It was announced by the prophets of old that the Messiah, who was to come, should bear the character of a good shepherd. He was to be a shepherd, and His followers, the faithful souls that should believe in Him and accept His teaching, were to be His sheep. It was foretold that He would select and purchase His flock; that He would choose them from out the vast multitudes of their kind and gather them into His fold, that He would provide for them and guard them against every evil; that He would lead them out to green pastures and refresh them with the waters of rest. "He shall feed his flock like a shepherd," sang the Prophet Isaias; "he shall gather together the lambs with his arms, and shall take them up in his bosom, and he himself shall carry them that are with young."(1) In like manner did Jeremias, referring to the comforting advent of Christ, liken the offices which the Saviour would perform towards His people to those of shepherds towards their flocks. "I will set up pastors over them," said the Prophet, speaking in the name of Jehovah, "and they shall feed them; they shall fear no more, and they shall not be dismayed; and none shall be wanting of their number.... Behold the days come, saith the Lord, and I will raise up to David a just branch; and a king shall reign, and shall be wise, and shall execute judgment and justice in the earth."(2) The Prophet Ezechiel also prophetically portrayed the Saviour's character when he pictured Him in the capacity of a shepherd visiting and feeding his sheep: "For thus saith the Lord God: Behold I myself will seek my sheep, and I will visit them. As the shepherd visiteth his flock in the day when he shall be in the midst of his sheep that were scattered, so will I visit my sheep, and I will deliver them out of all the places where they have been scattered in the cloudy and dark day. And I will set up one shepherd over them, and he shall feed them, even my servant David; he shall feed them, and he shall be their shepherd."(3)
And when at length the Saviour did appear in the world, He declared, not only by His life and example, but in explicit terms, that He was the fulfilment of these prophecies -- that He was, in truth, the Good Shepherd, and that His followers were the sheep of His fold. In the tenth chapter of the Gospel according to Saint John we have His own words to this effect. There He tells us plainly that He has not come as a thief and a robber, to steal, to kill, and to destroy; that He is not a stranger, at the sound of whose voice the sheep are terrified and flee away; that He is not a hireling, who cares not for the sheep, and who, beholding the approach of the wolf and the enemy, fleeth and leaveth the sheep to be snatched and scattered and torn. The Saviour is not any of these, nor like unto them. He is the Good Shepherd who enters the sheepfold by the door, and not as the thief and robber who climb up some other way. To Him the porter openeth, and He calleth His sheep, and they know His voice and follow Him, and He leadeth them out to pasture, to rest, and to abundant life. Nor is this all, for He protects and guards His sheep. By day and by night He is ever near them: when circling the green plains, or beside the still waters, or when asleep beneath the silent stars, the sheep are protected by their Shepherd. Faithfully He watches His dependent flock; and at the end, as a proof of His love and fidelity, He generously lays down His life for His sheep.