William Barclay's Daily Study Bible

The True And The False Shepherd (John 10:11-15)

10:11-15 "I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd gives his life for the sheep. The hireling, who is not a real shepherd, and to whom the sheep do not really belong, sees the wolf coming, and leaves the sheep, and runs away; and the wolf seizes them and scatters them. He abandons the sheep because he is a hireling, and the sheep are nothing to him. I am the good shepherd, and I know my own sheep, and my own sheep know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep."

This passage draws the contrast between the good and the bad, the faithful and the unfaithful shepherd. The shepherd was absolutely responsible for the sheep. If anything happened to a sheep, he had to produce some kind of proof that it was not his fault. Amos speaks about the shepherd rescuing two legs or a piece of an ear out of a lion's mouth ( Amos 3:12 ). The law laid it down: "If it is torn by beasts, let him bring it as evidence" ( Exodus 22:13 ). The idea is that the shepherd must bring home proof that the sheep had died, and that he had been unable to prevent the death. David tells Saul how when he was keeping his father's sheep, he had the battle with the lion and the bear ( 1 Samuel 17:34-36 ). Isaiah speaks of the crowd of shepherds being called out to deal with the lion ( Isaiah 31:4 ). To the shepherd it was the most natural thing to risk his life in defence of his flock. Sometimes the shepherd had to do more than risk his life: sometimes he had to lay it down, perhaps when thieves and robbers came to despoil the flock. Dr W. M. Thomson in The Land and the Book writes: "I have listened with intense interest to their graphic descriptions of downright and desperate fights with these savage beasts. And when the thief and the robber come (and come they do), the faithful shepherd has often to put his life in his hand to defend his flock. I have known more than one case where he had literally to lay it down in the contest. A poor faithful fellow last spring, between Tiberias and Tabor, instead of fleeing, actually fought three Bedouin robbers until he was hacked to pieces with their khanjars, and died among the sheep he was defending." The true shepherd never hesitated to risk, and even to lay down, his life for his sheep.

But, on the other hand, there was the unfaithful shepherd. The difference was this. A real shepherd was born to his task. He was sent out with the flock as soon as he was old enough to go; the sheep became his friends and his companions; and it became second nature to think of them before he thought of himself. But the false shepherd came into the job, not as a calling, but as a means of making money. He was in it simply and solely for the pay he could get. He might even be a man who had taken to the hills because the town was too hot to hold him. He had no sense of the height and the responsibility of his task; he was only a hireling.

Wolves were a threat to a flock. Jesus said of his disciples that he was sending them out as sheep in the midst of wolves ( Matthew 10:16 ); Paul warned the elders of Ephesus that grievous wolves would come, not sparing the flock ( Acts 20:29 ). If these wolves attacked, the hireling shepherd forgot everything but the saving of his own life and ran away. Zechariah marks it as the characteristic of a false shepherd that he made no attempt to gather together the scattered sheep ( Zechariah 11:16 ). Carlyle's father once took this imagery caustically to his speech. In Ecclefechan they were having trouble with their minister; and it was the worst of all kinds of such trouble--it was about money. Carlyle's father rose and said bitingly: "Give the hireling his wages and let him go."

Jesus' point is that the man who works only for reward thinks chiefly of the money; the man who works for love thinks chiefly of the people he is trying to serve. Jesus was the good shepherd who so loved his sheep that for their safety he would risk, and one day give, his life.

We may note two further points before we leave this passage. Jesus describes himself as the good shepherd. Now in Greek, there are two words for good. There is agathos ( Greek #18 ) which simply describes the moral quality of a thing; there is kalos ( Greek #2570 ) which means that in the goodness there is a quality of winsomeness which makes it lovely. When Jesus is described as the good shepherd, the word is kalos ( Greek #2570 ). In him there is more than efficiency and more than fidelity; there is loveliness. Sometimes in a village or town people speak about the good doctor. They are not thinking only of the doctor's efficiency and skill as a physician; they are thinking of the sympathy and the kindness and the graciousness which he brought with him and which made him the friend of all. In the picture of Jesus as the Good Shepherd there is loveliness as well as strength and power.

The second point is this. In the parable the flock is the Church of Christ; and it suffers from a double danger. It is always liable to attack from outside, from the wolves and the robbers and the marauders. It is always liable to trouble from the inside, from the false shepherd. The Church runs a double danger. It is always under attack from outside and often suffers from the tragedy of bad leadership, from the disaster of shepherds who see their calling as a career and not as a means of service. The second danger is by far the worse; because, if the shepherd is faithful and good, there is a strong defence from the attack from outside; but if the shepherd is faithless and a hireling, the foes from outside can penetrate into and destroy the flock. The Church's first essential is a leadership based on the example of Jesus Christ.

- William Barclay's Daily Study Bible