By rejecting the man born blind but now healed and kicking him out of synagogue the Pharisees have shown themselves to be such horrid shepherds of Israel in John 9. As chapter 10 begins Jesus rebukes the Pharisees further. Here Jesus (in His last public discourse of John’s gospel) makes a clear distinction between them as false shepherds who abuse God’s people and Himself as the good shepherd who rules over and leads God’s people well.[1]

v1-21, our passage today, divides up into 3 moments. First in v1-6 Jesus gives us the main metaphor of this chapter. Secondly, they don’t get it so He gives an expanded explanation of it in v7-18. Lastly, in v19-21 we see the response to it.

Moment 1: The Good Shepherd (v1-6)

In their time the sheep industry looked a lot different than it does today. Usually there was one large sheep pen in the city and at the end of each day all the various shepherds of that city would lead their sheep into that pen for the night. All the shepherds who used that large pen would use some of their resources to employ a gatekeeper to guard the sheep. It was this gatekeeper’s job to stay alert watching the sheep and watching the walls to see if thieves snuck in. When morning came it was the gatekeeper’s job to open the door only to the true shepherds returning for their sheep. Then the shepherd used one of his main shepherding tools, his voice. All the sheep from all the various flocks were jumbled up in the pen, but when a particular shepherd called out, his sheep would recognize his voice and would come to him immediately.[2]

Having that background in view, hear Jesus in v1-5. “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door but climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber. But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. To him the gatekeeper opens. The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers.”

Right away we see contrasts. In v1 and v5 Jesus speaks of thieves and robbers who seek to steal, abuse, or use the sheep for their own purposes. They do not come in by the door but climb over the wall or attempt to sneak in another way. Try as they may, the sheep will flee from them because they do not know their voice. These verses aren’t referring to false Messiah’s or Satan but the Pharisees, who have revealed themselves to be false shepherds of Israel.[3] Contrast this image with the true shepherd we see in v2-4. The true shepherd doesn’t have to sneak his way into the pen but comes right through the front door. How? Being the shepherd of the sheep only he has the authority to come in the front door. After all, the gatekeeper knows him, is employed by him, so when the gatekeeper sees the true shepherd approaching he opens the door right away. Once in the pen he calls out to his sheep and his sheep come to him. Why? They know his voice. He then goes out before them and they follow. In this way he leads them out one by one.[4]

v6 says Jesus is using a ‘figure of speech’ here, a kind of metaphor if you will. This kind of language tells a firm and grounded truth through an untruth.[5] For example, if I say ‘I’m so hungry I could eat a cow’ I’m not intending to say I could eat a cow but that I could eat a whole lot. No one would take me literally if they heard me say that. Similarly, when Jesus is speaking of Himself here as the shepherd, and speaking of all those who believe in Him as sheep, is He saying He is literally a shepherd? Or that we are literally sheep? Of course not. The language Jesus employs here, though untrue in an exact literal sense, is intended to symbolize a deeply encouraging truth. There is a profound intimacy between God and His people. They know God’s voice and when they hear it what do they do? They follow His lead. Jesus is saying He’s the true shepherd of Israel and the Pharisees are false shepherds. This is what’s in view for us here in v1-6. The Pharisees listening to this were so concreted in their wooden literalistic interpretation of things, that the beauty of these words went right over their heads. So what does Jesus do? He explains Himself further.

Moment 2: Expanded Explanation (v7-18)

Here in v7-16 He still continues to contrast Himself and the thieves and robbers, but in this middle section there are three statements Jesus makes that direct the majority of this expanded explanation. First, in v7 He says “I am the door.” Second, in v11 and v14 He says, “I am the good Shepherd.” And third, in v16 He says, “I have other sheep too.” These two I AM statements and this global proclamation tell us a massive amount about both His identity and His activity. Let’s see them as they come in the text.

In v7-9 He says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. All who came before Me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the door. If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture.” Jesus now says He is not only the shepherd of the sheep, but the door of the pen. Remember v2, shepherds came to get their sheep every morning, so Jesus, being the shepherd of the sheep, means that all those who come before Him during the darkness of the night are thieves and robbers.[6] This is nothing more than a deeper explanation of v2-3. v9 tells us more. That no one becomes a sheep or becomes part of His flock without going through Him. No one will be saved unless they enter into the pen through Jesus.

This idea then is further expanded in v10 with another contrast. “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” Those who try to sneak into the pen without going through the door of Christ have only maliciousness in view. This is the Pharisee who abuses the use the sheep for his own evil purposes, rejecting those who God brings in like the formerly blind man of chapter 9. Jesus isn’t like them. Being both the shepherd of the sheep and the door of the pen He speaks in such a way in v10 to teach us that those who come into the His pen through Him are the only ones who are truly His sheep. He is not content to merely give His sheep a meager existence of eeking by, but from following His voice He leads His sheep out of the pen into abundance, or wide open spaces for the soul.[7] In Him they graze freely in green pastures amid this dark world, and enjoy a banquet of delights amid this barren wilderness.

Next we see Jesus proclaim Himself to be not only the shepherd of the sheep, not only the door of the pen, but the good shepherd who lays His life down for the sheep. v11-15, “I am the Good Shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. I am the good shepherd. I know My own and My own know Me, just as the Father knows Me and I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep.”

In this next contrast we see even more. On one hand in v12-13 we find the ones called the hired hand care more for their own interests than the welfare of the sheep, such that when they see the wolf coming or see danger approaching they flee. What happens when these hired hands flee? Disaster. The sheep are left defenseless, the wolf snatches some of them up, and the rest of them scatter. Contrasting their evil on the other hand is v11 and v14-15 where we see Jesus who calls Himself the good shepherd. Yes He is the Good Shepherd, but wonder of wonders, this Shepherd is also the Lamb of God who’ll do the unthinkable and lay down His life for His sheep. In their time it would’ve been extremely rare for a shepherd to do this for his flock because normally the death of the shepherd would mean disaster and death for the sheep. But the wonder of the Son of God come to be our Good Shepherd is that His voluntary and vicarious death means life for His sheep.[8] Hearing about Jesus being such a shepherd who would die for his sheep would’ve likely confused them, but there are enough Old Testament promises about a long expected Good Shepherd that these Pharisees should’ve understood some of this. For example:

Ezekiel 34, “…prophesy against the shepherds of Israel; prophesy, and say to them…Thus says the Lord God: Ah, shepherds of Israel who have been feeding yourselves! Should not shepherds feed the sheep?…The weak you have not strengthened, the sick you have not healed, the injured you have not bound up, the strayed you have not brought back, the lost you have not sought, and with force and harshness you have ruled them…Behold, I, I Myself will search for My sheep and will seek them out…I will…gather them…I will feed them with good pasture…there they shall lie down in good grazing land…I will seek the lost…I will bring back the strayed…I will bind up the injured…and I will strengthen the weak…I will set up over them one shepherd, My servant David, and he shall feed them…and be their shepherd.”[9]

When we see Jesus call Himself the Good Shepherd here in John 10 we must not what the Pharisees missed. First, they missed that they are the evil shepherds Jeremiah and Ezekiel spoke against. They have abused God’s people for personal gain and will be rebuked and held accountable for doing so. Second, they missed that Jesus, the One speaking to them, is Himself the long expected Shepherd sent by God that the prophets spoke of. He’ll be the One to lead God’s people Himself. That we hear the word ‘know’ repeated four times in v14-15 shows us the intimacy in view between this Shepherd and His sheep.[10] Just as the Father knows Him and He knows the Father so too He knows His own and His own know Him. As our Good Shepherd Jesus will seek His sheep out, He’ll call them by name, He’ll gather them, He’ll feed them, He’ll bind up the injured, He’ll strengthen the weak, He’ll lead them into open spaces, and by dying for them and bearing their curse on the cross He’ll lead them into redemption, i.e. green pastures forever![11]

Even more so, the flock He knows, dies for, saves, and tends to is a global flock. v16, “And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to My voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.” When He says “I have other sheep…” He means that these sheep already belong to the flock though they haven’t been brought in yet.[12] Don’t be confused here. This is similar to the encouragement God gives Paul in Acts 18:9-10. There Paul is discouraged after preaching the gospel in Corinth because he saw such little response to it. Into his discouraged state God gives Paul a vision in the night telling to him to take heart and keep preaching, why? “For I have many in this city who are My people.” Do you see John 10:16 here? Church, see the sovereign Shepherd. In His sovereign authority our Shepherd has chosen sheep for His flock, He laid down His life for them, and now our Good Shepherd will bring them into His fold. How? By sending His already existing flock out to preach to them and win them into the flock. He doesn’t leave this open to chance, not at all! In view is a particular people, a definite flock from all nations, and when they hear the gospel He promises in v16 that His sheep will hear His voice and come in. The end result of this global sovereign shepherding is unity – one flock under one Shepherd.

I often hear the opinion that spreading the gospel is foolish if God is sovereign and has elected or predestined people to salvation. This text is one of the reasons why that opinion is wrong. In fact, it reveals that the sovereignty of God in predestination isn’t a hindrance to evangelism or missions but fuel to fan these efforts into flame. That God has chosen a global flock, promised that they will hear His voice in the gospel, and then promised they will come into the fold gives us a hefty encouragement to be bold in spreading. It’s as if He we’re inviting us to go fishing and promises us a catch! Of course we don’t have special spectacles that tell us who these chosen sheep are, so we share the gospel with all people from all nations without exception trusting that God will call His sheep into the pen.[13]

In v17-18, Jesus ends His expanded explanation with a small clarification. There we read, “For this reason the Father loves Me, because I lay down My life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down of My own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from My Father.” Here we see Jesus in complete command. He does not accidentally die for His flock, no one will force Him into dying or prevail upon Him to kill Him. No, He willingly lays down His life and just as He has the authority to lay His life down, praise God, He has the authority to take it up again. How does He have this authority? It comes from the Father, who loves Him and sent Him to do these very things.

Moment 3: Response (v19-21)

So, we have seen the identity and activity of Jesus Christ our sovereign Shepherd. Now see the response to it. v19-21, “There was again a division among the Jews because of these words. Many of them said, “He has a demon, and is insane; why listen to him?” Others said, “These are not the words of one who is oppressed by a demon. Can a demon open the eyes of the blind?” Again, the pattern continues. Jesus’ words cause division. The pattern has remained true down to today, so where are you? Do His words here move you to think He’s a madman? Or in them do you hear the call to move into open pastures through the gospel? If you hear the call, answer it! Repent and believe in this Shepherd who is also the Lamb who bore our curse. If you do, you’ll find life abundant.


Here are four concluding thoughts as we end:

Remember, Christ is our shepherd. If you’ve repented of sin and believed in Him, Christ is your Shepherd. You belong to Him, He’s called you by name, He’s sought you out, He’s died for you, brought you into the pen, and He now leads you. Chad, Dave, or I aren’t your shepherds. You don’t belong to us. Undershepherds we may be, but that’s all we’ll ever be. The shepherds of Israel failed, the Pharisees failed, we will fail you, therefore keep your eyes fixed on the Good Shepherd, He will never fail you or us.[14] By laying down His life for us He forever secured us in His pen, rest in Him

Remember, we’re sheep. It seems from all accounts, that sheep aren’t the wisest members of the animal kingdom. They’re foolish, easily frightened, ever wandering, yet at other times stubbornly immovable. Some have even seen them walking directly into open fire.[15] Do not wonder that here and many other places in Scripture God likens us to be sheep. We too are often foolish, easily frightened, and wander off where we shouldn’t. But Christ, as our good shepherd, chases us down, and brings us back. I know some of you are in the midst of hard seasons of life. I want you to be encouraged here. We, like sheep, don’t often understand why things play out the way they do, or what the Shepherd is doing using both His rod and staff in leading us…but we do know our Shepherd. Trust Him, rest in His care, and take heart…“God is not calling you to make great promises to Him, He’s calling you to trust the great promises He has made to you.”[16]

Remember, wolves are real. In this life of following Christ, not everyone will be like Christ and not every gospel preached is Christ’s. Wolves will try to sneak in, climb over the wall, and use and abuse you for selfish purposes. Many have used this very passage to try and do just that, teaching v10 in such a way as to make us believe God wants us to be rich and materially prosperous, and that all trials that come our way are the result of our lack of faith. Take caution, be aware, and keep your eyes fixed on Christ. Even if everyone around you goes off in a different direction, you keep on Christ’s heels. How? This leads to my last thought…

Remember, His voice is His Word. True sheep know the voice of the shepherd. Our Shepherd not only laid down His life for us in the crucifixion, He not only took that life back up in the resurrection, our Shepherd ascended and sent His Spirit out to give us His voice. Do you know His voice? Or is His voice a stranger to you? Do you follow His voice? Or do you follow your own way? Do you sit underneath His voice and study His voice enough to be able to recognize the voice of a stranger?




[1] Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John – NICNT, page 498.

[2] R.C. Sproul, John – St. Andrew’s Expositional Commentary, page 187.

[3] See Morris page 499, and Sproul page 187.

[4] In his commentary on John Scottish theologian F.F. Bruce mentions the Scottish shepherds he remembers from his youth. They would call their sheep by individual names, and claim that the sheep knew those names and actually responded to them. Bruce, The Gospel of John, page 224.

[5] Sam Storms, Kingdom Come, page 33.

[6] Morris, page 507.

[7] Bruce, page 226.

[8] Morris, page 510

[9] See Genesis 4:2, Exodus 3:1-2, Isaiah 40:11, Jeremiah 23:1-4, Numbers 27:16-17 also.

[10] Bruce, page 227.

[11] Morris, page 498.

[12] Morris, page 512.

[13] For more on this see J.I. Packer’s Evangelism and The Sovereignty of God, or John Piper’s Let the Nations Be Glad.

[14] Sproul, page 190-192.

[15] Kent Hughes, John: That You May Believe – Preaching the Word Commentary, page 267.

[16] Kevin Dibbley, quoted in a Tim Challies meme this past week.

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