The Good Shepherd is a metaphor that describes Jesus Christ. In the Bible, the Good Shepherd is mentioned several times. The Gospel of John identifies Jesus as the Good Shepherd who lays down his life for his sheep (John 10:11-18). He also gives His life for us, and guides us to the truth.
The Good Shepherd is also mentioned in Psalm 23:1-3, which states “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.” This psalm describes how God protects and provides for His people.
In Isaiah 40:11-12, God promises that He will provide good things for those who trust Him: “He will feed His flock like a shepherd; He will gather His lambs with His arm; He will carry them in His bosom, and gently lead those that are with young.”
In Jeremiah 31:10-14, God promises to be a good shepherd over His people: “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”
What did Jesus mean when He said, “I am the good Shepherd?”
“I am the good shepherd” (John 10:11) is the fourth of seven “I am” declarations of Jesus recorded only in John’s Gospel. These “I am” proclamations point to His unique, divine identity and purpose. Immediately after declaring that He is “the door” in John 10:7, Jesus declares “I am the good shepherd.” He describes Himself as not only “the shepherd” but the “good shepherd.” What does this mean?
It should be understood that Jesus is “the” good shepherd, not simply “a” good shepherd, as others may be, but He is unique in character (Psalm 23; Zechariah 13:7; Hebrews 13:20; 1 Peter 2:25; 1 Peter 5:4). The Greek word kalos, translated “good,” describes that which is noble, wholesome, good, and beautiful, in contrast to that which is wicked, mean, foul, and unlovely. It signifies not only that which is good inwardly—character—but also that which is attractive outwardly. It is an innate goodness. Therefore, in using the phrase “the good shepherd,” Jesus is referencing His inherent goodness, His righteousness, and His beauty. As shepherd of the sheep, He is the one who protects, guides, and nurtures His flock.
As He did in declaring that He is “the door of the sheep” in John 10:7, Jesus is making a contrast between Himself and the religious leaders, the Pharisees (John 10:12–13). He compares them to a “hireling” or “hired hand” who doesn’t really care about the sheep. In John 10:9, Jesus speaks of thieves and robbers who sought to enter the sheepfold stealthily. In that passage the Jewish leaders (Pharisees) are contrasted with Christ, who is the Door. Here, in John 10:12, the hireling is contrasted with the true or faithful shepherd who willingly gives up his life for the sheep. He who is a “hireling” works for wages, which are his main consideration. His concern is not for the sheep but for himself. Interestingly enough, the shepherds of ancient times were not usually the owners of the flock. Nevertheless, they were expected to exercise the same care and concern the owners would. This was characteristic of a true shepherd. However, some of the hirelings thought only of themselves. As a result, when a wolf appeared—the most common threat to sheep in that day—the hireling abandoned the flock and fled, leaving the sheep to be scattered or killed (John 10:12–13).
First, to better understand the purpose of a shepherd during the times of Jesus, it is helpful to realize that sheep are utterly defenseless and totally dependent upon the shepherd. Sheep are always subject to danger and must always be under the watchful eye of the shepherd as they graze. Rushing walls of water down the valleys from sudden, heavy rainfalls may sweep them away, robbers may steal them, and wolves may attack the flock. David tells how he killed a lion and a bear while defending his father’s flock as a shepherd boy (1 Samuel 17:36). Driving snow in winter, blinding dust and burning sands in summer, long, lonely hours each day—all these the shepherd patiently endures for the welfare of the flock. In fact, shepherds were frequently subjected to grave danger, sometimes even giving their lives to protect their sheep.
Likewise, Jesus gave His life on the cross as “the Good Shepherd” for his own. He who would save others, though He had the power, did not choose to save Himself. “The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28). Through His willing sacrifice, the Lord made salvation possible for all who come to Him in faith. In proclaiming that He is the Good Shepherd, Jesus speaks of “laying down” His life for His sheep (John 10:15, 17–18).
Jesus’ death was divinely appointed. It is only through Him that we receive salvation. “I am the good shepherd; and I know My sheep, and am known by My own” (John 10:14). Furthermore, Jesus makes it clear that it wasn’t just for the Jews that he laid down His life, but also for the “other sheep I have which are not of this fold; them also I must bring, and they will hear My voice; and there will be one flock and one shepherd” (John 10:16). The “other sheep” clearly refers to the Gentiles. As a result, Jesus is the Good Shepherd over all, both Jew and Gentile, who come to believe upon Him (John 3:16).
21 BIBLE VERSES ABOUT THE SHEEP AND THE SHEPHERD
- Psalm 23:1-3 ESV
The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
2 He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
3 He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness
for his name’s sake.
- Psalm 78:52 ESV
- Then he led out his people like sheep
and guided them in the wilderness like a flock.
- Psalm 79:13 ESV
But we your people, the sheep of your pasture,
will give thanks to you forever;
from generation to generation we will recount your praise.
- Psalm 100:3 ESV
Know that the Lord, he is God!
It is he who made us, and we are his;
we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.
- Psalm 119:176 ESV
I have gone astray like a lost sheep; seek your servant,
for I do not forget your commandments.
- Isaiah 53:6 ESV
All we like sheep have gone astray;
we have turned—every one—to his own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.
- Isaiah 53:7 ESV
He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,
yet he opened not his mouth;
like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,
and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,
so he opened not his mouth.
- Isaiah 60:3 ESV
All the flocks of Kedar shall be gathered to you;
the rams of Nebaioth shall minister to you;
they shall come up with acceptance on my altar,
and I will beautify my beautiful house.
- Jeremiah 23:1 ESV
“Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture!” declares the Lord.
- Jeremiah 50:6 ESV
“My people have been lost sheep. Their shepherds have led them astray, turning them away on the mountains. From mountain to hill they have gone. They have forgotten their fold.
- Ezekiel 34:11-16 ESV
“For thus says the Lord God: Behold, I, I myself will search for my sheep and will seek them out. 12 As a shepherd seeks out his flock when he is among his sheep that have been scattered, so will I seek out my sheep, and I will rescue them from all places where they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness. 13 And I will bring them out from the peoples and gather them from the countries, and will bring them into their own land. And I will feed them on the mountains of Israel, by the ravines, and in all the inhabited places of the country. 14 I will feed them with good pasture, and on the mountain heights of Israel shall be their grazing land.There they shall lie down in good grazing land, and on rich pasture they shall feed on the mountains of Israel. 15 I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I myself will make them lie down, declares the Lord God. 16 I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, and the fat and the strong I will destroy.[a] I will feed them in justice.
- Micah 2:12 ESV
I will surely assemble all of you, O Jacob;
I will gather the remnant of Israel;
I will set them together
like sheep in a fold,
like a flock in its pasture,
a noisy multitude of men.
- Matthew 9:36 ESV
When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.
- Matthew 10:16 ESV
“Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so bewise as serpents and innocent as doves.
- Matthew 18:10-13 ESV
“See that you do not despise one of these little ones. For I tell you that in heaven their angels always see the face of my Father who is in heaven.12 What do you think? If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray? 13 And if he finds it, truly, I say to you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray.
- Matthew 25:31-33 ESV
“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him,then he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left.
- Matthew 26:31 ESV
Then Jesus said to them, “You will all fall away because of me this night. For it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’
- Luke 12:32 ESV
“Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.
- Luke 15:4-7 ESV
“What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? 5 And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. 6 And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ 7 Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.
- John 10:11-15 ESV
I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. 13 He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. 14 I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep.
- 1 Peter 2:25 ESV
For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.