Jesus—His Life and Message: The “I Am” Sayings

April 24, 2018

by Peter Amsterdam

The Good Shepherd

In the first part of John chapter 10, Jesus stated:

Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and robbers … I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture.1

Jesus contrasted Himself with “thieves and robbers,” likely referring to the Jewish religious hierarchy of His day. As chapter 10 continues, Jesus also brings out the differences between those who are hired hands (hirelings) and a shepherd to whom the sheep belong.

Jesus began with:

I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.2

Jesus expressed the contrast between the actions of someone who was a good shepherd and those of someone who simply got paid to look after the sheep. The hireling’s primary interest was his wages. If a wolf came, he might not put himself in danger and could likely flee in order to spare his own life—resulting in some sheep being killed and eaten, and the rest of the flock scattered in different directions.

Throughout the Old Testament, God metaphorically compared Israel’s leadership to shepherds who acted like hirelings.

Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture! declares the LORD. Therefore thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, concerning the shepherds who care for my people: You have scattered my flock and have driven them away, and you have not attended to them. Behold, I will attend to you for your evil deeds, declares the LORD.3

Thus says the Lord GOD: Ah, shepherds of Israel who have been feeding yourselves! Should not shepherds feed the sheep? You eat the fat, you clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the fat ones, but you do not feed the sheep. The weak you have not strengthened, the sick you have not healed, the injured you have not bound up, the strayed you have not brought back, the lost you have not sought, and with force and harshness you have ruled them. So they were scattered, because there was no shepherd, and they became food for all the wild beasts.4

It is in this context that Jesus states I am the good shepherd.5 The good shepherd is much more than a hired hand; he is committed to the sheep. He might be the owner, or a relative of the owner of the flock. When the sheep face danger, he will do all he can to defend them. The good shepherd cares about the sheep because they matter to him. He faithfully tends to their needs, which includes leading them to good pasture and to water, trimming their hooves when necessary, helping the ewes in lambing season, and shearing off their wool once or twice a year depending on the breed. The health and welfare of the sheep depend on the shepherd being faithful with all his duties. For a flock of sheep to flourish, the shepherd must be diligent.

Jesus didn’t just claim that He is the shepherd of the sheep, but additionally that “I am the good shepherd.” Why? One author wrote:

Jesus seems to use the adjective good in much the same way that the adjective true is used in other instances (for example, in John 1:9, the true Light; John 6:32, the true bread”; John 15:1, the true Vine), to refer to what is real or genuine in Gods sight, the very model or prototype of what a shepherd should be.6

After stating I am the good shepherd, Jesus added:

I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep.7 

The phrase I know my own and my own know me reflects back to earlier in this chapter when He said:

The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice.8 

His own are those sheep whom the Father had given Him, as reflected in Jesus’ prayer later in the Gospel:

I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours.9

Jesus’ reference to knowing and being known by the sheep is not merely a matter of recognition, but expresses relationship language, showing a deep bond and a strong attachment. Similar phrases are expressed elsewhere in Scripture, such as:

I will take you to be my people, and I will be your God, and you shall know that I am the LORD your God.10

I will give them a heart to know that I am the LORD, and they shall be my people and I will be their God, for they shall return to me with their whole heart.11

This is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, Know the LORD, for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the LORD.12

It’s beautiful that Jesus related His relationship with those who are His own to the intimate relationship He has with His Father.

I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father.13 

There are other instances within this Gospel which also show that such intimacy with God should be characteristic of believers.14 For example, as believers we know the Father:

If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.15

We continually learn from the Holy Spirit:

The Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.16

When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you.17

The relationship Jesus has with the Father becomes a model for His followers’ relationship with Him.

Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise.18

I always do the things that are pleasing to him.19

I do as the Father has commanded me, so that the world may know that I love the Father.20 

I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.21

After explaining that as the Father knows Him, so He knows His sheep, Jesus said, I lay down my life for the sheep.22 Jesus now reveals the lengths to which He goes to sacrifice His own well-being for the sake of His flock. Later in this Gospel, we will see how He does what’s best for His “sheep” by dying on the cross for the sins of the world.

Jesus then said:

And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.23

At this point, Jesus inserts information that there would be other believers beyond the disciples and followers of His day. There would be other Jews who believed, and beyond that, there would be those of the Gentile world who would hear His message and become believers. His sheep, no matter what nationality, ethnicity, or timeframe in which they live hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.24

I know my own and my own know me.25

I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us.26

The result is that all the sheep—past, present, and future—will become part of one flock, the flock of Christ, with one shepherd.

Having spoken of the other sheep, Jesus then continued with what He was saying earlier when He stated:

I lay down my life for the sheep.27

For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.28 

The word “charge” here is translated as “command” or “commandment” in most other Bible translations.

Throughout this chapter, Jesus speaks of laying down His life. One author explains:

Jesus love for his sheep and his willingness to die for them is part and parcel of his very nature as Gods Son, and therefore as the object of the Fathers love. As Shepherd he risks his life for the sheep, but as the Fathers Son he does more, giving himself up to death on their behalf.29

The Gospel of John tells us who wanted to kill Jesus:

This was why the Jews were seeking all the more to kill him, because not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God.30

I know that you are offspring of Abraham; yet you seek to kill me because my word finds no place in you.31

Though His foes wanted to kill Him, Jesus made the point that no one takes [my life] from me but I lay it down of my own accord. While others were intent on arresting Him or stoning Him, they were unable to do so.32

Jesus had the authority to both lay down His life and to take it up again, and that authority came from His Father. As it was His Father’s will for Him to lay down His life, and because He obeyed His Father, He had the authority to receive back His life from the Father.

Jesus is the good Shepherd who went far beyond what most would do in dying on the cross for our sakes to save us. He laid down His life according to His Father’s will, and He rose from the dead. As a result, we, His sheep, will also rise from the dead to live with God eternally. Thank You, Jesus!


Unless otherwise indicated, all scriptures are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

General Bibliography

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1 John 10:7–9.

2 John 10:11–13.

3 Jeremiah 23:1–2.

4 Ezekiel 34:2–5.

5 John 10:14.

6 Michaels, The Gospel of John, 585.

7 John 10:15.

8 John 10:3–4.

9 John 17:9.

10 Exodus 6:7.

11 Jeremiah 24:7.

12 Jeremiah 31:33–34.

13 John 10:14–15.

14 The points made in this and the next paragraph are summarized from Keener, The Gospel of John: A Commentary, Volume 1.

15 John 14:7.

16 John 14:26.

17 John 16:13–14.

18 John 5:19.

19 John 8:29.

20 John 14:31.

21 John 17:26.

22 John 10:15.

23 John 10:16.

24 John 10:27.

25 John 10:14.

26 John 17:20–21.

27 John 10:15.

28 John 10:17–18.

29 Michaels, The Gospel of John, 590.

30 John 5:18.

31 John 8:37.

32 See John 7:30, 32, 44; 8:20, 59.