The Shepherd of the Sheep

John 10:1‑6  •  6 min. read  •  grade level: 6
The similitudes of the Fourth Gospel differ from the parables of the other three, and have another name. They are sayings by the way or proverbial allegories, and like all the doings and sayings of John's Gospel, they set out the Lord personally, the grace and truth which came by Him. Here is the first of the cluster.
“Verily, verily I say to you, He that entereth not by the door into the fold of the sheep, but climbeth up elsewhere, he is a thief and a robber; but be that entereth by the door is shepherd of the sheep. To him the porter openeth; and the sheep hear his voice; and he calleth his own sheep by name and leadeth them out. When he hath put forth all his own, he goeth on before them, and the sheep follow him, because they know his voice. And a stranger they will in no wise follow, but will flee from him, because they know not the voice of strangers. This proverb (or, allegory) spoke Jesus to them; but they understood not what things they were which he spoke to them” (vers. 1-6).
With the solemn formula that occurs so often in this Gospel, the Lord introduces His description, not of the shepherd of the sheep, but of a thief and a robber. He does not enter by the door into the fold of the sheep, but climbs up elsewhere. God distinguished the door by plain marks that the sheep might discern the Shepherd, Who came from and was sent by Himself. For they were precious to Him no less than to the Son. And the Son was zealous for the Father's house and would enter by the appointed way and none other. He, the mighty God, deigned to be the Messiah, the Shepherd of Israel, and so to become the Seed of Abraham, the son of David, and born of the Virgin. Through Micah (v. 2) Jehovah named Bethlehem as the place of His birth. Out of it should He come forth unto Him that was to be ruler in Israel, Whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting. Nor was the time left vague. Through Daniel He fixed it by weeks (of years) to elapse, from the commandment to restore and build Jerusalem (issued by Artaxerxes Longimanus), after which Messiah should be (not born nor manifested nor reigning, but) “cut off and have nothing.” So also He does not fail to announce in this chapter as in chapter 3:14 too.
Others sought their own things by craft or violence; He came in a love unmistakably of God, in an obedience that left nothing to desire, always doing in an evil world the things that pleased the Father. Prophecy pointed Him out no more plainly than the grace and truth which came by Him, or the signs of beneficent power which studded the path of light that could not be hid. He entered by the door, and “to him the porter openeth.” The Spirit of God deigned to work in this as in all others to glorify the Lord. Notably we perceive this by the testimony of Simeon, and of Anna a prophetess in early days, but above all by John the Baptist the divinely appointed herald of the Messiah, when the time drew near for His public ministry.
It was for him who was but “a voice of one crying in the wilderness” to say, Prepare ye the way of Jehovah, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Nor was it in vain for those given to see according to God. For “the sheep hear his voice;” and as He said in ch. 5:25, “they that hear shall live.” There was faith, without which it is impossible to please God; and with faith life. For life was in Him from everlasting to everlasting. It belonged to His eternal person as the Word and the Son (i. 3, 1 John 5:1111And this is the record, that God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. (1 John 5:11)); and when He took the place of man, as the Sent One, the Father gave Him to have life in Himself, yet not for Himself simply, but that whosoever believeth on Him should not perish but have life eternal, and this in hearing His voice (vers. 24, 25). It might not yet be life in resurrection—, but it was life eternal; for it was in the Son, and the Son has none other for the believer. Verily, verily I say to you, He that believeth on Me hath life eternal (John 6:4747Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me hath everlasting life. (John 6:47)). There is no exception. A robber just converted, and an apostle behind none, have just the same life. Christ lived in both; and He is the true God and the eternal life.
But what tender care in the Shepherd! “He calleth his own sheep by name.” His love is in the fullest way personal. His interest is in each personally, and He would have all to know it. What could evince it more than His calling His own sheep by name? So the apostle wrote, for those who believe as well as himself, He loved me, and gave Himself for me.
A change is next announced of great moment, especially for Jews. He “leadeth them out.” God had given His ancient people much advantage every way. But they had received not His Son, the Shepherd of Israel, hating Him to the utmost, and about to cry, Crucify Him, crucify Him. And He, knowing the end from the beginning, leadeth His sheep out of the fold, more and more the den of thieves and robbers, already the seat of His enemies. It might be done through the violence of others, as when the blind now seeing was cast out by the reviling Jews. But in effect He leadeth them out, as would be true for all His own in due time.
But there is more; and it is of transcendent importance. “When he hath put forth all his own, he goeth on before them, and the sheep follow him, because they know his voice.” Later in the chapter He explains how this was to be. He would give Himself for them. It would be by nothing less than His death and resurrection: such was His love, and such their need. Thus only could they be secured, or fitted for the new place of blessing. For even Caiaphas soon after prophesied that Jesus should die for that nation, and not for that nation only, but that He should gather together in one the children of God that were scattered abroad (John 11:51, 5251And this spake he not of himself: but being high priest that year, he prophesied that Jesus should die for that nation; 52And not for that nation only, but that also he should gather together in one the children of God that were scattered abroad. (John 11:51‑52))—a yet larger view than ver. 4 presents, and needing ver. 16 to supplement it. And what a safeguard for their difficulties and dangers grace provides the sheep! “They know his voice.” This enables them to “follow him,” as it preserves them from misleaders.
“And a stranger they will in no wise follow, but will flee from him, because they know not the voice of strangers.” So the Lord lays down the truth for His own. He does not here state the possible wandering of any sheep, but presents the only way of life. Others might occupy themselves with errors and evils, a pursuit not without danger of defilement. The wisdom of the Christian is to be content with His voice which gave him life from the first, and to delight increasingly in Christ to the last, fleeing from a stranger and knowing not the voice of such.
It was a deep allegory, and looked on to that which was not yet accomplished. We need not, then, wonder that as yet the Savior's words were not understood.