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The I AM Statements of John - 10 1-21

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Jesus the Good Shepherd

John 10:1–21

There is no better loved picture of Jesus than the Good Shepherd. The picture of the shepherd is woven into the language and imagery of the Bible. It could not be otherwise. The main part of Judaea was a central plateau, stretching from Bethel to Hebron for a distance of about 35 miles and varying from 14 to 17 miles across. The ground, for most part, was rough and stony. Judaea was, much more a pastoral than an agricultural country and was, therefore, inevitable that the most familiar figure of the Judaean uplands was the shepherd.

His life was very hard. No flock ever grazed without a shepherd, and he was never off duty. There being little grass, the sheep were bound to wander, and since there were no protecting walls, the sheep had constantly to be watched. On either side of the narrow plateau the ground dipped sharply down to the craggy deserts and the sheep were always liable to stray away and get lost. The shepherd’s task was not only constant but dangerous, for, in addition, he had to guard the flock against wild animals, especially against wolves, and there were always thieves and robbers ready to steal the sheep. Sir George Adam Smith, who travelled in Palestine, writes: “On some high moor, across which at night the hyaenas howl, when you meet him, sleepless, far-sighted, weather-beaten, leaning on his staff, and looking out over his scattered sheep, every one of them on his heart, you understand why the shepherd of Judaea sprang to the front in his people’s history; why they gave his name to their king, and made him the symbol of providence; why Christ took him as the type of self-sacrifice.” Constant vigilance, fearless courage, patient love for his flock, were the necessary characteristics of the shepherd.

In the Old Testament God is often pictured as the shepherd, and the people as his flock. “The Lord is my shepherd: I shall not want” (Psalm 23:1). “Thou didst lead thy people like a flock by the hand of Moses and Aaron” (Psalm 77:20). “We thy people, the flock of thy pasture, will give thanks to thee for ever” (Psalm 79:13). “Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel, thou who leadest Joseph like a flock” (Psalm 80:1). “He is our God, and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand” (Psalm 95:7). “We are his people, and the sheep of his pasture” (Psalm 100:3). God’s Anointed One, the Messiah, is also pictured as the shepherd of the sheep. “He will feed his flock like a shepherd: he will gather the lambs in his arms, and will carry them in his bosom, and gently lead those that are with young” (Isaiah 40:11). “He will be shepherding the flock of the Lord faithfully and righteously, and will suffer none of them to stumble in their pasture. He will lead them all aright”[1]

At night the shepherd would put their sheep into a sheep fold. That might be a pin with a stone wall around it or a cave. In this parable Jesus spoke about two kinds of sheep-folds. In the villages and towns themselves there were communal sheep-folds where all the village flocks were sheltered when they returned home at night. These folds were protected by a strong door of which only the guardian of the door held the key. It was to that kind of fold Jesus referred in verses 2 and 3. But when the sheep were out on the hills in the warm season and did not return at night to the village at all, they were collected into sheep-folds on the hillside. These hillside sheep-folds were just open spaces enclosed by a wall. In them there was an opening by which the sheep came in and went out; but there was no door of any kind. What happened was that at night the shepherd himself lay down across the opening and no sheep could get out or in except over his body. In the most literal sense the shepherd was the door.[2] There is a single door or gate into the sheep fold. Jesus uses that picture as a metaphor.

A.     The metaphor (10:1–6): Jesus illustrates his mission on earth by describing two different ways to enter a sheepfold.

1.     The wrong way, climbing over a wall (10:1): This is the method of thieves and robbers.

2.     The right way, entering through the gate (10:2–6): This is the method of a true shepherd. That is what Jesus was thinking of when he said: “I am the door.” Through him, and through him alone, men find access to God. “Through him,” said Paul, “we have access to the Father” (Ephesians 2:18). “He,” said the writer to the Hebrews, “is the new and living way” (Hebrews 10:20). Jesus opens the way to God.

B.     The meaning (10:7–18): He explains his illustration by giving the characteristics of three kinds of individuals.

1.     Characteristics of the Good Shepherd (10:7, 9, 10b–11, 14–18): Here he describes himself. The normal Greek word used for good in the New Testament is ἀγαθός. Here John uses the word καλὸς which when applied here to the shepherd, points to the essential goodness as nobly realized, and appealing to admiring respect and affection.[3]

a.     His relationship with the sheep (10:7, 9, 10b–11, 14–18)

(1)     He is the entrance to their salvation (10:7). He was no longer speaking about the door of the sheepfold, as in verse 2. Now He was presenting Himself as the door of the sheep. It was no longer a question of entering the sheepfold of Israel, but rather the picture was of the elect sheep of Israel passing out of Judaism and coming to Christ, the door.[4] This guarantees that salvation is given to those who trust in Christ (Acts 16:31; Rom. 10:9, 10). In 14:6, it is made plain that these only are saved. Christ is necessary and sufficient for salvation (3:36)[5]

(2)     He allows them to go in and out, and find green pasture (10:9). To describe something of what that entrance to God means, Jesus uses a well-known Hebrew phrase. He says that through him we can go in and come out. To be able to come and go unmolested was the Jewish way of describing a life that is absolutely secure and safe.

(3)     He gives them life in all its fullness (10:10b). Jesus claims that he came that men might have life and might have it more abundantly. The Greek phrase used for having it more abundantly means to have a superabundance of a thing. To be a follower of Jesus, to know who he is and what he means, is to have a superabundance of life. A Roman soldier came to Julius Caesar with a request for permission to commit suicide. He was a wretched dispirited creature with no vitality. Caesar looked at him. “Man,” he said, “were you ever really alive?” When we try to live our own lives, life is a dull, dispirited thing. When we walk with Jesus, there comes a new vitality, a superabundance of life. It is only when we live with Christ that life becomes really worth living and we begin to live in the real sense of the word.

(4)     He lays down his own life for them (10:11). Many times the Lord Jesus used the expression “I am,” one of the titles of Deity. Each time He was making a claim to equality with God the Father. Here he presented Himself as the good shepherd who laid down His life for the sheep. Ordinarily, the sheep were called upon to lay down their lives for the shepherd. But the Lord Jesus died for the flock.

(5)     He knows his sheep and they know him (10:14). Again the Lord speaks of Himself as the good shepherd. Good (Gk., kalos) here means “ideal, worthy, choice, excellent.” He is all of these. Then He speaks of the very intimate relationship that exists between Himself and His sheep. He knows His own, and His own know Him. This is a very wonderful truth.

b.     His relationship with the Father (10:15–18)

(1)     He knows his Father, and the Father knows him (10:15–16). The same union, communion, intimacy, and knowledge that there is between the Father and the Son also exists between the Shepherd and the sheep. “And I lay down My life for the sheep,” He said. Again we have one of the many statements of the Lord Jesus in which He looked forward to the time when He would die on the cross as a Substitute for sinners. Verse 16 is the key to the entire chapter. The other sheep to whom the Lord referred here were the Gentiles. His coming into the world was especially in connection with the sheep of Israel, but He also had in mind the salvation of Gentiles. The Gentile sheep were not of the Jewish fold. But the great heart of compassion of the Lord Jesus went out to these sheep as well, and He was under divine compulsion to bring them to Himself. He knew that they would be more ready than the Jewish people to hear His voice.

(2)     He is loved by His Father (10:17). In verses 17 and 18, the Lord Jesus explained what He would do in order to bring both elect Jews and Gentiles to Himself. He looked forward to the time of His death, burial, and resurrection. These words would be utterly out of place were the Lord Jesus a mere man. He spoke of laying down His life and taking it again by His own power. He could only do this because He is God. The Father loved the Lord Jesus because of His willingness to die and rise again, in order that lost sheep might be saved.

(3)     He is given power by the Father to lay down his life and take it up again (10:18). one could take the Lord’s life from Him. He is God, and is thus greater than all the murderous plots of His creatures. He had power in Himself to lay down His life, and He also had power to take it again. But did not men kill the Lord Jesus? They did. This is clearly stated in Acts 2:23 and in 1 Thessalonians 2:15. The Lord Jesus allowed them to do it, and this was an exhibition of His power to lay down His life. Furthermore, He “gave up His Spirit” (John 19:30) as an act of His own strength and will.

2.     Characteristics of thieves and robbers (10:8, 10a): Their purpose is to steal, kill, and destroy! Jesus said that those who came before him were thieves and robbers. He was of course not referring to the great succession of the prophets and the heroes, but to these adventurers who were continually arising in Palestine and promising that, if people would follow them, they would bring in the golden age. All these claimants were insurrectionists. They believed that men would have to wade through blood to the golden age. He was speaking of anyone who falsely claimed to be the Messiah.

3.     Characteristics of a hired hand (10:12–13)

a.     He forsakes the sheep in time of danger (10:12). A hireling is one who serves for money. For instance, a shepherd might pay someone else to take care of his sheep. The Pharisees were hirelings. Their interest in the people was prompted by the money they received in return. The hireling did not own the sheep. When danger came, he ran away and left the sheep to the mercy of the wolf.

b.     He cares nothing for the sheep (10:13)  A hired helper was not responsible for attacks from wild animals (Ex 22:13) and worked for pay, not because the sheep were his own. Religious leaders who let God’s sheep be scattered are not his true agents or representatives, because they are not concerned with what concerns him (Jer 23:1; Ezek 34:6).[6]


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[1]The Gospel of John : Volume 2. 2000, c1975 (W. Barclay, lecturer in the University of Glasgow, Ed.). The Daily study Bible series, Rev. ed. (53). Philadelphia: The Westminster Press.

[2]The Gospel of John : Volume 2. 2000, c1975 (W. Barclay, lecturer in the University of Glasgow, Ed.). The Daily study Bible series, Rev. ed. (58). Philadelphia: The Westminster Press.

[3]Vincent, M. R. (2002). Word studies in the New Testament (2:190). Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.

[4]MacDonald, W., & Farstad, A. (1997, c1995). Believer's Bible Commentary : Old and New Testaments (Jn 10:7). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

[5]Whitlock, L. G., Sproul, R. C., Waltke, B. K., & Silva, M. (1995). Reformation study Bible, the : Bringing the light of the Reformation to Scripture : New King James Version. Includes index. (Jn 10:9). Nashville: T. Nelson.

Gk. Greek

[6]Keener, C. S., & InterVarsity Press. (1993). The IVP Bible background commentary : New Testament (Jn 10:12). Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press.

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