The Lord Jesus used this title to help people appreciate that He is the loving, caring, Saviour of the world. Sheep and shepherd were everyday terms the audience would understand.
The sheep in the verse are an apt description of us. In fact, the Old Testament part of the Bible says that ‘all we like sheep have gone astray, we have turned everyone to his own way’ (Isaiah 53:6). We begin our life as sinners going astray and doing things our own way, just like sheep who are far away from their shepherd. What we do springs from a nature which is opposed to the laws of God. The Bible helps us appreciate that every one of us is in this state: ‘All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God’ (Romans 3:23). Therefore we need to be changed; we need to have our feet taken from the broad road that leads to destruction and moved to the narrow road that leads to life.
Those who were listening to the Lord Jesus would have pricked up their ears when they heard Him describe Himself as a Shepherd. In the Old Testament this expression is frequently used of God. It is often useful and confirming to look into the three main parts of the Old Testament, the Law, the Psalms and the Prophets, to find a harmony of idea and thought.
In the Law, Jacob talks about God as the ‘mighty God of Jacob, the Shepherd, the stone of Israel’ (Genesis 49:24). This is the first reference in scripture to God as a Shepherd. In the Psalms we read that ‘the Lord [Jehovah] is my shepherd’ (Psalm 23:1), a well-known phrase often used in songs of worship and praise. Finally, to complete the set, in the Prophets we find God speaking: ‘Awake O sword against My Shepherd, against the Man [human] that is my Companion [equal, therefore a divine person]’ (Zechariah 13:7).
Therefore, when this man, Jesus from Nazareth, used the term ‘Shepherd’, He was identifying Himself with the God of the Old Testament, being the Son of God in all His divine fullness.
Another indication of Jesus’s deity is the expression ‘I am’. This verb is significant because in the Old Testament it is the great name of God – ‘I AM WHO I AM’ (Exodus 3:14). The word ‘I’ is emphatic, meaning ‘I and no other’. That is the wonderful truth of the gospel message. It presents the Lord Jesus as the only way of salvation. He alone came down from heaven into this world to rescue sinful men and women. No one else could come and deliver us, but thankfully He came and has made Himself available to all who trust Him.
The 'Good' Shepherd
The adjective ‘good’ precedes ‘Shepherd’. This means that Jesus is the Shepherd, ‘the good one’. He is winsome in His character, lovely and kind on every level. He is also perfectly sinless, having no blemish or flaw. In saying He is good, the Lord Jesus is distinguishing Himself from another shepherd spoken about in the Bible. In a future day, a false prophet, a pseudo messiah, will present himself to Israel and will fleece and flay the flock. We read about ‘a foolish shepherd … woe to the worthless shepherd who leaves the flock!’ (Zechariah 11:15-17). However, Christ is the genuine Shepherd, the good one, absolutely trustworthy and perfect. Why not trust Him today to take away your sins and secure for you a place in heaven?
When we think about what He did for us, He certainly is a good Shepherd. He ‘gives His life’ (John 10:11), laying it down for the sake of His sheep (John 10:17). It couldn’t be clearer that in His death He became a voluntary sacrifice for sinners like us. In Ecclesiastes 8:8 we read that ‘no one has power on the day of death’. It is true: no mere man has authority over the moment of his death – but the Lord Jesus is no mere man. He is the unique, unparalleled, incomparable Son of God. When He died on the cross, He was in full control of both the manner and the moment of His death. Scripture records, in John 19:30, that ‘bowing His head, He gave up His spirit’.
During the time Christ was on the cross, God poured out on His Son His wrath and anger against sin. It fell upon the Lord Jesus. In reality, it should lie hard upon us, the sinners, the wilfully straying sheep. But how grateful we are that the Lord Jesus gave His life in the stead of others. Every believer can say that ‘He bore my punishment’, for ‘Christ died for our sins’ (1 Corinthians 15:3).
Coming to the Good Shepherd
The Bible encourages us as helpless sheep to come now to the good Shepherd for salvation, for protection, for care. God’s instructions are plain: in repentance we must turn away from our sin and place our trust in the Lord Jesus Christ.
Later in the chapter the Lord Jesus distinguishes between the sheep for whom He died (all mankind) and what He calls ‘My sheep’. ‘My sheep’ are those who are saved, the people who have trusted Him and know Him. Listen to His wonderful words of assurance: ‘I give unto My sheep eternal life and they shall never perish’ (John 10:28, AKJV).
If you are not saved, you are in great danger of perishing. The Bible’s command is to ‘flee from the wrath to come’ (Luke 3:7). Trust in the Good Shepherd and receive salvation, everlasting life, which can never be taken from you, and a security which it is impossible to lose.
Don’t just be one of the sheep for whom Jesus died, but who never responded to His mercy. Instead, believe on Him so that it may be said about you that you are one of His sheep. The Lord Jesus invites you to ‘Come unto Me, all you who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest’ (Matthew 11:28). More, He promises that ‘the one that comes to me I will by no means cast out’ (John 6:37). What precious, confirming and assuring words from the Shepherd! Sadly, the Lord Jesus had to say about many that ‘you are not willing to come to Me that you may have life’ (John 5:40). Trust the Shepherd today. ‘Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved’ (Acts 16:31). You will then, in the words of the Lord Jesus, be one of ‘my sheep’.