The listeners of Jesus were familiar with the sheep rearing. They knew the difference in the relationship of a shepherd to his sheep in contrast to a hired person to the sheep he pastured. Jesus compared himself to a good shepherd who dedicated himself for his sheep and even risked his life to save them from any wolf attack. He sacrificed his life for us to save us from the evil one, respecting the wish of his heavenly Father. The people Jesus saves would not be just Jews, but all humanity who would be open to his message.
(John 10:11) I am the good shepherd. A good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. (12) A hired man, who is not a shepherd and whose sheep are not his own, sees a wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away, and the wolf catches and scatters them. (13) This is because he works for pay and has no concern for the sheep. (14) I am the good shepherd, and I know mine and mine know me, (15) just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I will lay down my life for the sheep. (16) I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. These also I must lead, and they will hear my voice, and there will be one flock, one shepherd. (17) This is why the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. (18) No one takes it from me, but I lay it down on my own. I have power to lay it down, and power to take it up again. This command I have received from my Father.
(11) I am the good shepherd. A good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.
God revealed His name as “I am” to Moses (Exodus 3:14). When Jesus used “I am” for himself the Jews tried to stone him (John 8:56–59) because they understood that Jesus was making himself equal to God. Jesus used “I am” in seven pronouncements about himself combining it with metaphors which express his saving relationship with humanity. All of them appear in the gospel of John: I AM the Bread of Life (John 6:35, 41, 48, 51); I AM the Light of the World (John 8:12); I AM the Gate for the Sheep (John 10:7, 9); I AM the Good Shepherd (John 10:11,14); I AM the Resurrection and the Life (John 11:25); I AM the Way, the Truth and the Life (John 14:6); and I AM the True Vine (John 15:1, 5).
The “good,” here stands for the shepherd’s commitment for the sheep distinct from normal shepherds. Jesus exemplifies the goodness of a shepherd by stating that he “lays down his life for the sheep.” A typical example is David. When King Saul asked David on his ability to attack the giant Goliath, he said: “Your servant used to tend his father’s sheep, and whenever a lion or bear came to carry off a sheep from the flock, I would chase after it, attack it, and snatch the prey from its mouth. If it attacked me, I would seize it by the throat, strike it, and kill it. Your servant has killed both a lion and a bear.” (1 Samuel 17:34-36).
The Old Testament presents God as the shepherd of his flock, Israel. Psalm 23:1-4 is a typical example: “The LORD is my shepherd; there is nothing I lack. In green pastures he makes me lie down; to still waters he leads me; he restores my soul. He guides me along right paths for the sake of his name. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff comfort me.”
Lays down his life for the sheep.
Jesus proved his quality as a good shepherd by laying his life for us (1 John 3:16, John 15:13). Jesus said that the Son of man came “to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28). Unlike an accidental death of a shepherd while fighting with the enemy of the sheep, Jesus came to rescue us with his death. It was a willful and voluntary decision of Jesus and his Father for the sake of God’s sheep. His death was the substitute sacrifice of Isaac, the son of Abraham, and a replacement of the imperfect animal sacrifices in the Temple of Jerusalem.
(12) A hired man, who is not a shepherd and whose sheep are not his own, sees a wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away, and the wolf catches and scatters them. (13) This is because he works for pay and has no concern for the sheep.
A hired man
Jesus contrasts the hireling with a shepherd. Unlike the owner of the sheep, a hired person would be interested only in his wage and will not risk his life to rescue the sheep from the attack of wild animals or thieves. Jesus emphasized the disinterest of the hired man in the double phrase that follows: “not a shepherd” and “sheep are not his own.” Jesus is not a hired person. He owns us along with his Father. He knew that he would have to suffer and die to save us. Still, he volunteered to take up the task and rescued us.
Leaves the sheep and runs away.
The distinction between a shepherd and the hired person becomes clear when the danger happens. The shepherd who loves his sheep risks his life; whereas the hireling would flee for his own safety, leaving the sheep as pray for the wolf. The Pharisees and other religious leaders during the public ministry of Jesus were like hirelings, who were interested only in their own benefits than the people’s salvation. They were not protecting the people from spiritual dangers. Jesus, out of his love, could not leave us for destruction through sin. So, he rescued us by the painful sacrifice of his life for us.
Wolf catches and scatters them.
Jesus presented the false prophet as a ravenous wolf who comes in sheep’s clothing (Matthew 7:15). Here, Satan is the wolf who comes in the attire of a prophet. Jesus depicts those who persecute his disciples also as wolves. “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves.” (Matthew 10:16, Luke 10:3). Satan challenges Christians and preachers of Jesus through the church’s persecutors. St. Paul used the same metaphor of wolves for false teachers. “I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock.” (Acts 20:29).
The evil spirit is at work against the Christians and the church, through teachers who misguide their listeners. The wolf’s catching and scattering shows how the hostile powers crush Christ’s followers. The shepherd should be vigilant and risk himself to save the sheep from Satan. The missionaries continue this advice of Jesus. Even when the persecutors threaten their lives, they stay with the Christians to protect them and to continue their mission.
(14) I am the good shepherd, and I know mine and mine know me.
For this good shepherd, the sheep are his pet. He names each of them and leads them, calling their names (John 10:3). The sheep know the shepherd, trust him, and go with him. The shepherd and his sheep know and love each other. Hence, the good shepherd rescues his sheep out of his love for them rather than his concern of losing sheep as his asset or income.
(15) Just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I will lay down my life for the sheep.
Jesus compared his knowledge and love for his sheep to his similar relationship with the Father. The Father knows and loves his son, Jesus. He sent the son to rescue the humanity. Jesus also knows and loves us. He expressed his great love towards us by even laying down his life for us. That proves he is a good shepherd.
(16) I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. These also I must lead, and they will hear my voice, and there will be one flock, one shepherd.
“This fold” implied the Jews. The Jews in the Holy Land were only a portion of Jews who returned to Jerusalem from Babylon to reconstruct the Temple and settle in the Holy Land. Besides the Jews in Babylon, there were many other Israelites spread all over the world, including “the lost 10 tribes.” They were the ten tribes separated from the United Kingdom of Solomon under the leadership of Jeroboam, who protested King Solomon’s son and successor Rehoboam because he was unwilling to reduce the heavy taxes Solomon imposed. The separated 10 tribes in the north were known as Israelites. Assyrians took them into captivity and dispersed them among other nations so they would not unite against the Assyrians.
There had been a Messianic expectation that the Messiah would unite all the 12 tribes of Israel and restore their glorious kingdom under one king as it was during the reign of King David and his son King Solomon. Ezekiel had prophesied the unification of the northern Israel and southern Judah as the joining of two sticks (Ezekiel 37:15-17). “Thus says the Lord GOD: I will soon take the Israelites from among the nations to which they have gone and gather them from all around to bring them back to their land. I will make them one nation in the land, upon the mountains of Israel, and there shall be one king for them all. They shall never again be two nations, never again be divided into two kingdoms.” (Ezekiel 37: 21-22). “David my servant shall be king over them; they shall all have one shepherd.” (Ezekiel 37:24). Jesus came as this new king, as a descendant of David. So, when Jesus said, “I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold” he could mean the dispersed Israelites all over the world.
Jesus’ mission extended beyond the Israelites. He came to shepherd all humanity because all are children of God. God selected Abraham and his descendants so they become a model nation for other peoples and that “All the families of the earth will find blessing” in them (Genesis 12:3). Messiah’s goal was to unite all dispersed nations after the fall of the Tower of Babel and save them from their sinful nature and present them before his Father. Jesus, the good shepherd, and spiritual king was gathering all nations as one flock. Isaiah prophesied about the Servant of the Lord: “I will make you a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.” (Isaiah 49:6). Since all are children of God and all have sinned, no one deserves God’s mercy. However, Jesus came to offer us the mercy and redemption of God through his redemptive sacrifice and victory over sin and death.
Jesus served the Jews and Gentiles during his public ministry. Ordinary people of both groups received his service and his message. The early Christian community served both. While Peter focused on the conversion of the Jews, Paul concentrated on Gentiles’ conversion. Thus, church is fulfilling this statement of Jesus that he will bring together all folds of people in his name. As Jesus prophesied, the non-Jews also hear the voice of Jesus and join the one flock of Jesus, the good shepherd.
Jesus continues his mission as he stated to his apostles: “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19-20). Jesus reunites all the 70 nations dispersed with separate languages and spread all over the world at the destruction of the Tower of Babel. On the day of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit came on the apostles, the people speaking different languages gathered in Jerusalem understood what the apostles spoke through the gift of tongue.
The people of all nations and languages can understand the common language of Christ’s love. Church and Christians implement this love in action through social service and charitable activities for people all over the world, regardless of their religion and language. Christ, the good shepherd unites his fold internationally under his vicar, the pope.
(17) This is why the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again.
“God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.” (John 3:16). The son’s willingness to lay down his life for the salvation of mankind pleased God and caused a special bond of the Father’s love towards the son.
(18) No one takes it from me, but I lay it down on my own. I have power to lay it down, and power to take it up again. This command I have received from my Father.
Jesus received the command to lay down his life for humanity with the freedom to accept or reject it. The Father always gives such freedom to humanity, even from the time of Adam and Eve. Acceptance of God’s will is rewarding. Jesus laid down his life for humanity from his free choice. That pleased the Father, causing a special love of the Father towards the son.