A Bible Lesson on John 10:1-18

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version.  Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.

This is a lesson on the first part of the 10th Chapter of John.  This is a wonderful passage describing the person and work of Jesus.  It can also be somewhat frustrating if one is reading it expecting to see a single story told in linear fashion, or a tightly constructed description made in a step-by-step style.  It’s not those things, but rather a series of related word pictures, having to do with the general theme of shepherding.  Those pictures tell us a number of things about Christ, not necessarily in the order one would use when giving a seminary lecture on His person and work.

It is helpful when looking at Chapter 10 of John to get the context right, both in terms of the immediate circumstances and also the Old Testament revelation.  In terms of immediate circumstances, Chapter 10 follows Chapter 9 with no apparent break in time or location.  Jesus has healed the man born blind.  That man has courageously maintained that it was Christ who made him whole, despite the browbeating of the religious officials.  They have tossed him out for not recanting his testimony regarding Jesus, but Jesus has hunted him down, revealed Himself to him, and figuratively taken him in.  In response to the miracle and his dealings with the man, the Pharisees have become more antagonistic toward Jesus.  Those are the immediate circumstances.

In terms of the Biblical/Old Testament context, we need to have clearly in mind that from the beginning God Himself had been understood to be the primary Shepherd of Israel.  The elders and officials of the people were spoken of as under-shepherds, working for the great Shepherd.  Most importantly, the Messiah had been long described as the coming true Shepherd.  There are passages like these:

Psalm 80:1 Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel, you who lead Joseph like a flock!  You who are enthroned upon the cherubim, shine forth.

Psalm 23:1 The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.

2 He makes me lie down in green pastures.  He leads me beside still waters.

3 He restores my soul.  He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.

4 Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.

6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

Isaiah 40:10  Behold, the Lord God comes with might, and his arm rules for him; behold, his reward is with him, and his recompense before him.

11 He will tend his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms; he will carry them in his bosom, and gently lead those that are with young.

Jeremiah 23:1 “Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture!” declares the Lord.

2 Therefore thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, concerning the shepherds who care for my people: “You have scattered my flock and have driven them away, and you have not attended to them. Behold, I will attend to you for your evil deeds, declares the Lord.

3 Then I will gather the remnant of my flock out of all the countries where I have driven them, and I will bring them back to their fold, and they shall be fruitful and multiply.

4 I will set shepherds over them who will care for them, and they shall fear no more, nor be dismayed, neither shall any be missing, declares the Lord.

 5 “Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land.

6 In his days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell securely. And this is the name by which he will be called: ‘The Lord is our righteousness.’

And probably most importantly, there is the whole of Chapter 34 of Ezekiel, some excerpts of which are:

Ezekiel 34:8 As I live, declares the Lord God, surely because my sheep have become a prey, and my sheep have become food for all the wild beasts, since there was no shepherd, and because my shepherds have not searched for my sheep, but the shepherds have fed themselves, and have not fed my sheep,

9 therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the Lord:

 10 Thus says the Lord God, Behold, I am against the shepherds, and I will require my sheep at their hand and put a stop to their feeding the sheep. No longer shall the shepherds feed themselves. I will rescue my sheep from their mouths, that they may not be food for them.

11 “For thus says the Lord God: Behold, I, I myself will search for my sheep and will seek them out.

12 As 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.

13 And 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.

14 I 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.

15 I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I myself will make them lie down, declares the Lord God.

16 I 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.

And:

Ezekiel 34:23  And I will set up over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he shall feed them: he shall feed them and be their shepherd.

24 And I, the Lord, will be their God, and my servant David shall be prince among them. I am the Lord; I have spoken.

25 “I will make with them a covenant of peace and banish wild beasts from the land, so that they may dwell securely in the wilderness and sleep in the woods.

26 And I will make them and the places all around my hill a blessing, and I will send down the showers in their season; they shall be showers of blessing.

27 And the trees of the field shall yield their fruit, and the earth shall yield its increase, and they shall be secure in their land. And they shall know that I am the Lord, when I break the bars of their yoke, and deliver them from the hand of those who enslaved them.

28 They shall no more be a prey to the nations, nor shall the beasts of the land devour them. They shall dwell securely, and none shall make them afraid.

29 And I will provide for them renowned plantations so that they shall no more be consumed with hunger in the land, and no longer suffer the reproach of the nations.

30 And they shall know that I am the Lord their God with them, and that they, the house of Israel, are my people, declares the Lord God.

31 And you are my sheep, human sheep of my pasture, and I am your God, declares the Lord God.”

So when Jesus begins to speak to the mixed audience of followers and antagonists in Jerusalem about being the Shepherd, He is making a clear claim to be Messiah (the fulfillment of the Davidic promise) and to be One who will replace the current religious officials who have failed as under-shepherds to God.  Their bad treatment of the man He has healed is standing as evidence of their unworthiness to serve.

John 10:1  “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.

This first figure is a picture of the propriety of the ministry of Jesus the Shepherd and His relation to His sheep.  He, as the real Shepherd comes in the door.  Those who aren’t come in by illegitimate means.  These sheep pens were apparently walled-in enclosures big enough to hold more than one flock.  Sheep (apparently) grow to know and follow the voice of their shepherd.  It was no problem to separate flocks from a communal pen.  A given shepherd needed only to call and his own sheep would beat it for the gate, leaving the others behind.  It’s not accidental that the man born blind has heard the voice of the true Shepherd and been willing to be tossed out by the Pharisees on His account.  He’s following the One who owns him.  J.C. Ryle dwells on this truth that real disciples know the voice of the Shepherd.  Where voices other than that of the one true Shepherd succeed in leading folks away from the Gospel, the truth about Jesus, Ryle says simply that they are not His sheep.

Note here the tenderness/affection that is present in the shepherd calling the sheep by name, individually, and in the fact that a shepherd leads, rather than drives as one would drive a herd of cattle.

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.”

The man born blind of Chapter 9 is a case in point here.  The Jewish religious leaders have proven themselves to be strangers by their antagonism towards God’s Son.  And the fellow has not followed them, but rather Jesus.  Jesus is clearly saying that God’s sheep are His.  If He is not God incarnate, that is blasphemy.  The Old Testament is clear that Israel is God’s flock, not some human’s.

6 This figure of speech Jesus used with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them.

As is usually the case in John, these folks don’t understand, not because of an intellectual lack, but because they don’t want to understand and take the implied reproof.  So Jesus continues and in doing so, switches figures somewhat.

7 So Jesus again said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep.

Commentators have tried to say “shepherd=gate/door since a shepherd might lie down in the entrance to sleep at night.”  But more fundamentally, it means what it says, and Jesus is now temporarily switching figures.  Jesus pictures Himself as the one who is in charge of coming and going in relation to God’s flock.  That is a clear claim to exclusive authority.  It’s relevant that many people sort of like the picture of Jesus as a gentle and compassionate shepherd, but this switch is not so palatable.  But the fact is that He is also the one and only way to the Father, He’s the only way into God’s flock, and He makes no bones about it at all.

He now jumps back, to again contrast His work with that of the Jewish religious leaders and false Messiahs of the time.

8 All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them.

Apparently the word rendered “robber” has a connotation that would allow it to cover the idea of one of the Jewish military/political rebel/banditos of the time, who often had pretensions of being the Messiah.

9 I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture.

Jesus is declaring that His work (evident, e.g., in the healing of the man born blind) is to bring life.  His ministry is to provide salvation, to deal with our most fundamental lack.  To provide real life, life that is eternal both in the sense that it never ends and in the sense that it is God’s life.  It is eternal in quality.  There is this beautiful pastoral picture of the flock not being constricted or cramped, but having great freedom to follow its protecting Shepherd out into a wide pasture.

That is in contrast to the work of His antagonists.

10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.

Satan, the enemy of our souls comes only to kill and destroy.  The Pharisees, who were unwittingly about the work of the devil, had just proved that they had no heart for the well-being of the man born blind.  They were concerned only for their place and their program.  In contrast, Jesus comes to freely give life, abundant life, life as it was meant to be from the beginning.

11 I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.

The life that Jesus gives us comes at great price, at the price of His own life.  The phrase translated “lays down his life” seems intended to carry not only the idea of being willing to die at some point, but in fact dedicating one’s whole existence to the purpose of providing for the sheep.  That kind of heart is not in the Pharisees.  It’s not in many of those today that supposedly function as under-shepherds of Christ.  Instead, the position is often only a means of getting paid, something to be walked away from if the going gets too tough or the money dries up.

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.

There’s a difference between Christ (and those who truly serve Him) and the hireling/false shepherd.  Sheep in the open country are safe only to the extent that they stick with the shepherd.  Christ owns and loves the sheep and is the protection for the sheep.  That’s His nature.  A pretender will turn tail and run when danger arises.  That’s the nature of the pretender.

13 He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.

The pretender runs because of who he is.  He has no real concern for the sheep and no real stake in anything but his own well-being.  So there should be no surprise when he cuts and runs.  On the other side of this, we all know of wonderful Godly men that have endured terrible trouble for the sake of the Gospel and the flock of God.  That is evidence of the work of Christ in them.

14 I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me,

I AM.  Here is another clear claim to 1) the name of God and 2) the flock of God.  Jesus is making it plain that God’s flock is His because He and the Father are one.  He’s mincing no words.

15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep.

Jesus is likening real relationship of the believer to Him to the essential unity of the Godhead, to His relationship to the Father.  Again, if it isn’t true, it’s blasphemy and terrible heresy to the Jewish ear.

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.

And finally, if this whole thing wasn’t offensive enough to the Jewish mind of the time, Jesus is now suggesting that the flock of God is bigger than just the Jewish nation.  He has called some out of the pen of the Jewish nation (including the man born blind).  He will call others from other nations as well.  Not only will those in current religious authority in Israel lose their spots, but the Gentiles are going to be invited in!!!  That is you and me!.

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.”

One of the things that John makes sure we know, is that Jesus didn’t die by accident or because He was caught off guard by the authorities.  We are to know that they would have had no power over Him except that He voluntarily laid down His life.

Here is a .pdf of this lesson.

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version.  Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.

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