In John 10, the Lord Jesus had a lot to say about His sheep. Shepherds and sheep were a common sight, and He used them as an illustration of redemption. Without going into great detail, and in no particular order, there are several things in this chapter which illustrate the care of the Lord for His sheep.
1. The shepherd has responsibility for the sheep.
By the very nature of his job, the shepherd is responsible for the welfare of his flock. It is what he does. He isn’t there for himself, but for them. Further, he is accountable for what he does. We see the Lord’s responsibility in John 10:16 (NKJV), where He said, “other sheep I have which are not of this fold; them also I must bring…,” Notice the phrase, “I must bring.” He has responsibility for the sheep. He also has accountability. In John 17:12, our Lord told the Father, “Those whom You gave Me I have kept, and none of them is lost except the son of perdition, that the Scripture might be fulfilled.” The Lord is accountable to the Father for those whom the Father gave to Him.
2. The shepherd has authority over the sheep.
Because he is the shepherd, he has the right and authority to enter the sheepfold, vs. 1, 2, and to lead out his flock. The doorkeeper, or security guard, to use the modern term, knows him and will let him in. Indeed, our Great Shepherd of the sheep, Hebrews 13:20, has been given authority over all flesh, John 17:2 (emphasis added). Was this “authority” given to Him so that He could just make it “possible” for men and women to be saved if they will “do their part”? Did He die just to “provide” salvation for them if they will only exercise their “free will” and “accept” Him as Savior? Is there such an “if” in salvation? Did He die for “goats” as well as for His “sheep” (Matthew 25:31-33; John 10:15)? What does Christ Himself say about this authority? In His prayer to the Father, He said, “Father, the hour has come. Glorify Your Son, that Your Son also may glorify You, as You have given Him authority over all flesh, that He should give eternal life to as many as You have given Him,” John 17:1, 2 (emphasis added).
Don’t be misled by the word “should”. It expresses purpose. All of us can look back on our lives and see many things we “should” have done, but didn’t. There is no such “woulda, shoulda, coulda” about the Savior! He finished what the Father sent Him to do, namely the redemption of those whom the Father chose and gave to the Son. He did everything, and has everything, necessary for the redemption of His people, His sheep. In other words, there is nothing that stands in the way of the Shepherd as He goes about His business of gathering together His sheep. He “must” bring them in, all of them, and He will!
3. The shepherd knows the identity of the sheep.
Perhaps there were several flocks of sheep in this fold, but the shepherd knew who were his. And the sheep knew their shepherd, vs. 4, 5. Furthermore, He knew them individually: he had named each one of them and called them one by one. Naming animals is nothing new.
There was a lovely duet sung in a church I attended several years ago. This song had a line which said that when Jesus died, “He didn’t even know my name.” That may sound very emotional and wonderful that Jesus would die for people without knowing anything about them or even their name, but it’s a truly abysmal view of the death of Christ. He knew His sheep as He hung there on the Cross paying for their sins. He knew them then. He knew them in eternity past. Their names were written in His book before the foundation of the world, Revelation 13:8; 17:8. He will know them forever.
He knew everything about us…, and He died for us, anyway. We are His.
4. The shepherd guides the activity of the sheep.
He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. And when he brings them out, he goes before them, vs. 3, 4. The Psalmist put it like this: He makes me to lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside the still water. He restores my soul; He leads me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake, Psalm 23:2, 3.
5. The shepherd seeks the prosperity of the sheep.
“Prosperity” here doesn’t mean a fat bank account, a nice house and a Lexus out in the driveway, perfect health and wonderful relationships, as many in the church think, who seem to have no interest in anything but this world. The shepherd wanted his flock to be fed and watered and protected from danger. Likewise, our Lord said, “I have come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly,” v. 10. Once again, the “abundant life” doesn’t refer to material things, or even, as some believe, to a state of sinless perfection in this life. After all, the life that the sheep have is eternal. In the Lord Jesus Christ, the poorest believer has for free something that all the wealth this world has ever known or will ever know cannot buy, namely, eternal life. “Abundant life” isn’t the privilege of an elite few among believers. It belongs to all of us, because our Shepherd has given it to us.
6. The shepherd provides security for the sheep.
Likewise, Jesus said in vs. 11-14, “The good shepherd gives his life for the sheep. But he who is an hireling and not the shepherd, one who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees; and the wolf catches them and scatters them. I am the good shepherd; and I know My sheep, and am known by My own.”
Further, He said in vs. 27-30, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of My Father’s hand. I and My Father are one.”
In these four verses is clearly stated the hated (at least by some), the hated doctrine of eternal security, centuries before John Calvin and the generation after him who formulated the so-called “5 Points.” Our Lord said His sheep will never perish. And no one can take them away from Him or the Father. To the idiotic reply that “Well, yes, but they can jump out of His hand” – that would simply show that such a one was never a “sheep” at all. In verse 27, the tenses are present: the sheep are hearing, the Lord is knowing, the sheep are following. Salvation isn’t something that happened years ago with a “decision” or some ceremony. It’s a today thing – which doesn’t mean that we can lose it tomorrow. When tomorrow gets here, it will be “today,” and the sheep will still be following….
Jesus and the Father are “one” in their determination that the sheep will be saved. It’s a commentary on the sorry condition of Christianity that the belief that that determination can be thwarted is so widely held. The sheep are Christ’s. He cannot lose them.
7. The shepherd tends to the productivity of the sheep.
Leaving aside the fact that sheep can be food, they produce two things: wool and other sheep. In John 15:5, the Lord told His disciples, “I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing…By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be My disciples.” The goal, and responsibility, of the Christian life is fruitfulness. After listing several things to be developed as corollaries of faith, such as virtue, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, brotherly kindness and love, Peter continued, For if these things are yours and abound, you shall be neither barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 Peter 1:5-8.
This is just a little of what it means when we think of Psalm 23:1, “The LORD is my shepherd.”