the good shepherd loves his sheep
“I am the good shepherd, and I know My own and My own know Me, even as the Father knows Me and I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep.” (10:14–15)
It is because the Lord loves His own that He gave His life for them. The word know is used here to denote that love relationship. In Genesis 4:1, 17, 25; 19:8; 24:16; and 1 Samuel 1:19 the term know describes the intimate love relationship between husband and wife (the nasb translates the Hebrew verb “to know” in those verses “had relations with”). In Amos 3:2 God said of Israel, “You only have I known of all the families of the earth” (nkjv), speaking not as if He were unaware of any other nations, but of His unique love relationship with His people. Matthew 1:25 literally reads that Joseph “was not knowing [Mary]” until after the birth of Jesus. On the day of judgment, Jesus will send unbelievers away from Him because He does not know them; that is, He has no love relationship with them (Matt. 7:23). In these verses, know has that same connotation of a relationship of love. The simple truth here is that Jesus in love knows His own, they in love know Him, the Father in love knows Jesus, and He in love knows the Father. Believers are caught up in the deep and intimate affection that is shared between God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ (cf. 14:21, 23; 15:10; 17:25–26).
14–15 Again Jesus declares that he is “the shepherd,” i.e., “the good one” (the repetition of the article places the adjective in apposition). Consequently, his sheep know him. The verb ginōskō (“to know,” GK 1182) occurs four times in vv. 14–15: Jesus knows his sheep and his sheep know him, the Father knows Jesus and Jesus knows the Father. Of the 222 occurrences of the verb in the NT, 82 are found in the Johannine literature (57 in the fourth gospel alone). While the Greeks held that knowledge of God was attainable by philosophical-theological contemplation of the divine reality, the Hebrews viewed knowledge as the result of entering into a personal relationship with God. The relationship between shepherd and sheep is like that between Father and Son. They know one another in the fullest sense of the word. Three times in a span of eight verses Jesus stresses that, as the good shepherd, he lays down his life for his sheep (vv. 11, 15, 17). It is the willingness of the shepherd to put his own welfare aside and to give himself without reservation for the benefit of his flock that defines what it means to be a good shepherd. This “goodness” is the self-emptying concern for others that was modeled by Jesus in his life and death. It is the expected lifestyle of all who bear his name. Whether or not we are in the family of God is evident by the degree of family likeness we bear.
14–15 Again comes the majestic assertion that Jesus is the Good Shepherd, this time not directly linked with his laying down of his life. Instead there is first put forward the relationship between the Good Shepherd and his sheep and arising from that a reiteration of his determination to lay down his life for them. Being the Good Shepherd, he knows his sheep. And his sheep know him (cf. v. 4). There is a relationship of mutual knowledge, a reciprocal knowledge that is not superficial but intimate. It is likened to the knowledge wherewith Jesus knows the Father and the Father knows him. It may be that the love implied in this relationship elicits the following statement that Jesus lays down his life for the sheep.46 Or it may be a simple addition. Either way it is the culmination of this part of the discourse. Jesus here speaks directly in the first person, “I lay down my life,” whereas in verse 11 he has used the third person, “the good shepherd lays down his life.”
14–15 Again (as in v. 9) Jesus repeats the “I am” expression: “I am the good Shepherd, and I know mine and mine know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father” (vv. 14–15a). Here the metaphor of shepherd and sheep begins to give way to the characteristic pairing of Jesus with “the Father.” We have heard nothing of “the Father” since 8:54, but from here to the end of the chapter he will be very much a part of the discussion (see vv. 17, 18, 25, 29, 30, 32, 36, 37, 38). That “I know mine and mine know me” builds (albeit vaguely) on the notion in the introductory parable that “the sheep hear his voice,” and that the shepherd summons them “by name” (v. 3). The neuter pronoun for “mine” probably has as its antecedent “the sheep” or “his own sheep” from that scene (vv. 3, 4) and from the later contrast between the shepherd and the hireling (v. 12; see also v. 27). Yet “the Father” is no necessary part of the imagery of shepherd and sheep, and the analogy between the mutual knowledge of Father and Son and of the Son and his disciples is by no means dependent on the Son being visualized as Shepherd and the disciples as sheep (see, for example, Mt 11:27 and Lk 10:22). It is the Father, in fact, who makes it possible for Jesus to make the role of a “good shepherd” (v. 11) his own: “And I lay down my life for the sheep” (v. 15). But this time Jesus is not simply telling what any “good shepherd” customarily does for his sheep (as in v. 11), but is instead revealing what he himself does as “good Shepherd.” The verb “I lay down” is present (as in v. 11), but points toward the future, when Jesus will give himself over to arresting authorities in order to spare his disciples (18:8), and eventually give himself up to death on the cross (19:30). Still, it is not exactly a futuristic present, for Jesus’ life is already at risk, and has been ever since “the Jews began pursuing” him (5:16), and “kept seeking all the more to kill him” (5:18; see also 7:1, 19, 25; 8:37, 40).
Vers. 14, 15.—The Lord resumes: I am the good Shepherd. He now makes his discourse more explicit. He almost drops the allegory, and merely adopts the sacred metaphor. His self-revelation becomes more full of promise and suggestion for all time. He takes up one of the characteristics of the shepherd which discriminated him from “hireling,” “thief,” or “robber.” And I know mine own, and my own know me, even as the Father knoweth me, and I know the Father. This more accurate text, translation, and punctuation of the Revised Version brings into living comparison the mutual knowledge of Christ and his own sheep, with the mutual knowledge of Christ and the Father. Christ’s personal knowledge of his people is that which comes into their religious consciousness. They know his knowledge of them. They know him to be what he is—to be their Lord God, as they realize his personal recognition and care. The one involves the other (see Gal. 4:9; 1 Cor. 8:3). The particle of transition is more than a mere illustration (καθώς) is more than ὥσπερ̀ κάθώς introduces not infrequently an explanation, sometimes a causal consideration, or an illustration which accounts for the previous statement; see ch. 15:12; 17:21, 23). The knowledge which the sheep have of the Shepherd corresponds with the Son’s knowledge of the Father, and the Shepherd’s knowledge of the sheep answers to the Father’s knowledge of the Son; but more than this, the relation of the Son to the Father, thus expressed, is the real ground of the Divine intimacies between the sheep and the Shepherd (cf. ch. 15:10; 17:8). Then the Lord repeats and renews the solemn statement made at the commencement of the sentence, And I lay down my life for the sheep. Such knowledge of the peril of “his own” involves him in sacrifice. Whereas in ver. 11 this is attributed to the “good Shepherd,” now he drops the first part of the figure, and says, “I am laying down my life.”
14. And I know my sheep, and am known by mine. In the former clause, he again holds out his love towards us; for knowledge proceeds from love, and is accompanied by care. But it means also that he utterly disregards all who do not obey the Gospel, as he repeats in the second clause, and confirms what he had formerly said, that—on the other hand—he is known by the sheep.
- As the Father knoweth me. It is unnecessary, and is not even expedient, that we should enter into those thorny questions, How is it that the Father knows his Wisdom? For Christ simply declares that, so far as he is the bond of our union with God, he is placed between Him and us; as if he had said, that it is no more possible for him to forget us, than that he should be rejected or disregarded by the Father. At the same time, he demands the duty which we mutually owe to him, because, as he employs all the power which he has received from the Father for our protection, so he wishes that we should be obedient and devoted to him, as he is wholly devoted to his Father, and refers everything to him.
14–15. Contrasting himself with Jewish leaders who were like hired hands, Jesus said, I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me—just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. Unlike the Jewish leaders who did not ‘know’ the people, Jesus knew his people and they knew him. When Jesus spoke about the Father ‘knowing’ him, he did not mean that he knew about him, or was acquainted with him, but that he enjoyed an intimate personal relationship with him. It is amazing that Jesus said his knowledge of his disciples and their knowledge of him involved a similar intimate personal relationship.
Jesus reiterated what he had said earlier (11) by saying, I lay down my life for the sheep. The imagery is the same: those who shepherd in the open country must be prepared to lay their lives on the line for the sheep. Jesus said he would actually lay down his life for the sake of his sheep (the disciples). It was his love that led him to do this for them (cf. 15:13: ‘Greater love has no-one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends’), and his love made him the ‘good shepherd’.
References to Jesus as ‘the good shepherd’ recall Jeremiah 23:2–4, where God himself promises to gather the scattered people Israel, and Ezekiel 34:11–16, where God promises to look after his sheep, providing them with good pasture, caring for the injured and weak, and shepherding the flock with justice. There are also possibly allusions to Psalm 23, in which God is again depicted as the good shepherd. So Jesus’ claim to be ‘the good shepherd’ was more than a claim to do what the national leaders of his day failed to do. It was also a claim to be one with God the Father, who is ‘the good shepherd’ of his people.
14, 15. I am the good shepherd, and I know my own, and my own know me, just as my Father knows me and I know my Father, and I lay down my life for the sheep.
Here we have an emphatic repetition and amplification of the preceding. Jesus says, “I am the good shepherd.” This is a repetition of 10:11 (see explanation of that verse). Here (in verse 14 and 15), however, the matter is not merely stated but fully set forth. Jesus—and he alone—is the good shepherd, for:
- in distinction from the Pharisees viewed as strangers (10:5), he knows his sheep. Note: “I know.” See 10:27; 2 Tim. 2:19. He knows the name (10:3) and nature of each sheep, and the sheep have an experiential knowledge of their shepherd (10:3, 4).
- in distinction from the Pharisees viewed as thieves and robbers (10:1, 8, 10), he owns his sheep. He calls them: “my own.” See 6:37, 39; 17:6, 24.
- in distinction from the Pharisees viewed as hirelings (10:12, 13), he loves his sheep, even to the point of offering himself as a sacrifice in their behalf and in their stead. He says, “I lay down my life for the sheep.” For explanation of this sublime statement see on verse 11. (Note, however, the difference: in verse 11 the third person is used; here in verse 15 the first person; hence verse 15 explains verse 11).
Note also the chiastic arrangement of the parallelism which we have in these verses:
- I know my own
- my own know me
- (just as) my Father knows me, and
- I know the Father.
In a. and d. Jesus, the good shepherd, is the subject: the action proceeds from him. In b. and c. he is the object: the action proceeds from the sheep and from the Father.
What Jesus states in these verses cannot mean that the fellowship which is found on earth (between good shepherd and sheep) is just as close as is that which is found in heaven (between the Father and the Son), but that the former is patterned after (is a reflection of) the latter. For the closeness of the fellowship between the Father and the Son see 10:30, 38; 14:11, 17, 21; also Matt. 11:27.
Four times in these two verses the verb know (γινώσκω) occurs. See on 1:10, 31; 3:11; 8:28. It is here a knowledge of experience and of loving fellowship. Jesus acknowledges his own (as his true disciples); they acknowledge him (as their Lord). Nothing could be more wonderful! Thus also the Father acknowledges the Son; the Son acknowledges the Father.