by Martin G. Collins
In Part One of this two-part study of the Parable of the Good Shepherd, we briefly analyzed the good, great, ruling, and ownership characteristics of Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd. The theme of the parable is that Jesus is the sovereign Shepherd, benefactor, and ruler of His sheep. He not only has the inherent traits of supremacy and superiority, but He also possesses a knowledgeable and intimate relationship with His sheep.
This month, we will look deeper into the personal relationship that exists between the Good Shepherd and His sheep. Jesus Himself says, "Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one's life for his friends" (John 15:13). In physical life and death, Jesus loved His sheep; and now in His glory, He continues to love His sheep, which is shown in His kind and providential leadership of His church.
1. Why is it important for a good shepherd to know his sheep? John 10:14, 27.
Comment: Jesus says, "I know My sheep, and am known by My own." Both the Shepherd and the sheep are aware of this, and it enables the Shepherd to lead His sheep in the best possible way, helping them to learn what He teaches and to do what He commands. Being known by and knowing the Shepherd implies that, not only do they know His voice, but they have an intimate understanding of the way He thinks and are inclined to reflect His way of doing things. Their imitation of the Shepherd becomes automatic because the sheep anticipate his will. They become one with the Shepherd, as the Shepherd is one with the Father (John 10:15, 30). Just as full knowledge exists between the Father and the Son, the Shepherd has a complete knowledge of each of His sheep.
2. Why is it essential for a good shepherd to lead his sheep? John 10:3.
Comment: Unlike other animals, sheep rarely find their own way safely. Since sheep go astray, their guidance and safety lies in the Shepherd's leadership (Psalm 23:1-2). A thief, a robber, or a stranger may call the sheep by name and try to imitate their Shepherd's voice, but through long usage and intimacy, they can discern a strange voice and become alarmed. We know the Shepherd's voice because the Holy Spirit gives us discernment; the result is that we turn and flee from any unfamiliar, misleading voice.
Often the unfamiliar voice is a religious-sounding one. Just as the Pharisees' voices confused and misled Jews, so do many religious leaders' voices today. Since the truth is not in them (I John 1:8; 2:4), they lead foolish sheep away from the truth. It is vital for us to seek to live according to the Good Shepherd's will, known from His voice. His positive guidance leads us "in the paths of righteousness for His name's sake" (Psalm 23:3).
3. Why is it necessary for the Good Shepherd to be willing to give His life for His sheep? John 10:15, 17-18.
Comment: Jesus says several times, "I lay down My life for the sheep," or "I lay it down." It is significant that of His own will, He gave Himself up to die. The Romans did not take it from Him—He gave it voluntarily for His sheep (verse 11). He made it clear that Pilate was not condemning Him, but that He was accepting death (John 19:10-11). Jesus lived His life as an act of obedience to God, His Father. Moreover, when He died He became the propitiation (expiatory or atoning sacrifice) for the whole world, not just for our sins (I John 2:2). God's graciousness is justified by the sacrifice of the Shepherd.
In the Old Testament, the Mercy Seat in the Holy of Holies was symbolic of God's throne, where He sat in judgment (Hebrews 9:5). When the Good Shepherd gave His life in bloody sacrifice for sinners once for all (verses 12, 24-28), the Mercy Seat became a "throne of grace" (Hebrews 4:16). It was God's will that Jesus' sacrifice apply to all sinners for all time, but Jesus' phrase "My sheep" in this parable refers only to His followers—the saints, the members of His flock—highlighting His special, intimate relationship with them.
4. How does the Good Shepherd give life to His sheep? John 10:28-29.
Comment: God the Father, who raised Jesus from the dead, dwells in each member of His church through His Holy Spirit, and by it He will also give eternal life to them (Romans 8:11). Therefore, the life given to the sheep is the same Spirit that dwells in the Father, in the Shepherd, and in the sheep. Because the Shepherd gave His life for the sheep, sacrificing all, He is able to give abundant, eternal life to them by removing the obstacle of death, the penalty for sin, by the resurrection from the dead.
No one can steal His sheep from Him because they are, in effect, in the palm of His hand (I Peter 5:6; Revelation 1:17). Nothing could be safer or more secure. The Shepherd and His Father are one, and Their grip is tightly on Their church so that even "the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it" (Matthew 16:18).
Thus, with a large number of sheep, the true Shepherd may shelter them in many pens, but they are still all His sheep and all one flock. The flock does not create this unity, but because the nature of the sheep is in harmony with their Shepherd, and because their relationship to Him is intimate, they recognize and obey His voice: "My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me" (John 10:27).