But What If the Shepherd Dies?

Rick Brannan

Peter Chrysologus (ca. AD 400–450) was the bishop of Ravenna, the capital city of the Western Roman Empire. Noted for his sermons, the bishop was surnamed “Chrysologus,” which means “golden worded,” perhaps to paint him as the western counterpart to John Chrysostom, the “golden mouthed” archbishop of Constantinople (ca. AD 347–407) in the east. 1 Although most of Chrysologus’ writings have been lost, a small collection of his sermons still exists.

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Jesus’ parable of the good shepherd who lays down his life for his sheep—pointing to Christ’s death (John 10:14–15)—should spur His disciples to ask Socrates-like questions. What happens to the sheep after the shepherd dies? If the shepherd truly cares about the sheep, why does he lay down his life? How could this possibly be good for the sheep? Peter Chrysologus asks and answers these questions. Preaching on the implications of a dead shepherd, Chrysologus begins with the shepherd’s motive in giving his life to protect his sheep—love.

“The force of love makes a person brave because genuine love counts nothing as hard, bitter, serious or deadly. What sword, what wounds, what penalty, what deaths can avail to overcome perfect love? Love is an impenetrable breastplate. It wards off missiles, sheds the blows of swords, taunts dangers, and laughs at death. If love is present, it conquers everything. But is that death of the shepherd advantageous to the sheep? (John 10:11). Let us investigate. It leaves them abandoned, exposes them defenseless to the wolves, hands over the beloved flock to the gnawing jaws of beasts, gives them over to plunder, and exposes them to death. All this is proved by the death of the Shepherd, Christ. … For the sake of his sheep the Shepherd met the death that was threatening them. He did this that—by a new arrangement—he might, although captured himself, capture the devil, the author of death; that, although slain himself, he might punish; that, by dying for his sheep, he might open the way for them to conquer death.” 2

Article courtesy of Bible Study Magazine published by Faithlife Corporation. Originally published in print, Vol. 5 No. 2


1. F. L. Cross and Elizabeth A. Livingstone, The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, 3rd rev. ed. (Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 2005), 344.

2. Adapted from Joel C. Elowsky, John 1–10, Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture NT 4a (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2006), 350.