John 10 The Good Shepherd.
The teaching given here continues the theme in chapter 9. Here Jesus speaks of the whole of Israel as being like a sheepfold, with the Israelites like sheep, some properly shepherded and some led astray, while the false teachers who oppose Him, the blind who lead the blind, are seen as like false shepherds who climb into the sheepfold and lead the sheep astray, finally destroying them. Jesus in contrast has come as a good Shepherd to enable those of them who will respond to Him, to walk with God and enjoy eternal life.
The picture is undoubtedly Messianic. In the Old Testament God was the shepherd of the sheep and He would raise up a new David to be shepherd over them. ‘I will set up one shepherd over them, and He will feed them, even My servant David. He will feed them, and He will be their shepherd. And I the LORD will be their God, and My servant David will be prince among them’ (Ezekiel 34:23-24). ‘And My servant David will be king over them, and they will all have one shepherd’ (Ezekiel 37:24).
So the sheepfold is the whole house of Israel, and is under God’s general oversight (as the Porter), being full of sheep awaiting the Messianic shepherd to lead them out into pasture. But within it there are different flocks, and these are affected by and respond to different shepherds. God has sought to protect the sheep and has provided a way in and out by which they may be kept safe and know the truth, but sadly many of them disobey Him. They respond to false shepherds who refuse to use God’s way in. These are false shepherds who, instead of taking the sheep in and out to pasture through the correct entrance, which is under God’s approval, are like shepherds who climb over the wall and decimate and harm the sheep.
Note the implication that those other shepherds in no way have God’s approval. He has not sent them among the flocks of Israel. The Porter has not opened to them.
The direct contrast then is between the Judaisers and Himself. The Judaisers are those Sadducees and Pharisees who were continually expressing opposition, and indeed were planning to kill Him, and who rejected the God-approved doorway, and pointed to other than Himself. He Himself is in fact that doorway. Thus those sheep who follow Him and see in Him the Way to God, the essence of Truth and the source of all Life (John 14:6), the Bread of life (John 6:35), the Water of life (John 7:37-38; John 4:10) and the Light of life (John 8:12), will use Him as the way in and out day by day, and walk under the smile of God’s approval, as they walk in God’s ways under the good Shepherd. They will be saved, for they have entered through the true doorway, through Jesus Christ Himself (John 10:9).
But the other sheep, who are shepherdless, and are snatched by the false shepherds who claim to offer the sheep life, in fact face death, deprivation and destruction at their hands (John 10:10). For while claiming to offer the true way to God these false shepherds reject God’s approved way to Himself, and try to climb in some other way, avoiding the Porter, and avoiding facing up to what Jesus is. Thus they are rejected by the Porter. That is why they seek to construct a way in of their own and come in over the wall. It is clearly only something done by thieves and robbers.
The One who uses the doorway is the true shepherd of the sheep. And Jesus points to Himself also as that doorway. He leads them in and out through Himself. Now that He has come He is the only way in to God’s approval. He is the true Shepherd of the sheep and also the true Doorway of the sheepfold. Those who are true in Israel will use this doorway, for it is the only doorway sanctioned by God. This will reveal them to be His true sheep.
The gatekeeper (the Father) opens to the true Shepherd, and the Shepherd’s sheep within recognise His voice, and He calls His own sheep by name and leads them out. Day by day, when He has brought out all His sheep, He goes before them, and the sheep follow Him, for they know His voice, and by night they are under the protection of the Porter, and protected too by the door. We must to some extent distinguish between the door that is closed and locked for the night, and the door or doorway which is the way in. But we can recognise that Jesus is both, although the emphasis is on the latter. Thus by day they are under His care as the Shepherd, and their entry to God is through Him, and at night they are under His care as the locked door. They will not follow a stranger but will run from him, for they do not recognise the voice of strangers. Their lives are safe and blessed because daily they go in and out with the Shepherd. And night by night they return through the true doorway into the fold, which is Himself, and He Who is the door protects the doorway behind them. (Jesus is so much more than just a Shepherd or Doorway that no illustration of what He is can possibly be totally consistent, for He appears everywhere in the story of salvation. He is Door, Doorway and Shepherd).
The imagery would be well known to all His listeners. A sheepfold, was often constructed of thickets and hedges, but this one would appear to be a larger and more permanent one with walls built to keep out intruders, presided over by a gatekeeper, and able to take a number of flocks. The fold for securing the sheep at night; the one entry way; the gatekeeper who has overall charge of the communal sheepfold when the shepherds are resting; the response of sheep to a particular shepherd who knows his sheep personally and has names for each one; all would be familiar. So would rustler shepherds.
It should be recognised that the sheepfold does not only contain Jesus’ sheep. It contains all the sheep of the house of Israel, awaiting a shepherd, who are in general under God’s care. Yet many refuse to follow the good Shepherd because they are not of His sheep. However, it does also contain those sheep who are under the Shepherd who do follow Him. Later other folds will be mentioned containing the Gentiles (John 10:16). They too await a shepherd.
But alas, many in the folds will continue to follow false shepherds and remain lost. Thus the fold is not Heaven, nor the Kingly Rule of God (it contains the unresponsive), nor is it the true church (because there are many folds while there is only one true church composed of all true believers in Christ), nor is it the sphere of salvation (unless we mean the sphere of potential salvation), nor is it the number of the elect, although it contains many of them, nor is it the place in which only Christ’s sheep are found. Such ideas are attractive and a slightly altered parable could be constructed to suit them well, with any one of them being the fold, but that is not what Jesus is talking about here.
He is talking firstly about all the people in Israel as in one fold, (the congregation of Israel, as the Old Testament describes them) and then of the world outside Israel in different folds, who are all yearningly waiting for a good shepherd, but in many cases are ravaged by false shepherds because they have rejected the true. But among them are those happy few who have been given to the good Shepherd, and have responded to Him, and go in and out under His care and protection, obeying His voice and following Him. For they see in Him the true doorway of the sheepfold.
The message is clear. It is not the fold which is important but response to the true Shepherd and the use of the right doorway to God. It is He on Whom the picture is concentrated. The true sheep, those given by the Father to Jesus, are those who recognise the voice of the Shepherd, and they will only follow Him and no one else, and He brings them in and out by the true doorway in order to give them abundant pasture, while the remainder of the sheep starve and suffer because they are seized by false shepherds.
These who follow the true Shepherd are those who have been given to Jesus by the Father (John 10:29, compare John 6:37; John 6:39; John 6:44) and they are the ones who will hear His voice and follow Him. Every one of them is safe, for they are His, and He will not let them be destroyed. They are safe in all their ways. It is Psalms 23 in action.
But the other sheep in the fold do not use the doorway. They listen to and follow false shepherds who break in through and over the walls and who ravage the sheep. For them there only awaits death, loss and destruction.
This may be clear to us (or may even be misinterpreted by us) through familiarity. But those who heard this ‘figure’ (paroimia - ‘it suggests the notion of a mysterious saying full of compressed thought rather than that of a simple comparison’) originally did not understand it (John 10:6). Its deeper truth had not come home to them.
The true shepherd is a familiar Old Testament picture. God will send David (i.e. the Messiah - Ezekiel 34:23; Ezekiel 37:24 compare Jeremiah 23:4) to be His shepherd, and God Himself is the Shepherd of His own (Psalms 23; Psalms 80:1; Isaiah 40:11). Especially poignant is the description in Zechariah 13:7 where His appointed shepherd, who stands next to Him, will be smitten, and Zechariah 11:7-14 where God’s appointed shepherd, rejected by the people, receives his wages of thirty pieces of silver and casts them into the treasury. So Jesus as the Messiah fulfils the Old Testament promises of a true Shepherd.
Also familiar in the Old Testament is the idea of false shepherds, and of Israel without a shepherd, constantly in need (e.g. Numbers 27:17; Isaiah 56:9-12; Jeremiah 10:21; Jeremiah 23:1-4; Jeremiah 25:32-38; Ezekiel 34:1-19; Zechariah 11:1-17). There are those who believe that the set Scripture readings in the synagogue laid emphasis on the shepherd passages at this time.
“In very truth I tell you, he who does not enter by the doorway into the fold where the sheep are, but climbs up some other way, the same is a thief and a robber.”
The sheepfold contains the waiting people of Israel, originally, to use another metaphor, ‘the lost sheep of the house of Israel’ (Matthew 10:6 compare Matthew 9:36). The shepherds/teachers who do not enter by the entrance are those whom the porter will not accept, for they are not using the true entrance, and that true entrance is Jesus (John 10:7; John 10:9). The true entrance is God’s way in and out which has been provided by Him in the coming of Jesus living among men. But many reject Him as the doorway and will try to win adherents by many methods rather than by submitting to God’s method, and they therefore will not have the door opened to them but must enter another way and make their own doorways in. Alas for the sheep who respond to them.
And what is the sheepfold? It is the place where the sheep are gathered awaiting the call of God’s messengers. It is waiting Israel, desperately looking for a deliverer but often allowing themselves to be deceived. It should be noted that the picture does not finally point to the fold but to the activities of the true Shepherd and the false shepherds. In the end the fold is of secondary importance. It is the Shepherd Who is important, along with His sheep and their daily walk with Him.
But what is the doorway? It is the God-provided way in and out through Jesus (John 10:7; John 10:9). He is both doorway and shepherd. As they live out each day they do so through the one God-approved doorway. For once Jesus came there was no other way to those who knew of Him.
But the Pharisees rejected Jesus and had to find another way in and out, a false way. It was a way of rules and regulations, a way of hardship and difficulty. It was a way that required climbing over the wall. It was a way that barred the route to many. It was a way that was even impossible for themselves. They did not use the proper entrance, God’s word rightly interpreted. They tried another way.
Note the stress on the fact that there is only one true way in. Not for Jesus the idea that there are many ways, each as good as the other. He sees only one way of access and exit and that is Himself. And salvation is only found by response to the true Shepherd.
The Good Shepherd and the False Shepherds (John 10:1-18).
The way that the parable opens emphasises the fact that the parable is as much about the false shepherds as it is about the true. It is a studied warning against looking to false teachers and false leaders, although having said that it at the same time contrasts and highlights the true Shepherd.
“But he who enters in by the doorway is the shepherd of the sheep.”
In one sense John the Baptiser was a shepherd. The righteous prophets were also shepherds. There were undoubtedly others who were shepherds. They all used the door of God’s true word. But the good Shepherd now is Jesus Himself, the ultimate fulfilment of the proclamations of those prophets, the true Word. It is He Who points men to God through faith in Himself. It is He by Whom men can enter into the good pleasure of God. It is He by Whom those who are His own will live their lives, under His guidance, care and protection. He not only enters by the doorway, but is the doorway, the way supervised by God, the right way, the way that gives true freedom, the way true to the word of God, as against those who have to sneak in by other ways.
We should note here that even the Scriptures take a secondary place. They were important as pointing to Him. But as a result of His coming all secondary features fall into the background, even the Scriptures. Concentration is on Him. If anything brings out the uniqueness of Jesus it is this.
“To him the porter opens, and the sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.”
God, the Porter, opens the door for this Shepherd, for God is happy with Him and His work. But God does not open to everyone for they would be harmful to the sheep. He only at this time opens to the One Whose message is true and acceptable, and Whose life is the same. For among the sheep are His chosen ones and He will not allow them to be harmed.
(Some see the porter as, for example, John the Baptiser. But the idea is surely of One Who has sovereign, overall supervision of the door and day by day oversight over the flocks of Israel).
In a sense the picture is a sad one. God had set up the fold in order that He might bless and protect all Israel. But He is limited by the quality of the shepherds who have sneaked in by false routes, and by the failure of many of the sheep to respond to the true Shepherd because they are not His sheep.
We may ask, if God is the Porter how can there be such failure? The answer is that Jesus is describing the world as it was, as God’s world, and that this was precisely the situation that it was in.
But there is the positive side. The sheep Who have been given by the Father to Jesus are responding to Jesus’ call. Each of them is known to Him by name and He leads them out. Many Eastern shepherds worked in this way. Their sheep knew them and responded to their call. And they knew each of their sheep by name. And, because of their close relationship with their sheep, their sheep followed them like pets, they did not need to drive them from behind.
Here we learn of the infinitely loving relationship between Christ and those Whom He calls by name, those who respond to Him. Those, we learn elsewhere, who have been given to Him and drawn by the Father (John 6:37; John 6:39; John 6:44; John 10:29).
“When he has put forth all his own he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice.”
This is the test of which sheep are His. Once He has called them and put them forth from the fold they follow Him. And they can do so confidently, for as they go on the way, living their day by day lives, they know that He is constantly before them, watching over them and protecting them, leading the way. And they continually respond to Him for they know His voice. As He will say later in the chapter, ‘My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow Me --’.
Jesus probably had in mind here the prayer of Moses in Numbers 27:15-18. ‘Let the Lord, the God of the spirits of all flesh, appoint a man over the congregation, who may go out before them, and who may come in before them, and who may lead them out and who may bring them in, that the congregation of the LORD may not be like sheep which have no shepherd." And the Lord said to Moses, 'Take Joshua the son of Nun, a man in whom is the Spirit, and lay your hand on him”.’ It is not without significance that the name ‘Joshua’ is the Hebrew for ‘Jesus’. In the end Moses gives way to Jesus, of Whom Joshua was a type.
“And a stranger they will not follow, but will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers.”
This is a second test. These sheep who follow Jesus have within them a spirit of discernment so that they can discern the false from the true. They know, seemingly instinctively, through the Spirit, the right and the wrong way to go, for they follow the true Shepherd. The false shepherds might sneak into the fold and call them to follow, and they may sometimes become confused, but the confusion is never permanent. In the end they will escape from any who seek to lead them astray and will turn back to the Shepherd.
‘This mysterious saying Jesus spoke to them, but they did not understand what things they were that he spoke to them.”
The people did not have centuries of understanding behind them, and so they were puzzled. They did not know what He meant. We can understand this. The total uniqueness of Jesus had not yet dawned on them. They still thought in terms of the Law as expounded by the religious teachers. But that was Jesus’ point. Many of those teachers were simply ‘thieves and robbers’, stealing the truth from them.
‘Jesus therefore said to them again, “In very truth I tell you, I am the doorway of the sheep.”
He has made it plain that there is only one way in and out on the pathway of true life, the God-provided way. Now He expands on that way in and out, having His death in mind (John 10:15-18). Here we have the third of His great ‘I am’ sayings. ‘I am the doorway.’ See also John 10:9. He is the way in and out because He is the bread of life (John 6:35), because He is the light of life (John 8:12), and because He will lay down His life for the sheep. So the Shepherd is also the doorway.
And in the end He is the only way to the Father, the only true doorway. No man can come to the Father except by Him (John 14:6). There is no other name under Heaven given among men by which they can be saved (Acts 4:12).
This statement is lent added poignancy by the fact that often the shepherd did act as the actual door of the fold. At night he would lay across the entrance in order to prevent any encroachment by unwelcome visitors, whether animal or human, and often that door was torn by beasts or men as Jesus would be.
“All who came before me were thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not hear them.”
There have been false Messiahs and false teachers, under whatever guise, but they would not gain wide acceptance by the true people of God. The ‘all’ refers to those who in one way or another had taken advantage of the people’s expectations, pointing in the end to themselves rather than to God. Thus it refers to those who have sought to replace Him as a Saviour by propounding other ways of salvation, something that Abraham, Moses and the true prophets never did as He has previously made clear (John 5:39; John 5:46; John 8:56).
They included the Pharisees who pointed to another way of salvation through commitment to the covenant in a way which meant keeping the Law in accord with the dictates of the Rabbis; false Messiahs who periodically appeared, false prophets who pointed elsewhere to other than the true way, of which many are mentioned in the Old Testament (e.g. Jeremiah 50:6; Ezekiel 34:2-10; Zechariah 11:15-17); false priests who emphasised the ceremonies more than their meaning; or other religious figures of any kind who offered salvation apart from Christ.
They all entered the fold by a way other than the doorway, and they sought to lead out the sheep by another way than the doorway. And many sheep were deceived. But not His true sheep. His true sheep did not follow the false shepherds. For such false shepherds see Isaiah 56:9-12; Jeremiah 23:1-4; Jeremiah 25:32-38; Ezekiel 34:1-22; Zechariah 11:1-17. Once again we see Jesus bringing out His uniqueness. If these shepherds had been true shepherds they would now be pointing to and magnifying Jesus.
“I am the doorway. By me if any man enter in he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture.”
‘I am the doorway of the sheep’ (compare John 10:7). Jesus is both the good shepherd and the doorway. All who would come to the Father must do so through the doorway. And those who do come through Him will be saved. As mentioned very often this would be literally true of a Middle Eastern shepherd. Once his flock were safely in the sheepfold he would lie across the entrance acting as the protecting door and guarding the doorway. But he would not be the doorway and the main stress in Jesus’ illustration is on the doorway as being the only way in and out. That is here the crucial point. That doorway is on the way of holiness (Isaiah 35:8). and those who would walk on that road must use that doorway constantly. They must walk along it by following Jesus. There is no other name under Heaven given among men whereby we can be saved (Acts 4:12), although later He will refer to the shepherd as One Who acts as protector and gives his life for the sheep (v. 11). Indeed the way He describes it, ‘the doorway of the sheep’ rather than of the sheepfold, stresses the personal nature of His attentions. He is their doorway, their way in and out and their personal protector, their shepherd.
Those who respond to God, coming through Jesus Christ, will find a saving welcome. They will become acceptable to God through Him.
‘Go in and out and find pasture’ - once they have first entered through the doorway and now go in and out by it, they can freely enjoy the benefits and protection provided by their Shepherd. For Jesus is their doorway and their shepherd, their entry to God and their guidance on the way of holiness, as they walk among the waiting people of Israel. He is the bread of life and the water of life.
‘The thief does not come for any other reason but that he may steal and kill and destroy. I came that they might have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.”
The thief is now contrasted with the shepherd. The thief is pictured in terms of a thieving rustler or wild beast who breaks into the fold to ravage the sheep. The thief ‘comes only to steal, kill and destroy’ (compare Jeremiah 23:1-2). The men who are pictured in this description would not have thought of themselves in this way, but sadly this was the result of their behaviour. The way the Pharisees had treated the healed man, blind from birth, is one example of their depredations. He discerned between the different voices and followed the shepherd, and so they threw him out of their flock. But he was welcomed into Jesus’ flock.
And later when Jerusalem lay in ruins, the Temple was destroyed, and the people were scattered among the nations, they would have to acknowledge that what Jesus had warned would happen had come about. Great numbers of them had died in the conflict, they had been ravaged by their shepherds and had lost everything, and all they believed in had been destroyed.
But, says Jesus, ‘I have come that you might have life, and that you might have it more abundantly’ (v. 10). He is the Bread of life (John 6:35), the Water of life (John 4:13-14; John 7:37-38), the Light of life (John 8:12), now He is the sacrificial and life-giving Shepherd. To receive that life by full commitment to Him is to enter and be saved and to enjoy abundance of life.
“I am the good shepherd, the good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”
He is a good shepherd, efficient and trustworthy, in contrast to the bad shepherds. He does His job thoroughly, watches over His sheep constantly, has deep affection for them and in the end is ready to give His life for them. But He is also the good Shepherd because He is pleasing to the Father, to Whom true goodness alone is acceptable.
As we know, giving His life for the sheep is what in fact He did, but His listeners would not know that, although they would recognise the picture of One Who had deep concern for His sheep.
The claim to be the good shepherd is at the least a claim to Messiahship (Ezekiel 34:23; Ezekiel 37:24-28 compare Jeremiah 23:4) and to being God’s true Servant (see Psalms 23:1; Psalms 80:1; Isaiah 40:10-11). See also the opening comments above. The shepherd of Israel has come.
“He who is a hireling, and not a shepherd, whose own the sheep are not, sees the wolf coming, and leaves the sheep and flees. And the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hireling and does not care for the sheep.”
The way of the good shepherd is in contrast with the hired shepherd who is not known by the sheep, for the hireling is careless as to their welfare and flees when danger comes (v. 12). This is because the latter does not have any affection for the sheep (v. 13). They do not reject the shepherd, but to them there are more important things than Him and His sheep. Theirs is the way of self-seeking. Note that these hirelings do not seek to enter the fold. That is for the false shepherds. These are under-shepherds, supposedly to Jesus, who prove like Judas to put wealth and safety before loyalty. The way will never be easy. But note the point. The sheep must not look to the under-shepherds who may well fail, but to the true Shepherd Himself. Peter is nothing, Paul is nothing, Apollos is nothing, John is nothing. They are all but under-shepherds (see 1 Corinthians 3:5-7). It is Jesus Who is the Shepherd towards Whom all must look.
It is not for us to try to decide who is a hireling and who is a thieving wild beast, although the murderous element among the Pharisees, and the later persecutors were included in the latter. The pictures cover all who profess to speak in God’s name but fail to fulfil a true ministry, some because they reject the Way In, others because their hearts are self-seeking, really fixed on something else. There have been many such through history, and alas, there are many such today, often even revered as they tear the hearts out of the sheep.
“I am the good shepherd, and I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father, and I lay down my life for the sheep’.
The relationship between Jesus and His own is likened to His relationship with the Father, and nothing could be closer than that. What an incredible privilege that is. The idea is of an intimate, personal two-way relationship which cannot be broken. He knows them. They know Him. It is like the relationship between the Father and the Son, the deepest relationship of which it is possible to conceive.
Then He emphasised that He will indeed lay down His life for the sheep. Such was His love for them that for their safety and their deliverance He must suffer and die, although they did not yet take that in.
“And I have other sheep which are not of this fold, them also I must bring, and they will listen to my voice. And they will become one flock and one shepherd.”
Jesus here refers to the Gentile (non-Jewish, non-Samaritan) world, not, according to the Jews, included in many of the promises to them, although having a promise of secondary blessing through their ministration in the future. But Jesus sees the elect Gentiles as part of the one flock, and of equal importance. At this stage the shepherd has widened to include His disciples, for it is they who would mainly carry out this ministry. (In a similar way the Servant and the Son of Man were titles that referred both to Jesus and to the people of God). But it would, of course, be through the empowering of Jesus.
‘They will listen to my voice’ - this was a firm rebuke to those who should have listened and had not done so, as we have seen in earlier chapters. In contrast to them there would be those among the despised Gentiles who would be more fully responsive than those who should have heard.
‘Them also I must bring.’ It was a divine urge, a divine necessity. God’s love is for the world (John 3:16). The evangelisation of the Gentiles is here clearly in view, a ministry which Jesus Himself took up after His encounter with the Syro-phoenician woman..
‘And there will be one flock and one shepherd.’ In Christ there are no grades, all are one in Christ Jesus. Jew, Samaritan or Gentile, black, yellow or white, male or female, all are equal in His sight and are to be equal in each other’s sight (Galatians 3:28). Note that there is now one flock (but not initially one fold) under the One Shepherd. And once they are His all can enter into the fold which is Israel, while those in Israel who were false will have been destroyed by their false shepherds. There will be a new Israel comprising both Jew and Gentile, with the unfaithful of old Israel cast out (see Romans 11; Ephesians 2:11-22).
“This is why my Father loves me, because I lay down my life, in order that I might take it again ”
We are reminded here that the Father is equally as interested in and concerned about the sheep as Jesus is, and responds in full measure to His Son’s action in giving His life for the sheep. But note the affirmation that that will not be the end, for when He has died Jesus Himself will take back His life by resurrection. Thus, unlike in the natural world, the sheep will still have their sacrificing Shepherd to watch over them, and because He has risen they too will rise again at the last day. Note that here His death and resurrection are seen to be of His own doing. He is in total control of events.
“No one takes it away from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down, and power to take it again. This commandment I received of my Father.”
Now Jesus again makes clear that what was to happen was not finally in men’s hands but was in His own hands. ‘No one takes it from me, but I lay it down by my own decision and choice.’ And this was possible because He had the power and authority to do it.
Indeed ‘I have the power to lay it down, and I have the power to take it again.’ ‘Exousia’, translated ‘power’, has in fact a wider sense, for it includes the idea of freedom to do so, as well as the ability and power. It was totally under His control. He would lay His own life down, voluntarily and willingly. Then He would take it again. This was because He was Lord of life and death.
This brings out that through all that was to happen Jesus would retain full control. The Judaisers may have thought that they were in control. They may have plotted and schemed as they would. But He was not in their hands. Everything was in His own hands. He had the power to live or die as He chose, and if He died He had the power to raise Himself again.
‘This commandment I received of my Father.’ In all this He would be acting according to His Father’s will. It would not be easy, and at times He would long that He could withdraw (‘not my will, but yours be done’ (Mark 14:36)), but He would obey His Father by His own choice. And by His own power He would rise from the dead. Elsewhere we are told that God raised Him from the dead (Acts 2:24; 1 Corinthians 15:15; Ephesians 2:6) but here we learn it was by His own power. Of course there is no contradiction. When He raised Himself it was God Who was raising Him. The Godhead act as one.
We must not diminish this into signifying that Jesus could simply do these things because He was really obeying the One Who would bring about these things. A careful reading of the passage emphasises Jesus’ absolute confidence that the power and authority lay within Himself. Nevertheless He also wants it to be clear that in so acting on His own initiative He is in perfect conformity with the will of the Father.
Compare with this claim to lay down His life of Himself the statement that it was by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God (Acts 2:23). He and His Father were in fact so acting in union that His personal will was aligned with the determinate counsel of God, and the implication is that had He so willed it (Which, because of Who He was, was impossible) He could have refused to follow that determinate counsel. However, because they were One in all things (John 10:30) He would never do so. God always acts as One.
‘There arose a division among the Judaisers, because of these words. And many of them said, “He has a devil and is mad, why do you listen to him?”. Others said, “These are not the sayings of one possessed with a devil. Can a devil open the eyes of the blind?”
His suggestion that He had total control over His own destiny caused division between the Judaisers. The fact is often overlooked that they were not all against Jesus. Some were clearly almost convinced that He was from God. Others said, ‘He is demon-possessed and mad. Why listen to him?’ While still others said, ‘These are not the words of a demon-possessed man. Can a demon open the eyes of the blind’. The latter echoed their own officials, ‘no man ever spoke like this man’ (John 8:46). They were impressed both by His teaching and His actions, especially the opening of the eyes of the man blind from birth. The growth of belief among some of the Judaisers is an interesting and constantly emphasised aspect of John’s Gospel, but they were ever the minority.
‘And it was the feast of the Dedication at Jerusalem. It was winter.’
The feast of dedication was a winter festival and celebrated the rededication of the Temple in 165/4 BC by Judas Maccabaeus, after it had been desecrated by Antiochus Ephiphanes. The Jews saw it as an amazing act of God, carried out on their behalf, and such a time would be a time of great expectation as they hoped that He would again act on their behalf in bringing them political freedom. It would turn thoughts towards the coming of the Messiah.
‘It was winter.’ This comment is probably intended to be seen as significant (compare John 13:30). The summer days had passed and the chill of winter was on Jesus’ ministry. The mention of the Feast of Dedication may be intended to hint that there was about to be a new purifying of the Temple by its destruction and replacement with the new Temple of God, Jesus and His people.
The Feast of Dedication (John 10:22-42).
‘And Jesus was walking in the Temple, in Solomon’s porch. The Judaisers therefore came round about him and said to him, “How long will you take away our life? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly”.’
When the Judaisers found Jesus walking in the Temple area in Solomon’s collonade ( the detail confirming the memory of an eyewitness) they gathered round Him, saying ‘How long will you keep us in suspense?’ or, literally, ‘How long will you take away our life?’ The idea behind ‘taking away their lives’ is that He was withholding from them what was their very life, ‘the breath of our nostrils, the anointed of the Lord’ (Lamentations 4:20), that is, the opportunity of following the Messiah, bys keeping them in suspense. Their request was not genuine, they were trying to get Him to condemn Himself. It is significant that in fact it was the other way round. It was they who were seeking to take away His life. Yet in the end they were right, for it was true that they might in the end lose their very souls at His hands.
What their full intentions were we do not know. Perhaps there were some who were becoming convinced that He was a man sent from God of some kind or other, without actually committing themselves to Him. These were probably ready to commit themselves if He proved to be the kind of Messiah they were looking for, and demonstrated His status by acts of spectacular power. But there were others who inwardly hated Him and were seeking to bring about His downfall. These were trying to get Him to claim to be the Messiah and thus cause unrest to spring up among the people, a sure way to ensure He was arrested and put to death.
It is interesting that here these Judaisers confirm the fact of the ‘Messianic secret’, the fact that Jesus did not portray Himself openly under the name of ‘the Messiah’.
Possibly, in the excitement stirred up by the feast, if He had made the claim to be the Messiah firmly and clearly, some of them would have sided with Him against the Romans. There were, as we know, many who were impressed by Him. And others would follow other leaders who gave that impression to the death. But however that may be, way this was not what Jesus had come to do.
‘Jesus answered them, “I did tell you, but you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name, these bear witness of me’.
His reply is that they had neither listened to what He had been saying, nor rightly interpreted His amazing acts of power. All He had said and done had revealed Him as God’s Messiah (see Matthew 11:2-6). But they had refused to understand His words and His deeds because He was not the kind of Messiah they were looking for. They would possibly have followed Him if He had taken up the sword, but not when He healed men and opened the eyes of the blind, not when He called men to receive life and become transformed. Yet these were the works that He had come to do. They declared what kind of Messiah He was, as based on Isaiah 61:1. (While this did not specifically refer to the Messiah, Jesus happily applied to Himself all references to the coming of a future figure who would bring about God’s purposes as part of the Messianic expectations, for all pointed to Him).
“But you do not believe because you are not of my sheep. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them and they follow me. And I give to them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will be able to snatch them from my hand.”
Jesus then makes clear the position. What they needed to do was to forget their preconceptions and acknowledge Him as He was, and fall into line with His words. But He brings out that this they would not do because they were not of His sheep. They would not follow Him because they had not been given to Him by the Father (John 10:29; John 6:37; John 6:39). Of course the option was still open, but Jesus knew that they would only respond if they were one of His sheep, drawn by the voice of the Shepherd (John 10:4) and by the Father (John 6:44).
Those who were destined to be His would be revealed by their response and by their actions. They had an ear to hear. They had a will to obey. As His sheep they would be known to Him personally, and they would receive eternal life and listen to Him and obey Him. They would not fit Him into their own pattern, but would submit themselves to His will and purpose. And their reward would be that Jesus would give them eternal life and full certainty and security.
It is significant that right from the beginning Jesus makes clear that those who will be saved are the few (compare Matthew 7:13-14), those who follow Him. God’s interest was not in numbers but in quality. Glorying in numbers is a sign of ‘popular religion’.
But two dangers always face sheep. One is that they will wander off and become lost, and perish of starvation and cold, or at the hands of wild animals. The other is that, while the shepherd is not watching, wolves will snatch them away and devour them. But neither would be possible for His sheep, for He would keep them and watch over them constantly, and if necessary seek them until He found them (Luke 15:4). They would be totally secure in His hands.
It is interesting that Jesus likened His people to sheep. Sheep are helpless creatures, rarely aggressive apart from the rams, and unable to cope on their own. Thus does Jesus demonstrate the total dependence of His own on Himself as the shepherd. They are to be trustful and quiet, like sheep, while not failing in their responsibility to follow Him, even, if necessary, to a cross (Mark 8:34; Matthew 16:24).
“My Father who has given them to me is greater than all, and no one can snatch them from my Father’s hand’.
This security is made all the more certain because the One Who is Almighty, His Father, Who is ‘greater than all’, has given them to Him and watches over them. No onecansnatch them fromHishand. Those who are truly His and have been destined to receive life as a result of the Father’s choice and gift, are eternally secure. But their certainty lies in the fact that they are hearing His voice and following Him. On the one hand He keeps them safely, but on the other their lives reveal that they are being kept. If the latter is not so, the former must be questioned.
Once again we see here that the Father and the Son act in parallel. He is holding His sheep safely in His hand, and His Father is holding His sheep safely in His hand. The two act as One.
‘Greater than all.’ Whether Satan, the Roman authorities, the Jewish authorities, or whoever might attack His people. God is greater than all put together. (There are a number of minor variations in the ancient authorities on this verse but the general sense is clear).
“I and the Father are one.”
‘One’ is not in the masculine but in the neuter, thus indicating that He does not mean one person. He and His Father always act in perfect unity. They act as one in everything they do. Thus when He protects His sheep, so does His Father. When He saves them, so does His Father. All their acts are in synchronism. While the stress is on their unity of action, however, this very fact demonstrates His unique status. Who, who was not divine in essence, could so synchronise with the Father? For as He has already stressed, those who have seen Him have seen the Father (John 14:7-9).
‘The Judaisers carried stones to stone him.’
Some of the Judaisers did recognise what He meant and were inflamed. To then this was blasphemy! Whatever their motives at the beginning they now lost control, for they went over to a nearby pile of rocks and picked up rocks, carrying them over in order to stone Him. This was not, however, the way in which He ought to die, so He sought to calm the atmosphere.
Stones would be available in the Temple area because building works were still in process. The verb suggests they went across to where these were going on and brought the stones back with them. Or it is even possible that they already carried them ready for this moment which they had precipitated.
‘Jesus answered them, saying, “I have shown you many good works from the Father. For which of these do you stone me?” ’
Jesus answered their anger. His words were subtle and to the point. He drew attention to what they could not deny, the miracles He had publicly wrought which all men agreed were good and from God. They could not deny them, and yet these testified of Him. Let them consider what He had done. Had He done anything worthy of being stoned?
‘The Judaisers answered him, “We are not stoning you for any good work, but for blasphemy, and because you, being a mere man, claim to be God”.’
Modern men here argue about the Aramaic and the Greek in this passage as to whether Jesus was really claiming to be God, but these ancient scholarly men who knew and spoke the language fluently, and knew its nuances, had no doubts. They knew what He was saying. And according to their viewpoint they were right. But it was only because they had not listened to His words and considered His works and followed Him in full recognition of His status. They had failed to recognise the implications of His life and teaching. There is no question that here Jesus has made clear His unique position ‘on the divine side of reality’, and that it is something that they in fact at least have recognised. And had their hearts been right it would have led on to them acknowledging Him. But sadly their hearts were not right. They were full of their own preconceptions. Thus they missed the moment of truth.
Notice how easily they dismissed the works. All others marvelled at what He had done, but not these men. Their minds dismissed them almost before they happened. Jesus had done so many miracles that it had become almost commonplace. To them the theology of words was more important than the signs that revealed Who Jesus was. Their minds were fixed in the past and unchangeable. They could not believe that Moses could be superseded. They were tunnel-visioned.
However, His hour had not yet come so He challenged them to rethink their position.
‘Jesus answered them, “Is it not written in your Law, ‘I have said you are gods’? (Psalms 82:6). If he called them gods to whom the word of God came, and the Scripture cannot be broken, do you say of him whom the Father consecrated and sent into the world ‘you are blaspheming’ because I said I am the Son of God?’
We should note that ‘Law’ is here used in the wider sense of the Scriptures, God’s instruction. This was an accepted usage. The description ‘yourLaw’ brings out the great emphasis that they themselves placed on them. Jesus is emphasising that what He is arguing comes from their own Law, the Law that they claim to treasure so much. In the Psalm the phrase pictures God sitting among the judges of Israel, or their angelic representatives, calling on them to deal justly and protect the weak. Thus they were, as it were, seen as standing in the place of God, as ‘elohim’, heavenly representatives (compare how angels were called the ‘sons of the elohim’ in Genesis 6:2; Genesis 6:4; Job 1:6; Job 2:1; Job 38:7). They were the council of God, giving God’s verdict, speaking God’s words. They were, as it were, ‘gods’ for they acted in the name of God.
So even weak, mortal men (and the Psalm makes clear in John 10:7 that is what they were) could be called ‘gods’ (acting like ‘elohim’, a word sometimes also used of angels as the heavenly court) when they heard His word and acted and spoke in His name, because they were acting in unity with God and as the earthly counterpart of the heavenly court. Furthermore God was delivering His word through them. Now if the application of the term ‘god’ to such a person was not to be looked on as blasphemy, how could its application to the teacher and judge come from God?. Indeed it was Scriptural. (Jesus reinforced this by reminding them that by their own interpretation not a single passage of Scripture (he graphe) could be broken but must be held in its entirety).
Not that Jesus was not just comparing Himself with these men. He is revealing Himself as the One ‘whom the Father consecrated and sent into the world’. He is not just a man, even a man in authority, hearing God’s word and passing it on. He has been uniquely set apart by God and sent into the world to deliver God’s word. Indeed, as we know from John 1, HeisGod’s word. He is the Son of God, possibly a Messianic title but if so given deeper significance by Jesus. Thus He has even more right to have the term ‘god’ applied to Him. Why then do they accuse Him of blasphemy?
So the contrast between these judges and Jesus is apparent. The word came to them, but in contrast He IS the Word. The judges were selected from among the people and consecrated, but Jesus was uniquely prepared above and consecrated, and then sent. The judges were ‘sons of the Most High’ but He is the true Son of God, the ‘only-begotten’.
It is clear that Jesus was now seeking to stop their precipitate action by confusing them with words and making them think again. On the whole the time for reasoning with them was past. He had made clear the truth about Himself and they had rejected it. So let them go away and think over all He had said. Perhaps then they would see that He was in fact greater than the judges who receive God’s word and act in God’s Name, greater than the kings of Judah who stood in for God on earth. But that has been revealed in His teaching and His ‘works’, not by the application to Him of the term ‘God’. Yet He did not want them just to go away and say ‘Oh, he is just a man after all’ so He continued.
‘And the Scripture cannot be broken.’ Jesus argument only held if this was so. Thus He is confirming His own view that every word of Scripture is reliable and cannot be ‘broken’, that is, cannot be altered or changed or repudiated in any way. Thus does He confirm His own belief in the full plenary verbal inspiration of the word of God. (To suggest that He spoke ‘Ad hominem’ would be to accuse Him of deceit in order to obtain His purpose, for the whole of His argument depended on the truth of the statement).
‘If I am not doing the works of my Father, then do not believe me. But if I do do them, then believe the works even though you do not believe me, so that you may know and go on knowing that the Father is in me, and I am in the Father’.
Look at what I have done, He said, and think about it. Ask yourselves where I have received this power from, and why I am doing what no one else has ever done. Jesus knew all along that to blatantly claim to be God would be futile. He would have been ridiculed, arrested and stoned to death, or treated as a madman. First He had to demonstrate Who He was by His acts of power and His depth of teaching. Then He had to wait for it to dawn on them little by little.
So let them think again over all He had said and done. Then let them recognise that this could only mean one thing, that the Father was in Him and He was in the Father. That there is indeed an essential unity between Him and His Father which can be expressed in no other way. They are one. Thus having disarmed them by using their own exegetical methods, He now reaffirmed His uniqueness.
So He has declared, “I and my Father are one”, and that He was the One Whom His Father ‘sanctified (set apart for a holy purpose) and sent into the world’, and that the Father was in Him and He is in the Father, and that He had power to lay down His life and take it again. Had He not therefore done what they asked, revealing clearly that He was the Messiah, even if not the type they were wanting? And revealing even more, that He was the true Son of God.
‘Know and go on knowing.’ This is the aorist and present tense of ginosko - ‘that you may come to know and go on knowing’. However, in place of the latter the verb ‘and believe’ has fairly strong support in the manuscripts. The point, however, is the same. He wants their complete response.
His words have succeeded in their purpose. They have puzzled the Judaisers sufficiently for them to calm down a little. But that does not mean that they believed Him, for they once more tried to arrange for His arrest.
‘They sought again to take him and he went forth out of their hand.’
They did this by some of them leaving and arranging for Temple police to make the arrest, but once again He escaped them. While the crowds were with Him they would have a difficult time finalising any arrest without a riot. This was why they would later recognise that they could only do it in a lonely place late at night, in Gethsemane.
‘And he went away again beyond Jordan, into the place where John was at first baptising, and there he abode. And many came to him, and they said, “John, indeed, did no sign, but all things whatever John spoke of this man were true.” And many believed on him there.’
Meanwhile Jesus left Jerusalem and crossed the Jordan to where John had originally baptised Him and others, and there He remained. Perhaps He drew strength from thinking about His experience at that time, and the word that His Father spoke to Him then. Perhaps it was also in order to find the encouragement that came from having fellowship with believers, for John’s ministry had been powerfully effective.
‘And many came to him, for they said, ‘John performed no miracle, but everything that John said about this man was true’. The powerful testimony of John was bearing its fruit. Though most of the Judaisers would not listen, those whom the Father had given to Him would come to Him. And here were some of them. They were followers of John the Baptiser and their comment that John performed no miracle was due to their recognition that here there was a greater than John. He had been pointed to by John, and now He had proved Himself. Their belief was in contrast with the wavering of some of the Judaisers.
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Pett, Peter. "Commentary on John 10". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/
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