Jesus was called the Good Shepherd because he called himself the good shepherd in the Gospel of John. His claim to this title is not casual by any means. In fact, Jesus’ claim to be the Good Shepherd has meaning that is both deep and wide.
What Jesus Said
“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me — just as the Father knows me and I know the Father — and I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd. The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life — only to 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 authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father” (John 10:11-18).
Meaning Reaching Back in Time
Although the title, Good Shepherd, is only found in the New Testament, Jesus was intentionally reaching into the Old Testament with his words. When Jesus claimed to be the good shepherd, he was speaking to the Pharisees who claimed to know the scriptures.
The book of Ezekiel is a prophecy regarding shepherds and sheep. This prophecy is regarding shepherds that were overseers for the people of God, and another shepherd that was to come later. The shepherd to come later was the Messiah that Israel was waiting for.
By calling himself the good shepherd, Jesus was claiming to be the Messiah that the scriptures foretold.
Meaning Reaching into Eternity
Jesus’ claim to be the good shepherd is just one of seven other declarations regarding who he was. There are seven times Jesus begins a statement with the words I am and claims a tile or role. These are commonly called the I am statements.
The eighth time he refers to himself as I am is telling.
In John 8:58, he said, “Very truly I tell you, before Abraham was born, I am!” Only one other ever referred to themselves as I am and that was God in Exodus 3:14. God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I AM has sent me to you.’”
By calling himself the good shepherd, Jesus was claiming to be the Almighty God.
Meaning Reaching into Old Leadership
The prophecy in Ezekiel 34 was not kind to the overseer shepherds.
"Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel; prophesy and say to them: 'This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Woe to you shepherds of Israel who only take care of yourselves! Should not shepherds take care of the flock?
"'Therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the Lord: ‘As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, because my flock lacks a shepherd and so has been plundered and has become food for all the wild animals, and because my shepherds did not search for my flock but cared for themselves rather than for my flock, therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the Lord: This is what the Sovereign Lord says: I am against the shepherds and will hold them accountable for my flock. I will remove them from tending the flock so that the shepherds can no longer feed themselves. I will rescue my flock from their mouths, and it will no longer be food for them.
By calling himself the good shepherd, Jesus was serving this prophecy to the Pharisees.
Meaning Reaching into New Leadership
The prophecy in Ezekiel 34 not only removed the wicked overseers but established a new rule.
For this is what the Sovereign Lord says: I myself will search for my sheep and look after them. As a shepherd looks after his scattered flock when he is with them, so will I look after my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places where they were scattered on a day of clouds and darkness. I will bring them out from the nations and gather them from the countries, and I will bring them into their own land. I will pasture them on the mountains of Israel, in the ravines and in all the settlements in the land. I will tend them in a good pasture, and the mountain heights of Israel will be their grazing land. There they will lie down in good grazing land, and there they will feed in a rich pasture on the mountains of Israel. I myself will tend my sheep and have them lie down, declares the Sovereign Lord. I will search for the lost and bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak, but the sleek and the strong I will destroy. I will shepherd the flock with justice… Then they will know that I, the Lord their God, am with them and that they, the Israelites, are my people, declares the Sovereign Lord. You are my sheep, the sheep of my pasture, and I am your God, declares the Sovereign Lord.
By calling himself the good shepherd, Jesus was establishing himself as the Savior and new leader of Israel.
Meaning Reaching for All Humanity
Jesus didn’t come to save Israel alone. He started with the lost sheep of Israel, but it’s clear in the scriptures his reach went further.
“I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me — just as the Father knows me and I know the Father — and I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd. The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life — only to 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 authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father” (John 10:14-16).
When Jesus claimed to be the good shepherd, he called to anyone who would listen to his voice.
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Danielle Bernock is an international, award-winning author, speaker, and coach who helps people embrace their value and heal their soul through the power of the love of God. She’s written Emerging With Wings, A Bird Named Payn (now available in audio), Love’s Manifesto and Because You Matter. A long time follower of Christ, Danielle lives with her husband in Michigan near her adult children and grandchildren. For more information or to connect with Danielle https://www.daniellebernock.com/