I AM the Good Shepherd

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The book of John contains some of the most powerful statements in the Bible in regards to the deity of Christ. In fact, John wrote the book to prove that Jesus is the “I AM”, and that in believing in Jesus as the Messiah and the Son of God the readers or hearers would have eternal life in His name.[1] The Gospel contains seven “I AM” statements which all relate to who Jesus is, what He can do for His followers, and what His followers can become through Him.[2] This essay will examine just one of these statements: the “I AM the Good Shepherd” statement of Christ found in John chapter 10. This beautiful statement has a profound and encouraging depth to it which relates Christ to the character of God as revealed in the Old Testament and which reveals Jesus’ divine nature as well.

I AM

To first understand the selected I AM statement, one must take a look back into what is an I AM statement and why it would have any significance to Jesus’ Jewish audience at all. As Moses tended the flocks of his father-in-law and led them to the mountain of God, he saw a burning bush in which the Lord called to Him. There He revealed to Moses His name (Exodus 3). The Lord told Moses “I AM WHO I AM.” And He said, “Thus you shall say to the children of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’” (Exodus 3:14, New King James Version [NKJV]). I AM comes from the Hebrew word YHWH (or Yahweh in full –the Hebrews omit letters out of reverence), in which the Jews borrow vowels from the name Adonai, meaning Lord. This name conveys absolute being; the One who is and who works on our behalf.[3] It is interesting that the Lord chose to reveal His name as such to a shepherd who was leading his flock to the mountain of God.

I AM THE GOOD SHEPHERD

This leads into the I AM statement of Christ where he states “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd gives His life for the sheep” (John 10:11, NKJV). This statement was made in the backdrop of Jesus’ visit to Jerusalem for the Feast of Tabernacles.[4] It also is follows Jesus’ “I am the door” statement made in John 10:7, and closely relates that illustration. To understand Christ’s statement that He is the good shepherd the immediate context must be understood. Jesus had just opened the eyes of the man born blind (John 9). Jesus saw this man as He passed by, and then gave him instructions in how he could be healed. In obeying the command of Christ this man was made whole. Instead of rejoicing over this miracle, the Pharisees saw this as blasphemy since in their eyes it violated the Sabbath. The man was cast of the synagogue after some dialogue with, and investigation by, the Pharisees. Christ then sought him out and this man believed in Him and worshiped Him as God.

The situation with the man born blind perfectly demonstrates the shepherd heart of God. He healed this man and then sought him out again after the Pharisees had cast him out. After finding this man Christ leads him into saving faith. In His illustration as the Good Shepherd Jesus says that He gives His life for the sheep, while the hireling does not care about the sheep and flees when he sees danger. When compared to the backdrop of chapter 9 it is easy to see that the Pharisees are the hirelings of which Jesus speaks. They did not care for the blind man, and would rather leave him to the wolves than to see him healed. Christ, on the other hand, would rather leave the ninety nine “righteous” and go after the one wandering sheep (Matthew 11). Christ describes Himself as the good shepherd because a good shepherd will protect, feed, lead, guide, sacrifice, and know and be known by his sheep,[5] as he demonstrates in Chapter 9 and throughout the rest of the Gospel as well.

Jesus identifies Himself as the Good Shepherd not just to illustrate His character and purpose but also to identify Himself as Yahweh, the Good Shepherd in the Old Testament. Frequently, in the Old Testament God describes Himself as the Shepherd of Israel and Israel as His flock. Likewise, some refer to God as their shepherd such as David in Psalm 23. The statements of Christ in John 10 probably most closely correlate to the statements of the Lord in Ezekiel chapter 34 where the Lord rebukes the leaders of Israel for not properly shepherding His people. In Ezekiel 34:10 He states

            Thus says the Lord GOD: “Behold, I am against the shepherds, and I will require My flock at their hand; I will cause them to cease feeding the sheep, and the shepherds shall feed themselves no more; for I will deliver My flock from their mouths, that they may no longer be food for them.”

This is reminiscent of Christ’s statement against the Pharisees as hirelings. The Lord continues in Ezekiel 34:11-12 stating,

            ‘For thus says the Lord GOD: “Indeed I Myself will search for My sheep and seek them out. “As a shepherd seeks out his flock on the day he is among his scattered sheep, so will I seek out My sheep and deliver them from all the places where they were scattered on a cloudy and dark day.

 

Jesus makes His “I am the Good Shepherd” statement likely with Ezekiel 34:11-12 in mind, and surely His illustration was to remind His Jewish audience of the prophecy found in Ezekiel where the Lord Himself would become the shepherd of His lost people. In the “I AM the Good Shepherd” statement the Christ identifies with deity in both the “I AM” as well as in the “Good Shepherd” part, as supported by the above stated verses.

Morris comments on the translation of the word “good” that it comes from the Greek kalos which carries with it the notion of beauty was well as goodness.[6] The moral goodness of the Shepherd is attractive, and it is this beauty of His goodness which the sheep hear in His voice and therefore follow Him. This brings to remembrance Paul’s statement in Romans 2:4 where he states, “Or do you despise the riches of His goodness, forbearance, and longsuffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leads you to repentance?” It is the goodness of God which leads us to repentance, and it is the beautiful goodness of the Shepherd that leads His sheep to hear His voice and follow Him.

Towns comments on this passage and believes that the Priests were the hirelings of which Jesus spoke and that they had abdicated their responsibility. The Pharisees had been like thieves and robbers (or perhaps wolves) and were taking advantage of the flock of God. It was the Priests’ job to protect the flock, but when the wolves came they fled. In chapter 10 Jesus mentions four times that He would lay down His life for the sheep.[7] In the Old Testament a shepherd might sacrifice one of his perfect lambs to cover his sin, but in the New Testament the Good Shepherd lays down His life for the sheep. This is in sharp contrast to the hirelings which would have sacrificed the sheep, the common folk of Israel, for their own gain.

JESUS THE GOOD SHEPHERD

Jesus is the Good Shepherd, the one who protects and guides us, as well as the One who laid His life down for us so that we might be free from sin and death. He loves us and went after us, and He welcomes anyone who would believe in Him into His flock. In sharp contrast, the hirelings, or the false shepherds both ancient and modern, would seek to sacrifice the sheep for their own selfish gain. In calling Himself the Good Shepherd and the I AM Christ reveals His character as well as His divine nature. Surely this is a beautiful goodness, a goodness that we cannot help but want to follow.

 

Bibliography

Guzik, David. “Study Guide for John 10 by David Guzik.” Blue Letter Bible. Accessed on 8/16/2016. https://www.blueletterbible.org//Comm/guzik_david/StudyGuide_Jhn/Jhn_10.cfm

Morris, Leon. Jesus is the Christ: Studies in the Theology of John. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdman’s Publishing Co., 1989.

Towns, Elmer. The Gospel of John: Believe and Live. Chattanooga: AMG Publishers, 2002.

Wiersbe, Warren W. Jesus in the Present Tense: The I AM Statements of Christ. Colorado Springs: David C Cook. 2011.

Endnotes

[1] Warren Wiersbe, Jesus in the Present Tense: The I AM Statements of Christ, (Colorado Springs: David C Cook, 2011), pg. 23.

[2] Wiersbe, pg. 25.

[3] Wiersbe, pg. 20.

[4] Nelson’s NKJV Study Bible, pg. 1782.

[5] David Guzik, “Study Guide for John 10 by David Guzik,” Blue Letter Bible, Last Modified 7 Jul, 2006, https://www.blueletterbible.org//Comm/guzik_david/StudyGuide_Jhn/Jhn_10.cfm

[6] Leon Morris, Jesus is the Christ: Studies in the Theology of John (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdman’s Publishing Co., 1989), chapter 6.

[7] Elmer Towns, The Gospel of John: Believe and Live (Chattanooga: AMG Publishers, 2002), chapter

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