Jesus the Good Shepherd
As a background to the teaching of “the good shepherd”, Jesus was using a parable about shepherds in both positive and negative ways. This was a very ordinary way of explaining the true leaders of Israel. The Old Testament frequently spoke about bad shepherds, for instance in Jeremiah 23:1-8.
Moreover, Jesus was talking about two ways of entering the sheepfold. One might enter the sheepfold by climbing in (v. 1) and the other entered through the gate (v. 2). The one who entered not through the gate was a thief and robber. He was not a good shepherd but a bad shepherd. He did not want to shepherd the sheep but rather to harm them.
The true shepherd would be recognized by the gatekeeper and the gatekeeper would not hesitate to open the gate for him (v. 3). The sheep also recognized him and they followed him. He called each sheep by its name and each sheep most probably knew its familiar name. It would respond immediately as soon as it heard its name had been called (v. 4).
The opposite happened if the strangers wanted to lead the sheep. The sheep would not recognize him and they would run away from him. He would not know the sheep personally (v. 5).
Then Jesus moved on to contrast himself as the good shepherd and the others as bad shepherds. He revealed himself as “the gate for the sheep”. He used one of the very big word ego eimi. The gate is the only right access to the sheep and the access of the sheep to go out to get green pasture. He strongly said that he is the good shepherd who brings the sheep to life. He is the mediator through whom the sheep find life. Those who enter through the gate would find safety and rest inside (v.7) and those who go out find pasture (v. 9).
On the other hand he said that “all who came before” him “are thieves and bandits”. They came only to steal, destroy and kill. They did not care about the life of the sheep (v. 10).
After contrasting himself to the other leaders, Jesus then moved on to explain what the good shepherd did for his sheep (vv. 11-12). He laid down his own life for the sake of the sheep (v. 11). He cared them for the ongoing life of the sheep. He did his best to protect the sheep from its enemies.
In contrast, the bad shepherds would leave the sheep in time of danger. They would prefer their own safety. They did not perform the responsibility which had been given them and which was required from them. They abandoned the sheep in order to save their own lives (vv. 12-13).
Then in the remaining passage Jesus did not concern himself anymore with the others who claim themselves to be shepherds. He moved on to explain the relationship he has with his flock (vv. 14-16), on the one hand, and with his Father (vv. 17-18), on the other. Jesus claimed that he knows his own flock and they know him. This fundamental recognition is mirrored from his relationship with his Father. He knows the Father and the Father knows him. The relationship between him and the Father is strongly stressed by Jesus.
“The Jews” could not bear this teaching of Jesus. They maligned him as being affected by a demon and as being out of his mind (vv. 19-20). But some of his audience knew that only the one from God could open the eyes of man born blind. They recognised Jesus as being the one who has come from God (v. 21).