Jesus, the Good Shepherd

by Doy Moyer

One of the great figures for the Messiah is that of the Good Shepherd. Jesus refers to Himself as the “door of the sheep,” but He is more than that. “I am the good shepherd,” He claimed (John 10:11). We will consider more in that context, but let’s back up a little.

This concept of the Lord as a Shepherd is rich in meaning and finds its roots in the Hebrew Scriptures. For example, God is referred to as “the Shepherd, the Stone of Israel” in Genesis 49:24. When the Lord brought Israel out of Egypt, He led them “like a flock by the hand of Moses and Aaron” (Psalms 77:20). The psalmist also recognized that “He is our God, and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand” (Psalms 95:7). Kings were considered to be shepherds, and these concepts are tied with God in Psalms 80:1 where God is called the “Shepherd of Israel” who is also “enthroned upon the cherubim.” David, a messianic type, was both a shepherd and a king. Think of David’s experiences as he referred to God in his famous Psalms 23, a psalm that also connects to the exodus: “The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want” (Psalms 23:1). In the New Testament, overseers of a congregation are referred to as shepherds looking forward to the unfading crown of glory they will receive when “the Chief Shepherd appears” (I Peter 5:1-4). The shepherd theme is rich and runs throughout Scripture.

The many passages referencing shepherds point to Jesus as the ultimate Shepherd, the “Good Shepherd.” Think of the beautiful passage in Isaiah 40 as the prophet provides God’s people with this encouragement:

Behold, the Lord GOD comes with might, and his arm rules for him;
behold, his reward is with him, and his recompense before him.
He will tend his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms;
he will carry them in his bosom, and gently lead those that are with young” (Isaiah 40:10-11).

This perfectly describes the work that Jesus would do, and John picks up this theme in John 10. Think, then, of what Jesus says He would do as the Good Shepherd: “The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (John 10:11). Jesus is not just a hired hand who does not own the sheep; He is the owner and loves His sheep deeply and will not run from danger. He is not willing to let wolves snatch and scatter His own but loves them to the point of giving His life so that they might live.

I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me” (John 10:14). Jesus does not guess who belongs to Him. He knows His people (cf. II Timothy 2:19). As Scripture says, “He knows those who take refuge in him” (Nahum 1:7). Not only does He know His own people, but His people know Him. This is tied to the earlier statement: “But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. To him the gatekeeper opens. The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out” (John 10:2-3). The Lord’s sheep hear His voice, and they follow Him. “And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments” (I John 2:3).

I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice” (John 10:16). The mission of Jesus includes bringing in all nations, both Jew and Gentile. Doing this means “there will be one flock, one shepherd” (John 10:16). The implication is that whoever listens to Jesus and follows Him will be part of the sheepfold. Jesus laid down His life, but it didn’t end there: “I lay down my life that I may take it up again” (John 10:17). He died and rose again to lead people out of the wilderness of sin and into His kingdom where He gathers His lambs in His arms and carries them.

As the Good Shepherd, Jesus offers the good life, eternal life, and abundant life (John 10:10). When He is our Shepherd, we will not lack anything needed for life and godliness (II Peter 1:3). He will have us lie down in green pastures and lead us beside quiet waters. He will restore our souls and lead us in paths of righteousness for His name’s sake. With Him by our side, though we walk in the valley of the shadow of death, we need not fear evil (cf. Hebrews 2:14). He is with us, and His rod and staff will comfort us (Hebrews 13:5-6). Goodness and mercy will follow us all our days as we serve Him.

God be praised that we have the Good Shepherd as our Rock and Salvation! Jesus, the Chief Shepherd of our souls, stands ready and willing to grant us the unfading crown of glory.

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