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Bible Commentaries
John 10

Hengstenberg on John, Revelation, Ecclesiastes, Ezekiel & PsalmsHengstenberg's Commentary

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Verse 1

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

With reference to the “verily, verily,” Quesnel observes, “All is truth in the words of Jesus Christ. But when He points expressly to that fact, it shows either that what He says is of especial importance, or that the human spirit is especially prejudiced against it.” “With this high assurance,” says Heumann, “our Lord never begins a discourse.” And the strict connection of what here follows with what had preceded, is plain from this, that the αὐ?τοῖ?ς , to them, in John 10:6, refers back to ch. John 9:40. The people of God frequently appear in the Old Testament, following Psalms 23, under the figure of a flock; e.g. in Micah 7:14, Ezekiel 34:31, “And ye My flock, the flock of My pasture, are men, and I am your God, saith the Lord God.” As the members of the Church of God are the sheep, so the sheep-fold is the kingdom of God. The door is the Divine calling: that this is with God, Christ continually declares throughout the Gospel of John especially, and grounds upon it His own authentication; e.g. ch. John 5:36-37, John 6:29, John 7:28-29, John 8:42, and compare what is said upon ch. John 3:17.—“I came from God, neither came I of Myself, but He sent Me:” whosoever can say that with Christ, enters through the door into the sheep-fold. Who those are that go not in through the door, is made clear by Jeremiah 23:21, where it is said, with reference to the false prophets, “I have not sent these prophets, yet they ran; I have not spoken unto them, yet they prophesied;” and in Jeremiah 23:32, “Yet I sent them not, nor commanded them; therefore they shall not profit this people at all, saith the Lord” (comp. also ch. Jeremiah 14:14, Jeremiah 27:15, Jeremiah 29:9); and also by Ezekiel 13:2, where the false prophets are said to “prophesy out of their own hearts,” and to “follow their own spirit:” comp. John 10:17. The Divine mission is also in Romans 10:15 made prominent as the indispensable condition and foundation of ministry in the word: πῶ?ς δὲ? κηρύξωσιν ἐ?ὰ?ν μὴ? ἀ?ποσταλῶ?σι . What is here said with formal generality, must be taken concretely according to the matter in hand. For the general propositions are, in this and the following verses, uttered with reference to the definite relations of those to whom our Lord is speaking. He that entereth not in by the door, and is consequently a thief and a robber, is the Pharisee who, like the false prophets of old times, set himself up as a spiritual leader of the people on his own impulse, and without any Divine vocation. How the existence of a Divine call may be known, the Lord teaches us in Matthew 7:16, where He says in reference to the Pharisees, the false prophets of the present, “By their fruits ye shall know them.” These fruits consist in pure doctrine and in holy life. Where these are not found, but instead of them error, pride, ambition, avarice, there can be no Divine vocation. And the Pharisees had on the present occasion sufficiently shown what their fruits were, and consequently how the matter stood with regard to their Divine vocation. They had striven to extinguish the pure light of the act of God accomplished by Christ: they had placed themselves as obstacles between Christ, the highest Sent of God, and the people; they had shown themselves to be blind, who yet maintained that they saw.

It is altogether confusing to suppose that Christ is the door, and to support this by saying that in ver. 7 He expressly so expounds it, in consequence of the misunderstanding of His hearers. That verse is not the exposition of our present parable, but introduces a new one. Nor is it the door of the sheep-fold that is there spoken of, but the door of the sheep; not of the manner in which vocation to service in the kingdom of God is obtained, but membership or fellowship in the kingdom of God.—“The same is a thief and a robber.” The worst thieves and robbers are those who seize upon the possessions of the kingdom of God, who deal dishonestly with the truth and with the salvation of souls; and this is done by all who thrust themselves without vocation forward as guides in the kingdom of God. We read of wicked priests in Hosea 6:9, “And as troops of robbers wait for a man, so the company of the priests murder in the way to Shechem;” that is, they are not better than common murderers who lay in wait for poor wanderers in the way to Shechem, that led across the mountain range of Ephraim. He that causes many to stumble at the law, as in Malachi 2:8 is charged upon the priests, steals and robs from the people their noblest goods, more precious than gold and much fine gold.

Verse 2

Ver. 2. “But he that entereth in by the door is the shepherd of the sheep.”

The undertone is, “And thus I am the true Shepherd, because I have entered in through the door of Divine vocation, and have been sent to the lost sheep of Israel by God.” All Christ’s ministers and under-shepherds must test themselves by what Christ, their Master, here says concerning Himself. “We have in these words,” says Quesnel, “the tokens and properties and obligations of a good pastor. The first is his legitimate entrance through the internal vocation of Jesus Christ; that is, through impulses which proceed from His Spirit, aims which tend only to His glory, motives which seek only the good of His Church and the salvation of souls, the accomplishment of the will of God, perfect consecration to His service, and the benefit of the least of His sheep.”

Verse 3

Ver. 3. “To him the porter openeth; and the sheep hear his voice: and he calleth his own sheep by name, and leadeth them out.”

The porter is God, who opens to the true Shepherd, Christ—in whom the ideal person of the good Shepherd is realized—an entrance into men’s hearts. The expressions of ch. John 6:44 furnish a commentary here: “No man can come to Me, except the Father, which hath sent Me, draw him; “as also ver. 45: “Every man therefore that hath heard, and hath learned of the Father, cometh unto Me.” We must not suppose that such a comparison with a door-keeper is unworthy of the Divine Being. It is not God in His personality who appears under the figure of a porter; but God as exercising a specific function and influence. And how low the Scripture goes in such comparisons, is shown by Hosea 5:12: “Therefore will I be unto Ephraim as a moth, and to the house of Judah as rottenness,” where not God in Himself, but in His destroying energy, is compared to the moth and the worm. So also the comparison with a lion, in ver. 14, is embarrassing, if we forget that it only refers to a specific action. Acts 14:27 gives us a parallel, so far as the expression goes, ὁ? θεὸ?ς ἤ?νοιξεν τοῖ?ς ἔ?θνεσιν θύραν πίστεως ; John 16:14. It is not so obvious to refer the porter to the Holy Ghost; that would point us rather to counsel and teaching. But it is according to the doctrine of James 1:17, where every good gift is finally traced up to God for its origin. We are indeed taught by chap. John 16:13 that it is the Holy Ghost who leads us into all truth. But the Father worketh, as through the Son, so also through the Holy Ghost. It is clear, however, that the activity which is spoken of here is not assigned to God in contradistinction to Christ: this is evident from what was said upon ch. John 6:44, and is further confirmed by Acts 16:14, where the same activity is attributed to the Lord that is, according to Acts 16:15, to Christ. Here lies the truth of the remark of Cyril and Augustin, that Christ is His own porter. But a direct reference to Christ is as inappropriate as a direct reference to the Holy Ghost.

That the sheep hear the voice of the good Shepherd, is an immediate consequence of the fact that the porter opens the way to Him. “And He calleth His own sheep by name.” His own sheep are not here placed in contrast with other sheep that are not His. For all sheep, as such, are His own, and in this lies the reason of that tender relation in which He stands to them, as contradistinguished from that of the hireling whose the sheep are not, and who consequently has no care for them, ver. 12; and especially from that of the thieves and robbers, ver. 11, for whom the sheep have value only so far as they can gratify their selfish desires upon them. At the foundation of all lie those passages of the Old Testament in which Israel is represented as the peculiar possession of Jehovah: comp. on ch. John 1:11. And these passages concur all the more expressly with our present one, inasmuch as Jehovah appeared in the flesh in Christ; and even in the Old Testament, not all the bodily descendants of Israel were the possession of God, but only the devout, the true Israelites: comp. on ch. John 1:48. To “He calleth them by name” corresponds in ver. 14 the “I know My sheep.” The name is the expression of the personal individuality. If the good Shepherd knoweth each, it shows that the individual named is more to Him than a mere member of the species, and as such insignificant; but that he is in himself an object of the discerning and loving regard of his Lord, as Jesus in ch. John 20:16 summed up all that Mary was to Him in the naming of her name. This is the peculiar significance of the mention of the name throughout the whole Old Testament, wherever it there occurs. On Psalms 147, “He telleth the number of the stars; He calleth them all by their names” (comp. Isaiah 40:26, “that bringeth out their host by number: He calleth them all by names”), it is remarked in my commentary, “Counting is connected with naming, which presupposes a thorough knowledge of the nature and peculiarity of the stars (and a loving regard of them), the reflection of which is the name.” In Exodus 33:12; Exodus 33:17, “I know thee by name” is parallel with “thou hast found grace in My sight.” In Isaiah 43:1, “I know thee by name” is followed by “thou art Mine.” “And He leadeth them out:” ἐ?ξάγει is a pastoral expression. He leadeth them out that they may find pasture, ver. 9, “and want nothing,” Psalms 23:1, but have life and abundant sufficiency.

That which Jesus here says concerning His sheep, who hear His voice and yield themselves up to His care, forms at the same time His account and explanation of the fact that the greater portion of the people rejected Him. Had this rejection been perfectly unanimous. He could not have been the true Messiah. The existence of an election was the necessary seal set upon His Divine mission. And this election is expressly mentioned as early as Zechariah 11:11. In opposition to the wicked shepherds and those adhering to them, concerning whom it is said in ver. 8, “And My soul loathed them, and their soul also abhorred Me,” ver. 11 declares, “And so the poor of the flock that waited on me knew that it was the word of the Lord.” On this my Christology remarks: “From these words it appears that the labours of the good Shepherd were not entirely vain, but that a little band of true disciples attached themselves to Him. These (the ἴ?δια πρόβατα , who follow the true Shepherd, John 10:4, but flee from the hireling shepherd, ver. 5, who know the true Shepherd, ver. 15) are described as those who observed Him, who continually directed their looks to Him, and did all things according to His will and direction.”

Verse 4

Ver. 4. “And when he putteth forth his own sheep, he goeth before them, and the sheep follow him: for they know his voice.”

Instead of πρόβατα , Lachmann and Tischendorf read Travra. This is not spoken of “the living and affectionate fellowship which subsists between the guides appointed by Christ over God’s people, and God’s people themselves; “but Christ alone is the good Shepherd. On “and the sheep follow Him” rests Revelation 14:4, “These are they who follow the Lamb whithersoever He goeth.”

Verse 5

Ver. 5. “And a stranger will they not follow, but will flee from him: for they know not the voice of strangers.”

The stranger is the Pharisee, and, as represented by him, all the enemies of Christ, the good Shepherd. The stranger is the intruder, whose own the sheep are not, and who hence has no heart towards them. Our expression contains a prophecy of the perfect separation of the Church of Christ from the synagogue entirely ruled over by Phariseeism. In the time when John wrote, this prophecy was already accomplished. Judaism was in direct antagonism to the Christian Church: comp. on ch. John 1:19. In Revelation 2:9; Revelation 3:9, the former is exhibited as the synagogue of Satan. The strangers, consequently, afterward returned with their teaching into the bosom of the Christian Church. “A good shepherd,” says Quesnel, “is never forsaken of the elect sheep. They know, through the light of the chief Shepherd, and by the marks which He has given, how to distinguish true pastors from thieves and robbers.” And Anton observes: “The sheep would be ill off if spiritual discretion were made dependent upon marvellous strange things, unheard-of novelties, knowledge of Latin, and the like. I know what presses on my soul, what can satisfy my hungry soul; and thus I know when it is shown me the true salvation from its misery.” But the essential antithesis here is between Christ and the stranger. The true servants of Christ come into view only so far as Christ Himself is manifested m them, and is known by His sheep.

Verse 6

Ver. 6. “This parable spake Jesus unto them; but they understood not what things they were which He spake unto them.”—Παροιμία occurs in none of the Evangelists but John: the others have παραβολὴ? , which he never uses. As משל is translated in the Septuagint by both these words interchangeably, we cannot assume that there is any real distinction between them. We read, in Matthew 21:45, “And when the chief priests and Pharisees had heard His parables, they perceived that He spake of them.” The Pharisees doubtless perceived the same thing here. They must have been the exact opposite of the “seeing” which described them in ch. John 9:39—they must have been absolutely stupid-if they had not marked that Jesus would represent Himself as the good Shepherd, and them as the strangers and thieves and robbers. This would all the less escape them, inasmuch as the present incident was only one single act in a conflict which was personal throughout, and m which all referred to the antithesis between Christ and the Pharisees; in which all His symbolical language was not uncommon, but moved within the domain of the Old Testament, and found its commentary in passages of the Old Testament already often adduced,—only although they felt the sting, they could not in the essential matter understand Him, or the meaning of His words: comp. on ch. John 8:27. They were without the true insic.ht into their own wickedness and misery; and consequently it was altogether unintelligible to them how they could be described by Him as thieves and robbers. They were without the true insight into the dignity of Christ; and consequently what He said concerning Himself as the true Shepherd was altogether impenetrable. Thus Augustin gives what is essentially the true meaning: Christum negando nolebant intrare servandi sed foris remanere perdendi. There is a total misapprehension at the bottom of the following remark: “The Pharisees did not understand what He spoke to them allegorically; and therefore (οὖ?ν ) Jesus found Himself necessitated to explain to them the main point, on the right understanding of which all depended,—that is, what was the meaning of the door.” It was not our Lord’s custom to explain His parables to His enemies: that He reserved for the disciples alone. Ver. 7 cannot contain the interpretation of the door in ver. 1; for it does not speak, like ver. 1, of the door of the sheep-fold, but of the door of the sheep. Ver. 7 does not usher in an exposition of the first parable, but an independent second discourse. Οὖ?ν must not, especially in John, be pressed so hard. It very often marks nothing more than a transition. But if its full meaning must be laid upon it, then their not understanding is by it declared to be the reason why Jesus continued to impress upon their hearts the same truth in another form.

Verse 7

Ver. 7. “Then said Jesus unto them again. Verily, verily, I say unto you, I am the door of the sheep.”

Wherefore does Jesus give them in a different shape, and a second time, the truth which they had shown themselves incapable of understanding? Ch. John 9:39 gives us the answer. He would thereby make the judgment of their blindness more complete. And this obviously did not exclude the saving influence of His words upon individual susceptible minds, comp. ver. 21; and then we must remember that the words addressed to them were not designed for them alone. They belong to the Christian Church of all ages. The “verily, verily,” points back to ver. 1, and shows that this is a truth corresponding to that which was there spoken, which to deny or to detract from in any degree is blasphemy. Lampe: Hoc unicum fundamentum omnis fidei, omnis spei, omnis consolationis electorum est. That the door of the sheep is the door for the sheep, the medium of their entrance into the sheep-fold, the means of their participation in the kingdom of God and its blessings, is shown plainly by vers. 8-10, especially ver. 9. This last gives the precise explanation of the sense in which Jesus terms Himself the door of the sheep. Expositors would never have thought of understanding by the door of the sheep the door to the sheep, had not the unlucky identification of the door in ver. 7 with the door in ver. 1 blinded their eyes to what is as clear as the day. There is, indeed, a connection with the door in ver. 1, but it is to be looked for rather more deeply. In ver. 1, Jesus had spoken of the door for the shepherds,—that is, their divine vocation; here He speaks of the door for the sheep,—that is, Him who was chosen of God. The door and the door correspond. In Christ’s mission from God lies the assurance that without Him there can be no entrance into the kingdom of God.

Grotius has rightly given the connection of this verse with the other: Superiore similitudine non exposita aliam affinem orditur. And so also Heumann: “But when he says, ‘Then said Jesus unto them again,’ he gives us to understand that the Lord by a new discourse would show them who He was; that is, as Peter showed, in Acts 4:12, that there was no other than Himself by whom they might attain salvation.” When Jesus here says, “I am the door,” He places Himself in opposition to the Pharisees, who gave themselves out to be the door, and thereby denied that Christ was the door. The following verse shows this still more clearly.

Verse 8

Ver. 8. “All that ever came before Me are thieves and robbers: but the sheep did not hear them.”

Before He further dilates upon the clause, “I am the door of the sheep,” our Lord denounces and repudiates those who were His rivals in the honour of being the door; just as underneath the very words, “I am the door,” there lay the denial, “ye are not.” After repelling them, He reassumes the “I am” in ver. 9. “All,” or “as many as” came before Me, excludes all notion of a rhetorical or popular manner of speaking. “Who came before Me,” that is, supplying from what goes before, as the door of the sheep; and this supplement is confirmed further by the fact that this negation is presently followed in ver. 9 by the positive declaration, “I am the door.” Anton is perfectly right in saying, “Since shortly before in ver. 7, and presently afterwards in ver. 9, the ἐ?γώ εἰ?μι , stands—and Christ thus opposes Himself to them—the context shows that He speaks of later messiahs, who only mock their souls, but do not supply them with what they need and long for.” The supposition of some of the fathers, as Chrysostom, that the clause must be limited to those who pretended to be messiahs, such as Theudas and Judas of Galilee, contains an element of truth. But we must not so much think of these obscure deceivers as of the Pharisees. Herod sought, in a certain sense, to set himself in the place of Christ. His temple-building had reference to Haggai 2:7, and proceeded from the design of bringing the desired “end of the days” into the present time: comp. my Christology on the passage. But it was in a much more extensive manner and degree that the Pharisees usurped a messianic position. In the properly spiritual domain, there was no room left for Christ to act. He served them only as the means for the subversion of the Roman dominion; and if He aimed at anything beyond that, they rose against Him in fanatical hatred. They had already exalted themselves into the dignity of door of the sheep: they opened and shut, at their own caprice, the door of the kingdom of God: comp. Matthew 23:13, and John 9:22. They claimed for their human ordinances an absolute authority; they bore themselves, not as servants, but as masters and fathers. Matthew 23:8-10. The Temple was always to them the centre of the Church; the Mosaic sacrificial system, which was entirely in their hands, and had, under their perverseness, lost its original character, was to them quite sufficient for the purposes of atonement; and whosoever questioned that, or the central position of their high priest, was to them an accursed heresiarch. As they constituted the then existing manifestation of antichrist—just as afterwards the Roman power—the conflict between them and Christ was a conflict of life and death for dominion; and the declaration, “I am the door,” must necessarily have been here encountered by the same negation which is heard so plainly and expressly in Matthew 21:38. But when the husbandmen saw the son, they said among themselves. This is the heir: come, let us kill him, and let us seize on his inheritance. Such a manifestation had never existed before the Pharisees. Moses and the Pharisees, to whom the Manichees foolishly made our present passage apply, arguing from it that they were not sent from God, August, c. Faustum, i. 2, c. 4, never made any pretension to being the door of the sheep; they made themselves no more than servants of God who showed the way of salvation, only organs and media of Divine influence. Quite otherwise was it with the Pharisees, who arrogated for their human traditions and for themselves an absolute authority, and who exalted themselves into rulers of the faith. When we limit the apparently too general expression, which manifestly the connection restricts to the wicked shepherds of Israel in Zechariah 11:8,—the counterpart of “I am the door,”—we are saved from the necessity of a series of untenable suppositions. The absence of πρὸ? ἐ?μοῦ? in many Codd. is only a clumsy attempt to turn aside the blow from Moses and the prophets. The assertion that “the expression is popular, and not to be pressed,” which is refuted by the ὅ?σοι added to the πάντες , is only an indirect confession of helpless embarrassment. The remark, that “the most obvious limitation which we can make is to the contemporary order of teachers,” has in the εἰ?σί no support; for those who had borne the same character at an earlier date are thieves and robbers: the condemnation is not passed upon their historical existence, but upon their permanent character. And such a restriction yields no real advantage, since it must come into collision with the claims of John the Baptist. Finally, to assert that the expression is unusually harsh becomes quite needless so soon as we understand that, according to a true exposition, only the Pharisees were included in it—they being the only ones who among the Israelites pretended to be masters of faith. We have then the counterpart in Matthew 23 and Matthew 7:15, where the Pharisees are termed ravenous wolves; in Matthew 9:36, according to which the people in the time of the dominion of the Pharisees were like sheep without a shepherd. The ἦ?λθον points to the fact that the Pharisaic usurpation had begun before the coming and manifestation of Christ; the εἰ?σί , to the fact that it still continued in the present time. Yet, as we have already shown, the εἰ?σί is not to be limited to the manifestations of the present.

Thieves and robbers: equivalent to destroyers. Grotius compares Jeremiah 23:1, “Woe be unto the pastors that destroy and scatter the sheep of My pasture! saith the Lord;” and Ezekiel 34:2-3, “Woe be to the shepherds of Israel that do feed themselves! should not the shepherds feed the flocks? Ye eat the fat, and ye clothe you with the wool, ye kill them that are fed: but ye feed not the flock.” Through God’s providence it came to pass that, in the last days of the Jewish state, Pharisaism degenerated into an open and common character of robbery.

In the words “but the sheep did not hear them,” the sheep are the true members of God’s people: comp. on ch. John 1:48. Prophecy in the Old Testament distinguishes between the sheep and the goats: Ezekiel 34:17, comp. Hitzig. The man born blind gives us an exemplification of this sentence: all the persuasion of the Pharisees was thrown away upon him; they had to tell him, “Thou art his disciple; “and he definitively turned away from them, saying, “Lord, I believe,” and worshipped Christ. The Pharisees showed themselves to be thorough thieves and robbers by their machinations to separate him from Christ, the door of the sheep, the only source of salvation, and to bring him over to their own side. He becomes, as it were, a symbolical person, the representative of the not-seeing class, who are made to see by Christ, and by Him snatched from the vengeance of “those who see.” In the conflict of Christ and the Pharisees over this individual soul, the whole contrast comes out in full character.

Verse 9

Ver. 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” returns with strengthened emphasis after the wolves in sheep’s clothing have been repelled,—those wolves who had pretended to be themselves the door. By going out and in, Deuteronomy 31:2, Ps. 131:8, or, as it less frequently occurs, in the inverted order, Deuteronomy 28:6, Jeremiah 37:4, Acts 1:21, the phraseology of the Old Testament describes the whole commerce of life as it moves in the two spheres of the household and publicity. The unrestrictedness of the going out and in, points to the fact that, through their relation to Christ, the development of life has a free course opened before it. Jesus, assuring this unrestricted freedom by His guidance and guardianship, exhibits Himself as the true Joshua, according to Numbers 27:16-17; as the true David, 1 Samuel 18:16; as the true Solomon, 2 Chronicles 1:10, where Solomon says to the Lord, “Give me now wisdom and knowledge, that I may go out and come in before this people.” Finding pasture is afterwards explained by having life, and more abundantly. We may comp. Ezekiel 34:14, “I wall feed them in a good pasture;” Isaiah 40:11. All that the verse contains belongs, according to the unforced interpretation of the passage, not to the shepherd, but to the sheep.

Verse 10

Ver. 10. “The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.”

The thief is the Pharisee. Stealing, killing, destroying, are equivalent to fundamental destruction and ruin in spiritual and bodily respects: Matthew 23:14 shows that the latter is not to be excluded. Under the dominion of Pharisaism, the people of God were in every sense ἐ?σκυλμένοι καὶ? ἐ?ρριμμένοι ὡ?σεὶ? πρόβατα μὴ? ἔ?χοντα ποιμένα , Matthew 9:36. The original passages are Jeremiah 23:2, Ezekiel 34:2-3. When Jesus pledges to His sheep abundance, He exhibits Himself as the good Shepherd of Psalms 23, whose flock can say, “I want nothing,” ver. 1; “my cup runneth over.” ver. 3.

Verse 11

Ver. 11. “I am the good Shepherd: the good Shepherd giveth His life for the sheep.”

The words, “I am come that they might have it abundantly,” in their reference to Psalms 23, return back from the figure of the door to the earlier figure of ver. 2, that of the good Shepherd, which the Old Testament makes still more familiar. The Lord first lays down the general proposition, “I am the good Shepherd,” and then developes it down to ver. 18, showing in what way He will approve Himself to be the true Shepherd. The article primarily notes the ideal person of the good Shepherd embodied actually in Christ. Luther’s translation, “a good shepherd,” is less inexact than on the first glance it might appear. But when Jesus presupposes this ideal of the good shepherd to be known to His hearers, He indirectly points to the Old Testament, on the expressions of which alone such a knowledge could rest. We must not limit ourselves to those passages of the Old Testament which refer—like those of Jeremiah 23, Ezekiel 34, and Zechariah 11, already considered—directly to the Messiah as the Shepherd of Israel. We must include in our range also those passages in which we read of David being a shepherd and feeding his flock,—of David, who should gloriously reappear in his greater descendant, 2 Samuel 7:8; Psalms 78:70-71; 1 Chronicles 11:2. So also the passages in which Jehovah appears as the Shepherd of Israel, Psalms 23; Isaiah 40:11; Ezekiel 34:11. That which the Lord in the Old Testament did to His people. He did by His Angel, His Mediator. Thus was His countenance turned upon His Church; and it was manifested in the incarnate Christ. In Christ, David and Jehovah are at once and at the same time exhibited, as is remarkably seen in Micah 5:4, where we read of Messiah as proceeding from Bethlehem, and_ thus belonging to the race of David: “And He shall stand and feed in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord His God.” The great King of the lineage of David is so intimately one with God, that the whole fulness of the divine power and glory belongs to Him. If we ask what the passages were which the Lord had particularly in view, we must think first of Ezekiel 34:23, “And I will set up one Shepherd over them, and he shall feed them, even My servant David: he shall feed them, and he shall be their shepherd;” and then of Psalms 23. To this latter points, not only the “abundantly” of ver. 10, which is the positive side of the Psalms negative “want nothing,” but also the ὁ? καλός . In Psalms 23 there is the full detail of all that a good shepherd does in all departments; this is the very essence of the Psalm. The Lord the good Shepherd is its theme.

After Jesus had laid down this theme, He proceeds at once in its development to the supreme expression of His shepherd-fidelity, the most effectual means by which He approves His care of the sheep—the sacrifice of His life for them. All circumstances around concurred with the time to bring this near to His thoughts. As it respects the former, the wolf was directly before His eyes (comp. ver. 12); He had to do with those who were already concerting their plan to put Him to death, and to get the sheep in their own power. And as it respects the latter, the narrative has reached the last half-year of the life of Jesus: “Yet a little while am I with you.” He had said in ch. John 7:33, “And then I go to Him that sent Me:” comp. ch. John 8:21. The words are, “The good Shepherd lays down His life for the sheep. The expression, “laying down the soul for any one,” does not occur anywhere else independently in the New Testament. It is never found in profane writers; nor is it familiar to Hellenistic usage. It must be referred back to the Old Testament, and specifically to Isaiah 53:10, where it is said of Christ, “when He shall make, or place. His soul an offering for sin,”—that is, give His soul, for placing often stands in Hebrew for giving;—when He shall give up His soul as an offering for sin, or when He, the servant of God, shall present it as a sin-offering. This will be plain, if we consider:

1. Its Hebraistic character. We cannot tell what to do with the expression, if we do not take it back to the Hebrew. According to Lücke and De Wette, θεῖ?ναι is used in the sense of laying aside; but this is too negative. Manifestly the Hebraism place for give has passed over into the New Testament Greek; and this is confirmed by the parallel δοῦ?ναι τὴ?ν ψυχὴ?ν αὐ?τοῦ? , Mark 10:45; Matthew 20:28.

2. That the unusual phrase occurs in this one discourse of Christ no less than five times, with such evident design and such emphasis as cannot be explained save on the ground of its being a direct reference to an important passage of the Old Testament.

3. That the phrase is used by our Lord always, as by Isaiah, concerning His sacrificial death: comp. John 15:13 with this. The ὑ?πέρ of itself means only for, to the advantage of. But the expression, general in itself, obtains a more specific sense by its reference to the fundamental passage, Isaiah 53:10. There the offering of the soul of Christ is termed אשם , satisfaction or compensation. He provides for the sins of men, which could not be forgiven without an equivalent, the offering which the sinners themselves could never have found,—and thus effects the justification of sinners before God.

Christ is here said to lay down His life for the sheep: in ch. John 3:16, on the other hand, we read of the love of God to the world. But the benefit reaches only the sheep, equivalent to those who believe in ch. John 3:16. Thus in a certain sense it was displayed only to the sheep. But in another sense the whole world partakes the benefit, inasmuch as the way stands open to every one to become by faith one of the sheep.

What our Lord says here is a sign to His servants also. “Those,” says Lyser, “who forsake their flocks in the time of persecution or pestilence or war, are reckoned amongst the hirelings, as we shall hear.”

Verses 12-13

Vers. 12, 13. “But he that is an hireling, and not the shepherd, whose own the sheep are not, seeth the wolf coming, and leaveth the sheep, and fleeth; and the wolf catcheth them, and scattereth the sheep. The hireling fleeth, because he is an hireling, and careth not for the sheep.”

It is altogether wrong to make the hireling signify the Pharisaic misleader of the people. The Pharisee was rather the wolf: comp. Matthew 7:15, where the Pharisees are called λύκοι ἅ?ρπαγες . The sheep, the believers, were entrusted to the hirelings. But this will not suit the application to the Pharisees, to whom, in ver. 1, all Divine mission was denied, and who were described as thieves and robbers. If the Pharisaic leaders of the people were this hireling, who would be the wolf from whom the hireling should have protected the sheep? The hireling is no real antithesis to Christ, but merely an imagined contrast. It is equivalent to, “If I were a hireling, I should fly.” The person, here primarily only an imagined one, comes into reality in those ministers of the Church of Christ who fly at times and under circumstances when, according to Christ’s example, they should lay down their lives. They show thereby that they were not actuated by higher motives when they assumed the pastoral office,—the functions of which, until the time of danger came, they discharged with more or less semblance of propriety,—but only by motives of low selfishness. Augustin: Quis est ergo mercenarius? Sunt in ecclesia quidam praepositi, de quibus Paulus apostolus dixit: sua quaerentes, non quae Jesu Christi. Quid est sua quaerentes? non Christum gratis diligentes, non Deum propter Deum quaerentes, temporalia commoda consectantes, lucris inhiantes, honores ab hominibus appetentes. The good shepherd, the wolf, the hireling, are the three persons who are for ever recurring in the history of the Church: comp., in reference to the wolf. Acts 20:29. The wolf is the manifest enemy of the life which is from God, of that life which constitutes the substance of the Church: the hireling is the indifferent one, “serving his own belly;” and it is specified as the token of the hireling, that the sheep are not his own. As the hireling forms primarily only the antithesis of Christ, it is therefore presupposed that the sheep are Christ’s own. The Lord thus arrogates to Himself what in the Old Testament is appropriated to God alone: comp. on ver. 3, Psalms 95:7, “For He is our God, and we are the people of His pasture, and the sheep of His hand;” Psalms 100:3, “His people, and the sheep of His pasture.” But this mark appears to refer to the faithful shepherds, as well as the unfaithful, of the Church apart from Christ, to the class “hirelings.” This, however, is only in appearance. The faithful shepherds are incorporated with the “chief Shepherd,” 1 Corinthians 12:12; they feed the flock in His stead, 2 Corinthians 5:20, and in His Spirit; therefore not ἰ?σχροκερδῶ?ς προθύμως , but προθύμως , 1 Peter 5:2. The property of their chief Shepherd, whose interest absorbs their life and energy, is in a certain sense their own property. The τὸ? ἐ?ν ὑ?μῖ?ν ποίμνιον τοῦ? Θεοῦ? of 1 Peter 5:2 seems to point to the internal connection between faithful pastors and their flocks, as resting upon their connection with Christ. Accordingly, the flocks are spiritually bound up with or contained in the pastors, as these are in Christ; and hence in the Apocalypse we find the churches addressed in the persons of their official ministers, called angels. Whether a man is a true shepherd or a hireling, becomes palpably certain at the time of crisis and danger; but he who looks deeply will discover it before that by many symptoms. Instead of τὰ? πρόβατα at the end of ver. 12, αὐ?τά might be the reading. But the employment of the noun gives more prominence to the fearful circumstance. Petty transcribers might have been puzzled by the fact that the pronoun comes first, and is then again followed by the noun: hence they have omitted either the αὐ?τά or the τὰ? πρόβατα .

Christ, in that He did not, like a hireling, forsake the sheep in the presence of the wolf, and flee, presented Himself as the antitype of David; who, when he was tending his father’s flock, did not retreat before the lion and the bear, but manfully opposed them, and delivered the sheep from their hands at the peril of his own life, 1 Samuel 17:35 seq.

Verses 14-15

Vers. 14, 15. “I am the good Shepherd, and know My sheep, and am known of Mine. As the Father knoweth Me, even so know I the Father: and I lay down My life for the sheep.”

After Christ has distinguished Himself from the hireling, ver. 11 is resumed, with a parenthesis which gives the reason of His self-sacrifice: the tender relation of love, the internal fellowship, in which Jesus stands to His sheep, forms the foundation of the words, “I give My life for the sheep.” This relation is described by the terms knowing and being known; according to a phraseology which frequently occurs in the discourses of Jesus as recorded by the other Evangelists. In Matthew 25:12, the Lord says to the foolish virgins, Οὐ?κ οἶ?δα ὑ?μᾶ?ς , I know you not; to those who merely cried Lord, Lord, in Matthew 7:23, Οὐ?δέποτε ἔ?γνων ὑ?μᾶ?ς , I never knew you. The present τίθημι , is recalled by the reference to the τίθησι of ver. 11. And this was the more obvious, inasmuch as the sacrificial death of Christ was at that time approaching with swift steps.

Verse 16

Ver. 16. “And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear My voice; and there shall be one fold, and one Shepherd.”

Rupert von Deurtz rightly observes, that Jesus said this in order to intimate that He did not stand in need of the Jews faith; even if they did not believe, yet He had other sheep which He would bring into the same fold. He was richer than they thought. In Isaiah 49:1-9, the calling of the Gentiles had been brought into close connection with the unbelief of the Jews. There the idea was, that the Lord would give to His servant the heathen for an inheritance, in compensation for rebellious Israel. In ver. 4 we read, “Then I said, I have laboured in vain, I have spent My strength for nought, and in vain; yet surely My judgment is with the Lord, and My work with My God;” in vers. 5, 6, “And now, saith the Lord that formed Me from the womb to be His servant, to bring Jacob again to Him, Though Israel be not gathered, yet shall I be glorious in the eyes of the Lord, and My God shall be My strength. And he said. It is a light thing that Thou shouldest be My servant, to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and to restore the preserved of Israel; I will also give Thee for a light to the Gentiles, that Thou mayest be My salvation unto the ends of the earth.” And this point of view is all the more appropriate here, inasmuch as Jesus is speaking primarily to embittered enemies, who prided themselves on their unbelief, and thought that they would thereby baffle His schemes. The glance which our Lord throws, in the interval between the two announcements of the sacrifice of His life, upon the future conversion of the Gentiles, presupposes that this very sacrifice would be the means of their conversion. In ch. John 11:52, John 12:24; John 12:32, also, we find the reception of the Gentiles into the kingdom of God placed in connection with the death of Christ as its cause. The “power” of which He speaks in Matthew 28:19, and which He makes the basis of His command to the disciples to go and disciple all nations. He received as the reward of His sufferings. In Ephesians 2:13, the bringing nigh of the Gentiles who were once afar off, is said to be “through the blood of Christ.” And in the prophecies of the Old Testament, the “sufferings and death of the servant of God are represented as the efficient cause of the return of the Gentiles into the kingdom of God. According to Isaiah 52:13-15, all the peoples of the earth, and all their kings, are exhibited as reverently submitting to the servant of God on the ground of the redemption accomplished by Him. In ch. Isaiah 53:10-12 we read: “Yet it pleased the Lord to bruise Him: when Thou shalt make His soul an offering for sin, He shall see His seed. He shall see of the travail of His soul, and be satisfied: by His knowledge shall My righteous servant justify many; for He shall bear their iniquities. Therefore will I divide Him a portion with the great, and He shall divide the spoil with the strong.” That the death of Christ was something more than a mere calamitous event, than merely what He encountered in the way of His calling as a necessary infliction from the wrath of His enemies; that it had a propitiatory and substitutionary significance, is proved by these earlier passages of the Old Testament. But it is also explicitly contained in the present declaration of our Lord, who bases the reception of the Gentiles into the kingdom of God solely upon His own death. How can this be understood otherwise, than that by the death of Christ the hitherto closed way of access to the treasures of the mercy of God was opened?

Sheep are always, in the discourses of Christ, the faithful members of the kingdom of God, the company of believers. When the Redeemer here speaks of sheep existing among the Gentiles, we are not to think with Grotius of such as were of a gentle nature, and as might encourage the hope that they would not despise the proffered Gospel. The solemn word of Christ in ch. John 3:6 opposes any such view of the natural preparations of a portion of the Gentiles: “that which is born of the flesh is flesh.” It ill accords with the picture given by the Apostles of the earlier conversation of the converted heathen, Ephesians 2:1 seq. (dead in trespasses and sins; by nature children of wrath), John 4:17; 1 Peter 1:14, etc. Sheep they are called, not on account of any inherent fitness or preparation, but rather on account of the divine election, as κατὰ? τὴ?ν ἐ?κλογὴ?ν ἀ?γαπητοὶ? , Romans 11:28, comp. Ephesians 1:4-5. In a strictly similar manner the Lord, Acts 18:10, says to St Paul in Corinth, “I have much people in this city.” When it is asserted that “the other sheep are not the Gentile masses,” the remark is correct; but it is equally true that the individual believers could be secured only through the masses having an entrance into the kingdom of God laid open to them. Instructive in this relation are the parables of the sower and the nets in Matthew 13; as also the parable in Matthew 22:1-14, which issues in the words, “Many are called, but few are chosen.” According to ver. 10, there are “bad and good” too in the Church which is to be gathered even from among the Gentiles. In that Church the Lord detects those who have not on the wedding garment. The analogy of the earlier economy leads to the conclusion that the kingdom of God under the new covenant will bear a mixed character. The great separation and sifting will take place only at the συντελείᾳ? τοῦ? αἰ?ῶ?νος , the end of the present dispensation.

Sheep from another fold are not spoken of; but other sheep who are not of this fold. There is but one fold, ἡ? αὐ?λὴ? τῶ?ν προβάτων , ver. 1, the kingdom of God, without any distinction between the Old Testament and the New. The Gentiles are introduced into a fold which had existed from Abraham’s time. Those from among the Gentiles who are children of God by election, belong, ch. John 11:52, to the dispersion, which is placed in opposition to the fold, and are called out from that dispersion by Christ. According to Matthew 8:11, many were to come from the east and the west, and sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of God. According to Romans 11:17, there is only one olive-tree into which the Gentiles are grafted. According to Ephesians 2:12, the Gentiles are admitted into the commonwealth of Israel, from which they had been previously excluded. The habitual doctrine of the Old Testament is that of one congregation or Church of God, one Israel, into which the Gentiles were to be adopted in the time of the Redeemer. Abraham, in Genesis 17:5, is termed the father of many Gentile nations. Zion is declared in Psalms 87 to be the birth-place of the peoples. The reception of the heathen into the fellowship of Israel is thus described by Isaiah, in ch. Isaiah 44:5: “One shall say, I am the Lord’s; and another shall call himself by the name of Jacob; and another shall subscribe with his hand unto the Lord, and surname himself by the name of Israel.” In Isaiah 19:18, the converted Gentiles speak the language of Canaan. In Micah 4:2, many Gentile nations say, “Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, and to the house of the God of Jacob; for the law shall go forth of Zion.” In Zechariah 8:23, ten men of all the languages of the nations take hold of the skirt of one man that is a Jew, saying, “We will go with you; for we have heard that God is with you.”

The Lord has other sheep. The converts from among the Gentiles are His before they are converted. This right to the heathen meets us in Psalms 2:8: there the Lord speaks to His Anointed: “Ask of Me, and I will give Thee the heathen for Thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for Thy possession.”—“Them also must I bring:” that is, into this fold; and, as Bengel rightly supplements from the context, “through My death: “comp. ch. John 11:52. Many explain, “bring or lead as the shepherd, who goes before the sheep that follow, ver. 4.” But then there would not be one flock. Nor must we forget, “they shall hear My voice:” He bringeth them; for He calleth them to come into the fold; they hear His voice, and there is but one fold and one Shepherd. The interpretation bring is supported also by ch. John 11:52: the συναγάγειν εἰ?ς ἕ?ν there corresponds to the ἄ?γειν here. If they are brought into the fold, they are also brought together into one. The fold is the place of congregation. The δεῖ? , must, points to the Divine counsel; which we must not hesitate to accept here, inasmuch as it was manifestly exhibited in the prediction of the Old Testament.

“And there shall be one fold, one Shepherd.” Bengel: Haec unitas gregis, haec unitas pastoris coepit postquam bonus pastor animam suam posuit. The original scriptures are Ezekiel 34:23: “And I will set up one shepherd over them, and he shall feed them, even My servant David; he shall feed them, and he shall be their shepherd;” and Ezekiel 37:22; Ezekiel 37:24: “And I will make them one nation in the land upon the mountains of Israel; and one king shall be king to them all: and they shall be no more two nations, neither shall they be divided into two kingdoms any more at all. And David My servant shall be king over them; and they all shall have one shepherd: they shall also walk in My judgments, and observe My statutes, and do them.” These passages primarily refer to the abolition of the distinction between Israel and Judah, the union of both under Christ the good Shepherd; but that is only the special application of the universal truth, that the Redeemer of the future, the great Son of David, would seek all that was lost, and unite again all that had been divided. The Saviour does not arbitrarily enlarge the sense of those sayings; but He gives them a theological interpretation, while He carries back the specific meaning to its universal ground.

Verses 17-18

Vers. 17, 18. “Therefore doth My Father love Me, because I lay down My life, that I might take it again. No man taketh it from Me, but I lay it down of Myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This commandment have I received of My Father.”

The Jews thought they had Jesus in their own powder. That their attempt on Him was so easily successful, might naturally be perverted into a proof that His assertion of an internal union with the Father was based upon nothing but presumption. Jesus opens to them another aspect of the matter. In spite of their seeming independence, Christ shows that they were only passive instruments of His own will. His death He fore-announces as that of a voluntary self-sacrifice for the salvation of the world. It did not disturb His relation to the Father, but was rather the outflow of that relation. The declaration to Pilate, in ch. John 19:11, proceeds from the same ground as that of the present declaration of Christ. That which Pilate thought, “I have power to crucify thee,” the Jews on the present occasion thought also. And it is in perfect accordance with the present utterance, that Jesus, in ch. 18, before He permitted Himself to be taken, demonstrated by an actual and visible proof that He could, if He pleased, deliver Himself from His enemies; as also that upon the cross, when He both willed and knew the fulfilment of all things. He surrendered up His spirit into the hands of the Father, ch. John 19:30. But the expression we now consider had also another meaning; it was designed for the assurance and consolation of the disciples in the temptation which the death of Christ would bring to their faith: He would not die an enforced death, but offer Himself up voluntarily for the salvation of the flock.

“Therefore My Father loveth Me:” love was the opposite of that wrath of God, of which the Jews regarded Christ’s death as the proof and sign. “In connection with the therefore,” says Anton, “we must observe what Isaiah says about the pleasure of the Lord prospering in His servants hands, because of the offering of His soul.” In ch. Isaiah 53:10 we read: “When His soul shall make an offering, He shall see His seed.” And especially Isaiah 53:12, where, after the prediction of the glorious and divine recompense, it is said to be “because He hath poured out His soul unto death.”

“That I might take it again:” this is the design of the sacrifice. Jesus dies not simply In order to die, but that He might rise again and found His kingdom upon the earth: comp. ver. 16, John 12:24. The object of the Divine love was not the death of Christ in itself, but the death which He voluntarily underwent to this end. Augustin says, on the laying it down: Ego illam pono: non glorientur Judaei, saevire potuerunt, potestatem habere non potuerunt. Ἐ?ξουσία is not authority here, but power, as in ch. John 19:10; Luke 22:53. The signification of an authority derived from another is not in the word itself, so much as in the word interpreted by the context. The context does not here give it such a meaning. The ἐ?ξουσίαν ἔ?χω is immediately connected with the ἀ?πʼ? ἐ?μαυτοῦ? . But this absolute independence is not asserted as in the presence of the Father; but only in view of those who would take away the life of Jesus. This “commandment:”—to lay down My life, and to take it again.

Verses 19-21

Vers. 19-21. “There was a division therefore again among the Jews for these sayings. And many of them said. He hath a devil, and is mad; why hear ye him? Others said. These are not the words of him that hath a devil: can a devil open the eyes of the blind!”

Here we have the issue and compendium of the whole section from ch. John 9:1. The narrative of the healing of the man born blind explains it all; and to this fact the last words refer. Πάλιν points back to ch. John 9:16. There is no reason for limiting the Jews here merely to the Pharisees. It is not in itself probable that the present multitude consisted only of that party. The greater number were offended at Christ’s words. “They were,” says Anton, “words such as entered into the heart of the Israelite theology; but they were words such as had retained nothing of that theology but the outward form, and therefore they understood them not.” Δαιμόνιον ἔ?χει (ch. John 7:20, John 8:48), and μαίνεται , He hath a devil, and is mad, are related as cause and effect. That they really meant possession by a devil, is proved by the following words, “Can a devil?” etc. But here, as ordinarily, there were found such as laid the words of Christ to heart, moved by the observation of the work which formed the starting-point of these words. They clung at first to a merely negative judgment, but there was more in the background. “Jam istorum ocull coeperant aperiri,” says Augustin.

Bibliographical Information
Hengstenberg, Ernst. "Commentary on John 10". Hengstenberg on John, Revelation, Ecclesiastes, Ezekiel & Psalms. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/heg/john-10.html.
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