On the Gospel of John 10

John 10  •  21 min. read  •  grade level: 6
The tenth chapter, in John's Gospel, terminates the history of the Lord down here. The Good Shepherd, come from the Father, will find His sheep, notwithstanding the opposition of the enemies of the truth and of God, and will give eternal life to those who hear His voice.
This chapter, so precious to believers, gives us a picture of the entire work and position of the Lord. Nevertheless, we do not see Him driven away here, as He is however constantly in John, but we see Him putting forth His sheep Himself, according to the will of God; His sheep whom He knows, and of whom He is known. Then He is " the door of the sheep "; He lays down His life Himself, no one takes it from Him; lastly, He and the Father are one. A Servant sent and obedient, He is nevertheless one with the Father; the sheep, too, are His, although it be His Father who gave them to Him. Note here, and I repeat it, because of its importance, and as characterizing the Gospel of John, that the Lord is a Servant, and receives everything, even the sheep, from His Father's hand; but He is, at the same time, one with Him; a Servant, as Man down here, but Son of God, God, one with His Father.
We must examine these details more carefully.
In the first place, all those who, before Him, had pretended to be the shepherds and leaders of Israel; all those, whoever they might be, who did not enter by the door, were thieves and robbers, climbing over the wall, forcing an entrance by violence or cunning; thus' they betrayed their true character. The sheepfold was Israel. These men sought to get possession of the sheep for their own profit, for their own glory: they were neither Messiahs, nor servants of God, nor sent by Him, very far from being one with the Father. I say this in order to establish the Lord's position more distinctly. The second verse presents to us this position in its first features: " He who enters in by the door is the shepherd of the sheep." He entered in by the door; He came by the way chosen by Him who had established the sheepfold, there, where the porter was; he who could open the door, or keep it shut; thus He attracted the attention of him who was the keeper of the fold.
The door is always the place indicated and appointed by the architect to enter by it. This is why Jesus says lower down, " I am the door of the sheep," because, it is He that God has appointed as the door of exit for the Jewish remnant, and as the door of entrance for us all into the sanctuary, into His holy presence. Christ Himself had entered into the fold, following out what God had prescribed for the Shepherd. All that was laid down in the prophets, all that was fitting for Him who walked according to God's will, Jesus followed out, and accomplished at every point. He did not seek to arouse men by exciting their passions, like the false Messiahs, nor to draw in His footsteps an unconverted and stiffnecked people; meek and lowly in hearts, He followed the path Jehovah had traced for Him; He entered by the door. Providence and the Spirit of God opened the way for Him. All the efforts of the high priests and scribes could not prevent His voice from reaching the ears and hearts of the sheep. God opened the door to Him, and the sheep heard His voice. Here it is not a question of any other than they; they are the real object of His service, carried into effect, in spite of all the power of Satan. The Lord knows His sheep; they are His; He calls them each by his name, and leads them out of the fold.
It is interesting and touching to see how Jesus' own sheep are here the only object of His heart, and with what intimacy He knows them individually; He thinks only of them. He comes, and calls them, to the exclusion of all the other Jews. He does not fail either in His purpose. He does not leave them in the Jewish fold; He leads them out of the fold where the Jews abode, outside the enclosure where those who were " of their father, the devil," still remained. Moreover, He does not leave them when they are outside; He goes before them in the way of life and of faith. They are His own sheep, they belong entirely to Him, and in leading them out, He goes before them; He conducts them Himself; He is Himself at their head in the difficulties they should meet. His voice is known to them; they follow Him. If He is exclusively occupied here with the sheep, they recognize no other voice but His. In Him, and in Him alone, they have confidence; they trust in Him, and in Him alone. Every other voice is, for them, that of a stranger; it is enough that they do not know it, that it be not His. It is His voice that inspires them with confidence: weak in themselves, they flee when the voice is not His.
In that which we have gone over, up to the present, we find, at the same time, general principles, and the description of the Lord's work in the midst of the people. He makes use of the customs known in the country with regard to flocks, to describe that which He had been, and that which He had done in His life and in His service down here. But it was all over with the sheepfold. He leads the sheep out; the others were only reprobates, rejected in rejecting Him; all who recognized Him, Him and His voice, followed Him, and were led outside.
This very fact sets forth the divine Person and authority of the Savior. The law and the ordinances had been established by the authority of God Himself; and the law was the perfect rule for the children of Adam. But here we have to do with the law as a dispensation of God, not with what it is in its intrinsic nature. Who could take away men from the authority of Him who had established His ordinances, and had invested them with that authority? He alone, who Himself was invested with the authority which had established them and possessed it. (See chap. 15: 22-25.)
Christ ends His discourses on this subject by the statement of His divinity, as He had done before, in chapter 8; but He begins here, as in chapter 8, in His character of a Servant who accomplishes the service confided to Him.
The men whom the Lord addresses do not understand the parable He spoke to them; He Himself; in grace, furnishes the application. Resuming His discourse, He says, " I am the door of the sheep " (v. 7). God has set Me as the One by whom My sheep can go out without fear, for it is there that God has placed the way out. In following Jesus, he who believed in Him could leave the fold that God had set up. Jesus was Himself the door. If a Pharisee were to ask, " Where are you going thus? " the sheep could answer, " I am going where the Shepherd sent by God will lead me." He is the door, not of Israel, but of the sheep. All who had come before, and who pretended to present themselves as divine leaders of Israel, were but thieves and robbers; the sheep had not listened to them. Now, to go out, although authorized by the voice and conduct of the divine Shepherd, was a small thing; the Shepherd's Person implied something positive; He was also the door by which to enter. He had said nothing of this in His parable; only showing that He called His own sheep, and led them forth, going before them, a sure warrant that they did well in leaving the fold; His voice was enough. Now He reveals the effect.
Before pursuing this subject, I revert for a moment to verses 1-5, in order to fix the bearing of it more exactly. It is the life of Jesus that is presented to us, in connection with the Jews, who were God's fold. The true Shepherd, Jesus, entered by the way chosen and ordained of God. Born at Bethlehem, born of the Virgin, He had submitted to all the ordinances that God had established; this was the mark of the true Shepherd. God, by His Spirit and by His providence, opened for Him the way to the ears and heart of the sheep; the rest remained deaf to all His appeals. It was not a Messiah come to establish the glory in Israel, but the only true Shepherd, who would have His own sheep. They listened to His voice. He knew them, and called them by their names, and led them out of the Jewish fold, to put them in the possession of better things. Then, in putting forth His own sheep-the only ones He sought here-He had been before them, and they followed Him, for they knew His voice. This was the mark of the sheep. He did not leave them in the fold, but led them outside. The form of what is said is abstract, and in the present; it is that which is always true of a good Shepherd.
We must notice here, that, although the man born blind had been driven out, and also Jesus Himself, the Lord speaks here as having authority. The sheep are His, He puts them out; He goes before them; the sheep follow Him, they will not follow a stranger. It is the history of what Jesus was doing in Israel. Jesus says nothing, as yet, of the blessings towards which He was leading His own, nor of His death, the foundation of these blessings.
Now, having entered by the door, according to God's will and testimony, He was, for every other person, Himself " the door "; that which God had ordained as the means of having part in His blessings.
It is not (as I have already said in passing, and we should notice it well) the sheep's knowledge of the stranger that keeps it from the snares which he tries to set for it; but there is one voice which is known by the sheep, the voice of the Good Shepherd, and they know that what they hear is not that voice. It is thus the simple are kept; the wise wish to know everything, and are deceived. The voice and the Person being known, encourage and authorize the sheep to follow them. Israel remains there, in the hardness of its heart: the Christ is the door of the sheep.
Now the happy results are given to us-the position of the sheep that follow this voice. If any one enter by that door, he shall be saved. Salvation was found in the Shepherd, that which the fold could not give. The sheep should be free; the fold afforded it a kind of security, but it was the security of a prison; it would find pasture, it would be fed in the rich pasturages of God: it is Christianity in contrast with Judaism.
Christianity was salvation, liberty, and divine food. Security is no longer imprisonment, but the care of the Good Shepherd. Free under His care, the sheep feed in safety in the vast and rich pasturages of God.
This is the general position, but there is more (v. 10). Jesus, in contrast with all the false pretenders, who only came to steal and to kill, came that we might have life, and that we might have it in abundance. The first expression is the object of His coming in general, which characterizes the Gospel, and also the Epistle, of John: it is the Son of God come down, that we might live through Him. He is the eternal life which was with the Father, and gives life, and becomes Himself our life. (Compare 1 John 4:99In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him. (1 John 4:9); ch. 1: 2; ch. 5: 11, 12; John 3:15, 1615That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life. 16For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. (John 3:15‑16); one might multiply quotations.) The second part of the sentence shows the character and fullness of this life: this life is in the Son. Having the Son, we have life, and we have it according to the power of His resurrection. The faithful in old times were quickened; but here it is the Son Himself who becomes our life, and that as Man risen from amongst the dead. We have it " abundantly." This loth verse gives us the great purpose of the coming of the Son of God; but His love must unfold itself fully; He is not only the Shepherd, but the " Good Shepherd," and the Good Shepherd lays down His life for the sheep. His death has done everything for them; it has redeemed them, washed them from their sins, justified them, purchased them for heaven; however, I think the object of the passage is the love and devotedness of the Good Shepherd; rather than lose His sheep, He lays down His life. The hireling thinks of himself, and runs away; and the wolf comes and seizes the sheep, and scatters them. In Gethsemane, Jesus said: " If ye seek me, let these go their way." Those who have the place of shepherds, abandon the sheep when the enemy comes; He lays down His life, rather than leave them a prey to the wolf. But there is yet more: the Good Shepherd knows His own, and His own know Him, as the Father had known Him, and He had known the Father. Wonderful position! Wonderful relationship! Jesus had been the object of His Father's heart; in the same way His sheep were the objects of His heart. Taught of God, His sheep knew Him, and trusted in Him, as He trusted in the Father; and He lays down His life for them. But in laying down His life, He opens the door to the sheep from amongst the Gentiles, which He must also bring, and they should hear His voice. With both one and the other, all should be the fruit of His heart and of His mouth, and there should be but one flock, and one Shepherd. As to man, this completes the fruit of the Lord's work, at least down here.
It is important to remark that, whilst submitting in everything to the will of His Father, it is He Himself who acts here: it is not a rejected Messiah. In the activity which belonged to Him, He puts forth His own sheep. He was rejected: He had sought one of His sheep that had been rejected (chap. 9), to reveal Himself to it. But here it is the divine side. The Lord enters according to the will of His Father, proof that He was the Good Shepherd; but once entered in, the action is His own. He is recognized by the porter, His voice is recognized by the sheep; He calls them by their names, and Himself leads them out. It is not, I again repeat, a rejected Messiah, but the divine Shepherd, who knows, and who leads His own sheep, for the sheep are His; when once they are outside, He goes before them, and they follow Him, for they know His voice. He gives His life, no one takes it from Him. He brings other sheep who were not of the Jewish fold.
In this act of devotedness, the gift of His life, the point is not only the feelings of the sheep, but of the Father. Jesus could give a motive to the Father that He should love Him: it is only a divine Person who could do this. The Father takes pleasure in the faithfulness of His children; but to lay down His life, to give Himself even unto death, and to take His life again in resurrection, whilst re-establishing the Father's glory, tarnished by the entrance of sin and of death, was a motive for the Father's affection. Glorious and devoted Savior! Although He felt everything, He never thought of Himself, but of His Father, and, blessed be His name, of His sheep. To give Himself thus was His own act, an act of voluntary devotedness on His part; but, having become Man and Servant, an act, nevertheless, according to His Father's will. The act about which we are now occupied, is not the gift of His life for the sheep, but the fact that there, where death had entered, and where man was subjected by sin to death, He who had life in Himself gives His life, to take it again beyond death, and all that was its cause and power, and to place man, the being in whom was God's good pleasure, in an entirely new position, according to the divine glory, and that by an act of voluntary devotedness, but of obedience. (Compare chap. 14: 30, 31.)
The Lord now, in a second discourse, still speaking with the Jews, develops the blessings which His sheep should enjoy, blessings eternal and immutable. The Jews were in the moral embarrassment in which we have already seen them. Good sense said: " These words are not those of one possessed by a demon; can a demon open the eyes of one born blind? " (v. 21). But the prejudices of many of them got the better of all their convictions. They surround the Savior, for they could not free themselves from the influence of His life, and of what He said and did: " If thou be the Christ, tell us plainly." Jesus had already told them, and they did not believe; He appeals to His works, that bore witness of Him; but they did not believe, because they were not of His sheep. It is only a question of His sheep, of those that belonged to Him, outside the external election of the people of Israel; but the Lord finds here the occasion to bring out the blessedness of His sheep.
The first mark that characterizes the sheep of Jesus, and that we so often find here, is, that they listen to His voice (v. 27, see v. 3, 4, 5, 16); then come two other marks which belong to them: the Good Shepherd knows them (compare verse 14, and for the sense, verse 3), and they follow Him. (Compare verse 4.) Then the Lord declares plainly to us what He gives them; that is, eternal life, in the full assurance of the faithfulness of Christ, and of the power of the Father Himself. Already had He declared that His object in coming was, in grace, to give life, and life in abundance; not to seek booty, like a robber, but to give life from above, in grace. We have here the nature and character of this life, in grace: it was eternal life, that life of which Christ was the source and representative in humanity (compare 1 John 1:22(For the life was manifested, and we have seen it, and bear witness, and show unto you that eternal life, which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us;) (1 John 1:2), and also John 1:44In him was life; and the life was the light of men. (John 1:4)), that life which was essentially in the Father Himself, which was in the Person of the Son down here, the life that God gives us in Him (1 John 5:11, 1211And this is the record, that God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. 12He that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life. (1 John 5:11‑12)), and by Him, which we possess in Him; for He is our life (Col. 3:44When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with him in glory. (Colossians 3:4); Gal. 2:2020I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:20)); which bears the impress of Christ, new position of man, according to the counsels of God. For us-first character of this life, for we were dead in our trespasses and sins, and under the power of death down here-Christ is, then, the resurrection and the life, a life which ought to manifest itself in us now, and which breathes, so to speak, by faith in Him (Gal. 2:2020I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:20); 2 Cor. 4:10-1810Always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body. 11For we which live are alway delivered unto death for Jesus' sake, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our mortal flesh. 12So then death worketh in us, but life in you. 13We having the same spirit of faith, according as it is written, I believed, and therefore have I spoken; we also believe, and therefore speak; 14Knowing that he which raised up the Lord Jesus shall raise up us also by Jesus, and shall present us with you. 15For all things are for your sakes, that the abundant grace might through the thanksgiving of many redound to the glory of God. 16For which cause we faint not; but though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day. 17For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory; 18While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:10‑18)), and will be fully developed when we shall be with Him, and glorified (Rom. 6:2222But now being made free from sin, and become servants to God, ye have your fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life. (Romans 6:22)), but which subsists in the knowledge of the Father, the only true God, and of Jesus Christ whom He has sent. (John 17:2, 32As thou hast given him power over all flesh, that he should give eternal life to as many as thou hast given him. 3And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent. (John 17:2‑3); see 1 John 5:2020And we know that the Son of God is come, and hath given us an understanding, that we may know him that is true, and we are in him that is true, even in his Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God, and eternal life. (1 John 5:20).) It is the gift of God, but it is real and moral: we are born of water and of the Spirit. (John 3:5, 65Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. 6That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. (John 3:5‑6).) Of His own will He hath begotten us by the word of truth (James 1:1818Of his own will begat he us with the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures. (James 1:18)). Thus it is that that which was in Christ reproduces itself in us, according to the word which is the expression of it. (1 John 2:5-85But whoso keepeth his word, in him verily is the love of God perfected: hereby know we that we are in him. 6He that saith he abideth in him ought himself also so to walk, even as he walked. 7Brethren, I write no new commandment unto you, but an old commandment which ye had from the beginning. The old commandment is the word which ye have heard from the beginning. 8Again, a new commandment I write unto you, which thing is true in him and in you: because the darkness is past, and the true light now shineth. (1 John 2:5‑8); ch. x: I; 1 Peter 1:21-2521Who by him do believe in God, that raised him up from the dead, and gave him glory; that your faith and hope might be in God. 22Seeing ye have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit unto unfeigned love of the brethren, see that ye love one another with a pure heart fervently: 23Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever. 24For all flesh is as grass, and all the glory of man as the flower of grass. The grass withereth, and the flower thereof falleth away: 25But the word of the Lord endureth for ever. And this is the word which by the gospel is preached unto you. (1 Peter 1:21‑25).) This word nourishes the life (1 Peter 2:22As newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby: (1 Peter 2:2)), and thus we can say of this life, or rather the Lord says it: " Because I live, ye shall live also " (John 14:1919Yet a little while, and the world seeth me no more; but ye see me: because I live, ye shall live also. (John 14:19)). Here it is the life itself; but to complete the character of this life in the Christian, we must add, " the Spirit of life ": then that becomes " the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus " (Rom. 8:22For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death. (Romans 8:2)); then, according to John 4, with heavenly objects before it, it is a source of living water springing up into everlasting life.
But if Christ is thus our life, then life in Him does not perish, nor fail in us: because He lives, we shall live also. Can He die, or can the divine life in us come to decay? Assuredly not. We shall not perish; the life of which we live is divine and eternal life. But the wolf is there that ravishes and scatters the sheep. The sheep would not be able to defend themselves from this ravenous wolf; but the Good Shepherd is there, the Son of God, and no one can pluck them out of His hand; there is no greater force that can do anything against Him who keeps us.
There is more: the sheep are the object of the common care of the Father and the Son. Precious thought! The Father, who gave them to the Son, is evidently greater than all other: who should pluck them out of His hands? And the Son, that Good Shepherd, who humbled Himself; to have them and to save them, and to keep them, is one with the Father. The Shepherd entered, doubtless, by the prescribed door, but He is God, one with Him who had prescribed it; He is the Son of the Father, one with the Father; such is the security of the sheep.
The Jews take up stones to stone Jesus. The Lord, calm in faithfulness to His Father, shows them that according to the language of their own scriptures they were wrong, but appeals, at the same time, to His works, as proof of the truth of His testimony, and that He was Son of God, and the Father in Him, and He in the Father. Then they seek to take Him, but He escapes from their hands, and goes away beyond Jordan, where many come to Him, and own that all that John the Baptist had said of Him was true.
Before going further, I think that it will be useful to recapitulate what we have gone through in detail, so as to give the whole together. Chapters 8 and 9 give us the side of the responsibility of the people, in that they reject the testimony of the word, and of the works of Jesus; chapter 9, in particular, presents to us the Jews driving out of the synagogue the man who had believed that Jesus was a prophet, after having learned in his own person, by experience, the power of Jesus that had miraculously cured him; but there Jesus and those that believe were rejected, and put outside. Now in the tenth chapter it is the divine thought and operation that are presented to us. Christ, without doubt, enters in by the door, in obedience; but it is to accomplish the work and the will of God with regard to His own. The sheep belong to Him; He calls them by their name; He leads them out; He goes before them, and they follow Him: it is the true work of the Lord. No doubt the responsibility of the Jews in rejecting Him subsisted all the same, but did not frustrate the counsels of God: the Shepherd did not intend to leave the sheep in the fold. The Jews were guilty of the crucifixion of the Lord, but His death was according to the counsels and foreknowledge of the Savior-God: it was the same here as to the Jews; they drove out this sheep, the man who was born blind, who had been healed; but in fact it was God who freed this man from the prison of the sheepfold, to place him under the care of the Good Shepherd (v. 2-4). After that, the Lord gives life, life abundantly, to His sheep, who enter by the door, by faith in Him-who enter into the enjoyment of heavenly things: they have a life which belongs to heaven; they are saved, free, fed in God's pastures. Next, the Good Shepherd does not spare His own life, but lays it down for them, that they may enjoy salvation, and the privileges prepared by God; then it is a question of the value of the death of Jesus for the Father's heart; also it is He Himself who gives His life, it is not taken from Him. Finally, in another discourse, the Lord presents to us the blessedness of the sheep, in all the fullness of grace and of security which is bestowed on them under His and the Father's protection.