The transition from chapter 9 to chapter 10 is abrupt. John passes directly from the word of judgment in 9:41 to a discourse about the shepherd and the sheep in chapter 10. There is no mention of sheep or a shepherd in chapter 9 or anywhere in the preceding chapters. The subject of the blind man who received his sight totally disappears in chapter 10. There are no transition words or phrases at the beginning of chapter 10 that indicate a new time, audience, or place. It appears as if Jesus moved directly from charging the Pharisees with sin to the discourse on the sheep and shepherd.
The sudden mention of the Feast of Dedication in 10:22 makes the difficult transition more difficult. Chapter 9 had appeared to be part of Jesus' ministry that occurred at and right after the Feast of Tabernacles. The Feast of Tabernacles was in September; the Feast of Dedication was in December. If John 10:1-21 goes with 10:22, then there is a major break between chapter 9 and chapter 10. Some believe that the events and dialog of chapter 9 and the discourse of chapter 10 took place at very different times. John simply placed them side-by-side without any transition words. That may be the case. However, it is likely that John saw a connection between chapter 9 and chapter 10.
The thieves and robbers, the stranger, and the hireling that are mentioned in the opening verses of chapter 10 all appear to be references to the Jewish leaders. John 10:1-18 seems to use the figurative language of the shepherd and his sheep to sharply criticize the Jewish leaders. In fact, John 9:41 had concluded with a strong word of judgment against those same Jewish leaders. The healing of the man born blind in chapter 9 and the discourse on the sheep in chapter 10 may have occurred at two very different times in the ministry of Jesus, but John saw a clear connection. A theme of judgment flows from chapter 9 into chapter 10. Chapter 9 provides a conspicuous example of the failure of the hireling Jewish leader-shepherds. They threw the blind man who had been healed out of the synagogue. Jesus, the good Shepherd, found him and brought him to the true fold.
Chapter 10 has two major sections. Verses 1-21 are built around Jesus' figurative story of the sheep and the shepherd(s). Verses 22-42 return to the familiar issue of Jesus' identity.
John 10:1-21 - The Good Shepherd
The section dealing with the good shepherd has three parts. Verses 1-6 present a parable (or perhaps several parables combined) dealing with the sheep, the shepherd, and sheep robbers. Verses 7-18 provide an expansion or interpretation of the parable(s) of the first six verses. Verses 7-18 have also been called an allegory and a meditation. Finally, verses 19-21 describe the reaction of the Jews to Jesus' teaching.
John 10:1-6 - The Sheep, the Shepherd, and Sheep Robbers
These opening verses introduce the figures of speech from shepherding that will be used in the first part of chapter 10. Verses 1-5 are in the form of a parable. Scholars debate whether this is a single parable once told by Jesus, or several parables told by Jesus combined here by the gospel writer. The Synoptic gospels clearly show that Jesus spoke of sheep and shepherds in a figurative manner. The best known is the parable of the Lost Sheep found in Matthew 18:12-14 and Luke 15:3-7. Jesus also described his disciples as sheep. In Mark 14:27 he quoted Zechariah 13:7, "Strike the shepherd and the sheep will be scattered." It is an obvious reference to himself as the shepherd and to the disciples as the sheep. Luke 12:32 portrays Jesus calling the disciples, "Little flock."
Jesus' use of sheep imagery has a strong Old Testament background. Psalm 23 is the best-known Old Testament passage to use sheep and shepherd figuratively for spiritual purposes. It is more likely that Jesus was drawing upon Ezekiel 34 in his metaphorical use of sheep language. The background of Ezekiel 34 is especially important for John 10:1-18. Ezekiel described Israel as God's flock and the rulers (kings) as the shepherds. Rather than feeding the sheep, the rulers alternately ignore the flock and actually prey upon them instead of protecting them. As a result the flock is scattered and devoured by the wild animals. The false shepherds will be removed from their position of leadership and God will again be the shepherd of his people. He will gather them and lead them to good pasture. He will appoint a shepherd over them from David's line and bring peace to the flock. Ezekiel 34 is a startlingly clear description of the way Jesus portrayed himself as the good shepherd.
Verses 1-3a describe the proper way to approach the sheep. It is through the door or gate of the sheepfold. That is the way the shepherd comes to the sheep. Anyone who approaches another way has evil intentions. Verses 3b-5 focus more on the close relationship between the sheep and the shepherd. The shepherd knows his sheep and calls his own sheep by name. They follow at the sound of his voice. Sheep will not follow a stranger. It may be impossible to know if this was once a single parable or a pair of parables placed side by side (such as Luke 14:28-30 and 31-32 and Luke 15:3-7 and 8-10). However, the meaning of the parable(s) is not difficult to determine.
Chapter 10 opens with the familiar words, "truly, truly," (amen, amen). These words mark a solemn declaration of a trustworthy word from the Lord. John also uses them to emphasize a statement of Jesus. They also imply that the statements about the sheep and shepherds are parabolic. V
erses 1-5 reflect common practices and understanding of shepherding in Palestine at that time. When not out in the open the sheep were kept in an enclosure made of stone walls. The size varied considerably. But all had an entrance where the shepherd took the sheep in and out. Obviously anyone who entered the pen by climbing over the wall rather than by the entrance was up to no good. Stealing sheep was a common problem and a variety of policies were used so the shepherd could not be suspected of stealing the sheep when they belonged to someone else.
The sheep did learn the shepherd's voice. In the summer the sheep were taken into the rural areas to graze far away from home. There several flocks would be bedded down at night in a large fold built with stone walls. In the morning each shepherd called for his sheep and the flocks separated from each other simply by recognition of and response to the voice of their own shepherd. The shepherd would then lead the flock to the grazing area he had selected for that day. As one commentator noted, shepherds went before the flock leading them; butchers were behind the flock driving them (photo of shepherd leading sheep).
The solemn "truly, truly" of verse 1 combined with a description of everyday shepherding experience suggests a parable. In verse 6 John declares that Jesus spoke this as a figure of speech or a proverb. They did not understand. This reference to "they" brings us back to the question of the audience. Within the literary flow of the gospel the Jewish leaders of chapter 9 form that audience. If we consider John 10:1-5 in isolation from chapter 9 our sympathy lies with those Jewish leaders. Looking only at these five verses it is very hard to know what Jesus means by the figurative references to shepherding. But the context of chapter 9 and the background of Ezekiel 34 make the parable(s) much clearer. Jesus is accusing those Jewish religious leaders of being false shepherds. They are the thieves and robbers mentioned in verse 1. He is the shepherd whose voice the sheep follow. They are the strangers - the rustlers who care nothing for the sheep but only for the profit they can make for themselves from the sheep.
As is often the case with the parables of Jesus, misunderstanding is not just a matter of intellectual puzzlement. The real reason those religious leaders do not understand the parable is their own hard heartedness. They refuse to allow the parable to expose their own sinfulness and need of God. When that is the purpose of a parable and one refuses to accept that possibility it becomes difficult to find any other meaning. When reading the parables, indeed all the teaching, of Jesus, we need to be asking, "What does this reveal about me?" "Do I need to be different?" "What does God want to do in changing my attitudes, thoughts, and life?"
John 10:7-18 - Jesus' Application of the Parable(s)
The relation of verses 1-5 and 7-18 is difficult to define. Verses 7-18 flow from the parable(s) at the beginning of chapter 10. They have been described as a meditation on, an allegory from, and an explanation of verses 1-5. In fact, verses 7-18 contain two extended metaphors based on sheep, shepherds, and sheepfolds. However, they are not interpretations of the material in verses 1-5. Rather, they arise from the same arena of life described in verses 1-5, but they develop their own direction and meaning. Jesus describes himself in verses 7-10 as the door of the sheep and as the good shepherd in verses 11-18. Verses 1-5 provide the environment or atmosphere for understanding Jesus' descriptions of himself. The focus on Jesus' identity in John 10:22-42 also implies that the purpose of verses 1-18 is understanding who Jesus is.
Verses 7-10 are built around Jesus' parallel statements, "I am the door (of the sheep)," in verses 7 and 9. The statements are amplified in two directions. First, Jesus contrasts himself as the authentic door with all those who came before, thieves and robbers, who were not heard (or at least not heeded) by the sheep. The identity of the imposters mentioned in verse 8 is not developed. He is not referring to the Old Testament prophets. Though they were often not heeded, the Old Testament itself implies that it was not the flock that did not heed them. It was the Jewish leaders who did not heed the prophets. Ironically, here the thieves and robbers are the Jewish leaders mentioned in chapter 9 and the sheep do not heed them.
The second use of the door metaphor appears in verse 9. It identifies Jesus the door as the source of salvation, pasture, and life. The reference to pasture in verse 10 extends the metaphor of shepherding. However, the references to salvation in verse 9 and to life in verse 10 repeat themes already common in John's gospel.
There are two different applications of the door metaphor in verses 7-10. Verse 8 interprets Jesus as the door by which the shepherd comes to the sheep. The thieves and robbers did not come through Jesus, the door, to get at the sheep. The fact that they used other means proves that they are imposters. If Jesus is the door by which the authentic shepherd comes to the sheep then Jesus is not the shepherd at this point, but God is. Verses 7-8 seem to be saying that Jesus is the door by which God comes to shepherd us. This view assumes the background of Ezekiel 34 where God is the shepherd of Israel. This is a beautiful picture of the Incarnation. It is God who comes to care for us through Jesus.
The door metaphor is then turned around in verses 9-10. Here Jesus is the door by which the sheep go out to find pasture, salvation, and life. There is no other way by which the sheep can find these benefits. If they do not come through Christ, they will not find life and salvation. If they are fooled into following the thieves they will not find the life that is salvation for John. If they follow the thief they will find death and destruction. This is another beautiful picture of Jesus. It clearly teaches that he is the only way for salvation. Verse 10 concludes this section with a statement of Jesus' purpose. I came in order that they might have life and that they might have it in abundance. The purpose of life echoes John's purpose statement for the whole book found in John 20:30-31. These things have been written in order that you might believe . . . and that when you have believed you might have life in his name.
Raymond Brown points out that the pasture of verse 9 leads to life in verse 10. John has already described Jesus as the source of living water (water of life) and as the bread of life. Now, within the metaphor of sheep, Jesus provides the pasture of life. And that pasture is abundant; it provides all that is needed and fully satisfies. Jesus is not just the only way by which salvation and life can be obtained. The life that he provides is totally sufficient and satisfying.
At this point many of us have done a disservice to Christ. We have acted and allowed others to act as if the Christian life was a restrictive, unpleasant life. Authentic life, life to the full, is life in obedience to the whole will of God. When we understand the will of God as the redemption of all creation instead of "being good" or "avoiding evil," the Christian life becomes tremendously exciting and challenging. "Being good" and "avoiding evil" become a small though necessary price to pay to accomplish the great task of changing the world for Christ.
Verses 11-18 change the metaphor from Jesus as the door to Jesus as the shepherd. These verses are also built around parallel statements by Jesus, "I am the good shepherd," in verses 11 and 14. Several new thoughts or developments, not implied in verses 1-5, appear. The most significant new thought is the theme of the shepherd laying down his life for the sheep (verses 11b and 15b), and the indirect application of this to Jesus in verses 17b and 18. The risky responsibility of the shepherd is not the only conflict-oriented material in the passage. The contrast between the genuine shepherd and the imposter appears in terms of response to impending danger. The imposter flees before the wolf; the good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. These verses also introduce the concept of other sheep and other folds.
The way in which Jesus is the model shepherd is revealed in His sacrificial self-giving. The definition of a good shepherd as the one who lays down his life for the sheep introduces the new and dominant theme of this passage. The Greek expression is unusual; the word we translate as "lay down" literally means "to put" or "to place." Our expression, "to put one's life on the line," comes close to expressing the risk that is implied in the phrase. However the same construction was used in the Greek version of 1 Kings 19:2 to mean death rather than just risk. Here, the discerning reader of John's gospel will see more than simply Jesus risking His life; for Jesus to lay down His life refers to His death.
The imposter in verses 12-13 is the hireling as opposed to the thief of the preceding verses. The hireling is not attempting to harm or steal the sheep. In fact, the hireling's motive is good. He is a protector, one who cares for the sheep. However, the point of mentioning the hireling is to show the contrasting levels of commitment. When push comes to shove, the hireling is more interested in protecting himself than the sheep. In contrast, the good shepherd, Jesus, has no concern above caring for and protecting the sheep.
Thus verses 11-13 speak both of Jesus' character as the Good Shepherd and of the care that the church receives as His flock. Part of the meaning of us being creatures is that we need someone who will be ultimately concerned with us. [Most of us got married to find someone who would be ultimately concerned with us. Much of our marital difficulties arise because neither we nor our spouses are capable of that level of concern. It is only Christ who has that level of commitment to us.] Sheep are not created for autonomy. They cannot survive running their own lives by themselves. Neither can the church nor individual believers. Genuine faith or trust in Christ only exists as we are confident that the Shepherd is more concerned for us than for his own welfare. Verses 9-10 suggest that his care includes salvation, nurture, and abundant life. These benefits are not just one-time, past benefits of the death of Christ, but the ongoing, present blessings and concern of the risen Lord.
The repetition of "I am the good shepherd," in verse 14 marks the next step in the development of the text. Verses 14-15 focus on the relationship of the shepherd and the sheep. I know my own and my own know me. Verses 11-13 had focused on care and dependence, but verses 14-15 center on intimacy. The care of a shepherd for his sheep may be tender and loving, but the metaphor lacks a personal dimension for most of us. The intimacy of Jesus' care for us and for his church is not simply that of a shepherd for sheep but the same kind of intimate relationship shared by Christ and the Father.
The intimate relationship of Christ and his followers that is portrayed here also advances beyond the sheep/shepherd metaphor by its mutual character. The double repetition of "know" emphasizes the mutuality involved. "I know my own and my own know me." "The Father knows me and I know the Father." If sheep of the shepherd were the only metaphor for the church, it would be too easy to view all the responsibility and energy in the relationship between Christ and us as flowing from the shepherd to the sheep. The introduction of mutual personal relationship means that we bear significant responsibility also. We dare not simply absorb the care of the Good Shepherd directed toward us; we must share in His concerns and participate in His mission.
Verse 16 turns suddenly to what appears to be an entirely new concept - other sheep, another fold. This is a clear reference to God's concern for the Gentiles (already expressed in the Old Testament) and to the Gentile mission of the church. Jesus' statement that He must bring the other sheep is never carried out in the gospel of John. But in the context of the mutuality of the relationship between Christ and us there is only one conclusion that can be drawn. People who share intimacy with Christ will bring the other sheep and make it possible for those not of this fold to heed his voice. When we are in mutual relationship with Christ we pursue his agenda of one flock, one shepherd.
Verses 17-18 appear disconnected from the sheep/shepherd metaphor that has been at the center of chapter 10 thus far. However, they are a reflection on the meaning of Jesus, as good shepherd, laying down his life for the sheep and so they belong with verses 11-16. Several new ideas enter the passage in these verses.
Verse 17 specifically mentions love for the first time. The statement that the Father loves Jesus "because" the Son is laying down his life does not mean that Jesus earns the Father's love by his sacrificial death. Rather, the laying down of Jesus' life for the sheep is the "act which expresses the perfect accord between them" as Lindars states. The mutual relationship of intimacy between Jesus and the Father points to a shared purpose as well as to love. The love of Christ for us, the love of the Father for Jesus, and the laying down of Christ's life are inextricably linked.
The other theme explicitly introduced in verses 17-18 is the Resurrection. The resurrection is an expression of the will and love of the Father, as the closing phrase of verse 18 makes clear. It is also linked to seeking the other sheep. The Gentile mission of the church did not develop until after the Resurrection. These verses function in a predictive way in John's gospel. They also make it clear that teaching about the good shepherd is part of our on-going task between Jesus' resurrection and ours.
John 10:19-21 - The Reaction of the Jews
The response of the Jews that is described in verses 19-21 is typical of what we have been reading in John. The accusation of being demon possessed appears again. These verses also reflect the division of opinion about Jesus since some defend him. The effect of this little summary of reactions to Jesus is to push us to a decision. It is very easy to side with the defenders of Jesus from a purely historical viewpoint. However, the more important question is whether we will be a defender of Jesus in the here and now of our lives when commitment to him calls for rejection of comfort and ease and the approval of our friends and neighbors.
John 10:22-42 - The Identity of Jesus
The setting in time and the literary structure are the two main background issues in verses 22-42. Verse 22 places this section at the Feast of Dedication in December. John may have mentioned this because he has been placing the significant discourses of Jesus in the context of Jewish Festivals: Passover, Tabernacles, and now Dedication. There is another intriguing possibility as to why John mentioned the Feast of Dedication as the context of chapter 10. The Feast of Dedication is Hanukkah, which commemorates the cleansing, and rededication of the temple and the altar during the Maccabean wars. The temple and altar had been desecrated by the Syrian king, Antiochus Epiphanes, who had sacrificed a pig to Zeus on the altar. When the Jews under the Maccabees recaptured the temple they cleansed and rededicated the temple and the altar to pure worship of the Lord. Some scholars believe that John specifically mentioned the Feast of Dedication because he saw Jesus - the new temple according to chapter 2 - being consecrated instead of the temple altar.
The literary structure of verses 22-39 is built around two basic questions dealing with the identity of Jesus. Verse 24 asks whether Jesus is the Messiah. Verses 25-30 contain Jesus' response. Verse 33 raises the question of whether Jesus makes himself to be God. Verses 34-38 present Jesus' answer to that question. Verses 40-42 provide John's summary to this section of Jesus' ministry.
John 10:22-30 - Jesus as the Messiah
The issue of Jesus' messiahship has been raised several times in John's gospel already. This is the first time the question is posed point-blank to Jesus to answer. The Jews ask, "How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly." One can question whether Jesus answered them plainly. He does not directly answer the question of Messiahship; he says, "I [already] told you and you do not believe."
Notice the shift from past tense, "I told you," to present tense, "you do not believe." Jesus' works (signs) provide adequate evidence of his Messiahship. He is more concerned about their lack of belief and addresses that problem in verses 26-30. The Jews do not believe because they are not Jesus' sheep. Here the metaphor of verses 1-18 returns. Sheep follow the shepherd; the Jews refuse to follow Jesus so they are not his sheep. Further, verse 27 declares that Jesus' sheep hear his voice. The Hebrew words for hear and obey are the same. Thus Jesus' sheep are those who obey his word. He knows them and they follow him. In fact, Jesus' sheep enjoy eternal security.
Because of the theological controversies of our day it is important that we understand verses 27-29. Verse 27 defines Jesus' sheep as those who obey his voice and follow him. To them the promise of verse 28 applies, "I am giving them eternal life, and they will certainly never perish." The promise also states, "no one will snatch them out of my hand." Verse 29 shifts the place of security from Jesus' hand to the Father's hand. Given the close relationship of Jesus and the Father the meaning does not change very much.
Two things should be noticed. First, the language used here arises from the metaphor of people as sheep. The sheep are secure because the Good Shepherd knows them and lays down his life for them. No wild animal, thief, or hireling can destroy them. The promises apply to us in the same degree that the metaphor of being sheep applies.
Second, there is one significant difference between people and the sheep described in this chapter. Sheep follow the shepherd by instinct and training. People follow Christ by choice and obedience. Verse 27 assumes people following and obeying. To the degree we follow and obey Christ we are "eternally secure." No outside person or power can snatch us from the protective care of the Good Shepherd. But should we choose not to follow and obey we have rejected the conditions of the promises and the promise of eternal security will not apply to us. In brief, we are totally secure in Christ. Only we have the power to destroy our relationship and security with him. But we do have that power and thus we have the responsibility for day-by-day obedience.
John 10:31-39 - Jesus as Son of God
When Jesus states in verse 30 that he and the Father are one, the Jews want to stone him to death. The root issue in the conflict then (and now) between the Jews and the followers of Jesus concerned his relationship with the Father. Jesus responds by quoting part of Psalm 82:6, "I said, `You (all) are gods, and sons of the Most High, all of you." The meaning of this Old Testament verse is greatly debated. However, Jesus' purpose in using it is clearer. If the Old Testament could refer to its hearers, who receive the word of God, as gods or sons of God then Jesus could surely call himself Son of God. After all, the Father had sanctified Jesus and sent him into the world.
In verse 37 Jesus returns to the issue of believing. The works of Jesus' ministry were designed to bring people to faith. Part of that faith means believing that Jesus and the Father are one since Jesus does the work of God in the world. Therefore he is the Son of God. The theme of Jewish rejection is so strong that John doesn't develop it in verse 39. He simply mentions their rejection and moves to a summary and transition passage.
John 10:40-42 - Summary and Transition
Verses 40-42 bring this section to a close. Jesus returns to the place near the Jordan where John the Baptist's ministry had been. This is the next to last retreat from the Jews of Jerusalem before Jesus' final trip to Jerusalem and the Triumphal Entry. As we stand near the end of Jesus' ministry John reaffirms the two basic issues of this gospel. Jesus' identity is confirmed in verse 41, and verse 42 declares that many believed in Jesus.
Study Questions for Reflection and Discussion
These readings and study questions are in preparation for next week's lesson.
As you begin each day pray that the Lord will speak to you through His Word and that the Holy Spirit will make the Word alive and meaningful to you.
First Day: Read the notes on John 10:1-42. Look up the Scripture references given.
1. Identify one or two new insights that were important to you.
2. Select a truth for which you see a specific, personal application for your own life. Describe how it would apply to you.
3. Do you hear Jesus' voice as your shepherd and do you follow him? Ask the Lord to help you to be in mutual relationship with him.
Second Day: Read John 11:1-16. Now focus in on John 11:1-6.
1. What kind of relationship did Jesus have with Mary, Martha, and Lazarus? Give the verse numbers and phrases that provide evidence.
2. Read Luke 10:38-42. What further insights do you learn about Mary and Martha?
3. Verse 4 states that Lazarus' illness was for the glory of God. In what ways do you believe God can be glorified through illness? How does Jesus' teaching here compare with John 9:1-5?
Third Day: Read John 11:1-16. Focus on John 11:7-16.
1. Why did Jesus' disciples not want to go to Judea?
2. How does John 8:12 influence the way in which we should understand verses 9 and 10?
3. Why was Jesus glad that he was not present when Lazarus died? At what point should we stop believing and hoping?
Fourth Day: Read John 11:17-37. Now focus on John 11:17-27.
1. Why do you think John mentioned that Lazarus had been dead for four days?
2. Describe Martha's faith. How does verse 27 fit in with verses 21 and 22?
3. What do you think Jesus meant when he said, "I am the resurrection and the life?"
Fifth Day: Read John 11:17-37. Now focus in on John 11:28-37.
1. How do Mary's words in verse 32 compare with Martha's words in verse 21?
2. List the verse numbers and give the phrases that reveal Jesus' feelings about the death of Lazarus.
3. What is the hope that was expressed in verse 37? Why would such a question be asked? How does it affect you?
Sixth Day: Read John 11:28-44. Focus on John 11:38-44.
1. Why did Martha not want to have the stone removed from Lazarus tomb? What does that tell us about her personality or her faith?
2. The word "believe" appears in verses 40 and 42. What does Jesus indicate might lead to believing? What will be the consequence of believing? Would the same cause and consequence be meaningful today?
3. In verse 44 Jesus commanded that Lazarus be unbound and let go. What spiritual application can you make of this story and of this final command of Jesus?