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The IVP New Testament Commentary Series – Jesus Is the Gate for the Sheep (10:7-10)
Jesus Is the Gate for the Sheep (10:7-10)

Because these Jewish leaders did not understand what Jesus was saying he goes back over it again from a different perspective. In this repetition we see God's graciousness, the same graciousness that caused the word of the Lord to come a second time to Jonah (Jon 3:1) and suffered with Israel's waywardness throughout her history. It is the same graciousness we each depend on every day of our lives.

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.

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