Meditating on Great Themes in John: 17. Gate & Shepherd (2)
John 10:7,9,11 Therefore Jesus said again, “I tell you the truth, I am the gate for the sheep….. I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. He will come in and go out, and find pasture….I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.
We said in the previous study that there is a complexity in these verses of chapter 10, a mixing together of the analogies of the door (or gate) and the shepherd. Initially the greater emphasis is on the door or gate and we concluded with: “I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. He will come in and go out, and find pasture.” At the beginning of this chapter Jesus had started this idea with, “I tell you the truth, the man who does not enter the sheep pen by the gate, but climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a robber. The man who enters by the gate is the shepherd of his sheep,” (Jn 10:1,2)
He had then spoken about being the one who enters the fold and leads the sheep out (v.3), and goes ahead of them and they follow him because they know his voice (v.4) but will not follow a stranger (v.5). Up until that point most of that had been about a figure who is surely the shepherd. Then he had twice declared he was the gate (v.7,9). In verse 8 he reiterated what he had said earlier that those who came masquerading as him previously had been thieves and robbers. Now in verse 10 he expands on the warning, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy.” Three times in these verses he has warned about thieves, robbers and now murderers.
A word about these robbers and thieves. The Jewish historian Josephus, in his ‘Antiquities of the Jews’ wrote of this time, “Now at this time there were ten thousand other disorders in Judea, which were like tumults, because a great number put themselves in a warlike posture, either out of hopes to gain to themselves or out of enmity for the Jews.” Chapter 10 of Book 18 of those ‘Antiquities’ is worth a read, listing various men who sought to lead insurrections. All of these would-be ‘saviours’, Jesus said, are thieves and robbers who do not come from God. These men come to destroy but by contrast Jesus goes on, “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” (Jn 10:10)
Having outlined something of the behaviour (access and speech) of a genuine shepherd and not a robber (as a well as possibly as an aside saying he is the Gate), he now declares, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” and maybe the emphasis being on his sacrificial role.
However his identification with “the good shepherd” could not have been missed by the Jews because throughout the Old Testament the picture was conveyed of God being the shepherd of Israel. There is David’s famous psalm, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want”. (Psa 23:1) There was also, “You led your people like a flock by the hand of Moses and Aaron.” (Psa 77:20) and “Hear us, O Shepherd of Israel, you who lead Joseph like a flock.” (Psa 80:10) It was a common and well-known idea.
Ezekiel also had a long passage about God being their shepherd: “For this is what the Sovereign LORD says: I myself will search for my sheep and look after them. As a shepherd looks after his scattered flock when he is with them, so will I look after my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places where they were scattered on a day of clouds and darkness. I will bring them out from the nations and gather them from the countries, and I will bring them into their own land. I will pasture them on the mountains of Israel, in the ravines and in all the settlements in the land. I will tend them in a good pasture, and the mountain heights of Israel will be their grazing land. There they will lie down in good grazing land, and there they will feed in a rich pasture on the mountains of Israel. I myself will tend my sheep and have them lie down, declares the Sovereign LORD. I will search for the lost and bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak, but the sleek and the strong I will destroy. I will shepherd the flock with justice.” (Ezek 34:11-16) I have emphasised the ten things He had said He would do as their shepherd.
In verses 14 & 15 Jesus reiterates this: “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me– just as the Father knows me and I know the Father–and I lay down my life for the sheep,” but parallels the ‘knowing’ of and by his sheep with the way he knows and is known by the Father. It is a picture of intimacy. But again he has declared his sacrificial role, willing to give up his life for the sheep.
In the intervening verses he declares, “The hired hand is not the shepherd who owns the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.” (Jn 10:12,13) He compares himself now, not with the thieves and robbers he previously spoke about, but with those who might appear to look after Israel as ‘hired hands’. The contrast he is surely making is that he is not hired but is in fact the owner of the sheep. This strengthens even more his claim to divinity in this picture in the light of all the Old Testament said about God’s sheep.
Later at the Feast of Dedication (v.22), Jesus is there in the temple area again (v.23) and the Jews again demand that he tell them who he was (v.24). He speaks again of the miracles he did but said, “but you do not believe because you are not my sheep.” (v.26) It is as if he picks up the previous analogy and wants to push it on. He says various things about his sheep (v.28):
- My sheep listen to my voice;
- I know them,
- and they follow me.
- I give them eternal life, and
- they shall never perish;
- no one can snatch them out of my hand,
and then speaks of their origin: “My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.” (Jn 10:29,30)
This incites increased hostility so Jesus asks, “I have shown you many great miracles from the Father. For which of these do you stone me?” (v.32) to which they reply, “We are not stoning you for any of these, but for blasphemy, because you, a mere man, claim to be God.” (v.33) The gloves are off. The previous teaching may have been with oblique references but now Jesus is quite specific.
To summarise: Jesus claims to be both the way into God’s kingdom (the sheepfold) and the one who looks after his sheep, even to the extent of laying down his life for them. That latter point surely points to the Cross.