This passage is figurative. (John 10:6) There are 8 components of the extended metaphor in this section: The shepherd is the caretaker and owner of the sheep. The sheep (flock) are the animals that the shepherd loves and cares for. The thief is the one who tries to steal the sheep away from their rightful owner, the watchman is the one who opens the gate only for the shepherd, the hired hand watches the sheep, but lacks the dedication of the shepherd. The wolf is a predator that terrorizes kills and scatters the flock, and the sheep pen is the protective enclosure in which the flock is kept for safety during the night.
He begins in 1-6 with the thief; the thief enters the pen by any manner other than through the gate. He sneaks in by some form of subterfuge for the express purpose of stealing the sheep away from the flock. The man who enters by the gate is the shepherd, who is recognized by the watchman as the legitimate shepherd. In addition, he is also recognized by the sheep who love and trust him. He calls them by name (has a deep relationship with them) and they will follow him where ever he goes. They will not follow anyone who is not the shepherd, because they are strangers to the sheep; they only follow the shepherd.
Jesus begins to make His point beginning at verse 7. Jesus Himself is the gate; no one enters the flock except through Him. If they enter the pen through Jesus, they will be saved and have life to the full. The thief on the other hand, enters the pen by a means other than Jesus; his motive is to steal, kill and destroy: The sheep do not follow such a person.
Jesus is not only the gate, but He is the Good Shepherd. He is the “good” shepherd because when all others run away, He will lay down His life for the salvation of the sheep. His caring is so great for His sheep that He will die for them.
In this final section, vv. 14-18, Jesus sets out the theology of His coming sacrifice on the cross. He will willingly lay down His life for His flock. No one will take it from Him, for His act is voluntary. It is authorized and ordained by His Father in Heaven, for it will result in the redemption of all mankind. This act will not only seal the salvation of His sheep, but redeem mankind back to fellowship with God, something that has been absent from creation ever since Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden. This will also highlight the separation of those within the flock, and those without the flock; nothing will ever be the same again.
We find the reaction of the people in 10:19-21; the reaction of the crowd is typical. His opponents, unable to refute what He has said seek to marginalize Him with ridicule. Once again they claim He must be demon-possessed and ask “Why listen to him?” What else can they do if they insist on opposing Him? The others (v. 21) say exactly the words that their leaders fear, pointing out that Jesus is not saying things a demon-possessed person would say, and then dropping their trump card: “Can a demon open the eyes of the blind?” There is nothing that the opponents of Christ can say to that. These people who believe Jesus have had their eyes opened; now they can really see.
This passage is a continuation of the discussion regarding who the Jews’ father was. In that passage (9:13-34) the discussion was about the opponents of Jesus and their “father”, while today’s passage sets out very clearly whose Son Jesus is. It has often struck me as interesting that over the centuries people who deny the Lordship of Christ will often claim that He neither claimed to be God or the Son of God. In fact, there are groups who call themselves Christian who are confused on this point today. Here, Jesus is clear and precise about exactly who He is. Please note that while the discourse of the text follows 10:1-21, the occasion has shifted to the Feast of Dedication which is now known to us as Hanukkah, a celebration of the driving out from Judea of the Syrian Greeks. It celebrates the rededication of the Temple after it had been refurbished after that occupation, a nationalistic celebration of the (former) glory of the nation…
John sets the scene and then the dialogue begins; are you the Christ? Jesus responds by indicating that He has identified Himself by His miracles, but they have refused to believe because they are not His sheep, going back to the analogy from the previous text. Since they are not His sheep, they do not believe what He says even though He has confirmed His sayings to them. Those who are His followers (sheep) hear His voice and believe. While many have taken this to mean all kinds of things doctrinally speaking, what is very clear is that when a person decides to follow Jesus, understandings clear up considerably.
Jesus amplifies what He said in verse 10, that His sheep would have “abundant life”, to add that they will have “eternal life”. Eternal life would appear here to have two characteristics: First that they cannot be destroyed, i.e. that they will live forever. Second, they cannot be stolen away from the Father’s hand, which is to say that no one, human or otherwise can steal eternal life from you. In verse 30, Jesus makes a statement that is theologically so significant that it cannot be overstated. “I and the Father are one.” This is a type of “I am” statement, only here it is “We are”. In doing this, Jesus is alluding to the name of God: I AM. By placing Himself into this title, he has added a new dimension to the Shema of Deut. 6:4, “Hear O Israel: The Lord our God. The Lord is one.” This is the monotheistic foundation of their faith and Jesus has just included Himself into it monotheistically. He is not doing this in a mystical way of somehow having achieved divinity, but as a foundational premise reminiscent of John 1:1. While doing this, He continues to maintain a distinction between the two; He did not say “I am the Father”.
Quite naturally, they want to kill Him at this point.
This time, Jesus doesn’t slip away; He asks them to justify their desire to kill Him. His opponents tell Him they are not doing it because they deny His miracles, but because He has committed blasphemy in claiming to be God. Isn’t it odd that so many “scholars” think He never made that claim? According to the Law, these opponents had a point (Lev. 24:16), however they overlooked the possibility that He might be telling the truth. Then He added this:
Jesus answered them, “Is it not written in your Law, ‘I have said you are “gods”’? If he called them ‘gods,’ to whom the word of God came—and Scripture cannot be set aside— what about the one whom the Father set apart as his very own and sent into the world? Why then do you accuse me of blasphemy because I said, ‘I am God’s Son’? Do not believe me unless I do the works of my Father. But if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me, and I in the Father.” Again they tried to seize him, but he escaped their grasp.
OK, let’s be honest: This is a difficult passage. Jesus’ quotation of Psalm 82:6, “I have said you are gods” can make you crazy if you aren’t careful, and much has been written and argued about it. I prefer to take a simpler look at it… Consider the fact that it is a parenthetical side comment that is not expounded on because it isn’t the main part of the argument Jesus is making. The structure of the argument made in vv. 34-38 points to a conclusion that looks like this:
- In the context of Psalm 82, the term “gods” is not a term denoting divinity, but humans were referred to as “sons of the Most High” (Psalm 82:6b).
- These “mere men” received the Word of God, yet they died as mere men.
- Scripture (the Word of God they received) cannot be broken (thwarted).
- I have been sent to you as the Living Word by God.
- I am God’s Son
- My true identity has been proven by the miracles I have performed
- You can only deny me by denying the truth of Scripture
- You should pay me greater honor than anyone in your history before.
- You must believe the miracles you have seen
- I am the Son of God (Messiah)
Well dear reader, I guess that about sums up the foundational premise of all Christian Theology.