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Bible Commentaries

Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible
John 10

 

 

Other Authors
Verse 1

Chapter nine ended on a theme of judgment (John 9:39); and here the deserved judgment of the evil shepherds is uttered. "Jesus swiftly turned the tables on his judges and sentenced them.[1] The controversy that erupted over the miracle dominates the first 21 verses, as evidenced by "Can a demon open the eyes of the blind?" (John 10:21). The expression, "Verily, verily," is one which is not used at the commencement of a discourse";[2] and Robertson said, "The words do not ever introduce a fresh topic."[3] Further evidence for the unity of the two chapters (John 9-10) is in Jesus' presentation of himself as the divine Messiah under the metaphor of the "Good Shepherd," contrasting with the evil shepherds who had cast out the blind man.

The importance of the "Good Shepherd" metaphor lies in its use by Jesus: (1) to establish his claim of being God in the flesh, and (2) to identify himself as the "Son of David," Israel's great shepherd king. This refutes Richardson's notion that "Nowhere does John make anything of the notion of a Davidic Messiah."[4]

The concept that the Messiah would be the "Son of David" was not a mere notion but a solid conviction founded upon the Old Testament and honored by the very first verse in the New Testament. It was accepted by Christ himself (Matthew 22:41-46) and was without doubt the reason for Christ's effective employment of the metaphor of the Good Shepherd in this chapter.

The second half of the chapter (John 10:22-42) records events of some weeks later at the feast of the dedication, the additional references to the "Good Shepherd" being made necessary by his foes' insistence that Jesus tell them "plainly" if he was the Christ.

[1] A. M. Hunter, The Gospel according to John (Cambridge University Press, 1965), p. 100.

[2] Albert Barnes, Notes on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1954), p. 285.

[3] A. T. Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1932), p. 173.

[4] Alan Richardson, The Gospel according to St. John (London: SCM Press, 1959), p. 129.

Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that entereth not by the door into the fold of the sheep, but climbeth up some other way, the same is a thief and a robber. (John 10:1)

Verily, verily ... See introduction of this chapter.

Entereth not by the door ... Christ is the true door (John 10:7) of access to the sheep who are the true Israel of God. It was Christ the door who opened up the whole burden of Old Testament prophecy concerning him and whose coming into the world was the only reason for the existence of Israel as a chosen people. On the other hand, the vicious, secular priests then in charge of Israel had usurped authority over God's Israel, having not entered through Christ the true door at all, but having climbed up by political and coercive means.

The same is a thief and a robber ... This may not be doubted. Jesus referred to the same men as having made the temple a den of thieves and robbers; and here they are compared to violent outlaws who climb the wall to plunder the sheep belonging to another. See also under John 10:8.


Verse 2

He that entereth in by the door is the shepherd of the sheep.

All religious authority of any actual validity derives from Christ who came into the world to redeem it. He was the true door of access to the spiritual Israel, the children of the promise, who at the time were commingled with the fleshly, hardened Israel. The Father sent him; he came in his own character through the true door which was himself.

By the door ... Everything Jesus did was in perfect harmony with the Father's will, contrasting sharply with the evil devices employed by the usurpers for maintaining control over the people. It had all started back there when they rejected God and chose a king of their own (1 Samuel 8:7); and throughout the ages afterward, the combined forces of a reprobate priesthood and an evil monarchy overshadowed the true Israel, the spiritual seed. The collapse of the political government left a hardened and bitter priesthood in control of practically all the affairs of their state, except matters wherein they were vassals of Rome. That evil hierarchy desired nothing in heaven or upon earth so much as the restoration of their earthly sovereignty through a king of their own choice; and their hatred of a spiritual kingdom like that of Jesus knew no boundaries or limitation.


Verse 3

To him the porter openeth; and the sheep hear his voice: and he calleth his own sheep by name, and leadeth them out.

There are two extended metaphors in view here, the first ending with John 10:6, and the other extending through John 10:18. David Lipscomb's concise analysis is helpful:

In the first parable, Jesus is the Shepherd entering into the fold and calling his sheep. In the second, Jesus is the door by or through which the sheep enter the fold of God.[5]

Similarly, Christ is the door in two senses: (1) the door of access to the spiritual flock, and (2) the door of access for the sheep themselves into fellowship with God. This usage of the same symbols for diverse meanings, occurring sometimes in the same sentence, creates confusion unless this is taken into account. See John 10:9.

To him the porter openeth ... is an inert factor in the analogy. Efforts of expositors to assign some significance to the porter are proof enough that no spiritual meaning is clearly discernible. Thus, some hold that the Holy Spirit is meant;[6] some think the porter means Moses;[7] Lipscomb thought he was John the Baptist;[8] McGarvey said, "If he represents anybody, it is God";[9] Webster thought he stood for ministers and teachers in the church;[10] Wordsworth and others saw him as Christ, who is not only the door and the good shepherd but the porter also.[11] The view here is that the porter was just one of the facilities of the sheepfold, like the wall or the thorn hedge, or like the bag out of which the sower planted his field, in that parable, the bag not being mentioned but necessarily inferred.

THE ORIENTAL SHEEPFOLD

The shepherd led his sheep but did not drive them, and a very intimate and loving relationship existed between the shepherd and the sheep, even extending to the shepherd's habit of giving each sheep a name and teaching them to respond to his voice and commands. At night, he usually led them into a safe enclosure, often lying across the entrance and thus forming literally the door. Flocks from several shepherds often occupied the same enclosure, the separation taking place next morning when each shepherd went his way, calling his sheep to follow, the sheep invariably following their true shepherd. Such shepherds were devoted to their sheep, risking or even giving their lives in defense of them against marauding beasts or thieves and robbers. As Freeman said:

For the sheep live in their shepherd, the center of their unity, the guarantee of their security, and the pledge of their prosperity .... In the morning he goes before them to lead them out, and in the evening lies down in their midst .... This shepherd life is one of such loving devotion that it readily lends itself to religious impression .... Certain it is that David's spiritual nature owed much to his having been a keeper of Jesus' sheep[12]

Calleth his sheep by name, and leadeth them out ... and the sheep hear his voice ... etc. All such expressions become clear in the light of the above summary of the Eastern shepherd's relationship to the flock.

[5] David Lipscomb, A Commentary on the Gospel of John (Nashville: The Gospel Advocate Co., 1960), p. 150.

[6] J. C. Ryle, Expository Thoughts on the Gospels (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan), I, p. 629.

[7] Ibid.

[8] David Lipscomb, op. cit., p. 152.

[9] J. W. McGarvey, The Fourfold Gospel (Cincinnati, Ohio: The Standard Publishing Company, 1914), p. 469.

[10] J. C. Ryle, op. cit., p. 629.

[11] Ibid.

[12] John Freeman, Life on the Uplands (New York: George H. Doran Company, 1924), p. 20.


Verse 4

When he hath put forth all his own, he goeth before them, and the sheep follow him: for they know his voice.

This has no reference to Jesus' putting his followers in and out of the church! The whole service of caring for the sheep stands for the salvation and security of them that follow the Good Shepherd. See under John 10:3.


Verse 5

And a stranger they will not follow, but will flee from him: for they know not the voice of strangers,

The voice ... is mentioned three times here in six verses and refers to the distinctive quality of Jesus' teachings. The voice of strangers brings philosophies, theories, and speculations; but only the voice of Jesus brings salvation. People who really desire salvation are rebuffed by human pride and sophistication, and they will flee from every voice except the authentic one.

The poor blind man was a perfect example of a sheep who heard and followed the true Shepherd's voice. The strangers indeed had called him, demanding that he deny glory to the Lord; but instead he worshipped Jesus.


Verse 6

This parable spake Jesus unto them: but they understood not what things they were which he spake to them.

This parable ... The word thus rendered here is [@paroimia], sometimes translated "proverb"; but it may be logically viewed as an extended metaphor, or comparison. The Pharisees whom Jesus had already called "blind" (John 9:39f) did not have the slightest idea about what Jesus meant by these teachings. Two months later (John 10:24) they seem to have caught on to at least a part of what Jesus meant; but in this scene they remained oblivious to his meaning, even after he repeated the metaphor and embellished it.


Verse 7

Jesus therefore said unto them again, Verily,, verily, I say unto you, I am the door of the sheep.

Jesus is the means of access to the true spiritual children of God, as explained under the above six verses. Jesus to this point had not categorically called himself the door; but here he stated it plainly.


Verse 8

All that came before me are thieves and robbers; but the sheep did not hear them.

As Richardson noted:

To the rulers who fattened themselves at the expense of the flock, the Sadducean high priests, and Pharisaic doctors, the Herods and the Roman procurators - all these wicked shepherds (in the sense of Ezekiel 34) had climbed into their place of domination over the flock by illegitimate means; and it was they who conspired against the Divine Shepherd, who would lay down his life for the sheep and who would gather together into one flock the scattered children of God.[13]

ENDNOTE:

[13] Alan Richardson, op. cit., p. 131.


Verse 9

I am the door; by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out and find pasture.

I am the door ... has here a different meaning. In John 10:8, it referred to the access of the Lord to his flock; here it refers to the access of men to salvation, or, in terms of the metaphor, access to the sheepfold. Here is the mixing of the metaphor and the reality for which it stands in the same sentence. Sheep do not find salvation, and Christians do not find pasture; but both concepts are in this verse. Remarkably, the same mixed metaphor is in the Old Testament, "So we thy people and sheep of thy pasture will give thee thanks for ever" (Psalms 79:13). Of course, sheep do not give thanks; but it was part of the genius of inspiration that metaphors were mingled in both testaments. Attention to such details as this is prerequisite to understanding this remarkable passage.


Verse 10

The thief cometh not, but that he may steal, and kill, and destroy: I came that they may have life, and may have it abundantly.

The religious hierarchy of hardened Israel was the murderous thief intent on killing and destroying, and Christ is the true shepherd who came to bring abundant life to the people of God.

Abundantly ... How grotesque and unreal are the ideas of those who think the Christian leads a life of boring inhibition, sitting out his years in the chilly twilight of monastic gloom, forbidden to do anything that everyone else wants to do, and always cowering in fear before an angry God! On the contrary, the Christian life is the happy life, free, abundant, and overflowing, adventurous and exciting beyond any other kind of existence. Why cannot men believe their Creator, to the effect that the way of Christ is the way of joy and fulfillment? Interpreters' Bible has the following in the same vein of thought:

(Concerning) those who fling their lives away in an avid questing for sensation, seeking to make a collection of experiences as others do of stamps, and esteeming every new experience of any kind an addition to their store, who will get drunk, simply for experience, and touch unholy things that they may taste the whole of life: - they do not realize, poor duped fools, misled by hobbledehoy thinkers, so called, who have cooked these immature ideas into a kind of messy philosophy - they do not realize that in life, as in arithmetic, there is a minus sign as surely as a plus; and that certain experiences do not add to, but subtract from, what we had and were before, each new indulgence in forbidden things leaving us poorer, leaner, emptier, and at length beggared.[14]

One in full possession of his intelligence cannot seriously suppose that God would have created man with a constitution that would enable him to be happier in the service of the devil than in the service of God. The abundant life is not with the evil one, but with Jesus Christ our Lord.

ENDNOTE:

[14] W. F. Howard, The Interpreters' Bible (New York: Abingdon Press, 1952), Luke-John, p. 625.


Verse 11

I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd layeth down his life for the sheep.

This portion of this metaphorical passage dominates the whole passage and bears the principal weight of meaning. A background knowledge of the Old Testament concerning the true shepherd of Israel is vital to a proper understanding of what is meant by Jesus here.

Almighty God appears throughout the Old Testament as the true shepherd of Israel. Note:

The Lord is my shepherd (Psalms 23:1).

We are thy people and the sheep of thy pasture (Psalms 79:13).

Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel, thou that leadest Joseph like a flock (Psalms 80:1).

For He is our God, and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand (Psalms 95:7).

Moreover, the whole 34th chapter of Ezekiel is given over to this metaphor of God as the good shepherd and the false leaders as the evil shepherds. This great chapter is the key to all that is spoken here.

Now, in the light of this very extensive metaphor in the Old Testament making God to be the only true shepherd of Israel, how is one to understand Jesus when twice he thundered the message that "I am the good shepherd"? It is no less a declaration that Jesus is God than if any other words had been employed to say it. That he did intend it thus is proved by the fact that when the Pharisees finally realized what he meant, they attempted to stone him for blasphemy (John 10:33).

But there is a further corollary of this claim of being the Good Shepherd, and that refers to his being the Son of David. Ezekiel prophesied thus:

And I will set up one shepherd over them, and he shall feed them, and he shall be their shepherd. And I Jehovah will be their God, and my servant David prince among them; I Jehovah have spoken it (Ezekiel 34:23,24).

Ezekiel's prophecy did not refer to the literal king David, long dead, but to the Son of David, the Messiah, who would truly reign over the kingdom upon the throne of David (spiritually). Thus it came to pass that throughout all Israel in the times of Christ, the Messiah was usually spoken of as "the Son of David" (Matthew 22:42f). See the first verse of the New Testament. Thus, they are in error who imagine that John did not stress the Davidic kingdom, this entire passage being full of it.

Layeth down his life for his sheep ... What is this if not a prophecy of the cross? Here the reality far surpasses the metaphor; for, while it was true that shepherds were known to lose their lives in defense of the sheep, there is no record of any having consented to do so voluntarily. Jesus willingly gave himself up to die for men.


Verse 12

He that is a hireling, and not a shepherd, whose own the sheep are not, beholdeth the wolf coming, and leaveth the sheep, and fleeth, and the wolf snatcheth them out and scattereth them.

The contrast here between the hireling keepers of the flock and the Lord who truly loved the sheep, enough even to die for them, has an application far beyond this. In the church of all ages there have been both evil and good shepherds in the full character of these on view in this verse.

Hireling ... is not a reference to all who work for wages, the laborer being fully worthy of his hire; but it denotes a class of persons who merchandise holy things, not out of regard for sacred values, but purely from selfish and carnal motives.

The wolf ... was Jesus' usual designation of false teachers (Matthew 7:15ff); and the modus operandi of such is always that of scattering the flock. The surest evidence of such a wolf is that which derives from this very characteristic. A "church buster" is invariably a wolf, regardless of his pretensions.


Verse 13

He fleeth because he is a hireling, and careth not for the sheep.

Hireling ... See under preceding verse.

Careth not for the sheep ... The true shepherd is one who cares for his charges. This contrasts with the heartless and pitiless disregard of such religious leaders as those who cast out the blind man in the hope of advancing their own nefarious schemes.


Verse 14

I am the good shepherd; and I know mine own, and mine own know me.

See under John 10:11. This verse should be read in close connection with the next, because the union between the Father and Christ: is like that between the Lord and his church. Although his own do not know the Lord with the same completeness of knowledge that he has of them, nevertheless they know him. His mind is in them; his name is upon them; his service engages them; his joy sustains them; his love forgives them; and his Spirit guides them. The union of Christ and his servants is beautiful and sufficient.


Verse 15

Even as the Father knoweth me, and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep.

One may not presume to offer a full explanation of all that is meant here. As Ryle said:

The full nature of that knowledge which the First Person of the Trinity has of the Second and the Second of the First, is something far beyond man's finite understanding. It is in short a deep mystery ... (It is) a knowledge so high, so deep, so intimate, so ineffable, that no words can fully convey it.[15]

The doctrine of the Trinity is rejected by some; but this student finds in such a doctrine the only explanation of many things in the word of God which otherwise have no explanation at all. (For more on this, see my Commentary on Matthew, p. 33.)

ENDNOTE:

[15] J. C. Ryle, op. cit., II, p. 10.


Verse 16

And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also must I bring, and they shall hear my voice; and they shall become one flock, one shepherd.

Not of this fold ... These are the Gentiles whom Christ would save and who together with the spiritual Israel (a remnant of the whole) would thenceforth compose the one flock of God.

One flock ... The KJV is incorrect in rendering this "one fold." Jesus here changed from the word "fold" to that of "flock," because, due to the metaphor, it might otherwise have appeared that the Gentiles were to be called into the institution of the Jews. There was to be a new institution, God's "one flock."

Not the least of the sure evidences of Jesus' supernatural wisdom appears in this prophecy of the "one flock," including Jews and Gentiles alike of every tribe and nation. This dream of a world-wide, universal fellowship of God's people was envisioned in the great prophecies of Isaiah, and glimpsed in the experience of Jonah; but Jesus here dogmatically stated it as if it had already been accomplished.


Verse 17

Therefore doth the Father love me, because I lay down my life, that I may take it again.

I lay down ... that I may take ... Jesus here expressed his absolute freedom and authority both to die and to rise from the dead. There are three differences between Jesus' laying down his life for the sheep and that of the shepherds' doing so in the metaphor. These are: (1) Jesus' death is altogether voluntary, but not like the shepherd's involuntary death while fighting against a robber. The shepherd might indeed die, but not willingly. (2) Christ's death actually saves the sheep eternally, whereas the death of a shepherd would only hasten the death and destruction of the sheep. (3) Christ will lay down his life, but with a purpose of taking it up again, something no earthly shepherd could do.


Verse 18

No one taketh it away from me, but I lay it down of myself, and I have power to take it again. This commandment received I from the Father.

This necessity of Christ to express the voluntary nature of his forthcoming death probably derived from his dual purpose: (1) of preventing the exultation of his foes in thinking that his death would be their victory, and (2) of preventing the despair of his disciples in thinking that death might defeat him. Hendriksen and others believe that the better reading here is, "No one has taken it away from me, etc." Such a use of the past tense is given in the English Revised Version (1885) margin; but, if valid, it could only mean that Christ spoke prophetically, in which the past tense is used for the future, as frequently in the Scriptures.

This commandment received I from my Father ... All that Christ did on earth was done in complete harmony and obedience to the will of God. The thing in view here was the Lord's vicarious death and resurrection, but the same is true of all that he did. Of mortals, only they are good who obey the word of God. This was the glory of the Saviour that he did the will of the Father, conforming his every action to the Father's will.

This verse amounts to a shout into the very face of his enemies that they could not kill Jesus until he was ready to die for the sins of the world. That it was true would be proved before the present interview ended; for they took up stones to kill him, but could not (John 10:31).


Verse 19

There arose again a division among the Jews because of these words.

Again a division ... has reference to John 7:48 and John 9:16. As Ryle said:

It may seem strange, at first sight, that he who came to preach peace between God and man should be the cause of contention. But herein were Jesus' own words fulfilled: "I came not to send peace but a sword" (Matthew 10:34). The fault was not in Christ or his doctrine, but in the carnal mind of his hearers.[16]

ENDNOTE:

[16] Ibid., II, p. 17.


Verse 20

And many of them said, He hath a demon, and is mad; why hear ye him? Others said, These are not the sayings of one possessed with a demon. Can a demon open the eyes of the blind?

One can feel a certain sympathy with the oppressed Jewish people who ardently hoped for some powerful leader, who they naturally supposed would be their long-awaited Messiah, who would throw off the galling yoke of the Roman conquerors and restore their state. Their rage and rejection against Jesus sprang from his being nothing like what they had imagined a Messiah would be. Instead of leading an all-powerful army against the enemy, here he was talking about dying and taking up his life again! They were simply not tuned in on any such wavelength. Some bluntly accused him of being mad or being possessed by a demon; and the voice of the minority who knew otherwise was not strong enough to break the personal barrier of hatred and antagonism which sinful and arrogant men had built up in themselves against Jesus.

These are not the sayings of one possessed with a demon ...

Can a demon open the eyes of the blind ... ? Such thoughts as these should have penetrated the hearts of the adamant majority but did not. The carnal mind is enmity against God, and the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God (Romans 7:7; 1 Corinthians 2:14). "The Scriptures had affirmed that only God could open the eyes of the blind (Exodus 4:11; Psalms 146:8)";[17] and despite the fact that Richardson does not exactly quote Scripture here, the word of God nevertheless supports his contention. It was a remarkable blindness indeed that could ascribe the healing of the blind man to any other power than that of God.

In the contrasting results of Jesus' words and works in Jerusalem, one sees the fulfillment of Paul's words that the gospel is life to some and death to others (2 Corinthians 2:15). As Ryle said, "We must not find fault with the gospel if it stirs up men's corruption and causes the thoughts of many hearts to be revealed (Luke 2:35)."[18] One amazing quality of the gospel is that men find it impossible to ignore it, however some may pretend to do so. It has the power to polarize men, making all of them either the friends of God or his enemies. Jerusalem could not ignore Christ. They had indeed a Visitor; and neither they nor their city could ever be the same again.

We should not leave this verse (John 10:21) and the question, "Can a demon open the eyes of the blind?" without again emphasizing the connection between this entire passage and John 9. The miracle there described and the conversations following it dominate the coherent narrative from John 9:1 to this point. It was the false shepherd's behavior which led the Saviour to announce himself as the Good Shepherd. It was their judging the blind man and casting him out that led to Jesus' judgment of them. It was their evil character that led to the denunciation of them as thieves and robbers. It was their shutting the blind man out of the privileges of Judaism that prompted Jesus to open up for him the privilege of the new kingdom about to begin. It was their selfish disregard of the sheep that led Jesus to speak of his love for the sheep and of his laying down his life for them. It was their determination to kill the Lord that led to his announcement that no one could kill him. It was their domineering arrogance in the exercise of sacred privilege to which they had no moral right which led to the charge that they had climbed up some other way. All of this was an elaboration of the blindness with which Jesus charged them (John 9:41). One can only marvel at the wisdom (!) of some of the scholars who would scissor this section out of the context it fits so perfectly, and which context so dramatically interprets and explains it, leading one to surmise that perhaps the type of blindness that handicapped the Pharisees might still be found on earth.

Following this instructive section, some two months passed. Winter fell upon the Holy City, and the feast of the dedication came; but the time-lapse did not resolve the division that arose over Jesus. His old antagonists, the Pharisees, appeared once more, intent on winning an argument they had already lost.

[17] Alan Richardson, op. cit., p. 133.

[18] J. C. Ryle, op. cit., II, p. 18.


Verse 22

And it was the feast of the dedication at Jerusalem: and Jesus was walking in the temple in Solomon's porch, and it was winter.

As Robertson noted:

There is a considerable time-lapse between the events in John 10:1-21 and John 10:22-39, possibly nearly three months (from just after tabernacles John 7:37 to dedication John 10:22) ... Jesus had apparently spent the time in between in Judaea (Luke 10:1-13:21).[19]

The feast of dedication was begun by Judas Maccabeus B.C. 164 to commemorate the cleansing and rededication of the temple after the defilement through pagan worship under Antiochus Epiphanes, and was celebrated every year for eight days beginning on the 25th of the Jewish month Casleu.1 Maccabees 4:59 (New York: Catholic Book Publishing Company, 1942). Douay Version of the Holy Bible.">[20] It was not one of the great feasts handed down from Moses; but it was popular among the people who called it: the feast of lights. Hunter said, "It was held at the winter solstice (Christmas) ... and was called `The Feast of the New Age.'"[21]

It was winter ... explains Jesus' seeking the shelter of Solomon's porch; our Lord preferred to preach outdoors as in the Sermon on the Mount.

Johnson described Solomon's porch thus:

It is generally supposed to have been in the southeast part of the temple enclosure, overlooking the valley of Kedron. Josephus describes it as a stadium in length, and as having three parts, two of them thirty feet wide each, and the middle one forty-five feet. He contends that it was built by Solomon, which is doubtful.[22]

A stadium was twice the length of a football field (582 feet by 600 feet) according to Peloubet's dictionary. Johnson's doubt of Solomon's building it seems strange, because it is hard to imagine anyone else having done so and then naming it after Solomon. Josephus not only attributed it to Solomon but stated that he built it before the temple itself.[23] The roof was terraced, some portions of it being 120 feet in height.

[19] A. T. Robertson, Harmony of the Gospels (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1922), p. 184.

1 Maccabees 4:59 (New York: Catholic Book Publishing Company, 1942). Douay Version of the Holy Bible.">[20]; 1 Maccabees 4:59 (New York: Catholic Book Publishing Company, 1942). Douay Version of the Holy Bible.

[21] A. M. Hunter, op. cit., p. 106.

[22] B. W. Johnson, The New Testament Commentary (Cincinnati, Ohio: Christian Standard Publishing Company, 1886), p. 164.

[23] Flavius Josephus, Life and Works (New York: Rinehart and Winston), p. 244.


Verse 24

The Jews therefore came round about him, and said unto him, How long dost thou hold us in suspense? If thou art the Christ, tell us plainly.

The Jews ... as used by John is void of any anti-Semitism, the people in view always being the religious hierarchy. The noble Jews in great numbers accepted Christianity, but in doing so, lost their identity as Jews; and thus the very name gradually came to mean the enemies of the gospel; but it is clear that John always used "the Jews" to mean the priestly class in Jerusalem. John himself was a Jew, as was our Lord, and most of the apostles.

How long dost thou hold us in suspense ... On the surface, this almost sounds like a fair question; and there is a temptation to wonder why Jesus did not speak right up and say, "Yes, of course, I am the Christ." Jesus' repeated declarations earlier that he was "the good shepherd" certainly meant that he was the Christ, God come in the flesh; but he had not used that word, "Christ," because the Jewish conception of what that word meant was totally incorrect. And, if Jesus had used this word here, they would have made their incorrect notion of what it meant the basis of a charge of sedition before the Romans. The Pharisees by this time had figured out what Jesus meant by calling himself the Good Shepherd; and here they were only trying to trick him into using a word they could pervert into a charge of sedition. At a time of his own choice, Jesus would testify that he was "the Christ" (Mark 14:62); but his refusal to use that word here was righteous and holy.


Verse 25

Jesus answered them, I told you, and ye believed not: the works that I do in my Father's name, these bear witness of me. But ye believe not, because ye are not of my sheep.

Jesus was not deceived by the sweet reasonableness of their friendly (?) question, for he well knew their murderous designs.

I told you, and ye believed not ... Christ's bold declaration of himself as the Shepherd of Israel was clear enough in all of its glorious Messianic implications; but the spiritual overtones of that title made it useless for the diabolical purposes of the Pharisees; and what is equally important, they did not believe it. From their viewpoint, therefore, what they were trying to do was to get Jesus to commit blasphemy (in their eyes) and to do so in terminology that could also be used by them as a legal charge before the governor. The proof of this is what they actually did when Jesus did swear under oath that he was the Christ (Mark 14:62ff). Their own gross immorality is inherent in what they THOUGHT they were doing. They THOUGHT they were trying, to get a fellow-mortal (as they thought) to commit a capital crime (as they viewed it) for the sake of getting him killed! No wonder Jesus addressed them as "Ye serpents; ye offspring of vipers" (Matthew 23:33).

The works that I do in my Father's name ... brought forward the mighty signs Jesus did, but that subject was extremely distasteful to those hypocrites. They only wanted some basis for having him legally murdered.

Ye believe not, because ye are not of my sheep ... These words recalled his declaration of himself as the Good Shepherd, which by that time they fully understood in all its implications (John 10:33). Here, as always, Jesus made unbelief to be the result of immoral character. The reason those men did not believe in Jesus was lodged in their character which revealed them to be no part of the spiritual Israel. "Ye are not of my sheep."


Verse 27

My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.

Men who close their eyes, stop their ears, and harden their hearts cannot hear the Shepherd's voice, through no fault of the Shepherd, but because of their own willful sin. Those of honest and good heart, on the other hand, will hear the Shepherd's voice and follow him. Predestination enters into this only in the fact that the rules were laid down before all eternity to the effect that self-willed sinners are destined to be hardened and rejected, whereas penitent worshipers of the Lord will be received and saved; but every man ever born on earth has the option of being either one or the other as he himself shall choose.


Verse 28

And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, and no one shall snatch them out of my hand.

Eternal life ... Who but God could make a promise like this? Thus, the Pharisees had another chance to see the light; but this additional statement of Christ's divinity was worthless to them, because it could not serve as a legal charge before the Romans.

And no one shall snatch, etc. ... The utmost security of the saved in Christ lies in the fact that no external power shall ever be able to dislodge them from the Master's love and protection. In this same vein of thought are Paul's great words of Romans 8:31-39; but in both passages, only external things are in view as possible destroyers of the soul; and external things shall not be able to do it. Yet, it must be remembered that a believer himself may turn away from the truth, become entangled with sin and overcome. The sovereign right of choice is never taken away from any man.


Verse 29

My Father who hath given them to me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand. I and the Father are one.

Here is the reasoning that underlies the promise of John 10:28 that the sheep of Christ shall have eternal life. There is no way to understand Jesus' words here except as an affirmation of his supernatural nature, claiming equality with God himself, or, as the Pharisees expressed it in John 10:33, making himself God! As Robertson said:

This crisp statement, "I and the Father are one," is the climax of Christ's claims concerning the relationship between the Father and himself (the Son). This stirred the Pharisees to uncontrollable anger.[24]

Augustine saw in this single text the complete refutation of two major heresies, saying:

It silences the Sabellians, who say there is only one Person in the Godhead, by speaking of two distinct Persons. It silences the Arians who say the Son is inferior to the Father, by saying that the Father and the Son are one.[25]

Ryle paraphrased the thought thus:

I and my eternal Father, though two distinct Persons, are yet one in essence, nature, dignity, power, will, and operation. Hence, in the matter of securing the safety of my sheep, what I do, my Father does likewise. I do not act independently of him.[26]

There is no pretense here of any truly adequate explanation of such things as these, for the truth of this verse lies wholly beyond the perimeter of man's finite understanding.

[24] A. T. Robertson, op. cit., p. 187.

[25] J. C. Ryle, op. cit., II, p. 30.

[26] Ibid.


Verse 31

The Jews took up stones again to stone him.

Some "moderns," so-called, have alleged from this verse that the author of John was a stranger to the laws and customs of Judaea before 70 A.D. But as Richardson said, " Acts 7:58f records a case of mob stoning such as is said to have been impossible."[27]

Again ... indicates that the Jews had repeatedly sought an opportunity to stone Jesus (John 8:49; 11:8); and Hendriksen concluded from this that the Jews carried stones.[28] According to the law, blasphemy was punishable by stoning (Leviticus 24:16), but only after legal trial and sentencing. Such niceties as the legal requirements of the case, however, were no kind of deterrent to Jesus' foes. The commentators who fancy that legal prohibitions, either Jewish or Romans, cast any doubt on the truth of John's record have missed altogether the illegal and unscrupulous nature of the whole cabal against Jesus. Did such prohibitions prevent the same group of men from stoning Stephen to death? (Acts 7:58).

[27] Alan Richardson, op. cit., p. 135.

[28] William Hendriksen, Exposition of the Gospel according to John (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1961), II, p. 126.


Verse 32

Jesus answered them, Many good works have I showed you from the Father: for which of those works do ye stone me?

Christ kept focusing attention on his mighty works, those being the last thing on earth the Pharisees wanted to consider.

Do ye stone me ... has the meaning of "You are trying to stone me."

From the Father ... stresses the oneness of Jesus with the Father, indicating that the great signs were accomplished in answer to prayer, and in full harmony with God's will. This proved that Jesus was not guilty of blasphemy; but the priestly enemies would receive no evidence of any kind. Intent on murder, they blurted out any capital charge that, came into their minds.


Verse 33

The Jews answered him, For a good work we stone thee not, but for blasphemy; and because that thou, being a man, makest thyself God.

Makest thyself God ... Yes, the Pharisees fully and correctly understood, at last, exactly what Jesus meant; and their fury rose and overflowed. Jesus meant to claim unequivocally his equality and oneness with God. Significantly, if Jesus' claim was false, he was a blasphemer and deserved death; and, in this, appears the sharp dilemma concerning Christ. He either was, or was not, what he claimed to be; and there has never been a middle position. If Jesus was not the holy Christ, he deserved death as the law decreed (Leviticus 24:61). If he was in truth the divine Messiah, his enemies deserved death for charging him with blasphemy and shutting their eyes against the light. Thus it is futile and fallacious to hail Christ as a great teacher, a wise leader, a noble prophet, or as any other type of excellent person, unless his Godhead is recognized. If Jesus was not indeed God come in flesh, then he was not a noble prophet but a liar, not a great leader but a fool, not a wise teacher but an idiot. Every man confronts this dilemma, invariably receiving Christ as ALL or nothing. An equivocal or halfway reception of Jesus Christ is, in fact, a rejection of him.


Verse 34

Jesus answered them, Is it not written in your law, I said ye are gods? If he called them gods, unto whom the word of God came (and the Scriptures cannot be broken), say ye of him whom the Father sanctified and sent into the world, Thou blasphemest: because I said, I am the Son of God?

This is the passage to which Jesus referred:

God standeth in the congregation of God; He judgeth among the gods. How long will ye judge unjustly, And respect the persons of the wicked? ... I said, Ye are gods, And all of you sons of the Most High (Psalms 82:1,2,6).

The unjust judges of Israel were the subject of these verses, God calling them "gods" in order to stimulate and encourage them to render just judgments. Of course, those men were "sons of the Most High" in the sense ordinary; but the use of such words in the Holy Scriptures were proof absolute that it was not blasphemy for a man to call himself "son of God" in that same sense. Jesus did not imply by this appeal that he claimed to be "Son of God" in the ordinary sense; for both he and his enemies knew that it was in the unique sense of being "the only begotten Son of God" that Jesus used the title. Nevertheless, it was sinful and illegal for those Pharisees to make what Jesus meant the basis for a charge of blasphemy. He had not pinpointed the unique phase of his claim (at that point); and he cited the Psalm which he quoted as a complete and adequate defense of what he had actually said. In the divine plan, Jesus would eventually testify under oath to the uniqueness of his Sonship, but that would come before the historic court of the chosen people, and not in the presence of a vicious mob like that which confronted him.

It is wrong to understand Jesus' appeal to Psalms 82 as a reduction of his claim of absolute equality with God; it was only an extremely effective refutation of their charge of blasphemy by an argument from their own premises which they were compelled to accept, and did accept. It stunned them, aborted their efforts to stone him, and again proved the Pharisees incapable of standing against Jesus in public debate.

Your law ... to the word of God ... the Scripture ... These triple designations refer to the entire Old Testament. The use of "your law" in reference to a Psalm makes it certain that "the law" did not mean merely the Pentateuch, but applied to the entire Old Testament. There is no stronger testimony in the Bible to the inspiration of the Holy Scriptures than this remarkable passage.

The Scripture cannot be broken ... This was only a a parenthesis in the words of Jesus but, in the long view, a parenthesis embracing creation, all time, and eternity.

THE SCRIPTURE CANNOT BE BROKEN

I. What does this mean? A. It means that the Bible is inspired. B. It identifies the Old Testament as Scripture in the fullest sense. C. It means that Jesus believed the Bible. D. It means that the Bible is an infallible book, the one judge and jury before which all men and their deeds shall at last be tried. E. It means that the sacred Scriptures are as immutable as God's other laws, such as those of gravity, etc.

II. Many have not believed this text. A. Those who sought here to stone Jesus did not believe it. B. The rulers of this world's darkness, such as Herod Agrippa, Felix, Festus, Nero, Caligula, and countless others, did not believe it. C. The apostate church did not believe it. D. Faithless Christians of all ages have not believed it. E. So-called "modernists" who explain away the Scriptures do not believe it. F. The world does not believe it (John 3:19).

III. And yet the text is true. For generations, men believed the earth was flat, but their belief did not alter the truth; and so it is with the unbreakable word of God. If every man on earth disbelieved and repudiated the Bible, it would make no difference, except in regard to the destiny of them that disbelieved. Absolutely nothing can break the word of God. A. Time cannot break it. B. Disobedience cannot break it, as witnessed by such examples as Pharaoh, Sennacherib, Judas, and Demas. C. Neglectful disciples cannot break it. D. The advance of knowledge cannot break it. E. Satan cannot break it. F. Death and the grave cannot break it.

IV. Even when it seems that the Scripture is broken, it remains yet unbroken. A. Pilate condemned Jesus; but no, it was Pilate who was condemned to perpetual infamy. B. Judas sold Jesus, at least that is what he and the Pharisees thought; but it was Judas who was sold to a suicide's death. C. Herod placed the apostles in jail; but they were released, and Herod was eaten with worms. D. Millions of men fancy they have broken the Scripture, and even churches have denied and broken the Scripture, so they thought; but, of all who do so, it is they who are broken. The earth's kings and captains, the mighty and the proud, have broken the Scripture in the sense of ignoring and disobeying the word of God; but wait. Stand at the judgment and behold who is really broken:

And they say to the mountains and to the rocks, Fall on us and hide us from the face of him that sitteth on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb: for the great day of their wrath is come; and who is able to stand? (Revelation 6:16,17).

Let no man dare to believe that the Scripture can be broken. If one shall so believe, Christ has made him a liar by this text.

O Word of God, secure, unshaken, Foiling evil's every art, Bringing peace to man's misshapen Life and broken heart. O Word, eternally abiding, While millennia roll, Thou art the only place of hiding For the ransomed soul.

- James Burton Coffman

Because I said, I am the Son of God ... This refers to Jesus' revelation of himself to the man healed of blindness (John 9:35), a revelation witnessed by some of the Pharisees; thus Christ plainly allowed the interpretation that he had "said" this when he told the blind man that "Thou hast both seen him, and he it is that speaketh with thee." He had also accepted the blind man's worship (John 9:38).

Thus, Jesus was generous in allowing the allegation of his critics that he had said he was the Son of God; but as Hovey observed:

How could they charge him with blasphemy in claiming to be the Son of God, when their own (evil and unscrupulous) judges had been styled "gods"?[29]

Furthermore, it was God himself who had styled those judges "gods," evil as they were, and solely out of respect to their position. Jesus, in contrast, was holy, sinless, and undefiled, having every right, even from a human standpoint to say, "I am the Son of God." Nor was it fair or legal to make what he obviously MEANT an excuse for stoning him on a charge of blasphemy. The righteous effectiveness of this argument was proved by the result of it. The rocks went back into their pockets, and his enemies withdrew like jackals to await a more favorable opportunity.

Whom the Father sanctified and sent into the world ... This contrasted the holy office of Jesus and his perfect fitness of character in his sacred office with the evil lives and crooked justice of the judges mentioned in the Psalm Jesus quoted.

ENDNOTE:

[29] Alvah Hovey, Commentary on John (Philadelphia: The American Baptist Publication Society, 1885), p. 223.


Verse 37

If I do not the works of my Father, believe me not. But if I do them, though ye believe not me, believe the works: that ye may know and understand that the Father is in me, and I in the Father.

Having vanquished his foes with the argument from Psalms 82:6, Jesus at once returned to his constant theme of oneness and equality with God, although in such terms as to avoid the legal charge they wanted to make. Jesus' return again and again (as in John 10:32) to the subject of his mighty works was a reiteration of the irrefutable argument proving his oneness with God. See under John 10:30.


Verse 39

They sought again to take him: and he went forth out of their hand.

Just how Jesus avoided capture here is not related. His will alone was more than enough to prevent it. John later recorded the incident of a whole detachment of soldiers falling to the ground in his presence, even though they had come to arrest him (John 18:6).


Verse 40

And he went away again beyond Jordan into the place where John was at first baptizing: and there he abode.

These verses describe a ministry of Jesus east of Jordan, in Perea, a ministry also recorded in Mark 10:1. Jesus, perhaps because of mounting hostility, goes back to the place where the Baptist had baptized and borne witness to Jesus (John 1:28). If the Jerusalem Jews have rejected their Messiah, here in Transjordan, humble folk acknowledge the truth of what John had said and confess their faith in Jesus.[30]

He went away again ... This does not mean that Jesus had made another journey to the district in Transjordan. As Hendriksen noted:

It must be interpreted in the light of what immediately follows, namely, "to the place where John was at first baptizing ... and having previously reported two places where John baptized ... (he) is now thinking of the first place, namely, Bethany across Jordan ... fifty miles from the Bethany near Jerusalem.[31]

[30] William Hendriksen, op. cit., II, p. 130.

[31] Ibid.


Verse 41

And many came unto him; and they said, John indeed did no sign: but all things whatsoever John spake of this man were true.

John's identification of Christ was in itself a mighty sign and consisted of his daring and unequivocal identification of Jesus Christ as the Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world. The people seemed to be saying here that such an identification was a far greater sign than miracles would have been.


Verse 42

And many believed on him there.

Believed on him ... has one meaning throughout the Scripture; and thus it is amazing how the commentators rush to explain how "It does not necessarily mean that all these believers embraced him with a LIVING faith."[32] Such distinctions are not in the word of God, and it does no service to the truth to make them. That some who believed on him did not follow Jesus may be considered certain; in which case, it was not their faith which was at fault but their lack of obedience. The great error of the last half of a millennium is the heresy of supposing that if one has the RIGHT KIND OF FAITH he is thereby saved by that alone. The Scriptures teach no such thing.

There ... points up the difference between the rejection in Jerusalem and the widespread acceptance of Christ in Perea.

ENDNOTE:

[32] A. M. Hunter, op. cit., p. 100.

 


Copyright Statement
James Burton Coffman Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.

Bibliography Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on John 10:4". "Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/bcc/john-10.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.

Lectionary Calendar
Saturday, October 19th, 2019
the Week of Proper 23 / Ordinary 28
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