I write the following statement knowing that it is overly general and could and should be said about the entirety of scripture…but…
John 10 provides rich theological and devotional thought concerning the nature and mission of Jesus Christ. These verses provide deep water for us as we swim in the implications and the personal application of these verses.
John 10 contains some of the most well known self-references of Jesus. The door of the sheep. The good shepherd. I and the Father are one.
Let’s dive in.
One note on context. John 10, for the most part, should be considered a continuation from chapter 9. We see this in verse 21 where some ask, “These are not the words of one who is oppressed by a demon. Can a demon open the eyes of the blind?” The location for the rest of chapter 10 does change in verse 22.
The Door (10.1-10)
10 “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door but climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber. 2 But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. 3 To him the gatekeeper opens. The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4 When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. 5 A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers.” 6 This figure of speech Jesus used with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them. 7 So Jesus again said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. 8 All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. 9 I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture. 10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.
In verses 1-10, Jesus uses an agricultural picture to contrast the blessings and care he provides for those who follow him with the current religious majority.
5 distinguishing marks of the true shepherd instead of the false shepherds:
- He is appointed by the Father (1-2). He enters by the door, He does not “climb in by another way”. Jesus is appointed by the Father, not self-appointed like the false shepherds.
- The sheep listen to his voice (3). The blind beggar said, “Lord, I believe”. “All that the Father gives me will come to me” (John 6.37). His followers know him.
- He calls his own sheep by name (3). Not only is Jesus known by his followers, but he knows them as well. It is still common practice for shepherds to name their individual sheep by some trait or characteristic.
- The true shepherds provide loving guidance. He “leads them out”. His guidance provides abundant life (10). See Psalm 1; 23. Following Jesus means following a shepherd, not a list of rules.
- His sheep follow him (4). Jesus’ authority is recognized by his followers and they live their lives accordingly.*
3 blessings Jesus brings to his flock:
- Salvation – “If anyone enters by me, he will be saved” (9). Note: This is described repeatedly as “knowing” (4, 5, 14).
- Security and nurture – “he goes before them” (4), they will “go in and out and find pasture” (9). “I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand” (28).
- New life in God’s Kingdom. “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly” (10). The proper understanding of verse 10 should be seen as synonymous with 28.
An exegetical note on 10.10: When this verse is generally quoted, “the thief” is generally referred to as Satan. However, context tells us this is not the case. In these verses, Jesus is comparing the authenticity of his ministry with the religious establishment, a theme continued from chapter 9.
The Good Shepherd (10.11-21)
11 I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.12 He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. 13 He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. 14 I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.17 For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again.18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.” 19 There was again a division among the Jews because of these words. 20 Many of them said, “He has a demon, and is insane; why listen to him?” 21 Others said, “These are not the words of one who is oppressed by a demon. Can a demon open the eyes of the blind?”
In verses 11-15, Jesus speaks specifically on how these blessings are obtained. “The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (11). He does this because of his immense love for his sheep (13) and they belong to him (14). In contrast to a hired hand, who would not place his life in danger for those who are not his, Jesus loves his sheep sacrificially.
- Jesus authentically knows and loves his sheep.
- Eternal life is earned for us by Jesus’ death. Theologically referred to as substitutionary atonement. We are saved by Jesus’ perfect life, not our perfect faith.
- Jesus has all authority. “I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again” (18).
An exegetical note on 10.16: Mormons (LDS) have long used this verse to support their belief that Jesus, after his ministry in Palestine, appeared to the Native Americans in the continental United States to teach and minister to them (You may remember their commercials in the 80’s and 90’s. This is a massive stretch of the imagination and is completely out of context. Compare the end of this verse, “So there will be one flock, one shepherd.” with Peter’s argument during the Jerusalem Council, “And after there had been much debate, Peter stood up and said to them, “Brothers, you know that in the early days God made a choice among you, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe. And God, who knows the heart, bore witness to them, by giving them the Holy Spirit just as he did to us, and he made no distinction between us and them, having cleansed their hearts by faith.” (Acts15.7-9). Or, some of Paul’s writings; “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek” (Rom. 1.16). And again in Ephesians 2.11-22.
11 Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands— 12 remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14 For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility 15 by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, 16 and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. 17 And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. 18 For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. 19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, 21 in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. 22 In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.
Understanding verse 16 as a reference including Gentiles is the sole biblical interpretation for this verse.
The Shepherd Eternally Secures The Sheep (10.22-30)
22 At that time the Feast of Dedication took place at Jerusalem. It was winter, 23 and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the colonnade of Solomon. 24 So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.”25 Jesus answered them, “I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name bear witness about me, 26 but you do not believe because you are not among my sheep. 27 My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. 30 I and the Father are one.”
Verse 24. We see this line of questioning from the religious leaders repeated often in the narrative of John. John’s identification of them as “Jews” lets us know that this question is not asked because they seek him honestly.
“You do not believe.” – Why? Jesus answers this question in verses 26-27. See also Jesus’ teaching in John 6. They do not believe, because they do not belong. If they did, they would listen and follow.
2 Simple marks of a true disciple that have major implications:
“I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand” (28) –
- Eternal life is given, not earned.
- Eternal life = no death. (6.51, 58; 8.51, 52; 11.26)
- Eternal life is secure. Jesus, as the good shepherd, does not lose a single sheep.
QUES: Why do we have eternal security according to John 10?
- We are known by God (27).
- Salvation is initiated by God (29).
- The omnipotence of God (29).
- The substitutionary sacrifice of Christ (11).
An exegetical note on 10.30. “So responsive is the Son to the Father that he is one in mind, one in purpose, one in action with him.” – F.F. Bruce, The Gospel of John. p. 233. The Father and Son both share the same responsibility and desire to protect the sheep. This verse has great divine implications regarding Jesus’ nature and the Jews respond to this ‘blasphemy’ with intentions to stone him.
Jesus Does The Works Of His Father (10.31-42)
31 The Jews picked up stones again to stone him. 32 Jesus answered them, “I have shown you many good works from the Father; for which of them are you going to stone me?” 33 The Jews answered him, “It is not for a good work that we are going to stone you but for blasphemy, because you, being a man, make yourself God.” 34 Jesus answered them, “Is it not written in your Law, ‘I said, you are gods’? 35 If he called them gods to whom the word of God came—and Scripture cannot be broken— 36 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’? 37 If I am not doing the works of my Father, then do not believe me; 38 but if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me and I am in the Father.” 39 Again they sought to arrest him, but he escaped from their hands. 40 He went away again across the Jordan to the place where John had been baptizing at first, and there he remained. 41 And many came to him. And they said, “John did no sign, but everything that John said about this man was true.” 42 And many believed in him there.
“because you, being a man, make yourself God.” – This statement shows the Jews unbelief and their misunderstanding of Jesus’ nature. Jesus didn’t have to “make” himself God, his works simply displayed his true nature. He wasn’t becoming a God. He is God. Jesus’ claim to be one with the Father took away any separation between the Creator and the created. The Jews monotheism, would not allow for two Gods.
Jesus responds by arguing that if scripture has already referred to people as gods, it would also not be a compromise for God to reveal himself as the Son now. Evidence of this argument can be seen in Psalm 82. “Since the receiving of the Word of God through the prophets was sufficient to ennoble the recipients to the rank of ‘sons of God’, how much more appropriately is that title referred to him who is ‘the Word of God’ in the flesh…if it referred to mere men in the Old Testament period, it can hardly be thought too exhausted a title for him.” – Bruce Milne, The Gospel of John. p. 155.
“And many believed in him there.” – The chapter concludes with a reminder of the division between those who believed and those who did not.
*Bruce Milne, The Message of John. p. 146-7.