Part Five — The Good Shepherd


“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep … I am the good shepherd; I know My sheep and my sheep know Me” (John 10:11,14).

The metaphor of Jesus as the gate to the sheep pen (John 10:1-10) has been stretched to the breaking point. It gives place to yet another that has been waiting in the background. Jesus Himself is the Good Shepherd (John 10:11-18). Jesus alone fulfills the long-awaited prophecy of the coming of the Good Shepherd.

“This is what the Sovereign Lord says: ‘Woe to the shepherds of Israel who only take care of themselves! Should not shepherds take care of the flock? … I Myself will search for My sheep and look after them. As a shepherd looks after his scattered flock when he is with them, so will I look after My sheep … I Myself will tend My sheep and have them lie down … I will search for the lost and bring back the strays … I will shepherd that flock with justice”‘ (Ezek. 34:10-16).

“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” (Isa. 40:11).

“He who scattered Israel will gather them and will watch over His flock like a shepherd”  (Jer. 31:10).

In John 10:11-18, Jesus contrasts the good and the bad, the faithful and unfaithful shepherd. In doing so, He reveals the essence of His nature, the ultimate sacrifice He will pay for the sheep and the eternal relationship His flock will enjoy. Jesus chooses three precise words to enlarge and illustrate His role as divine shepherd: an adjective (good), a noun (life) and a verb (know).

GOOD: “I am the good shepherd” (10:11, 14). Jesus defines His nature as good. The Greek language has two words for “good.” The common word is agathos (pronounced a-ga-thós), meaning “inwardly good; of a good constitution or nature.” The second, more expansive word for “good” is kalos (pronounced ka-lós). Besides connotating inward goodness, kalos means “good in appearance; beautiful; aesthetically satisfying and pleasing.” Jesus said, I am the good [kalos] shepherd.” He is not only morally good, but good in every way—totally good, inwardly and outwardly. Kalos is goodness in the superlative. For example, kalos is translated “choice” in describing the wine that Jesus had transformed from water in Cana (2:10). One can appropriately translate John 10:11, “I am the choice shepherd!”


LIFE: “The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (10:llb). Three Greek words distinguish varying qualities of life. The basic word is bios (pronounced beé-os), from which we derive “biology.” Bios denotes “the period or duration of earthly life; life in its earthly manifestations; life as opposed to death.” The second did not understand the meaning of the story. Jesus plainly applies it to Himself: “I tell you the truth, I am the gate for the sheep” (10:7).

In the allegory of the good shepherd (10:1-6), Jesus speaks of two types of gates. He uses the word for the “winter” gate in verses two and three. During the cold season, the sheep were kept in communal pens. A strong wooden door protected the sheep at night. Only the appointed guardian had the key to the door.

In verses seven and nine, Jesus chooses a word that describes the “summer” gate—the field sheep pen. Since good feeding grass was scarce in summer, the shepherd constantly led his flock to the best feeding areas, often miles from home. The summer pen was composed of a primitive stone enclosure in an open field. A space in the wall served as the gate. This was the only access to the sheep pen. At night, the shepherd slept across the opening. Sheep could not come in or go out except over his body. Literally, the shepherd was the door.

Jesus changed the word for “door” to underscore the fundamental truth that through Him alone His sheep find access to God. As the Apostle Paul affirmed, “Through Him we have access to the Father” (Eph. 2:18). Jesus opens the way to God.

As the gate to the sheep pen, Jesus provides secure passage for His followers to “come in and go out, and find pasture” (John 10:9). To come in and go out un­ molested was the Jewish way of describing an absolutely secure life. The leader of the nation was a person who could bring his people in and out safely (Num. 27:17). The obedient person is blessed when he comes in and blessed when he goes out (Deut. 28:6). The Psalmist is sure that God will keep him in his going out and coming in (Psalm 121:8). With Jesus the pathway to God and from God to service is unmolested.

Jesus concludes with this remarkable statement: “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10). Literally, the phrase “have it to the full” means “to have a superabundance of something.” Jesus’ sheep enjoy a superabundant life. Only His sheep can truly say, “It just does not  get better than this!”

— Commissioner William W. Francis is a retired officer. He is also the author of The Stones Cry Out (USA Eastern Territory, 1993) and Celebrate the Feasts of the Lord (Crest Books, 1997), and is a frequent contributor to the War Cry and other Salvation Army publications.