Jesus as the Good Shepherd, 1-21

This (10:1-42) is the 7th and last public address that John records. The two main points are that (a) Jesus is the Good Shepherd, in contrast to the false shepherds that have gone before him; and (b) that as such he voluntarily lays down his life for his sheep.

Although the beginning of this section seems rather abrupt, the connection with the previous chapter is clear from v21. ‘The blind man, so ready to heed the voice of Christ, clearly belongs among the sheep of this discourse, while the Pharisees are the very embodiment of the false shepherds’ (Morris).

‘If the scenes of the last few days had made anything plain, it was the utter unfitness of the teachers of Israel for their professed work of feeding the flock of God…They were, surely, not shepherds, who had cast out the healed blind man, or who so judged of the Christ, and would cast out all his disciples. They had entered into God’s Sheepfold, but not by the door by which the owner, God, had brought his flock into the fold. To it the entrance had been his free love, his gracious provision, his thoughts of pardoning, his purpose of saving mercy. That was God’s Old Testament-door into his Sheepfold. Not by that door, as had so lately fully appeared, had Israel’s rulers come in. They had climbed up to their place in the fold some other way-with the same right, or by the same wrong, as a thief or a robber. They had wrongfully taken what did not belong to them-cunningly and undetected, like a thief; they had allotted it to themselves, and usurped it by violence, like a robber. What more accurate description could be given of the means by which the Pharisees and Sadducees had attained the rule over God’s flock, and claimed it for themselves? And what was true of them holds equally so of all, who, like them, enter by ‘some other way.” (Edersheim)

This chapter ‘is closely connected with the preceding one. The parable before us was spoken with direct reference to the blind teachers of the Jewish Church. The Scribes and Pharisees were the persons our Lord had in view, when he described the false shepherd. The very men who had just said “We see,” were denounced with holy boldness, as “thieves and robbers”…He is not so much comforting his disciples now, as rebuking and exposing his enemies.’ (Ryle)

Teaching based on the care of sheep would have been very intelligible in ancient Palestine. Everyone would have readily understood the significance of sheep, shepherds, sheep pens and gates, thieves and robbers. Moreover, there is a rich OT background, in which much spiritual truth is taught using such imagery. The OT has a number of passages concerning shepherds who have failed in their duty. (Isa 56:9-12; Jer 23:1-4; 25:32-8; Eze 34; Zec 11) Moreover, God himself is represented as the Shepherd of Israel, Ps 80:1; Isa 40:10f). The present chapter can be viewed as a fulfilment of Eze 34:23.

The role of the shepherd was, of course, to feed and protect his flock. But the shepherd was also a ruler over the flock. In the ancient world, kings and even gods were often referred to as shepherds.

‘The Pharisees supported themselves in their opposition to Christ with this principle, that they were the pastors of the church, and that Jesus, having no commission from them, was an intruder and an impostor, and therefore the people were bound in duty to stick to them, against him. In opposition to this, Christ here describes who were the false shepherds, and who the true, leaving them to infer what they were.’ (MHC)

‘In the NT it is Christ’s mission to be Shepherd, even Chief Shepherd (Heb 13:20 and 1 Pet 2:25; also 1 Pet 5:4). This is worked out in detail in Jn. 10, which merits detailed comparison with Ezek. 34. John’s main points are: the iniquity of those who ‘creep, and intrude and climb into the fold’; the using of the door as a mark of the true shepherd; the familiarity of the sheep with the voice of their appointed leader (modern shepherds in the E use precisely the same methods); the teachings regarding the Person of Christ, who is likened to the door (E shepherds frequently slept right across the ‘door’ or opening in the fold wall); likened to the good shepherd, but contrasted with the worthless hireling. John stresses also the relationship of Christ, his followers and God; the bringing into the ‘one flock’ of the ‘other sheep’; (Jn 10:16) and the rejection of those who are not the true sheep of Christ.’ (NBD)

Jn 10:1-6: ‘The main point of this section is the means by which true and false shepherds are to be distinguished. The imagery of the shepherd is a familiar one in the OT. (cf. Jer 23 Eze 34 Zec 9) In this section the thought is most strongly influenced by Ezek. 34, where the shepherds of Israel are criticized. There is probably intended a close connection between the theme of ch. 9 and the shepherd illustration, and this is stressed by the words I tell you the truth (the double ‘truly’) of v 1. The contrast is between the bad shepherding of the Pharisees (as seen in their attitude towards the blind man) and the good shepherd.’ (NBC)

10:1 “I tell you the solemn truth, the one who does not enter the sheepfold by the door, but climbs in some other way, is a thief and a robber. 10:2 The one who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. 10:3 The doorkeeper opens the door for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 10:4 When he has brought all his own sheep out, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they recognize his voice. 10:5 They will never follow a stranger, but will run away from him, because they do not recognize the stranger’s voice.”

The sheep pen would have had walls and a single gate. Clearly, a large fold (which provided shelter for several herds) is in mind here, for a small one would not have had its own gate keeper (‘watchman’, v3).

‘During the cool winter months, sheep were kept inside a pen at night; the pen usually had a stone wall, which might have briers on top of it. (Winter was approaching at the time of this feast.) Jewish law distinguished thieves from robbers: the former broke in, whereas the latter often lived in the wilderness and assaulted passersby. Shepherds continually had to guard against losing sheep to either kind of enemy.’ (IVP Bible Background Commentary)

‘Our Lord here appeals to the common experience of his hearers. They all knew well that any one who was seen entering a sheepfold by climbing over the wall or fence of enclosure, and not by going through the door, would be justly suspected of being a thief. Every true shepherd, as a matter of course, makes sue of the door.’ (Ryle)

Some other way is any way other than through the gate, such as over the wall. There can be any number of ‘other ways’ in to the sheep pen, but only one right entrance.

A thief and a robber – The first of these terms implies fraud and dishonesty, the second suggests violence. All those who advocate false religions and philosophies might be brought under this expression, but chiefly those leaders and teachers within visible church who harm souls.

“I am…” (cont’d), John 10:1-18; John 15

(a) What kinds of people would have counted as ‘false shepherds’ in Old Testament times and in Jesus day? And in our own day?

(b) In Jn 10:10b Jesus says, “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” What has been your experience of that life? How do you think you could have a deeper experience of it?

(c) In Jn 15, Jesus stresses that, in order to be fruitful, the branch must be attached to the vine. What, according to this passage, does it mean for us to be attached to (‘remain in’) Christ? And what what does it mean (again, picking up hints from this passage) for us to be ‘fruitful’?

The following gives some picture of the shepherd: ‘His life was very hard. No flock ever grazed without a shepherd, and he was never off duty. There being little grass, the sheep were bound to wander, and since there were no protecting walls, the sheep had constantly to be watched. On either side of the narrow plateau the ground dipped sharply down to the craggy deserts and the sheep were always liable to stray away and get lost. The shepherd’s task was not only constant but dangerous, for, in addition, he had to guard the flock against wild animals. especially against wolves, and there were always thieves and robbers ready to steal the sheep. Sir George Adam Smith, who travelled in Palestine, writes: “On some high moor, across which at night the hyaenas howl, when you meet him, sleepless, far-sighted, weather-beaten, leaning on his staff, and looking out over his scattered sheep, every one of them on his heart, you understand why the shepherd of Judea sprang to the front in his people’s history; why they gave his name to their king, and made him the symbol of providence; why Christ took him as the type of self-sacrifice.” Constant vigilance, fearless courage, patient love for his flock, were the necessary characteristics of the shepherd.’ (DSB)

The man who enters by the gate has no need of clandestine or violent access to the sheep pen. He has the right to be there, and his motives are sound.

“The shepherd of his sheep” – It is easy to suppose that Jesus is referring to himself here, since later he will refer to himself as ‘the good shepherd’. But no: the imagery is in two distinct parts – in this first part, Jesus likens himself to ‘the door’, and only in the second does he become ‘the good shepherd’. Accordingly, the shepherd here (lit. ‘a shepherd’) is that pastor who enters by the gate (Jesus), and who provides proper care and protection for the flock.

The watchman opens the gate for him – It is not necessary to find a specific meaning for the watchman. Not every detail, even in an allegory, has particular significance. Ryle’s opinion is sensible in regarding ‘the whole sentence as a subordinate feature in the parable, signifying that a true shepherd of sheep not only enters by the lawful door, but that every facility is made for his entrance.’

The sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out – The shepherd calls each sheep by its name; they hear his call, and respond to it.

When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him – The shepherd brings all his sheep out of the fold, and walks ahead of them to their destination, Ex 3:1 Ps 23:2. See also Num 27:16-17.

They know his voice – In this passage, considerable stress is laid on the voice of the shepherd, and on the sheep knowing his voice.

‘During World War I, some Turkish soldiers tried to steal a flock of sheep from a hillside near Jerusalem. The shepherd, who had been sleeping, suddenly awakened to see his sheep being driven off on the other side of the ravine. He could not hope to recapture his flock by force single-handedly, but suddenly he had a thought. Standing up on his side of the ravine, he put his hands to his mouth and gave his own peculiar call, which he used each day to gather his sheep to him. The sheep heard the familiar sound. For a moment they listened and then, hearing it again, they turned and rushed down one side of the favine and up the other toward their shepherd. It was quite impossible for the soldiers to stop the animals. The shepherd was away with them to a place of safety before the soldiers could make up their minds to pursue them – and all because his sheep knew their master’s voice.’ (Illustrations for Biblical Preaching, 420)

Apparently, this can be demonstrated even in modern Palestine. ‘It appears that strangers, even when dressed in the shepherd’s clothing and attempting to imitate his call, succeed only in making the sheep run away.’ (Morris)

It will not be pressing this verse too far to apply it to Christians who refuse to entertain false teaching. We would not trust our affairs to a dishonest lawyer, or our bodies to an incompetence doctor. Why would we trust our souls to a false teacher?

‘Alas and alas, if only our modern pastors had the sheep (old and young) so trained that they would run away from and not run after the strange voices that call them to false philosophy, false psychology, false ethics, false religion, false life.’ (RWP)

10:6 Jesus told them this parable, but they did not understand what he was saying to them.

Figure of speech – The expression can mean ‘proverb’ or ‘dark saying’. This passage has often been referred to as an allegory. It is not really a parable in the Synoptic sense, since there is no connected story. There is good reason for taking special care with its interpretation, given the way it is here described and considering the response it received when it was first taught.

They did not understand what he was telling them – we presume that Jesus’ audience included the Pharisees, the disciples, the man who had been healed of blindness (perhaps) and probably other Jews.

‘We can scarcely wonder, that they who heard it did not understand the allegory, for they were not of his flock and knew not his Voice.’ (Edersheim)

‘The Pharisees appear to have failed in seeing the application of the parable…Nothing seems to blind men’s eyes so much as pride of office. Wrapped up in their conceit of their own knowledge and dignity, they did not see that they themselves who pretended to be leaders and teachers of the Jewish flocks were not shepherds, but “thieves and robbers,” doing more harm than good. They did not see that the fatal defect in their own qualification for office was ignorance of Christ and want of faith in him. They did not see that no true sheep of Christ could be expected to hear, follow, or obey their teaching. Above all, they did not see that in excommunicating the poor blind man whom our Lord had healed, they were just proving themselves to be “thieves and robbers,” and injuring one whom they ought to have helped.’ (Ryle)

Ryle adds, ‘If even one who “spake as never man spake” was not always understood, ministers cannot be surprised if they find they are often not understood now. How little of a sermon is understood, few preachers have the least idea!’

10:7 So Jesus said to them again, “I tell you the solemn truth, I am the door for the sheep. 10:8 All who came before me were thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. 10:9 I am the door. If anyone enters through me, he will be saved, and will come in and go out, and find pasture. 10:10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come so that they may have life, and may have it abundantly.

“I tell you the truth, I am the gate for the sheep” – There is an apparent problem here, in that Jesus is setting himself forth both as the shepherd and as the gate of the fold. Such fluidity is not uncommon in this Gospel: for example, Jesus both is the bread, and he gives it, 6:35. However, the difficulty with the present verse is resolved by realising that the eastern shepherd became literally the gate of the fold when he lay down at the entrance at night.

As the gate for the sheep, Jesus is the one and only way to salvation. Although the illustration is unique, the underlying thought is that of Jn 14:6. Through him, and through him alone, we find access to God, Eph 2:18 Heb 10:20.

“All who ever came before me were thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them” – ‘Those who up to now have offered ways of salvation are thieves and robbers.’ (Michaels, UBCS)

This expression is ‘strangely comprehensive’ (Morris).

Who are these people?

John 10:8 “All who came before me were thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them.”

Who is Jesus referring to?

1. All, without exception?  This is a very sweeping statement.  To be sure, our Lord would be very far from rejecting the witness of Moses, the prophets and John the Baptist, for whom he had the utmost respect (Jn 1:17, 19–36; 5:39, 46; 8:56).

Nevertheless, Klink maintains that the reference is rather broad:

‘There is and has never been access to God other than through Christ. Rather than being a statement about the first century alone, this is a cosmological interpretation of the history of religious teaching. While this need not include as “thieves and robbers” the faithful OT prophets, since they were true heralds of Christ, even the “shepherding” of Moses and the other OT prophets was insufficient in and of itself; they were temporary shepherds who shepherded through a veil which is only removed in the presence of the true shepherd (2 Cor 3:7–18). The “exclusiveness and absoluteness” of Christ not only supplements previous shepherding but fulfills it.’

2. Those who had ill-treated the man born blind?  Kruse favours this interpretation, noting that ‘the man born blind certainly did not listen to them. Those who belong to Jesus, the true shepherd, do not respond to voices such as theirs.’

But if the first option is too broad, then this one is too narrow.

3. Messianic pretenders?  See Mt 24:24; Mk 13:22.  Carson: ‘It sounds…as if reference is being made to messianic pretenders who promise the people freedom but who lead them into war, suffering and slavery.’

‘The thieves and robbers of this verse must be the same as those of v. 1, who climb up ‘some other way’, false messianic claimants and bogus ‘saviours’.’ (Barrett)

4. The Jewish religious leaders of the day?  This overlaps with the previous option.  Morris thinks this must be the reference, rather than the OT patriarchs and prophets, for whom he had nothing but respect.  ‘Before me’ belongs to the imagery, in the sense that the shepherd would come first thing in the morning, whereas thieves and robbers would strike at night-time. In fact, Jesus does not say that these ‘were’, but that they ‘are’ thieves and robbers.

Ryle, admitting the difficulty of this statement, says: ‘I can only conjecture that the sentence must be paraphrased in this way: “All who have come into the Church professing to be teachers, claiming honour for themselves instead of Me, or honouring anything in preference to Me, such as you Pharisees,—all such are not true shepherds, but thieves and robbers.”’

Whitacre agrees that, in context, Jesus is referring to the Jewish rulers who claimed to be mediators of salvation, but, unlike Moses, the prophets and John the Baptist, did not witness to Jesus.

Burge: ‘The most likely target of Jesus’ criticism is the Pharisees, who have been the subject of Jesus’ teaching since chapter 9.’

Beasley-Murray: ‘The saying is directed against those who claim to be mediators of salvation. As such it would embrace false messiahs within Judaism and redeemer gods of the pagan world, and in the present context, perhaps even more obviously, Pharisees who claimed to hold the keys of the kingdom (cf. Matt 23:13 = Luke 11:52) and in the perspective of the Gospel their successors in contemporary Judaism.’

Bruner thinks that the sense is of people who ‘put themselves up in front of’ Jesus.  ‘These influential religious persons were apparently not open to the one major hope of the people of God: the coming of the promised Messiah. They look straight past him and past his good signs and his healed persons and see only heresy, false teaching, and blasphemy.’

Lincoln: ‘As in v. 1, the primary referent is the Jewish leaders, such as the Pharisees in chapter 9 who have refused Jesus’ witness and whose attempt to gain access to the sheep by unauthorized means entails that the sheep did not listen to them.’

‘That no man may be moved by the consideration that there have been teachers in all ages who gave themselves no concern whatever about directing men to Christ, Christ expressly states that it is not matter how many there may have been of this description, nor how early they began to appear. There is but on door, and all who leave it, and make openings or breaches in the walls, are thieves.’ (Calvin)

In this part of the discourse, Jesus speaks of:-

(a) the blessings which he as shepherd brings to his flock, v9-10.
(b) how these blessings are won, vv11-15.
(c) who these blessings are for, v16.

“I am the gate” – Some things to be noted about this gate: (a) it is the way in; (b) it is the only way in; (c) it has two sides: an outside and an inside; (d) it is just one step from being on the outside to being on the inside; (e) it is used by all alike.

‘One can call this narrow intolerance, if he will, but it is the narrowness of truth. If Jesus is the Son of God sent to earth for our salvation, he is the only way. He had already said it in Jn 5:23. He will say it again more sharply in Jn 14:6. It is unpalatable to the religious dogmatists before him as it is to the liberal dogmatists today.’ (RWP)

“Whoever” – without distinction or exception or qualification.

“Saved” – This was the purpose of Jesus’ coming, Jn 3:17 5:34 12:47. The idea is expressed in terms of safe pasturage, and also, in the next verse, in terms of abundant life.

“He will come in and go out” – To do this is to treat a place like home, where you can ‘come and go as you please’. It is a Hebraism, and ‘expresses beautifully the habitual communion and happy intercourse with Christ which a true believer enjoys.’ (Ryle). Cf. Acts 1:21 9:28 Jn 14:23 Rev 3:20.

‘To describe something of what that entrance to God means, Jesus uses a well-known Hebrew phrase. He says that through him we can go in and come out. To be able to come and go unmolested was the Jewish way of describing a life that is absolutely secure and safe. When a man can go in and out without fear, it means that his country is at peace, that the forces of law and order are supreme, and that he enjoys perfect security. The leader of the nation is to be one who can bring them out and lead them in. (Nu 27:17) Of the man who is obedient to God it is said that he is blessed when he comes in and blessed when he goes out. (Deut 28:6) A child is one who is not yet able by himself to go out and to come in. (1 Kings 3:7) The Psalmist is certain that God will keep him in his going out and in his coming in.’ (Ps 121:8) (DSB)

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy” – The fact that ‘the thief’ is referred to in the singular might suggest that some particular thief is in mind; in this case, it could be the devil who is thus being identified. More probably, however, the singular is not significant: Jesus is referring to ‘any thief’.  In context, the ‘thieves’, ‘robbers’ and ‘wolves’ (Jn 10:1, 5, 8, 10, 12) are those who have sought to exploit the sheep, rather than approaching them in the name and spirit of Jesus, who was prepared to die defending them.  In fact, there is a link back to the religious leaders of Jn 9:35-41 and their attitude to the man who had been blind.  Jer 23 and Eze 34 also speak of religious leaders who came to destroy, rather than to defend.

Whereas the purpose of Jesus’ coming was salvation and abundant life, the purpose of the thief is purely for selfish personal gain. The thief comes to destroy life; Jesus comes to give life. On the covetousness of the Pharisees and scribes, see Lk 16:14; Mk 12:40.

“I have come that they might have life” – This is in contrast to the stealing, killing and destroying of the thief. This was the great purpose that Christ came. He did not come primarily to be the teacher of new doctrines, the peddlar of a new morality, or even the founder of a new religion. He came ‘that they might have life’.

“And have it to the full” – The word ‘it’ is absent in the original. Thus the meaning might be more like, ‘I have come that they might have life and abundance’ – a comprehensive summary of all happiness. ‘Christ secures for his people, not only life, but a royal life – “they reign in life;” not only grace and the gift of righteousness,” but “abundance of grace, and of the gift of righteousness.” He “blesses them with all heavenly and spiritual blessings.” He “supplies their need, according to his glorious riches.” He “makes all grace to abound to them” – “forgiving all their iniquities – healing their diseases – crowning them with loving-kindness and tender mercies.”‘ (Brown, cf. Rom 5:17 Eph 1:3 2 Cor 9:8 Ps 103:3f)

Several similar expressions are used in the NT for the idea of ‘abundance’. These apply to the grace of God, Rom 5:20, and to the energy of God on his people’s behalf, Eph 3:20. The Christian abounds in astonishment at the healing power of Jesus, Mk 7:37; in joy, 2 Cor 7:4; and in prayer, 1 Thess 3:10. Other Scriptures teach that the believer has abundance of grace, 2 Cor 9:8; of life, Jn 10:10; of hope, Rom 15:13; of Love, Php 1:9; of joy, Php 1:26; of work, 1 Cor 15:58; and of consolation, 2 Cor 1:5. (Naismith, 1200 Notes, Quotes & Anecdotes, adapted)

Jesus always provides an overflowing measure, a surplus.

The blessings are as permanent as they are numerous, Jn 10:30; cf. Jn 3:16.

This expression ‘denotes that which is not absolutely essential to life, but which is superadded to make life happy. They shall not merely have life-simple”], bare existence-but they shall have all those superadded things which are needful to make that life eminently blessed and happy. It would be vast mercy to keep men merely from annihilation or hell; but Jesus will give them eternal joy, peace, the society of the blessed, and all those exalted means of felicity which are prepared for them in the world of glory.’ (Barnes)

‘This is a proverbial way of insisting that there is only one means of receiving eternal life…only one source of knowledge of God, only one fount of spiritual nourishment, only one basis for spiritual security – Jesus alone. The world still seeks its humanistic, political saviours – its Hitlers, its Stalins, its Maos, its Pol Pots – and only too late does it learn that they blatantly confiscate personal property (they come “only to steal”), ruthlessly trample human life under foot (they come “only…to kill”) and contemptuously savage all that is valuable (they come “only…to destroy”).’ (Carson)

We should hesitate before assuming that what Jesus meant by ‘abundant life’ is self-fulfilment, self-determination, and all those other self-centred experiences that so many wish for today.  It has, for example, been argued from this saying that to deny people expression of their same-sex attraction would be to prevent them from living this ‘fulness of life’.  But Jesus himself defines that life not in terms of self-sulfilment, but in terms of obeying his commandments.  See this by Ian Paul.

10:11 “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 10:12 The hired hand, who is not a shepherd and does not own sheep, sees the wolf coming and abandons the sheep and runs away. So the wolf attacks the sheep and scatters them. 10:13 Because he is a hired hand and is not concerned about the sheep, he runs away.

“I am the good shepherd” – Here are words which, as Brown says, ‘are at once transparently clear, and unfathomably deep. There is much important truth on the surface – there is more, much more, beneath it’.

The phrase can be approached as follows:-

  • I am a shepherd‘ – in contrast to the thieves and robbers.
  • I am a good shepherd‘ – There were all kinds of shepherds; unfortunately, some were a disgrace to their calling. There were false shepherds who deserted their flocks in time of danger, and inexperienced shepherds unable to find good pasture. There were worthless shepherds in OT days, Jer 23:1 ff Eze 34 Zec 11:17; Jesus, then, is a good Shepherd in contrast to the Jewish leaders of the day who, despite their tradition, training, and status, and though claiming to be spiritual shepherds, were no better than ‘thieves and robbers’.
  • I am the good shepherd‘ – immediately suggesting those OT passages in which Jehovah himself, or his appointed agent, is the good shepherd of Israel. See Ps 23 79:13 80:1 95:7 Isa 40:11 Eze 34.

As the good shepherd, Christ has all the knowledge, wisdom, power, authority, kindness, faithfulness, and individual concern to fulfill this purpose. And he does fulfill it: he rescues his sheep from the great thief and robber, and brings them into his flock; he gives them nourishment, refreshment, and repose; he guards them from danger, guides them in perplexity, heals their diseases, reclaims them from their wanderings; and at last, safely houses them in his heavenly fold. (Brown).

More specifically, notice:-

  • the priceless blessings he brings them. Whereas the thief comes only to steal and to destroy, he came that they might have life and abundance.
  • the supreme sacrifice he makes for them. Whereas the hired hand flees in time of danger, the good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep – only to take it up again.
  • the intimate relationship he sustains with them. He knows them, and they know him.
  • the safe gathering he assures them. He has other sheep, not of this fold, which he must also bring in, that that there shall be one flock, and one Shepherd.

As the good Shepherd, Jn 10:11, and great bishop of men’s souls, 1 Pet 2:25, Christ is also the pattern for the ministry of eldership. Pastoral care is a great part of this ministry, and involves the preaching of the word, 1 Cor 3:1-2 as the bread of life, Jn 6:35. ‘Although there is only one good shepherd, namely, Jesus, nevertheless, there are lessons here for every under-shepherd, for every minister. He too should exercise protecting care with reference to his flock, should know each member, and should tenderly love each and all.’ (Hendriksen)

As the good shepherd, Christ, knows his flock, cares for them, and, moreover, “lays down his life for the sheep.” This cannot have been a common occurrence among eastern shepherds, but the thought seems to come naturally to Jesus. Even if an eastern shepherd did die for his sheep, it would have been accidental, but in the case of Jesus it was voluntary. Moreover, in the former case it would have spelt disaster for the sheep, for the followers of Jesus it means life. The expression itself is remarkable, and suggests strongly both that the death was voluntary, and that it was sacrificial.

‘It is a proof of kindness to confer benefits; but the proof becomes greatly stronger when the conferring of the benefit necessarily implies much exertion, sacrifice, and suffering, on the part of the benefactor. In the case of the good Shepherd, we have this additional evidence in the highest conceivable form.’ (Brown)

There is in this expression the strongest indication of the danger the sheep were in.

The Pharisees have been likened to thieves and robbers. They are at best like hired hands. The point is that the hired hand is interested in his wages; the shepherd is interested in his sheep. The Mishnah sets out the legal responsibilities of the hired shepherd: if one wolf attacks the flock, he is bound to defend the sheep, but he is not held responsible for the damage that two wolves may do. Jesus has pride of ownership in his sheep. That is why his protection is unconditional and costly.

‘No class of character throughout our Lord’s ministry seems to call forth such severe denunciation as that of false pastors. The reason is obvious. Other men ruin themselves alone: false pastors ruin their flocks as well as themselves.’ (Ryle)

There is a lesson in this exposition, not only about the sacrifice of the Savior but also the true nature of ministry.

10:14 “I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me—10:15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep.

“I know my sheep and my sheep know me” – ‘Our Lord, like a good earthly shepherd, knows every one of his people, – knows them with a special knowledge of love and approval; knows where they dwell and all about them, their weakness, trials, and temptations, and knows exactly what each one needs from day to day. His people, on the other hand, know him with the knowledge of faith and confidence, and can feel in him a loving trust of which an unbeliever can form no idea. They know him as their own Friend and Saviour, and rest on the knowledge.’ (Ryle)

“I know my sheep” – he knows who they are; he knows all about them. He knows their strengths and their weaknesses, their words and their thoughts, their public and their private behaviour, their past and their present, their joys and their fears. But the verb ‘to know’ in Scripture frequently goes beyond even this, to indicate that the one thus known is the object of particular love and care, cf. Am 3:2. The good Shepherd recognises the sheep as his own.

‘Know my people, or my church. The word know here is used in the sense of affectionate regard or love. It implies such a knowledge of their wants, their dangers, and their characters, as to result in a deep interest in their welfare. Thus the word “knoweth,” in Jn 10:15, is in Jn 10:17 explained by the word “loveth.” Jesus knows the hearts, the dangers, and the wants of his people, and his kindness as their shepherd prompts him to defend and aid them.’ (Barnes)

“My sheep know me” – there is mutual knowledge and communion. They distinguish him from all others; they make it their business to know more about him; they know him experientially. They have not only heard about him; they hear his voice. They eat his flesh and drink his blood, Jn 6:55.

‘That is, he is known and loved as their Saviour and Friend. They have seen their sins, and dangers, and wants; they have felt their need of a Saviour; they have come to him, and they have found him and his doctrines to be such as they need, and they have loved him. And as a flock follows and obeys its kind shepherd, so they follow and obey him who leads them beside the still waters, and makes them to lie down in green pastures.’ (Barnes)

“Just as the Father knows me and I know the Father” – The verb ‘to know’ occurs four times in two verses. ‘It is here a knowledge of experience and of loving fellowship. Jesus acknowledges his own (as his true disciples); they acknowledge him (as their Lord).’ (Hendriksen)

Brown remarks that a person’s way of illustrating a concept often disclose much about that person’s background and profession. A farmer, a merchant, a lawyer, a physician, a soldier – even when expressing the same thought – will tend to express it in such a way as to enable the thoughtful hearer a clue to their respective professions. Now our Lord also used illustrations that were natural to him. Here, and elsewhere, refers naturally to his eternal relationship with his heavenly Father. ‘Who but Christ – he who had been “in the bosom of the Father” – would have used such language as this to illustrate his love to his people?’ (Cf. Jn 1:18 15:9)

On the close of the relationship between the Father and the Son, see Jn 10:30,38 14:11,17,21; and also Mt 11:27.

This verse, taken with the preceding, teaches ‘that the mutual knowledge of Christ and his sheep is like the mutual knowledge of the Father and the Son, – a knowledge so high, so deep, so intimate, so ineffable, that no words can fully convey it. The full nature of that knowledge which the First Person of the Trinity has of the Second and the Second has of the First, is something far beyond finite man’s understanding. It is in short a deep mystery. Yet the mutual knowledge and communion of Christ and believers is something so deep and wonderful that it can only be compared, though at a vast distance, to that which exists between the Father and the Son.’ (Ryle)

‘Taken alone and by itself this sentence undoubtedly contains the doctrine of particular redemption. It declares that Christ “lays down His life for the sheep.” That He does so in a special sense I think none can deny. The “sheep” alone, or true believers, obtain any saving benefit from His death. But to argue from this text, that in no sense and in no way did Christ die for any beside His “sheep,” is to say what seems to me to contradict Scripture. The plain truth is that the extent of redemption is not the leading subject of this verse. Our Lord is saying what He does for His sheep: He loves them so that He dies for them. But it does not follow that we are to conclude that His death was not meant to influence and effect the position of all mankind.’ (Ryle)

10:16 I have other sheep that do not come from this sheepfold. I must bring them too, and they will listen to my voice, so that there will be one flock and one shepherd.
‘One flock and one shepherd’

  1. Disciples – in the same school – one Master, Acts 20:7
  2. Children – in the same family – one Father, Jn 11:52
  3. Sheep – in the same flock – one Shepherd, Jn 10:16
  4. Saints – in the same covenant – one Rank, Rom 1:7
  5. Stones – in the same building – one Foundation, 1 Pet 2:
  6. Members – of the same body – one Head, Rom 12:5
  7. The Bride (future) – in the same glory – one Bridegroom, Rev 21:2,9

(Naismith, 1200 Scripture Outlines)

“I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen” – It would seem natural to assume that Jesus is referring to the world-wide expansion of the gospel, and to the bringing in of Gentiles as well as Jews. See Ps 2:8. See also Eph 2:11-22 for a great commentary on the breaking down of the middle wall of partition between Jew and Gentile.

‘This does not imply that they were then his friends, but that they would be. There were others whom it was his purpose and intention to call to the blessings of the gospel and salvation. The purpose was so sure, and the fact that they would believe on him so certain, that he could use the present tense as if they were already his own.’ (Barnes)

It is significant that these ‘other sheep’ are spoken of as already belonging to Jesus although yet to be brought in, cf Acts 18:10. It is noteworthy also that Jesus speaks of himself as ‘bringing them’, and them as ‘listening to his voice’, although this would be done by his apostles and evangelists; they, and other Christian ministers, will be Christ’s under-shepherds.

The expression, “I have other sheep” is in the present tense. ‘The heathen sheep were as yet heathen, and not brought in: yet his sayd, “I have them.” They were already given to him in the eternal counsels, and foreknown from the beginning of the world.’ (Ryle)

The 'other sheep' in Watchtower teaching
In the teaching of Jehovah’s Witnesses, the saved are divided into two groups.  First, there is the special anointed class of 144,000 who will share the life of Christ in heaven.  Second, there are the ‘other sheep’ who constitute the vast majority of believers.  This latter group are taught that if they stay close to the Watchtower association, absorb its doctrines, and distribute its literature they might be saved.

According to Watchtower teaching, much of the NT is applicable to the 144,000, and not to the ‘other sheep’.  ‘All Scriptural passages dealing with regeneration, sanctification, anointing, and consecration, all passages which speak of being sealed by the Spirit, filled with the Spirit, or testified to by the Spirit; all passages which describe the body of Christ, the bride of Christ, the new creation, the holy nation, and the elect…are intended, so the Witnesses say, only for the anointed class and mean nothing for the other sheep.’ (Hoekema, The Four Major Cults, 285)

“I must bring them also” – Jesus “is to be regarded as ‘chief in bringing in his elect, whatever instruments he employs; and he is at pains to seek them, and gain their consent, as being bound in the covenant of redemption to present all that are given him blameless before the Father.’ (Hutcheson)

“They too will listen to my voice” – Especially would this happen through the ministry of the apostles, speaking in Christ’s name, Lk 10:16.

‘These words read like a transcript from the Acts and the Epistles of Paul. (Rom 9:1-11:36 in particular) See especially Paul’s words in Acts 28:28. Present-day Christianity is here foretold. Only do we really listen to the voice of the Shepherd as we should? Jesus means that the Gentiles will hearken if the Jews turn away from him.’ (RWP)

‘The leaders of the Church are the shepherds and the people are the flock. It is the duty of the leader to feed the flock of God, to accept the oversight willingly and not by constraint, to do it eagerly and not for love of money, not to use the position for the exercise of power and to be an example to the flock. (1 Pet 5:2-3) Paul urges the elders of Ephesus to take heed to all the flock over which the Holy Spirit had made them overseers. (Ac 20:28) It is Jesus’ last command to Peter that he should feed his lambs and his sheep. (Jn 21:15-19) The very word pastor (Eph 4:11) is the Latin word for shepherd.’ (DSB)

‘Peter Cameron Scott was born in Glasgow in 1867 and became the founder of the Africa Inland Mission. But his beginnings in Africa were anything but auspicious. His first trip to Africa ended in a severe attack of malaria that sent him home. He resolved to return after recuperation.

This return was especially gratifying to Scott, because this time his brother John joined him. But before long John was struck down by fever. All alone, Peter buried his brother, and in the agony of those days recommitted himself to preaching the gospel in Africa. Yet again his health gave way and he had to return to England.

How would he ever pull out of the desolation and depression of those days? He had pledged himself to God. But where could he find strength to go back again to Africa? With man it was impossible!

He found strength in Westminster Abbey. David Livingstone’s tomb is there. Scott entered quietly, found the tomb, and knelt in front of it to pray. The inscription reads,


He arose from his knees with a new hope. He returned to Africa. And the mission he founded is a vibrant, growing force for the gospel today.’ John Piper, Desiring God)

“There shall be one flock and one shepherd” – A striking statement concerning the essential unity of all believers. ‘As there is one shepherd, so there shall be one fold. Both Jews and Gentiles, upon their turning to the faith of Christ, shall be incorporated in one church, be joint and equal sharers in the privileges of it, without distinction. Being united to Christ, they shall unite in him; two sticks shall become one in the hand of the Lord. Note, one shepherd makes one fold; one Christ makes one church. As the church is one in its constitution, subject to one head, animated by one Spirit, and guided by one rule, so the members of it ought to be one in love and affection, Eph 4:3-6.’ (MHC)

‘One flock’ = ‘One church; there shall be no distinction, no peculiar national privileges. The partition between the Jews and the Gentiles shall be broken down, and there shall be no pre-eminence of rank or honour, Eph 2:14 “Christ hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us; “Rom 10:12: “There is no difference between the Jew and the Greek.’ (Barnes)

We must not make this statement either too narrow or too broad. We make it too narrow when we only recognise as real Christians those who belong to our own group or party. We make it too broad when we include all professing Christians, whatever their creed or behaviour. The distinguishing feature is that ‘they will listen to Christ’s voice’.

‘The prediction here made was contrary to Jewish prejudices. The Jews thought they alone were God’s flock and favoured people. Even the Apostles afterwards were slow to remember these words.’ (Ryle)

‘A very great truth is proclaimed here, namely, that the flock of Christ will no longer be almost confined to believers from among the Jews. A new period is dawning. During the old dispensation all the nations – with the exception of the Jews – were under the thraldom of satan…But that is going to change now. The church is going to become international. Through the labours of Paul and other great missionaries who were to follow him believers from among the Gentiles would be added to the church. The great blessing of Pentecost and the Gospel Age which followed it is here predicted…In a sense it was predicted even in the Old Testament: Gen 12:3; Ps 72:8f; 87:4-6; Isa 60:3; Joe 2:28; Zep 2:9; Mal 1:11. But there the idea that elect from among the Gentiles will come in on the basis of equality with the elect of israel does not receive emphasis. The usual representation is that Israel’s tent will be enlarged so as tohave room also for the nations, (Isa 54:2f) that the nations shall go to the mountain of Jehovah in Jerusalem. (Mic 4:1f) The idea that the Gentiles would be fellow-heirs, and fellow-members of the body, and fellow-partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus, in other words that they would enter into the kingdom on the basis of equality with the Jews, this idea (though not excluded by the prophets) is not stressed in the Old Testament. Hence, Paul could speak of it as a mystery. (Eph 1:9,10 3:1-6) But that very idea is here proclaimed by Jesus.’ (Hendriksen) The same commentator adds that this passage can be regarded as a key to the explanation of the term ‘world’ in Jn 1:29; 3:16,17; 4:42; 6:51; 8:12; 9:5; 11:52; 12:46.

10:17 This is why the Father loves me—because I lay down my life, so that I may take it back again. 10:18 No one takes it away from me, but I lay it down of my own free will. I have the authority to lay it down, and I have the authority to take it back again. This commandment I received from my Father.”

“The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life” – This is the third time in this discourse that Jesus has stressed that he will lay down his life (cf vv11, 15). Here this action is given as the reason that the Father loves him. ‘We may surely gather from this verse that our Lord’s coming into this world to lay down his life for the sheep by dying on the cross, and to take it again for their justification by rising again from the dead, was a transaction viewed with infinite complacency and approbation by God the Father.’ (Ryle) See Isa 53:12 Mt 3:17 Php 2:9.

This prompts us to reflect on what a life it was that was layed down for us – ‘a life more valuable than all the lives of men or of angels – the life of an absolutely innocent, an absolutely perfect, man – a man possessed of all possible wisdom, and holiness, and benignity – a man infinitely dignified by personal union to Divinity! The blood shed for us, and by which we are redeemed, is infinitely more valuable, and therefore the shedding of it infinitely more expressive of live, than would have been the sacrifice fo the whole created universe. And then, still further, the life was laid down in the room of the guilty; the death was the death of a victim.’ (Brown)

“Only to take it up again” – Answering the objection, ‘If he lays down his life for the sheep, how can he subsequently take care of them?’ The Shepherd lays down his life to secure the blessings; he takes it up again in order to bestow them. Because he dies, they are saved from death; because he lives, they live by his life.

‘The flock has been carried off by the thief and robber, and he is determined to resist all attempts to wrest from him his ill-earned booty. The shepherd must engage in conflict with him. The proud defiance of the lawless one, supported by his legions is, “Shall the prey be taken from the mighty; shall the captives of the terrible one be delivered?” (Isa 49:24) The shepherd enters on a combat apparently more unequal than that of David with Goliath. Alone he attacks his numerous assailants; and falls under the foul and murderous blows. A shout of triumph rises from the felon crew. But the triumph is short – the joy is but for a moment. The smitten Shepherd, having touched the earth, rises from the bed of death, and, armed with preternatural strength, overwhelms with shame and discomfiture the armies of robbers, and takes possession of his flock, now doubly his own.’ (Brown)

Or, the picture is of the flock being attacked by a pack of wolves. The shepherd rushes in, and becomes himself a prey to them. But no sooner has he fallen, than he rises, and completely destroys them all, setting his sheep free from danger. ‘In this view of the figure, we see death, and the other penal evils to which the whole race to which our Lord’s flock belongs had exposed themselves, laying hold on the Redeemer and as he submits to these, we hear him saying, ‘Where, O death, are your plagues? Where, O grave, is your destruction?’ (Ho 13:14) we see him destroying death, by dying; ransoming from the grave, by lying down in it; redeeming from the curse, by become a curse; bearing, and by bearing, bearing away the sins of men.’ (Brown)

These two things – laying down his life and taking it up again – are not simply experienced by Christ, but accomplished by him.

John Flavel (The Fountain of Life) emphasises that Christ was raised by his own divine power: ‘It was not the angel who rolled back the stone that revived him in the sepulcher, but he resumed his own life; so he tells us, John 10:18. “I lay down my life that I may take it again.” Hence 1 Pet. 3:18. He is said to be put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit, that is by the power of his Godhead, or divine nature, which is opposed there to flesh, or his human nature. By the eternal Spirit he offered himself up to God, when he died, Heb. 9:14. that is by his own Godhead, not the third person in the Trinity, for then it could not have been ascribed to him as his own act, that he offered up himself. And by the same Spirit he was quickened again.  And, therefore, the apostle well observes, Rom. 1:4. “That he was declared to be the Son of God with power, by his resurrection from the dead.” Now if he had been raised by the power of the Father, or Spirit only, and not by his own, how could he be declared by his resurrection to be the Son of God? What more had appeared in him than in others? For others are raised by the power of God, if that were all. So that in this respect also it was a marvelous resurrection. Never any did, or shall rise as Christ rose by a self-quickening principle. For though many dead saints rose at that time also, yet it was by the virtue of Christ’s resurrection that their graves were opened, and their bodies quickened. In which respect he says, John 11:25. when he raised dead Lazarus, “I am the resurrection and the life,” that is the principle of life and quickening, by which the dead saints are raised.’

“No one takes it from me” – Not Judas, nor Caiaphas, nor Pilate, nor the Sanhedrin. ‘Nowhere is John’s view of Jesus as in complete control of every situation brought out more strongly than here. The Lord’s death does not take place as the result of misadventure or the might of his foes or the like. No man takes his life from him. Far from this being the case, he himself lays it down and does so completely of his own volition.’ (Morris)

Jesus is in complete control of every situation in which he finds himself. If he dies, he is ‘laying down his life’. If he is raised, he is ‘taking it up again’. There are pointers to this in references to his time being ‘not yet come’, and, later to his time ‘having come’.

‘Christ could, when he pleased, slip the knot of union between body and soul, and without any act of violence done to himself, could disengage them from each other. Havnig voluntarily taken up a body, he could voluntarily lay it down again.’ (Henry)

Our Lord submitted to death entirely of his own free will, cf. Mt 26:53. He voluntarily endured the cross, in order that we might have life by his death, and ‘for the joy that was set before him’, Heb 12. Death did not finally defeat him: he defeated death.

“I have…authority to take it up again” – It was ‘impossible for death to keep its hold on him’, Acts 2:24.

And if the good Shepherd has such power to lay down his life and to take it up again, can we not trust him to care for us in life and also in death?

‘This shows that he was divine. A dead man has no power to raise himself from the grave. And as Jesus had this power after he was deceased, it proves that there was some other nature than that which had expired, to which the term “I” might be still applied. None but God can raise the dead; and as Jesus had this power over his own body it proves that he was divine.’ (Barnes)

“This command I received from my Father” – Typically, the whole course of Jesus’ death and resurrection is linked back to his obedience to his Father’s will.

10:19 Another sharp division took place among the Jewish people because of these words. 10:20 Many of them were saying, “He is possessed by a demon and has lost his mind! Why do you listen to him?” 10:21 Others said, “These are not the words of someone possessed by a demon. A demon cannot cause the blind to see, can it?”

The Jews – The term is likely to be general, referring to both the crowds and the leaders.

The person, work, and message of Jesus always divides men. What will we make of this man?

“He is demon-possessed and raving mad”

‘The people who listened to Jesus on this occasion were confronted with a dilemma which is for ever confronting men. Either Jesus was a megalomaniac madman, or he was the Son of God. There is no escape from that choice. If a man speaks about God and about himself in the way in which Jesus spoke, either he is completely deluded, or else he is profoundly right. The claims which Jesus made signify either insanity or divinity. How can we assure ourselves that they were indeed justified and not the world’s greatest delusion? (i) The words of Jesus are not the words of a madman. We could cite witness after witness to prove that the teaching of Jesus is the supreme sanity. Thinking men and women in every generation have judged the teaching of Jesus the one hope of sanity for a mad world. His is the one voice which speaks God’s sense in the midst of man’s delusions. (ii) The deeds of Jesus are not the deeds of a madman. He healed the sick and fed the hungry and comforted the sorrowing. The madness of megalomania is essentially selfish. It seeks for nothing but its own glory and prestige. But Jesus’ life was spent in doing things for others. As the Jews themselves said, a man who was mad would not be able to open the eyes of the blind. (iii) The effect of Jesus is not the effect of a madman. The undeniable fact is that millions upon millions of lives have been changed by the power of Jesus Christ. The weak have become strong, the selfish have become selfless, the defeated have become victorious, the worried have become serene, the bad have become good. It is not madness which produces such a change, but wisdom and sanity. The choice remains-Jesus was either mad or divine. No honest person can review the evidence and come to any other conclusion than that Jesus brought into the world, not a deluded madness, but the perfect sanity of God.’ (DSB)

‘”I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God.” That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic – on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg – or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God; or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon, or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.’ (C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity)

Jesus at the Feast of Dedication, 22-42

10:22 Then came the feast of the Dedication in Jerusalem. 10:23 It was winter, and Jesus was walking in the temple area in Solomon’s Portico.

The Feast of Dedication (Hanukkah) was held in December, some months later than the events recorded in ch. 9 and 10:1-21. Itr should not be thought improbable that Jesus would take up the theme of the good shepherd which some time earlier been the subject of a discourse. The miracle at Bethzatha, Jn 5:2, is taken up again many months later, Jn 7:23.

‘This feast was first instituted by Judas Maccabeus to mark the rededication of the temple after its defilement by Antiochus Epiphanes in 164 BC.’ (NBC)

Solomon’s Colonnade – See Acts 3:11.  In the winter, a cold wind would have blown in from the East, across the desert.  Solomon’s Colonnade was on the eastern side of the Temple, offering protection from the wind.

10:24 The Jewish leaders surrounded him and asked, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.” 10:25 Jesus replied, “I told you and you do not believe. The deeds I do in my Father’s name testify about me. 10:26 But you refuse to believe because you are not my sheep.

But their motive in asking this question had more to do with finding enough evidence condemn him, rather than enough evidence to believe him.

‘While Jesus never claimed publicly among ‘the Jews’ that he was the Messiah, in various ways his words had indicated to them who he was. He told Nicodemus, a Pharisee and a ruler of the Jews, that he was the Son of Man who came down from heaven (Jn 3:13–14). Following the healing of the lame man at the Pool of Bethesda Jesus told ‘the Jews’ the works he did were the works of his Father, and they sought to kill him because, by so saying, he was making himself equal with God (Jn 5:16–18). Jesus told them God had entrusted all judgment to him and granted him to have life in himself so that he could raise the dead, both of which are divine prerogatives (Jn 5:22, 24–26). During the Feast of Tabernacles he told ‘the Jews’ that he knew God and had been sent by God (Jn 7:28–29). He also publicly invited those who were thirsty to come to him and drink, promising to give them the streams of living water of which the Scriptures spoke (Jn 7:37–38). He told ‘the Jews’ that ‘before Abraham was born I am’ (Jn 8:58), appropriating for himself the divine name. He presented himself as the good shepherd (11, 14), identifying himself with God who, in the OT, is the shepherd of Israel. Despite all these things, Jesus said, ‘you do not believe’.’ (Kruse)

“I did tell you” – although in deed, and only indirectly in word.

10:27 My sheep listen to my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. 10:28 I give them eternal life, and they will never perish; no one will snatch them from my hand. 10:29 My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one can snatch them from my Father’s hand. 10:30 The Father and I are one.”

“My sheep listen to my voice” – Jesus’ ‘”voice” is his claim, his promise and his call. “I am the bread of life . . . the gate for the sheep . . . the good shepherd . . . the resurrection” (Jn 6:35; 10:7, 14; 11:25). “He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him. Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears my word and believes him who sent me, has eternal life” (Jn 5:23–24 RSV). “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me . . . and you will find rest” (Mt 11:28–29).  Jesus’ voice is “heard” when Jesus’ claim is acknowledged, his promise trusted and his call answered. From then on, Jesus is known as shepherd, and those who trust him he knows as his own sheep. “l 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” (Jn 10:27–28). To know Jesus is to be saved by Jesus, here and hereafter, from sin, and guilt, and death.’ (J.I. Packer, Knowing God)

‘Christ declares that his people ‘will never perish’. Weak as they are they will all be saved. Not one of them shall be lost and cast away: not one of them shall miss heaven. If they err, they shall be brought back; if they fall, they shall be raised. The enemies of their soul may be strong and mighty, but their Saviour is mightier; and none shall pluck them out of their Saviour’s hand.’ (J.C. Ryle)

“I and the Father are one” – Cf. Jn 5:23; 12:44; 15:23; 14:7,9. See also Mk 9:37.

Muslims argue that Jesus cannot be claiming an ontological equality with God here, because otherwise he would be praying in Jn 17:21 for believers themselves to have an ontological unity with the Father and the Son.

In context, the unity referred to here is first and foremost a unity of purpose and function, rather than a metaphysical unity.  ‘The Father and Son are one in the mission of the Son, and hence those whom the Son calls and undertakes to protect are simultaneously the concern of the Father’ (Milne, BST).  However, as Milne goes on to say, ‘this unity of action is finally inseparable from a unity of persons. To assert, as Jesus does here, that he is so at one with the living God that his action is the action of God in and through him, is necessarily to say something about the way in which God and Jesus are related. A claim such as this reflects no merely human consciousness. It is nothing other than a ‘word made flesh’ consciousness. It is certainly not exceeding the limits of this text, therefore, to establish a connection with the prologue and the confession there of the deity of Christ.’

Lincoln makes a similar point: in strict context, Jesus is asserting that he and the Father are one in their task of keeping the sheep safe.  But, as the later church affirmed, there are wider implications concerning the ontological equality of the two.  It would seem that the crowd well understood this, for it was at that point that they sought to put him to death.

‘So closely are the Father and Son identified in the mission of Jesus that some idea of unity of essence is involved, although with separateness of identity. Such an understanding of these words is in complete agreement with the statement in Jn 1:1.’ (NBC)

‘This is the first explicit statement of Jesus’ oneness with the Father. Describing this oneness, the evangelist does not use the masculine form of the adjective ‘one’ (heis), which would suggest that Father and Son are one person. Instead, he uses the neuter form (hen), suggesting that the oneness of Father and Son here is oneness in mission and purpose. Father and Son are at one in their commitment to prevent anyone from snatching believers out of their hands. Here the nature of oneness is functional; later in the Gospel it involves unity of being (Jn 17:21–23).’ (Kruse)

This phrase confirms (contra Sabellianism) the diversity of the divine persons (“I and the Father”) and, (contra Arianism) their unity of essence (“…are one”).

10:31 The Jewish leaders picked up rocks again to stone him to death. 10:32 Jesus said to them, “I have shown you many good deeds from the Father. For which one of them are you going to stone me?” 10:33 The Jewish leaders replied, “We are not going to stone you for a good deed but for blasphemy, because you, a man, are claiming to be God.”

Note the sarcasm here.

“Claim to be God” – ‘The Greek here, ‘make yourself God’, is significant and also ironic, for this is precisely what Jesus is not guilty of doing. He is not a mere man who is aspiring to ‘become as God’, a repetition of the primal sin of Adam in Eden. Jesus has totally renounced any claim for himself. He is only who the Father appoints him to be. He is not bent on his own glory, but seeks only the glory of the Father. He did not grasp at equality with God (Phil. 2:6).’ (Milne, BST)

10:34 Jesus answered, “Is it not written in your law, ‘I said, you are gods’? 10:35 If those people to whom the word of God came were called ‘gods’ (and the scripture cannot be broken), 10:36 do you say about the one whom the Father set apart and sent into the world, ‘You are blaspheming,’ because I said, ‘I am the Son of God’?

“Your law” – The word ‘your’ is omitted in some manuscripts.  Jesus is using the term to include all of the OT scriptures, for the quote comes from Psa 82:6.  The expression does not distance Jesus from the law (as if it were their law but not his), but simply emphasises that it is the law which they themselves are committed to.

Michaels (UBCS) puts it clearly:

‘When he says your Law, Jesus does not mean that the Scripture belongs to his opponents and not himself, but rather that an appeal to Scripture (unlike the mysterious appeals he has been making to the authority of his Father) is an appeal in which he and his opponents stand on common ground.’

“‘I have said you are gods'”

'You are gods'?

John 10:34 ‘Jesus answered, “Is it not written in your law, ‘I said, you are gods’? 10:35 If those people to whom the word of God came were called ‘gods’ (and the scripture cannot be broken), 10:36 do you say about the one whom the Father set apart and sent into the world, ‘You are blaspheming,’ because I said, ‘I am the Son of God’?’

To whom does this refer?

1. According to Carson, this probably refers to the people of Israel at the time they were given the law. They were the people ‘to whom the word of God came’ (v35).

Kruse agrees that

‘the statement ‘You are gods’ was understood in later rabbinic exegesis to be God’s word to the Israelites at Sinai when they received the law. God said to them, ‘You are gods,’ because in receiving the law and living by it they would be holy and live like gods. But because they departed from the law and worshipped the golden calf while still at Sinai, he said to them, ‘you will die like mere men’.’

‘In John 10:34, when accused of blasphemy, our Lord appealed to Psalm 82:6 by saying, “Is it not written in your Law, ‘I have said you are Gods’?” In so doing, Jesus was demonstrating that the title could be attached to certain men “to whom the word of God came” (Jn 10:35), and therefore there could not be any prima facie objections lodged against his claim to be divine. There was a legitimate attachment of the word to those people who had been specially prepared by God to administer his law and word to the people.’ (HSB)

2. An alternative interpretation is that the reference is to Old Testament judges ‘who stand in the place of God to judge His people. Being His representatives, they possess delegated authority to speak on His behalf. In Ps 82:7 these gods/judges are said to face death because of their unjust verdicts, showing conclusively that they are human and not divine beings. The word translated “gods” (elohim) in Ps 82:6 is translated “judges” in Ex 21:6 and 22:8.’ (Apologetics Study Bible)

3. In Eastern Orthodox thinking, this text is understood in terms of ‘deification’:

‘People who receive God’s grace in faith will partake of His divine nature (2Pt 1:4) and can rightly be called gods. Christ is effectively saying, “If those who have received this honor by grace are not guilty for calling themselves gods, how can He who has this by nature deserve to be rebuked?” (JohnChr).’

Archer (Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties) summarises the force of the original context in Psa 82:

‘God is addressing judges and administrators who have been chosen to serve as His representatives in teaching and enforcing His holy law. To be sure, some of these solemnly commissioned judges exercised their office unjustly and showed partiality to the rich, even though they were in the wrong (v.2). Essentially the psalm expresses a condemnation of these unjust jurists, saying, in effect, “Although you have the status of membership in the family of God, and although you have been called after His name, nevertheless because of your unfaithfulness to sacred duty you will die like other men and will fall to ruin like one of the princes of the unsaved world.”‘

But what is force of our Lord’s argument here?

We should set aside cultish beliefs that all humans are divine.

Carson notes that

‘This Scripture proves that the word ‘god’ is legitimately used to refer to others than God himself. If there are others whom God (the author of Scripture) can address as ‘god’ and ‘sons of the Most High’ (i.e. sons of God), on what biblical basis should anyone object when Jesus says, I am God’s Son?’

In short, our Lord is using an ad hominem argument: he turned on the crowd and said, ‘Why do you call me a blasphemer simply because I call myself “God”? Your own Bible, which cannot be broken, calls your elders “gods”. It isn’t necessarily wrong, then, for a man to be called “God”.’

In other words, our Lord is not attempting a full defense of his own divinity at this point, but rather to demonstrate a fatal weakness in his opponents’ position.

“The Scripture cannot be broken” – Including the very one which is causing discomfort at the present time.

‘Both Jesus (Jn 7:38; 10:35; 13:18; 17:12) and ‘the Jews’, especially the Pharisees (Jn 5:39; 7:42), regarded the Scriptures as authoritative, as did the evangelist (Jn 2:22; 19:24, 36, 37; 20:9). To be a follower of Jesus involves a commitment to the authority of the OT Scriptures, as well as to the gospel message.’ (Kruse)

‘It means Scripture cannot be shown to be erroneous and that its specifics are to the detail proven true. Thus, it not only serves to reinforce the emphatic “your law” of v. 34 but also to declare Scripture everlasting in its authority and applicability, right down to this very moment in the ministry of Jesus.’ (Klink)

‘Here we find the Lord’s own view of scripture. He has been challenged because He’s been making astonishing claims on His own behalf, claiming in effect to be God (theos). Not surprisingly, the Jews accuse Him of blasphemy. Jesus, in reply, uses a very interesting argument. ‘Look,’ He says, ‘it cannot always be wrong to apply the word god to a man, because in your own scriptures, in the book of Psalms, the word god is applied to your own rulers.’ That’s the Lord’s argument: ‘Is it not written in your law, “I said, Ye are gods?”‘ (Psalm 82:6). Now, He says, ‘You can’t accuse me of saying something that is always blasphemous when in your own scriptures your rulers are addressed as gods by God himself.’ What I’m interested in for the moment is this: the Lord adds, ‘Scripture cannot be broken’ (John 10:35). This is a great statement about the Bible itself: scripture cannot be violated. The word which occurs here is the word used for breaking a commandment. The Bible, in the judgment of Jesus, has the authority of law: absolute and infallible authority. It can’t be wrong. It can’t be false. It can’t mislead. It can’t deceive. It can’t be violated. That is the Lord’s own testimony.’ (McLeod, A Faith to Live By)

While we agree that our Lord’s statement here testifies to a very high view of Scripture, we would not go so far as some, in declaring that it proves that the Scriptures, in their entirety, are inerrant.

The one whom the Father set apart – In the original, hegiasen – sanctified, set apart or consecrated. The words ‘as his very own’ have no equivalent in the Gk. Poole, for example, says that Jesus meant that he was ‘set apart of God for the special work of man’s redemption, and sent of God into the world with commission both to reveal and to do his will.’

10:37 If I do not perform the deeds of my Father, do not believe me. 10:38 But if I do them, even if you do not believe me, believe the deeds, so that you may come to know and understand that I am in the Father and the Father is in me.” 10:39 Then they attempted again to seize him, but he escaped their clutches.
10:40 Jesus went back across the Jordan River again to the place where John had been baptizing at an earlier time, and he stayed there. 10:41 Many came to him and began to say, “John performed no miraculous sign, but everything John said about this man was true!” 10:42 And many believed in Jesus there.