There is a right way to get into a house and there is a wrong way. The right way for me is to go in through the door. The wrong way is for me to climb in through a window. When you want to come into my house, you come to my door and ring the bell. It is my choice whether to answer and let you in or not. Try to climb in through the window and I’ll call the police, and have you arrested. Only thieves try to do that.
Jesus has a point for me to understand about all of this. Here it is.
“Truly I tell you, anyone who doesn’t enter the sheep pen by the gate but climbs in some other way is a thief and a robber. The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens it for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought all his own outside, he goes ahead of them. The sheep follow him because they know his voice. They will never follow a stranger; instead they will run away from him, because they don’t know the voice of strangers.” Jesus gave them this figure of speech, but they did not understand what he was telling them.
Jesus said again, “Truly I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep didn’t listen to them. I am the gate. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will come in and go out and find pasture. A thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I have come so that they may have life and have it in abundance. | John 10:1-10
This message grew out of our Master’s confrontation with Jewish leaders, following the excommunication of the beggar. He had briefly spoken to them about light and darkness, but now He changed the image to that of the shepherd and the sheep.
Why? Because to the Jewish mind, a “shepherd” was any kind of leader, spiritual or political. People looked on the king and prophets as shepherds. Israel was privileged to be “the flock of the Lord”.
Jesus opened His discussion with a familiar illustration, one that every listener would understand. The sheepfold was usually an enclosure made of rocks, with an opening for the door. The shepherd (or a porter) would guard the flock, or flocks, at night by lying across the opening. It was not unusual for several flocks to be sheltered together in the same fold. In the morning, the shepherds would come, call their sheep, and assemble their own flocks. Each sheep recognized his own master’s voice.
The true shepherd comes in through the door, and the porter recognizes him. The thieves and robbers could never enter through the door, so they have to climb over the wall and enter the fold through deception. But even if they did get in, they would never get the sheep to follow them, for the sheep follow only the voice of their own shepherd. The false shepherds can never lead the sheep, so they must steal them away.
It is clear that the listeners did not understand what Jesus said or why He said it. The word translated “parable” means “a dark saying, a proverb.” Our Master’s teaching in John 10 is not like the parables recorded in the other Gospels. The occasion for this lesson was the excommunication of the beggar from the synagogue. The false shepherds did not care for this man; instead, they mistreated him and threw him out. But Jesus, the Shepherd, came to him and took him in.
It is unfortunate that this is often used to teach that the sheepfold is heaven, and that those who try to get in by any way other than Jesus are destined to fail. While the teaching is true, it is not based on this verse. Jesus made it clear that the fold is the nation of Israel. The Gentiles are the “other sheep” not of the fold of Israel.
When Jesus came to the nation of Israel, He came the appointed way, just as the Scriptures promised. Every true shepherd must be called of God and sent by God. If he truly speaks God’s Word, the sheep will “hear his voice” and not be afraid to follow him. The true shepherd will love the sheep and care for them.
Since the people did not understand His symbolic language, Jesus followed the illustration with an application. Twice He said, “I am the Door.” He is the Door of the sheepfold and makes it possible for the sheep to leave the fold (the religion of Judaism) and to enter His flock. The Pharisees threw the beggar out of the synagogue, but Jesus led him out of Judaism and into the flock of God!
But the Shepherd does not stop with leading the sheep out; He also leads them in. They become a part of the “one flock” (not “fold”) which is His church. He is the Door of salvation. Those who trust Him enter into the Master’s flock and fold, and they have the wonderful privilege of going “in and out” and finding pasture. When you keep in mind that the shepherd actually was the “door” of the fold, this image becomes very real.
As the Door, Jesus delivers us from bondage and leads us into freedom. We have salvation! This word “saved” means “delivered safe and sound.” It was used to say that a person had recovered from severe illness, come through a bad storm, survived a war, or was acquitted at court. Some modern preachers want to do away with an “old-fashioned” word like “saved,” but Jesus used it!
Jesus was referring primarily to the religious elites of that day. He was not condemning every prophet or servant of God who ever ministered before He came to earth. The statement “are thieves and robbers” (not “were”) makes it clear that He had the present religious leaders in mind. They were not true shepherds, nor did they have the approval of God on their ministry. They did not love the sheep, but instead exploited them and abused them. The beggar was a good example of what the “thieves and robbers” could do.
It is clear in the this record that the religious elites of Israel were interested only in providing for themselves and protecting themselves. The Pharisees were covetous and even took advantage of the poor widows. They turned God’s temple into a den of thieves, and they plotted to kill Jesus so that Rome would not take away their privileges.
The True Shepherd came to save the sheep, but the false shepherds take advantage of the sheep and exploit them. Behind these false shepherds is “the thief”, probably a reference to Satan. The thief wants to steal the sheep from the fold, slaughter them, and destroy them. We shall see later that the sheep are safe in the hands of the Shepherd and the Father.
When you go through “the Door,” you receive life and you are saved. As you go “in and out,” you enjoy abundant life in the rich pastures of the Messiah. His sheep enjoy fullness and freedom. Jesus not only gave His life for us, but He gives His life to us right now!
- Christian Standard Bible. (2017). (Jn 10:1–42). Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers.
- Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). The Bible exposition commentary (Vol. 1, pp. 328–330). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.