STUDY 14: JOHN 10 - JESUS THE SHEPHERD

© Rosemary Bardsley 2009

 

A. THE SHEPHERD AND HIS SHEEP

In John 10:1-10 Jesus makes a number of references to sheep, sheep pens, and shepherds. One fact that must be kept in mind as we read these verses is that there were two different set-ups when it came to sheep pens or folds. [1] There were large sheepfolds for which a door-keeper was employed, and in which a number of shepherds kept their flocks. Each shepherd would come in the morning and call his own sheep by name; only his sheep would come out at his call. It is this type that Jesus has in mind in verses 1-6. [2] There were small, one-shepherd sheepfolds, with no doorkeeper; in these the shepherd himself lay and slept in the doorway. Thus the shepherd is also the door. Jesus thus combines the dual images of door/gate and shepherd in his own person.

A.1 How to tell the real shepherd

In 10:1-6 Jesus introduces his imagery of sheep and shepherds, pointing out that there are dangers to the sheep, and giving pointers on how to distinguish the shepherd of the sheep from other men who have bad intentions.

What pointers does Jesus give in these verses for identifying who is the real shepherd?

1

2

3

 

 

4

5

Here Jesus is speaking of physical sheep and their physical shepherd. Soon he will translate these same facts into the spiritual realm. While he makes no statement about himself in these verses he is obviously preparing us for the points he wants to make in his next two absolute and exclusive claims. These claims focus on Jesus as the Shepherd, and through them Jesus teaches us about the total security and safety of his sheep. In making these claims his intention is to force us to come to a decision about him; so strong and definitive are these claims and the teaching that comes with them that they leave no room for fence-sitting.

A.2 Jesus is the door/gate [10:7-10]

Jesus is not saying here [1] that he is like a door or [2] that he is one of many doors.

What Jesus is saying is that he is the one and only, exclusive entry point, the only effective entry point, to salvation, spiritual security and eternal life.

This claim renders invalid all other offers of spiritual life and salvation. It categorizes them as ‘thieves and robbers’ [8] whose intent and effect is ‘only to steal and kill and destroy’ [10]. The exclusive and judgemental nature of this claim is abhorrent in our humanistic, post-modern, post-Christian society, with its non-discriminatory, live and let live, ‘all-roads-lead-to-god, all-religions-are-mere-human-inventions, mentality. It was equally offensive to the Pharisees to whom it was originally spoken. In this exclusive claim of Jesus Christ every person in every nation, no matter what their existing creed or philosophy, is challenged to rethink their beliefs, to re-evaluate their traditions, and to recognize them as false and destructive. In this claim he confronts all people everywhere with the need to repent – to change our minds about our beliefs. He calls each one of us out of the belief system we have inherited or adopted, and into a positive, responsive relationship with him, in which we believe in him and him alone as the only entry point to spiritual security and safety.

The church of Jesus Christ must not allow itself to be intimidated by the charge of exclusivism, discrimination or criticism. Truth of necessity exposes, excludes and outlaws error. Truth automatically identifies falsehood. Those who do not uphold the exclusiveness of Christ are those who have failed to perceive who he really is. By his own words we know that Jesus Christ, and he alone, is the entry point to life. He has no tolerance for any other supposed door, for any other promise of life. He knows they are false. He knows their end is our destruction.

Jesus knows that his gift, in contrast, is life - abundant, full life [10].

[Let us note here that when Jesus speaks in verse 10 of giving us ‘life to the full’ [NIV] or ‘life … more abundantly’ [KJV], he is not making a distinction between two levels of Christian life, one being superior and more abundant than the other - a distinction made by some Christian teachers and writers. What Jesus is talking about here is the life that he gives to all who believe in him. Just as he has said that those who believe in him will never hunger or thirst ever again, and that those who follow him will never walk in darkness, so here his promise is abundant life. When he gives life, he gives it to the max.]

It is instructive to compare Jesus claim to be the gate/door with his words in Matthew 7:13,14.

How do John 10:7-10 and Matthew 7:13 ,14 mutually affirm and explain each other?

 

 

 

 

A.3 Jesus, the Shepherd who saves, protects and sustains his sheep [10:9,10]

By the metaphor of the door/gate Jesus does more than indicate that he is the only entry point to spiritual life. Think of the second of the two types of sheep-folds mentioned in the introductory paragraph above: the shepherd is the door. Lying down in the opening that shepherd is the protector and saviour of the sheep; he himself is the door that prevents the entry of any wild animal seeking to destroy and eat the sheep, and provides access to all the sustenance needed for life. Thus Jesus is not speaking only of entry into spiritual life, but of salvation from spiritual death and all that causes spiritual death. He stands between us and all that would destroy us in the spiritual sense. In addition Jesus supplies us with everything we will ever need spiritually [we ‘come in and go out and find pasture’ (9), we ‘have life to the full’ (10)]. In him, and because of him, we lack nothing. He is not just the initial entry point to spiritual life: he is also our constant and continual spiritual provider, sustainer and security throughout our lives, supplying all the spiritual protection and all the spiritual sustenance we need.

From 10:8-10, contrast the intentions of Jesus, the gate/door, with all the others ‘who ever came’

Intentions of Jesus

Intentions of all the others

 

 

 

A.4 Jesus is the good shepherd [ 10:11 -21]

Jesus claims to be ‘the good shepherd’. As the good shepherd:

      • He is not like the ‘hired hand’ who cares nothing for the sheep, running away at the first appearance of danger, abandoning the sheep to their fate [12,13].
      • On the contrary, the good shepherd actually and deliberately lays down his life for his sheep [11,15,17].
      • He knows his sheep just as the Father knows him [15]
      • His sheep know him, just as he knows the Father [15]
      • He brings together into one flock sheep which were originally from different flocks [16]. All of these listen to his voice. All of these are united under his leadership and care.

 

B. DIFFICULTIES FOR THE JEWS

Jesus’ teaching that he is the good Shepherd, coming hard on the heals of his healing of the blind man, sustained the division among the Jews [ 10:19 -21].

There are in this section several elements that the listening Jews found both hard to understand and hard to accept:

[1] The claim to be the good Shepherd [11,14]

For the listing Jews when Jesus said ‘I am the good shepherd’ he identified himself as God. The shepherd concept was part of God’s self-revelation in the Old Testament.

      • In Psalm 23 we read ‘the Lord is my Shepherd.’
      • In Psalm 80:1: ‘Hear us, O Shepherd of Israel, you who lead Joseph like a flock.’
      • Isaiah 40:10-11 speaks of ‘the Sovereign Lord’ who ‘tends his flock like a shepherd …’
      • In Ezekiel 34: ‘For this is what the Sovereign Lord says: I myself will search for my sheep and look after them. As a shepherd looks after his scattered flock ... so I will look after my sheep ... I myself will tend my sheep ... I will shepherd the flock with justice ... I will save my flock ... You my sheep, the sheep of my pasture, are my people, and I am your God.’

In addition, the good shepherd claim is a claim to be the Davidic Messiah: ‘I will place over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he will tend them; he will tend them and be their shepherd.’ [Ezekiel 34:23].

[2] Jesus states that he, the good Shepherd, will lay down his life for the sheep [11,15b]

This conflicts with Jewish Messianic expectations. Here is no conquering national, political hero, but a dying Saviour. On the other hand it fits right in with the Old Testament predictions of a suffering servant Messiah. [See Appendix 2.]

[3] Jesus states that his sheep know his and listen to his voice. [14,16]

Jesus repeatedly draws attention to the Pharisees’ ignorance of his true identity. It is the focus of the last few verses of John 9. It is assumed in 10:1-6, and here, in 14-16, Jesus points out that those who belong to him know him and listen to his voice. The significance of this cuts deeply. They have just excommunicated the man of John 9 from membership of the people of God. They assume that they know God. They stand here in the presence of one who identifies himself as God, and they do not recognize him; they refuse to listen to his voice. The only conclusion is that they are not his sheep, as he points out in 26 & 27. Had there been any authenticity to their traditions, their ritual, their piety, their obedience, it would have manifested itself here as they stood face to face with God. But they do not know him. They cannot see God here in this man. By their refusal to hear his voice they identify themselves as not his sheep.

[4] Jesus calls God his Father [14-18]

We have seen the reaction elicited by this claim in John 5:16-18. Despite this aggressive response Jesus persists in relating himself to God in this way, and using this relationship as the validation and authority for all that he says and does. He refuses to back off and dilute this expression of equality with God. Indeed, he will shortly make a statement so blasphemous to Jewish ears that it effectively brought his public ministry to an end and sealed his death warrant.

[5] Jesus claims to have authority to lay down his life and retrieve it again [18].

In verse 18 Jesus makes four statements that portray him as having complete authority over death:

      • no-one takes my life from me
      • I lay it down of my own accord
      • I have the authority to lay it down
      • I have the authority to take it up again.

Jesus is not speaking about his death as some unfortunate, unpremeditated death by accident; nor is he speaking as a depressed suicide; nor is he speaking as one who will die because of the wickedness and brutality of others. He speaks here of a deliberate, authoritative, purposeful laying down of life, in an action fully under his own control. This deliberate dying is followed by an equally deliberate, authoritative and purposeful restoration and resumption of life. Death is merely an instrument in the hands of Jesus Christ, an instrument whereby he obtains forgiveness and salvation for his sheep. [By saying ‘merely’ I do not reduce the significance or the suffering of Jesus’ death, but indicate the completeness of his authority and control over it. He is at no time the helpless victim of death or of those who engineered his death. It is he, and he alone, who is in control right through the trial, committal and crucifixion, and burial. His claim here in John 10 is validated by the resurrection.]

Confronted by this barrage of transcendental claims the Jews are confused and divided [19-21]. There are many who think that he is either demon-possessed or raving mad. They cannot consider that anyone in control of his senses would say the blasphemous things that Jesus is saying. On the other hand there is a quality to Jesus’ words and to his miracles that makes this conclusion questionable.

Note: The next section, although it takes up the theme of sheep, seems to have occurred some time later, during the Feast of Dedication [Hanukkah], a feast held to commemorate the restoration of the Temple after the exile.

 

C. THE SECURITY OF THE SHEEP 10:22-30

Already in the first eighteen verses Jesus has referred to the safety and security of his sheep. Now, some time later, badgered by the Jews to declare whether or not he is the Christ [24], Jesus confronts them with their own impoverished identity, and in doing so highlights and emphasises the utter security of those who actually do belong to him.

He makes the following points:

About Jews:

      • he did tell them who he is, but they do not believe [25]
      • the miracles he did bear witness to who he is, but they do not believe [25]
      • the reason they don’t believe is simple: they are not his sheep [26]

They are not his sheep. This is a terrible statement: terrible in its pathos; terrible in its finality; terrible in the rejection of Jesus, and all that he offers, that is inferred by it.

About the security of his sheep:

Jesus has taught the security of his sheep in 10:1-17. There this security was implicit in what he taught. Here in 10:27-30 this security is explicit and deliberately defined:

      • Firstly, Jesus repeats what he has already taught earlier in this chapter: his sheep listen to his voice, he knows them and they follow him.
      • Secondly, Jesus summarizes in a few words the permanent security of this sheep, using concepts that he has used from the conversation with Nicodemus onwards: he gives his sheep eternal life and they shall never perish. This assurance and security is here stated both positively ‘I give them eternal life’ and negatively ‘they shall never perish’. It is not just that we are saved [have eternal life], but that we can never not be saved [we will never perish].
      • Thirdly, he states the impossibility of anyone ever snatching his sheep out of his hand.
      • Fourthly, he states the impossibility of anyone ever snatching his sheep out of his Father’s hand. The basis of this utter security is the superlative greatness of his Father. His Father is ‘greater than all’. There is no one, no being, no power, who can snatch us out of the Father’s hand.

[There is an interesting allusion here to the unity of the Father and the Son: Christ’s sheep are in his hand: they are also in his Father’s hand. The Father has given them to Christ, but they are still in the Father’s hand.]

      • Fifthly, Jesus states that he and the Father are one [30]. Although this is full of theological and Christological impact, Jesus’ purpose in making this statement is to affirm the total security of his sheep: his Father, in whose hand we are, is greater than all: Jesus, in whose hand we also are, is one with the Father. Here are we, his sheep, held secure in the two greatest hands: the hand of the Father, and the hand of the Son.

Do we trust Jesus, but fear the Father? We shouldn’t!

Do we have confidence in the grace of Jesus by which we are saved, yet cower in guilt before the Father? We shouldn’t!

Do we feel safe with Jesus, but expect rejection by the Father? We shouldn’t!

Jesus and the Father are one! It is actually the Father who has given us to Jesus! Together, in their multiplied greatness, they hold us safe for ever in their hands. [Hence Paul’s exultant response in the presence of suffering in Romans 8:17 -39].

 

D. THE JEWS’ RESPONSE 10:31-42

D.1 An immediate reaction [31-33]

The listening Jews miss the tremendous assurance in the words Jesus has just spoken. His last statement ‘I and the Father are one’ has blown everything else out of their minds.

Not only has Jesus called God ‘my Father’ thus making himself equal with God, as he did in John 5:16-18. Not only has he described the security believers [his sheep] have in his hand in the same terms that he describes the security his sheep have in his Father’s hand. He has also come straight out, and expressed his equality, unity and identity with God in terms that cannot be misconstrued. It is an extremely significant and impactive claim: I and the Father are one.

Immediately the stones are in the hands of the Jews, ready to be thrown at this perpetrator of terrible blasphemy. ‘You, a mere man,’ they say, ‘claim to be God.’[33].

How accurately they have perceived the meaning of his words! They realise precisely the implications of what he has just said! But they reject utterly his right to make those claims. They refuse to acknowledge that in this man they are face to face with their God. They want to kill him.

D.2 Jesus’ right to call himself God’s Son [34-36]

Some may be puzzled by the line of argument Jesus used in these verses, and conclude that here Jesus was saying that he was, after all, just a man. This is not at all the case. What he is pointing out is that if, as in Psalm 82:6, judges who are mere men, are referred to as ‘gods’, then how much more right has he whom ‘the Father has set apart as his very own’ and ‘sent into the world’ to say ‘I am God’s Son’? The issue of the argument is the right of Jesus Christ to use the title and claim the relationship.

D.3 A further confrontational statement [37-38]

In a few simple words Jesus states the significance of his miracles. Even though the Jews will not believe him when he claims equality with God, the very miracles he did should have been sufficient to convince them. “Believe the miracles,’ he said, ‘that you may learn and understand that the Father is in me, and I in the Father.’ Had he stopped with the first part, ‘the Father is in me’, they would perhaps have excused him, supposing that he meant that he allowed God to control him; but he goes on with the second part: ‘and I in the Father’. The miracles are visible, tangible evidence of the validity of Jesus’ claims to be the Son of God, equal to the Father, each mutually indwelling the other.

Again Jesus’ words make their impact. Again the Jews try to seize him, but he escapes from their grasp [39].

We see here that Jesus’ purpose is not to maintain peace, not to gain human approval, not to have human allegiance based on erroneous or inadequate understanding. It is necessary for people to believe in him – to believe that he is exactly who he says he is: one with the Father. Unless they believe this, they cannot be saved. They will continue in their separation from God, whom they do not know; they will continue in their rejection of God and the associated condemnation and death.

As John has said in his introduction: Jesus, the Word, the one who was in the beginning, the one who is God, came into the world which he had made, came to his own, and his own received him not.

Yet there were those who did receive him, who did acknowledge him, and John mentions some of these at the end of this chapter [ 10:40 -42].

Reflection: Describe the impact of John 10 on you personally.