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The Good Shepherd


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 is not the owner of 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 is not concerned about the sheep. I am the good shepherd, and I know My own and My own know Me, even as the Father knows Me and I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep. I have other sheep, which are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will hear My voice; and they will become one flock with one shepherd. For this reason the Father loves Me, because I lay down My life so that I may take it again. No one has taken it away from Me, but I lay it down on My own initiative. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This commandment I received from My Father.

—John 10:11–18


The occasion on which the Lord uttered this memorable saying, was as follows:—The Pharisees, who always resisted His teaching, had just evinced the utmost hostility in connection with the cure of the blind-born man, and He was led, by their opposition, to contrast their pretensions with such teachers as are called and commissioned from above, whom alone the sheep will hear, and, above all, to contrast them with Himself, who is the Shepherd, by way of eminence, or “the good Shepherd” (ver. 11). As these men had not entered by the door, which He explains as equivalent to a belief in Himself, and a commission from Him, and as they were only perverters of the people, Christ describes Himself as the good Shepherd, because He is the ideal of all that the office implies, and the long expected Shepherd whom all the ancient prophecies announced under that title (Zech. xiii. 7; (Ezek. xxxiv. 23; (Ps. xxiii.).

. . .

This testimony sets forth the legitimate claim or right which Christ acquired, in point of purchase by the atonement, to become the Shepherd of the sheep. It is the key to all those allusions which we find in the apostolic Epistles, and in the New Testament generally, to the office of the Shepherd, as well as to all the assiduous care and watchfulness which He exercises in behalf of the flock (1 Pet. ii. 25, (v. 4). In contrast with the Pharisees, He designates Himself “the good Shepherd;” which three words may be thus resolved: (1) a Shepherd, because He evinces the realized ideal of whatever that office signifies; (2) a good Shepherd, because, whatever can be predicated of good or excellent is found in Him; (3) 1the good Shepherd, by way of eminence, because He was long expected and predicted in all the ancient prophecies under that title.

. . .

This leads me to advert to the preposition here employed: “The good Shepherd giveth His life for the sheep.” The phrase indisputably means, for their benefit, for their good. Nor must it be omitted, that when the clause in which this expression occurs, denotes instead of—which it frequently does—this latter idea is to be regarded as rather involved in the nature of the transaction, than derived from the preposition itself. When He says, therefore, that He died or laid down His life for the sheep, the phraseology implies, that from the nature of the case, He suffered in their room and stead. The statement that He laid down His life for the sheep, carries with it these two important thoughts: that He acted from spontaneous choice, or from His own proper motion, and not necessitated by any outward constraint; and that this substitution secured the safety of the sheep. Our Lord thus represents Himself as laying down His life to save theirs from the danger and destruction which inevitably impended, or as dying to separate His sheep from those that were exposed to the destroyer, and ready to be devoured. From the fact that such a surety laid down His life, it follows, by necessary consequence, that His people shall be saved with everlasting salvation.

Not only so: the whole connection of the words on which we have been commenting, leads us to the further thought, that He died to purchase them by His substitution, or to put them under His protection, and to make them His own. They are considered as not only rescued from danger, but as rescued to be His. That this is the full thought, of which we are not to stop short, is evident from a right interpretation of the passage as it stands. And hence, though Christ was called the Shepherd in virtue of His designation to this office, and though they also are designated the sheep in virtue of being given to Him by election, yet, in point of fact, He becomes the Shepherd, and they the sheep of His fold, only in virtue of the accomplished fact of the atonement. The Lord acquires an actual or purchased right to them as His sheep by His death. They are bought to be His, only by a price (Acts xx. 28. Compare Rom. xiv. 9).

—George Smeaton, Christ’s Doctrine of the Atonement (Banner of Truth, 2009), 320–321, 322, 324–325.

Posted 2018·06·06 by David Kjos
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