10 “Very truly I tell you Pharisees, anyone 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 one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep.3 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. 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 the Pharisees did not understand what he was telling them.
7 Therefore Jesus said again, “Very truly I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. 8 All who have come before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep have not listened to them. 9 I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. They 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 10:1-10 NIV)
As far as we know, John is recording the continuation of the discussion between Jesus and the Pharisees from the end of chapter 9.
Jesus starts this topic with His trademark wake-up call (“Very truly I tell you” [NIV] / “Verily, verily, I say unto you” [KJV]), which He also uses again in verse 7. The formerly blind man is no longer in the picture, and Jesus is laser focused on the Pharisees (verse 1).
In today’s passage, Jesus reveals who He is as well as His role the Father has given Him while He is here on earth. Jesus explains everything once (verses 1 – 5). John tells us in verse 6 that the Pharisees don’t understand, so Jesus tries again in verses 7 – 10.
A little background at this point might be helpful. The Pharisees saw themselves as the “pastors” to the Jewish people, the keepers of the Scriptures. The Pharisees were in the minority of the mainstream Jewish population (the Sadducees were the majority of the populace). There were other splinter groups and factions like the Zealots and the Essenes, but they all tended to live apart from the general populace.
As self-proclaimed “pastors” to the Jewish people, the Pharisees fancied themselves as guardians of the truth of Scriptures. Since they believed they were correct in their observance of God’s Laws, they became self-appointed judges of everyone and everything in everyday life. They even added many oral traditions to God’s Law to stay well within the boundaries of obedience.
Jesus honored and obeyed God’s Law but completely disregarded all the Pharisees’ oral traditions because those oral traditions violated God’s Laws and character. From chapter 9 we know that the Pharisees had put a ban on anyone following Jesus. Jesus is telling the Pharisees here that the roles are reversed – Jesus is the true shepherd, and the Pharisees are the ones who are the imposters.
By way of application, notice that Jesus uses the relationship between the shepherd and the sheep as the basis of obedience. The Pharisees used fear as their primary motivator; we saw in chapter 9 how well that worked, as the blind man’s parents disavowed any relationship with their son over his healing because Jesus was involved. In verse 5, Jesus points out that the stranger creates chaos rather than community, as the sheep will run away in fear. Jesus was there to create a sense of spiritual community, where He invited anyone who would listen to join Him in fellowship with the Trinity.
One other point of understanding to help with today’s passage is the description of the sheep pen. The sheep pen consisted of a stacked stone wall structure with a single gap wide enough for a sheep to fit through. After the sheep were inside the structure, the shepherd would sleep in the doorway, acting as the “gate” to keep the sheep in and the predators out. The shepherds managed their flocks through relationship, not through control.
In verses 9 – 10, Jesus once again offers eternal life, protection, and provision for those who will follow Him. May we recognize the Shepherd’s voice and follow Him in obedience. In our relationship with Him, may we experience the fullness of relationship with Almighty God in this life as well as the promise of the next.