In the Gospel account of John, the Master proclaims “I am the good shepherd” (John 10:11). It was customary for the Lord to use examples from the everyday life of His audience. He used this method as a tool to present important spiritual lessons in a manner that related to those who heard Him speak, so that they could be able to fully grasp His teachings. Hence the value of seeking to view His lessons as they would have during that time. In order for us as the readers to understand the complete significance highlighted by Jesus describing Himself as a shepherd, we must comprehend what it meant to be a shepherd in that time period. According to the Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary, a shepherd was a man who cared for sheep by guiding them to green pastures for food and water, and protected them from savage beasts. These men would guard their flock during the night either in the open fields or at sheepfolds. Their care for these noble animals went to the extent that they would carry upon their shoulders those sheep that where either injured or weak (Holman, p. 1234). Therefore, the Lord’s purpose immediately begins to shine itself with this description. In representing Himself as a shepherd, the Savior establishes that He will guide to spiritual pastures and waters, protects from savage enemies, stands guard watching over vigilantly, and will carry the sick and the weak upon His shoulders. Yet, it is very important to understand that this Divine promise is not for all the sheep inside the sheepfold. Once more the necessity of understanding fully the imagery implemented by Holy Writ. Sheepfolds were public pens where several shepherds would take their sheep for temporary shelter during their journey home. Due to the large amount of people in Palestine who worked as shepherds, these sheepfolds were constantly full with an array of different owners all mixed together. Thus, to secure that all of their sheep would leave with them and that they all belonged to their flock, these shepherds created a simple, but effective solution. When it was time to continue their journey, the shepherd would call to his sheep and they would recognize his voice. However, because sheepfolds were constantly targeted by thieves who would learn how to imitate the shepherd’s call, an extra measure of security was taken by them. The shepherd would begin by calling his sheep, but if a sheep was confused or did not trust the call then he would call to the animal by using its name. This simple solution was very effective in convincing the sheep that indeed, her shepherd was the one calling. Undoubtedly, this was in the mind of Jesus as He explained “the sheep hear his voice; and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out” (John 10:3). Behold the detailed and gentle care the Good Shepherd displays for His sheep! His knowledge of each sheep’s name exhibits the precious value each soul has for Him. He seeks to secure that those of His flock will not get left behind in the sheepfold or taken by a thief. With this marvelous description, the Lord displays the intimate unity that exists between He and His church. He also indisputably reveals that not all the souls in the world belong to Him. In other words, “not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 7:21a). Although it certainly brings great comfort to know that Jesus has an affectionate relationship with His church, it is also a precise warning that one does well not to foolishly dismiss. Jesus enlightens this undeniable truth by revealing that the sheep belonging to Him “know His voice” (John 10:4). Like the shepherd and the sheepfold are symbolic, so is this manifested truth. For this reason, the answer to the following question becomes of great value: What does it mean to hear His voice? Observe the guidance provided by the inspired scribe:
“1God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, 2has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the worlds.” (Hebrews 1:1-2)
The scribe sheds light on the answer by linking God’s method of speaking in the Old Testament with the New. He reveals that it was through His prophets that He spoke. God gave His prophets His Word, and they would speak His message to His people. However, the writer also clarifies that “in these last days” it is Jesus, the Son of God, who speaks to us directly. While on the isle of Patmos, John is given a Divine message which he describes was “the revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave Him to show His servants…and He sent and signified it by His angel to His servant John” (Revelation 1:1). John confirms two important lessons with these words. First, He unveils that God is still the One providing the Divine message to His prophets. Secondly, he concurs with the writer of Hebrews that the Father is doing so through His Son. The apostle Paul agrees with both inspired men and explains that “all things are of God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation, that is, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed to us the word of reconciliation” (2nd Corinthians 5:18-19). It is important to acknowledge that the order that the message is given presented by all three inspired men is God to Jesus and Jesus to His servants. Paul continues to enlighten the meaning of hearing Jesus’ voice by stating, “We then, as workers together with Him also plead with you not to receive the grace of God in vain” (2nd Corinthians 6:1). Therefore to hear His voice is to hear His Gospel of salvation preached for Paul keeps saying, “behold, now is the day of salvation” (2nd Corinthians 6:2b). To be a part of His flock, one must emulate the illustration portrayed by the sheep. We must first be able to recognize if the words being preached to us belong to the Master, and not of a thief seeking to trick us with an imitation of His voice (1st John 4:1, 2nd Peter 2:1). Having confirmed that the voice is indeed the Savior’s, then we must follow His voice. He identifies the sheep of His flock as “he who does the will of My Father in heaven” (Matthew 7:21b). Undoubtedly, to follow Jesus means to obey His Gospel faithfully and unwavering. The promise made to those who endure until the end by the Good Shepherd personally is “I will give him a white stone, and on the stone a new name written which no one knows except him who receives it” (Revelation 2:17). Behold, the name alluded to by the Good Shepherd in the parable. The name He promises to know and use to call His sheep to Him.