John goes out of his way to be sure we notice how various prophecies of Christ were fulfilled. For example, at his crucifixion the soldiers did not break his legs, “that the scripture should be fulfilled, A bone of him shall not be broken” (John 19:36). John does not comment so explicitly on Christ’s description of himself as the good shepherd. Is this because the reference was already plain enough?
Ezekiel 34 rebukes the shepherds of Israel, “Ye eat the fat, and ye clothe you with the wool, ye kill them that are fed: but ye feed not the flock” (v.3). Because these shepherds have been remiss, God says he will “deliver [his] flock from their mouth” himself. He continues, “I, even I, will both search my sheep and seek them out . . . and gather them from the countries . . . and feed them in a good pasture, and upon the high mountains of Israel shall their fold be . . . And I will set up one shepherd over them” (vv.11-14, 23).
Christ says he is “the good shepherd.” He declares of the current shepherds of Israel, “All that ever came before me are thieves and robbers . . . The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy” whereas he is come “that they might have life” (John 10:8-12). Indeed, he will feed them with his own body. In contrast with the “hireling, [who] seeth the wolf coming, and leaveth the sheep, and fleeth,” he says, “I lay down my life for the sheep” (John 10:12, 15). Christ will also gather “other sheep . . . which are not of this fold . . . and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd” (v.16; compare also Ezek 37:21-4, “one nation . . . one shepherd”).
A controversy arises after this speech. It could be over his claim that he has power to lay down his life, and to take it again, but could it be just as much over his claim to be the one good shepherd? Shortly after, a group comes to ask him, “How long dost thou make us to doubt? If thou be the Christ, tell us plainly.” Evidently Christ feels he has been quite plain already: “I told you, and ye believed me not . . . because ye are not of my sheep, as I said unto you. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me” (vv.25-7). They take up stones, saying, “thou, being a man, makest thyself God” (vv.31-3). Is it because he claimed, “I and my Father are one” (v.30), or because he said plainly that he was the good shepherd?