Bible Study Commentary on Jesus the Great I AM
I AM the Good Shepherd - The beautiful One
by I Gordon
Today's 'I AM' follows on directly from this where we see that Jesus is not only the door, but He is also the Shepherd. We'll explore that today by looking at this phrase and also what else Jesus says in connection with this statement. We'll see that the good Shepherd has an amazing eternal promise for His sheep. So specifically, we'll do the following:
- We'll explore the imagery of sheep and a shepherd
- We'll look at the Old Testament prophecy that this passage draws on
- We'll delve into what it means that He is the 'good' shepherd
- We'll read the amazing promise connected with Jesus being the good Shepherd
Oh yeah... better start with the actual passage!
John 10:11-16 I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. (12) The hired hand is not the shepherd who owns the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. (13) The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. (14) I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me-- (15) just as the Father knows me and I know the Father--and I lay down my life for the sheep. (16) I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd.
This imagery of the shepherd and the sheep goes back a long way. It runs deep in Jewish thought. Some quick points reveal:
Sheep are named in the Bible more than any other animal. (194 verses in the NIV)
The three greatest names of the Old Testament, Abraham, Moses and David, were all shepherds.
The most well known and arguably the most well loved chapter in the Old Testament (if not the whole Bible) is Psalm 23 about God our great Shepherd - 'The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want.'
The greatest Old Testament prophecy of the Lord Jesus is Isaiah 53 which contains two separate images of sheep:
Firstly for us: 'All of us like sheep have gone astray, Each of us has turned to his own way; But the LORD has caused the iniquity of us all To fall on Him' (Isa 53:6)
Secondly for Jesus: 'He was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth.' (Isa 53:7)
So whether it is famous characters occupations, the most well loved Psalm or the most famous prophecy, the imagery of the Shepherd and the sheep runs deep in the Bible. It's not surprising that God would use this to illustrate the relationship between Himself and His people. God could have used anything but He chose the humble sheep to illustrate what we are like. Not the mighty bear, nor the royal lion. Not the soaring eagle, nor the peaceful dove. No... He chose sheep. Baaaa! Before delving into it too far it is fair to say that in choosing sheep to illustrate you (and possibly me, but definitely you), God is not trying to stroke our ego! Let's have a quick recap on sheep. What are some of the characteristics of sheep?
Characteristics of Sheep
Sheep aren't the smartest. Now they aren't completely dumb. A university found that they are good at recognising faces and voices so they get a tick there. But they tend to do dumb things. They will fall into a bog or river, need to be rescued, and the next day go and do it all again. So, as someone once said, you won't find many sheep acts in the circus!
Sheep have poor eyesight (but excellent hearing). So they tend to just mindlessly follow the one in front of them. If Curly in front goes left, so will Portly. If Curly jumps, so will Portly.
Sheep can often be stubborn. They can stamp their feet and refuse to budge!
Sheep are mostly docile but can still use their solid little body and heads to bunt like a ram. Youtube has some pretty funny angry sheep videos! 1
Sheep are timid and fearful by nature so normally want to stick together.
Sheep are mostly defenseless. They normally can't outrun their enemies and have little to fight back with (apart from ramming) so are dependent on others for protection.
Sheep tend to wander... and get lost! Like the great prophecy in Isaiah 53 says, they often go astray. They wander and forget the way home. (They must have been 'blessed' with my sense of direction!)
Simply put, sheep need a Shepherd... and a good one at that!
So, like I said, when God likens believers to sheep He is not stroking your ego! But sheep are very important to the shepherd. And hopefully, you are one of His sheep. If so then you are looked after by one wonderful Shepherd. I've been saying that to the Lord this week - 'Lord, I feel like a dumb sheep. But I thank you that I'm your sheep and you are a wonderful Shepherd!'
The Old Testament corresponding passage
Now when I looked up this passage where Jesus said 'I am the good Shepherd', I found that the literal Greek is something slightly different. Dr A.T Robertson (in his Roberson's Word Pictures) states that the literal Greek says 'I am the Shepherd, the good One'. I am THE Shepherd... THE good One. So who or what was Jesus alluding to? In the Old Testament, Yahweh was said to be the Shepherd of Israel (Psalm 23, 80:1, Isa 40:11) so Jesus was certainly alluding to this in saying 'I AM THE Shepherd'. But also, in contrasting Himself with the hired hands and false shepherds of Israel at the time, Jesus was alluding to another great prophecy in the book of Ezekiel. Let's have a look at this background to John 10.
Ezekiel 34:1-4 The word of the LORD came to me: (2) Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel; prophesy and say to them: 'This is what the Sovereign LORD says: Woe to the shepherds of Israel who only take care of themselves! Should not shepherds take care of the flock? (3) You eat the curds, clothe yourselves with the wool and slaughter the choice animals, but you do not take care of the flock. (4) You have not strengthened the weak or healed the sick or bound up the injured. You have not brought back the strays or searched for the lost. You have ruled them harshly and brutally.
What we see is that which happened in Ezekiel's day, also happened in Jesus' day, and still happens today. That is, God's people can be led by so-called 'shepherds' who are really just in it for themselves. They care about the flock only to the extent that they can prosper from them. And no more. The book of 2nd Peter speaks of these leaders saying 'In their greed these teachers will exploit you...They have left the straight way and wandered off to follow the way of Balaam son of Beor, who loved the wages of wickedness.' (2nd Peter 3,14)
Now thank God that there are many good Pastors out there who truly care for the sheep2. But sadly that is not always the case. In Ezekiel's day, as in Jesus' day, as is the case today, there are many just in it for what they can get out of it be that fame or fortune. Jesus called these 'hired hands'. They aren't true Pastors. They care little for the sheep. And God saw this way back here in Ezekiel's day... so He made the children of Israel a promise. A promise that He would be their Shepherd! In contrast to the false shepherds mentioned above, look at what the Lord promised to do:
Ezekiel 34:11-16 'For this is what the Sovereign LORD says: I myself will search for my sheep and look after them. (12) As a shepherd looks after his scattered flock when he is with them, so will I look after my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places where they were scattered on a day of clouds and darkness. (13) I will bring them out from the nations and gather them from the countries, and I will bring them into their own land. I will pasture them on the mountains of Israel, in the ravines and in all the settlements in the land. (14) I will tend them in a good pasture, and the mountain heights of Israel will be their grazing land. There they will lie down in good grazing land, and there they will feed in a rich pasture on the mountains of Israel. (15) I myself will tend my sheep and have them lie down, declares the Sovereign LORD. (16) I will search for the lost and bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak, but the sleek and the strong I will destroy. I will shepherd the flock with justice.
Notice all the 'I wills' here. The God of Israel would care for His sheep. I like what J. Vernon McGee writes here
'The thing that impresses us in the rest of this chapter is the repetition of a wonderful statement by God, "I will," which occurs eighteen times in verses Ezek 34:11 through Ezek 34:29. I get a little weary listening to men speak of what they have done. God says, "I will." This is grace when God says this. The Good Shepherd one day said, "Come unto me, all you that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest" (Matt 11:28). The Shepherd also said, "I will give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish ..." (John 10:28). That is what my wonderful Shepherd said."
But God also says that He will send and place one Shepherd over them. And in contrast to the many false shepherds, this One would be the true good shepherd.
Ezekiel 34:23-24 I will place over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he will tend them; he will tend them and be their shepherd. (24) I the LORD will be their God, and my servant David will be prince among them. I the LORD have spoken.
In the history of Israel, King David was a good shepherd both in the natural and the spiritual. As a youngster, as a shepherd, he went against the bear and the lion that came against his flock. Later he went out alone against a wolf called Goliath that threatened the flock of Israel. In Israel's history, he was the great shepherd-king. yet when it mentions David here, this is 400 years after he had died and is speaking of David's greater Son. It is speaking of the root and offspring of David, the Messiah. This is recognized by Jewish and Christian commentators.3
The 'good' Shepherd - What does 'good' actually mean anyway?
So as we look again at John 10, we hopefully have a little background context that helps with Jesus' proclamation. He is saying 'I am THE shepherd, the good One' - 'The One that was spoken of who would come.' So let's look closer at this word 'good'. 'Good' in the English doesn't exactly fill one with awe and wonder. If you ask someone how they are they'll often say 'yeah, good'. It means they are doing alright. It doesn't tell us a lot. If someone goes to the movies and you ask how it was and they say 'good', then it's three apples out five. It's pretty good. Not going to rave about it but certainly not a dud. So is that what Jesus meant when He said He was the 'good' Shepherd? He's a pretty good Shepherd but let's not get too excited? Not likely!
The English word 'good' doesn't do the Greek word 'kalos' any favors here. 'Kalos' means 'beautiful' and has the thought of 'excellent, preeminent, lovely, honourable'. Jesus is saying 'I AM the Shepherd, the One spoken about. The beautiful, excellent, preeminent One'. I AM the One who looks after all of My sheep. So as a brief interlude, what is the job of a good Shepherd?
A good Shepherd knows His sheep intimately. Better than they know themselves!
A good Shepherd cares for, feeds and leads the sheep in the way they should go
A good Shepherd disciplines and corrects the sheep when necessary for their own good
A good Shepherd carries the sick and hurting (even when he has had to discipline it!)
A good Shepherd gathers the strays and finds the lost (Jesus gave the parable of leaving the 99 to find the 1 that had strayed and got lost)
A good Shepherd protects and defends his sheep and fights off enemies
Now think about the problems that you have brought, and are brining, before the Lord. Probably enough to keep Him busy by yourself! What about others you know? Add them to your long list. Now that is a lot more! Oh dear! The thing is, Jesus, as the 'preeminent, beautiful, magnificent' Shepherd, is caring for all of us and so much more. He has hundreds of millions of sheep all around the world! Sometimes you get an idea of how HUGE our God is when you contemplate the universe and how He holds and maintains all things together. I get the same thought of what a wonderful God He is when I meditate on all His many people around the world, with all the many problems life brings forth, and how He is keeping and caring for them. He truly is 'THE Shepherd, the beautiful, preeminent, magnificent One!'
Does having a good shepherd mean only good things happen to us? Or, does good mean 'safe'?
About now, your mind might be thinking 'So does having a good Shepherd mean only good things happen to us? Because I'm not experiencing that!' Well, not in the temporal. There are certainly things that happen to us that, naturally and temporally speaking, are not good. Even Psalm 23 about the Lord is my Shepherd has both the still waters and the valley of the shadow of death mentioned in the journey for the sheep! But God has promised that all things work together for good for those that love Him and are called according to His purpose. We often need to adjust our thinking as to what exactly is good. 'Good' to us is normally ease and problem free living. That sounds good to me! But it hasn't been my experience and would only make for one spiritually lazy, pleasure loving Iain that has nothing eternal to show for his life when he passes through the fire of the Judgement seat of Christ. No... having a good Shepherd means that God sometimes allows things we may not like for our eventual good4. In that regard, God may not be considered 'safe'. There is a great interchange in the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (which I have noted before) where Susan and Lucy first hear about Aslan.... and they are somewhat shocked to heat he is a lion!
"Is - is he a man?" asked Lucy. "Aslan a man!" said Mr. Beaver sternly. "Certainly not. I tell you he is the King of the wood and the son of the great Emperor-Beyond-the-Sea. Don't you know who is the King of Beasts? Aslan is a lion - the lion, the great Lion." "Ooh!" said Susan, "I'd thought he was a man. Is he - quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion." "That you will, dearie, and make no mistake," said Mrs. Beaver; "if there's anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, they're either braver than most or else just silly." "Then he isn't safe?" said Lucy. "Safe?" said Mr. Beaver; "don't you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? 'Course he isn't safe. But he's good. He's the King, I tell you."
The Lord may allow things we wouldn't initially like and in that sense, may not be seen as 'safe'. But he's good. He's the King I tell you! He's the good Shepherd I tell you!
Often we don't even see all that the Shepherd is undertaking on our behalf. We don't see the times that He saves us from harm's way or says to sickness 'thus far and no further!' We won't know all that He does until we are with Him. In Pilgrims Progress Christian had to pass through the valley of the shadow of death that had pits, ditches, enemies and foes. Yet it wasn't until he left the valley, when the sun came up, that he was able to look back and see all the things that he had been protected from. Someday, we will see all this!
Now if 'good' doesn't mean 'safe' (temporarily), it does mean 'secure'!
So 'good' doesn't necessarily mean 'safe' for God allows some things in our lives, as He did with Job all those years ago, that doesn't put Him in the 'safe' category... as we define safe! But if good doesn't mean 'safe' it does mean 'secure' (eternally speaking!). I wanted to look briefly at one famous passage that Jesus spoke about this for His sheep. It is one of the greatest promises that He made.
John 10:24-30 The Jews gathered around him, saying, "How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly." (25) Jesus answered, "I did tell you, but you do not believe. The miracles I do in my Father's name speak for me, (26) but you do not believe because you are not my sheep. (27) My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. (28) I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. (29) My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father's hand. (30) I and the Father are one."
A debate has carried on for 2000 years as to whether a true born again Christian can lose their salvation. I've had my own many debates with people, especially through the website, on this topic. To quote J.Vernon McGee 'I believe in the eternal security for the believer and the insecurity for the make believer'. I'm not talking about make-believers or the many that may have gone forward at a meeting never to be seen again. I'm talking about true born again believers. In this verse it tells us what God's sheep look like:
1) They hear the voice of the Shepherd
2) They are known by the Shepherd
3) They follow the Shepherd.
But I wanted to mentioned this great promise of Jesus because it extols the wonderful virtue, love and care of the good Shepherd. And what does the Shepherd promise His sheep? THEY SHALL NEVER PERISH. They cannot be taken out of His hand nor His Fathers hand. We often look at salvation from man's point of view with our struggles and occasional trip ups. From man's point of view there is always confusion because we are inconsistent creatures. But Jesus looked at salvation from God's point of view and that is a far better vantage point! He knew, and clearly stated, that each believer, each of His sheep, was a gift from the Father to the Him. And He promised of those that He was given, He would lose NONE.
John 6:37-40 All that the Father gives me will come to me...and this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all that he has given me, but raise them up at the last day.
The good Shepherd, the beautiful One says 'I give them eternal life and they shall never perish.' He will not lose a single true born-again sheep!
Last weekend I went to the funeral of a friend's mother who died of cancer. Funerals are good for the soul. Very shortly before she died she got her family around her and asked them to pray over her and release her to God. She wanted to go and died 3 days later. Before she died she chose a scripture that she wanted read out at her funeral. Here it is:
Isaiah 46:3-5 Listen to me, O house of Jacob, all you who remain of the house of Israel, you whom I have upheld since you were conceived, an have carried since your birth. (4) Even to your old age and gray hairs I am he, I am he who will sustain you. I have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and I will rescue you. (5) To whom will you compare me or count me equal? To whom will you liken me that we may be compared?
When I heard that I thought 'argh... that's the great Shepherd. The One who carries and sustains His sheep from conception right to their old age and gray hairs. This lady Dianne had gone through cancer and had died from it. Yet many spoke of her faith, hope and love through it all. And she wanted it known that the Lord had sustained her through it all. That my friend, is the good Shepherd!
"Through many dangers, toils and snares, I have already come.
Tis grace that brought me safe thus far and grace will lead me home"