- 1. Synopsis
- 2. Parable Given in Response to
- 3. Symbolism Chart
- 4. The Parable in John
- 5. Symbolic Interpretations
- 5.1. The Shepherd is Jesus
- 5.2. The Door is Jesus
- 5.3. The Sheep are Followers of God
- 5.4. The Strangers are Ignorant Leaders
- 5.5. The Hirelings are Leaders that do it for Money
- 5.6. The Thieves are Maliciously Bad Persons
- 6. Conclusion
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.)
|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
|↓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
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,
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.
Jesus's declaration that he is the shepherd makes sense. God directly said he was going to
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:
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,
This makes sense, as Jesus repeats a claim here that he states elsewhere many times, namely that he is
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:
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
Jesus says that everyone will see him when he returns, through simile:
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
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:
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
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
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:
The Strangers are Ignorant Leaders Back to Top ↑
Jesus only says this about the stranger:
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:
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,
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
Jesus even questions that
The Hirelings are Leaders that do it for Money Back to Top ↑
Jesus says this about the hirelings:
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:
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
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)