The True Shepherd and the False


Don Fortner

“Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that entereth not by the door into the sheepfold, but climbeth up some other way, the same is a thief and a robber. But he that entereth in by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. To him the porter openeth; and the sheep hear his voice: and he calleth his own sheep by name, and leadeth them out. And when he putteth forth his own sheep, he goeth before them, and the sheep follow him: for they know his voice. And a stranger will they not follow, but will flee from him: for they know not the voice of strangers. This parable spake Jesus unto them: but they understood not what things they were which he spake unto them.”

(John 10:1-6)

The Lord God made a promise to his church in Jeremiah 3:15. It is a promise made to those people to whom the God of heaven declares, “I am married unto you…I will bring you to Zion.” This is God’s promise to his people for all time. — “I will give you pastors according to mine heart, which shall feed you with knowledge and understanding.”

Those pastors who are the ascension gifts of Christ to his church, who are pastors after God’s own heart, feed the sheep with knowledge, gospel knowledge, Bible knowledge, the knowledge of God, of Christ, of grace, and knowledge of man in his fallen state and in his redeemed state. They constantly proclaim the Word of the Lord. They constantly call eternity bound sinners to Christ, and urge God’s people to “walk in the old paths, where is the good way” that you may “find rest for your souls.” They feed God’s people with understanding, too, understanding you, understanding the things of God, and understanding the times.

When the Lord God gives his church pastors after his own heart, who feed his sheep with knowledge and understanding, his sheep shall “fear no more, are no longer dismayed, neither shall they be lacking” (Jeremiah 23:4). Blessed are those people, blessed is that church to whom God gives such a pastor!

What kind of pastor is he who is the gift of God to his people? These first six verses of John 10 show us. The word “pastor” simply means “shepherd.” Christ himself is the Good Shepherd, the Chief Shepherd, and the Great Shepherd of the sheep. All faithful pastors are but under shepherds, men to whom the Lord Jesus entrusts the care of his sheep, men responsible to feed his sheep with knowledge and understanding, men responsible to guide his sheep and protect his sheep. In this tenth chapter of John’s Gospel, our Lord Jesus uses himself as the example, the pattern, the standard, by which all true shepherds are identified and known.


It is impossible to understand the message of our Lord in this parable, if we fail to see the context in which it is given. In this parable our Master is distinctly addressing the Pharisees, religious leaders who use their office for their own gain, who come only to rob, and steal, and kill, those false shepherds who use and abuse his sheep.

In the ninth chapter, after our Lord healed the blind man, the Pharisees, fearing they might lose power, position, and influence, put him out of the synagogue (John 9:39-41). Then the Master said, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that entereth not by the door into the sheepfold, but climbeth up some other way, the same is a thief and a robber.” How those words must have stung those thieves and robbers, those destroyers of men’s souls, those false shepherds!

Here is the false shepherd. — “Verily, verily, I say unto you, he that entereth not by the door into the sheepfold, but climbeth up some other way, the same is a thief and a robber.” With those words, our Master describes every false shepherd. Here is the true shepherd. “But he that entereth in by the door is the shepherd of the sheep.” With those words, the Lord Jesus describes himself and every true shepherd of the sheep.

The False Shepherd

First, our Savior describes every false shepherd, every false prophet, every false preacher. The most dangerous thing in this world is a false prophet, a false shepherd. The Pharisees of our Lord’s day were all false shepherds. But we are plainly and repeatedly warned in the Word of God that throughout the ages of time, until the very last day, false prophets and false shepherds, like those Pharisees, will only increase. And, like those Pharisees, the false shepherds will always be recognized, applauded, and promoted by a lost religious world; and the true shepherd will always be despised ((Matthew 24:24; Acts 20:30; 1 Timothy 4:1; 2 Peter 2:1; 1 John 2:18; 4:1; 2 John 1:7)

Who is the false shepherd? The false shepherd is described in many ways in the Scriptures; but in the passage before us the Lord Jesus lays the axe to the root of the tree and tells us that all false shepherds that will ever be in the world are those who enter not by the door, but climb up some other way into the sheepfold.

The false shepherd is one who refuses to enter the kingdom of God by Christ the Door. He is a lost, self-righteous man, one who going about to establish his own righteousness, refuses to submit to and trust the righteousness of God.

There can be no question about this. Our Lord tells us plainly that he is the Door. — “I am the Door; by me, if any man enter in, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture” (v 9). So the one great mark by which false shepherds are identified is that they enter not by the Door: — “Verily, verily, I say unto you, he that entereth not by the door into the sheepfold, but climbeth up some other way, the same is a thief and a robber” (v. 1). This is the identifying mark of every false shepherd. — He is not saved himself. He is a lost, unbelieving rebel.

He enters not in by the Door. He makes another way into the sheepfold. He offers another hope, another mediator. Truly, these are perilous times! Christ says, “I am the Way.” The false shepherd says, “There are other ways.” Christ declares, “It is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that showeth mercy.” The false shepherd says, “God has done everything he can. Now, it’s all up to you.” Christ says, “I lay down my life for the sheep.” The false shepherd says, “Christ died for everyone.” Christ says, “By my own blood, I have purchased forgiveness, put away sin, obtained eternal redemption, made an end of transgression, and brought in everlasting righteousness.” The false shepherd says, “Forgiveness, righteousness and redemption are possible since Christ died, if you will only accept it.” Christ says, “It is the Spirit that quickeneth: the flesh profitteth nothing.” The false shepherd says, “The Spirit wants to quicken; but it is really the will of your own flesh that profits you with salvation and eternal life.”


The false shepherd is antichrist. Antichrist is not a single figure in a red suit with horns, a tail, a pitch fork, and the number 666 tattooed on his forehead. Antichrist is often represented as one man; but really he is many. Antichrist is all freewill, works religion, and any who promote it.

Our Lord here speaks of one false shepherd, rather than of many, because all false shepherds are really one. All false shepherds are antichrist. All false shepherds are the man of sin. They all come into the sheepfold, the churches of Christ, by climbing over the wall, refusing to enter by Christ, the Door. Paul, Peter, and Jude describe them as those who sneak into the church under false pretense as the servants of God, those who come into the church “privily” as promoters of righteousness.

The false shepherd is that man who would turn you away from the gospel of Christ unto another gospel, which is not another (Galatians 1:6-9). The false shepherd is one who tries to corrupt your mind from the simplicity that is in Christ, preaching another Jesus, another spirit, and another gospel (2 Corinthians 11:3-4).

The apostle Paul spoke of a day when the man of sin must be revealed, and clearly identified him in 2 Thessalonians chapter 2. Here he is. You have seen him and heard him many times. You can find him in almost every place where men and women gather for worship. He is that one — “Who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped; so that he as God sitteth in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God” (2 Thessalonians 2:7-12; Revelation 13:1-2).

There is no question but that the great enemy of the sheep, the false shepherd, who comes like a lamb, but who has the paw of a bear, is Antichrist. He is empowered and directed by Satan himself. The false shepherd is antichrist. He is the preacher of freewill-works religion, the religion of man. Paul tells us in Romans 1 that that religion that changes the glory of the incorruptible God into the image of corruptible man, that religion that turns the truth of God into a lie, that religion that worships and serves the creature more than the Creator is the judgment of God upon a generation that refused to receive the love of the truth. The fruit of such religion is a constantly increasing moral degeneracy that is ultimately manifest in homosexuality and every imaginable deviant behavior.

Really, sodomy is but a reflection of freewill-works religion. It is a pretense of love that involves no commitment. It is a union of men that can never produce life. It is the result of man’s high opinion of himself, the fruit and exercise of his own will. It constantly seeks to recruit others. And it is condemned by God.

If we are saved from this curse, the curse of antichrist’s religion, the only reason you and I are not engulfed in it is this: — “God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth: Whereunto he called you by our gospel, to the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Thessalonians 13-14)

What is the false shepherd’s object? What does he come to do? I often hear and read what others say when warning us of false prophets. They couch their warnings in such phrases that you would almost think they are saying, “These men really are not so bad. Really, they are fine, fine brethren, whose brains are just a little muddled.” Our Lord does not speak like that at all. Does he?

The Master says, of every false shepherd, “the same is a thief and a robber” (v. 1). In verse 10 he says, “The thief cometh not but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy.”

Satan’s great object in this world is to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. That is the object of antichrist. That is the object of all false shepherds. They are God’s enemies, Christ’s enemies; and you ought to count them as your enemies. David did, and so did Paul (Psalms 139:21-22; Galatians 5:12). They come for the express purpose of robbery and destruction, to rob God of his throne, to rob Christ of his glory, to rob the Son of God of his seed, his satisfaction for his soul’s travail, to rob you and your children of the Way of life, to rob you of the only Door unto the Father, to rob you of redemption, salvation, forgiveness, peace, and eternal life, and to destroy your soul (Matthew 23:13).

Be warned. Flee, flee from antichrist! Flee from all freewill-works religion. Flee from every false shepherd. Twice, the wise man warns us to flee from that way which seems right to a man, because the end of that way are the ways of death (Proverbs 14:12; 16:25).

Be Warned

Beware of false shepherds. They always come in sheep’s clothing; but inwardly they are ravening wolves. Their object is to devour and destroy by mixing works with grace, mingling law with the gospel, calling bondage liberty and liberty licentiousness, making salvation in some way, in some part, to some degree, to be dependent upon and determined by you, — your will, your work, your worth, your experience, and your learning.

The True Shepherd

Second, the Lord Jesus describes himself and every true shepherd.

“But he that entereth in by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. To him the porter openeth; and the sheep hear his voice: and he calleth his own sheep by name, and leadeth them out. And when he putteth forth his own sheep, he goeth before them, and the sheep follow him: for they know his voice. And a stranger will they not follow, but will flee from him: for they know not the voice of strangers” (vv. 2-5).

The shepherd of the sheep is Christ himself. He says in verse 11, “I am the Good Shepherd: the Good Shepherd giveth his life for the sheep.’’ In verse 14 he says, “I am the Good Shepherd, and know my sheep, and am known of mine.” He is the Good Shepherd because he died for his sheep. The sheep were condemned to die; but he died in our room and stead that we might live forever. He is the Good Shepherd because he seeks his sheep until he finds it. We were lost; but he sought us and found us. He is the Good Shepherd because, when he finds his sheep that was lost, he lays it upon his omnipotent shoulders, holds it in the grip of almighty grace, and carries it all the way home.

Christ is the true Shepherd. But, remember, his purpose in this parable is to show us a clear distinction between true shepherds and the false, between true pastors and the false. He uses himself as the example all true under shepherds follow. What does our Savior tell us about the true shepherd, the true pastor?

The true shepherd is one who enters into the sheepfold by the Door(v. 2). — “He that entereth in by the Door is the shepherd of the sheep.” The door spoken of in verse 2 is commonly thought to be the Word of God. And it is certainly correct to say that Christ came by the Word of God, fulfilling all the Scriptures. But our Lord tells us plainly in verse 9 — “I am the Door.” How are we to understand this? Is he the Door? Yes. Did he enter by the Door? Indeed, he did. That’s exactly what he did.

“Christ being come an high priest of good things to come, by a greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this building; Neither by the blood of goats and calves, but by his own blood he entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us” (Hebrews 9:11-12).

Our Savior showed himself the Good Shepherd by entering in by the Door, the same Door through which we must enter the kingdom of God; that is, “by his own blood, he entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us.” True, if he had remained without his taking our sins upon him and making them his own, he would not need to have entered in, but he was made sin for us. — He could not enter in any other way. But (Blessed be his name forever!) “by his own blood, he entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us.”

This is the first mark of every true shepherd Christ sends to tend his sheep. He comes in by the Door, by the blood of Christ. He speaks of sin, because he has seen its greatness. He speaks of pardon, because he has been forgiven. He proclaims free justification by the blood, because he is justified. He proclaims perfect righteousness, because Christ has been made righteousness to him. He preaches free grace, because he has been saved by free grace. He preaches the precious blood, because he has felt its power. He tells sinners of a new creation, because he experiences it. He preaches eternal security, because he is secure on the Shepherd’s shoulders, in the Shepherd’s grip.

He that entereth in by the door is the Shepherd of the sheep.” — Without this, no other qualification will do. All the learning a man can attain in college, or seminary, or by his own diligent study can never make him a pastor. All the eloquence in the world will never make a preacher. He who serves as Christ’s shepherd must enter by the Door of the sheep.

The true shepherd is one who cares for the sheep. — “To him the porter openeth” (vv. 3-4).” The Holy Spirit opens the way for Christ. He also opens the way for his servants, his true shepherds. — “And the sheep hear his voice.” The sheep hear the Shepherd’s voice, his Gospel. They hear his voice through the lips of his true shepherds, faithful pastors (1 John 4:5-6).

And he calleth his own sheep by name.” — Without question, this speaks of our Savior’s personal, particular, effectual call of his elect to life and faith in him by the power of his Holy Spirit. It also shows the complete knowledge Christ has of his sheep. He says, “I know them” (v. 27). WhenZacchaeus was a straying sheep, Christ said to him when he was up the tree, — “Zacchaeus, Come down; for today I must abide at thine house” (Luke 19:5). When Nathaniel was a straying sheep under the fig-tree, Christ “saw him” (John 1:48). After his resurrection, he saw Mary and said to her, “Mary,” and she turned herself and said unto him, “Rabboni: which is to say, Master” (John 20:16). So it is still. Christ knows his sheep; and he calls his own sheep by name; and they follow him.

This also implies the love of Christ for his sheep. When you love someone, you love their name. Christ not only knows you, but he calls you by name. The Lord Jesus Christ loves the names of those for whom he died. Your name is graven on his heart, and on the palms of his hands.

But there is more here. Our Savior gives his sheep a new name. He said to Abram, “Thy name shall no more be called Abram, but Abraham shall thy name be” (Genesis 17:5). He said to Jacob, “Thy name shall be called no more Jacob, but Israel: for as a prince hast thou power with God and with men, and hast prevailed” (Genesis 33:28). He said to Cephas, “Thy name shall be called Peter” (John 1:42), which means a stone, a living stone in the house of God. When the Lord Jesus calls his sheep, they get a new name. Indeed, “old things are passed away; and, behold, all things are become new” (2 Corinthians 5:17).

And, when we come to the temple above, he says, “Him that overcometh will I make a pillar in the temple of my God, and he shall go no more out; and I will write upon him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, which is new Jerusalem, which cometh down out of heaven from my God; and I will write upon him my new name” (Revelation 3:12). If you hear his voice and follow him, you have a new name, a name given to you by God himself. It is the name he gives his own darling Son, — “The Lord our Righteousness” (Jeremiah 23:6 and 33:16).

Those who are Christ’s true shepherds, like Christ the Good Shepherd, love, care for, and are sympathetic with his sheep. Faithful pastors understand and know that Christ’s sheep are just sheep, sinful, weak, defiled, and helpless, because they, too, are his sheep. But, like Christ, they call his sheep by his new name. They are his saints. Indeed, they are one with him, so thoroughly one with him that anything done for them is done for him; and anything done to them is done to him (2 Corinthians 6:11-12).

This is the lesson exemplified by our Savior in this parable, the lesson the Pharisees could not grasp, the lesson the religious leaders of our age cannot grasp, the lesson all who serve as his under shepherds must grasp. — If we would influence men and women for good, if we would lead people, if we are to have any power with them, we must lead them by their hearts, with the power of love, and care, and sympathy. They must be convinced that we care for them.

The power to lead men lies in sympathizing with them, as one who walks in the same path with them. The man of influence is the man of sympathy. The man of power is the man of service. He that loves is he that leads. He that serves is he that rules. The hearts of men cannot be moved by mere external force or power. The heart cannot be influenced by mere logic, reason, and dogma. Hearts are moved by hearts!

You may chain the limbs of a man; you may coerce his actions or even his words by religious creeds, religious rules, intimidation or fear. But how can soul be in communion with soul, move the will and win the affections? There is only one way. If we would influence men intimately, profoundly, really, we must enter into sympathy with them. No man is or can be a true shepherd of the sheep who has not entered the same Door, who does not walk in the same path, who is not himself one with the sheep.

This is the lesson our Master taught and confirmed by his own example. The Good Shepherd proved himself to be the Good Shepherd, and illustrated what a true shepherd is by his care, tenderness, sympathy, and love toward his sheep. He lived for them, walked with them, toiled, and hungered, and suffered with them.

Our blessed good Shepherd was and is one with his sheep. He entered into mortal life through a mother’s womb, just as we do. He passed through life by the same path of toil and daily care as we do. He made his exit from this world through the same portal of suffering and death as we must. In life and death he walked with the sheep. Therefore, He could say, “I am the Good Shepherd, not merely because I am commissioned and sent of my Father, not merely because I wield the power of omnipotence,” but “I am the Good Shepherd,” he said, because “I know my sheep and am known of mine.”

Here is another character of the true shepherd. — “He goeth before them” (v. 4). The shepherd always goes before the sheep; and they follow him. When he says, “Let us go to the well,” they follow him. When he says, “Let us go down into that dark valley,” they go after him. So it is with Christ. Christ never called a sheep to go where he never went himself. He has borne all that he calls his sheep to bear. Our Savior went into the depths of sorrow, heart sorrow, soul sorrow, the very sorrow of hell for his sheep. Let us not be surprised when he calls us to suffer. We will not be called to go where he has not gone. Do not be afraid to put down your tender feet where he put down his. It is still true that he goes before you. Do not be afraid. Christ is always with you and is always before you (Isaiah 43:2).

So it is with all Christ’s true shepherds. They are men who go before and lead the sheep. They do not whip the sheep, beat the sheep, bind the sheep, frighten the sheep, and drive the sheep. They go before the sheep, leading them (1 Corinthians 11:1; Philippians 3:17; 1 Thessalonians 1:6; Hebrews 13:7, 17).

Here is one more great distinction between the true shepherd and the false. — “The good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep” (vv. 10-15).Hirelings are just hirelings. They do not care for the sheep. Because they do not care for the sheep, they will abandon them whenever they can serve their own interests better by doing so. Not the good Shepherd. Our Lord Jesus came into this world, lived for, and gave his life for the sheep that they might have life. And all his true shepherds follow his example. The true shepherd’s life is wrapped up in the sheep, in serving their eternal interests. The true shepherd is worthy of his hire; but he is no hireling. The true shepherd gives and lays down his life for the sheep.

Are you following Christ? Do you hear his voice in the Word? Do you hear his voice in the preaching of the gospel? Do you follow him? Follow on to know the Lord fully. Soon we shall be where no tempting devil, no deceiving world, and no false shepherds are found. There we shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore; neither shall the sun light on us, nor any heat. For the Lamb, which is in the midst of the throne, shall feed us, and shall lead us unto living fountains of water; and God shall wipe away all tears from our eyes (Revelation 7:16-17). In that great eternal day, there will be no more need of us under shepherds; for in that great eternal day there shall be one fold and one shepherd!



HL :

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