Jesus, the Good Shepherd

Jesus being the Good Shepherd is one of the more familiar depictions of Christ. In John 10, Jesus refers to Himself as both the gate and the Good Shepherd. Jesus’s audience would have had the usual understanding of shepherding in mind. Sheep were a common industry in Israel, not only for clothing and food, but also sacrificed in religious worship as part of regular temple activity.

Jesus is speaking to the Pharisees (John 10:1), the religious leaders and spiritual shepherds of the Jewish people. By referring to Himself as the Good Shepherd, Jesus is making a statement of identity and a statement of distinction.

Jesus’s Statement of Identity

The Old Testament often refers to the LORD God as a shepherd. He is the shepherd who provides (Psalm 23:1), the shepherd of Israel (Psalm 80:1), and the shepherd who tends His flock with gentleness (Isaiah 40:10-11). When Jesus calls Himself the Good Shepherd, He is making Himself equal with God, clearly stating that He is one with God (John 10:30).

Just as the Creator God declares to Moses that He is the source of man’s sight (Exodus 4), so too, Jesus gives sight to the blind man (John 9). Jesus makes a statement of identity by both His works in John 9 and His words in John 10, that He is God.

Jesus’s Statement of Distinction

During the time of Ezekiel, the word ‘shepherd’ was also used of civic leaders, like kings. When we see this word in the Old Testament, we must remember the context of theocracy where a king, prophets, and priests were all under the LORD God. When the word ‘shepherd’ is used in reference to these leaders, it is most often in a derogatory way because of their failure to care for the people.

When Jesus referred to Himself as the Good Shepherd, the Pharisees would have thought of passages like Isaiah 56:10-12 which describe these shepherds as blind, knowing nothing, having turned to their own ways. Jeremiah 23 tells how the shepherds were scattering the people, driving them away, and not caring for the flock.

The same is true of the shepherds in Ezekiel 34. Compare the rough treatment of the flock in Ezekiel 34:4 with how the blind man was treated by the Pharisees after being healed by Jesus in John 9. Israel’s shepherds did not care for or rejoice with this man. They went so far as to expel the healed man from the synagogue, being offended by the violation of their man-made code rather than amazed at this miracle which only God could do. Distinctly unlike the abusive shepherds described in Ezekiel 34, Jesus is the Good Shepherd who cares for His people.

The Benefits of Relationship

Each sheep has a special place in the eyes of God. What the Good Shepherd does will always be in the best interest of the sheep. God does not desire His people to wander, to be left to themselves, struggling to figure things out, navigating difficulties on their own. The Good Shepherd desires us to follow Him, that He would, indeed, be our Shepherd.

The Promise to Care

God will not tolerate having His sheep abused. They belong to Him, He loves them, and He has promised to care for them. The Good Shepherd seeks the lost. He desires to give them rest, to bind up the broken, and to strengthen the sick (Eze. 34:15-16).

Growth Amid Conflict

Being part of God’s flock does not guarantee freedom from conflict. God’s people will suffer. The body of Christ should be a place that brings comfort, but it should not be a place where we thrive to be comfortable. The body of Christ is to be a place where wounded sheep can heal and weak sheep can grow stronger in the Lord. Just as the Good Shepherd cares for His people, we are to care for one another.

Application Points

  • Have you been struggling with difficulties on your own? God intends to lead you through difficult circumstances by His Son, Jesus Christ. The Good Shepherd desires for you to follow Him.
  • Are you mindful of the weak sheep around you, extending grace and compassion just as our Good Shepherd extends to us?

Tools for Further Study

Cross References to Explore

Psalm 23, Ezekiel 34