"I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd gives His life for the sheep. But a hireling, he who is not the shepherd, one who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees; and the wolf catches the sheep and scatters them. The hireling flees because he is a hireling and does not care about the sheep. I am the good shepherd; and I know My sheep, and am known by My own. As the Father knows Me, even so I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep."
Jesus is not simply a good shepherd; He is the good shepherd. There are certainly shepherds (i.e., elders) in the church today who are good, but not in the ultimate sense that Christ is. The Greek word rendered "good" means that which is "wholesome, noble, and beautiful." Jesus is definitely all these things, especially because He "gives His life for the sheep." This is what a true shepherd does for His flock, if necessary.
A hireling is one who does not own the sheep, and when he sees danger coming (e.g., a wolf or robbers) he abandons the flock and runs, allowing the predator to have its way with the sheep. The inherent dangers of shepherding are well-known from other passages (e.g., Gen. 31:39; I Sam. 17:34,35). A true shepherd cannot relax his protective care for the sheep for even a moment or they may fall prey to such dangers.
The reason why the hireling flees is because he is only concerned about the financial benefits that he can reap by watching the sheep. He does not truly care about the sheep and their well-being; his concern is for himself and his "paycheck." Jesus undoubtedly spoke these words with the unbelieving Pharisees in mind. They pretended to be shepherds of Israel but were in fact only hirelings who were interested in maintaining their own selfish interests at the expense of the people. Sadly, today there are many spiritual hirelings and not enough good shepherds. It is unfortunate that some who are charged with watching over the flock have the attitude of a hireling; that is, they don't do their work for the well-being of the sheep but for economic reasons, power, or honor. How many preachers avoid declaring the entire truth in order to keep their "job" (cf. Acts 20:26,27)? How many elders seek the "position" of an elder for personal glory and not in order to tend to themselves and the flock (cf. Acts 20:28)? Those with such attitudes are likely to flee at the first sign of danger or controversy, unwilling to stand and face the threat in order to protect the flock.
Jesus, as "the good shepherd" (John 10:14), is definitely no hireling. He is devoted to His duty. He stays with the sheep through all circumstances and dangers, guiding, providing, and protecting. He knows His sheep and is known by them. The relationship between Him and His flock is not based upon financial gain but upon mutual knowledge and affection. Sadly, one reason why so many today are snared by false religious leaders (i.e., thieves) is because they don't really "know" Jesus, and as a result they can't distinguish between the voice of the "good shepherd" and that of a "stranger" (cf. 10:4,5; 8:31,32)!
"As the Father knows Me, even so I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep" (John 10:15). The same kind of knowledge and affection that exists between Jesus and His sheep is also present between He and the Father, though their knowledge is perfect or complete in every way.
Shepherds that are of the world are mere hirelings, willing to sacrifice the sheep to spare themselves any discomfort or danger. True spiritual shepherds, though they may be compensated for their labors, are not motivated by money or honor but by love for the flock. They would sacrifice themselves before letting any wolf or thief harm any of the sheep. Jesus Himself loved the sheep so much that He would "lay down" His life for them (cf. I John 3:16; Matt. 20:28). He gave up His physical life so that man could have spiritual life in Him.
Although many attempts were made upon it, Jesus' life was never taken from Him. When He died, He voluntarily gave it up (cf. John 10:18), and He would not do this until the time appointed by His Father had come. Even after He was seized by wicked men and put on the cross, He could have easily delivered Himself from their hands had He chosen to do so (cf. Matt. 26:53).