"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 - and I lay down my life for the sheep." (John 10:14-15)

This statement by Jesus has been mistranslated and misconstrued by many, particularly ecclesiastical (professional) sectarian teachers who focus upon the phrase "I lay down my life for the sheep" out of context with his surrounding statements.

These professional teachers try to construe this as Jesus' confirmation that his coming murder at the hands of the Romans and Jewish high priests will remove the consequences of sinning for anyone who simply "accepts Jesus as their savior."

Actually, the Greek words being translated into the phrase "I lay down my life" are τίθημι (tithēmi), ἐγώ (egō) and ψυχή (psychē). "Lay down" is being derived from τίθημι, which actually means, according to the Greek lexicon, 'to set, put, place,' or 'to make,' or 'to fix or establish.' This word does not imply dying, as the impression of 'laying down one's life' gives. Rather, it communicates commitment.

The words "my life" are derived from ἐγώ (egō) and ψυχή (psychē). ἐγώ is a pronoun referring to something possessive, and ψυχή is not the physical body, as in what died in the crucifixion (Jesus did not die, only his temporary physical body died). Rather, ψυχή refers to, according to the lexicon, 'the vital force which animates the body,' or the 'living soul,' or 'soul.' In other words, ψυχή refers to the living being within the body. It does not refer to the physical body at all.

So to translate the Greek into "I lay down my life" illustrates a lack of understanding of the spiritual context of Jesus' statement. From the lexicon, we can understand that what Jesus is saying is that he has committed himself to his students and disciples: "I have committed myself."

Let's back up and look at the whole statement in context. In his previous statement (John 10:11-13), Jesus told a parable that compared the "good shepherd" with a "hired hand." He illustrated that the "hired hand" would abandon the sheep when he saw a wolf coming, but the "good shepherd" would stand with the sheep and protect them (see previous entry).

Now Jesus is saying that between the two, he is the "good shepherd." Jesus will stand by his sheep because he is committed to his "sheep" - his followers. But then Jesus says something very revealing about his relationship with his "sheep" and his relationship with God.

He says, "I know my sheep and my sheep know me - just as the Father knows me and I know the Father." What does this mean?

Consider first the word γινώσκω (ginōskō), being appropriately translated to "know." γινώσκω (ginōskō) means to 'perceive,' 'understand,' and 'become acquainted with' according to the lexicon.

To perceive, understand and become acquainted with someone means to have a personal relationship with that person. It is not simply the kind of knowledge from a textbook. It is not like knowing the history of Abraham Lincoln. To "know" someone in this context is an intimate knowledge. It means to understand what makes the person "tick." It means to know what pleases them, and what displeases them. It means to know the will and purpose of the person. This is the "knowing" that Jesus is referring to here, and this is confirmed by the Greek lexicon.

So Jesus is identifying with this statement who his "sheep" are. They are not simply people who go to church every Sunday and expect Jesus' suffering on the cross to relieve them of the consequences of their sins. This is confirmed by another statement Jesus made:
“Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will come to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles? Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!” (Matt. 7:21-23)
This statement confirms that Jesus is not pleased with people who are pawing him for miracles, healings, and being "saved." What Jesus wants here is very clear: "but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven." This phrase illustrates two things:
1) Jesus is only pleased when we serve God.
2) Jesus is not the Supreme Being. (Otherwise he would of not said "my Father who is in heaven" when he was standing in front of those he was speaking to. If he was God, he would have said, "but only he who does my will." He didn't say that.)

We can now clearly understand Jesus' statement above: "I know my sheep and my sheep know me - just as the Father knows me and I know the Father." Those who "know" Jesus understand that Jesus is pleased when we serve the One he loves, God. Jesus "knows" God because he knows what pleases God and is serving God in order to please God. This is confirmed by Jesus' prayer:
"Abba, Father, everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what You will. Let the cup pass from me." (Mark 14:36)
Jesus is not wanting to do his own will, but he wants to do God's will. Now why would a person want to do someone else's will and not their own will?

The reason is Love. Jesus loves the Supreme Being. Jesus wants to please the Supreme Being. Jesus has a loving relationship with God, and just as in any loving relationship, he wants to please the one he loves.

This is what Jesus is trying to teach us, and this is the key to becoming one of Jesus' "sheep." Jesus didn't just teach this with his words, but with his actions. He totally committed himself to teaching this to his students and disciples. He did not work a job to make himself rich. He did not try to become a powerful church administrator or priest so he could command authority. 

He simply tirelessly worked to teach - walking with no possessions throughout the countryside, teaching from knolls, courtyards and temples throughout the land. And when the Jewish priests ("hired hands") accused him of teaching wrongly, he stood by his teachings. He did not abandon them. He did not deny them. 

He could have, and this would have allowed him to escape persecution. But Jesus did not. He knew his teachings were pleasing to the Supreme Being, and he stood up for them because he wanted to please the One he loves. He was committed to pleasing God and committed to saving his students and disciples from the selfish ignorance of their lives by teaching them to love and serve the Supreme Being:
“‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment.” (Matt. 22:37-38)


(For a more appropriate translation of Jesus' statement, see the Devotional Translation of the Gospel of John Chapter Ten - translated from the original Greek texts without ecclesiastical sectarian influence.)