Chapter 10 is the last chapter in a long section of material which began in chapter 7.
Here is the flow of events so far:
- Jesus is challenged by His brothers to go and promote His ministry in Jerusalem during the feast of Booths.
- The Lord dismisses their worldly approach and goes up to the feast without fanfare and teaches the people.
- There is great division among the people over His claims and teachings.
- The Pharisees try to trap Him by using a woman caught in adultery.
- After this fails there is again a division among His hearers with some believing and others unwilling to accept His claims.
- The ones who say they believe in Him quickly turn on Him when He calls on them to obey His words in order to be freed from their sins.
- Jesus then heals a man born blind. This causes His main enemies, the Jewish leaders, to accuse Jesus of sinning because the miracle was done on the Sabbath.
- In the end the leaders cannot deny or refute the great miracle done by Jesus. They cannot even persuade the healed man to witness against Jesus so they throw him out.
- Once released from the Jews, we see Jesus revealing Himself to the blind man who acknowledges his faith by worshipping the Lord.
- In the last scene Jesus denounces the Jews for their spiritual blindness in not accepting Him.
This will bring us to chapter 10 where Jesus will have one more volley of debates with the Pharisees before leaving Jerusalem and beginning the series of events that will lead to His death and resurrection.
Parable of the good shepherd – 10:1-21
Chapter 10 is a continuation of chapter 9. The original manuscripts did not have verse numbers or chapter divisions. These were added later for convenience sake. Sometimes the chapter division comes in the middle of a speech as it does in this case. In chapter 9 Jesus is condemning the Jewish leaders for their spiritual blindness in their unwillingness to see or believe in Him as the divine Messiah.
The parable of the good shepherd follows on the heels of this condemnation. The image of the shepherd and his sheep is the most used one to describe God and His people in the Bible. It appears over 500 times.
It is natural that Jesus uses this image to describe leadership in Israel, both good and bad. The "sheep fold" that Jesus will talk about here was a common form of shelter used by shepherds for themselves and their flocks. There were two kinds:
A. In an open field area the shepherd would gather stones and make a circular wall with a small entrance maybe 4 ft. high, as thick as the stones themselves and as large as needed for the sheep. When possible, he would put briars or thorns on the top of the walls to discourage foxes or other wild animals from jumping over the wall. The entrance would be no wider than necessary to let one sheep at a time into the sheepfold. Once the sheep were in and counted for the night, the shepherd would himself lie in the entrance way to the fold in order to provide protection.
B. Another type of sheepfold was built when there was a cave available. The shepherd would then build a wall surrounding the cave entrance and put a small entryway in the wall for the sheep. In bad weather they could all retreat into the cave for protection. It was in one of these cave "stables" near Bethlehem that Jesus was born. The "manger" He was laid in was a hollowed out stone used as a feeding through for animals.
Now that we have a physical description of what Jesus is talking about, let us look at the parable itself.
Vs. 1-2 – "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."
Some sheepfolds had a roughly made door used to secure the fold once the sheep were in. It was natural for the shepherd to use this door for his coming or going. If one were to climb over the wall, this would clearly indicate that he was an intruder, probably with the intent to steal. This was familiar imagery to the people who counted many generations of shepherds in their families.
Vs. 3-5 – 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."
Jesus now extends the imagery to include one more example of false leadership. At times several flocks of sheep were gathered together into a common fold and one person was left to tend the gate. When the shepherds arrived in the early morning to collect their sheep from among the many flocks within the enclosure, they would call out to them by name. The sheep, recognizing their own shepherd's voice would dutifully come out of the fold to follow him. It is an unsual fact that Jewish shepherds walked ahead of their flocks and not behind them as was the custom in other nations.
Jesus continues His parable by saying that the other sheep in the fold will not leave the fold to follow another shepherd's call or voice. The door was to keep intruders out; the sheep would not follow any voice, only the voice of their shepherd. Jesus emphasizes the point that sheep will not follow just anybody, only their own shepherd.
Vs. 6 – This figure of speech Jesus spoke to them, but they did not understand what those things were which He had been saying to them.
John makes another editorial comment explaining that the people did not understand the parable. Of course they understood about sheep: that they were in sheepfolds; that they could pick out their master's voice, even when there were other voices calling at the same time. What they did not understand is what all of this meant for them, so Jesus explains the parable in the next few verses.
Explanation of the parable – vs. 7-21
Since they cannot open the meaning of the parable, Jesus clarifies what He means by the use of it.
Vs. 7-10 – So Jesus said to them again, "Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. All who came before Me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not hear them. I am the door; if anyone enters through Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.
This is another one of Jesus' "I AM" statements where He declares His divinity in parable form. Jesus tells them that, as the door, the sheep coming through Him will find food and nourishment when they go out, and protection and comfort when they come in. Just like the shepherd was a human door that kept intruders out and preserved the lives of the sheep within, Jesus protected against false teachers and leaders, and provided saving grace for the sheep. The abundant life He gives in context is that He is the ultimate shepherd, protecting and giving eternal life to His flock.
Vs. 11-13 – "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.
Here Jesus makes another "I AM" statement, this time calling Himself the good shepherd. In Old Testament times the only "good" shepherd was God. In essence He says that just like a good shepherd would risk his life to save His sheep, Jesus would not only "risk" His life, He would lay it down willingly for the flock.
In contrast to this, there is the "hireling." This is not an assistant shepherd or a contracted worker. In this case the hireling is someone who has gained control of the sheep in a negative way (since Jesus has talked about thieves earlier). This person is only interested in personal gain from the sheep and has no love for them. Consequently, when danger looms he quickly abandons the sheep to save himself.
Vs. 14-18 – 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. 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. For this reason the Father loves Me, because I lay down My life so that I may take it again. No one has taken it away from Me, but I lay it down on My own initiative. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This commandment I received from My Father."
The Lord now makes a third "I AM" statement repeating the fact that He is the good shepherd. This time He speaks in the first person and, as the good shepherd, declares the following:
- In the way a shepherd knows his sheep and they know him, He knows who His true disciples are and they know exactly who He is. He knows the Father and the Father knows Him.
- He will lay down His life for His followers. He has the authority to both lay it down and then pick it up again. This is what the Father has told Him to do. This is an allusion to His resurrection.
- He will bring together another group of disciples and make one flock of all His followers, who will follow only Him. This too is the will of the Father. Another allusion to the preaching to the Gentiles.
Vs. 19-21 – A division occurred again among the Jews because of these words. Many of them were saying, "He has a demon and is insane. Why do you listen to Him?" Others were saying, "These are not the sayings of one demon-possessed. A demon cannot open the eyes of the blind, can he?"
Again John describes the reaction of the people to this latest declaration of His divinity. Note that the cycle of declaration followed by belief or disbelief continues to repeat itself.
Jesus declares His divinity without parable – vs. 22-42
The feast of Booths was in the fall and later in December the Jews celebrated the feast of the Dedication. This was a commemoration of the rededication of the temple after it had been desecrated by Antiochus Epiphanes. Antiochus was a northern king who sacrificed a pig on the altar of the temple during an invasion of the Holy City several hundred years before. They also called it the Feast of Lights because all the houses were lit up during celebrations. Today the Jews still celebrate this feast and it is called Hanukkah. Lighting of candles is the principal ceremony.
Vs. 22-24 – At that time the Feast of the Dedication took place at Jerusalem; it was winter, and Jesus was walking in the temple in the portico of Solomon.The Jews then gathered around Him, and were saying to Him, "How long will You keep us in suspense? If You are the Christ, tell us plainly."
It has now been a few months since His clash with the Pharisees and Jesus finds Himself once again in the temple area during this feast. This time the Pharisees urge Him to make a clear declaration about His identity, no parables. Of course their objective is to have a solid charge to make against Him. They are not asking this question because of faith.
Vs. 25-31 – Jesus answered them, "I told you, and you do not believe; the works that I do in My Father's name, these testify of Me. But you do not believe because you are not of My sheep. 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. 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." The Jews picked up stones again to stone Him.
Jesus responds with clarity, but a clarity they are not ready to accept. In answer to their question He says 3 things:
- True believers accept the proof He has provided in the miracles the Father has given Him to do. They are not true believers (my sheep) because they rejected Him and the proof He offers.
- He knows and is known by His true followers and they have demonstrated that they are not true by what they have done in the past (regardless of the fake sincerity of their question). The question implies that He should do more to convince them. He claims that He has done enough to convince true believers.
- It is His Father's will that He give eternal life to His followers. Nothing can prevent His followers from receiving this great gift. The implication is that nothing these Jewish leaders can do will stop the Father from doing this through Jesus.
- Jesus and the Father are One. He is equal to, the same as, united to and shares the nature of God. Of course for the Jews who do not believe, this is blasphemy punishable by death.
Vs. 32 – Jesus answered them, "I showed you many good works from the Father; for which of them are you stoning Me?"
Jesus points out the inconsistency of their actions. They have proof of His divinity but are acting against it anyways.
Vs. 33 – The Jews answered Him, "For a good work we do not stone You, but for blasphemy; and because You, being a man, make Yourself out to be God."
In effect Jesus makes them declare clearly their disbelief in Him. Their stumbling block is that they cannot accept that God could be in the form of a man. This was too much to even consider.
Vs. 34-38 – Jesus answered them, "Has it not been written in your Law, 'I said, you are gods'? If he called them gods, to whom the word of God came (and the Scripture cannot be broken), do you say of Him, whom the Father sanctified and sent into the world, 'You are blaspheming,' because I said, 'I am the Son of God'? If I do not do the works of My Father, do not believe Me; but if I do them, though you do not believe Me, believe
the works, so that you may know and understand that the Father is in Me, and I in the Father."
Jesus says that it is not such a "stretch" to assign the title of divinity to humans, even in the Old Testament there were such references for those who served God as prophets (Psalms 8:1-7). If those who were sent by God as prophets were called gods in the Scripture, surely one who does the miracles of God and speaks for God can be called the Son of God. If you do not believe my teaching here, at least acknowledge the miracles, these do not lie.
Vs. 39 – Therefore they were seeking again to seize Him, and He eluded their grasp.
Once again the Jews, quite unconvinced, try to arrest Him. Once again, because His time was not at hand, He manages to elude their attempts to capture Him.
Vs. 40-42 – And He went away again beyond the Jordan to the place where John was first baptizing, and He was staying there. Many came to Him and were saying, "While John performed no sign, yet everything John said about this man was true." Many believed in Him there.
John summarizes the scene and the section by closing the cycle in the same familiar way. Jesus goes out of Jerusalem to continue preaching and baptizing. The people's rationale for following Him was: we believed John even without miracles; this man does miracles and fulfills all the things John said about Him. Because of this, some believed and despite all of this, some still disbelieved.