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Parables Bible Study 22: The Good Shepherd

Title: Parables Bible Study 22: The Good Shepherd

Subject: The Good Shepherd and the Kingdom of Heaven

Age: 13+ years


  • John 10:1-5 (parable)
  • John 10:6-16 (parable explanation)

Handout for note taking: Bible Study Worksheet

Begin the Bible Study with a prayer. Read the passage, and then allow time for quiet reflection. Share the following notes on the parable.

In our study this is the only passage from John that we will study as a parable. Verse 6 states, "Jesus uses this illustration/figure of speech (in Greek paroimia not parabole) but they did not understand the things which He spoke to them. The word parabole is the word commonly used in the Synoptic Gospels for this type of allegorical speech of Jesus. Here John uses a word that refers to the first five verses and although he does not use the same word, the concept and idea is similar enough that this passage can be identified as a parable. Like the parable of the Sower and the parable of the Tares, we have a story and its explanation by Jesus.

The Present: In chapter 9 of John's Gospel, he describes the event of a man born blind who is healed by Jesus. In this illustrative story the main characters are the blind man, the Pharisees, Jesus, and the crowds and the parents. This whole passage is about identity. It is about figuring out who Jesus is through this miraculous event. Of note is the blind man. Notice how he goes from being physically blind and perhaps spiritually blind to illumination. We read from verse 35 through 41 the following:

  • "Jesus heard that they had cast him out; and when He had found him, He said to him, ‘Do you believe in the Son of God?' He answered and said, ‘Who is He, Lord, that I may believe in Him?' And Jesus said to him, ‘You have both seen Him and it is He who is talking with you.' Then he said, ‘Lord, I believe!' And he worshiped Him. And Jesus said, ‘For judgment I have come into this world, that those who do not see may see, and that those who see may be made blind.' Then some of the Pharisees who were with Him heard these words, and said to Him, ‘Are we blind also?' Jesus said to them, ‘If you were blind, you would have no sin; but now you say "We see." Therefore your sin remains.'"

The Past: Before we go further we will have to stop and consider that Jesus' indictment here is possibly His most forceful. Keeping in mind the woes of the Synoptics we have here a direct critique of what was supposed to be the shepherds first concern; the sheep and the need to sacrifice one's self for them. What Jesus has in mind and what was most likely in mind for the Pharisees is the 34th chapter of Ezekiel, specifically the following verses:

  • "Son of Man, prophecy against the shepherds of Israel; prophesy and say to the shepherds, ‘Thus says the Lord and Master: "O shepherds of Israel who feed themselves, should not the shepherds feed the sheep?"'" Ezekiel 34:2.
  • "You have not strengthened the weak, and the sick you have not revived. The broken you have not bandaged, and the misled you have not brought back. The lost you have not sought, and the strong you have not prepared for labor." Ezekiel 34:4.
  • "Thus says the Lord and Master: ‘Behold, I am against the shepherds, and shall require My sheep at their hands. I shall turn them away so t hey may not shepherd My sheep. The shepherds will not feed them anymore, for I shall deliver My sheep from their mouth; and they shall no longer be as food for them.' For thus says the Lord: ‘Behold, I shall search for My sheep and care for them.'" Ezekiel 34:10-11.
  • "I shall feed them in good pasture and on the high mountain of Israel, and their folds will be there. They will lie down, and there they shall rest in good luxury, and feed in rich pasture on the mountains of Israel." Ezekiel 34:14.
  • "I shall seek the lost, bring back the misled, bind up the broken, strengthen the fallen, protect the strong, and feed them with judgment." Ezekiel 34:16.
  • "I shall raise up one Shepherd over them, and He will tend them, even My Servant David. He shall be their Shepherd." Ezekiel 34:23.
  • "I will also make a covenant of peace with David, and utterly destroy the evil wild animals from the land. They shall dwell in the desert and sleep in the forests." Ezekiel 34:25.
  • "They shall no longer be as plunder for the nations, nor will the wild animals be devour them; but they will dwell in hope and no one shall make them afraid." Ezekiel 34:28.
  • "'Then they will know that I am the Lord their God, and they are My people, O house of Israel,' says the Lord. ‘You are My sheep and the sheep of My pasture, and I am the Lord your God,' says the Lord and Master.'" Ezekiel 34:30-31.

What are also in mind are Jeremiah's words in chapter 23:

  • "Woe to the shepherds who scatter and destroy the sheep of My pasture!" Jeremiah 23:1.
  • "'Behold, days are coming,' says the Lord, ‘when I will raise up for David the Righteous Orient, and a King shall reign. He will understand and bring about judgment and righteousness on the earth.'" Jeremiah 23:5.

The Everyday: Shepherding, sheep, etc., were well known things to the people Jesus spoke to. They understood the basics and the intricacies of keeping sheep. Certainly many of them understood the deep care a good shepherd had to provide for his sheep. The bond and love that grew between sheep and shepherd was well known to them and so simple things like verse 3, "and the sheep hear his voice, as he calls his own by name" would have meant a lot to them. Thus the context is set for what comes in chapter 10.
An odd but important set of questions: Who is the Good Shepherd and who is the door/gate? To both of these questions we should answer: Jesus. Yet there is more to say on this point. As for the Door/Gate we should know that Jesus is the only door/gate. The Church understands the door/gate to be access to the Father and the security of His presence. Before Christ, the door was Holy Scripture, which brought men to God and opened to the people the knowledge of Him. The prophets, especially Moses, are the porters or gatekeepers who offered men entrance through the door. (Points one and two are from Archbishop Dimitry, Parables, p. 140, which is from St. John Chrysostom, On John, Homily 59).

As for the concept of Shepherd we understand from the parable that Jesus is not the only shepherd. We know this from verses 1 through 5. A distinction is made between those who enter the sheepfold through the gate, Jesus Christ, and therefore are true shepherds versus those who enter through another means. In other words we have those who are truly shepherds and those who pretend. The real shepherd enters the sheepfold through Christ, while the pretender scales the wall. Note that typically a sheepfold was a courtyard in front of a house where the sheep were brought for the night.

Additional notes on verses 1through 6 are on true identity, contrast and critique. What we have in these verses is a statement of who Jesus is, a contrast of Himself against the Jewish leaders, and a critique of their spiritual leadership. In terms of True Identity, Jesus describes Himself as the True Shepherd, the One anticipated and prepared for and the One to whom all the prophets point to. He is the One to which all the sheep must be directed. All others are robbers, thieves, and strangers. In terms of Contrast, in the preceding chapter Jesus describes the Pharisees as blind and sinful, verse 39 and 41. These appointed and necessary shepherds are not capable of acting as they should. They are blind and poor shepherds. In Jesus we have the One who gives vision and operates as a true shepherd. Speaking to Critique, these shepherds act for their own interest. Ezekiel 34:8, these are the shepherds, "who fed themselves, and not My flock." Isaiah puts it this way, "Yea, they are greedy dogs which can never have enough, and they are shepherds that cannot understand: they all look to their own way, every one for his gain" (Isaiah 56:10). Jesus is aware of these texts and of their application to the current leaders of the Jews. Their selfish desires have rendered them spiritually ineffective. They are incapable of seeing the salvation offered through Jesus Christ.

We learn much from seeing this three fold purpose of Jesus words. Jesus is the only way, this can't be watered down. All leaders must be judged on their ability to lead to Christ. True leadership is self-sacrificial and cannot serve itself. In verses 7 through 9, Jesus drives home the message of who He is, who the real sheep are and what becomes of the sheep, salvation and good pasture.

Here is some deep Trinitarian theology. As was mentioned before through Christ we gain access to the Father and the security of His presence. As was also mentioned earlier before Christ this access was given through the scriptures and its gatekeepers Moses and the Prophets. What Jesus states now is no contradiction for all the scriptures point to Him and testify of Him. The following are to passages from John's Gospel.

  • "And the Father Himself, who sent Me, has testified of Me. You have neither heard His voice at any time, nor seen His form. But you do not have His word abiding in you, because whom He sent, Him you do not believe. You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me. But you are not willing to come to Me that you may have life." John 5:37-40.
  • "Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me. If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also; and from now on you know Him and have seen Him.' Philip said to Him, ‘Lord, show us the Father, and it is sufficient for us.'" John 14:6-8.

The Son points us to and gives us access to the Father. What about the Holy Spirit? John 15:26 tells us, "But when the Helper comes, whom I shall send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, He will testify of Me." The Spirit that proceeds from the Father, and rests upon the Son, is sent by the Son into the world to testify and lead people to the Son. The Spirit opens the door to knowing Jesus Christ.

Verse 8 tells us that the thieves and robbers are definitely not Moses or the prophets but the self-proclaimed deliverers and leaders whose interest was themselves. They are now those who seem in peaceful times genuine but who will flee when trouble arises. The pretender flees because when he perceives danger to himself he will not oppose injustice, he will not give consolation, and he will remain in silence. The pretender is also the one who seeks to lead the faithful astray knowingly and even through heresy, heresy that arises through indifference, carelessness, schism, etc.

In verse 11 we learn that ultimately the Good Shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. This statement or description follows verse 10, where Jesus declares His purpose for coming into the world. He wants us to have real life, authentic human life, and life that never ends. Continuing in verse 12, we learn of the hireling who flees and leaves the sheep at the sight of a wolf. In verse 15 Jesus plainly says that He will give His life for the sheep. This further illustrates His point that the false religious leaders are only hirelings.

Verses 17 and 18 reiterate that the death He has submitted to is voluntary. Jesus does not have to die; He chooses to because He loves for and cares for the sheep. This voluntary death is life-generating, and this is proven by His resurrection, when His life is taken up again. Finally, in verse 16 we hear the prophecy of His death includes the call of the Gentiles.

Allow time for discussion and reflection.

End the bible study with a prayer.

Prepared by Fr. Evan Armatas

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