Jesus's Words

The Parable of the Good Shepherd

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John 10:1-18

Synopsis of Parable:

A shepherd herds his sheep through the door. A thief breaks in. The sheep listen to the shepherd, not the thief. A hired-hand sees a wolf and runs.

Parable Given in Response to:

The Pharisees asking if they were blind.(John 9:40-41.)

Symbolism Chart

Symbol Meaning Verse Found Verse Interpreted Notes
↓Shepherd Jesus John 10:2 John 10:11, 14
↓Door Jesus John 10:2, 3 John 10:7, 9
↓Sheep Followers of God John 10:3, 4, 8, 11, 14, 16 John 10:9 In verse 9, "men" do not pasture, sheep do.
The men pasturing must be the interpretation
of "sheep."
↓Stranger Ignorant Leaders John 10:5 Jesus did not interpret the meaning of the stranger.
↓Hireling Leaders that do it for Money John 10:12, 13 Jesus did not interpret the meaning of the hireling.
↓Thieves Maliciously Bad Persons John 10:8, 10 Jesus did not directly interpret the meaning of the thieves.

The Parable of the Good Shepherd

As presented in the King James Version of John 10:1-21

John 10:1 Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that entereth not by the door into the sheepfold, but climbeth up some other way, the same is a thief and a robber.
2 But he that entereth in by the door is the shepherd of the sheep.
3 To him the porter openeth; and the sheep hear his voice: and he calleth his own sheep by name, and leadeth them out.
4 And when he putteth forth his own sheep, he goeth before them, and the sheep follow him: for they know his voice.
5 And a stranger will they not follow, but will flee from him: for they know not the voice of strangers.
6This parable spake Jesus unto them: but they understood not what things they were which he spake unto them.
7Then said Jesus unto them again, Verily, verily, I say unto you, I am the door of the sheep.
8 All that ever came before me are thieves and robbers: but the sheep did not hear them.
9 I am the door: by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture.
10 The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.
11 I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep.
12 But he that is an hireling, and not the shepherd, whose own the sheep are not, seeth the wolf coming, and leaveth the sheep, and fleeth: and the wolf catcheth them, and scattereth the sheep.
13 The hireling fleeth, because he is an hireling, and careth not for the sheep.
14 I am the good shepherd, and know my sheep, and am known of mine.
15 As the Father knoweth me, even so know I the Father: and I lay down my life for the sheep.
16 And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd.
17 Therefore doth my Father love me, because I lay down my life, that I might take it again.
18 No man taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This commandment have I received of my Father.
19There was a division therefore again among the Jews for these sayings.
20And many of them said, He hath a devil, and is mad; why hear ye him?
21Others said, These are not the words of him that hath a devil. Can a devil open the eyes of the blind?

Explanation of the Interpretation of Symbols

The Shepherd is Jesus Back to Top ↑

Jesus directly says that he is the shepherd of the parable, not just once, but twice. I am the good shepherd,John 10:11 and I am the good shepherd.John 10:14 Jesus was so serious about this that he repeated himself twice. Anyone who denies this interpretation is directly denying Jesus himself. There can be no other interpretation.

Jesus's declaration that he is the shepherd makes sense. God directly said he was going to set up one shepherd over them, and he shall feed them... and he shall be their shepherd.Ezekiel 34:23 Jesus himself never states, implies, or infers, by metaphor or another way, that he is an animal of any kind. (Such as being a sheep or a lamb.) Instead, he always states that he is a shepherd. This is consistent throughout all his sayings in the canonical gospels, although some authors and a few people in the gospels do occasionally call Jesus a sheep or a lamb.(E.g., John the Baptist. See John 1:29.)

Jesus takes the role of being a shepherd seriously. It is a role he does not think we can handle. If he did, then he would not have directed us to dissuade others from calling us "rabbi,"(Matthew 23:8) "father,"(Matthew 23:9) or "master."(Matthew 23:10) In the first and third verses, Jesus says that he is the master, directly implying that we cannot be. And if we cannot be a master, or a rabbi, then how can we accept such a position as "shepherd" or "pastor"? Jesus laid his claim to this position, and we should not usurp it from him. It is as Jesus said in the parable: I am the good shepherd, and know my sheep, and am known of mine.John 10:14 If we claim Jesus's title, we risk taking away his sheep from him by making them unknowing of him, and Jesus unknowing of them.

The Door is Jesus Back to Top ↑

Turns out, in this parable Jesus is not only the shepherd, he is also the door! Jesus interprets himself as the door by saying, I am the door: by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture. John 10:9 With such a plain declaration, no one can deny Jesus his position as the door in this parable.

This makes sense, as Jesus repeats a claim here that he states elsewhere many times, namely that he is the way, and the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me. John 14:6 Just as a door provides access to a room, it is Jesus that provides access to God and life.(This is one of the critical messages of the fourth gospel, see John 3:36; 6:35; 8:12, 51; 11:25; 17:3.)

The only thing for us to realize about this is that when Jesus says he is the only way, he means it. He constantly tells his audience not to listen to other people, saying: Then if any man shall say unto you, Lo, here is Christ, or there; believe it not.... Wherefore if they shall say unto you, Behold, he is in the desert; go not forth: behold, he is in the secret chambers; believe it not, Matthew 24:23, 26 For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many, Matthew 24:5 For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall shew great signs and wonders. Matthew 24:24

Coincidentally, these things are true of the self-proclaimed apostle Paul or of the light he saw in the wilderness. Paul saw a light he thought was Jesus in the desert outside Damascus,(Acts 9:3 he came near Damascus, 22:5 was come nigh unto Damascus, 26:12 as I went to Damascus.) the light claimed to be Jesus,(Acts 9:5 I am Jesus whom thou persecutest, 22:8 I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom thou persecutest. 26:15 I am Jesus whom thou persecutest.) and Paul performed signs and wonders.(Acts 19:11: And God wrought special miracles by the hands of Paul.)

Jesus says that everyone will see him when he returns, through simile: For as the lightning, that lighteneth out of the one part under heaven, shineth unto the other part under heaven; so shall also the Son of man be in his day,Luke 17:24 and in the clouds: ye shall see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven. Mark 14:62 Yet when the self-proclaimed apostle saw Jesus, he never saw clouds. He either saw Jesus alone and became blind,(Acts 9) the men Paul was traveling with also saw the light, but only he was blinded,(Acts 22) or all saw, but he was not blinded.(Acts 26) And if Jesus appeared in front of Paul, then Jesus made himself out to be a liar, since the entire world did not see him. In fact, Paul might not have even seen a person, as he only recounts there being a "light,"(Acts 9:3, 22:6, 26:13) yet Paul was claiming Jesus was there in the wilderness outside Damascus, just as Jesus predicted people would say.Matthew 24:26 Wherefore if they shall say unto you, Behold, he is in the desert; go not forth.

Luckily though, Jesus did not say Paul was the door, but that he, Jesus, was. If Jesus wanted someone to teach his teachings after his departing, he would name them and directly tell them to.(As he did to the eleven apostles: Matthew 28:16-20 Then the eleven disciples went away into... Mark 16:14-18 Afterward he appeared unto the eleven as they sat at meat... Luke 24:32-49 and found the eleven gathered together...) Jesus would not completely ignore the subject so it could be a surprise when a random person said he was acting on Jesus's orders.

For those that believe that the self-proclaimed apostle taught the same things as Jesus, they can ignore Paul and focus on the door. If Paul and Jesus teach the same thing, then what is the need for Paul? It is the door that leads to life, so we can discount Paul even if he was a genuine apostle.

There is one more important thing to note about Jesus being both the Door and the Shepherd in this parable. It means that when we interpret other parables where Jesus's interpretation was not recorded, we need to be mindful that there is not necessarily a one-to-one relation between symbol and meaning. Multiple symbols can mean the same thing.

The Sheep are Followers of God Back to Top ↑

Jesus does not directly state who the sheep are. Instead, we must infer this. Luckily for us, this interpretation is very simple: the sheep are God's children. And much like sheep, God's children need a shepherd because they scatter without one(Isaiah 53:6; Jeremiah 50:6; Ezekiel 34:5, 6.) and cannot protect themselves.(Ezekiel 34:6.) Truly, people are more like sheep than any other animal.

Without Jesus directly telling us what the sheep symbol meant, we are free to think about other meanings for the sheep, however none of them make sense. Jesus came for his people(Matthew 15:24.) and the sinners.(Matthew 9:12, Mark 2:17, Luke 5:31.) When he found other people of faith, he also invited them in. This shows that followers of God are a proper interpretation for sheep because they would be the other sheep in Jesus's saying: And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd. John 10:16 Furthermore, one key word that Jesus used was "shall." They shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd. John 10:16

This is shown when Jesus speaks to the Canaanite woman. When they first met, she did not identify as an Israelite. Nevertheless, she sought Jesus, saying Have mercy on me, O Lord, thou Son of David.Matthew 15:22 And Jesus replies by saying he was not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel. 15:24 He even called her a dog by metaphor: It is not meet to take the children's bread, and to cast it to dogs. 15:26 And yet, due to her faith, Jesus accepted her as one of his own, and healed her daughter.(Matthew 15:28.) She was a dog, but became a sheep.

Another example of "other sheep" include the Roman centurion.(Matthew 8:5-13.) The centurion's servant was sick and begged Jesus to heal him. When Jesus said he would come and heal him, the servant said no, I believe that if you say that he is healed, he is healed. To this, Jesus responded Verily I say unto you, I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel. And I say unto you, That many shall come from the east and west, and shall sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven. But the children of the kingdom shall be cast out into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Matthew 8:10-12 By saying that the centurion had greater faith than any Jesus had found in Israel, then saying that many in Israel (the "children of the kingdom" in the passage), implied that this man would eat with the patriarchs in the Kingdom of Heaven. That would qualify the centurion as a sheep.

The identification of followers of God as "sheep" are all throughout the whole bible. In fact, the second person ever to be born from a woman took care of sheep.(Genesis 4:2.) God refers constantly to his people as sheep in prophesy.(E.g., Jeremiah 23:1; Ezekiel 34:11.) Jesus refers to his followers as sheep to, even when instructing Simon to take care of them: [Jesus] saith to him again the second time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me? He saith unto him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee. He saith unto him, Feed my sheep. John 21:16

The Strangers are Ignorant Leaders Back to Top ↑

Jesus only says this about the stranger: And a stranger will they not follow, but will flee from him: for they know not the voice of strangers. John 10:5 In real life the same is true about sheep: they flee from people they do not know. This is also true of the followers of God, they do not follow the strange new prophets that have shown up over the centuries. These leaders teach unknown things to the sheep, and so the sheep flee from them. Not all of them do it in malice though, many of them truly believe that what they are teaching is true. Thus, the stranger is merely an ignorant person who may be trying to help, but does not know that Jesus means it when he says and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd. John 10:16

It is conceivable that if a person does not know much about sheep, they may try to help. For instance, if a man sees a dozen sheep and decides that they are thirsty, he may lead them to a running river, only for the sheep to walk in and drown. (This really occurs. Sheep are not very smart creatures and do not handle moving water well.) The man intended to do good, but due to his ignorance, he killed several sheep. Such a man would be a stranger.

This interpretation makes sense. However, due in part to the stranger only being in one verse of the parable, there is plenty of room for other interpretations. We have found that none of them make much sense in the greater context of all of Jesus's sayings, and so we believe that a stranger is just an ignorant leader.

King Solomon once wrote: There is a way which seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death.Proverbs 14:12 This is why we as sheep need to ignore strangers. They may seem right, they may seem to tell the truth, but ultimately, they will lead to death. God said he would give us one shepherd,(Ezekiel 34:23.) and he has. We need only follow him.

Keeping this in mind, we should seek Jesus, and not secondary sources of information like this article. It is far better for you, the reader, to open to the gospels and read what Jesus said than it is for you to read our works. However, you are here and we wrote this, so let us continue.

Throughout the centuries, there have been many pastors, prophets, or apostles that have shown up and tried, as Jesus predicted, to seduce, if it were possible, even the elect. Mark 13:22 (cf. Matthew 24:24)

We will only mention one: the self-proclaimed apostle. This man's writings are featured in the New Testament, yet he killed followers of Jesus(Acts 8:3.) just as the Pharisees fathers killed the prophets.(Matthew 23:31; Luke 11:47.) He was a Pharisee(Acts 23:6.) who never recanted(Still claiming his status in his letters, see Philippians 3:5.) even though Jesus said Take heed and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees... Matthew 16:6 (cf. Mark 8:15, Luke 12:1) and constantly called them hypocrites.(Matthew 23:13-15, 23, 25, 27, 29; Luke 11:44, 12:1.) Jesus supposedly blinded him,(Acts 9:8, 9; 22:11) yet Jesus claimed that providing sight is one sign of him to John's disciples: Go and shew John again those things which ye do hear and see: The blind receive their sight, and the lame walk... Matthew 11:4, 5

Jesus even questions that when the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth? Luke 18:8 There are billions of proclaiming Christians on the earth. There must be something to either eliminate these billions of Christians, or to make them have faith in something other than what Jesus said. For these reasons, we state that the self-proclaimed apostle, Paul, is the stranger most responsible for tripping up the most people. Luckily, throughout history there was a tiny elect that did not believe him but tried to lead us to Jesus and follow the narrow path into life.(Matthew 7:13, 14; Luke 13:24.) See our Quotes about Paul page for some prominent quotes about Paul from people throughout history.

The Hirelings are Leaders that do it for Money Back to Top ↑

Jesus says this about the hirelings: But he that is an hireling, and not the shepherd, whose own the sheep are not, seeth the wolf coming, and leaveth the sheep, and fleeth: and the wolf catcheth them, and scattereth the sheep. The hireling fleeth, because he is an hireling, and careth not for the sheep. John 10:12, 13 It is very clear that the hireling only cares for money until trouble comes. This is just like many Christian pastors who do it for a living, and when trouble comes, they just stop. Why would they stop even if they become poor(Jesus even instructed a man to sell everything, thus becoming materially poor. See Matthew 19:21; Mark 10:21. cf. Matthew 19:29. He also said the Kingdom of God is for the poor in Luke 6:20.) men revile them, (This too Jesus says is a blessing if done for his sake in Matthew 5:11.) or even if their lives are threatened?( and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it. Matthew 10:39, cf. Matthew 16:25; Mark 8:35; Luke 9:24.) It is because they do not care for the sheep.

While there is some wiggle room for interpretation, this is the plainest interpretation and it makes perfect sense. A worker rarely cares if their business does bad, and does not pay the costs of the building if it burns down, but the owner is concerned about both things more than the money he brings in.

This interpretation need not be elaborated on any further. Most of what has been said about Jesus being the shepherd and not following strangers applies here too. Just as we should ignore strangers and follow Jesus the good shepherd, so too should we ignore hirelings and follow Jesus the good shepherd.

The Thieves are Maliciously Bad Persons Back to Top ↑

This is very simple. Jesus said it best: The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. John 10:10 We call these "maliciously bad people" because unlike the stranger and the shepherd, they want to harm the sheep. The stranger likely wants to help, and the hireling just wants money from the owner of the sheep, but the thief wants the sheep dead or killed.

Our interpretation is very broad, but it cannot be narrowed down any further. To say that one specific group of persons (e.g. proselytizing atheists) are the thieves for trying to steal the sheep and bring them into their own fold would be to deny another group of persons (e.g. militant Muslims) their role in trying to kill the sheep. Thus, this is the best we can do.

If you're able to read this article, you're likely aware of many religious groups that try to hammer down Jesus's words. They do this to steal the sheep into believing what they believe. There is not much more to be said about stealing sheep. However, we cannot ignore the fact that Jesus said that these people also come to kill and to destroy. There are simply some places that you cannot walk in as a loud proclaiming Christian, unless you are intending to die a martyr's death. In most other places, there is severe persecution for not believing the state religion, which, when enforced, is almost never any version of Christianity. Really, it is western society that is the oddity for allowing us to proclaim our religion as whatever we want.

This should not come as a surprise. As time goes on, we should expect more thieves and more persecution. Jesus told us that we shall be hated of all nations for my name's sake. Matthew 24:9 Jesus also said yea, the time cometh, that whosoever killeth you will think that he doeth God service. And these things will they do unto you, because they have not known the Father, nor me. John 16:2, 3 (Interesting that the Jews and Muslims both claim to believe in the same God, but deny Jesus his role as shepherd.) However, Jesus explicitly says that he will give us the words to speak the truth in these situations. And it shall turn to you for a testimony. Settle it therefore in your hearts, not to meditate before what ye shall answer: For I will give you a mouth and wisdom, which all your adversaries shall not be able to gainsay nor resist. Luke 21:13-15 These will probably be the most persuasive words ever spoken since the time when Jesus walked on the earth. And we should not fear for our lives, because Jesus said he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it. Matthew 10:39, cf. Matthew 16:25; Mark 8:35; Luke 9:24.

In Conclusion Back to Top ↑

Overall, this is a very simple parable, even if the long descriptions of each individual symbol makes it seem complicated. Jesus takes care of his people. Strangers, hirelings, and thieves do not. This parable is an assurance of his love for us.

This parable also goes into some ways that Jesus takes care of us. He's willing to (and did) lay down his life,(John 10:11, 15, 17) he is the door that leads us to life,(John 10:9, 10) lets us know that there are other sheep we might not initially recognize,(John 10:16) and reassures us that he knows us, and we know him.(John 10:14)

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