Jesus now puts the events of chapter 9 into perspective by contrasting himself, the Good Shepherd, with the Pharisees, whom he identifies with the evil shepherds of Ezekiel 34. "The `Pharisees' have expelled from God's flock the man whom Christ Himself enlightened. They are scattering the sheep whom Christ came to gather" (Dodd 1953:359). In this way, Jesus' estrangement from official Judaism is further developed as he calls into being a people who follow him rather than the leaders of Israel.
In these passages God shepherds through his designated leaders. Jesus is claiming such a role for himself, but in a way unlike anything seen before. He has made clear claims to divinity and messiahship, which will be repeated shortly (Jn 10:22-39). So when he claims to be the shepherd he is claiming that Messiah has come and in him God himself has come to shepherd his people.
Jesus begins with a scene from everyday life, though the exact nature of this scene is uncertain. Kenneth Bailey (1993) suggests the background is from village life where each family owns a couple of sheep for personal use. The animals stay at night in the courtyard of the family's house (aule, paraphrased in the NIV as sheep pen, v. 1). Families on a given street agree as to who will shepherd their combined flock, often designating one or more of the children. In the morning this shepherd goes down the street to gather the sheep. The person at the door recognizes the shepherd and opens the door for the sheep to pass through. The shepherd has a distinct call or whistle, sometimes using a small flute, which the sheep recognize and follow. When several flocks end up at a watering place at the same time and mingle together, they are easily separated again by the shepherd, who gives his call as he starts to walk away. In addition to their own distinctive call, some shepherds also give their sheep names (Bailey 1993:10; cf. Beasley-Murray 1987:168).
This interpretation assumes there is a single flock composed of the sheep from several families that have been gathered from the courtyards of the various houses. However, the presence of a watchman (v. 3; literally, "doorkeeper," thyroros) seems unlikely in the home of a village family, and later in Jesus' application he speaks of a single courtyard (v. 16). So instead of several courtyards and a single flock, the picture seems to be of a larger courtyard or enclosure (possibly a sheep pen as the NIV suggests) in which the sheep of several flocks are kept. In the morning a shepherd comes to collect the sheep of his flock and is able to do so in the way Bailey describes.
Jesus contrasts those who enter through the gate and those who do not (vv. 1-2). The one who has legitimate business and authorization enters in the proper fashion, while those without authorization use underhanded means. These thieves and robbers do not have in mind the good of the sheep but rather selfish ends of their own. The shepherd is recognized by the one who guards the fold, and so his entrance is natural, out in the open, without forcing. Such has been Jesus' entrance into this world and amongst his own people. He has come in the appropriate manner, having been sent by the Father, in contrast to the Jewish leaders who are rejecting Jesus.
Jesus' call is a fulfillment of Wisdom's crying out in the streets to see if anyone hears and responds (Prov 1:20-21). The focus here, however, is not on a general call, for he calls his own sheep by name (v. 3). Each particular sheep is known by this shepherd. They are "not simply units in a flock" (Westcott 1908:2:51).
Jesus refers to bringing out all his own (v. 4). The word for brought out (ekballo) is the same word used to describe the leaders' throwing the man out of the synagogue (9:34-35). The picture of the shepherd who leads them out (v. 3) to find pasture and water thus interprets what has just occurred to the man born blind. Jesus goes on ahead of his sheep, calling them as Bailey has described, and they follow him because they know his voice (v. 4). They don't follow strangers; indeed, they flee from them, because they do not recognize a stranger's voice (v. 5). The word for know and recognize are the same word in Greek (oida), so the sheep will be known by whom they know. Here is a beautiful picture of both divine sovereignty in the shepherd's call and the human response in the hearing, knowing and following by the sheep. We also find the theme of discernment, since there are more voices calling to them than just their own shepherd's. Following Jesus means refusing to follow others who are claiming to be shepherds. Put in this perspective, the expulsion from the synagogue is no great hardship--indeed, Jesus' sheep will actually run away from strangers.
Jesus spoke this figure of speech to the Pharisees (v. 6, autois; ["to them"], left out of the NIV), but they did not get it. These are people who claim to be able to see (9:40-41), but their inability to understand Jesus is yet another example of their spiritual blindness. The word for figure of speech (paroimia) refers to an obscure saying that needs to be interpreted (cf. Jn 16:25, 29, Hauck 1967a:856). It is not just a figure of speech or a comparison, but a saying that is loaded with significance--the verbal equivalent of Jesus' signs. Little that Jesus says in this Gospel is not conveyed in this manner, as he will admit at the end of his teaching (16:25).
Jesus uses the shepherd motif to interpret what has just taken place with the former blind man. Judaism is described as a sheep pen, but not all the sheep in the pen belong to Jesus' flock. They are separated out as they recognize his voice and follow him out from the sheep pen. Jesus is gathering his flock together from the pen of official Judaism.
In this second statement Jesus says, I am the gate for the sheep (v. 7). The scene has shifted from the village to the open field. In the summer sheep are sometimes kept out in the pasture overnight. The pen used is simply an enclosure made of piled rocks. There is neither roof nor door, but thorns along the top of the rock walls protect the sheep from wild animals, and the shepherd himself sleeps in the entrance, providing a door (cf. Bailey 1993:11; Beasley-Murray 1987:169). So when Jesus says he is the gate for the sheep (v. 7) he is still using the image of a shepherd, but applying it directly to himself. From this picture of a shepherd sleeping in the entrance we would expect Jesus' role to be the protector of the sheep. Jesus does indeed protect his own (cf. 6:39; 17:12), but the image is developed here in a surprising way. The sheep are to enter through Jesus (v. 9), something not true of the shepherd sleeping in the entrance of a summer shelter! So the image is not that of a door as a barrier for protection, but of a door as a passageway.
Jesus also refines his earlier reference to the thief and robber (v. 1), saying, All who ever came before me were thieves and robbers (v. 8). This is a sweeping generalization. If it were not for references to Moses, the prophets and John the Baptist as witnesses to Jesus (for example, 1:17, 19-36; 5:39), then they would seem to be included in the category of all who ever came before me. But the context of our passage is the condemnation of the Jewish rulers, some of whom have rejected Jesus and others who have faith in him. This sweeping statement shows that these leaders are members of a much larger group. Jesus, the one mediator of salvation, contrasts himself with all others who would claim to be "mediators of salvation" (Beasley-Murray 1987:170). The reason Moses, the law, the prophets and John the Baptist are not included in this condemnation is precisely because they bear witness to Jesus. All who do not bear witness to Jesus, who alone has seen the Father and makes him known (1:18), are not of the truth. They do not bring blessing but rather take it away, like a thief or a robber.
So we see the contrast between different ways of salvation. The Jewish leaders have rejected Jesus on the basis of their knowledge of God and his ways. They have expelled the man healed in chapter 9 from the people of God on the basis of his confession of Jesus. They believe they have consigned the former blind man to death, that is, to separation from God and his people. But Jesus has found him and incorporated him into his own company.
Jesus says the one who enters through him (through me is emphatic in the Greek) will be saved. He will come in and go out, and find pasture (v. 9). This is said to be true of each individual, as just illustrated by the former blind man--the shepherd knows each sheep by name (v. 3). The salvation spoken of refers to protection from the sheep's enemies, here understood to be false teachers as typified by the Jewish opponents. Such teachers threaten death by keeping people from a true knowledge of God, who is himself the sole source of life.
The one who enters by Jesus has the liberty to come in and go out. This is an Old Testament expression often used in political and military contexts to refer to leadership (for example, Deut 31:2, paraphrased in the NIV as "to lead you"), but it is also used elsewhere in a more general sense to refer to the entirety of one's daily activities (Deut 28:6, 19; Ps 121:8; cf. Acts 1:21). Jesus' sheep have the freedom to live their lives in his presence. Both their going out and their coming in is through him. In this way he fulfills the type of Joshua as described by Moses (Jesus is actually the name Joshua in Greek): "Moses said to the Lord, `May the Lord, the God of the spirits of all mankind, appoint a man over this community to go out and come in before them, one who will lead them out and bring them in, so the Lord's people will not be like sheep without a shepherd'" (Num 27:15-17; cf. Jn 10:18). The freedom of Jesus' sheep to go out and come in reflects Jesus' own freedom, for their going out and coming in are not on their own but are a part of their following him.
As he brings them into the safety of his fold and leads them out to find food and water they find pasture (v. 9). The Good Shepherd will make them "lie down in green pastures" and lead them "beside quiet waters," preparing a table in the presence of their enemies (Ps 23:2, 3, 5). Through Jesus they receive their "daily bread" (Mt 6:11; Lk 11:3), that which is needed for life with God, for he offers the bread of life (Jn 6:35-58) and living water (7:38). Jesus has spoken repeatedly of the provision of life as the purpose of his coming (3:15; 4:14; 5:21, 24, 40; 6:27, 33, 35, 40, 47, 51, 54; 8:12), and now he focuses this key theme when he says, I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full (10:10). In the next section (vv. 11-18) he will explain further this life he has come to offer, which will be illustrated in the raising of Lazarus (chap. 11).
In contrast to the protection, freedom and pasture that come from entering through Jesus are the stealing, death and destruction brought by the thief (v. 10). One has a positive effect on the sheep, whereas the effect of the other is negative. The thief acts for his own selfish ends and to the detriment of the sheep. Jesus, however, serves the sheep by providing for them the way of life, which he will do, we learn in the next section, at the cost of his own life. Thus, the contrast with the thief is complete.
Those who enter through Jesus find life, which means we all begin on the outside and need to enter through him. We are all sheep in need of a shepherd, just as we all, like the man born blind, are in need of the light. Jesus is declaring that he "mediates membership of the Messianic community and reception of the promised blessings of salvation, that is, deliverance from judgment, . . . citizenship in the divine community of salvation . . . and eternal life" (Jeremias 1965:180). The salvation he brings is personal but not merely individual: he knows each sheep by name, but salvation is membership in a community, the community that is called and guided and provided for by Christ. The flock of Christ is neither an aggregate of isolated, autonomous individuals nor a faceless corporation, but a community in which each member is taken up into the life of God to form with others a single whole as branches on a vine (15:1). By referring to himself as the shepherd Jesus is claiming to be the leader of this new community.
When Jacob had his vision he said, "How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God; this is the gate of heaven" (Gen 28:17). John wants us to have the same response. How awesome is this place--and the place is now this person in our midst, Jesus, the Son of God, the gate leading to God.
The idea of a voluntary and vicarious death for the sheep is not found in the Old Testament nor elsewhere (Jeremias 1968:496-97; Barrett 1978:374). The closest conceptual background is that of the suffering servant of Isaiah 53 (Brown 1966:398; Westcott 1908:2:57). While this servant is likened to a sheep rather than a shepherd (Is 53:7), it is said of him that "the Lord makes his life a guilt offering" (Is 53:10). The expression in John 10, lays down his life (tithemi ten psychen), could be taken as a translation of "makes his life" (sim naphsho, Is 53:10; Jeremias 1967c:710). For the sheep (hyper ton probaton) does not in itself necessarily speak of sacrifice, but in John it does (Barrett 1978:375). In every place the preposition hyper ("for") is used in John (6:51; 10:11, 15; 11:50-52; 13:37-38; 15:13; 17:19; 18:14), with two exceptions (1:30; 11:4), it is used of sacrifice in which "the death envisaged is on behalf of someone else" (Carson 1991:386). So again Jesus' death is seen to be central to his task.
Another part of the conceptual background comes from the prophet Zechariah, who contrasts two shepherds. One is the messianic shepherd-king who is rejected by the people, which, in turn, results in their condemnation (Zech 11:4-14). The second is the worthless shepherd who deserts the flock (Zech 11:4-17). God's messianic shepherd will be struck down, causing the sheep to be scattered and leading to the judgment and refining of God's people (Zech 13:7-9). This rejection by the leaders of the people and their own condemnation is echoed in John, as is the striking of the shepherd, though with a different effect. It will indeed lead to the scattering of Jesus' flock for a brief time, but it will also be central in the gathering of his own flock from among the nations: "But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself" (Jn 12:32).
This death makes him the shepherd that is good (kalos). This word refers in such a context to that which is beautiful, noble, honorable, worthy of praise. In other words, Jesus is fulfilling his job as a shepherd in an exemplary fashion so that such goodness is able to be perceived (Grundmann 1965:548). He is the admirable shepherd, and there is something admirable, heroic and attractive in his death. Consequently, it is in his death that he will draw all men to himself (12:32). The beauty of the Lord's character attracts those whose hearts are able to receive divine beauty. This is far more than an admirable death of a martyr. For in this death we see the beauty of God himself, since God is love, and love, as John says (1 Jn 3:16), is the laying down of life. It is precisely because he was in the form of God that he poured himself out and laid down his life (Phil 2:6-8; cf. C. F. D. Moule 1972:97). In Jesus we see the divine character, and what we see is beautiful. When we are able to really see God as Jesus has revealed him we cannot help praising him if we have hearts that are open to God. Such a vision of God's beauty is at the heart of all true worship.
Jesus goes on to contrast the shepherd who will risk his life for the sheep with a hireling who runs from the wolf and leaves the sheep behind to be attacked (harpazei, literally, "snatched" or "carried off") and scattered. They are not his sheep, and he does not care about them (Jn 10:12-13). This picture is not so much an allusion of Ezekiel 34 as a development from it. In Ezekiel the danger from wild animals arises after the sheep have been scattered (Ezek 34:5, 8), and the false shepherds are indeed shepherds, though like the hireling they care nothing for the sheep. So there are some general associations with Ezekiel, which may suggest that Jesus is continuing his condemnation of the leadership of Israel. But the main point seems to focus on the character of the Good Shepherd, specifically, his care for the sheep.
His care for the sheep addresses two problems, the lack of care on the part of the hireling and the threat of scattering by the wolf. Elsewhere the wolf is an image of false teachers who come both from outside the community and from within (Mt 7:15; Acts 20:29-30). Such a problem was present in John's day in Ephesus, since Paul's prediction to the Ephesian elders (Acts 20:29-30) was already coming to pass in Paul's own day (cf. 1 Tim 1:3) and continued in John's time (cf. 1 John). Likewise, the problem of hirelings continued in the church, as seen in Peter's exhortation to the elders to shepherd God's flock willingly and not just for money (1 Pet 5:2).
The themes introduced in a general way (Jn 10:11-13) are then personalized and developed (10:14-18). Jesus' knowledge of his flock and their knowledge of him (v. 14) are compared to the knowledge the Father and the Son have of one another (v. 15). The conjunction translated just as (kathos) is most often used as a comparative, but it can have a causal sense (Wallace 1996:674). Both senses are true here, for "the relationship between God the Father and his Son is the original model and reason for Jesus' fellowship with his own" (Schnackenburg 1980b:297). As always, Jesus' identity as the Son and his relationship with the Father are crucial for understanding what is being said.
This knowledge is not simply a knowledge about one another or merely the knowledge of an acquaintance. Rather, it is an intimacy that is love. The intimacy of the Father and the Son is so close it is described as a oneness (10:30), and a similar oneness of life is affirmed between Jesus and his disciples (for example, 15:1-7). The believer is not stirred into some cosmic soup, as in false forms of mysticism, but rather there is a radical oneness that does not obliterate the distinctness of the person. As the holy Trinity is both One and Three, so the believer is one with God and yet distinct from God. This theme of intimacy has been introduced earlier, for example in Jesus' teaching that his followers must eat his flesh and drink his blood (see comments on 6:53-57), and it will be unpacked in detail in the discourse in the upper room (chaps. 13--17). Its inclusion here provides important clarification regarding the nature of the new community Jesus is bringing into existence. This closeness includes the most intimate of relations between Jesus and each of his followers, and it is part of the union with God that they enter into in Christ through membership in his flock.
This new community is based in his death (10:15). The very pattern of life in this new community is that of life laid down for one another, a cruciform life. The possibility of such a life and the power for such a life come through the life of the Son of God poured out on the cross, thereby uniting God and mankind by taking away the sin of the world and revealing the glory of God.
Before revealing more about his death, Jesus mentions that he has other sheep not of this sheep pen who must be brought also, so there shall be one flock and one shepherd (v. 16). The most natural reading, accepted by most commentators, is that Jesus is referring to sheep from outside the fold of Judaism. There are Gentiles who will listen to his voice and be joined to his flock. Thus, in this section that speaks of Jesus' founding a community apart from official Judaism, Jesus himself speaks to one of the greatest points of controversy in the earliest church. He does not clearly specify on what terms the Gentiles are to be included, and so the church later had to discern his will whether or not Gentiles must become converts to Judaism in order to join his flock. But the present context, which describes a follower who has been expelled from the synagogue, hints at the answer. Most recent scholars think John is simply giving Jesus some lines that would address the later situation, but the potential ambiguity of the figure is typical of Jesus himself (cf. 21:22-23).
They are already his sheep because they have been given to him by the Father (v. 16; cf. 10:29; 6:37-39; 17:2, 6, 24; Beasley-Murray 1987:171), yet they must hear his call and respond. So once again we see both divine sovereignty and human responsibility at play. In saying that he must bring them also he speaks of the love that goes in search of the lost, which is a theme running throughout this Gospel and indeed the New Testament. He must (dei) do this; it is a divine necessity (cf. Grundmann 1964:22-24) that comes from the very character of God as love.
But how will he bring the Gentiles? When Gentiles do come to him it signals his hour has finally arrived (12:20, 23), but Jesus himself is not seen going to the Gentiles. He will bring the Gentiles into the flock by the ministry of his disciples, whom he will send (20:21). Jesus will continue his own ministry through his people, which will be accomplished through the presence of the Spirit. They are the ones who will bring the Gentiles, but Jesus is saying it is he himself who is doing so. This is an example of the oneness between the shepherd and his flock.
Similarly, the one shepherd unites the flock (Morris 1986-1988:380). The oneness comes from sharing the life of the one God in his Son by his Spirit. This flock is thus a spiritual entity yet not in the sense of being nonhistorical or only invisible any more than the incarnate Son who is its shepherd is such. This community has identifiable marks as a recognizable entity within history. Several marks are referred to in the New Testament, but the main ones mentioned in this passage are the centrality of Christ, the confession of him as exemplified by the former blind man and the fact that this community is to be composed of both Jews and Gentiles. The centrality of Christ is especially strong, given his exclusivist claims. "The text does not suggest that this Good Shepherd will one day join a series of other shepherds who will then form a cooperative `shepherds' union'" (Bailey 1993:17). Thus, the oneness of the flock corresponds to the thought found throughout this Gospel that Jesus is the only way to the Father.
Jesus concludes this teaching by revealing more fully the mystery involved in the shepherd's laying down his life for the sheep (vv. 17-18). He says he lays down his life of my own accord (literally, "from myself," ap' emautou), which makes it clear that his life is not simply taken from him by his opponents. At no point in this Gospel are his actions determined by human agenda, and his death will be no different. It may look like the triumph of darkness over light, but it is not. Pilate may think he has the authority (19:10, exousia, "power" in the NIV), but Jesus tells him, "You would have no power [exousia] over me if it were not given to you from above" (19:11). This does not mean that the human agents of God's power, both Pilate and Caiaphas, are without sin (19:11) but rather that there is an antinomy between divine sovereignty and human responsibility.
Jesus' statement that he has the authority to lay down his life stretches the imagery of the shepherd. He next proceeds to transcend it altogether by saying he has the authority not only to lay down his life, but also to take it back again. This cryptic teaching will become clearer in the next chapter, when he speaks of resurrection. The theme of life has been central throughout John's Gospel, and soon it will be the focus of the climax of Jesus' public ministry in the raising of Lazarus (Jn 11). The abundant life that this shepherd has come to give (v. 10) is something far beyond anything ever before available. Those in the story cannot even begin to grasp what he is talking about.
Despite this talk about having authority and acting from himself, the hallmark of his life is dependence on the Father. So he concludes by grounding all that he has said in this truth (v. 18). In laying down his life and taking it back he is obeying his Father. He knows his Father's voice and obeys, just as we are to hear his voice and obey.
It is in this light that we must understand his statement that the reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life--only to take it up again (v. 17). This statement seems to imply that the Father's love is based on the Son's obedience, but it is clear that the Father's love for the Son is from all eternity (17:24; cf. 3:35; 5:20; 15:9; 17:23, 26). Furthermore, the Father loves the world, which is certainly not obedient (3:16), so the Father's love is not conditioned by obedience. Some commentators resolve this problem by looking at the character of the love between the Father and the Son and concluding that it is "eternally linked with and mutually dependent upon the Son's complete alignment with the Father's will and his obedience even unto death" (Barrett 1978:377; cf. Carson 1991:388). Others point to the effects of the obedience, either in terms of its revelation of the love between the Father and the Son (Bultmann 1971:384; Beasley-Murray 1987:171) or in terms of its accomplishment of the salvation of the world (Hoskyns 1940b:440; Beasley-Murray 1987:171). Rudolf Schnackenburg says the Father's love for the Son is mentioned here "to throw the Son's deed into relief" (Schnackenburg 1980b:301).
Each of these efforts touch on Johannine themes, but what does it mean that the reason the Father loves the Son is that he lays down his life? The Father simply is love (1 Jn 4:8), and as a part of his very character his love is not contingent on the loveliness of the objects of his love. But it is possible to fall out of "the sphere of His active love" (Hoskyns 1940b:440), which is the condition of the world upon whom God's wrath abides (3:36). His wrath is his settled opposition toward that which disrupts the harmony of relations between himself and his creatures and which corrupts and destroys those whom he loves. In the case of Christ, his sinless obedience maintains the harmony of relationship between himself and his Father--therefore God's love remains fulfilled toward him. Jesus refers to this when he says, "If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father's commands and remain in his love" (15:10). Such obedience is the expression of love (14:15, 21) and is the condition for intimacy (14:23). Thus, in our passage Jesus would be saying that the Father is able to fulfill his love for the Son because the Son does the Father's will. In this way, as the commentators have suggested, we see both the character of God's love and the effects of the Son's love, which is shown in obedience.
Jesus Claims to Be the Messiah and to Be One with God
About this commentary:
IVP New Testament Commentaries are made available by the generosity of InterVarsity Press.
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