Noted as one of the best starting places in the Bible, the Gospel of John is a first-hand account of the life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ from one of his most trusted friends and disciples. This book is necessary reading for the believer as its detail and insight is beyond anything one might cross as they seek out knowledge of this good Word. For this reason, I have decided to embark on a multi-part study on the Gospel of John to give not only in-depth analysis of the entire book; but, also background on it's creation and the man that wrote it. Today, after our short break for the holidays, we will continue our study into part nine of this series as we discuss John Chapter Ten!
In this chapter, Jesus will have one more volley of debate with the Pharisees before leaving Jerusalem in the lead up to what will eventually be His death, burial, and resurrection. We begin with a continuation of the same scene at the end of Chapter 9.
The Shepherd and the Sheep
The image of the shepherd and his sheep is the most used image in the Bible to describe God and His people and it is used over 500 times. Its natural that Jesus uses this imagery to describe leadership in Israel (good leadership and bad leadership). The sheepfold that Jesus will talk about in this chapter was a common form of shelter used by shepherds to protect themselves and their flocks. There were two kind of sheepfolds: One was built in an open field. Usually the shepherds would gather stones and make a circular wall (4 ft high, as thick as the stones themselves. As large as necessary for the number of sheep they had), with a very small entrance (no wider than one sheep at a time to enter or exit. This was to make it easier to count the sheep). They would put briers and thrones (when possible) on top of the wall to discourage foxes or other wild animals from jumping on the wall and trying to get to the sheep. Once the sheep were in the fold and counted for the night, the shepherd would regularly lay across the entrance to sleep. The other type of sheepfold was built where there was a cave available. The shepherd would then build a wall surrounding the cave entrance and put a same small entryway where the sheep could come in. It was in one of these cave stables near Bethlehem where Jesus was born. He was likely laid in an etched stone that was used as a feeding trough for the animals.
John 10:1-2: "I tell you the truth, anyone who sneaks over the wall of a sheepfold, rather than going through the gate, must surely be a thief and a robber! But the one who enters through the gate is the shepherd of the sheep.”
Some sheepfolds had a roughly made door used to secure the fold once the sheep were inside, made of sticks and branches tied together. It was natural for the shepherd to use this door for his coming and going. If one were to climb over the wall, this would obviously indicate that he was an intruder, probably with the intent of stealing the livestock. This was familiar imagery to the people who counted many generations of shepherds. In other words, Jesus is not teaching them anything they do not know already, no background information is needed for them to understand.
John 10:3-5: "The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep recognize his voice and come to him. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. After he has gathered his own flock, he walks ahead of them, and they follow him because they know his voice. They won’t follow a stranger; they will run from him because they don’t know his voice.”
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, they would call out to them by name. The sheep recognizing their own shepherd’s voice would come out of the fold to follow him. They would not follow other shepherds. The Jewish shepherds of that time were different than the other shepherds in other countries in that they walked ahead of their sheep instead of behind them. He continues His parable by saying that the other sheep in the fold will not lead the fold to follow another shepherd’s voice. The door was to keep intruders out. The sheep themselves didn’t know that another shepherd might be an intruder or wanted to do them harm. All they knew was, “that’s not the voice of my shepherd, so I am not going to follow him.” Jesus emphasizes this point that sheep will not follow just anybody.
John 10:6: "Those who heard Jesus use this illustration didn’t understand what he meant,"
John makes another editorial comment explaining that the people did not understand the parable. Of course, they understood about sheep, but they did not understand what all of this meant for them. So Jesus explains the parable in the next few verses.
John 10:7-10: "so he explained it to them: “I tell you the truth, I am the gate for the sheep.8 All who came before me were thieves and robbers. But the true sheep did not listen to them. Yes, I am the gate. Those who come in through me will be saved. They will come and go freely and will find good pastures. The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life."
Jesus is making it clear. This is another one of Jesus’s “I am” statements where He declares His divinity in parabolic form. Jesus tells them that as the door (Jesus is the door), the sheep coming through Him will find food and nourishment; when they go out, they will find protection and comfort. Just as the shepherd was a human door that kept intruders out and preserved the lives of the sheep within the sheepfold, Jesus protects against false leaders and teachers and provides saving grace for the sheep. Now the abundant life that He gives, in context, is that He is the ultimate shepherd protecting and giving eternal life to everyone.
John 10:11-13: “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd sacrifices his life for the sheep. A hired hand will run when he sees a wolf coming. He will abandon the sheep because they don’t belong to him and he isn’t their shepherd. And so the wolf attacks them and scatters the flock. The hired hand runs away because he’s working only for the money and doesn’t really care about the sheep."
Here’s another “I am” statement. This time calling Himself the GOOD shepherd. In Old Testament times, the only GOOD shepherd was God. This idea was not lost upon the ones who were listening to Him. In essence, He says, Just as a good shepherd would risk his life to save his sheep, Jesus says that He would not only risk his life, He would lay it down willingly for the flock. There is a difference here. In contrast to this good shepherd, He says, there is the Hireling. The Hireling has gained control of the sheep in a negative way and only cares about personal gain from the sheep and not the sheep themselves. Consequently, when danger comes, he quickly abandons the sheep and saves himself. Who do you think He is talking about here? Well, of course, He is talking about the Jewish leaders who have attacked Him.
John 10:14-18: “I am the good shepherd; I know my own sheep, and they know me, just as my Father knows me and I know the Father. So I sacrifice my life for the sheep. I have other sheep, too, that are not in this sheepfold. I must bring them also. They will listen to my voice, and there will be one flock with one shepherd.
“The Father loves me because I sacrifice my life so I may take it back again. No one can take my life from me. I sacrifice it voluntarily. For I have the authority to lay it down when I want to and also to take it up again. For this is what my Father has commanded.”
A third “I am” statement, repeating the fact that He’s the good shepherd. This time He speaks in the first person and as the good shepherd, He declares the following:
He Knows His sheep
Sacrifices for His sheep
Unites His sheep
This is all an illusion to the resurrection and throughout His speech he goes from parabolic form to prophetic form.
Talking about bringing the gentiles to Christ.
John 10:19-21: "When he said these things, the people were again divided in their opinions about him. Some said, “He’s demon possessed and out of his mind. Why listen to a man like that?” Others said, “This doesn’t sound like a man possessed by a demon! Can a demon open the eyes of the blind?”
Again, John describes the reaction of the people to the latest declaration of Jesus's divinity. The cycle of belief and disbelief is continuing here. Now Jesus begins to declare His divinity without a parable, beginning in verse 22.
**Note on the Feast of Booths: The Feast of Booths was held in the Fall and later on , in December, the Jews celebrated the Feast of the Dedication. The Feast of the Dedication was a commemoration of the re-dedication of the temple, after it had been desecrated by Antiochus Epiphanes (pronounced Uh-Piph-An-Knee) (a Hellenistic Greek king of the Seleucid Empire from 175 BC until his death in 164 BC.). Epiphanes attacked Jerusalem in about 168 BC and sacrificed a pig on the altar in the temple during his invasion. This was a sacrilege and they had to re-cleanse the temple because of it, which led to the re-dedication ceremony and the Jews continued to celebrate this each year. They still celebrate this as Hanukkah today. **
John 10:22-24: "It was now winter, and Jesus was in Jerusalem at the time of Hanukkah, the Festival of Dedication. He was in the Temple, walking through the section known as Solomon’s Colonnade. The people surrounded him and asked, “How long are you going to keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.”
Now its been a few months since the clash of the Pharisees and Jesus finds Himself in the temple during another feast period. This time the Pharisees urge Him to make a clear declaration about His identity. No parables. Their objective is to have a solid charge to make against Him.
John 10:25-31: " Jesus replied, “I have already told you, and you don’t believe me. The proof is the work I do in my Father’s name. But you don’t believe me because you are not my sheep. My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one can snatch them away from me, for my Father has given them to me, and he is more powerful than anyone else. No one can snatch them from the Father’s hand. The Father and I are one.”
Once again the people picked up stones to kill him."
He responds with clarity, but a clarity they are not yet ready to accept. In response to their questions, He says three things:
True believers accept His witness.
“I know who my followers are and I know who you are.”
The Father wills eternal life
Nothing can prevent His followers from receiving this great gift.
God wants us to have eternal life. There are no tricks about it. Its only ours to lose.
Jesus and the Father are One
For the Jews that don’t believe this, this is blasphemy.
John 10:32: "Jesus said, “At my Father’s direction I have done many good works. For which one are you going to stone me?”
Jesus points out the inconsistency of their actions. They have proof of His divinity but they are acting against it anyway.
John 10:33: "They replied, “We’re stoning you not for any good work, but for blasphemy! You, a mere man, claim to be God.”
In effect, Jesus made THEM declare their belief in Him. Did you see that? He switched it around on them. He forced them to say that they do not actually believe in Him. What’s on their heart is now evident. Their stumbling block is that they cannot accept that God can be in the form of a man. Just too much to consider.
John 10:34-38: "Jesus replied, “It is written in your own Scriptures that God said to certain leaders of the people, ‘I say, you are gods!’ And you know that the Scriptures cannot be altered. So if those people who received God’s message were called ‘gods,’ why do you call it blasphemy when I say, ‘I am the Son of God’? After all, the Father set me apart and sent me into the world. Don’t believe me unless I carry out my Father’s work. But if I do his work, believe in the evidence of the miraculous works I have done, even if you don’t believe me. Then you will know and understand that the Father is in me, and I am in the Father.”
Jesus says it's not such a stretch to assign the divinity title to a human; even in the Old Testament there were references as such to those who served as prophets (Psalms 8:17). He’s giving them another way to come to faith. If they cannot accept that divinity dwells within Him, if that’s too much for them, let’s take another route to get to the same conclusion. Look at the thing He has done, can someone without divine power do those things?
John 10:39:" Once again they tried to arrest him, but he got away and left them."
Once again the Jews tried to arrest Him and since the time is not at hand, they could not.
John 10:40-42: "He went beyond the Jordan River near the place where John was first baptizing and stayed there awhile. And many followed him. “John didn’t perform miraculous signs,” they remarked to one another, “but everything he said about this man has come true.” And many who were there believed in Jesus."
John summarizes the scene and the section by closing the cycle in the same familiar way, Jesus leaves Jerusalem to continue teaching and baptizing. The people's rationale for following Him was “we believe John (the Baptist), that John was from God and He didn’t do any miracles. This man here does miracles and fulfills all that John said the Messiah would do when He came.” Because of this some believed and still others continues to disbelieve.