All of this brings us to the final story—and the startling twist to this trilogy. The shepherd dies!
“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 10:1-18)
Nothing has prepared us for this ending. Jesus’ second story ended with the sheep experiencing life in a luscious pasture, eating their fill, living with no fear of thieves or bandits. Life seemed good for the shepherd and his sheep.
But there is danger. A wolf approaches, stalking its prey. But the shepherd is ready. He sees the wolf from a distance and stands his ground, readying to wield his rod like a spear. Someone is about to die in this battle—but shockingly, it is not the wolf; it is the shepherd.
“The good shepherd lays down his life.”
Not the happily-ever-after ending we have come to expect.
One Small Word Explains It All
Why does this trilogy end like this?
Because, for the sheep to enjoy God’s pasture, a battle must be fought. The wolf must be defeated. Sin must be conquered. Satan must be vanquished.
Ultimately, this story is about Jesus’ death on the cross. “I am the good shepherd…and I lay down My life for the sheep,” Jesus says. Jesus is prophesying His coming death. But He makes it clear, His death would be like no other death ever experienced. Jesus would die a special death.
One small word explains what kind of death Jesus would die—the word for. A small preposition, yet utterly profound. It means “in the place of” or “on behalf of,” emphasizing substitution. “The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” The shepherd dies so the sheep can live.
Jesus Dies Because God is Holy
The death of this shepherd emphasizes a vital biblical truth: “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). God is too holy to allow sin in His presence. Sin must be punished. Judgment must fall. God’s wrath must be assuaged.
Why must the shepherd die for His sheep? Because “all of us like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way” (Isaiah 53:6). Only spotless sheep can enter God’s pasture. Straying sheep are not allowed entrance. Dirty sheep are turned away. Our sin debt must be paid. Our transgressions must be atoned for. Not one of us has ever lived the same sinless life as the shepherd.
Remember, the Old Testament was the cultural DNA of Israel. What does the Old Testament promise about the coming shepherd? Answer: He would die to pay the penalty of sin on behalf of others. The Old Testament put it this way, “He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities” (Isaiah 53:4-5). Transgression means “rebellion against God’s law”; iniquity means “perversion of God’s holy character.” The promise is that a Savior would be “pierced through” and “crushed”—killed—not for His own sins, but for the sin of others. Because the wages of sin is death, to say the reward of sin is death, the shepherd must die so that the straying sheep might live.
Jesus did not die as a political revolutionary. He did not die as a martyr. He died as a substitute—a sacrifice to extinguish God’s anger against the sinner, to pay the price meant for them. This is the greatest news the world can hear.
Jesus stood in our place so that the wages of our sin would not fall upon us.
This saving truth is repeated throughout the Bible.
Romans 5:6 – “For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.”
1 Corinthians 15:3 – “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures.”
Jesus took upon Himself the penalty for sin so that the sinner could live in the holy presence of God. He died, so that we sinners would live.
Not Just a Physical Death
But the death Jesus died was not just a physical death. The way Jesus described His death—“I lay down My life”— in the original Greek refers to the death of the total self, encompassing both the physical and spiritual part of man. A literal translation is, “I strip off my soul.” When Jesus died, He died both physically and spiritually.
Jesus died physically, experiencing the heart-stopping horror of crucifixion. But that was not the full extent of Jesus’ suffering. Jesus also died spiritually—He experienced the full fury of God’s wrath for the sins of His people. Holy wrath that should have been poured out on the sinner was meted out on Jesus. And He paid for those sins in full.
No wonder Jesus is the only shepherd who can lead into God’s pasture—He is the only sacrifice for sin God will accept— His own Son.
What Motivated the Shepherd to Die?
What motivated the good shepherd to strip off his soul for his sheep? Why did Jesus die for the ungodly? Answer— because He loved the sheep.
There is another character in this final story— a hired hand. And the contrast between the good shepherd and the hired hand is stark. The hired hand fled when he saw the wolf coming. He left the sheep to fend for themselves. He had no affection for the sheep, no commitment to the sheep. He tended the sheep for the wage. And thus, when danger approached, he ran.
But the shepherd? He stood his ground. He battled. He died. Because he loved not the wage, but the sheep. In the words of Jesus, “greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). Love for the sheep drove Christ to die on the cross.
There is A Happy Ending!
Now if that is where this story ended, there would be no happy ending, because a dead shepherd is no shepherd. A dead shepherd can no longer care for his sheep, feed his sheep, or guard his sheep. The sheep need the shepherd to live, which is how this final story ends, not in death, but in life. “I lay down My life so that I may take it again… I have authority to lay it down on My own initiative, and I have authority to take it up again.” The wolf could not destroy the shepherd. The shepherd lives!
Jesus now moves from His substitutionary death to His victorious resurrection from the dead. Death could not keep Jesus in its grip. The shepherd took his life back. And in so doing, Jesus confirmed that He was who He claimed to be, God in human flesh, while also confirming that God the Father had accepted His sacrifice for sin. He exhausted God’s wrath. He conquered death. He defeated sin. And He lives again to prove it!
The story ends with the shepherd’s victory and the sheep’s safety. The sheep have nothing to fear. The wolf is dead and the good shepherd lives—never to die again—forever guiding, caring, and loving His sheep in God’s pasture.
Who is Jesus?
Do you see how profound the question Who is Jesus? is? Do you see how eternally significant these stories are?
In the first story, Jesus is the only one who fulfills the Old Testament prophecies of a coming Savior.
In the second story, Jesus is the only shepherd who can lead to God’s pasture.
In this third story, Jesus is the only sacrifice for sin God will accept. He is the loving shepherd who gave His own life for the sake of His sheep. He is the required sacrifice for sin, so that we would be allowed entry into God’s presence. And He is the resurrected Savior who exhausted God’s wrath for all who come to Him in saving faith.
He is the good—no, the great shepherd.
Another Question that Must Be Answered
But there is another question we must answer. And it takes all that Jesus has said and makes it personal.
Are you one of Jesus’ sheep? Will you be granted access to God’s pasture?
These are the questions that bring us to the final blog of this series. Fifth and final part coming soon.