Stories are powerful. They capture the mind. Stories put images to words, color to the black-and-white page. Stories allow us to feel, see, and experience with our mind’s eye. They shape our beliefs and stir our thoughts.
These stories are metaphors, analogies, real-to-life comparisons—stories meant to teach vital spiritual lessons through simple everyday experiences. They are a kind of parable, short and easy to grasp on the surface, but when the details are explained, they carry deep meaning and eternal significance. These parables were told by Jesus to help explain who He is and what He was going to do for His people.
Story #1 – “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter by the door into the fold of the sheep, but climbs up some other way, he is a thief and a robber. But he who enters by the door is a shepherd of the sheep. To him the doorkeeper opens, and the sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he puts forth all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. A stranger they simply will not follow, but will flee from him, because they do not know the voice of strangers” (John 10:1-5).1
Story #2 – “So Jesus said to them again, “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. All who came before Me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not hear them. I am the door; if anyone enters through Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:7-10).
Story #3 – “I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep. He who is a hired hand, and not a shepherd, who is not the owner of the sheep, sees the wolf coming, and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hired hand and is not concerned about the sheep. I am the good shepherd, and I know My own and My own know Me, even as the Father knows Me and I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep. I have other sheep, which are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will hear My voice; and they will become one flock with one shepherd. For this reason the Father loves Me, because I lay down My life so that I may take it again. No one has taken it away from Me, but I lay it down on My own initiative. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This commandment I received from My Father” (John 10:11-18).
Three Stories, One Important Question
Three stories, not about a dwarf, wizard, or dragon—but about a shepherd and his sheep. But not just any shepherd; the shepherd in this trilogy is Jesus. “I am the good shepherd,” Jesus says, as the third story opens.
You could boil each of these stories down to one question: “Who is Jesus?” That is what each of these parables is about- Jesus is explaining Himself in story form.
Though a short question, it is far from trivial. In fact, your answer will decide whether you enter heaven, or whether you are sentenced to hell. It is that important of a question. These stories are that significant.
It was Jesus who said, “Unless you believe that I am He, you will die in your sins” (John 8:24). That is to say, “Unless you believe the truth about Me, unless you believe who I really am, you will die in your sins.” There are only two ways to die—you can either die in your sins with no Savior, no forgiveness, and no hope, or you can die in Jesus, forgiven of your sin, saved from your guilt, rescued from hell and delivered into heaven.
And it all comes down to how you answer the question, “Who is Jesus?”
Before we look at each story individually, we first need to look at the main character of this trilogy. Each parable revolves around a single shepherd. In the first story, the shepherd enters a sheepfold, his flock. In the second, the shepherd leads his sheep into a luscious pasture. And in the third, the shepherd fights off a wolf to protect his sheep.
God is the Good Shepherd
Remember, Israel had an authoritative book that was part and parcel to life—a book that we refer to today as the Old Testament.2 This is how Jewish children learned to read and write; they attended the synagogue and learned the Scriptures. The Old Testament was the DNA of Jewish culture, the primary building block of society. The Old Testament frequently spoke about shepherds. But there was one shepherd, one chief shepherd, the Old Testament was most concerned about.
This is significant because Jesus did not call Himself merely a shepherd, among many shepherds. No, Jesus called Himself “the good shepherd”—an important distinction. The word ‘good’ Jesus chose in the original Greek language does not refer to good as opposed to bad. Rather, it means beautiful, or ideal, or praiseworthy. Jesus is calling Himself the ideal shepherd of Israel, purposefully linking Himself to the model shepherd the Old Testament spoke so often about.
The Old Testament is clear. God is the good shepherd.
- Genesis 49:24 – “The Mighty One…is the Shepherd.”
- Psalm 78:52 – “The Holy One…led forth His own people like sheep.”
- Psalm 80:1-4 – “Oh, give ear, Shepherd of Israel…O God, O Lord God of hosts.”
The ideal shepherd is God! This would not have been lost on the people when they heard Jesus declare Himself to be the good and beautiful shepherd.
The Divine Shepherd Has Come in Human Flesh
What are we to make of Jesus’ claim considering this Old Testament background? Simply this: Jesus is claiming to be the divine shepherd of the Old Testament—God who has come in human flesh. How do we know that for sure? Because Jesus used the phrase “I am” when describing Himself as the shepherd. “I am the good shepherd.” That is the divine name of God! In Exodus 3, God called Himself the “I am who I am.” So, not only is Jesus claiming to be the ideal shepherd of the Old Testament, He is also applying to Himself the divine name of God.
This is no small claim. Jesus is asserting a personal unity with God, an identity as God, claiming to share the divine nature of God. He’s declaring deity.
It’s no wonder that after Jesus told these stories, many within the crowd “were saying, ‘He has a demon and is insane’” (John 10:20). The people understood what Jesus was claiming for Himself. They knew He was applying to Himself the “I am” name. So they accused Jesus of having lost His mind. In fact, they went even further and used a kind of hyperbole; they say Jesus had “a demon.” Why a demon? Because in their minds, only a demon would utter such blasphemous words! They thought Jesus was stealing glory from God by claiming the identity of God.
What Else Did Jesus Say About Himself?
Amazingly, this was not the first time Jesus claimed deity for Himself. Throughout Jesus’ life He made this same claim in a variety of ways.
- He called Himself the Son of God, claiming equality with God – “He…was calling God His own Father, making Himself equal with God” (John 5:18).
- He talked of His pre-existence, claiming the eternality of God – “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was born, I am” (John 8:58).
- He ascribed to Himself the glory of God, claiming the majesty of God – “Now, Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was” (John 17:5).
But that’s not all. Jesus also claimed to do what only God could do.
- He declared His right to forgive sin – “Jesus…said…‘Son, your sins are forgiven.’ But some of the scribes were…reasoning in their hearts, ‘Why does this man speak this way? He is blaspheming; who can forgive sins but God alone” (Mark 2:5-7).
- He pronounced His authority to raise the dead – “For just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life; even so the Son also gives life to whom He wishes” (John 5:21).
- He accepted worship that was due God alone – “And [the man] said, ‘Lord, I believe.’ And he worshiped [Jesus]” (John 9:38).
When Jesus called Himself “the good shepherd,” He was simply doing what He had done throughout His entire life—uniting Himself to God—yet this time doing it in parable form.
Returning to the question we began with, “Who is Jesus?” He is the Good Shepherd; equal to God the Father, as divine as God the Father, and just as worthy to be praised as God the Father. He is the Psalm 23 shepherd—God who has come in human flesh.
Having seen the shepherd of this trilogy, we will look at Jesus’ first story in the next article of this series. Keep a look out for The Most Important Question: Part 2.
1 Throughout this series you will find names and numbers in parentheses. These are references to different verses in the Bible. In this instance, “John 10:1-5” is a reference to the Gospel of John, chapter 10, verses 1-5.
2 The “Old Testament” refers to the first 39 books of the Bible. It begins with the book of Genesis and ends with the book of Malachi.