The Caring Shepherd (John 10:1-21)

Submitted by admin on Tue, 2008-05-27 12:51.

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The opening verse of chapter 10 does not introduce a change in location. Accordingly, it must have been in the presence of his disciples, the former blind man, the unbelieving Pharisees, and others that Jesus illustrated his personal concern for his followers.

He likened himself to a caring shepherd and his fellow Jews as sheep in an enclosure. “Amen, amen [Truly, truly], I say to you,” he solemnly declared. “He who does not enter the sheepfold through the door but climbs in another way is a thief and a robber. He, however, who enters through the door is the shepherd of the sheep. To him, the doorkeeper opens. And the sheep listen to his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought all of his own out [of the enclosure], he goes in front of them, and the sheep follow him, for they recognize his voice. A stranger, however, they will not follow but will flee from him, for they do not recognize the voice of strangers.” (John 10:1-5)

The unbelieving Pharisees and other religious leaders in the Jewish community had seized a position in relation to their fellow Jews (the “sheep”) that was not divinely approved. The manner in which certain Pharisees had treated the cured blind man was comparable to the actions of a thief and a robber. When expelling him, they deprived him of any acceptable standing in the Jewish community. Like a robber who has no regard for his victim when resorting to violence to seize what he wants, the religious leaders abused the former blind man with hateful words and stole his reputation from him.

It was common for several shepherds to shelter their flocks for the night in an enclosure, where a doorkeeper would guard the sheep. In the morning, the shepherds would arrive, calling each one of their own sheep by name. The sheep would then follow their shepherd as he led them out to pasture. A stranger could not get them to follow him, but they would run away from him, especially upon hearing their own shepherd calling. The sheep did not recognize anyone else’s voice.

Whereas all the Jews professed to be God’s people, not all recognized the voice of Jesus as being that of their divinely appointed shepherd. Only those who listened to him proved to be his sheep, and they followed him, letting his example and teaching guide their course. Those with genuine faith in him paid no attention to the voice of others who presumed to speak for God.

John 10:6 indicates that Jesus’ words were primarily directed to the unbelieving Pharisees, with the reference to “them” applying to the group of Pharisees mentioned in John 9:40. They, however, did not understand what he had said to them.

After a solemn introductory “Amen, amen, I say to you,” Jesus next compared himself to the “door of the sheep.” (John 10:7) Whether this is an allusion to a different enclosure out in the field where the flock is pastured cannot be determined. In the case of such an enclosure, the shepherd would lie down in the opening at night and, like a door or gate, keep intruders out.

The ones to whom Jesus referred as thieves and robbers would have been those who falsely claimed to represent God. (John 10:8; see the Notes section for additional comments.) These men could have included false prophets and false messiahs, who deceived many and led them to their ruin. The genuine sheep, as Jesus added, did not listen to them.

The Son of God is the “door,” making it possible for those with faith in him to come into a relationship with him and his Father and to continue to have access to him. The “sheep” who enter this door by believing in Jesus would be “saved” or delivered from sin. Liberated from sin, they would enjoy true freedom, their condition being comparable to that of sheep which are not confined but can enter and exit through a gate. Like sheep whom a shepherd leads to pasture and water, Jesus would provide spiritual abundance for believers and look out for their welfare. (John 10:9)

The thief, whose actions the abusive religious leaders had imitated, would come only to “steal and slaughter and destroy.” Ruin would come to anyone who blindly followed the unbelieving Pharisees. This was the very opposite respecting Jesus’ coming. He came so that believers might have life and have it to the full, enjoying the real life of an enduring relationship with him and his Father. (John 10:10)

Jesus identified himself as the good shepherd, the shepherd who demonstrates his ultimate concern for the welfare of the sheep by sacrificing his “soul” or life for them. He is not like a hireling who is primarily concerned about receiving his pay for services. A hireling does not own the sheep and does not have the kind of personal interest in their welfare that a shepherd has. When the hireling sees the wolf coming, he looks to his own welfare first and runs away, abandoning the sheep and leaving them for the wolf to seize and scatter. He does not care about what happens to the sheep, because he, as a hireling who works only for pay, has no personal attachment to or genuine interest in them. (John 10:11-13)

The unbelieving Pharisees and other religious leaders proved themselves to be like hirelings, being primarily concerned about their position and maintaining it. They despised the common people, looking down upon them as persons ignorant of the law and burdening them with many regulations that had no basis in the law. (Compare Matthew 23:4; John 7:49; 11:45-48; 12:10, 11.)

In his role as a good shepherd, Jesus knows his sheep, and they know him. The relationship is an intimate one, being like the one Jesus enjoys with his Father. His Father knows him as his beloved Son, and he knows his Father like no one else does, because he is the unique Son. For the “sheep” that are dear to him, Jesus said that he would lay down his “soul” or life. (John 10:14, 15)

At the time Jesus spoke about giving up his life, all of the “sheep” who recognized him as their shepherd were believing Jews. They, however, were not to be his only sheep. He had other sheep who were not in the same enclosure or not members of the “house of Israel.” (Compare Matthew 15:24.) These future sheep he would also lead. They would listen to or respond to his voice and, with the Jewish believers, come to be one flock, following him as their one shepherd. (John 10:16; see the Notes section for additional comments.)

Jesus enjoyed his Father’s love because he delighted to do his will and that included sacrificing his “soul” or life for the sheep. Although he would give up his life, he would receive it again. The surrender of his life would not come about based on any human determination to have him killed, but he would lay it down of his own accord. His Father had granted him the power or right to lay down his life and to receive it again. Jesus referred to this “power” as having been given him on the basis of his Father’s commandment or authoritative decree. Therefore, his resurrection was certain. (John 10:17, 18)

Jesus’ words resulted in a division among those who heard them. Many concluded that he was a demonized madman, and they could not understand why anyone would listen to him. Others, however, did not believe Jesus’ words to be the expressions of a demonized man. They found it impossible to conclude that a demon could open the eyes of the blind. (John 10:19-21)


For John 10:8, the manuscript reading commonly found in printed texts is, “All who have come before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep have not listened to them.” The words “before me” are missing in a number of early manuscripts, and “all” is not found in one fifth-century manuscript.

It is of note that, in John 10:16, Jesus did not refer to the “other sheep” as being in a particular fold or enclosure. Whereas he had been sent to none but the “lost sheep of the house of Israel,” many others outside the “house of Israel” later responded to his voice (conveyed through his disciples), with all of them coming to enjoy the same status as his “sheep” or beloved followers. (Matthew 15:24; Galatians 3:28; Colossians 3:11)

In view of the fact that the former blind man had been declared an outcast, he must have been greatly strengthened and uplifted upon hearing that Jesus deeply cared for him, even being willing to give up his life for him.