“Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter by the door into the fold of the sheep, but climbs up some other way, he is a thief and a robber. But he who enters by the door is a shepherd of the sheep. To him the doorkeeper opens, and the sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he puts forth all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. A stranger they simply will not follow, but will flee from him, because they do not know the voice of strangers.” John 10:1-5
But his hearers did not understand what Jesus was talking about. We saw how in the setting of this long metaphor, the shepherd led them, not drove them—there’s a very intimate and loving relationship between shepherd and sheep. The shepherd gave each a name and taught them to respond to his voice and instructions. At night, he would usually lead them into a safe enclosure, often lying across the entrance thus forming literally the door or gate. Rex beautifully pointed out how flocks from several shepherds might occupy the same place, and when the separation took place, each shepherd going his way, would call his own sheep to follow, and they would follow their own true shepherd knowing his voice, hearing their own name even. Such shepherds would risk their lives protecting them against thieves and robbers and wild animals.
We asked ourselves in our recent discovery meetup, do we also fail to grasp his meanings? So we hearers of the 21st Century set out to explore this and here’s what we found.
Just who were the hearers in this story? The last mentioned were ‘some of the Pharisees’. Here’s yet another example of the continuous controversy raging between Jesus and the blind ruling church elite (the Jews John calls them!) a fury running right through the gospel story, without any abatement, ending temporarily on his death but continuing till Jesus’ judgment on them in AD70. Jesus had just charged these same blind Pharisees “since you say, ‘we see,’ your sin remains. (John 9:40-41)
So Jesus repeated to them with great emphasis what he had already said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the gate of the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not hear them. I am the gate; if anyone enters through me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture.
Here’s another sensational Messianic bombshell, right in line with the coming next age that was breaking in upon God’s people in Messiah Jesus. In the O.T. the Lord is often pictured as the shepherd (e.g., Psalms 23 & 79) so here Jesus claims to be the only legitimate shepherd, in fact, divine! Now this is a most momentous change.
It means the end of the old age of Moses and the Law and its replacement by the new Messianic age of Jesus the king is coming! They are in the presence of the shepherd-king! They fall into the category of all who came before, thieves, robbers! The blind Pharisees were meant to be shepherds but were abject failures, maintaining control over the people, the blind leading the blind. The rot had all started back when they rejected God as king and chose their own (1 Samuel 8:7). They hated the idea of a spiritual kingdom and fought to retain their illegitimate position.
The time has come! The Kingdom of God is breaking in. Complete turnaround is demanded.
Are there parallels today? Yes undoubtedly—in the apostate churches where they have CEOs and not true apostles, prophets, pastors and teachers (in the N.T. these are always plural) who emulate the Good Shepherd, not domineering over the flock as Peter wrote but upbuilding and encouraging the flock.
Jesus replaces all these thieves and robbers. For all time! If anyone enters the sheepfold through the Jesus-gate, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture. It’s Jesus saying again I am the way, the truth, the life. Our pasture in the friendship and under the Lordship of Jesus is spiritually glorious even in this life and eternally beyond. It is what we were designed for. It is abundant life now and forever! It is rivers of living water. It is unimagined freedom, if the Son shall set you free. It is participation in the Body of Christ by every member, full of the Holy Spirit.
The voice of strangers brings mere religion, speculations, deceit and systems of what to do. Only the voice of Jesus brings salvation. If you really want real salvation you will recognise human ideas, elitism, control, manipulation and pride, and run away from every voice except that of Jesus, like the blind man of the previous story in the gospel. Hear the voice of the good shepherd or be destroyed!
The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly. (10:10)
Huge! I love what W. F. Howard wrote in The Interpreters’ Bible, 1952 about this abundance, or rather the lack of it:
those who fling their lives away in an avid questing for sensation, seeking to make a collection of experiences as others do of stamps, and esteeming every new experience of any kind an addition to their store, who will get drunk, simply for experience, and touch unholy things that they may taste the whole of life: – they do not realize, poor duped fools, misled by hobbledehoy thinkers, so called, who have cooked these immature ideas into a kind of messy philosophy – they do not realize that in life, as in arithmetic, there is a minus sign as surely as a plus; and that certain experiences do not add to, but subtract from, what we had and were before, each new indulgence in forbidden things leaving us poorer, leaner, emptier, and at length beggared.
Would you be happier in the service of the devil than in the service of God and His Redeemer—you poor, blind deceived fool! Leads to misery! No. You are created in His image and to enjoy life in his glorious abundance!
“I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep. He who is a hired hand, and not a shepherd, who is not the owner of the sheep, sees the wolf coming, and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hired hand and is not concerned about the sheep.
Jesus is the true owner of his sheep. Those who follow him and no other, are not their own. We are not our own if we claim to follow him. There is no middle way. Either you are His, not your own, bought with a price or you are not of His flock. If you are owned by another you will be deceived, lied to, destroyed. Awake!
I am the good shepherd, and I know my own and my own know Me, even as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep.
Here is a most significant and tremendous statement. He knows us who follow him and we know him. How awful it would be to hear the words depart from me, I never knew you (Matthew 7:22). He knows you! All about you. Laid down his life for you and me—he knew you there on the cross.
But there’s even more here: He knows his own and we know him, just like the Father knows Jesus and Jesus knows the Father—with Jesus we have the same intimate relationship that exists between the Father and Jesus!
I have other sheep, which are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will hear My voice; and they will become one flock with one shepherd.
Who are these other sheep? We could see Jesus was thinking of the Gentiles—the people who were not of this (Jewish) fold. He came here for the lost sheep of the house of Israel and we had read in our journey through the four gospels of those who were touched by him and desired to follow him—who else but Jesus? We have met many already in the Gospel of John. But after his death and resurrection the focus moves to the great ‘unwashed’.
Yes. He had us in mind. He thought of you and me. I must bring them also.
He will bring many, many more—there can be no doubt! I must bring them also! It’s his work and though he calls us to partner with him in his work, all the initiative lies not with us, neither the means, neither the results. To him alone be the honour and the praise and the glory.
Here is a strong message to us who earnestly desire the salvation of our neighbours, loved ones, and people we meet in the public sphere. This releases us from the thinking of failure and disappointment that we often have. I must bring them also! they will hear My voice! They will become one flock with all of us!
They will be one flock with one shepherd. This is a certainty because he has declared it. So stop your whinging and doubting and start rejoicing, believing. One flock—not many; one Shepherd, not many. The promise is sure and the result is certain. All else is fake. Do you get it? Oh Lord, help us all who read thus far to truly get it!
Now skipping to verse 27, where Jesus sums it all up: My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand.
Not only that but My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.
Being his we are exposed to the most unimaginable love and safety. Eternally. Oh the certainty!
What do you desire? Are you ready for all this everlasting abundance?