5. The Good Shepherd
The most notable parable concerning sheep and shepherds was the one told by Jesus about the Good Shepherd.
John 10:1: Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that entereth not by the door into the sheepfold, but climbeth up some other way, the same is a thief and a robber. 2. But he that entereth in by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. 3. To him the porter openeth; and the sheep hear his voice: and he calleth his own sheep by name, and leadeth them out. 4. And when he putteth forth his own sheep, he goeth before them, and the sheep follow him: for they know his voice. 5. And a stranger will they not follow, but will flee from him: for they know not the voice of strangers. 6. This parable spake Jesus unto them: but they understood not what things they were which he spake unto them.
This parable contrasts the shepherd with a robber. Theft is now, and always was a problem and at the time of Jesus, shepherds had to guard against robbers stealing their sheep. As protection they would build secured sheepfolds, and keep watch with the rod and sling. One thing the shepherd did have in his favour was that the sheep would know his voice.
At the time, flocks were smaller, and the shepherd had a closer relationship with his sheep. As an example, when a number of flocks were lying at a well, a shepherd could summon his own sheep through his call, and thus separate out his own sheep. A stranger could try to emulate the call, but it was difficult to fool the sheep, as they knew their master's voice. Jesus then goes on to explain the parable,
John 10: 7 : Then said Jesus unto them again, Verily, verily, I say unto you, I am the door of the sheep. 8. All that ever came before me are thieves and robbers: but the sheep did not hear them. 9. I am the door: by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture. 10. The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.
Jesus then went on to contrast himself with the false prophets, in the analogy of the good shepherd and the hireling.
John 10:11: I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep. 12. But he that is an hireling, and not the shepherd, whose own the sheep are not, seeth the wolf coming, and leaveth the sheep, and fleeth: and the wolf catcheth them, and scattereth the sheep. 13. The hireling fleeth, because he is an hireling, and careth not for the sheep. 14. I am the good shepherd, and know my sheep, and am known of mine. 15. As the Father knoweth me, even so know I the Father: and I lay down my life for the sheep. 16. And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd.
The Old Testament kings of Israel, who had left the people as sheep without a shepherd, were examples of these hirelings. They did not have the commitment to their flock that the Good Shepherd would. Instead they, and we, should act the way spoken of by Peter,
1 Peter 5:1: The elders which are among you I exhort, who am also an elder, and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that shall be revealed: 2. Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind; 3. Neither as being lords over God's heritage, but being ensamples to the flock. 4. And when the chief Shepherd shall appear, ye shall receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away.
It is through this chief shepherd that we have our hope,
Hebrews 13:20: Now the God of peace, that brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, 21. Make you perfect in every good work to do his will, working in you that which is wellpleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ; to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.