John 10—the Gate and the Good Shepherd
The discourse in John 10 took place as a continuation of the John 9 story of Jesus healing the man born blind. In John 9, the Pharisees are guilty because they claim to see but are blind (spiritually). This leads right into Christ’s parabolic teaching in John 10 about the sheep and the Shepherd. The Pharisees claim to be the religious leaders of Israel like a shepherd leads and takes care of the sheep. Jesus will say in John 10 that they have failed in their responsibility to care for the sheep, and are instead like thieves and robbers. The metaphor of shepherding the sheep is very historical to Israel as the prophet Ezekiel chastised the religious leaders of his day about 500 years before, “Woe to the shepherds of Israel who have been feeding themselves and not the flock. Because you have acted selfishly, I (God) am against you and will take away your job.” (Ezek.34:1-10) Then in Ezekiel 34:11-15, God said, “I Myself will search for My sheep, I will care for My sheep, I will gather, feed, and lead them to rest.” Now in John 10, Jesus was telling them that He is doing just that. The metaphor of the sheep and the Shepherd is made all the more powerful by His using the language of deity. People have many names for God, but God gave one name to Moses for Himself in Exodus 3:14—I AM THAT I AM. In John 10:7-14, Jesus used this name for Himself four times by adding a predicate. No other person would say “I am the door” or “I am the Good Shepherd” because it is the language of deity.
Jesus’ teaching here in John 10 provides a clear series of contrasts between Himself and the religious leaders who opposed Him. The true Shepherd enters through the front door but the Pharisees are like thieves who slip in some other way. The true sheep know their Shepherd and follow only him instead of the strangers they don’t know. Jesus is the door, which is the only way in while the Pharisees are providing alternate (but wrong) ways. If you enter by Jesus’ way, you will be saved, but any other way leads to destruction. Jesus, the Good Shepherd loves the sheep and sacrifices Himself for them, but the “hired hands” (Pharisees) are only out for themselves. The ultimate proof that Jesus is the Good Shepherd is that He “lays His life down for His sheep”, while the religious leaders were protecting their own power, position, and money. Jesus is not forced to do this, but does it voluntarily, and the good news is that He also has the power to take up His life again. He was obviously talking about the crucifixion and resurrection, which were only about three months away from the events in John 10.
The Names of Jesus
There are a vast amount of descriptive names for Jesus in the Bible. He is the Alpha and Omega, the Word, the Advocate, the Bread of Life, Cornerstone, Deliverer, Great High Priest, Judge, Immanuel, King of kings, Lamb of God, the Light, Christ, Son of Man, Son of God, the Way, the Truth, the Life, and many more. In John 10, Jesus uses the images of the Gate and the Good Shepherd. These symbolic images work well because Jesus is the only way to God and eternal life, and we as sheep must have a Shepherd who will sacrifice Himself so we can get there. We are like sheep because we are helpless and dependent. The sheep could not exist without the shepherd. They have no defenses whatsoever. They can’t run, fight, hide, or depend on their wiles. What animal is the most defenseless, and what animal is the strongest? The correct answer is sheep to both questions. Without a shepherd the sheep have no chance, but with a shepherd carrying a rifle (or sling in David’s case) the sheep are strong and safe.
First Century Sheep Herding in Israel
In Jesus’ day, a shepherd would have a small flock of sheep that he would take care of by leading them and protecting them. There were wild predators at night as well as thieves who wanted to rustle the sheep, so each village had a safe place to keep the different flocks together at night. These were the sheepfolds or fenced in corrals with only one gate so they could guard it easier. A gatekeeper would guard the entrance. The shepherds would lead them out in the morning to find good grazing and fresh water. Since they were small flocks, each shepherd knew his sheep and the sheep knew the voice of their shepherd so when they came out they would divide up behind their respective shepherds. John 10:6 tells us that Jesus was purposefully using a figure of speech to represent what was going on there in Israel at that time. The sheepfold was Israel. The thieves and robbers and hired hands were the religious leaders. The gate or door is Jesus, and the Good Shepherd is Jesus. The doorkeeper probably stands for John the Baptist, and “his own sheep” represent the believers who hear and believe Christ’s call to salvation.
The Gateway to the Truth
In several passages like Matt. 7:13, Jesus taught that the way to heaven is strict, narrow, exclusive, and there is only one door that is valid. “Enter by the narrow gate for the gate is wide and the way broad that leads to destruction…For the gate is small, and the way narrow that leads to life, and few are those who find it.” People in the world would like to think they can make up their own way, and there are many ways, but Jesus was clear that there is only one way, “no one comes to the Father but through Me”. Simon Peter said in Acts 4:12, “there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved”. Paul wrote in 1 Timothy 2:5, “there is one God and one mediator also between God and men, the man Jesus Christ who gave Himself as a ransom for all”.
In John 10:7-10, Jesus used a new metaphor saying, “I am the door of the sheep”. Jesus is that narrow solitary gate that believers must come through in order to be saved into the green pastures of God’s grace. Only through Jesus can believers be reunited to God and experience eternal life with Him. The other supposed Messiahs who came before Jesus and after are just “thieves and robbers”. Jesus then made a wonderful promise to His sheep in v.10, “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly”. This abundance comes to us through the intimate personal relationship we share with Christ that includes peace, purpose, meaning, and joy. Other religions offer formulas, systems, and self help to their congregation, but Jesus offers a personal relationship with the Living God. What sets the Good Shepherd apart from the false shepherds? In v. 11-15 Jesus said that the Good Shepherd “lays down His life for the sheep…I am the Good Shepherd…and I lay down My life for the sheep”. The false shepherds are motivated by their own selfish agenda, but Jesus is motivated entirely by love for His sheep. In v.14, Jesus said “I know My own and My own know Me”. The Greek word used here that we translate “know” means to know intimately. Then in v.16, Jesus made a shocking statement that Israel was one sheepfold, but Jesus had other sheep in other sheepfolds. Remember that John was writing about 40 years later to churches that were primarily Gentile. Therefore, the author was pointing out that Jesus had taught that the Gospel would go out to the world—“other sheep which are not of this fold” will hear and believe. Also Jesus said that these Gentiles would become one flock when both Jews and Gentiles would unite into one church.
More Division and Dialogue
The end of the dialogue at the Feast of Tabernacles in John 10:1-21 resulted in another division over what Jesus said. The hard hearted were angrily hurling insults at Jesus and saying He had a demon, while others were saying “No, these are not the sayings and works of a demon”. The narrow restrictive truth causes divisions because it gives people no wiggle room to do their own thing. The human race is notorious for waffling, and people don’t want to be pinned down or commit. Jesus gave them no middle ground and no more waffle room for living for themselves. The so-called religious experts saw the miracles, saw the fulfillment of prophecy, and they heard the authoritative teaching of Jesus, but in John 10:24 they approach Jesus and ask, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.” They remind me of today’s economists. A wife asked her husband, who had a doctorate in economics why the stock market went down. He answered “Many factors like inflationary pressure, fiscal instability, political pressures, national imbalance, and money supply”. The wife then said, “So you don’t know either, huh?” Israel’s experts just didn’t get it either because they wanted something different than Jesus.
Assurance and Security
In v.26, Jesus answered their question initially by explaining why they didn’t know and believe that He was the Christ—“you are not of My sheep”. In John 9, Jesus had told them that believing is seeing, and if they had spiritual sight they could see that He is the Christ. In God’s economy you have to believe before you can know and understand Spiritual truth. Believers hear Jesus’ voice and follow Him (Jn.10:27), and Jesus gives them eternal life. Not only that but Jesus promises security saying “no one shall snatch them out of My hand”. Then Jesus clearly answered their question about His deity by shocking them with “I and the Father are one”, or I and God the Father are one in essence. Paul said it well in Col.2:9, “For in Christ all the fullness of deity dwells in bodily form”. Did they know that Jesus was claiming to be God? Verse 31-33 tells us they did know because they accused Him of blasphemy and picked up stones to stone Him.