John 10:1-18 — The Good Shepherd — LeGrand Baker

The parable of the Good Shepherd is a beautiful, pastoral allegory about the relationship between the shepherd and his sheep, but it is also much more than that. In its subtext it is about the Savior’s eternal priesthood and kingship. The concept is taught by Jacob in the Book of Mormon in his review of the veil ceremony of the ancient Nephite temple drama. During his sermon at the temple Jacob said,

41 O then, my beloved brethren, come unto the Lord, the Holy One. Remember that his paths are righteous. Behold, the way for man is narrow, but it lieth in a straight course before him, and the keeper of the gate is the Holy One of Israel; and he employeth no servant there; and there is none other way save it be by the gate; for he cannot be deceived, for the Lord God is his name.
42 And whoso knocketh, to him will he open; and the wise, and the learned, and they that are rich, who are puffed up because of their learning, and their wisdom, and their riches—yea, they are they whom he despiseth; and save they shall cast these things away, and consider themselves fools before God, and come down in the depths of humility, he will not open unto them (2 N ephi 9:41-42).

Jacob’s words might serve as a key to understanding what Jesus intended his faithful followers to hear.

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.
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 (John 10:1-10).

In other scriptures, the concept of the Good Shepherd is a reference to the Savior’s premortal priesthood and kingship. In its classic overview of the ancient Israelite temple drama, the 23rd Psalm focuses its first act on Jehovah’s premortal role. {1}

1 The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
2 He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.
3 He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake (Psalms 23:1-3).

In Psalm 80 the term “Shepherd of Israel” is used to describe Jehovah as he sits upon his throne in Solomon’s Temple. The throne in the Holy of Holies was flanked on each side by two great cherubim. Their wings overshadowed the throne like a golden canopy. The phrase, “dwellest between the cheribims” is about God is sitting upon his throne in the temple.

1 Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel, thou that leadest Joseph like a flock; thou that dwellest between the cherubims, shine forth ( Psalms 80:1). {2}

Old Testament prophets also used “shepherd” as a title to denote the kings and priests of Israel. For example, Ezekiel uses the phrase “shepherds of Israel” to refer to the temple priests in Jerusalem. This was at the time of apostasy just before Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon destroyed the city and its temple. Ezekiel’s accusations against the priests paint a vivid picture of the situation in Jerusalem at about the time Lehi and his family left there.

1 And the word of the LORD came unto me, saying,
2 Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel, prophesy, and say unto them, Thus saith the Lord GOD unto the shepherds; Woe be to the shepherds of Israel that do feed themselves! should not the shepherds feed the flocks?
3 Ye eat the fat, and ye clothe you with the wool, ye kill them that are fed: but ye feed not the flock.
4 The diseased have ye not strengthened, neither have ye healed that which was sick, neither have ye bound up that which was broken, neither have ye brought again that which was driven away, neither have ye sought that which was lost; but with force and with cruelty have ye ruled them (Ezekiel 34:1-4).

Jeremiah, who was also a contemporary of Ezekiel and Lehi, made the same accusations, but it is difficult to tell if he was talking about the king or the priests, or both.

34 Howl, ye shepherds, and cry; and wallow yourselves in the ashes, ye principal of the flock: for the days of your slaughter and of your dispersions are accomplished; and ye shall fall like a pleasant vessel.
35 And the shepherds shall have no way to flee, nor the principal of the flock to escape.
36 A voice of the cry of the shepherds, and an howling of the principal of the flock, shall be heard: for the LORD hath spoiled their pasture (Jeremiah 25:34-36).

Another example is the authors of that part of Isaiah which perported to transfer  the kinship of Judah from the house of David to Cyrus the Persian. They represent God as saying,

28 That saith of Cyrus, He is my shepherd, and shall perform all my pleasure: even saying to Jerusalem, Thou shalt be built; and to the temple, Thy foundation shall be laid (Isaiah 44:28). {3}

Even so, Ezekiel promised that non-Israelites would not always rule Israel. His famous prophecy about the Bible and the Book of Mormon coming together as a single testimony begins,

19 Say unto them, Thus saith the Lord GOD; Behold, I will take the stick of Joseph, which is in the hand of Ephraim, and the tribes of Israel his fellows, and will put them with him, even with the stick of Judah, and make them one stick, and they shall be one in mine hand (Ezekiel 37:19).

He then teaches about the gathering of Israel, including a restoration of its kingship to the house of David.

24 And David my servant shall be king over them; and they all shall have one shepherd: they shall also walk in my judgments, and observe my statutes, and do them (Ezekiel 37:24).

When the Savior referred to himself as “the Good Shepherd,” he was making a sharp contrast between himself and the crocked, apostate “shepherds of Israel” the earlier prophets had bemoaned. Jesus said,

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.
17 Therefore doth my Father love me, because I lay down my life, that I might take it again.
18 No man taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This commandment have I received of my Father (John 10:11-18).

Paul understood what Jesus meant that he would lay down his life for his sheep. After the Savior’s resurrection, Paul described him as “the great shepherd.” His letter to the Hebrews concludes,

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 (Hebrews 13:20-21).

Alma had a clear understanding of the principle that Christians must follow the Savior of their own accord, only because they chose to. Much of his sermon to the people of Zarahemla is about that principle and an admonition to hear the voice of the Good Shepherd and follow him.

38 Behold, I say unto you, that the good shepherd doth call you; yea, and in his own name he doth call you, which is the name of Christ; and if ye will not hearken unto the voice of the good shepherd, to the name by which ye are called, behold, ye are not the sheep of the good shepherd.
39 And now if ye are not the sheep of the good shepherd, of what fold are ye? Behold, I say unto you, that the devil is your shepherd, and ye are of his fold; and now, who can deny this? Behold, I say unto you, whosoever denieth this is a liar and a child of the devil.
40 For I say unto you that whatsoever is good cometh from God, and whatsoever is evil cometh from the devil.
41 Therefore, if a man bringeth forth good works he hearkeneth unto the voice of the good shepherd, and he doth follow him; but whosoever bringeth forth evil works, the same becometh a child of the devil, for he hearkeneth unto his voice, and doth follow him.
…….
60 And now I say unto you that the good shepherd doth call after you; and if you will hearken unto his voice he will bring you into his fold, and ye are his sheep; and he commandeth you that ye suffer no ravenous wolf to enter among you, that ye may not be destroyed.
61 And now I, Alma, do command you in the language of him who hath commanded me, that ye observe to do the words which I have spoken unto you (Alma 5:33, 60-61).

And finally, in this last dispensation the Savior explained what it meant that he was the Good Shepherd in the triangular relationship between himself, his Father, and us. To us he says, “fear not little children, for ye are mine.”

40 Behold, ye are little children and ye cannot bear all things now; ye must grow in grace and in the knowledge of the truth.
41 Fear not, little children, for you are mine, and I have overcome the world, and you are of them that my Father hath given me;
42 And none of them that my Father hath given me shall be lost.
43 And the Father and I are one. I am in the Father and the Father in me; and inasmuch as ye have received me, ye are in me and I in you.
44 Wherefore, I am in your midst, and I am the good shepherd, and the stone of Israel. He that buildeth upon this rock shall never fall.
45 And the day cometh that you shall hear my voice and see me, and know that I am.
46 Watch, therefore, that ye may be ready. Even so. Amen (D&C 50:40-46).

The parable of the Good Shepherd is no so much an allegory as it is a declaration to the Savior’s eternal priesthood and kingship.

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FOOTNOTES

{1} For a discussion of Psalm 23 as an ancient temple text see Who Shall Ascend into the Hill of the Lord, first edition, 619-40; second (paperback) edition, 441-57. (You can read or download the second edition from this website.)

{2} For a discussion of the throne and cherubim in Solomon’s temple, see Who Shall Ascend into the Hill of the Lord, the chapter called, “Act 2, Scene 11: The King Enters the Holy of Holies of Solomon’s Temple,” first edition 557-62; second (paperback) edition, 400-403.

{3} I am convinced that this part of Isaiah is a forgery created by the Jewish leaders during the Babylonian captivity. For an explanation of why I believe that, use the search engine in this website to find “2 Nephi 20, introduction.”

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