John 10 details Jesus discourse about the Good Shepherd. In this discussion, Jesus makes obvious His own role as a shepherd in great contrast to the prevailing view of shepherds and sheep in His generation and culture. He speaks in apparent contrast to that prevailing perception with David on His mind and kingdom in His heart.
The concept of king as shepherd remained a distinctly Davidic connotation. The idea of a shepherd as the predominate description or title of the leader of a local church ministry has no Biblical foundation. When the concept of shepherd is used of local Ecclesia, the concept enters into the discussion of oversight and leadership, for certain, but not as the dominant descriptor of God’s people or their overseers.
Jesus uses the most rejected of His culture’s disenfranchised to contrast with the apparent failure of the kingdom leaders of Israel at that moment. The contrast celebrates David and connects Jesus with His Messianic mission. Yet, we still hear Jesus discussing the Good Shepherd in terms of His death.
We must recognize that a great deal of the material that concerns sheep in metaphoric language responds to the need for unsaved people to come into the sheepfold of God, that shepherd has as much to do with evangelism as it does with teaching. Shepherding seems to be a care and coverage ministry working closely with outreach to the unsaved and anticipating a portion of kingdom citizens maturing into their own shepherding function. At the most, we gather that Jesus responds as a shepherd to vulnerable, helpless, ignorant, and simpleminded people. In this discourse, He speaks of “sheep” in the sense of total helplessness because the “sheep” for whom He dies have no hope of salvation outside the Shepherd.
Jesus speaks of Himself as Shepherd in answer to God’s promise of reassembling the scattered people of God. Returning Israel as a shepherd would re-gather a scatter flock of sheep, Messiah will respond to them with the shepherding characteristics of which Jesus speaks in this discourse. Dispersion disaster turns to gathering redemption because Messiah arrives as reigning and suffering Savior.
The Good Shepherd remains God’s sacrificial lamb.
Shepherd as Sacrificial Lamb
While the finished work of Christ precludes the need for shepherd’s to die for the sheep in a sacrificial sense, the Good Shepherd discusses in strong contrast the difference between hirelings and the leadership He brings as King.
Hirelings dominated the prevailing perception of shepherding in Jesus’ day because nearly all shepherds were hirelings. Jesus contrasts the attitude of hirelings in ultimate terms with the spirit of leadership in Messiah.
Understand the observations of Gospel writers noting His compassion for the crowds in this light: “Because they were like sheep without a shepherd.” [See Matthew 9:36 and Mark 6:34.] Understand His instructions to the sent representatives of the kingdom in this light: “Go to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” Understand the comment of Jesus, “Strike the shepherd and the sheep will be scattered,” in this light as well.
Zechariah 13: 7-9:
Awake, O sword, against my shepherd, the man who is my partner,”
says the LORD of Heaven’s Armies. Strike down the shepherd,
and the sheep will be scattered, and I will turn against the lambs.
Two-thirds of the people in the land will be cut off and die,” says the LORD.
But one-third will be left in the land. I will bring that group through the fire
and make them pure. I will refine them like silver
and purify them like gold. They will call on my name,
and I will answer them. I will say, ‘These are my people,’
and they will say, ‘The LORD is our God.’
The Messiah’s coming would result in a remnant among the nations, purified by fire, that call upon His Name, identified as God’s people by covenant. Of course, all these prophetic declarations come to pass in Jesus, but the result isn’t what Israel or others anticipated. Picturing the influence and impact of Messiah as Good Shepherd now, we have an instructive insight into the nature of prophetic speech and the method of Father to get what He wants even when nations and generations fail to respond to His strategies.
Messiah as Sacrificial Lamb had produced a thought that perhaps two Messiahs were coming: one to rule and one to die. Perhaps, John the Baptist was referring to this commonly held idea when he sent word to Jesus: “Are you the One or do we look for another?” Perhaps, John was asking, “Because I know God says you are the Lamb, should we look for another Messiah to arrive and rule?”
The Good Shepherd discourse also opens our eyes to Jesus’ understanding that a new remnant from among the nations will be the result of His Messianic fulfillment. In verse 16, He says, “I have other sheep, too, that are not in this sheepfold. I must bring them also. They will listen to my voice, and there will be one flock with one shepherd.”
Thief or Shepherd
The main discussion point for the Good Shepherd contrast is “thief or good shepherd?” The thought in this contrast continues to be, “Is the shepherd properly caring for someone else’s sheep or stealing from the owner?” The sheep gain trust in a good shepherd because of spending time with him and experiencing his true heart for their care and protection. The sheep gain no such trust from a hireling who steals lambs for his own food, responds abusively to sheep because they insist upon being so stupid, and takes out his own sad state of living upon vulnerable animals.
To Jesus’ generation, the idea of a shepherd risking his life for someone else’s sheep is the stuff of fairy tales!
For our purposes, focus upon the contrast of taking from sheep or giving to sheep seems of paramount importance. While we don’t expect shepherds to become sacrificial lambs to die instead of sheep, we understand that Messiah reveals an aspect of Davidic leadership as a standard for shepherding: a willingness to risk your self, reputation, well-being, and personal desires for the sake of someone else’s sheep.
Ruler or Shepherd
We must gain insight from the fact that Jesus is both King and Shepherd. David was prophet, priest, and king. Jesus is Prophet, Priest, and King. David was ruler and shepherd. In other words, we must understand that the validity of the shepherding metaphor does not preclude the validity of the ruling assignment, that being the Good Shepherd does not eclipse being the King of Kings.
In the fivefold ministry, kingdom leadership dynamics include “shepherd” among a listing of other equally valid aspects of Jesus leadership that represent Him in the earth. Kingdom leaders do have shepherding hearts and some of them are distinctly and identifiably “shepherds,” but this doesn’t mean only shepherds and shepherding dynamics should dominate the kingdom. Nor do we sense that shepherd becomes the overriding focus of apostles, prophets, teachers, or evangels. Provision and protection becomes the focus of shepherds while a shepherding heart marks the leadership of all five kingdom leaders.