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Bible Study

Why Did Jesus Describe Himself as The Good Shepherd?

In the gospel of John, through a series of statements, Jesus begins to reveal His ministry and purpose. This was in conversation with those closest to Him, those who opposed Him, and the general crowds. Jesus didn’t speak directly but instead used parables and analogies. This was to avoid open confrontation while declaring the truth. Why would the analogy of Jesus the good shepherd be controversial? What did Jesus mean when He described Himself in this way?

God The Shepherd of Israel

Jesus was directing His teaching to other Israelites, those who were familiar with the Old Testament Scriptures. It is there that we first find the analogy of God as the Good Shepherd of His people.

This image of God the shepherd of Israel appears time and time again in the Psalms and the writings of the Prophets. The people were familiar with the culture of nomadic shepherds who lived with their sheep. The shepherds were the caretakers of the sheep, protecting and providing for them, and totally responsible for their welfare. “You are my sheep, the sheep of my pasture, and I am your God, declares the Sovereign LORD.” Ezekiel 34:31

A woman looking puzzled as she reads from her Bible and the text 'The LORD is my shepherd, I lack nothing.' Psalm 23:1
Jesus the Good Shepherd

Know that the Lord is God. It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, the sheep of his pasture.

Psalm 100:3

See, the Sovereign LORD comes with power, and he rules with a mighty arm. See, his reward is with him, and his recompense accompanies him. He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart, he gently leads those that have young.

Isaiah 40:10-11

What a beautiful image of God the shepherd of Israel, caring with great love and compassion for His people. The concept of God as the good shepherd was an analogy that  people then would have been very familiar with.

Jesus The Good Shepherd

When Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd” He was challenging the leaders of Israel. The nation no longer had a king and was ruled by a foreign power. But the Pharisees, the Priests, and the Teachers of the law had a responsibility for the spiritual welfare of the people.

The true spiritual role of the shepherd was to lead and guide the people, with love, into worshipping God. Jesus stated that many of those who had come before Him were in fact thieves and robbers. He was not referring to the Old Testament God-appointed Prophets but to a long history of false prophets and poor shepherds.

Jesus’ statement ‘I am the good shepherd’ was indirectly a charge to the Pharisees and religious leaders, that they were not!

The Pharisees’ opposition to Jesus’ teaching grew as His ministry developed. They were openly hostile because Jesus revealed their hypocrisy. Instead of leading people closer to God, their traditions and extra regulations turned people away. The burden of trying to follow so many rules was too great.

The religious leaders had become full of self-interest, in their position and influence, and self-righteousness. And they had forgotten that their call was to shepherd the people. Jesus the good shepherd reveals the difference between self-interest and service.

I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand is not the shepherd and does not own 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. The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.

John 10:11-13
Picture of a woman sitting reading her Bible and the text 'Why did Jesus say, I am the good shepherd.'
Jesus the Good Shepherd

I AM the Good Shepherd I Know My Sheep

Jesus the Good Shepherd was aware that the religious leaders would understand the full meaning of what He was saying. In saying, “I AM the good shepherd” Jesus was revealing His true identity as the Son of God. ‘I AM WHO I AM’ is a unique aspect of God’s character and the name by which He wanted His people to know Him.

Related Post: The Divine Name YAHWEH LORD.

Jesus the Good Shepherd is the One who brings fullness of life to all who believe in Him. In these next few verses, Jesus reveals His true purpose which was not fully understood until after His death and resurrection.

I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me—just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep. 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.

John 10:14-16

Here Jesus shares His full ministry, which was a radically new concept. Messiah, the Redeemer of Israel, is the Savior of the world. All those outside Judaism are invited, and adopted, into God’s family through Jesus Christ.

It is possible for each one of us to enter into a personal relationship with Jesus. You and I are known by Him, and we can know Jesus intimately when we choose to follow Him. Jesus the Good Shepherd is waiting to lead us into abundant life, freedom now, with the gift of eternal life with Him forever.

Bible Gateway: John 3:16

Jesus is all that we need, and from the abundance that we receive, to bless others. The knowledge of God’s love reaches out in real and practical ways to those around us. We give, not out of self-interest, but with the heart to serve. As always, Jesus is our guide, He is the One whom we follow.

Related: “I Am the Gate”

Prayer to Jesus the Good Shepherd

Now may the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.

Hebrews 13:20-21

Lord Jesus, You are the Great Shepherd, the Good Shepherd and we are Your sheep. I pray that You will equip me to follow after You, and that I will yield to Your hand at work in my life, for Your praise and glory. Amen.

2 thoughts on “Why Did Jesus Describe Himself as The Good Shepherd?”

  1. What wonderful words of truth, friend! I was especially struck by the reminder that our Good Shepherd wants to release us from the bonds of fear! I needed this today!

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