Yesterday finished John chapter 9 with Jesus having discussion/discourse on physical blindness verses spiritual blindness with the religious leaders of his day, and this discussion/discourse carries over into this first section of John chapter 10. And it is in the first 21 verses of John chapter 10 that we see for the first time Jesus use this imagery of sheep and shepherds. This imagery and the message it conveys about the good shepherd gives a picture of Jesus as the true shepherd (leader and care-giver) and ruler of his people. His true love and leadership is a contrast to all false shepherds or unfaithful leaders. This imagery would have been very familiar to Jesus’ audience because of its Old Testament overtones as well as their familiarity with shepherding in daily life. Ezekiel chapter 34 gives some important background for Jesus’ words in John chapter 10. Just as the religious leaders of Ezekiel’s day failed to care for God’s people, the religious leaders of Jesus’ day failed to carry out their responsibilities to God’s people.
“Very truly I tell you Pharisees, anyone who does not enter the sheep pen by the gate, but climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a robber. The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger’s voice.” Jesus used this figure of speech, but the Pharisees did not understand what he was telling them.—10:1-6
John 10:1-6 continues the discourse that began in the previous chapter. Jesus contrasted how the religious leaders shepherd God’s people with how he shepherds his people. The contrast was clearly depicted in the previous chapter by how they each treated the healed blind man. Jesus is the true shepherd: he enters the sheepfold through the gate, he knows his sheep, they recognize his voice and they follow him. The religious leaders—who had cast the blind man out of the synagogue—were thieves and robbers. They did not enter the sheepfold through the gate. Sheep fled from them because they did not recognize their voice.
Therefore Jesus said again, “Very truly I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who have come before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep have not listened to them. I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out, and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.—10:7-10
Jesus claimed to be “the gate for the sheep.” This is the third of Jesus’ seven “I am” statements that occur throughout John’s Gospel. Those who enter through him (believe in him) are saved. Jesus contrasted his purpose in coming with the thief (Satan). Jesus had spoken of thieves and robbers, but now he referred to the thief (singular). The contrast between Jesus and his purposes and Satan and his purposes could not be greater. The thief seeks to destroy people’s lives, while Jesus has come so that his followers might have life abundantly.
Now let’s look at this section a little more deeply. And to do that we are going to focus on two distinct phrases that occur in this section. The first phrase is “I am gate” and the second phrase is “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”
The first phrase “I am gate” teaches that there is only one way to true spiritual salvation—through faith in Jesus Christ. Those who enter God’s kingdom through Jesus will be “saved” from the eternal consequences of sin, which are spiritual death and eternal separation from God, and will experience a personal and never-ending relationship with God. As a result, they will have all they need to serve God’s purposes and experience victory over sin, guilt and condemnation.
The second phrase, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” is a contrast between Satan’s purpose and Christ’s purpose. Satan and his forces serve only themselves. Their desire is to destroy people and keep them from God. In contrast, Jesus has come to give people true life through a personal relationship with him. By accepting Christ’s forgiveness and new life, people can find and fulfill the highest purpose for which God has created them.
“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.—10:11-13
Jesus here claimed to be “the good shepherd.” This is the fourth of his seven “I am” statements found throughout John’s Gospel. Shepherd imagery has rich Old Testament overtones. In the Old Testament, God is the shepherd of his people. The religious leaders were chastened often by God for their failure to be faithful shepherds, while the coming Messiah would faithfully shepherd God’s people. The good shepherd demonstrated his commitment to his sheep by laying down his life for them.
Now let’s dive a little deeper into this phrase “I am the good shepherd.” Jesus is declaring himself to be the promised good shepherd who was prophesied about throughout the Old Testament. And there are three big things that we can take away from this phrase.
- This metaphor pictures Jesus’ tender and devoted care for his followers. He is constantly watching over them to guide and to keep them from harm.
- Christ’s distinctive characteristic as the ultimate good shepherd is his willingness to die for his sheep. His death on the cross spiritually rescues and saves those who choose to follow him. Christ is called the “good shepherd” here, the “great shepherd” in Hebrews 13:20 and the “chief shepherd” in 1 Peter 5:4.
- The minister of leader who serves only to earn a living or to gain honor or admiration from others is the “hired hand” of vv. 12-13. True spiritual leaders care for their sheep, those they lead or with whom they have influence, while ungodly and false leaders are most concerned about themselves and their positions.
“I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me— just as the Father knows me and I know the Father —and I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd. The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life —only to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.”—10:14-18
As the good shepherd, Jesus knows his sheep and they know him. The word “know” means more than knowing about someone; it suggests the idea of intimate knowledge. The shepherd knows his sheep because he loves them. His knowledge is so intimate that it is comparable to the relationship between the Son and the Father. Jesus’ reference to other sheep points to the Gentile mission. It would be by the Son’s death that this community of faith would be born. The Father loves the Son because of the Son’s absolute dedication to the Father’s will. This dedication would lead to his death and resurrection at the appointed time, under the authority of the Son and not under the authority of his opponents.
The Jews who heard these words were again divided. Many of them said, “He is demon-possessed and raving mad. Why listen to him?”
But others said, “These are not the sayings of a man possessed by a demon. Can a demon open the eyes of the blind?”—10:19-21
The crowd’s response to Jesus’ discourse follows a pattern of rejection or acceptance. Some believed him to be demon-possessed, but others rejected that assessment and pointed to his words and deeds. Yet even those who supported him were not completely positive. And we will pick up from here tomorrow as we finish John chapter 10.
Tomorrow’s Bible Readings:
2 Samuel 13, John 17, Psalm 119:81-96 and Proverbs 16:6-7
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