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Bible Commentaries
John 10

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Verses 1-2

The Shepherd of the Sheep

This chapter connects directly to the previous one. The born blind man who has been healed by the Lord and therefore can see, has been put out by the leaders of the people. In the chapter that we now have before us, we will see what that means and what the consequences are. Here the Lord Jesus continues His discourse to the Pharisees, which He started at the end of the previous chapter (John 9:39-Mark :). By putting out the born blind man, they have disqualified themselves as God appointed leaders. In the picture of a fold with sheep, the Lord holds them to account for the consequences. Of the fold He is the door and of the sheep He is the Shepherd.

He again begins His important teaching on this subject with a twofold and therefore emphatically “truly”, followed by the authoritative “I say to you”. He first presents the situation that applies to Israel and the false leaders. The fold is the religious system established by Moses. A fold reminds one of an enclosed space in which the sheep can stay safely. The law of Moses functioned as a fence through which the Jews were separated from the Gentiles (Ephesians 2:14).

In the fold there is an opening, a door to enter through it. The door presents the proper way indicated by God to enter the fold of Israel in order to be a shepherd for the people that are seen as His flock (Isaiah 40:11). People have entered the fold in another way than through the door. They have climbed in from a different side. Those are the thieves and the robbers who rob God’s people. They are men who claim authority over God’s people, without God having given it to them. We can think of people like Theudas and Judas of Galilee (Acts 5:36-Haggai :). They are people who set themselves up as leaders, but who turn out to be deceivers. We can also include Pharisees and other religious persons who claim the leadership of God’s people for themselves.

The Lord warns of such people and says that they are wolves in sheep’s clothing (Matthew 7:15). They feed themselves instead of the sheep (Ezekiel 34:2). The God-given shepherd is the shepherd who enters through the door. God has revealed through the prophets how the Messiah enters as a Shepherd, for instance that He would be born in Bethlehem of a virgin (Isaiah 7:14; Micah 5:2). The Lord Jesus answers to that. Also, through His works, He answers to what God has said of the Messiah. He would heal the blind and make the deaf hear (Isaiah 35:5-Joshua :). God also gave His testimony about Him from heaven when He pointed to Him as His beloved Son (Matthew 3:17).

He entered through the door, that is, He passed through the testimony of all the prophecies of the Old Testament. As a result, it has been established that He answers all those prophecies and it has become clear that He is the Shepherd that God gives to His people. The moment He entered through the door is when He was baptized by John. By doing so, He joined those who, confessing their sins before God, took their place as a repentant remnant. He made Himself one with them. For them He is the Shepherd God gave to His people.

Speaking of a shepherd, the Lord is consistent with an imagery that is well-known in the Old Testament (Psalms 23:1-Joshua :; Psalms 80:2; Zechariah 11:11). Ezekiel 34 is especially about the false shepherds (Ezekiel 34:1-2 Samuel :). Opposite to that, He speaks here of Himself as the good Shepherd (John 10:11). He does so in connection with giving His life for the sheep.

He is also “the great Shepherd” of the sheep (Hebrews 13:20) and “the Chief Shepherd” (1 Peter 5:4). We can say that He proved Himself as the good Shepherd in the past when He gave His life. We also see that in the present time He is the great Shepherd Who cares for His sheep. As far as the future is concerned, we see Him as the Chief Shepherd Who will appear with reward for those who have cared for His sheep in the present time by following Him.

Verses 3-5

The Shepherd and the Sheep

God, as the Doorkeeper, has opened the door to Him because He has recognized Him as His Shepherd. Once the Shepherd is in the fold, He speaks to all the sheep. He has come to His own, but His own have not accepted Him (John 1:11). They hear His voice, but they do not listen. Yet among all the sheep of Israel there are sheep who do listen to Him. He calls them “his own sheep” in distinction of the sheep as a whole. The healed born blind man from the previous chapter is one of “his own sheep”. So there is a distinction between ‘the sheep’ and ‘his own sheep’.

And then we read something remarkable, something we would not expect and what His disciples did not expect either. He comes in, not to improve the fold, not to lead all the sheep out, but to lead ‘his own sheep’ out of the Jewish fold and lead them outside, outside the Jewish fold. In this way He makes a separation between sheep who do not know Him and sheep who do know Him. This distinction and separation has become necessary because Israel as a people has rejected Him.

After having made this distinction, the Lord Jesus is only concerned with His own sheep as the only object for His heart and with the love He personally has for each of His own sheep. God commands Him to pasture these sheep, of whom God says they are sheep doomed to slaughter (Zechariah 11:4; Zechariah 11:7). To fulfill that command, the Shepherd takes these sheep doomed to slaughter from the folds of Israel to make them into something new. We see this happening in Acts (Acts 2:40-Mark :). Further on in this chapter (John 10:16) the Lord elaborates on this.

The sheep He leads out, He calls by name. Thus He calls the names of Simon (John 1:42), of Lazarus (John 11:43), of Philip (John 14:9), of Mary (John 20:16). He knows each of His sheep personally, He has a personal relationship with each sheep.

An additional aspect in the leading out from the Jewish fold is that this leading out means the judgment of Judaism. To those who do not belong to His own sheep and who will later say to Him that they were His sheep after all, He will say that He never knew them (Matthew 7:23).

His own sheep are not all willing to follow Him. Insistence is also needed. In order to lead them out, He sometimes has to put them forth. To do so, the Lord uses the enmity of the false leaders, as we have seen with the born blind man.

The Shepherd leads them out in freedom and not into a new fold. On that path to and in freedom He leads the sheep and they follow Him because there is a personal relationship with the Shepherd. They also know His voice which gives them the confidence that they follow the right Person. Just as He is occupied exclusively with His own sheep, they know only His voice and no other voice.

A sheep is a compliant animal, but only of its own Shepherd whose voice it knows. That one voice is recognized by the sheep. All other voices they do not know. When another voice calls them, they will flee, precisely because it is an unknown voice and not the familiar voice of the shepherd. The voice reveals who speaks. If it is not the voice of the good Shepherd, it is the voice of a stranger. Whatever other voice it is, it is enough to know that it is not the voice of the shepherd. The voice of the good shepherd gives confidence; from every other voice they flee.

Verse 6

Figure of Speech

The Pharisees are blind as ever and do not understand anything about it. They don’t want to understand it either because they hate Him. What He speaks to them, they do not know because they do not know Him. What He speaks, He is. Because they do not want to know Him, they remain blind to the meaning of what He speaks. If they knew Him, they would also understand His words.

This is the ailment of many who have a title in theology. Such people think they see, but they are blind, because they deny Him the honor to which He is entitled. The Lord speaks in figure of speech or parables to conceal their true meaning from unbelief, while the true disciples may know the meaning (Matthew 13:13-Ezra :).

Verses 7-9

I Am the Door

The Lord continues His figure of speech and also adds an explanation. Just as He began the figure of speech with the double and therefore emphatically “truly”, followed by the authoritative “I say to you” (John 10:1), so He also begins the sequel with it. He presents himself as “the door”. He is not the door of Israel, but of the sheep. There is no other door, no other way for the sheep to enter the place of blessing. That blessing is the blessing found in Christendom, which is on a totally different basis than everything connected with Judaism.

The Lord speaks of the many presumptuous people who have risen among the people. Those persons are thieves and robbers. They have robbed the people and they have robbed God by pursuing only their own interests at the expense of His people. The sheep have not listened to them, which means that there is no bond of trust between the sheep and them.

From John 10:7 onwards the Lord speaks about “the sheep” who have already been led out and are His own sheep. In John 10:9 He points once more to Himself as the door, this time not with regard to the sheep, but to present the blessings that every sheep, that is every human being (Ezekiel 34:31) receives who enters the area of blessing through Him. Those blessings are threefold: “to be saved”, “to go in and out” and “to find pasture”.

The first blessing is “to be saved”. The necessary work for this, His death and resurrection, still had to be done, but the Lord already points out the result. “To go in and out” is an expression that indicates freedom (Acts 9:28). In Judaism there is no free access to God. Nor are the Jews free to go out to the nations to tell them about God. Now however there is boldness for both activities (Hebrews 10:19; Acts 8:4). The third blessing, “to find pasture,” indicates the spiritual food that the good Shepherd offers them, as opposed to the false shepherds who only feed themselves, pasture themselves, and trample the remaining (Ezekiel 34:18).

Verses 10-15

I Am the Good Shepherd

The Lord points out the great contradiction between the thief and the good shepherd. A thief comes sneakily and unexpectedly and without pity. He exploits the sheep and more than that. He comes not only to steal, but also to kill, and even to erase every trace of his crime by destroying. He gives nothing, but takes everything, including life and its remainders.

How completely different is the Lord Jesus. He did not come to take something, but to give something, life, and not just life, but life in abundance. He gives life in its richest and most abundant form, that is eternal life. To be able to give it He not only risked His life, but He actually gave it. Thus He has proven to be the good Shepherd.

The good thing about that Shepherd is not that He leads His sheep out and gives them eternal life, but that He lays down His life for them in death. The glorious consequence of this is that He leads His sheep out and gives them eternal life. His sheep are so dear to Him that He wanted to lay down His life to be able to give them life in abundance. To lay down His life here is a completely voluntary act of His own as the highest proof of His love for the sheep. Likewise He lets His disciples go free when they come to take Him prisoner (John 18:8).

What a contradiction this acting forms compared to the acting of a hired hand. The hired hand represents another aspect of a false shepherd in addition to what the Lord has already said about the thief and the robber. The hired hand need not necessarily be depraved like the thief or the robber. However, his interest is not primarily in the sheep, but in money. That is why a hired hand flees as soon as danger threatens. He doesn’t think about the sheep, they are not close to his heart. He is only concerned for his own life. He has no connection whatsoever with the sheep.

With the good shepherd this is quite the opposite. The Lord Jesus is the good Shepherd and He has a close bond with the sheep. He knows them, they are His, He pays attention to them and takes care of them. The mutual knowledge of the shepherd and the sheep is based on the close bond that exists between the shepherd and the sheep. This Shepherd knows exactly what the needs of each sheep are. Because there is a relationship, the sheep that belong to Him also know Him. They know Who He is Who cares for them.

The mutual knowledge between the Father and the Son is the norm for the knowledge that exists between the Shepherd and His sheep. The knowledge between the Father and the Son is perfect. So it is with the knowledge between the Lord Jesus and His own. The Son is the object of the Father’s heart. In the same way the sheep are the object of His heart. The mutual knowledge is there because the sheep have the same life as the good Shepherd. To make that possible the Lord Jesus has laid down His life for the sheep.

Verse 16

One flock, One Shepherd

So far the Lord Jesus has spoken about sheep from Israel with a split between sheep who have no relationship with Him, who reject Him, and sheep He calls His own, the believing remnant from Israel. He has spoken about laying down His life for the sheep of Israel who belong to Him being the foundation of the mutual knowledge. Following this, He speaks about “other sheep”, a third group of sheep. With these other sheep He means the sheep from the nations.

His death cannot be limited to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. The great appreciation of His death by the Father is the reason for the formation of a special flock, of which He is the Shepherd. That flock will consist of ‘His own sheep’ that He has led out of the fold of Israel and sheep that are not from that fold. He is about to add sheep that have been outside Israel’s fold until now. These are, as said, the sheep from the nations. Herewith the Lord indicates the vocation of a group from the Gentiles. We see the beginning of this in the book of Acts with as examples the eunuch from Ethiopia (Acts 8:27-Malachi :) and the Roman centurion Cornelius and his friends (Acts 10:24; Acts 10:44-Galatians :).

The Lord does not bring all those sheep as one flock into a new fold with Him as the one Shepherd. Nor does He make one flock of them, while He places them in several folds. In the latter case it would seem as if the division would be a good thing, possibly even meant. Unfortunately, this is what we see in Christianity in the countless groups and denominations. No, there is no fold anymore.

The characteristic of the church, seen as one flock with one Shepherd, is unity in freedom. Judaism kept the sheep together by physical restrictions, by laws and commandments. The new unity is held together by the personal appearance and attraction of the Shepherd. This is the essence of Christendom. This required not only death, but also the resurrection, as the following verse shows.

Verses 17-18

To Lay Down Life and to Take It up Again

The Lord mentions the laying aside of His life as the reason of the Father’s love for Him. The Father always loves the Son (John 3:35). But here, in laying down His life, He gives the Father, as it were, a new reason to love Him. Never before has the Son laid down His life. Now He will do so. He does it for His sheep, but above all out of love for His Father, for He has given Him the commandment to do so.

To lay down his life out of love for his sheep as an expression of his love for the Father, gives the Father an extra reason to love him. And He does not only lay down His life, but He also takes it up again. Both laying down and taking life again can only be done by a Divine Person. He is declared to be the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead (Romans 1:4).

In other Gospels, the Lord tells His disciples what people will do to Him and that they will kill Him (Matthew 16:21; Matthew 17:22-Isaiah :Matthew 20:17-Psalms :; Mark 8:31; Mark 9:31Mark 10:33; Luke 9:22; Luke 9:44Luke 18:31-Jonah :). In this Gospel He says that both His death and His resurrection are His own work. People can only treat Him this way because He allows it to happen, while He Himself lays down His life and takes it up again. Here we see His Godhead. We also see His Manhood because He does both according to the commandment of His Father. What He does, He does not do outside of the Father, but for Him.

Verses 19-21

Again Division

The Jews are again divided about the Lord, this time because of His words (John 7:43; John 9:16). This misunderstanding is not because of His words, but because of their mindset. Christ is the test for every person who hears His word. Many judge what He says as gibberish that He utters under the influence of a demon. Classifying His lofty words this way does indicate the distance between these listeners and Christ. There is a complete separation. By their reaction they prove themselves to be completely in the power of the devil.

They not only come to this slanderous conclusion themselves, but they also want to forbid every bystander to listen further to Him. There are also some who do not go that far in their rejection. They do not understand His words either, but they do not ascribe them to a demon. In the wonder of opening the eyes of the blind man they see proof that He does not speak His words through a demon. For them it is obvious that a demon does not do such a thing.

Verses 22-26

Why the Jews Do Not Believe

The Feast of the Dedication of the temple is not a feast prescribed by Yahweh to His people anywhere in the Old Testament. It is a human institution in remembrance of a renewed dedication of the temple by Judas the Maccabee in the year 164 BC, after its desecration by Antiochus Epiphanes. This feast is celebrated two months after the Feast of Booths. The Feast of Booths is celebrated in autumn and the Feast of the Dedication is in winter. The fact that it is mentioned here that it is winter is not meant just to inform us about the time of year. Much more, the reference to winter is of symbolic significance to indicate how cold the hearts of God’s people and especially the religious leaders are.

The Lord is not there to celebrate this feast. He does not submit Himself to traditions of people. He still walks freely, despite all the attempts of the religious leaders to eliminate Him. He stands in the portico of Solomon reminding us of the glory days of Israel and also of the great wisdom that Solomon possessed. In spite of his great wisdom, those days of glory did not last long. That was because Solomon, and the people with him, became unfaithful to Yahweh. Now here is Someone Who is greater than Solomon and Who cannot be unfaithful.

While the Lord walks there, the Jews approach Him again. They gather around Him and ask Him now to say plainly if He is the Christ. They pretend that He is always keeping them in suspense about it. As if He hasn’t been clear enough yet. They are not really curious about it, but they want to hear words that give them a weapon to denounce Him, both to the people and to the Romans.

The Lord simply reminds them that He has given abundant testimony of Who He is. We heard that in John 5, 7, and 8, but they did not believe His words. His works in John 5, 6 and 9 bear the same character as His words. All His works come from the Father and testify of Who He is, but they have not believed His works either.

He says unequivocally that their unbelief is the great obstacle. His testimonies in words and works are powerful enough, but they do not hear or see them. That is because there is no connection with Him, they still belong to the fold of Israel and not to His sheep. He does not only tell the truth about Himself but also about them. He clearly tells them where they stand.

Verses 27-30

The Protection of the Sheep

In the face of the unbelief of the Jews that makes them not His sheep, the Lord gives three characteristics of those He calls “My sheep”. First of all, they hear the voice of the Shepherd. This hearing is the recognition of His voice through which they remain with Him.

The second is not that they know Him, but that He knows them. That He knows them is more than that they know Him (cf. Galatians 4:9). Their knowledge of Him is always limited, but His knowledge of them is perfect and in perfect love. He knows them with all their thoughts and feelings, their words and ways, their dangers and difficulties, their past, present and future.

The third is that they follow Him. Faith is alive and practical. It also means that He goes out ahead of them, He Who knows them and also knows the circumstances they have to go through. That is a great safety and security.

He gives them eternal life, that is His life, that is Himself as eternal life (1 John 5:20). The life He gives cannot perish. It cannot be corrupted and overthrown by an inner weakness. Also from the outside, there is no power that can ruin this life, for what power would there be that could snatch them out of the hand of Him Who has all the power in heaven and on earth (Matthew 28:18)?

His protection goes beyond that. He speaks of the Father’s love for them, for the sheep have been given to Him by the Father. This does not mean that the Father no longer possesses them, but that the Father has placed them in the care of the Son. Could there be a power imaginable that could snatch out of that mighty hand what the Father has given to the Son, but over which He still holds His protective hand outstretched? He is greater than any power (Exodus 18:11; 2 Chronicles 2:5; Psalms 135:5; cf. 1 John 4:4).

The Lord Jesus finishes the surety of the sheep in His hand and in that of the Father by pointing out that He and the Father are one. Separately they are both omnipotent and no power is able to snatch His own out of the hand of either the Son or the Father. If the Lord therefore points to the unity of the Father and the Son, that is an abundant declaration of surety and security.

The Son’s saying this is also the highest declaration of holy love and unlimited power. No one can speak of this except He Who is the Son. He speaks of the mysteries of the Godhead with the intimate familiarity inherent to the only begotten Son who is in the bosom of the Father. They are one, that is not as Person, for they are two Persons, but one in their Divine nature or being. Those Who are one like that are also one in the fellowship of Divine love and protection for the sheep.

Verses 31-36

The Jews Want to Stone the Lord

The Jews have asked if He is the Christ (John 10:24). They have received an answer that goes far beyond that. Their response shows the absolute darkness of their hearts filled with hatred. Their answer to what the Lord has told them is to pick up stones to stone Him. There is nothing that makes Satan so furious as the perfect revelation of the goodness of God in the Son. He finds appropriate instruments in man’s own will and pride to express his hatred.

The Lord answers their hatred by asking them in perfect calmness a real question. He has shown so many good works of His Father. Can they also say for which of these good works they want to stone Him? By the way, he does not say “for which of these works do you want to stone me”, but “for which of them are you stoning Me”. In their hearts they have already stoned him.

The Jews reply by saying that they are not stoning him for a good work, but for blasphemy. By doing so, they testify of His works that they are good. But their obscured hearts do not want to accept that He has spoken the truth and do not want to acknowledge that His works are those of the Father. That is why they have to accuse Him of blasphemy.

Now He is indeed a Man, they are right. But He did not make Himself God, for He is God of eternity so here they are not right. He humbled Himself to become Man in order to show God’s love to people in His many good works and to be their Savior. The Lord also deals with this blasphemy. He continues to bear witness to His glory, not for the sake of Himself, but for the honor of the Father.

He refers to a word from their law in which it is written of certain people that they are ‘gods’ (Psalms 82:6). This is about judges in Israel, men with a certain responsibility, yet ordinary mortals. These judges speak justice on behalf of God and should therefore be recognized as ‘gods’ in their jurisdiction (cf. Exodus 7:1). In the judge the members of God’s people deal with God. They are not Divine persons, but they have received Divine authority. God’s Word therefore speaks of ordinary mortal people as ‘gods’.

The word of God came to these ‘gods’, while it only applies to them in view of their position among the people. For the Lord Jesus this word applies in the most literal way. According to His nature He is the eternal Son and through His birth from the Holy Spirit He has been as Man the Son of God since His coming to earth (Luke 1:35).

In between, the Lord points to the unity of the Word of God by speaking about ‘the Scripture’. He also speaks of its indissolubility, by which He indicates its unchanging and enduring character for all times. It cannot be said: ‘Yes, it is in the Bible, but it is in the Old Testament and that is no longer applicable now’. He thereby makes clear how fully the Old Testament pronouncements were valid at that moment and how they will always remain so. When Scripture speaks in this way about mortal people, do they want to accuse Him of blasphemy when He, Who Himself is the Incarnate Word of God, declares Himself to be God’s Son?

The Lord appeals to their reason, to their logic. Judges on earth were sanctified by God, that is separate, to represent Him in a certain way. Now comes the Son Who has been sanctified by the Father in a special way to declare Him. For that purpose, the Father sent Him from heaven into the world. As such, he knows the Father and as Son He fulfills the commission of the Father. He comes with a Divine authority and in a known relationship with His Father. He has come into the world as Man, while that relationship is unchanging. How could he stop being the Son of the Father? How can they reasonably accuse Him of blasphemy when He merely points out that He is the Son of God?

Verses 37-39

The Works Speak for Themselves

That He is God’s Son is evident from His works. If He wouldn’t do those works, they wouldn’t have to believe in Him. However, He does them. And even though He does them and they don’t believe Him, then let the works speak for themselves. Let them forget Him and look at the works. Those works would undeniably lead them to the Father and to Him at the same time. They could come to no other conclusion than that the Father is in Him and He is in the Father.

By this way of reasoning the Lord does not weaken the dignity of His Person or the truth of His words. What He wants is to act on their consciences with what is undeniable: the character of His works that bear the testimony of Divine love and power. His works give testimony to His glory.

Again, hatred is the answer to the magnificent unfolding of the glories of the Lord Jesus. Their unbelief hardens more and more after each unfolding of His glory. They are seeking to seize Him again, but His time has not yet come. Before the appointed time, no power can seize Him.

Verses 40-42

Again Beyond the Jordan

His way leads him beyond the Jordan. He comes to the place where John first baptized and gave testimony of him as the Lamb of God. The Lord remains there for a while. At that place many come to Him. It is a place with the memory of the preaching of John. His voice still sounds there as it were. After more than three years, the truth of John’s testimony is confirmed by all who are still coming to the Lord today. They remember what John said about him at the Jordan.

In the midst of the ruins of Israel, John did not work with signs as a testimony. Doing signs is not proof of mission either. Signs mark the beginning of a dispensation. John performed at the end of a dispensation. His action marked the end of the era of the law and the prophets (Matthew 11:13). He preached about the coming Christ and that was much better than doing signs and wonders.

We too are at the end of a dispensation. Instead of longing for wonders, we should be like a John giving a faithful testimony about Him we expect. When the Lord Jesus comes, there will be signs and wonders again. It may be our desire that others can say of us what many here say of John: everything he or she said of Him was true. Would not that be a great praise for us?

Just as the hatred of the Jewish leaders becomes manifest after everything the Lord Jesus said, we also see time after time that there are many who believe in Him (John 2:23; John 7:31John 8:30; John 11:45John 12:11; John 12:42). His grace attracts many who recognize in Him the truth of John’s testimony. However, it is highly questionable whether a life renewing work has also taken place in the hearts and consciences.

Bibliographical Information
de Koning, Ger. Commentaar op John 10". "Kingcomments on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/kng/john-10.html. 'Stichting Titus' / 'Stichting Uitgeverij Daniël', Zwolle, Nederland. 2021.
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