Plenty of employees can perform simple tasks for the sheep, but they don’t care for the sheep at all. They will save their own skin when the wolf howls. But Jesus is so, so different. He is the good shepherd. He knows his sheep, and he lays down his life for his sheep. Notice that nowhere in this passage do we see a discussion of money, large houses, swimming pools, or everlasting youth. The way Jesus uses this phrase has nothing to do with material possessions or anything doctors or therapists can offer. He intends something much better.
Perhaps you’ve heard that Jesus didn’t just come to give life, he came to give abundant life. You may have seen teachers urge that Christians should not be poor, should not be sad, should not be sick, should not be lacking in any blessings God can give. After all, how does a less than existence match up with an abundant life?
When we learn to read the Bible properly—not as a series of isolated words and phrases—we find that some familiar phrases take on entirely new meanings.
Jesus uses the “abundant life” phrase to a group of Pharisees in John 10. Importantly, these Pharisees gathered after a controversy surrounding Jesus’s healing of a blind man.
In John 9:1–7, Jesus comes across a man born blind. He anoints the man’s eyes with mud, tells him to go wash in the pool of Siloam, and the man comes back with sight. This starts several rounds of questioning from the Pharisees directed at both this man and his parents. No one wants to proclaim Jesus as the Messiah for fear of the Jews (John 9:22).
However, the man’s life has been changed so dramatically, he cannot help himself. He tells the Pharisees that this man is clearly from God, and the Pharisees cast him out (John 9:33–34). Jesus seeks out the man again, and he confesses Jesus as Lord (John 9:38). The purpose of the healing is realized; the miracle points back to Jesus.
Jesus, the Good Shepherd
Jesus launches into an extended figure of speech that leaves the Pharisees confused.
Jesus first tells the Pharisees about the shepherd of the sheep. The sheep will follow the shepherd, because they know his voice. But they will not follow a stranger with a strange voice (John 10:1–6).
Since this first use of a sheep/shepherd metaphor is confusing, Jesus reloads. He uses different metaphors.