Drawing from the parable The Shepherd of the Sheep, John 10:1-6, Jesus develops two images found in the parable and ascribes them to himself; Jesus is the gate for the sheep and the shepherd of the sheep. "When Jesus brings us to the Father he calls himself a Door, when he takes care of us, a Shepherd", Chrysostom.
v7-8. Jesus is the gate of the sheep. This is the first image from the parable which Jesus applies to himself. The vast majority of the religious leaders, who claimed the right to care for the people of Israel, were frauds. Like the man born blind in chapter 9, God's faithful people have tended not to listen to them.
v9-10. Jesus continues with the illustration that he is like a gate; the sheep who pass by him will find abundant pasture, an "overflowing life" - Jesus is the way to eternal life.
v11-13. Jesus is also the good shepherd. This is the second image from the parable that Jesus applies to himself. He is the genuine shepherd of the sheep, the real article. A hired laborer, someone who is concerned for their own welfare rather than the welfare of the sheep, is not going to put their life at risk if the sheep are attacked by wild dogs. On the other hand, the shepherd of the sheep is a person who cares for the sheep. As a shepherd cares for his sheep so Jesus cares for God's children; he cares for our eternal salvation. Not only does he risk his life, but he will actually give it to save his sheep.
v14-15. Developing further the image of Jesus as the good shepherd, Jesus makes the point that there exists a reciprocal intimate acquaintance between the shepherd and his sheep, a "knowing" that is similar to the "knowing" between the Father and the Son. This "knowing", this mutual bond, was evident in his dealings with the man born blind, cf., John chapter 9. Jesus will sacrifice his life to establish and maintain this bond.
v16. Jesus says that he has other sheep who are not of the house of Israel. Obviously, he is alluding to his potential Gentile followers, those "not of this sheep pen." These sheep of another fold will, like the man born blind, hear of Christ and respond in faith. The consequence of this will be a single flock out of diverse humanity, a flock under one shepherd. It is very unlikely that Jesus is thinking of an organizational unity, one particular Christian denomination, rather, Jesus is speaking of a heavenly unity which expresses itself in a brotherhood that stands above denominational affiliation.
v17-18. Returning again to the image of the shepherd who willingly sacrifices his life for his sheep, Jesus makes two points about his death. First, it is the supreme expression of the mutual love that exists between the Father and the Son, a love which reaches out to broken humanity. Second, there is an integral link between the death of Jesus and the resurrection of Jesus; Jesus lays his life down, and as a consequence, takes it up again. The gospel is not just a message concerning a cross, but a cross and an empty tomb.
The central point that Jesus makes in this discourse, a discourse based on the sign of the healing of the man born blind, is that "the sheep follow him because they know his voice", 10:4. "I know my own and my own know me", 10:14. The religious authorities tried to brow-beat the man who had received his sight at the hand of Jesus, but he stayed true to Jesus, ultimately believing in him. As Jesus put it, "I came into this world ... so that those who do not see may see ..."
In this passage we learn that Jesus' sheep are those who hear the voice of the shepherd and follow him. It's very easy to import theological niceties into what is a very simple idea. A person who hears the gospel and responds to it, is a person who belongs to Jesus. There are many so-called "hired hands" to follow, other gods, secular and religious, all claiming our attention, but if, like the man born blind, we look to Jesus and say, "I believe", then we are one of his sheep. Whether we are from the fold of Israel, or, as is usually the case, a non Jew, faith selects us as one of Christ's own.
What then of the "pasture" that is ours through Jesus, this "life" that is ours "abundantly"? Jesus doesn't explain exactly what he means, but when he speaks of the gift of life it is certainly not health, wealth and happiness. Abundant life is eternal life, an eternal being in the presence of God; real existence, not the shadows of this age. Jesus is like a door; he is the way into eternity
How does Jesus gain this good pasture for his sheep? Jesus is quite explicit: he lays down his life, gives it up, sacrifices it, in order to take it up again. That is, eternal life is ours as a gift through faith in Christ who died and rose on our behalf. By the cross and the empty tomb we rise to new life in Christ. Jesus is the good shepherd; he is the genuine article. Jesus cares for his sheep, unlike the hired hand who runs away at the first sign of danger.
Finally, why does Jesus bother? Jesus tells us that it all comes down to love, a mutual caring compassion that bonds the Father with the Son and which flows outward toward broken humanity.
Jesus is the door to the presence of God and the shepherd who guides us there.
1. What truths about himself does Jesus seek to convey in the images of "the door" and "the good shepherd"?
2. How does a person get to be one of Jesus' sheep?
3. What important theological truth is contained in the text "I lay down my life - only to take it up again"?