The Gospel of John is uniquely different from the Matthew, Mark and Luke. They tell the stories of Jesus often using parables, whereas John interprets Jesus’ teaching through lengthy reports. The opening verses of the gospel reveal that John wants to focus on distinct theological themes. There are no genealogies, no announcements to Jesus’ miraculous birth, as found in the other gospels. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning. 3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. 4 In him was life, and that life was the light of men. 5 The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it” (John 1:1-4). Throughout John’s Gospel there is the progressive revealing of the Son of God by contrasting such ideas as light and darkness, life and death, belief and unbelief, truth and falsehood, love and hate.
Another unique distinction of John’s Gospel is that of the absence of a “traditional” parable. While the other gospels record Jesus’ story-telling, John tends to use figures of speech to make his point. This is clearly found in John 10, where Jesus speaks of the Good Shepherd.
“I am” the Door
During Jesus’s ministry on earth, he said many things that challenged the people of his day. He often spoke in parables, or, as we will see in this passage of Scripture (John 10:1-21), using figures of speech. One of Jesus’ ways of teaching in John’s Gospel is that of the seven “I am” statements. Each statement gives us a glimpse into God’s character and what he’s like. The statements brought both challenge and encouragement to the listeners.
1. I am the bread of life
2. I am the light of the world
John 8:12; 9:5
3. I am the door of the sheep
4. I am the good shepherd
John 10:11, 14
5. I am the resurrection and the life
6. I am the way, the truth, and the life
7. I am the true vine
Throughout his Gospel, John reveals Jesus as the Son of God, the Messiah long promised by the prophets. In the “parable” of the Good Shepherd, Jesus contrasts good verses bad shepherds in relation to sheep. In context, the previous chapter relates to Jesus healing a man born blind and the subsequent effects on his life, his family and the Pharisees who investigate the healing. Jesus relates natural blindness to spiritual blindness and then tells this story – “I tell you the truth, the man who does not enter the sheep pen by the gate, but climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a robber. 2 The man who enters by the gate is the shepherd of his sheep. 3 The watchman opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4 When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. 5 But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger’s voice.” 6 Jesus used this figure of speech, but they did not understand what he was telling them (John 10:1–6). In a simple yet confronting way, Jesus shows the difference between himself and all those who claim to religious leadership in Israel. The Pharisees did not understand because they were spiritually blind. They knew all about sheep and shepherds, but they failed to see Jesus’ point. It was often this way with the parables Jesus told, but in this encounter, he took time to explain it to them.
Therefore Jesus said again, “I tell you the truth, I am the gate for the sheep. 8 All who ever came before me were thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. 9 I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. He will come in and go out, and find pasture. 10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:7-10). In Jesus’ day, many shepherds shared the same pasture and even drove their flocks together into a sheepfold at night. In the morning, each shepherd would stand at the open gate and call for his sheep. The flock would recognize his voice and follow him out.
Jesus stated that he was the gate for the sheep. There are shepherds who care for their sheep, but none of them can be the entrance into the family of God. When Jesus calls himself the door or gate for the sheep, he is identifying the not a “good way” (among many ways into heaven) but the only “God way” into God’s family. There is only one Good Shepherd and Jesus states this plainly in John 14:6, saying, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
Jesus came to care for the sheep and lead them back to God. He has compassion and concern for the sheep and wants to do what was best for them. The thief or the robber or the hired hand act in their own interest whereas the true shepherd acts in the best interests of the flock in mind. In other words, the religious leaders were profiting off the flocks of God rather that helping them to grow and reach maturity. On the other hand, Jesus did not come to gain advantage over their lives, but rather so that they may have a satisfied, fulfilling and abundant life (John 10:10).
“I am” the Good Shepherd
Shepherd was a term applied to spiritual leaders in the Old Testament. Prophets, priests and Kings were often evaluated on how they “shepherded” God’s people. Now, Jesus goes onto say that he is the Good Shepherd, who “lays his life down for the sheep” (John 10:11), which speaks of God’s plan for redemption. Jesus repeats this idea four times in his conversation with his disciples and the Pharisees. The laying down of life Jesus speaks about carries with it several ideas. Someone who sacrifices themselves for the betterment of the flock. Someone who pays the price. Someone who lays aside as in putting something off; it was Jesus who lay aside his heavenly reign for the sake of God and God’s people.
The shepherd who would die to save the sheep would remind the religious leaders about an Old Testament passage found in Isaiah 53:6 – “We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
each of us has turned to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.”
Every one of us has wandered away from our Creator and entered into a sinful lifestyle. It is only the Good Shepherd who can restore us into right relationship with God. God has desired to express his love for his sheep by rescuing those who neither deserve rescue nor have the ability to bring themselves to safety. We all need a Good Shepherd who can rescue, redeem and restore the flock of God.
We see in John 10:19-21 the religious leaders who were unable to control Jesus. There spiritual blindness leads them into division once again, after Jesus states “I am” the Door and the Good Shepherd. They wrestle with their thoughts as well as the fact of a man born blind was now fully healed. Some say Jesus is demon possessed while others question this idea. How could someone demon possessed heal the sick?
I see two main points of Jesus sharing the figure of speech using sheep and shepherds. Firstly, Jesus is the Door, the only door and the only life and the only truth that brings people into the flock of God. There is no other name under heaven by which men can be saved (Acts 4:12). This truth weeded out all the religious leaders and competition among them vying for authority and control of the people of God in Israel. Secondly, Jesus is the Good Shepherd who truly knows his sheep and would fully die for them that they might live a new life in the Spirit. The intention of the Good Shepherd is love, he desires that his people would live and be fully satisfied in this world. There will be challenges for sure but the Good Shepherd’s longing is for us to experience an abundant life. What would this mean for a sheep under the shepherd’s care? Provision, protection, safety, affection, health, comfort. When we put this into a human context these aspects are to become a blessed experience. The abundant life is not just a theory or good idea but something that is to be the norm of Christian experience.
If there is someone who doesn’t know Jesus as the Door or the Good Shepherd, today is a great day to come into and under God’s care. The best decision I ever made was to respond to the Good Shepherd’s love and care for my life.
My second thought for the application is this. The abundant life made available to the believer is something to be enjoyed. There are the basics of food, clothing and shelter that make up life in a modest sense. But there is also an aspect of abundant and fulfilled living as a believer. This is not a message just of financial prosperity, but of enjoying life beyond the nitty-gritties. House verse home thinking and experience. It is important to fill our lives with the goodness of the Good Shepherd. Find out what you enjoy in life and then go for it, not as an idol but in pursuing God. He is a good Father who delights in his children and desires us to know his paths of righteousness and joy.
So whatever is in the way of the abundant life in Jesus, let’s lay it aside and remember that Jesus lay aside his own life that we might experience life to the fullest.