Open your Bibles to John 10. It is my intent to spend two-three weeks in this chapter. Today we will fly over the text at about 10,000 feet and we will unpack the main point of this chapter as it relates to redemptive history. The following two weeks we will start to get into some pretty interesting verses.
Before we read this chapter, I want to warn you that John 10 is one of the sections of the Bible that radically reoriented my life. The theology in this section has immense ramifications, and my guess is that some of you won't like what the Bible has to say.
As I stated several months ago in relation to John 6, I want to encourage all of you to camp out in John 10 for the next several weeks. Read it daily. Meditate on what Jesus is saying. Ask yourself about the implications of his Words. Think about the ramifications for your life. With that said, lets dive right in.
John 10:1-21 – “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door but climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber.2 But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. 3 To him the gatekeeper opens. The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4 When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. 5 A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers.” 6 This figure of speech Jesus used with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them. 7 So Jesus again said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. 8 All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. 9 I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture. 10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. 11 I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them.13 He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.14 I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. 17 For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. 18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.”
19 There was again a division among the Jews because of these words.20 Many of them said, “He has a demon, and is insane; why listen to him?” 21 Others said, “These are not the words of one who is oppressed by a demon. Can a demon open the eyes of the blind?”
If you recall from last week, in John 9, Jesus had just given the sight to a blind for the purpose of displaying his glory as the Light of the World. This miracle set in motion a series of events that concluded with the blind man being cast out by the religious leaders. Jesus finds the blind man and reveals to him that he is the long awaited for Messiah which causes the blind man to worship Jesus of Nazareth. During this discussion, the Pharisees are eavesdropping once again, and engage Jesus. Chapter 9 then ends with Jesus declaring their guilt before God. The beginning of Chapter 10 appears to be the continuation of that conversation.
A Figure of Speech
Let’s begin by looking at verse 6, “This figure of speech Jesus used with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them.” The use of figures of speech are not uncommon. In the Gospel of John we see several: I am the bread of life, I am the light of the world, I am the door, I am the good shepherd, I am the true vine. With each statement, Jesus is using a figure of speech, he is not speaking literally. Jesus was not and is not a piece of bread. Jesus was not and is not a door. Jesus was not and is not a grape vine. Anyone who takes him literally are like those mentioned in verse 6 who do not understand what he is saying to them. So be on guard when someone tells you that they have some magical power to turn a wafer into the second person of the Trinity.
For this figure of speech of a Shepherd and his flock to make sense to us, we must put ourselves into the context of 1st century Palestine, which we will attempt to do over the next three weeks.
To state the obvious, the primary purpose of the Shepherd was to keep the sheep alive. This would entail keeping them safe, keeping them fed, and keeping them healthy. And if any creature on this planet needs help with this, it is sheep. Sheep are defenseless. One book I was reading this week said that the existence of sheep is proof that evolution is a lie. Sheep have always needed care. We can see this all the way back in the beginning. Genesis 4:2 with the birth of Abel, “And again, she bore his brother Abel. Now Abel was a keeper of sheep, and Cain a worker of the ground.” Sheep have always needed a keeper. This is not an accident. God does not make accidents.
The number of the sheep that any one Shepherd would keep would vary, but generally speaking the flocks during Jesus time were not large. The picture that Jesus draws from in John 10 is one where the Shepherd would bring his small flock into what is called a sheepfold. A sheepfold is simply a large coral, or fenced in area. Its purpose was to house the sheep during the night hours for the purpose of protection. The fold mentioned in John 10 is a community fold, with sheep from several different shepherds. There was only one way into this sheepfold and it was a very narrow door. In fact, it was only the width of one sheep. The door was made deliberately small so that two sheep could not exit at the same time.
During the night a watchman would stand guard to ensure that the sheep were not stolen. If the watchman did not recognize someone approaching, the stranger would not be allowed in or out of the fold.
Having said that, just because there was a wall keeping the sheep in, and a watchman standing guard, it didn't mean that people didn't try to steel the sheep. Jesus speaks to this in verse 1. Thieves and robbers would attempt to steal the sheep, and the way they would get into the fold was not with the permission of the watchman, nor was it through the singular door, it was by jumping the fence.
Once they were inside the fold, amongst the sheep, they were far from home free. For sheep, if anything are skittish. An unfamiliar face does not bode well to them. They would not run to him, but as Jesus says in verse 5, they would flee from him. Why? Because they thief was not the sheep’s shepherd. So, this leaves the thief with a dilemma. If the sheep will not follow them, how do they get them out of the pen? They kill them, cut them up, and chuck them over the fence. This is the only way to get the sheep out. Death and destruction.
This picture of the thief stands in stark contrast with the Shepherd. The Shepherd owns the sheep. The Thief steels the sheep. The Shepherd knows the sheep. The thief is a stranger to the sheep. The Shepherd cares for the sheep. The thief destroys the sheep. The Shepderd gives the sheep life. The thief gives them death.
The Fold of Israel
As I stated earlier, the keeping of sheep is first mentioned in Genesis 4. This was the occupation of Abel, the second Son of Adam and Eve. He is the first of a long line of shepherds in the Bible. It is really quite interesting to think about how many people in the Bible were shepherds: Abraham, Lot, Isaac, Jacob, Laban, Rachel, the twelve sons of Jacob, Moses, Moses Wife Zipprah, Amos. However, the most well known Old Testament shepherd was King David.
David was born around 1000 B.C. to his father Jesse. He was chosen by God to be the second King of Israel. These events are recorded in 1 Samuel 16. Verse 11 says, “Then Samuel said to Jesse, “Are all your sons here?” And he said, “There remains yet the youngest, but behold, he is keeping the sheep.” And Samuel said to Jesse, “Send and get him, for we will not sit down till he comes here.” 12And he sent and brought him in. Now he was ruddy and had beautiful eyes and was handsome. And the Lord said, “Arise, anoint him, for this is he.” 13Then Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the midst of his brothers. And the Spirit of the Lord rushed upon David from that day forward.”
And there was no mistaking, the Lord was with David. Psalm 78:70 says, “He chose David his servant and took him from the sheepfolds; 71from following the nursing ewes he brought him to shepherd Jacob his people, Israel his inheritance. 72With upright heart he shepherded them and guided them with his skillful hand.” It was God who choose David and it was the Spirit of God that gave David the ability to keep Israel. Under the Shepherding of David, the nation of Israel flourished The Shepherding of David ushered in what is known as the Golden Age of Israel. He was the greatest leader Israel had ever known.
Unfortunately, David died, and the sheep began to scatter, the Golden Age of Israel slowly faded away. David’s son Solomon took over and the fold of Israel was split in two, the Northern and Southern Kingdoms. The reason for this was because of Solomon's wandering heart. From that point on, little by little, as Shepherd Kings came and went, the sheep of Israel slowly drifted away from the Lord. Why? Because they cared more about their welfare then the sheep's welfare. In summary they were not good Shepherd's.
The Servant of David the Prince Among Them
Turn with me to Ezekiel 34. In this passage we can see very clearly God's dissatisfaction with those who ruled over Israel. And there is very little doubt in my mind that as Jesus lays out the figure of speech in John 10, that he is referencing Ezekiel 34. The words of Ezekiel were written approximately 500 years after David lived and approximately 500 years before Jesus came in the flesh.
Ezekiel 34:1-6– “The word of the Lord came to me: 2“Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel; prophesy, and say to them, even to the shepherds, Thus says the Lord God: Ah, shepherds of Israel who have been feeding yourselves! Should not shepherds feed the sheep? 3You eat the fat, you clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the fat ones, but you do not feed the sheep. 4The weak you have not strengthened, the sick you have not healed, the injured you have not bound up, the strayed you have not brought back, the lost you have not sought, and with force and harshness you have ruled them. 5So they were scattered, because there was no shepherd, and they became food for all the wild beasts. My sheep were scattered; 6they wandered over all the mountains and on every high hill. My sheep were scattered over all the face of the earth, with none to search or seek for them.”
The description matches perfectly the Pharisees of Jesus' day. They claimed to be the leaders of the Synagogue, the Sanhedrin, the Temple, but it was very clear that they could not care less about the sheep of Israel; the lepers, the destitute, the broken hearted. On the day that the blind beggar was healed they did not rejoice with him, but they mocked him, called him a sinner, and cast him out. They did not love him, they loved themselves. They were sheep without a Shepherd. So what is God's response going to be? Look at verse 11.
Ezekiel 34:11- “For thus says the Lord God: Behold, I, I myself will search for my sheep and will seek them out. 12As a shepherd seeks out his flock when he is among his sheep that have been scattered, so will I seek out my sheep, and I will rescue them from all places where they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness. 13And I will bring them out from the peoples and gather them from the countries, and will bring them into their own land. And I will feed them on the mountains of Israel, by the ravines, and in all the inhabited places of the country. 14I will feed them with good pasture, and on the mountain heights of Israel shall be their grazing land. There they shall lie down in good grazing land, and on rich pasture they shall feed on the mountains of Israel. 15I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I myself will make them lie down, declares the Lord God. 16I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, and the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them in justice.”
God's answer is that He will gather His sheep and he will provide for them. He will do the job that the wicked servants failed to do. In just 6 short verses, God says 16 times that he will be the one who does it. I will, I will, I will, I will. God will get all the glory for the keeping of his sheep. But how will he do it? Look at verse 22.
Ezekiel 34:22 – 24 – “I will rescue my flock; they shall no longer be a prey. And I will judge between sheep and sheep. 23And I will set up over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he shall feed them: he shall feed them and be their shepherd. 24And I, the Lord, will be their God, and my servant David shall be prince among them. I am the Lord; I have spoken.”
The means by which God keeps his sheep is by the One Shepherd, his servant David. In John 10 we see Jesus declaring the beginning of the fulfillment of Ezekiel 34. Jesus, the descendant of David, is the Prince Among Them. And the watchman, who I believe could be the role of John the Baptist, announces the arrival of the true Shepherd of God's. The Shepherd who loves the sheep, not himself. To do what the religious leaders before him failed to do. As we saw in John 9, the Pharisees cast out, but Christ seeks out and binds up and strengthens the weak.
And ultimately how does this Prince shepherd his flock? Turn back to John 10. John 10:11, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” The word “good' is kalos. This word can be translated to nobel or worthy. Jesus stands in stark contrast from those who went before him. He is not concerned about his life. He is concerned about the life of his sheep. He loves his sheep so much that he will die so that they may live abundantly.
So why must Jesus die for his sheep? It is not so as to be an example, it is because we have an enemy. And no, I do not mean Satan, though he plays a role. Our enemy, the enemy of the sheep of God, is sin. Sin is what kills us, not Satan. Satan merely accuses. It is your sin that robs you of your joy, your peace, and your life. It is your sin that will send you to Hell. Sin is the great destroyer and killer of the human race.
Once again, let us go back to Genesis 4 to the first Shepherd. Prior to Cain killing Abel, what did God say to Cain? “sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is contrary to you, but you must rule over it.” Cain was consumed by his sin, and it destroyed him.
This is why Christ came; to destroy sin and to destroy the wage of sin, death. And he does it by sacrificing himself. Jesus throws himself in front of the wolf of our sin that crouches at our door and bears the penalty that we deserve. 2 Corinthians 5:21 says, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”
Jesus is the Good Shepherd that the world has been waiting for. Perhaps he is the Shepherd that you are waiting for. If so, let today be the day that you hear his voice and follow him to the greener pastures of eternal life.