The Good Shepherd

Photo by Patrick Schneider on Unsplash

Gospel of John 10:1-42

“Amen, Amen, I tell you: Anyone who does not enter the sheep pen by the door, but climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a robber. The one who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. The doorkeeper opens the door for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own sheep, he walks ahead of them. The sheep follow him because they know his voice. They will never follow a stranger, but will run away from him, because they do not know the voice of strangers.” Jesus used this illustration in speaking to the people, but they did not understand what he was telling them. Evangelical Heritage Version

None of the versions I generally use had the ‘Amen, Amen.’ The other translations are not inaccurate, but the Greek word is amen, based on the Hebrew word amen. Both words mean so be it, faithfulness or verily.

The Amen, Amen is used twenty-five times in John; this is the fifteenth. It is found one hundred twelve times in the NT, with the most in Matthew. We use amen to end a prayer, meaning so be it. It is used throughout the Bible in this double format to announce something extra important. It is like, ‘listen up!’

In the first 21 verses of this chapter, we see Jesus following up on the conflict surrounding the healing of the man born blind. There is no break between 9:41 and 10:1. [This is one of the times Cardinal Stephen Langton could have done a better job creating the chapters in 1205 CE. Rabbi Nathan added verses for the Tanakh (OT) in 1448 CE, and Robert Estienne did the same for the NT in 1555 CE.]

Jesus is giving us a parable, though in real terms. Everyone in Judea knew about shepherds and sheep. The land was too mountains for crop production, so sheep and goats, dates, olives, and grapes were the agricultural operations.

It is unusual for Jesus to open a parable with a negative, but it is not so surprising when we look back at the conflict with the Pharisees (they are still facing him during this parable). It should not be a shock to say that a thief and a robber refers to those Pharisees.

In the Daily Bible Study, William Barclay wrote, In Palestine no flock ever grazes without a shepherd, and the shepherd is never off duty. There is little grass, and the sheep are bound to wander far afield. There are no protecting walls, and the sheep have ever to be watched.  . . . The shepherd’s task was constant and dangerous, for, in addition, he had to guard the flock against wild animals, especially against wolves, and there were ever thieves and robbers ready to steal the sheep.

The shepherd image describing God is familiar in the OT. David, the shepherd boy, became King David. Yet, actual shepherds in the first century were low on the social ranks. Little wonder when they spent months without bathing or changing their clothes. Few of them ever entered a synagogue or the Temple.

The one who enters by the door. The walls were three feet or more in height so the sheep could not jump out. There was one entrance called the door or gate through which the shepherd led the sheep. He would then lie down in the doorway to sleep and prevent the seep from escaping. Most of the time several shepherds would use the same enclosure and one of them would sleep in the door while the others would walk to down for more food, returning to help guard. The shepherd would lead his flock to a keep made of stone in the evening.

For Jesus’ parable, the door is the key to understanding his point. Sheep have strong herd instincts and will follow their leader almost anywhere. They know the person leading them and follow without question. They follow the dominant ram in the wild, but domesticated sheep depend on people.

For Jesus to claim to be the door means his sheep, we humans, will follow him through the door to God’s Kingdom. But we must know his voice. Those who do not know Jesus—more accurately, believe in him—will not follow him and, like goats, will go their own way. See Matthew 25:31-33, where Jesus expands the parable.

Many Christians believe that Jesus created parables, but that is not true. Jewish teachers, later called rabbis, told parables to teach difficult lessons through the centuries. Many of the parables Jesus told were variations on one’s rabbis used in the first century. Jesus heard them growing up and used them for his teachings.

So Jesus said again, “Amen, Amen, I tell you: I am the door for the sheep. All who came before me were thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the door. Whoever enters through me will be saved. He will come in and go out, and find pasture. 10 “A thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. Evangelical Heritage Version

Over the centuries, Christians studying John have taken seven of the sayings of Jesus that begin with I am as crucial to his Christology and theology. The first was the bread of life (John 6:35), and the second was the light (John 8:12). Now we have number three: I am the door for the sheep.

Doors do two things; they allow access to the interior and prevent entry to outsiders. Naturally, it is not that simple in the real world, but that is the basic idea upon which Jesus expands.

His first point is that many have come preaching and teaching, but the people have ignored them. He might mean the Pharisees and leaders standing in front of him. The word all gives us some trouble. The Greek has the same all-inclusive meaning as our English word. Does Jesus mean Abraham, Moses, Elijah, and even the Baptizer are thieves and robbers?

No. Jesus means Jeroboam and Rehoboam and all the corrupt kings to follow. All the centuries of false prophets, teachers, and, yes, the rabbis and Pharisees before him. Those who are faithful to God stand with Jesus.

Jesus tells us that entering through him is the only way to get in, but enter what? He never says Heaven in this speech, but when we follow him to the cross and beyond, his meaning is crystal clear; for those who believe. The last sentence of verse 10 does point in that direction.

11 I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 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. 13 He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. ESV

We now have the fourth I am by Jesus. All seven repeat the name God gave to Moses in Exodus 3:14. 14 God said to Moses, “I am who I am. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I am has sent me to you.’” NIV

Now Jesus points to his crucifixion with, lays down his life for the sheep. No one would have realized it at the time, not even his inner disciples, but they remembered his words when they saw the risen Jesus. His disciples and the others who heard his words that day envisioned the heroic shepherd who would fight off a wolf with his staff. While shepherds were looked down on socially, people respected them for their dedication and bravery.

It is natural to ask, ‘who is the hired hand?’ I do not think Jesus would say that the rabbis and Pharisees were hires. He would say they were misguided, but they worked hard at what they thought God wanted them to do. Here, Jesus may simply be using the common notion of a day worker who has no devotion to the job.

I think the hired hands of today would be people who seldom read the Bible or attend church but consider themselves authorities on Christian living. For the most part, they care little for the followers of Jesus; they seek to preserve their sense of righteousness. They are not thieves and robbers, but they have only fair-weather faith.

14 “I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me— 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep. NET 

The earthly relationship between a shepherd and the sheep is one of knowing; they know each other and understand each other. Just as the sheep know very little about the shepherd, we know very little about the Son of God. By reading the Gospels, we get a good picture of the Son of Man, but that is merely a glimpse of God.

Jesus tells us that God knows His Son and His Son knows Him. We then can understand God better than people could before the birth of Jesus. Before we get puffed up, we are like sheep compared to Jesus and perhaps like rocks compared to God.

16 “And I have other sheep who do not belong to this fold. I must lead these also, and they will hear my voice. So there will be one flock and one shepherd. Phillips

We do not know how the Pharisees and Temple leaders took this statement. It seems likely that they thought Jesus meant the Jews living in Egypt, Greece, and the Empire. For those of us who have read to the end, he talked about Samaritans and Gentiles. Many were called God-fearing by the Jews; they were just waiting to hear the voice of the Good Shephard.

There are today 2.382 billion Christians who belong to one of the hundreds of denominations worldwide. Sadly, infighting began even before John wrote the Fourth Gospel; it was one of the reasons for writing it.

The Coptic Church, headquartered in Ciro, Egypt, was founded by the Apostle Mark in 42 CE. Early records support the history and the discovery of Coptic language scriptures dating to the early second century in Egypt, one being the Gospel of John, also supporting the history.

More than 45,000 sheep folds belong to Jesus in the world today. Jesus visits each in different languages and cultures, but always with the same level of love and grace.

17 This is why the Father loves me—because I lay down my life, so that I may take it back again. 18 No one takes it away from me, but I lay it down of my own free will. I have the authority to lay it down, and I have the authority to take it back again. This commandment I received from my Father.” NET

William Barclay states three things we learn from this passage. 1) It tells us that Jesus saw His whole life as an act of obedience to God. 2) It tells us that Jesus always saw the Cross and the glory together. 3) It tells us in a way that we cannot possibly mistake that Jesus’ death was entirely voluntary.

It would be easy for us to believe that Jesus, as the Son of God, could do what he wanted to do, but that is not what he tells in the Gospels. While on earth living the life of a human, he never turned away from God. He never had to repent, as we always need to do. There are thousands of stories from the last two millenniums of people who were so dedicated to doing the work of God that they allowed themselves to die for Him. But Jesus was totally different; Jesus did his assigned work perfectly. He never did anything wrong. He never misunderstood anyone else’s meaning or took their actions to be other than what it meant. Unlike every other human who has ever lived, he did not deserve to die.

We know almost nothing about Jesus before he began his ministry, other than that time in the Temple when he was twelve, so we cannot say he always knew execution waited for him. But it does seem safe to say he knew it by the time he began his ministry. His every word and action prepared for the day he would report for his execution. The Jews did not kill Jesus; he encouraged them to take his life because it was God’s plan for our salvation. If he had not died on the cross, he could not have taken my sins with him to the Father of Lies and told him to keep my sins and report to the Lake of Fire.

19 Once again, the Jews were in two minds about him because of these words, 20 many of them remarking, “The devil’s in him and he’s insane. Why do you listen to him?” 21 But others were saying, “This is not the sort of thing a devil-possessed man would say! Can a devil make a blind man see?” Phillips

This repeated exchange of the Pharisees and others who listened to Jesus adds no new information but does connect us again to healing the blind man. Can a devil make a blind man see? How could that statement not convince the Pharisee scholars of the Word of God?

22 At that time the Feast of Dedication took place at Jerusalem. It was winter, 23 and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the colonnade of Solomon. 24 So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.” ESV

At the beginning of chapter 7, we read that Jesus decided to attend the Feast of the Tabernacles. Everything in 7, 8, 9, and 10 through verse 21 occurs at the time of that Festival in the fall.

Suddenly, we find ourselves in winter, December on our calendar. Several attempts have been made to stone Jesus or arrest him; all failed because of the protection of God. Yet, the four-chapter conflict continues.

The Feast of Dedication is now called Hanukkah and sometimes the Festival of Lights. In Jesus’ time, it had an essential subtext of Jewish independence. We should note that John has placed Jesus during events surrounding the Sabbath, Passover, Tabernacles, and now Dedication. All the Feasts and Festivals were so important to God that He dictated details about them Four Times!

We Christians understand Passover to save Hebrew children in Egypt and of all children with the Passover death of the Son of Man. We also, sort of, observe Sabbath, even if not on the right day. It is a day dedicated to God. The Feast of Tabernacles includes the celebration of the fall harvest of grapes and other fruit. It is the third harvest feast. The first, Passover, celebrates the barley harvest. Pentecost celebrates the wheat harvest. The first day after Passover, the priests thrashed barley as the first harvest. That day, Jesus rose from the grave as the first harvest of souls. The first day of Pentecost was celebrated with a loaf of wheat bread as the Holy Spirit blessed the disciples. The Tabernacles involves the final harvest of all human souls.

Many have argued that John blamed the Jews for killing Jesus and gave up being Jewish. This Gospel is replete with Jewish references, and we should be watching for them. Like Paul, I believe that John remained a Jew who followed Jesus.

Why does John bother to mention the colonnade of Solomon? Solomon was the son of David, and Jesus was also the son of David. He will be [is] the new King in the line of David. The other important symbol is that the authorities attacked King Jesus in the hall of the first son to replace King David.

‘Are you the Messiah?’ The authorities (not all Jews) decided to attack straight on. Jesus had used a great deal of OT language that led them to believe he was claiming that title, but they wanted him to say it openly so they could arrest him and end his threat to them.

Many passages describe the image of God as the Good Shepherd. Some of the prophets linked the image to the Messiah that God would send to clean up the world once-for-all-time. When Jesus stated he was the Good Shepherd, few Jews could doubt that he claimed the unique OT title linking himself to the Messiah and God.

25 “I have told you,” replied Jesus, “and you do not believe it. What I have done in my Father’s name is sufficient to prove my claim, 26 but you do not believe because you are not my sheep. 27 My sheep recognise my voice and I know who they are. They follow me and 28 I give them eternal life. They will never die and no one can snatch them out of my hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all. And no one can tear anything out of the Father’s hand. 30 I and the Father are One.” Phillips

Jesus is again repeating himself. ‘I have told you.’ As a classroom teacher, I experienced the same deaf ear every day. ‘Turn to page thirty.’ ‘What page?’ I was not always as patient as Jesus.

We see Jesus returning to the sheep metaphor, linking it to the early part of the chapter. ‘You are not my sheep; you do not have ears to hear.’ Domestic sheep are not known for their intelligence, so what does that say about the Pharisees and Temple authorities?

Verse 30, I and the Father are One. They wanted Jesus to claim to be the Messiah, but he went a giant step beyond that by claiming to be, if not God, then very like God.

Karen Jobes writes this about verse 30. Jesus claims to be of one nature with God the Father but yet distinguishable from him as a person. As Larry Hurtado explains, no New Testament writer “simply collapses the distinction between Jesus and God ‘the Father’” in a way that “flatly identifies Jesus as Yahweh of the Old Testament.”

Jobes continues with, in response to the challenge in 10:24, Jesus makes three points: (1) he has the authority to protect the sheep; (2) his Father has given him that authority and, therefore, his authority is equal to the Father’s; (3) the Father and Jesus are concurrently doing the same work.

I will let William Barclay have the last word on the verse. As usual, he focuses on the central idea and expresses it succinctly. Jesus’ unity with God came from the twin facts of perfect love and perfect obedience. He was one with God because He loved God perfectly and obeyed God perfectly. And He came to this world to make us what He is.

31 The Jewish leaders picked up rocks again to stone him to death. 32 Jesus said to them, “I have shown you many good deeds from the Father. For which one of them are you going to stone me?” 33 The Jewish leaders replied, “We are not going to stone you for a good deed but for blasphemy, because you, a man, are claiming to be God.” NET

Stoning was a common way to deal with ‘wrong’ people throughout the Empire. But blasphemy as a specific charge is not straightforward in the OT. Leviticus 24:10-23 and 1Kings 21:8-13 are the only two passages that speak of it specifically. In Leviticus, the crime uses the tetragrammaton (Yahweh) instead of the substitute Adonai. Yahweh is printed in Hebrew but never spoken aloud. In the 1 Kings account, he ‘reviled’ God. Perhaps the Pharisees are saying that Jesus said nasty things about God.

Jesus would have been aware of the confusion in the OT, and he would have known what God intended. Further, Jesus knew what the leaders intended. He puts them off with his question about good deeds done by God.

I can hear them huffing and puffing. Notice the leaders accepted the idea that Jesus had done good deeds. ‘No, no, not a good deed.’ Look at their charge: ‘you are claiming to be God.’ Even so, neither passage of the OT mentions claiming to be God as blasphemy. Their inditement misrepresents Jesus’ statement that he and God are bound together.

34 Jesus answered them, “Is it not written in your Law, ‘I said, you are gods’? 35 If he called them gods to whom the word of God came—and Scripture cannot be broken— 36 do you say of him whom the Father consecrated and sent into the world, ‘You are blaspheming,’ because I said, ‘I am the Son of God’? 37 If I am not doing the works of my Father, then do not believe me; 38 but if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me and I am in the Father.” ESV

Jesus says your Law. He is speaking of all the additions the Pharisees have made. Jesus said, in Matthew 5, 17 Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill themNIV By fulfilling the Law, Jesus meant he was going to abolish all the human additions, getting back to the Law of God.

Jesus quotes Psalm 82:6. I had taken you for divine beings, sons of the Most High, all of you. JSB The Septuagint reads, I said, ‘Gods you are, and sons of the Most High.’  This is most likely the version nearly all Jews knew and used.

The meaning is not agreed upon but falls into two main camps. ‘Gods’ refers to lesser divine beings who were to keep the world running smoothly but failed; or, ‘gods’ refers to kings and other leaders of nations who failed in their duties given to them by God.

Job 1:One day the angels came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came with them. Job 2: 1 On another day the angels came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came with them to present himself before him. Job 38: 7while the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy?

This whole paragraph has Jesus using tightly linked logic. By using this Psalm, Jesus seems to be connecting the authorities with the ‘gods’ who failed in the past. Those ‘gods’ received the Word of God but failed to obey. He also uses this short text to show that God the Father created gods/rulers. Scripture records it, so you Pharisees cannot deny it. Therefore, how can I, Jesus, commit blasphemy when God the Father sent me? I have proven that God sent me by doing the good deeds he sent me to do.

His logic failed to convince them.

39-42 They tried yet again to arrest him, but he slipped through their fingers. He went back across the Jordan to the place where John first baptized, and stayed there. A lot of people followed him over. They were saying, “John did no miracles, but everything he said about this man has come true.” Many believed in him then and there. MSG

We cannot know how Jesus escaped, more than once too. He was building up the case against himself so that he would be sure to go to the cross when God decided it was time.

GJohn gives us a beautiful image by having Jesus return to the site of his baptism by his cousin, the Baptizer. The Baptizer had been his first witness. Now people who followed the Baptizer witnessed to one another by repeating what the Baptizer had said. Jesus has come full circle.

Be Righteous and do Good

Mike Lawrence

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