The Good Shepherd – John 10 and the Hebrew Bible

John 10 begins with the closest thing to a parable we find in the Gospel of John. While parables are common in the other three Gospels, John does not record a single parable. In this passage, Jesus uses an extended metaphor drawn from the common experience of tending sheep. If the audience had not tended sheep themselves, they knew that these things were true from their experience.

Good_ShepherdJesus chose this metaphor intentionally since the image of a shepherd is used in the Old Testament frequently for the leaders of the nation. The are bad shepherds who are not leading the people “beside still waters” (Psalm 23) The people are like “sheep without a shepherd” (Matt 9:36). In contrast, Jesus leads the people into the wilderness and provides food for them (the feeding of the 5000), seeking out the lost sheep wherever they are (Luke 15:3-7) and ultimately laying Jesus will lay down his life down on behalf of his flock.

What is more, this image of a true shepherd is a messianic image found in the Old Testament. Moses led sheep for 40 years in the wilderness before God called him to lead the people of Israel out of Egypt, and the ideal King of Israel was David, who was first a shepherd before his was a king. Psalm 23 has messianic overtones (“The Lord is my shepherd”), but Ezekiel 37:24-28 is the most clear use of a shepherd metaphor for the coming Messiah, the true son of David and ideal shepherd who replaces the bad leaders who have led the people into danger but do nothing to save them.

The image of a God as a shepherd is found frequently in the Old Testament. God is described as a shepherd for his people (Gen 48:15, 49:24, Ps 23:1, 28:9, 77:20, 78:52, 80:1, Isa 40:11, Jer 31:10) and the people of Israel are regularly refer to as the sheep of God’s pasture (Ps 74:1, 78:52, 79:13, 95:7, 100:3, Ezek 34:31). It is possible that Jesus had Ezekiel 34 in mind, but the fact that the image of an ultimately good shepherd who will lead God’s people back to the land appears in Isaiah 40 and Jeremiah 31 as well. These are passages Jesus uses frequently in his teaching and would have been well-known to the listeners in the Temple.

In John 10:14 Jesus declares he is not only the proper gate into the sheep pen, he is in fact the good shepherd who will lay his life down on behalf of his flock. By calling himself “the shepherd,” Jesus is evoking passages such as Ezekiel 34 which looks forward to an ideal shepherd who will lead the people on behalf of God. On the other hand, the true shepherd of Israel is God. There is only one shepherd for the flock (verse 16). God the Father is the shepherd (Ps 23:1), but here Jesus is claiming to be that good shepherd.

The reaction of the crowd (10:19-21) is similar to chapter 9, some say Jesus is inane or demon possessed, yet others understand that a demon possessed man cannot open the eyes of the blind, nor does an insane person speak as Jesus does. He makes sense!

By claiming to be the Good Shepherd, Jesus in intentionally declaring that he is the Messiah and therefore God’s son. But he will go beyond the expectation that the Messiah will be the ideal king, a new Moses and new David. Just as both those men could be called “a son of God,” Jesus also claims to be the ideal Son of God because he is God.

There is more in this chapter which makes Jesus’s claim even more clear. But is this an accurate reading of the words of Jesus? Is he claiming to be the eschatological shepherd from Ezekiel 37:24-28? And if he is, what does this tell us about his relationship with God?

13 thoughts on “The Good Shepherd – John 10 and the Hebrew Bible

  1. What I find interesting is that God has actually designated certain humans to be over the nation of Israel. In other words, God never intended to be the only Shepard, but the curse of sin, of course, necessitated this. Kostenberger argues in his reflective book that the Good Shepard discourse found in chapter 10 is set against the irresponsibility of the Jewish leadership to take care of the “flock” of Israel. My point is that God actually gave the elite Jewish individuals the chance to lead His people. Of course, even though He designated this responsibility, He was thoroughly disappointed and even outraged by their behavior. Jesus claimed that although they were crafty in converting individuals to Judaism (proselytes), they only made them into the same kind of hardened rebels that they were. In response to the negligent leading of the Jewish religious elites, then, Jesus came to lead His people more effectively, as He had done in the past. It is clear that when John was narrating this discourse, He had many allusions to the Old Testament in mind. For example, Ezekiel 37 is a clear parallel to the Shepard-King imagery that Jesus uses. I believe He uses this kind of metaphorical language, the same kind found in the Old Testament, precisely because He is claiming to be the fulfillment of it. Jesus was not just providing profound wisdom for the people of Israel, condemning the temple because of their irresponsibility; He was actually claiming to be the Shepard that the Scriptures alluded to. He is the Son of God, the one who has come to lead His people correctly.

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  2. There could be no doubt that Jesus is indeed claiming to be the shepherd from Ezekiel 37:24-28. The mention of David in the passage is the reference to Jesus being from the line of David. The bloodline shows Jesus’s earthly connection to the people of Israel, making him the technical earthly king of Isreal, and then it is tied to his divinity when saying that “they will have one shepherd” in verse 24 as God is the shepherd of his people. Kostenberger touches on this topic saying, “Interestingly, the above passage (Ezekiel 34) proceeds upon a dual track: on one hand, God says that he himself will tend his sheep; on the other, he will send his servant David to tend his sheep and be their shepherd,”(Kostenberger, 108). The words of Ezekiel 34:22-24 and Ezekiel 37:25 are practically the same saying that David will be a prince over the people. Jesus is the David of the passage, the good shepherd that the scriptures are talking about. Connecting Jesus to David then gives the Jews that image of David being both shepherd and king which is who Jesus spiritually. Going back to the idea that God is the shepherd of his people then, we see Jesus claiming the same title of the shepherd that God does shows the relationship between God and Jesus and that they are the same person. Jesus and God are one, allowing God to fulfill his claim of the people having him as their only shepherd, yet Jesus is able to fulfill his claim of being the shepherd of the people as well.

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  3. The good shepherd discourse allows John to show many claims that Jesus makes Himself out to be. Through this little parable, Jesus reveals a few aspects about Himself. As stated above, one of these claims is that Jesus is the Messiah. Even Kostenberger supports this as he states that, “clearly Jesus placed himself squarely in the context of this messianic portrait,” Kostenberger, 108). He had a purpose and it was to reveal this aspect about Himself. in Jeremiah 23:1-8, it talks about the Lord sending a shepherd to tend the flocks of Israel, but it is really stating that Jesus is coming who will ten to God’s people and will be their shepherd. Even Old Testament prophets exclaim that Jesus is the good shepherd and is the Messiah who is coming again. This leads to another aspect that John alludes to about Jesus and it is that “Jesus presents himself as the legitimate shepherd of God’s people, casting the Jewish religious leadership as illegitimate,” (Kostenberger, 109). So, Jesus is also presenting the fact that he really is the shepherd that God put their to guide the people and that even the prophets proclaimed would be their shepherd. But because of this, it meant that the Pharisees would no longer guide the people, even thought hey were not doing a good job to begin with. And this is why Jesus is labeled as the “good” shepherd because he is the man for the job and will do what is right in leading God’s people.

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  4. Yes, Jesus is the Shepherd who the people were looking for and he is from the line of David. It is no coincidence that David was a shepherd be for he was the king of Israel. Ezekiel alludes to the Shepherd of Israel and it is a common analogy throughout the Old Testament that clearly is talking about the one who would shepherd the flock of Israel and the world. Jesus is making a statement after statement that he is the Shepherd that the people are looking for and thus they should follow him. Some of the Jews do not understand how Jesus could be the Messiah because he came from Galilee but they do not realize that he is really from the line of David and that he fulfilled the prophecy that Jesus would be born in Bethlehem. Jesus was and is the good Shepherd that David talked about in the Psalms and that Ezekiel foretold.

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  5. Yes< Jesus is absolutley the eschatological shepherd that Ezekiel was talking about. There is no better shepherd than Jesus, Jesus fuifils the roles of the good shepherd perfectly and no one could fill them better. Becuase Jesus is the Son of God but is also God, it is in line wth the old testament scriptures talking about God the Father being the Shepherd of Israel. Jesus is the incarnate Word of God. He has come to lead the sheep out of bondage to sin and into relationship with the Father again! Israel in the meantime was being led by bad shepherds who could not lead them well, Jesus is taking their place and leading them to greener pastures. Jesus is leading on behalf of God, the bad shepherds were leading on behalf of themselves. Jesus is the shepherd who went to the length of laying down his life for his flock, something that only the perfect shepherd would do.

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  6. Yes, Jesus is without a doubt the eschatological shepherd that Ezekiel was talking about. This tells us that Jesus has a personal relationship with God, obviously because He is the Son of God, but yet I Jesus has to rely fully on his Father in Heaven as we do. There are multiple times where Jesus could have just made things better in an instant but he decided to do as we do and pray to his Father and fully live out what we have to as humans. As mentioned above by Seth Jesus came to lead us out of sin and into a relationship with the Father. In this time Israel was being lead by false hope, and some bad things were happening to them, the leaders could not offer them something so great as being free from bondage. But when Jesus came along and started to lead the people it became more clear, that he is the one who will save them from their troubles and what may have mislead them in the first place. The leaders wouldn’t do much for their people, but tell them things; once Jesus came along they had seen that he was one who was willing to lay down for them.

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  7. I find it interesting that John doe snot use any parables in his gospel where as all the other Gospels rely heavily on parables. instead john uses metaphor and he uses metaphors that the people of Israel would be able to quickly and easily grasp. he describes Jesus as not only a shepherd but the way into the sheep pen. being that being the good Shepheard had a messianic connotation it is really well though tout that John uses this imagery to describe Jesus. John uses metaphors well in order to help his audience understand exactly what he is trying to get across.

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  8. “He will tend his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms; he will carry them in his bosom, and gently lead those that are with young (Isaiah 40:11).” This is a metaphor that makes sense to those who heard this metaphor told. They would have understood this as many people in the American culture understand sports metaphors. The idea to this metaphor was that the listeners could easily interpret what John was saying because occupational shepherds were more common in biblical times than they are in our culture. This is a simple metaphor but it holds an impactful statement. It gives the Israelites something that they can visualize, and remember this metaphor easily. It’s simple but yet theologically sound statement that is found in some of the Old Testament books. For John to say that Jesus is the good shepherd makes sense to the Israelites but it also makes sense to us as well in our time over two thousand years later. The good shepherd metaphor makes more sense to the Israelites than saying, Jesus is the real MVP.

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  9. Jesus as the good shepherd is a common theme in the new testament. But what does that mean. As mentioned in the article in Psalms it mentions how Israel is like sheep without a shepherd, but God was able to provide for them in the wilderness. in the same way Jesus was the light and way to the people Jews and gentiles. As they were under reign of Rome, they all thought that Jesus would free them from bondage, but Jesus was there to save them from their sins. The people didn’t realize that Jesus was the Savior as he came from Bethlehem they all thought that the Messiah couldn’t come out of such a small place like that but when you follow the history trail back Jesus came from the line of David as proclaimed it would happen and the people didn’t notice that Jesus was in the line of David. And through Johns little parable it was a small sign to the people to open their eyes and try to notice that Christ was there not to save them from bondage but save them from their sins. Jesus is the good shepherd that was talked about in Psalms and the prophecy was true when Jesus came from the line of David

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  10. Both the language and the content in John 10 show Jesus’s intentions to help the people understand His Messianic identity by alluding to the accounts of Ezekiel and Zechariah. Both Ezekiel and Zechariah’s narratives contain similar characteristics that correspond to the Good Shepherd Discourse in John 10. Through Zechariah’s account, John shows readers how the atmosphere of corrupt leaders in Jerusalem is similar to the situation presented in Zechariah account. Due to those similarities, Kostenberger claims that Zechariah sets an important background for Jesus’s narrative in John 10 (Kostenberger, 123). A background that comes through four images that display Jesus as the Shepherd King (Kostenberger, 123). In terms of alluding to the narrative of Ezekiel, one must look at the content giving in his oracle. The oracle illustrated by Ezekiel brings attention to the promise of God’s intervention through the Messiah (Kostenberger, 123). Regarding the Good Shepherd Discourse, it was clear that Jesus was revealing his Messianic identity to the people. By revealing himself to the people, Jesus was filling that void of the good shepherd. A shepherd who has come to gather his flock which has been misled by the leaders of this world. Jesus was showing the people the authority and trust God had placed on His hands to lead His flock.

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  11. I had never noticed that the Gospel of John did not contain a parable like the other three gospels. I am curious why John had chosen to include this metaphor and not any of the other metaphor like stories that were included in the other three gospels. The Good Shepherd appeals to the Old Testament. “Jesus chose this metaphor intentionally since the image of a shepherd is used in the Old Testament for the leaders of the nation” (Long). Jesus chose this metaphor to remind and warn his followers that they could be following a bad shepherd, which in their time would have been the Pharisees, who were spiritually blind making them “blind guides, leading astray those entrusted in their care” (Köstenberger, p. 106). Similarly, Jesus shares in Matthew for his followers to “beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravaging wolves” (Matt. 7:15, HCSB). Sheep are notoriously dumb if they do not have a good shepherd who leads them. Multiple passages (Ps. 23, Ezek. 34:24-28) throughout the Old Testament mention God as the good shepherd who will lead his people. However, the people do not recognize this is what Jesus is appealing to. They believe that he is insane once again. They simply do not understand what Jesus is doing, when they finally do it will not be until after they have crucified him.

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  12. I really like this post because I think that you fit in really nice how Jesus was doing this because it was prophesied before that Jesus would do these things. In one of my other classes, we were talking about how Jesus flipped the table in Mathew 21, and we were talking about how it was prophesied that Jesus would do it. So in saying that I think that it makes it even better, it is like any one of God’s prophecies, when they become true it should make us have even more faith in God’s promises for us at the end of our time here on this earth.

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