Focus on Christ Meditations: 29. The Door (Gate)
Jn 10:7-9 Therefore Jesus said again, “I tell you the truth, I am the gate for the sheep. All who ever came before me were thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. He will come in and go out, and find pasture.
Some versions, as above, use ‘gate’ others use ‘door’. In many ways I prefer door and will use that in that most of us are more familiar with doors than gates. Now we have two problems as we come to these verses. The first is that we are taking these word-pictures in the order they come in John but the text runs shepherd and gate together so much there is almost the temptation to take the Good Shepherd first, but we will overcome that because initially there are just references to the work and activity of a shepherd and the ‘Good’ Shepherd only comes later. The second problem is that there appears no clear context for why Jesus suddenly starts talking about sheep, shepherds and sheepfolds.
Now Matthew says, “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd,” (Mt 9:36) and when Jesus sent the twelve out he instructed them, “Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans. Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel.” (Mt 10:5,6) and later, “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves,” (Mt 10:16) and then later still, “He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.” (Mt 15:24) and so on. So, although John doesn’t bother to repeat these various things, sheep were very much objects of illustration as far as Jesus was concerned. When we come tomorrow to the Good Shepherd we will see that there are a number of Old Testament references to God being the Shepherd of Israel. For the moment, let’s try to catch the big picture that Jesus sets up in this teaching in John chapter 10. Observe his starting point.
“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.” (v.1) He sets up the analogy that would be familiar to the Jews who kept many sheep out on the hills where they constructed sheep-pen or sheep-folds which were simply a stone wall with a single entrance into which the sheep could go at night for protection. The sheep-fold was first of all the place of security at night. There was a single gate through which the shepherd came. Robbers and thieves would seek to sneak over the wall to take a sheep: “The man who enters by the gate is the shepherd of his sheep.” (v.2)
Note in passing that no one else has the right to enter this place of security except the shepherd. There is a watchman who keeps watch over the gate at night to give the shepherd time for rest, but in the morning it is the shepherd who goes in, calls his sheep and they follow him out: “The watchman opens the gate 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, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger’s voice.” (v.3-5)
Now before we go on, what have we seen: a place of security, an entrance to it, and the shepherd who goes in and out leading the sheep. In retrospect we may suggest that the sheep-fold is the kingdom of God in which the sheep who follow Jesus, the shepherd, can be secure. The fact that the sheep go out to find grass suggests that we are in this world and get much of our provision from it, because it is after all God’s provision for us. When Jesus rules over us, it is a place of security, the kingdom expressed.
Now we paused up at verse 5 because it is clear those first 5 verses were Jesus setting the scene and speaking about his kingdom and certain facets of it, e.g. there had been others who had purported to lead Israel but they had not been shepherds but men out for themselves. That accords more with the end of chapter 9 and explains the continuation, for there he is confronting the Pharisees, so often self-appointed guardians of the Law but so often godless – not true shepherds but out for themselves – thieves!
As we come to verse 6 we see his listeners struggle with this: “Jesus used this figure of speech, but they did not understand what he was telling them.” It is because of this that Jesus now goes on to spell out some of the distinctives of the analogy and we come to our next word-picture: “Therefore Jesus said again, “I tell you the truth, I am the gate for the sheep.” (v.7) He uses this picture (which he will shortly expand upon) but we must remember at this point his main objective seems clearly to reject the activities of the Pharisees: “All who ever came before me were thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them.” (v.8) By and large the people disdained the Pharisees who were out for themselves.
He contrasts how he has come: “I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. He will come in and go out, and find pasture.” (v.9) i.e. he has come to show the people of God the way into the kingdom of God and anyone who accepts him as the way in, will in fact be able to come in and out and be able to enjoy God’s world as they are meant to – but only if they are part of the secure flock, the flock that is made secure by being under the rule of God, the flock that is in the place of security. Again he contrasts those pseudo-religious Pharisees with himself: “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” (v.10) He will then go on to use the Good Shepherd concept but for now we simply see these basic distinctions. HE is the means of people entering God’s real kingdom, the place of God’s rule; he alone is the way into that kingdom.
Now in the Old Testament we see Jacob who had a dream in which he concluded, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God; this is the gate of heaven.” (Gen 28:17) The Jews came to believe there was a gate to heaven and it was opened by God himself. Jesus said to Peter, “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven;” (Mt 16:19) Keys are for opening doors. In Revelation 1 we see Jesus declaring, “I am the Living One; I was dead, and behold I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades.” (Rev 1:18) In Isaiah there had been a similar Messianic prophetic word: “I will place on his shoulder the key to the house of David; what he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open,” (Isa 22;22) which is echoed to the church at Philadelphia, “These are the words of him who is holy and true, who holds the key of David. What he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open.” (Rev 3:7)
Slightly different imagery – keys to open doors – but the same concept: the Messiah controls entry to the kingdom and the blessing of God, and in this picture, the door, Jesus claims that right. There is no entry except through him. Hallelujah!