‘Very truly I tell you Pharisees, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate, but climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a robber. The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. John 10:1-4 (NIV)
In John 10 we have an account of a discussion Jesus had with the Pharisees. To our ears it seems obvious what Jesus was claiming about himself, yet we are told that the Pharisees did not understand him.
In the first part of John 10 Jesus talks of himself as ‘gate’ and as ‘good shepherd’.
Therefore Jesus said again, ‘Very truly I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. … I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out, and find pasture. John 10:7, 9 (NIV)
The gate serves two functions – to allow the sheep to enter the sheepfold and also to keep the sheep safe once they are in the sheepfold. Jesus is claiming not just to be the way to God, but additionally that he provides protection to those who are in him.
I’ve often wondered why Jesus used the term ‘good shepherd’, rather than just ‘shepherd’. Perhaps in a similar way as the term ‘good Samaritan’ is used to describe the actions of a Samaritan which challenged Jewish understanding of what could be expected of a Samaritan, so the term ‘good shepherd’ is being used to describe the attributes of someone who was not a typical shepherd. This is hinted at in verse 12 where the hired hand is mentioned – someone who has no personal stake in the ownership of the sheep, so is quick to desert them in times of danger.
In verses 11 and 14 of John 10, Jesus states that he lays down his life for the sheep and in verse 14 he states that he knows his sheep and his sheep know him. Jesus is not claiming to die just because he is the shepherd, but because he has a personal interest in each and every one of his sheep.
‘I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. John 10:11 (NIV)
‘I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me – John 10:14 (NIV)
Thinking about yourself as a sheep may create in your mind an incorrect picture. Sheep are not renowned for being the most intelligent animals on the planet. Jesus’ language in John 10 is not there to make us concentrate upon the sheep part of the analogy, but on the ‘good shepherd’ imagery and what it means.
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