One of the Bible’s most informative images of Jesus is as the Good Shepherd. Part of that image involves His leadership or lordship of the flock. Jesus expresses that role by saying, “My sheep hear My voice.” Only the Lord’s true sheep follow and obey Him because they know and recognize His voice. Jesus said, “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me” (John 10:27).
In John 10:1–30, as Jesus faces growing opposition from His enemies, He draws His followers ever closer by introducing them to the kind and caring leader He embodies—the Good Shepherd. Jesus wants His disciples to recognize that He is not like the abusive religious leaders who were in constant conflict with Him and His ministry. He shows them that they must follow Him as sheep follow their shepherd.
In this illustration, the sheepfold represents a place of security, a protective shelter of the family of God. No one can enter the fold except through the Good Shepherd (John 10:7–9). He alone determines who may come in. He protects His sheep and leads them, and even lays down His life for them (verse 11). Only true sheep follow His leadership: “After he has gathered his own flock, he walks ahead of them, and they follow him because they know his voice” (John 10:4, NLT). Christ leads by example. His life illustrates how we ought to live. He doesn’t have to push or prod us to follow Him but guides us by walking ahead of us. And His sheep hear His voice, that is, we know His voice and recognize Him as our leader.
The simple statement My sheep hear My voice is packed full of Christian doctrine. It expresses personal intimacy between the shepherd and his sheep. In the first century, a single sheep pen held multiple flocks, so it was essential for the sheep to know and recognize their own shepherd’s voice. There had to be an unmistakable familiarity between sheep and shepherd for the sheep to feel safe and know which voice to follow. Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me” (John 10:14). Knowing the Lord’s voice indicates experiential knowledge through a relationship with Him.
My sheep hear My voice also highlights the call of Jesus Christ that brings believers into a new and abundant life of fellowship with Him (Romans 8:28–30). Jesus as the Good Shepherd calls us by name (John 10:3; Isaiah 45:3–4), and He knows us by name (Exodus 33:17).
My sheep hear My voice speaks of those who listen with obedient attention—this kind of listening results in faith. Paul taught the Romans, “Faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ” (Romans 10:17). One primary way we hear the Lord’s voice is through the Word of God. By hearing His voice in Scripture, we get to know Him, and knowing Him produces faith, and that faith causes us to follow and obey.
First John 2:3–6 explains that to know God is to obey Him: “We know that we have come to know him if we keep his commands. Whoever says, ‘I know him,’ but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in that person. But if anyone obeys his word, love for God is truly made complete in them. This is how we know we are in him: Whoever claims to live in him must live as Jesus did.” True sheep know the Lord’s voice and prove it by obeying His commands. They live as Jesus did.
My sheep affirms that there are true sheep and false sheep. True sheep know, listen to, and obey the Good Shepherd’s voice; false sheep pay no mind. My sheep also communicates the reality of our union with Christ: “But whoever is united with the Lord is one with him in spirit” (1 Corinthians 6:17). We belong to our Good Shepherd (John 17:6).
Of His sheep, Jesus said, “I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. I and the Father are one” (John 10:28–30). Those who belong to the Good Shepherd belong to God the Father. They are His forever. Jesus laid down His life on the cross to give His followers eternal life, and they are safe in His sheepfold for all eternity (John 6:37, 39; 17:2, 9; 18:9).
The Good Shepherd says, “My sheep hear My voice.” These sheep have heard the call of Christ to enter the sheepfold. By grace, the Good Shepherd has saved them through faith, and now they belong to the family of God forever (Ephesians 2:1–10).