Plainly, the One Shepherd

John goes out of his way to be sure we notice how various prophecies of Christ were fulfilled. For example, at his crucifixion the soldiers did not break his legs, “that the scripture should be fulfilled, A bone of him shall not be broken” (John 19:36). John does not comment so explicitly on Christ’s description of himself as the good shepherd. Is this because the reference was already plain enough?

Ezekiel 34 rebukes the shepherds of Israel, “Ye eat the fat, and ye clothe you with the wool, ye kill them that are fed: but ye feed not the flock” (v.3). Because these shepherds have been remiss, God says he will “deliver [his] flock from their mouth” himself. He continues, “I, even I, will both search my sheep and seek them out . . . and gather them from the countries . . . and feed them in a good pasture, and upon the high mountains of Israel shall their fold be . . . And I will set up one shepherd over them” (vv.11-14, 23).

Christ says he is “the good shepherd.” He declares of the current shepherds of Israel, “All that ever came before me are thieves and robbers . . . The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy” whereas he is come “that they might have life” (John 10:8-12). Indeed, he will feed them with his own body. In contrast with the “hireling, [who] seeth the wolf coming, and leaveth the sheep, and fleeth,” he says, “I lay down my life for the sheep” (John 10:12, 15). Christ will also gather “other sheep . . . which are not of this fold . . . and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd” (v.16; compare also Ezek 37:21-4, “one nation . . . one shepherd”).

A controversy arises after this speech. It could be over his claim that he has power to lay down his life, and to take it again, but could it be just as much over his claim to be the one good shepherd? Shortly after, a group comes to ask him, “How long dost thou make us to doubt? If thou be the Christ, tell us plainly.” Evidently Christ feels he has been quite plain already: “I told you, and ye believed me not . . . because ye are not of my sheep, as I said unto you. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me” (vv.25-7). They take up stones, saying, “thou, being a man, makest thyself God” (vv.31-3). Is it because he claimed, “I and my Father are one” (v.30), or because he said plainly that he was the good shepherd?

5 comments for “Plainly, the One Shepherd

  1. Thank you, Ben, for making us ponder these Scriptures. As far as we can judge from the context, the detractors showed their criticism based on various events and words by Christ. The word “long” in their remark “How long dost thou make us to doubt? If thou be the Christ, tell us plainly”, seems to express a built-up irritation over a longer period. So this would tend to include in their controversy all possible statements, including the One-ness with the Father and the claim to be the good shepherd.

    What also strikes in this passage is Christ’s daring rebuke against all the other shepherds. “All that ever came before me are thieves and robbers…” It reminds us of the words of the Savior to Joseph Smith: “the Personage who addressed me said that all their creeds were an abomination in his sight; that those professors were all corrupt”. No wonder the reaction was as vehement in Joseph’s as in Christ’s time.

  2. This week I took a neighbor without transportation, to get her 12 year old out of jail. She had been arrested for fighting at school. (Personally, I’m on the kid’s side, from what I’ve heard of the story, but that’s another story altogether.) I am often ill, and this neighbor declared she has the healing gift and–well, I have trouble being rude, and I let her put her hands on my head and say the most remarkable, long, and fervent prayer ever. I’ve been wondering if I did something wrong. I believe in prayer and healing gifts–even outside our church. But I believe the priesthood is essential in administering such blessings. Do I have faith in her ability to bless me? No. But her faith in the Lord Jesus Christ was very clear and her voluble capacity to administer a blessing she believed was going to heal me was clear. An abomination? Corrupt? Should I have been preaching to her instead of letting her preach to me? I am not given that gift. I am as tongue-tied as when talking to an answering machine.

    Got a blessing today at the hands of my branch president and DID feel the Spirit, and do feel better. I believe in His authority as given to this worthy holder of His priesthood. I admit I view my neighbor as a little bit weird. The experience was a throwback to my atheist days, being polite to proselytizers….

  3. Yes, Wilfried, this is a sweeping rebuke. Even more directly parallel to the one Joseph Smith reports are Jesus’ words in Mark 7:6-7, “This people honoureth me with their lips, but their heart is far from me . . . teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.”

    Sheri Lynn, I certainly don’t think you should be telling your friend that her desire to bless you is an abomination! Even where practices or teachings are seriously mistaken, we don’t need to take Christ’s description in our mouths; we should be humble about passing judgment, and we also should be careful about who we approach as though they are to blame for being mistaken. Plus, if your friend was just praying that you be healed (not claiming priesthood authority), perhaps what she did is not far off. Anybody is allowed to pray in faith.

  4. A passing thought — IIRC, the Gospel of John differs from the synoptic gospels with respect to the day Jesus was crucified and how long he was in the tomb.

    The synoptic gospels has Jesus crucified on the day after Passover, and celebrating the Passover meal with the disciples at the Last Supper. The Gospel of John has Jesus crucified on the day of Passover, itself, placing the Last Supper on the night before Passover.

    The date used in the Gospel of John makes Jesus the sacrificial lamb of Passover, an image that is used in a number of places in the Gospel of John. While the two conceptions are not necessarily incompatible, it occurs to me that the author of the Gospel of John may have preferred to emphasize the symbolism of Jesus as the Paschal Lamb, rather than Jesus as the Good Shepherd.

  5. In John 10: 2 the Savior indicates that the shepherd enters in by the door where as thieves and robbers try to climb over the fence. Then later in verse 7 He says the He is the door of the sheep. So, He’s the Shepherd AND the door through which He leads the sheep. In this sense I think He is the Good Shepherd and the Paschal Lamb. This strange duality is reflected in King Benjamin’s sermon where in he says (in so many words) that the Lord calls us (as would a good shepherd) though oddly, He calls us in his own Name (the only Name by or through which we can be saved–a door)

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