possession.” He goes into the world, gathering His sheep, and bringing them into His fold. There isn’t a Jewish flock, a Gentile flock, and an American flock. There is one flock, made up of all the sheep that Jesus pursues. These that He pursues, He also draws into an intimate relationship. 

In John 10:14, Jesus says, “I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father.” Do you hear the intimacy with which Jesus knows us? “As the Father knows me and I know the Father.” Jesus likens His knowledge of us to what He has with the Father. This is astonishing! The perfect knowledge by which the Father knows the Son and the Son knows the Father — that’s the knowledge Jesus has of us. 

To be known like this could terrify us. We don’t want people to know us this deeply. We often function like Phil Woodward in the movie “The Company Men.” Phil had worked his way up to be an executive. He has a nice house, a great car, his daughter goes to a top-notch college, and to all his neighbors he looks great. But unknown to them, he’s lost his job. They are unaware because every morning he puts on his suit, grabs his briefcase, and spends the day pretending he has a job. He is hiding. 

And so are we. We put on masks, minimize our actions so people won’t prod, create virtual facades, and confess only enough sin to stop people from asking. We are hiders, and we have been since Adam. That was Adam’s first instinct after he sinned — to hide — and it has been our instinct since. We spend our energy making sure no one will know what is in our minds and hearts. 

Thus, when we hear that Christ knows us, it may make us feel uncomfortable and afraid. It may cause us to want to hide from the Shepherd. But we can’t hide from Jesus any more than Adam could hide from the Father. He knows us. All our thoughts, words, and deeds. He knows them all. 

The Good Shepherd Defends His Sheep

Before we allow fear to overtake us, there is something about this knowledge that we cannot forget. The Good Shepherd is good. Others may know us and want nothing to do with us, but not Jesus. Others may know us and recoil, but Jesus comes near. Jesus is good. He is trustworthy. His knowing us moves Him to show how good He is. He displays His goodness by defending us. 

When we think of a shepherd and sheep, perhaps the picture that comes to mind is the one that is often depicted in children’s Bibles. The shepherd has an angelic glow. He is kind and sits in a field of clover with sheep nestled in his lap. 

That may be a pretty picture, but it’s not an accurate one. The work of the shepherd is dangerous and requires strength and courage. 

Remember David, who before he was the king, was a shepherd. Before David battled Goliath, he had to convince Saul to allow him to fight. Though David was confident that he would be victorious, Saul had his doubts. Saul said, “You are not able to go against this Philistine … you are but a youth, and he has been a man of war from his youth” (1 Samuel 17:33). In other words, “You’re too scrawny and too weak.” David was not deterred. “Your servant used to keep sheep for his father,” he said (1 Samuel 17:34). 

If you’re operating from the children’s Bible point of view, David’s got no chance! Undeterred, David describes what a shepherd does: 

“When there came a lion, or a bear, and took a lamb from the flock, I went after him and struck him and delivered it out of his mouth. And if he arose against me, I caught him by his beard and struck him and killed him” (1 Samuel 17:34–35). Shepherds were strong and courageous. They defended their sheep. 

Listen to how Christ contrasts Himself with the hired hands. The hired hand flees when the wolf comes (verse 12). But not the shepherd! Four times in John 10 (verses 11, 15, 17, 18) Jesus says He lays down His life. He doesn’t flee. He defends. The Good Shepherd willingly goes to His death to deliver His sheep. 

Even in His death, Jesus doesn’t leave us to fend for ourselves. For His death isn’t the end. He says: “I lay it down on my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and I have authority to take it up again” (John 10:18). Jesus shepherds us by laying down His life on the cross and by rising again. His death atoned for our sin. And His resurrection defeated death. The Good Shepherd rose to deliver us from eternal death. 

As question one of the Heidelberg Catechism says, “I am not my own, but belong — body and soul, in life and in death — to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ….” Every part of us — our minds, abilities, possessions, — they are all His. 

If this was anyone else, it would cause concern. But our Shepherd is the Good Shepherd who defends us and secures eternal life for us. Therefore, let us agree with those who said, “These are not the words of one who is oppressed by a demon” (John 10:21). And let us continue, “These are the words and actions of  The Lord, the Good Shepherd.”

This article is adapted from John Pennylegion’s just released book, “ I Am: The Statements of Jesus.” 

Scroll to Top