19. I Am the Good Shepherd (John 10:1-42)

Audio (39:52)

Statue of the Good Shepherd (c. 300-350), marble, 39 inches high. Rome, from Catacomb of Domitilla, Vatican, Museo Pio Cristiano. 
Statue of the Good Shepherd (c. 300-350), marble, 39 inches high. Rome, from Catacomb of Domitilla, Vatican, Museo Pio Cristiano. 
Throughout the ancient Near East, rulers and leaders were often spoken of as shepherds of their people. In chapter 9, Jesus has just dealt with some of Jerusalem's "shepherds," the scribes and Pharisees and members of the Sanhedrin, who weren't interested at all in the sheep, rather in finding cause to destroy the true Shepherd who did care about the flock.

Corrupt Shepherds

In their day, the prophets had castigated such self-serving shepherds. Ezekiel declared the word of Yahweh:

"Woe to the shepherds of Israel who only take care of themselves! Should not shepherds take care of the flock? You eat the curds, clothe yourselves with the wool and slaughter the choice animals, but you do not take care of the flock. You have not strengthened the weak or healed the sick or bound up the injured. You have not brought back the strays or searched for the lost. You have ruled them harshly and brutally. So they were scattered because there was no shepherd, and when they were scattered they became food for all the wild animals.

... I am against the shepherds and will hold them accountable for my flock. I will remove them from tending the flock.... I myself will search for my sheep and look after them. As a shepherd looks after his scattered flock when he is with them, so will I look after my sheep." (Ezekiel 34:2-5, 10-12)

Jesus, too, pronounced a series of woes on the religious leaders of his day.  Jesus castigated the scribes and Pharisees for their hypocrisy. They (1) prevented the people from entering the Kingdom of God (Luke 11:52); made deceptive oaths (Matthew 23:16); tithed scrupulously, but neglected mercy, justice, and faith (Matthew 23:23-24); took advantage of widows and tricked them out of their houses (Matthew 23:14); looked good on the outside, but were unclean within (Matthew 23:25-27); burdened the people with laws, but wouldn't lift a finger to help them (Luke 11:46); and made a big show of their piety to be praised by men (Matthew 6:1-18). We have seen many occasions in John where they ignored the miracles and those who were healed, but rather sought to kill the miracle-worker. As a result, God's people suffered.

"When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd." (Matthew 9:36)

So as we examine Jesus' discourse on the Good Shepherd, it should be seen in the context of the corrupt shepherds of the nation.

The Form of Jesus' Teaching on the Good Shepherd

Before we begin, however, we need to understand the form of Jesus' teaching. In the Synoptic Gospels we see Jesus often teaching in parables, stories with a spiritual point. But we err if we understand this discourse as the kind of parable we find there.

In verse 10, John describes it as a "figure of speech" (NIV, NRSV, ESV) rather than a "parable" (KJV). The Greek word refers to "a pithy saying ... a brief communication containing truths designed for initiates, veiled saying, figure of speech, in which especially lofty ideas are concealed."[119]

 Probably this discourse is best understood as a series of teachings based on analogies from sheep-herding, a practice very familiar to Jesus' hearers. Many of them had cared for the family flock. They knew what was involved. Rather than a single analogy or figure of speech, we see four primary analogies drawn from this pastoral imagery:

  1. The sheep-pen (10:1-2).
  2. The Shepherd's voice (10:3-5).
  3. The Gate or Door of the sheep-pen (10:6-9).
  4. The Good Shepherd who lays down his life for the sheep (10:10-18).

The Sheepfold and the Shepherd (10:1-2)

The first analogy Jesus draws from sheep-herding relates to the sheep pen where the sheep are kept at night.

"1  I tell you the truth, the man who does not enter the sheep pen by the gate, but climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a robber. 2  The man who enters by the gate is the shepherd of his sheep." (10:1-2)

Jesus has in mind an enclosed pen, open to the sky, with a doorway[120] through which one might enter.[121] Such an enclosure would protect the sheep from straying at night, and from attack by wild animals, such as lions, wolves, and bears, that had threatened sheep in Palestine for centuries.

A pen might have been constructed next to the family's house. But Jesus has in mind a sheep-pen out on the grazing fields some distance from town. Such a pen would likely be made of rocks piled up to make an enclosure; wood is scarce in this hilly, rocky terrain. However, a gate might have been constructed from wood or scrub. Or perhaps the shepherd himself might sleep in the doorway so that no one could get to the sheep except by climbing over his body.

In this first analogy, Jesus speaks of thieves who would try to climb over the fence to steal a sheep. A shepherd or the owner of the sheep would use the gate, which would be closed and guarded; only thieves[122] or bandits[123] would try to get in undetected some other way.[124]

The "thieves and robbers" in this analogy are, of course, the religious leaders who take advantage of their positions of trust to ravage God's flock. The identity of the "sheep-pen" isn't as clear.  Israel? The church? We're not sure. Making a point with such an analogy doesn't require every element to be identified.

The Sheep Recognize the Shepherd's Voice (10:3-5)

Jesus point is that the legitimate shepherd comes in through the gate and his sheep know him.

"3  The watchman opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen[125] to his voice. He calls[126] his own sheep by name[127] and leads them out. 4  When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. 5  But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger's voice." (10:3-5)

Verse 3 mentions a gatekeeper.[128] When several flocks would be put in the same pen on a remote sheep-field, one of the shepherds would be assigned as the gatekeeper for his watch. Of course, he would open up for a shepherd whose flock is contained within.

When you have several flocks penned together for the night, the way they get sorted out in the morning is by each sheep recognizing its own shepherd's voice and coming when he calls them out of the pen for another day of grazing. The shepherd might even have a name for every sheep that he might call out if the sheep didn't come when he called the flock. Jesus is referring to the intimate relationship between the shepherd and his own sheep -- mutual knowledge.

George Adam Smith, who travelled in the Holy Land at the end of the nineteenth century before its modern development and westernization, relates an incident that illustrates this passage:

"Sometimes we enjoyed our noonday rest beside one of those Judean wells, to which three or four shepherds come down with their flocks. The flocks mixed with each other and we wondered how each shepherd would get his own again. But after the watering and the playing were over, the shepherds one by one went up different sides of the valley, and each called out his peculiar call; and the sheep of each drew out of the crowd to their own shepherd, and the flocks passed away as orderly as they came."[129]

The sheep knows its shepherd's voice.

I believe that one of the neglected, seldom-taught skills necessary to be a disciple, is to learn to discern Jesus' voice. We hear many voices -- the pressures of our society's expectations, our family's desires, and our own selfish desires. It is possible to hear Jesus' voice and distinguish it from the others, but we must make a practice of learning which is which. I don't know any way to learn this without making some mistakes in the process, so it is good to learn this with the help of a more mature Christian brother or sister.

Once we learn to discern Jesus' voice -- the leading of the Spirit, same thing -- then he can guide us, teach us, and use us much more effectively than before. Read the Book of Acts and look for instances where the Lord speaks to his servants -- Peter, Paul, James, Philip. This exercise will demonstrate to you how very important it is to hear Jesus' voice.

Q1. (John 10:3-4) What does it mean that Jesus' sheep "know his voice"? How can you discern his voice from your own thoughts and the expectations of others?

I Am the Gate for the Sheep (10:6-9)

The analogy is confusing to some of Jesus' hearers. So he explains it a bit more, at the same time adding new elements and shifting the analogy some.

"6  Jesus used this figure of speech[130], but they did not understand what he was telling them. 7  Therefore Jesus said again, 'I tell you the truth, I am the gate for the sheep. 8  All who ever came before me were thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. 9  I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. He will come in and go out, and find pasture[131].'" (10:6-9)

Jesus shifts his analogy from the multiple-flock sheep pen with an assigned gatekeeper to one in which all the sheep in the pen belong to the same shepherd.

In the third of his "I am" declarations, Jesus says in verse 7b, "I am the gate/door for the sheep.[132] Perhaps he is comparing himself to a gate to protect the sheep, swinging open on hinges to let the sheep through. But there is another possibility, illustrated by another story reputedly told by George Adam Smith to commentator G. Campbell Morgan.

"[Smith] was one day travelling with a guide and came across a shepherd and his sheep. The man showed him the fold into which the sheep were led at night. It consisted of four walls, with a way in. [Smith] said to him, 'That is where they go at night?' 'Yes,' said the shepherd, 'and when they are there, they are perfectly safe.' 'But there is no door,' said [Smith]. 'I am the door,' said the shepherd. '... When the light has gone and all the sheep are inside, I lie in that open space, and no sheep ever goes out but across my body, and no wolf comes in unless he crosses my body; I am the door.'"[133]

However we understand Jesus' words, whether as a swinging gate or by his own body, Jesus teaches that he is both the protector (Savior) of the sheep, as well as their point of access to life beyond the fold -- pasture, water, life, and ultimately, the Kingdom of God in the presence of the Father.

Abundant Life (10:10)

Now Jesus repeats and amplifies this idea further.

"The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy[134]; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full." (10:10)

Jesus is the sheep herd's protection against thieves -- the false Jewish religious leaders, whose only motive is to exploit the sheep for their own benefit. Jesus' motive is for the sheep to have a full life -- protection from wolves and thieves, as well as pasture, water to drink, and the shepherd's experienced hands to rescue them and bind up their wounds. The words of the Twenty-Third Psalm come to mind:

"1 The LORD is my shepherd;
I shall not want.
2  He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
3  He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name's sake.
4  Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me; your rod and your staff,
they comfort me...." (Psalm 23:1-4, ESV)

Some see the Christian life as no fun, somehow constrained and diminished by the restrictions of Jesus' commands. But true disciples realize that only in Jesus' care can they truly flourish. They are healed within and protected without. They can live life to the full as it was intended to be lived.

In verse 10b, "to the full" (NIV), "abundantly" (NRSV, KJV) is the Greek word perissos, "exceeding the usual number or size ... pertaining to being extraordinary in amount, abundant, profuse," here, "going beyond what is necessary."[135]  

Q2. (John 10:10) What would an "abundant life" look like if you were a sheep with a really good shepherd? In what ways is the Christian life to be an "abundant" life? How does this abundance relate to persecutions and hardships that come to us as Christians. Can the life of a unbeliever be more "abundant," free, and fun?

Shepherd Lays Down His Life for the Sheep (10:11-13)

Now Jesus changes the analogy once again. In verse 10a, the threat is thieves who would try to break into the fold. Now the figure turns to a shepherd with his sheep out on the open fields, where the flock is threatened by a wolf, whose strategy is to suddenly attack the flock, which will scatter, then go after the slowest sheep to react -- usually the youngest or weakest of the flock.

"11  I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down[136] his life for the sheep. 12  The hired hand is not the shepherd who owns the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons[137] the sheep and runs away[138]. Then the wolf attacks[139] the flock and scatters[140] it. 13  The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares[141] nothing for the sheep." (10:11-13)

A hired hand isn't willing to risk his life fighting off a dangerous animal like a wolf. But the owner of the sheep doesn't run. Rather he stands up to the predator, ready to "lay down his life for the sheep." We think of David as a young shepherd, who explained to Saul, just before going out to defeat Goliath:

"Your servant has been keeping his father's sheep. When a lion or a bear came and carried off a sheep from the flock, I went after it, struck it and rescued the sheep from its mouth. When it turned on me, I seized it by its hair, struck it and killed it." (1 Samuel 17:34-35)

Of course, when Jesus talks about laying down his life for the sheep, he is not talking merely about taking risks to protect the sheep from predators. This is a thinly veiled reference to his death on the cross, to bear the sins of the sheep, and deliver them from sin and its consequences. We see this especially in verses 17 and 18.

This theme of the shepherd laying down his life for the sheep is repeated five times in this discourse. It is therefore vital for us to grasp its importance.

"The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep." (10:11)
"I lay down my life for the sheep." (10:15)
"I lay down my life -- only to take it up again. (10:17)
"No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord." (10:18a)
"I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again." (10:18b)

Verses 17 and 18ab talk about laying down his life, but verses 11 and 15 give the reason: "for the sheep," indicating a sacrifice made on behalf of another.[142]

I Am the Good Shepherd (10:11, 14)

Verses 11 and 14, "I am the Good Shepherd," have the fourth of John's seven "I am" declarations.[143] The "Good Shepherd" is prepared to lay down his life for his sheep. The Greek word for "good" is kalos, which may also carry the idea of "beautiful" -- the "Beautiful Shepherd" (though that is probably an over-translation).[144] It also carries the ideas of the "Noble Shepherd"[145] -- one who stands up for his sheep and does not run away when his life is threatened.

Mutual Knowledge (10:14-15)

"14  I am the good shepherd; I know[146] my sheep and my sheep know me -- 15  just as the Father knows me and I know the Father -- and I lay down my life for the sheep." (10:14-15)

Jesus is referring to the mutual, intimate knowledge of the shepherd for the sheep, the shepherd who can call each of them by his or her special name (verse 3). He knows their peculiarities and weaknesses, and accommodates for these as he shepherds them. And in turn, they trust their shepherd because he always looks out for them, rescues them when they get lost or caught in something. He brings them to the best places to graze and water. They can trust him, so when he speaks they listen and follow.

Verse 15a suggests that this intimate knowledge and love between the shepherd and his sheep is a picture of the intimate knowledge, love, and trust between the Son and the Father.

My dear friend, how intimate is your knowledge of your Shepherd? How much do you trust him to lead you better than you can lead yourself? How much do you love him? How much do you listen for his voice, or do you let it be drowned out by the noise of the world? He longs for you to know him and love him as he knows you -- and as the Father and Son love each other!

Q3. (John 10:11-15) How does a "good shepherd" differ from what a hired shepherd would do in time of danger? In what way did Jesus the Good Shepherd "lay down his life for the sheep"?

One Flock and One Shepherd (10:16)

"I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring[147] them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd." (10:16)

Who are the "other sheep that are not of this sheep pen"? Clearly, these are sheep that are not found in Judaism, but Gentiles who will come to faith in the future. As the Lord told Paul in Corinth about future converts: "I have many people in this city" (Acts 18:10). Verse 16b is a plea for unity between Jewish and Gentile believers. We see the same things in Paul's letter to the Ephesian church:

"For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility ... to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace" (Ephesians 2:14-15).

Authority to Die, Authority to Rise (10:17-18)

"17  The reason[148] my Father loves me is that I lay down my life -- only to take it up again.[149] 18  No one takes[150] it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father." (10:17-18)

Verse 17 seems strange at first glance, seeming like the Son needed to do something to earn the Father's love. But elsewhere in John we see that that the love between the Father and Son has existed before all time -- long before men were created and needed redemption (17:24). The unity of purpose and trust, the love that exists between the Father and Son, makes itself visible in obedience -- the Son's obedience to carry out the plan of salvation by going to the cross (10:17-18) and our abiding in the Son (15:9-10).

Verse 18 is fascinating. Jesus doesn't act on his own, but based on the authority granted by God. "Authority" (NIV, ESV), "power" (NRSV, KJV), used twice in verse 18, is exousia, "a state of control over something, freedom of choice, right", that is, the "right" to act, decide, or dispose of one's property as one wishes.[151] So the Son acts freely, based on his own wishes, which conform exactly to his Father's command.[152] He doesn't die martyr's death -- one forced upon him by his enemies (10:18a) -- but he dies as a voluntary sacrifice for our sins, according to the plan of salvation of God the Father, fully agreed to by the Son.

Also observe that not only the crucifixion was part of the plan of salvation, but also the resurrection. There is a unity between the two:

"I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again." (10:18b)

Divided Response (10:19-21)

Jesus' words of intimacy with the Father, of laying down his life and taking it up again, provoked a response among the Jewish leaders who heard them. And, interestingly enough, the response varied from one person to another.

"19  At these words the Jews were again divided. 20  Many of them said, 'He is demon-possessed and raving mad. Why listen to him?' 21  But others said, 'These are not the sayings of a man possessed by a demon. Can a demon open the eyes of the blind?'" (10:19-21)

Some concluded he was mad, but others weren't so sure. They had seen his miracles and agreed with the man born blind that God didn't listen to sinners (9:31-33) and Nicodemus, who said, "No one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him" (3:2).

The Feast of Dedication (10:22)

In verse 22, John indicates that an interval of time has passed since Jesus' discourse on the Good Shepherd.

"22  Then came the Feast of Dedication at Jerusalem. It was winter, 23  and Jesus was in the temple area walking in Solomon's Colonnade[153]." (10:22-23)

Jesus is back in Jerusalem, this time for the Feast of Dedication, known also as the Festival of Lights and Hanukkah (from ḥānak, "to dedicate"). The temple had been desecrated by the Greeks under Antiochus Epiphanes (168 BC), who had ordered an altar to Zeus to be erected in the temple and pigs sacrificed on it. He halted the normal daily sacrifices offered by the Jews for a period of three and a half years. Hanukkah is an eight-day feast was begun in 165 BC by Judas Maccabee and his brothers to celebrate the rededication of the temple and restoration of sacrifices following the desecration (1 Maccabees 4:36-59).

Believe Me for the Miracles (10:24-26)

The context again is a controversy with the Jewish leaders that seems to occur each time he travels to Jerusalem (7:1; 10:40). They are badgering him to declare himself openly as the Messiah -- so they can find grounds to accuse him.

"24  The Jews gathered around him, saying, 'How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.' 25  Jesus answered, 'I did tell you, but you do not believe. The miracles[154] I do in my Father's name speak for me, 26  but you do not believe because you are not my sheep.'" (10:24-26)

Jesus hasn't declared publically that he is the Christ, the Messiah -- though he acknowledged it to the Samaritan woman (4:26) and (perhaps[155]) to the man born blind (9:35-37). But anyone who observed him closely saw miracles done in the Father's name, as well as his messianic references in the title Son of Man, and his words, such as, "before Abraham was, I am" (8:58). For those who had eyes of faith, such as Jesus' disciples, it was clear. But to unbelieving eyes, nothing he said would convince them of what was plain before them.

"25b The miracles I do in my Father's name speak for me, 26  but you do not believe because you are not my sheep." (10:25b-26)

Some realized that crazy people don't open the eyes of the blind, but many were too spiritually blind to even realize that (10:21).

In verse 25, I would have expected Jesus to say:

  • "You are not my sheep because you do not believe." -- belief is the reason they're not sheep. But he said rather:
  • "You do not believe because you are not my sheep" -- not being sheep is the cause of the unbelief.

This and other passages in John suggest that predestination is at work (6:44; 12:37-39). But at the same times as we see predestination, it's clear that those who have become hardened in their unbelief are held fully responsible for their unbelief -- they will die in their sin (8:24). Somehow, in a way that we can't understand fully, the grace and sovereignty of God work along with the response of a disciple's faith, as weak as it might be, to bring us to salvation (Ephesians 2:8-9).

In John, we confront the blind unbelief of the Pharisees and Jewish leaders, who see miracles but still want to kill Jesus. In the Synoptic Gospels we see this same truth stated in slightly different ways. Peter's faith that Jesus was "the Christ, the Son of the Living God" wasn't his own deduction, but a gracious revelation from God himself.

"Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven." (Matthew 16:17)

Faith itself is a gift; so is the ability to repent (Ephesians 2:8-9; 2 Timothy 2:25). After telling the Parable of the Sower (Matthew 13:1-11), Jesus explains to his disciples why he speaks in parables.

"The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them. 12  Whoever has will be given more, and he will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him. 13  This is why I speak to them in parables:
Though seeing, they do not see;
though hearing, they do not hear or understand.
14  In them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah:
'You will be ever hearing but never understanding;
you will be ever seeing but never perceiving.
15  For this people's heart has become calloused;
they hardly hear with their ears,
and they have closed their eyes.
Otherwise they might see with their eyes,
hear with their ears,
understand with their hearts and turn,
and I would heal them.'"
(Matthew 13:11-15, quoting Isaiah 6:9-10)

No One Can Snatch My Sheep (10:27-30)

Now Jesus summarizes the special blessings that accrue to being part of Jesus' flock, one of his followers.

"27  My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. 28  I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. 29  My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father's hand. 30  I and the Father are one." (10:27-30)

Look at these blessings:

  1. Listening to the Shepherd's voice -- assurance, direction, and learning. I can hear him speaking to me today, if I'll take time to listen and then obey.
  2. Being known by the Shepherd -- ultimate significance; the Lord of creation knows and loves me!
  3. Following the Shepherd -- direction and guidance for my life.
  4. The promise of eternal life -- stated positively (life forever) and negatively (never perishing).
  5. Protection by the Shepherd from this eternal life being snatched away by a predator or thief.

Verse 28 is a wonderful promise that recalls the image of a strong and watchful Shepherd who absolutely will not allow either a predator or thief to snatch any of his sheep! In Greek "no one can snatch...." uses an emphatic double negative (ou mē) with the phrase "unto the age" to say "never" in the strongest possible way,[156]  emphasizing the absolute impossibility of the enemy being able to snatch us. The sheep can feel secure (3:16; 6:39; 17:12; 18:9).

"Snatch" (NIV, NRSV, ESV), "pluck" (KJV) is harpazō, which we saw in 10:12 -- "snatch, seize," that is, take suddenly and vehemently, or take away in the sense of "to make off with someone's property by attacking or seizing, steal, carry off, drag away," or similarly, "to grab or seize suddenly so as to remove or gain control, snatch/take away forcefully."[157] As A.T. Robertson puts it, "No wolf, no thief, no bandit, no hireling, no demon, not even the devil can pluck the sheep out of my hand."[158]

This is the same kind of assurance expressed in Psalm 23:4c -- "Your rod and your staff, they comfort me."

Then, to emphasize the certainty of his sheep's protection, Jesus mentions his intimate partnership with the Father in this task of protection:

"29  My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father's hand. 30  I and the Father are one." (10:29-30)

Q4. (John 10:27-30) In the world of shepherds, who would try to "snatch" a sheep? Who would try to "snatch" a Christian if he could? What promise of absolute security are we given? How does that assure you?

Claiming to Be God (10:30-33)

It's hard to imagine a stronger self-declaration of Jesus' divinity.

"I and the Father are one." (10:30)

"One" is heis, the Greek number "one." Then it can carry the meaning, "a single person or thing, with focus on quantitative aspect, one."[159] There are two close parallels in John found in Jesus' high-priestly prayer:

"Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name ... so that they may be one as we are one." (17:11)

"... that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me." (17:21)

Elsewhere in John we see very strong assertions of Jesus' divinity, his unity with the Father.

"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning." (1:1-2)

"... That all may honor the Son just as they honor the Father. He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father, who sent him." (5:23)

"Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, 'Show us the Father'? ... It is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work." (14:9-10)

"My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him." (14:23)

"All that belongs to the Father is mine." (16:15a; cf. 17:10)

Jewish Reaction to Supposed Blasphemy (10:31-33)

The reaction of the Jewish leaders is swift.

"31  Again the Jews picked up stones to stone him, 32  but Jesus said to them, 'I have shown you many great miracles from the Father. For which of these do you stone me?'
33  'We are not stoning you for any of these,' replied the Jews, 'but for blasphemy, because you, a mere man, claim to be God.'" (10:31-33)

They correctly interpret Jesus' words as a claim to be God. Jesus reminds them of his miracles that authenticate his relationship with the Father. But they can't see beyond what they call blasphemy.[160]

I Am God's Son (10:34-36)

Now Jesus quotes Psalm 82:6 to them, to demonstrate that the term "gods" could be applied to humans without requiring it to be blasphemy.

"34  Jesus answered them, 'Is it not written in your Law, "I have said you are gods"? 35  If he called them "gods," to whom the word of God came -- and the Scripture cannot be broken -- 36  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"?'" (10:34-36)

Believe the Miracles (10:37-39)

As inadequate as faith in miracles might be, it is better than no faith at all. So Jesus encourages the Jewish leaders to consider what his miracles say about him.

37  Do not believe me unless I do what my Father does. 38  But if I do it, even though you do not believe me, believe the miracles[161], that you may know and understand that the Father is in me, and I in the Father." (10:37-38)

The miracles attest to who Jesus is. And if one would ponder them, they might understand that Jesus can do these works of God because he and the Father are intertwined.

But Jesus' enemies would hear none of it.

"Again they tried to seize him, but he escaped their grasp." (10:39)

Here, it sounds like someone may have grabbed him -- at least got a hand on him, but couldn't hold on.[162] Jesus was able to "escape," to walk away.[163] This is only one of several times in John's Gospel where Jesus' enemies try to arrest or stone Jesus, but are not able to (7:30, 32, 44-46; 8:59). We see this same phenomenon in the Synoptic Gospels when people try to stone him in Nazareth (Luke 4:29-30).

Jesus Ministers Across the Jordan (10:40-42)

"40  Then Jesus went back across the Jordan to the place where John had been baptizing in the early days. Here he stayed 41  and many people came to him. They said, 'Though John never performed a miraculous sign, all that John said about this man was true.'
42  And in that place many believed in Jesus." (10:40-42)

Jerusalem is a dangerous place for Jesus, so again he retreats to another area to minister (4:3; 7:1; 11:54). There is a time to stand your ground in a dangerous place -- and there is a time to make a judicious retreat, since this wasn't Jesus' time to die.

This time Jesus goes across the Jordan River to John the Baptist's old baptizing place. He stays there, ministering there for an extended period of time. The result is that many come to faith in Jesus there along the Jordan, as his hearers remember John the Baptist's testimony about him (1:15, 29-34; 3:22-36).

Lessons for Disciples

John's Gospel: A Discipleship Journey with Jesus, by Dr. Ralph F. Wilson
Entire study is available in paperback, Kindle, and PDF formats.

This passage is rich in lessons for Jesus' disciples.

  1. Jesus' sheep know his voice, they know when he speaks to them. We disciples must learn the skill of discerning Jesus' voice from the clutter of voices in our head and in our world (10:3-4).
  2. Jesus is the Gate, he provides both protection and freedom of access to find our needs met (10:9).
  3. Jesus promises life -- eternal life, abundant overflowing life -- to his disciples. Despite the hardships of following Jesus, we get to live life to the fullest (10:10).
  4. Jesus is the Good Shepherd who is willing to do anything for his sheep. Ultimately, Jesus lays down his life for his sheep, that is, he dies for our sins and is raised to life again (10:14-15).
  5. Jesus' "flock" is to consist of both Jews and Gentiles, who will be one with each other (10:16).
  6. Jesus and the Father both absolutely protect us from Satan trying to snatch and steal us away from him. We can rest in his strong care over us (10:27-30).


Thank you, Lord, that you are a Good Shepherd watching over us, protecting us, meeting our needs, talking to us, and loving us. Thank you for laying down your life for us in the ultimate act of sacrifice. Thank you. In the wonderful and holy name of Jesus we pray. Amen.

Key Verses

"The watchman opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice." (John 10:3-4, NIV)

 "I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. He will come in and go out, and find pasture." (John 10:9, NIV)

"The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full." (John 10:10, NIV)

"I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep." (John 10:11, NIV)

"I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me -- just as the Father knows me and I know the Father -- and I lay down my life for the sheep." (John 10:14-15, NIV)

"I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd." (John 10:16, NIV)

"My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father's hand. I and the Father are one." (John 10:27-30, NIV)


[119] Paroimia, BDAG 779, 2.

[120] "Gate" (NIV), "door" (KJV) is thyra, "door," here, "a passage for entering a structure, entrance, doorway, gate" (BDAG 462, 2b).

[121] "Pen" or "fold" is aulē, "an area open to the sky (frequently surrounded by buildings, and in some cases partially by walls), enclosed open space, courtyard," here fold for sheep (BDAG 150, 1), in verses 1 and 16.

[122] "Thief" is kleptēs (from which we get our word, "kleptomaniac"), "thief" (BDAG 574).

[123] "Robber" (NIV, KJV), "bandit" (NRSV) is lēstēs, "robber, highwayman, bandit" (BDAG 594, 1).

[124] "Some other way" is allachothen, "from another place" (BDAG 46).

[125] "Listen" (NIV), "hear" (NRSV, KJV) is akouō, "hear," but here with the idea of "to give careful attention to, listen to, heed someone"(BDAG 38, 4).

[126] "Calls" is phōneō, "to produce a voiced sound/tone, frequently with reference to intensity of tone," here, "to call to oneself, summon" (BDAG 107, 3).

[127] "By name" (kat' onoma).

[128] "Watchman" (NIV), "gatekeeper" (NRSV, ESV), "porter" (KJV) is thyrōros, "doorkeeper, gatekeeper" (BDAG 462).

[129] George Adam Smith, The Historical Geography of the Holy Land (New York: A.C. Armstrong and Son, 1900), p. 312.

[130] Paroimia, "pithy saying" (BDAG 779, 2).

[131] "Pasture" is nomē, generally, "pasturing-place, grazing land, pasturage" (BDAG 675, 1).

[133] Morris, John, p. 507, n. 30, citing G. Campbell Morgan, The Gospel According to John (London and Edinburgh, 1951). In the fuller quote, Smith explains that the shepherd "was not a Christian man, he was not speaking in the language of the New Testament. He was speaking from the Arab shepherd's standpoint."

[134] "Destroy" is apollymi, "ruin, destroy," especially, "put to death" (BDAG 116, 1aα).

[135] Perissos, BDAG 805, 2a.

[136] "Lays down" (NIV, NRSV) is tithēmi, "put, place," here, in the sense, "lay down or give (up) one's life" (verses 11, 15, 17, and 18). It is a characteristic Johannine expression (also in 13:37-38; 15:13; and 1 John 3:16) (BDAG 1003, 1bβ). In verses 11 and 15 (but not verse 17 and 18), KJV text is "giveth," didōmi, "give," supported by p45 Aleph* D. The Editorial Committee prefers tithēmi, which they say is characteristically Johannine, while didōmi is found in the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew 20:28; Mark 10:45). They give tithēmi a {B}"some degree of doubt" rating (Metzger, Textual Commentary, p. 230).

[137] "Abandons" (NIV), "leaves" (NRSV, KJV) is aphiēmi, here, "to move away, with implication of causing a separation, leave, depart from ... abandon" (BDAG 156, 3a).

[138] "Runs away" (NIV, NRSV), "flees" (ESV, KJV) is pheugō, "to seek safety in flight, flee," (BDAG 1052, 1).

[139] "Attacks" (NIV), "snatches" (NRSV), "catcheth" (KJV) is harpazō, "snatch, seize," that is, take suddenly and vehemently, "to make off with someone's property by attacking or seizing, steal, carry off, drag away something" (BDAG 134, 1).

[140] "Scatters" is skorpizō, "to cause a group or gathering to go in various directions, scatter, disperse" (BDAG 931, 1).

[141] "Care" is melomai, "be an object of care, be a cause of concern" (BDAG 628).

[142] The preposition hyper is used with the genitive case: "a marker indicating that an activity or event is in some entity's interest, for, in behalf of, for the sake of someone/something." Hyper, BDAG 1030, 1aε).

[144] Morris, John, p. 509, n. 34, citing Rieu.

[145] Beasley-Murray, John, p. 170.

[146] "Know" four times in verses 14 and 15 is the generic word ginōskō, "to know," here of persons, "know someone" (BDAG 200, 6aβ).

[147] "Bring" is agō, "lead, bring, lead off, lead away" (BDAG 16, 1a).

[148] "For this reason" (NRSV, ESV, NIV), "therefore" (KJV) is dia touto oti. The preposition dia with the accusative case is "through," here, "therefore, for this reason, (namely) that" (BDAG 225, B2b).

[149] "Take it up" in verses 17 and 18 is lambanō, "take, receive," here, "to take into one's possession, take, acquire something" (BDAG 583, 3).

[150] "Takes" in 18a is airō, "to take away, remove, or seize control without suggestion of lifting up, take away, remove" (BDAG 28, 3).

[151] Exousia, BDAG 352, 1.

[152] "Command/ment" is entolē, "mandate, ordinance, command," here perhaps, "an order authorizing a specific action, writ, warrant," (BDAG 340, 1).

[153] Solomon's Colonnade was a covered porch support by columns on the east side of the temple. It is only mentioned here and in Acts 3:11; 5:12, though it is likely that Jesus often taught here when in the temple precincts.

[154] "Miracles" (NIV), "works" (NRSV, KJV) is ergon, "deed, accomplishment," speaking of miracles (BDAG 390, 1cα). Used in verses 25, 31, 37, 38.

[155] A better reading of 9:35 is "Son of Man" rather than "Son of God." See my notes on that verse above.

[156] This strong phrase is used in 4:14; 8:51-52; 10:28; 11:26; 13:8. "In Johannine usage the term is used formulaically without emphasis on eternity" (Aiōn, BDAG 32, 1b).

[157] Harpazō, BDAG 134, 2a.

[158] Robertson, Word Pictures.

[159] Heis, BDAG 291, 1b.

[160] Blasphēmia, "speech that denigrates or defames, reviling, denigration, disrespect, slander" (BDAG 178, bγ). Here Jesus is accused of words that show disrespect for God by elevating a human to his unapproachable level.

[161] "Miracles" (NIV), "works" (NRSV, ESV, KJV) in verses 25, 31, and 38 is ergon, "deed, accomplishment," referring here to miracles (BDAG 390, 1cα).

[162] "Escaped their grasp" (NIV) is more literally, "escaped from their hands" (NRSV, ESV, KJV).

[163] "Escaped" is exerchomai, "go out from," here, "to get away from or out of a difficult situation" (BDAG 347, 5).

Copyright © 2024, Ralph F. Wilson. <pastor@joyfulheart.com> All rights reserved. A single copy of this article is free. Do not put this on a website. See legal, copyright, and reprint information.

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