“I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep.” John 10:11
In this passage from the gospel of John, Jesus is addressing the Jews and is stressing the truth that He is the Messiah. The promised Messiah had come and this is He, Jesus of Nazareth. As the Messiah Jesus was, of course, the Good Shepherd, who was to give His life for the sheep. Jesus preached the significance for His sheep of His death and resurrection. This Jesus of Nazareth had the power to lay down His life freely and the power to raise it up again. Besides, He gives to His sheep life eternal and they shall never perish.
Many of the Jews said: “He hath a devil, and is mad, why hear ye him.” But the sheep know Jesus’ voice and follow Him. Devils cannot open the eyes of the blind.
What is meant by the figurative term “good shepherd?” The work of a shepherd was common knowledge to the Jews of Jesus’ day. The shepherd’s duty was to lead the sheep to the green pastures and streams of water. He had to feed and care for the sheep day and night. In the context Jesus stresses above all the duty of a shepherd to protect and guard the sheep from every danger. Lions, bears, puma, or wolves at times would attack the sheep and it was the shepherd’s duty to protect the flock from these wild beasts.
The hireling fleeth because he is an hireling and careth not for the sheep. He is an hireling. The sheep do not belong to him. Therefore, concerned only for his own safety, he flees and as a result the sheep are scattered and destroyed.
But Jesus is the Good Shepherd. He will not flee, but, he tells the Jews, I lay down my life for the sheep.
This is figurative language. In reality the sheep are the people of God and as one flock they are the Church of Christ chosen in Christ from eternity. You and I are the sheep. The repentant believer is a member of the flock of Christ, our Good Shepherd.
The Good Shepherd giveth His life for the sheep I Why? Because the danger of death threatened the sheep. There was a great enemy who threatened the people of God. What specifically was that danger that threatened the sheep and which Christ saw and knew that in order to remove that danger He must lay down His life for the sheep? The answer: the guilt of our sin and iniquity. Our guilt in Adam and the guilt incurred by our daily sins made us worthy of eternal damnation in hell. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned everyone to his own way.
That impending danger, as a roaring lion, the Good Shepherd foresaw and knew that the certain destruction of the flock could be prevented only by the Shepherd’s death. “I lay down my life for the sheep.”
Vicarious atonement! To make atonement is to satisfy the justice of God for all our sin and guilt. Christ by His atoning death not only removed all our guilt but He also merited for us righteousness. That atonement was vicarious. It was the laying down of One’s life for others. The word “vicarious” means substitutional. Jesus died for the sheep. Christ died on behalf of those given Him by the Father and, therefore, He died in their stead. Jesus took and God laid upon Him the iniquity of us all. Jesus death satisfied the justice of God for some sinners…the sheep.
When Jesus saw the danger of death that threatened the flock, why did He not flee? Why did not Jesus flee to Galilee from the garden of Gethsemane? Why did He not come down from the cross? Why not flee the billows of God’s eternal wrath against our sin and guilt?
There is a blessed answer to those questions. The sheep belonged to Jesus… He was not a hireling. Further, Jesus loved His own even unto death! (John 13:1) No one else could defend the sheep for Jesus alone is Jehovah salvation. Jesus alone is the revelation of God’s covenant faithfulness and love. Jesus alone had the power to sustain the burden of God’s wrath against our sin and guilt and to bear it all away. Jesus alone was the Son of God sent of our Father to be made sin for us. The Messiah.
Could the Christ have fled? Absurd! He came determined to defend the sheep.
We should not overlook the fact that Christ by His death removed the danger that threatened the sheep. The flock is safe and secure. The wolf hath been destroyed. You must not say, as do some foolish preachers, that the sheep are still in danger of hell fire. You must not think that the sheep can still be devoured by the guilt of their sin. They have forgiveness. You must not think that even though Christ has died that, nevertheless, the guilt of sin still threatens the flock of Christ. You must never believe, as some would have us believe, that some for whom Christ died go to hell after all. God Forbid! To teach that nonsense is to deny that Jesus is a complete Savior, (Heidelberg Catechism; Lord’s Day 11), and to cast aspersions upon the infinite value of the blood of Christ. Rather God’s people are objectively justified! Righteous they are before the Judge of heaven and earth. Our God beholds no iniquity in Jacob. Our God accounts the sheep as worthy of everlasting life, for Jesus merited for them righteousness and the right unto everlasting life. The elect of God are objectively justified on the basis of the atoning death of the Good Shepherd, which blessed fact has been publicly declared as the incontestable truth by God in the resurrecting of Christ from the dead.
The sheep have been protected and kept safe through the loving faithfulness of the Good Shepherd, who died in order that the sheep may have life and have it more abundantly.
Note too, that Jesus had said: I am the Good Shepherd. Jesus did not say I will be, or I will become, or I would like to be, or I will try to be the Good Shepherd. No, I am the Good Shepherd. Jesus is stating what was always His position with respect to the sheep. How many sheep did Jesus have at the time these words were spoken. Outwardly considered, he did not have very many. The twelve disciples could be mentioned, but one of them was a devil. That leaves eleven and the fact is that later they too forsook Him and fled leaving Christ to stand alone rejected of men! But outward appearances are deceiving! Jesus had at this time many hundreds of thousands and even millions of sheep. As innumerable as the sand upon the sea shore were the members of His flock. Some of which were the saints of the old dispensation, who were already in glory through faith in the promised blood typified in the blood of animals. Some of the sheep were those who were his disciples of that day. Many millions at that time were not yet born but would be gathered through the preaching of the gospel throughout the new dispensation. However, the point is Jesus had His sheep.
Or is it possible to be a shepherd without possessing sheep to shepherdize? If as Jesus claimed He was the Shepherd then He had His Sheep. Can one be a pilot with possessing a plane to fly? Can one be a jockey if he has no horse to ride? So also with the Good Shepherd. The elect of God were the sheep of Jesus flock. Jesus was the Good Shepherd when he was twelve years old debating with the elders of the people. Jesus was the Good Shepherd when as an infant He was taken up into aged Simeon’s arms “as the glory of thy people Israel” He was the Good Shepherd already when conceived in His mother’s womb as the one to whom God would give the throne of His father David. Jesus, the only begotten Son of God, is the Good Shepherd from all eternity. The care and protection of the sheep, the chosen people of God, was the responsibility of the Word become flesh. Forget not, His name is Jesus, that is, Jehovah Salvation!
Jesus of Nazareth is our Good Shepherd, who beheld from eternity as the Son of God, the danger of death that threatened His Sheep. Jesus, therefore, had come to do His Father’s will, which was that the Son of God should lay down His life in our flesh for our redemption.
Blessed words: I am the Good Shepherd.
“And other sheep I have which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd.”
“…The Son of God from the beginning to the end of the world gathers, defends, and preserves to himself by his Spirit and word, out of the whole human race, a church chosen to everlasting life, agreeing in true faith; and …I am and forever shall remain a living member thereof.”