When Jesus identified Himself as the Good Shepherd (Jn. 10:11), He was not teaching the disciples a new truth.
He had previously — several times — identified Himself as the Shepherd of His people. Consider:
Seeing the people, He felt compassion for them, because they were distressed and dispirited like sheep without a shepherd (Matt. 9:36).
While this passage doesn’t explicitly state that Jesus is the Shepherd of His people He has already been revealed as the Messiah of Israel (Mt. 3:13-17; 4:23ff). And in this verse, He demonstrates shepherd-like qualities of looking at and for the people, being compassionate for their needs and for their lack of leaders. He is the kind of Shepherd who is inclined towards the needs of His people and desires to care for them in their weaknesses. He is not bothered by the neediness of the people — His role is to help them and He delights in that role.
But He answered and said, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Mt. 15:24).
Here Jesus is more explicit with His role: He has been sent (by the Father, John 5:36–37; 6:44, 57), and He was sent for the purpose of caring for Israel’s lost sheep. The fact that He was sent to the lost sheep directly suggests that they are not “lost” to Him — He knows where they are and He will seek them out and will care for them. The role of seeking and finding is fundamental to shepherds caring for sheep and so it also is for the Savior who is Shepherd, as is demonstrated in the next passage.
“What do you think? If any man has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go and search for the one that is straying? If it turns out that he finds it, truly I say to you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine which have not gone astray” (Matt. 18:12-13).
The Savior who is the Shepherd not only willing cares for His sheep, but He also delights to seek out those who have wandered so that He might find them and restore them to Himself. Caring for and healing wayward sinners is the Savior’s joy.
Add to these revelations in the Gospels, the promise of the Messiah as the Shepherd of Israel:
Like a shepherd He will tend His flock,
In His arm He will gather the lambs
And carry them in His bosom;
He will gently lead the nursing ewes. (Is. 40:11)
This verse reads like Psalm 23. It characterizes the compassion and care of the Shepherd. Yes, the Messiah will rule Israel and the nations, but He will also compassionate care for the entire flock of Israel, and also provide individual care for each needy lamb, carrying them and nursing them as needed.
Evidently the disciples not only believe what Jesus and the Scriptures say about Him as Shepherd, but they were committed to Christ as their Shepherd, as the Epistles reveal:
Now the God of peace, who brought up from the dead the great Shepherd of the sheep through the blood of the eternal covenant, even Jesus our Lord… (Heb. 13:20)
Here the writer of Hebrews not only points to Jesus as the good Shepherd, but He is the great Shepherd. He is the ultimate Shepherd. He is the dominant Shepherd. He is the ruling Shepherd. The is the sovereign Shepherd — even over death and sin. There is the hope of the believer: not merely that Christ is morally good and desirable — but He is over all things and capable for caring for all our needs.
For you were continually straying like sheep, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Guardian of your souls. (1 Pt. 2:25)
Peter reminds us not only of the position (Shepherd) and role (Guardian) of the Savior, but he reminds us of our inability to care for ourselves. Like sheep who cannot outrun an enemy with their speed, cannot defend themselves with their strength, and cannot outwit their adversaries with their cunning, so created men are weak, hopeless, rebellious, and wandering. Yet Christ is capable of bringing all back to Him and guarding and keeping them — not only protecting them physically, but far more importantly, protecting and preserving them spiritually (see also 1 Pt. 1:3-9).
That is our Shepherd. Our Shepherd is good. Our Shepherd is compassionate towards our need. Our Shepherd was sent by the Father for our care. Our Shepherd is compassionate towards us. Our Shepherd loves to care for us in our deepest (ugliest) needs. Our Shepherd is great and sovereignly capable. And while we are unable to preserve our souls, our Shepherd saves and preserves our souls (inner man) eternally.
Whatever your need, the Shepherd of Israel and the Church, Jesus Christ, sent from God, is adequate for you.