John 10:1-42 The Shepherd

John's Gospel Commentary by Robert Brow ( 2000

In this section John has focused on two more of Jesus' "I am" metaphors. "I am the gate of the sheep" (10:7) and "I am the good shepherd" (10:11).

With any metaphor it is important to ask in what sense the metaphor is like the reality it pictures, and in what sense it is different. As the Lord's sheep we are not stupid, and we do not have wool on our back. We are not there to be "fleeced," nor are we raised to be butchered and eaten. But the metaphor suggests that the Messiah's care for us is infinitely more than the care of a shepherd for his sheep. We could think of comparisons with lambing, taking out to pasture, finding water, dealing with hurts and thorns, protection from predators. And in each case we have to picture the original situation and grasp the far greater spiritual reality.

The metaphor of the Messiah as the shepherd of his people goes back to the Psalms. "The Lord is my shepherd" (Psalm 23:1), "You led your people like a flock by the hand of Moses and Aaron" (Psalm 77:20), "Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel, who leads Joseph like a flock" (Psalm 80:1). "We are his people, and the sheep of his pasture" (Psalm 100:3), "I have gone astray like a lost sheep; seek out your servant" (Psalms 119:176), There are also references to religious leaders who set themselves up as "the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture" (Jeremiah 23:1, 25:34-36).

So in this chapter John is describing the way Jesus filled out for his hearers the meaning of a well-known Old Testament metaphor.

10:1-2 Here the contrast is between the shepherd who comes in and out by the gate and the predators and thieves who climb over the wall to snatch a lamb from the flock. Jesus is perhaps referring to religious leaders who refuse to become part of the Messiah's flock, and only want to capture individuals for their party or sect or tradition. Later the metaphor is changed to make Jesus the gate of the sheepfold (10:7-8).

10:3 The first thing a shepherd does is to give each sheep a name. To a stranger they all look the same, but the shepherd will proudly say "this is Flossie." Similarly the Messiah calls each of us by name, and leads us out to the best pastures.

Some wonder how God can know us individually? In our day humans have designed a system where I have an internet address, and typing in that address among millions of others gets a message straight to my computer from anywhere in the world. If human technology can do that, surely it cannot be any problem for God, who invented our brains in the first place, to know each of us by name.

10:4 When we know someone well, we easily recognize their voice on the telephone. In a crowd we know a friend's voice among hundreds of other voices. And sheep have a similar ability to distinguish their shepherd's voice among many other sounds and voices..

When a child is born it has no language beyond the sense of being comfortable and protected, and knowing how to cry for milk or to get a diaper changed. But from the beginning the parents are using words to convey their love and delight. As yet the child cannot grasp the meaning of those words. Similarly when people say they never hear God's voice, it is not for lack of God speaking. In a human family the child only slowly picks up the use of words like "mama," "dada" and "doggie." Eventually a complex conversation will become possible.

The complexity of language is far greater with God. Human parents have a few avenues of communication such as hugging, speaking, singing, smiling, feeding. But God can speak to us through an infinite variety of events and people that surround us. The art is to look, and learn, and begin responding to what he is saying to us. That is the way children learn, and we also learn to hear God speaking and responding to us. You cannot get proof that the Messiah is communicating with you till you begin to respond (at first childishly) to him.

For those who are already used to the written words of books and letters the Bible is the best way of learning the language of God. It is as if we pick up a guide book to a foreign language. And in this particular chapter we learn how metaphor opens up for us many new ways of picturing and understanding what the Messiah is continually wanting to say to us.

10:6 The Greek word translated "figure of speech" is paroimia which can mean a proverb (as in 2 Peter 2:22). Here it refers to the extended metaphor based on the relationship between a shepherd and his sheep (10:2-5).

10:7-9 Now the metaphor has changed. The Messiah is the gate or proper way into the sheep fold. Those who try to get at the sheep by some other way are "thieves and bandits." As in 10:1, Jesus seems to be referring to religious leaders who want ecclesiastical control without personal faith in the Messiah.

The words about coming in and going out and finding pasture go right back to the Psalm of David "He makes me lie down in green pastures" (Psalm 23:2). Jesus is claiming to the Shepherd Lord of that favorite Psalm.

10:10 There is nothing wrong with vegetable life, or with the animal life of dogs and cats, birds and fish. But humans are designed for conversation, intimacy, artistic and literary creativity, moral discussion, vision for the future, concerns for justice. They are part of the image of God (imago dei) for which we are designed (Genesis 1:26-27). But "life more abundantly"goes way beyond that to all that the Messiah can give us by way of love and joy and inspiration, the very life of God by the Holy Spirit.

10:11 We should not limit the scope of this verse to the few hours when Jesus was crucified. A good shepherd is constantly willing to take risks for the sheep, go out at all hours, and face the most dangerous situations (as in the parable of the lost sheep, Luke 15:4). Any kind of human love is costly. When we love others (children, parents, lovers, friends, the needy) we will inevitably get hurt. Often those we love will misunderstand, disappoint, ignore, say harsh things about us. But the love of the Messiah for us is infinitely more than our love for others, and we will never know how often and how much we have hurt him.

10:12-13 Some hired hands do their work very faithfully, but they cannot have the loving heart concern of a shepherd.. We might compare a baby sitter, who may be very reliable, but can never have a mother's heart. Similarly, however hard a minister works to shepherd a Christian congregation, he or she will fail and on occasion not be there when really needed. There are personal family needs, others in the parish are in need at that time, there are days off, an annual holiday, committees to attend, etc. That is why it is essential to help individuals as soon as possible into personal contact with the Messiah, who will always be there for them.

There can be very bad senses of the word "own' (10:12, 14). Some parents think they "own" their children. And there are husbands who think they "own" their wife. It is always disastrous if a minister thinks he "owns" his congregation. Many young people do not want to get legally married. "I don't want to own her, and I certainly don't want her to own me." We therefore need to contrast owning to control with owning to free the other. As we saw, "If the son make you free, you will be free indeed" (8:36).

"Owning" in the right sense involves a mutual recognition of a personal and very special relationship. And in the case of the Messiah he longs to welcome us into a relationship with a view to freeing us for the perfect love of heaven.

10:14 Knowing and being known is the heart of any love relationship. And again a human pastor will know bits and pieces about the flock, and they may think they know him or her. But there are always deep areas of our life that we cannot share. Only the Messiah can say "I know my own and my own know me."

A minister may try to know the feelings of each person in his or her parish, but only the Messiah can know us through and through as we really are. Conversely people may think they know this and that about a pastor, but none of us can allow ourselves to be really known. But here Jesus, as the Messiah, makes clear he wants to be known. And his great joy is when we are willing to let him open his heart with us.

10:15 The personal relationship of knowing and being known between humans and the Messiah is meant to be as close as the relationship between Jesus and his Father. And as we have seen, that closeness of loving will inevitably be costly (see 10:11, 17-18).

10:16 The Messiah has other sheep from all other nations that do not belong to the Jewish fold. In his final prayer at the last supper we hear his concern for them (17:20), and after the resurrection he will commission the apostles to baptize and teach all nations (Matthew 28:19).

10:17-18 The Father delights in the Son's willingness to give himself as a costly sacrifice and go through death on the cross. In one sense the Father has given the Son for the world (3:16), but the Son will suffer and die willingly. "Power to take it up again" refers to his faith that the Holy Spirit has the power and can be trusted to raise him even from death (Romans 8:11). Here the Son can already see that resurrection on the other side. Similarly the threefold prophecy of his own death and resurrection is carefully recorded in all three of the synoptic Gospels ( Matthew 16:21, 17:22-23, 20:18-18, Mark 8:31, Mark 9:31, 10:33, Luke 9:22, 9:44, 18:32).

10:19-21 Again John remembers the heated discussions about the person of Jesus which went on among the people and their religious leaders (as in 7:31, 40-44).

10:22 The modern name for the Jewish Feast of the Dedication is Hanukkah. It lasted eight days, and was celebrated by the lighting of lamps in each home. It commemorated the reconstruction of the temple (which was still unfinished after 46 years, John 2:20). And John remembers it was during the cold winter season (Jerusalem can be very cold in winter)..

10:23 Solomon's portico was a covered colonnade where the rabbis used to gather to teach their disciples. After the resurrection the early Christians met in this place (Acts 5:12). And it was entered by the Beautiful Gate, Acts 3:2-10).

10:24-26 The religious leaders now asked Jesus to declare clearly whether he was the Messiah. He told them he had already told them this. But they were unable to recognize this fact because they were not part of the Messiah's flock (see 10:37-38).

10:27-29 Sheep hear the shepherd's voice to guide them through this life. But the Messiah is the good shepherd who takes his own right through to eternal life. And meanwhile it is important to remember that, however much they fail, are tempted and led astray, the Good shepherd will never allow anyone or anything to "snatch them out of the Father's hand."

10:30 Which brings Jesus back to his oneness with the Father. In the physical model of an atom we know that protons, neutrons, and electrons have very different properties and functions, but they are held together in the oneness of the atomic force that makes them one.

10:31-33 The religious leaders could not deny the work Jesus was doing, and they clearly understood he was claiming to be God. Being unable to grasp this, they could only call his statement blasphemy. And they wanted to stone him to death (see note on 8:59).

10:34-36 The Hebrew word for God was a plural noun (Elohim, which in Arabic became the singular noun Allah). It is used in the first chapter of Genesis. "In the beginning God created" (Genesis 1:1) and "Let us make humankind in our image" (Genesis 1:26). Here Jesus is quoting from a psalm where the people's judges are to be in the place of God (Elohim ). The judges are told "You are gods" (Psalm 82:6) in their judging though they are as mortal as anyone else. Jesus' point is that if human judges can be called elohim , why do the religious leaders balk at the Messiah calling himself God's Son?

10:37-39 Jesus has already spoken of himself and the Father both working (5:17). But the inability of his hearers to grasp this illustrates the fact that no amount of evidence will convince those who do not want to live by the implications of believing in the Messiah as the Son of God. John notes how again the religious authorities tried to arrest Jesus (as in 5:18, 7:1, 30, 44).

10:40 John's ministry of baptizing disciples to prepare for the coming of the Messiah had been on the other side of the Jordan (Transjordan is now the country of Jordan). Jesus himself went to be baptized there (1:28, 2:23). Now that John had been beheaded, Jesus felt free to return to that isolated place and many came to him there to be taught. The people remembered what John had said about the one who would come, and that convinced them that Jesus was the Messiah. They would have been baptized to become disciples of Jesus (as in John 4:1), and they probably stayed for several days (as in a camp meeting) for basic teaching.

11:1-57 Lazarus Raised