The Good Shepherd discourse is best classified as a “symbolic discourse,” whereby elements of everyday life are used as a metaphor to discuss spiritual truths. Jesus opens his discourse in John 10 with familiar imagery that would be readily understood by His audience because shepherding was a common occupation in Palestine. The shepherd would gather his sheep at night into a gated sheep pen, and he would guard them by laying across the front door. Several sheep would often be sheltered together in the same sheep pen. In the morning, the true shepherd comes through the door and calls out his sheep. Each sheep recognizes the voice of his own master, and they follow him out towards the fields. The thieves could never enter through the door of the sheep, so they would “climb in by some other way” (John 10:1). If the thief enters the sheep pen, the sheep will run away from him, “because they do not recognize a stranger’s voice” (John 10:5). Out in the fields, should the sheep encounter danger by wolves and other threats in the wilderness, the shepherd protects them with his own life and keeps them secure until he brings them back to the sheep pen in the evening.
Twice Jesus claims, “I am the Good Shepherd” who lays down his life for the sheep (John 10:11, 14). Jesus speaks further about his nature and the relationship with the Father. He tells his listeners that his authority comes from God; He gives them eternal life, and emphatically states that “The Father and I are one” (John 10:30). The Jews are upset with Jesus equivocating himself with God. They insult him as a demon-possessed and a raving lunatic. They try to arrest him, but Jesus “escapes away from their grasp” (John 10:39).
Events That Surround The 4th I AM Statement
The events that prompted Jesus to share this sermon were the sixth sign (miracle) that John detailed in his gospel, where Jesus healed the beggar born blind (John 9). The Jewish leaders excommunicated the beggar from the synagogue (John 9:34) because the healed beggar believed and professed Jesus as Lord. The consequence of being expelled must have scared the parents of the blind man, so they did not tell anyone about this miraculous healing of their son, and they did not follow Jesus. They knew that “the Jewish leaders had decided that anyone who acknowledged Jesus as the Messiah would be put out of the synagogue” (John 10:22). The phrase “put out of the synagogue” had three consequences. The formerly blind man would have experienced one of these forms of excommunication. One of them lasted thirty to sixty days, which will be accompanied by curses. People would keep about six feet from the one who was under this discipline, and stones would be thrown on his coffin, signifying condemnation when he died. The other was the most severe form, which was indefinite excommunication, where the individual was isolated from the Jewish society and treated as dead.
It was the excommunication of the healed blind man that predicated Jesus’s Good Shepherd discourse in John 10. He used the arrogant behavior and the misuse of authority of the Jewish religious leaders as the thrust for his sermon. The false shepherds did not care for the blind beggar; instead, they mistreated him and threw him out of the synagogue, but Jesus the Good Shepherd, came to him, cared for him and took him in (John 9:35-38). Jesus presented himself as the legitimate shepherd of God’s people while casting the Jewish religious leaders as illegitimate.” He claimed that the Pharisees were not only blind themselves (John 9:40-41); they were blind guides, leading astray those who were entrusted to their care. The Pharisees were utterly unaware of their own spiritual blindness (John 9:40), and thus their guilt remains. However, the formerly blind man walked home not only with his physical sight restored but a believer, a worshipper of Jesus, and a spiritually changed man (John 9:38).
How the Good Shepherd Statement Relates to God in the Old Testament
The name “Shepherd” is a title for God that is emphasized in the Old Testament. The classic example of this figure is the twenty-third Psalm, which pictures Jehovah’s personal care of His people. In comparison to the imagery Jesus portrays in John 10, David in Psalm 23 reflects the Lord’s many blessings that God, the Shepherd lovingly and persistently showers on His sheep such as provision, guidance, restoration, presence, protection, deliverance, peace, undeserved kindness, and unearned grace.In the Old Testament, the Jews prominently identified the Lord as the “Shepherd of Israel” (Psalm 80:1, Psalm 23:1). In Psalm 80:1, the psalmist appeals to the Lord, the “Shepherd of Israel,” to help His people, the sheep, who are in distress. The Jews also spoke of themselves as the “sheep of God’s pasture” (Psalm 74:1; 79:13; 100:3). Also, several of the worship elements in the Old Testament involved the Lamb. In Isaiah 40:10-11, God is pictured as a loving Shepherd who carefully gathers his sheep, carries and leads them, and tends His flock. In Ezekiel 34:11-16, 23 God as the Great Shepherd searches for His scattered sheep, rescues them from captivity, gives them pasture, binds up the injured, strengthens, and shepherds the flock with justice. Köstenberger notes that “clearly, Jesus placed himself in the context of this messianic portrait” as a contrast to the “irresponsible shepherds” (the Pharisees) who fed themselves rather than the people entrusted to them.”
The prophet Micah proclaims in messianic fashion that Lord will shepherd his flock (Micah 5:4), something the nation’s leaders in Micah’s day were neglecting to do. The Lord’s caring, guiding, and protecting role will be accomplished by the Lord’s strength and for His sake. As a result, the sheep, God’s people, will have peace and security.
How the Good Shepherd Statement Reveals the Deity of Christ.
Leon Morris connects the Deity of Christ to the Good Shepherd discourse by noting, “The complement of the “Father” is the “Son,” and while John speaks of God as Father of his people, the principal way in which he employs the term is to relate the Father to Christ.” The Jesus comparison to the Father statements often infuriated the Jews because it was unlike anything they had heard or seen before. In John 5:18, the Jews were enraged that Jesus “called God his Father, thereby making himself equal with God.” Jesus stated, “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30). This also infuriated the Jewish leaders that they “picked up stones to stone him” responding that, we are stoning you for blasphemy, because you, a mere man, claim to be God” (John 10:32). Repeatedly, Jesus proclaimed, “The Father is in me, and I in the Father” (John 10:38; cf. John 14:10-11; 17:21). In John 10:15, Jesus says, “The Father knows me, and I know the Father” (cf. John 8:19), again stressing his Deity. He repeats this bold, unapologetic statement in John 14:7, “If you really know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know Him and have seen Him”. This Father-Son complimentary motif is also revealed in the things the Father does with the Son. Jesus says in John 10:36, “Why do you call it blasphemy when I say, ‘I am the Son of God’? After all, the Father set me apart and sent me into the world.”
Another revelation of Jesus’s Deity is his power over life and death. In John 10, Jesus gives His life for the sheep “only to take it up again” (John 10:11, 15, 17). A shepherd laying his life down for his sheep is most unexpected. “A shepherd was expected to live for his sheep, lead them to pasture and water, and to defend them from wild animals, not to die for them.” Jesus reiterates, “I have the authority (power) to lay it down, and I have the authority to take it up again (John 10:18). This teaching stresses the “Lord of life” motif, which is pervasive throughout the Good Shepherd discourse. The thought proves that Jesus is superior to death. He shows that in the way He calls Lazarus from the dead, and in the way, He goes to His own death and rises from it. These Jesus “Lord of life” statements prove Deity. No one can lay down their own life and then take it up again. Jesus had this power.
Jesus Christ received Worship from the healed blind beggar (John 9:38), which evidences Deity. Jesus Himself said, “You must worship the Lord your God and serve only him” (Matthew 4:10). Why would He say this at the beginning of his ministry and then spend his ministry allowing people to worship him throughout His public ministry (John 20:28; Mat. 8:2; 9:18; 15:25; 28:9)? If Jesus were not Deity, He would have corrected this and not allowed people to worship him.
Several spiritual applications are portrayed in the Good Shepherd discourse as Jesus taught in the city of Jerusalem. First, shepherds know their individual sheep, and the sheep know the shepherds who provide for them (John 10:3, 14); therefore, we must engage in a life-long quest of knowing God through the study and application of His Word in our life.
Second, the Good Shepherd leads his sheep (John 10:3,14). We must submit to the authority and leadership of the Holy Spirit to transform and guide our life consistently.
Third, the Good Shepherd talks with his sheep (John 10:3-4); therefore, we must embark on a daily, active prayer life. Fourth, the Good Shepherd feeds his flock (John 10:7-10). We should rely on God and seek His provision to “supply all my needs according to His riches in heaven.”
Also, the Good Shepherd satisfies His sheep (John 10:10), which means we should expect and be ready for God to transform our life by his perfect will for our life.
Next, the Good shepherd protects his sheep (John 10:28); therefore, we must seek and rely on the power of God to deliver us from temptations and protect us from every attack of the evil one.
Further, the Good Shepherd dies for his sheep (John 10:16), which means, we must endeavor to prove that we are genuinely saved so as not to miss out on such great salvation on the last day.
Finally, the God shepherd unites his sheep (John 10:16), which means we must be in partnership with Christ in the obedience of the Great Commission so many would come to the saving grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.
The enemy, Satan and any substitute god, is a “false shepherd who cares only about feeding himself, not building the flock,” resulting in death. But Christ, the Good Shepherd, comes to benefit the sheep. He gives us a much better life, which is not limited but overflowing. The thief steals life, but Christ, the Good Shepherd, gives life, abundant and eternal! (John 10:10). Oh, what a Savior!
Köstenberger, Andreas J. Encountering John. The Gospel in Historical, Literary, and the Theological Perspective. Baker Publishing Group: Grand Rapids, MI, 2013.
Morris, Leon. Jesus is The Christ, Studies in the Theology of John. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing Co, 2013.
Tenney, Merril. John the Gospel of Belief. An Analytic Study of the Text. Grand Rapids MI: Williams B Erdmans Publishing Company,1976.
Towns, Elmer. The Gospel of John. Believe and Live. CLW Communications, Group, 2002.
Wiersbe, Warren. The Bible Expository Commentary, The Exposition of the New Testament Comprising the Entire “BE” Series. Wheaton, Ill: Victor Books, 1989.
Wilmington, H. L. Wilmington’s Guide to the Bible. Wheaton, Ill: Tyndale House Publishers Inc., 1988.
 Andreas J. Köstenberger, Encountering John: The Gospel in Historical, Literary, and The Theological Perspective (Baker Publishing Group: Grand Rapids, MI, 2013), 109.
 Warren Wiersbe, The Bible Expository Commentary: The Exposition of the New Testament Comprising the Entire “BE” Series (Wheaton, Ill: Victor Books, 1989), 329.
 Elmer Towns, The Gospel of John: Believe and Live (CLW Communications Group: 2002), 94.
 Köstenberger, Encountering John, 104.
 Towns, The Gospel of John: Believe, 229.
 Köstenberger, Encountering John, 108.
 Leon Morris, Jesus is The Christ: Studies in the Theology of John (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing Co, 2013), 132.
 Morris, Jesus is The Christ: Studies in the Theology of John, 115.
 Ibid., 39.
 Wilmington, H. L. Wilmington’s Guide to the Bible (Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, 1988), 305.