One of the Bible’s most informative images of Jesus is, “the Good Shepherd”.
As Jesus faces growing opposition from his enemies, he draws his followers ever closer in Sunday’s passage by reminding them of the kind and caring leader he embodies—the Good Shepherd. Jesus wants his followers to recognize that he is not like the abusive religious leaders who were in constant conflict with him, his ministry, and his followers. He tells them that they must follow and listen to him as sheep follow and listen to their shepherd.
In this illustration, the sheepfold represents a place of security, the protective shelter of the family of God. He protects his sheep and leads them, and even lays down his life for them. “When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice” (John 10:4). Christ leads by example. His life demonstrates how we ought to live.
The simple statement My sheep hear My voice is pregnant with meaning. It expresses personal intimacy between the shepherd and his sheep. In the first century, a single sheep pen held multiple flocks, so it was essential for the sheep to know and recognize their own shepherd’s voice. There had to be an unmistakable familiarity between sheep and shepherd for the sheep to feel safe and know which voice to follow. Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me”. Knowing the Lord’s voice implies experiential knowledge through a relationship with Him.
My sheep hear My voice speaks of those who listen with obedient attention—this kind of listening flows from faith. Paul taught the Romans, “Faith comes from what is heard and what is heard comes by the preaching of Christ” (Romans 10:17). By hearing his voice in Scripture, we come to know our Lord, cultivate faith in him, and that faith obtains obedience.
My sheep affirms that there are true sheep and false sheep. True sheep know, listen to, and obey, the Good Shepherd’s voice; false sheep pay no heed. Christ’s sheep know how to listen, what to ignore, and whom to follow. “A stranger they will not follow” (John 10:5).
My voice is the singular, direct, and authoritative voice of Jesus. It is the same voice that stilled the waves, silenced demons, raised the dead, and forgave sins.
The concluding sentence in Sunday’s passage, about the unity of the Father and the Son, provides the basis for our Nicene faith. The Father and the Son are one. This declaration harkens back to the prologue of John’s Gospel: “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”
The thrice-repeated assurance in Sunday’s passage, that the sheep of our Lord shall never perish nor be snatched out of the shepherd’s hand, is indeed Good News.
Let us be attentive, obedient, sheep that follow with no regrets and no provisos. Anything less is not a true sheep.