Introduction to Chapter 10
It’s important that we understand that this chapter’s dialogue flows directly on the heals of the encounters and dialogue Christ has in chapter nine. He has just healed a man born blind, and He is addressing the Pharisees and religious leaders of the day. These men scorned Him, and also threw the healed man out of the temple for his affiliation with Christ.
D.A. Carson comments, “The thematic break between ch. 9 and ch. 10 is not as radical as first appears. The healed man has been roughly treated by the religious authorities, and thrown out of the synagogue. What John next writes, then, is that many thieves and robbers destroy the sheep, while the good shepherd leads his own out from the sheep pen and into his own flock.”
10:1-5 “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.  But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep.  To him the gatekeeper opens. The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.  When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice.  A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers.”
Jesus is saying that He is the shepherd and we are the sheep.
Philip Keller, who is an expert shepherd and student of all things sheep, says this about the way a sheep responds to his master’s call:
The relationship which rapidly develops between a shepherd and the sheep under his care is to a definite degree dependent upon the use of the shepherd’s voice. Sheep quickly become accustomed to their owner’s particular voice. They are acquainted with its unique tone. They knew its peculiar sounds and inflections. They can distinguish it from that of any other person.
But there is a third party involved: thieves/robbers. Carson comments on how Ezekiel 34’s backdrop helps us understand this passage, “the thieves and robbers are the religious leaders who are more interested in fleecing the sheep than in guiding, nurturing, and guarding them. The are the leaders of ch. 9, who should have had ears to heard Jesus’ claims and recognize him as the revelation from God, but who instead belittle and expel the sheep.”
In the ancient near east, sheep were not herded as they are today. Today we use other animals like dogs to heard them into the general direction they are to go. But during the time of Christ, sheep followed the shepherd walking behind him wherever he called them. R.C. Sproul notes that if one went astray, the shepherd would simply call out to that sheep and get its attention. The sheep would recognize the voice of its owner and pop back into line.
10:6 This figure of speech Jesus used with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them.
How ironic that they didn’t understand His voice…
10:7-9 So Jesus again said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep.  All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them.  I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture.
First, we see Christ laying forth another “I AM” statement. This one is based around exclusivity. He is saying He is the door to the sheepfold. In this analogy, heaven is the sheepfold, and Christ is the only way into that heaven. This is similar to when He would later claim to be the way the truth and the life and that no one comes to the Father except “by me” (John 14).
Another thing that struck me here was Jesus’ words “he will be saved” tied closely with “go in and out and find pasture.” Salvation is tied immediately with blessing. This He follows up with in verse 16.
Obviously when Christ says they will “go in and out” He is not saying the sheep looses his salvation by going in and out, for not only would that torture the metaphor, it would also contradict His own clear teaching on the matter in other places.
But what is so wonderful about this is the peace and provision that a green pasture provides. Christ our true and good shepherd takes care of us. He cares for us, and has compassion on us. He calls us by our names, He knows us intimately!
Carson’s comments are helpful:
That he calls his own sheep presupposes that several flocks are in the fold; the shepherd calls out this own. Near-Eastern shepherds have been known to stand at different spots outside the enclosure and sound out their own peculiar calls, their own sheep responding and gathering around their shepherd. This shepherd goes further: he calls his own sheep by name, which at the least means that he calls them individually.”
Certainly even in Scripture we aren’t unfamiliar with this intimacy, for God has shown it before in the Old Testament. He said through Isaiah, “But now thus says the LORD, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine” (Is. 43:1).
The whole purpose for our calling as His sheep is to be a special possession, a treasure for Him and also a light to the nations. This is a theme found in both the Abramatic Covenant and the Mosaic covenant (Deut. 7:6) and is fulfilled in the New Covenant Church. Listen to what Peter says:
But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. (1 Peter 2:9)
10:10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.
Again the contrast between the thief and the shepherd. Here Christ contrasts not His position, or the reaction of the sheep, but rather what the end game is: death or life. But He doesn’t simply stop at death and life; He says that He came to give us abundant life. MacArthur comments that this “describes something that goes far beyond what is necessary. The matchless gift of eternal life exceeds all expectation.”
It reminded me of Jesus’ discussion with the woman at the well in chapter four where He said:
…but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life. (John 4:14 ESV)
In past notes, I have made a point of citing this John 10:10 reference because I think it is such an important verse. Even from the beginning of Christ’s ministry at the feast at Canaan, He demonstrated that what He came to give was abundant. He was never stingy. He gave more wine than necessary (John 2:6-7), He gave more food than necessary (John 6:13), and He gives more life than we ever expected – more than we deserve.
10:11-13 I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.  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.  He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.
Characteristics of Sheep
In a sermon on Psalm 23, C.H. Spurgeon said that sheep are both “dependent” and “foolish” creatures. We as Christians must come to a place where we understand our foolishness apart from the wisdom of God, and feel that true dependence on our great Shepherd is the only way to approach a successful Christian life.
This is something that King David felt acutely. Even though he himself was a great king and the shepherd of his people, he also knew that in the eyes of the Lord he was merely a sheep in the Lord’s pasture – and he was okay with that because he trusted the Lord’s provision and care for him and his nation. Matthew Henry notes that David and Jacob both knew what it was like to guard a flock. Listen to just a few of the ways David talks about the God as the shepherd of Israel:
The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. (Psalm 23:1 ESV)
You led your people like a flock by the hand of Moses and Aaron. (Psalm 77:20 ESV)
Then he led out his people like sheepand guided them in the wilderness like a flock. (Psalm 78:52 ESV)
But we your people, the sheep of your pasture, will give thanks to you forever; from generation to generation we will recount your praise. (Psalm 79:13 ESV)
Sheep are some of the most unwise creatures. They need a lot of help to subsist day to day, and without the help of the shepherd they would be lost. In fact, without the shepherd they wouldn’t even know they were lost. They would wander and wander. Spurgeon comments, “Left to itself, it would not know in what pasture to feed in the summer, or wither to retire in winter.”
All of this, of course, leads us to ask the question Spurgeon asked his audience: do we perceive the necessity for our dependence on God? If not, it is likely that we are puffed up and prideful. This pride is antithetical to a right relationship with God.
This text also teaches us that Christ knows His sheep. He knows us so intimately that he calls us by name. Not simply do we hear the voice of our Shepherd, but we hear Him calling OUR name! This is why Jesus calls Himself the “good” shepherd. He isn’t simply “a” good shepherd, but “THE” good Shepherd because he knows us intimately and addresses us by our names.
Hirelings…Who Are These Guys?
I’m not sure this is the most important part of this analogy, but the hireling could be depicting several people. It could depict the lesser, more lazy stand-in shepherds who are idle with their flocks (as Matthew Henry notes), or it could have less of a negative connotation and mean those who are put in place by the shepherd to lead the sheep while He is away. Sproul contends for the later, saying, in short, we who are teachers and pastors and leaders of the flock are the “hirelings.” We are not the shepherd, only Christ is the shepherd of His flock. But those who are in leadership positions over us are here by His good purpose and direction. There is nothing dishonorable in being a hireling, but as we can see, the hireling has a hard time keeping the best interests of the flock in mind when a bear or a wolf comes calling. We naturally want to fend for ourselves. Again, I don’t think that this is a major theme in this analogy, but I wanted to address it nonetheless.
Christ the Good Shepherd and Greater Son of David
When Christ says he’s the “good Shepherd” he’s using the Greek word kalos, and as MacArthur says, it “refers to His noble character.” One of the most notable characteristics of a good shepherd is the fact that he is willing to lay down his life to save the sheep. This isn’t something that a hireling is willing to do because the hireling cares about his wages, whereas the shepherd cares about the sheep.
It’s an amazing thought that we have a God who is not only willing to commune with us, to let us know Him, to interject Himself in our lives to bless and keep us safe, but we have a God who is willing to Himself suffer humiliation and death on our behalf. That is quite and amazing love.
Ezekiel foretold the coming of a shepherd who would be greater than all shepherds of Israel in his striking prophecy in chapter 34 of the book that bears his name. Listen to what he says about the coming of the Good Shepherd:
 “For thus says the Lord GOD: Behold, I, I myself will search for my sheep and will seek them out.  As a shepherd seeks out his flock when he is among his sheep that have been scattered, so will I seek out my sheep, and I will rescue them from all places where they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness.  And I will bring them out from the peoples and gather them from the countries, and will bring them into their own land. And I will feed them on the mountains of Israel, by the ravines, and in all the inhabited places of the country.  I will feed them with good pasture, and on the mountain heights of Israel shall be their grazing land. There they shall lie down in good grazing land, and on rich pasture they shall feed on the mountains of Israel.  I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I myself will make them lie down, declares the Lord GOD.  I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, and the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them in justice.
 “As for you, my flock, thus says the Lord GOD: Behold, I judge between sheep and sheep, between rams and male goats.  Is it not enough for you to feed on the good pasture, that you must tread down with your feet the rest of your pasture; and to drink of clear water, that you must muddy the rest of the water with your feet?  And must my sheep eat what you have trodden with your feet, and drink what you have muddied with your feet?
 “Therefore, thus says the Lord GOD to them: Behold, I, I myself will judge between the fat sheep and the lean sheep.  Because you push with side and shoulder, and thrust at all the weak with your horns, till you have scattered them abroad,  I will rescue my flock; they shall no longer be a prey. And I will judge between sheep and sheep.  And I will set up over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he shall feed them: he shall feed them and be their shepherd.  And I, the LORD, will be their God, and my servant David shall be prince among them. I am the LORD; I have spoken.
“I will make with them a covenant of peace and banish wild beasts from the land, so that they may dwell securely in the wilderness and sleep in the woods.  And I will make them and the places all around my hill a blessing, and I will send down the showers in their season; they shall be showers of blessing.  And the trees of the field shall yield their fruit, and the earth shall yield its increase, and they shall be secure in their land. And they shall know that I am the LORD, when I break the bars of their yoke, and deliver them from the hand of those who enslaved them.  They shall no more be a prey to the nations, nor shall the beasts of the land devour them. They shall dwell securely, and none shall make them afraid.  And I will provide for them renowned plantations so that they shall no more be consumed with hunger in the land, and no longer suffer the reproach of the nations.  And they shall know that I am the LORD their God with them, and that they, the house of Israel, are my people, declares the Lord GOD.  And you are my sheep, human sheep of my pasture, and I am your God, declares the Lord GOD.” (Ezekiel 34:11-31 ESV)
This striking passage portrays God a great Shepherd over His people – a Shepherd who “will seek the lost” and who will “bring back the strayed.” Further He promises to “strengthen the weak” and “bind up the injured.”
Does this not fit will with Christ’s mission to “seek and save that which is lost”? Ezekiel says God “will rescue my flock; they shall no longer be a prey.”
Furthermore, look at the fulfillment of Christ as the coming better fulfillment of David. Ezekiel speaks for God saying, “I will set up over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he shall fee them: he shall feed them and be their shepherd. And I, the Lord, will be their God, and my servant David shall be prince among them.”
The next thing He goes on to say is that along with this new and better shepherd comes a new and better covenant. God says, “I will make with them a covenant of peace and banish wild beasts from the land, so that they may dwell securely in the wilderness and sleep in the woods.”
He goes on to say He will break the bars of the yoke of slavery for His people. This is just an awesome prophecy of the amazing work of Christ as a great Shepherd, and as the greater fulfillment of David.
Separating Sheep from Sheep…
Lastly, Another thing that makes this passage pop so well is not only the character of God and His mission of compassion and love for His people, but also his saving them from the false religious leaders of both Ezekiel’s day, and Christ’s day – we saw earlier that those who do not enter by the door of the sheepfold were robbers or mischief makers. These people want to devour, and plunder the sheep and care only for themselves. Ezekiel has this to say about such people, “I judge between sheep and sheep, between rams and male goats. Its it not enough for you to feed on the good pasture, that you must tread down with your feet the rest of your pasture; and to drink of clear water, that you must muddy the rest of the water with your feed?”
This distinguishing between “sheep and sheep” is directly related to what Christ says next…