The controversy over the Son of God (8:12–10:42) - continue

C. The Shepherd and the sheep (10:1–21)

Jesus is the Door and Good Shepherd of the sheep, the access to God and the provision from God. There is now one flock and one shepherd, the full expression of the love of the Father and the Son to the world. Because Christ is my shepherd, I shall not want.

  1. An ‘illustration’: the door, the shepherd, and the sheep (10:1–5);
  2. Narrator’s commentary (10:6);
  3. The interpretation of the ‘illustration’ (10:7–18);
    a). “I am the door of the sheep” (10:7–10);
    b). “I am the good shepherd” (10:11–18);
  4. Narrator’s commentary (10:19–21).


These words follow on directly from the preceding narrative. It is an extension of chapter 9, the scene where the blind man and his parents were poorly shepherded by the Jewish leadership. The blind man who was healed is a member of the flock of the good shepherd.

The term “courtyard or (sheep) pen - αὐλὴ” describes an area open to the sky, frequently surrounded by buildings and by walls. There was only one point of entry into this courtyard - a door or gate. The area was restricted, it was a private property.

The private and personal nature of this sheep pen helps explain the concern regarding who enters and how. There is only one access point - the door. The one who “goes up by another way” - climbing over the fence, can be only “a thief and robber”.

Usually, it is explained as referring to the Jewish leaders who expelled the blind man from the flock. But, the demonstrative pronoun (ἐκεῖνος) makes the two titles “thief and robber” representative of a single figure.

The entire parable should be read against the background of Ezekiel 34 (see also Zech 11:17). The unworthy shepherds will be removed and one shepherd, “my servant David” will be placed over the sheep (Ezek 34:22; cf. 37:24, 25).


In contrast to that thief and robber, the shepherd goes through the main door - after all the courtyard belongs to him.


The entrance was guarded by a doorkeeper or watchman whose business it was to admit authorised persons and keep out intruders.

However, the function of the doorkeeper is to recognise the true shepherd of the flock - for him the doorkeeper opens (the door).

Also the sheep recognise their true shepherd by his voice - they recognise the one who tends to them (cf. Is 1:3).

The shepherd knows his sheep as well - he calls them by name. Like Adam in the garden, he gives each a name - a sign of authority and intimacy (Gen 2:19–20). Then leads them out.

In the Gospel, Jesus calls Peter (1:42), Lazarus (11:43), and Mary Magdalene (20:16) by name.

Again the background of this parable is the Palestine settings. It was possible for few families to put their flocks together in one fold. But, it was enough for a shepherd to stand by the door and call, and his sheep would immediately come out. Moreover, since the flocks were usually small, the shepherd knew each of his sheep.

In the parable, it is the personal bond between the shepherd and his sheep that keeps them together as they follow his guidance. The shepherds of those days did not have the assistance of a sheepdog.


Interestingly, the term “led out” is the same word used to describe the expulsion of the formerly blind man from the synagogue by the Jewish leadership (9:34).

In contrast to the Jewish leaders, Jesus said that the one who comes to him he will never (cast/led away - 6:37).


Another contrast between the shepherd who is known and a stranger - the sheep cannot recognise his voice.

The sheep have only one shepherd and are single-minded in their devotion and attentiveness to him. They do not listen to any other leader.

See Ps 23; Is 40:11


The narrator explain that the ‘illustration’ - the Greek word (παροιμια) means a proverb, figure of speech, or a cryptic/veiled saying in the case of John’s Gospel (cf. 16:25, 29).

Although, for the hearers of Jesus the background of this illustration was familiar, they still did not understand him. The point of this illustration is not historical context but the saving relationship between the sheep and the Shepherd.

The shepherd is Jesus himself: he is pictured as coming to the Jewish fold and calling his disciples out. One of them, indeed, had just been pushed out; others had come out already and yet others would comes out soon. The members of the religious establishment could not communicate with the man who had been blind any more than he could communicate with them. But when the true shepherd of Israel found him and spoke to him, he responded to him at once.

The sheep in the fold were protected by the walls. But when the shepherd summoned his own sheep out of the fold, what protection had they then? None, except what he provided. So long as they kept close to him, however, all was well.

It is the mark of a good shepherd that he defends his sheep, even at the risk of his life.

See also Is 49:5


“I am the door of the sheep” - the third of the seven formal “I am”. The statements reveals that Jesus is the only point of access to the sheep.

Some bring here the image of a shepherd who lay by night across the entrance to the fold, making himself a sort of living door, so that no one could go in or out without his being aware of it.

But in 10:3 - a doorkeeper was mentioned already.


“All who came before me were thieves and robbers”. It is difficult to interpret this statement. Who are those who came before Jesus? Does it only refers to the first century and Jewish leadership of that time or the false messiahs (see Acts 5:36–37)?

Some indicate the uniqueness of Jesus. There is and has never been access to God other than through Christ. Even the “shepherding” of Moses and the other OT prophets was insufficient in and of itself (see Heb 3:1–6; 2 Cor 3:7–18).


“Will be saved” (3:17; 12:47).

The metaphor of the door again.

The entire verse speaks about the salvation in Christ for all those who believe in him.

See Ps 23.


The shepherd offers life, the thief offers death.

“Steal, kill, and destroy” create an impression of the slaughtering of animals.

“May have life” indicates that they do not have it yet. Jesus creates life afresh in an unparalleled way. Jesus gives life its meaning.

By these words, Jesus offers “paradise” to those once condemned to death (Lk 23:43) - the offer is also for us today.


“I am the good shepherd” - the fourth of “I am”.

Never before has one person been a “door” and a “shepherd”, but never before had the Word become flesh either (1:14). It is through the Son of Man - Jesus Christ - through whom heaven has opened (1:51).

Jesus as the “good shepherd” is not only contrasted with ‘bad shepherds’ but he is the fulfilment of the long-awaited “shepherd” promised in the OT (Ezek 34:15–16; 23). Jesus is the ideal shepherd.

What makes him “good”? The fact that he lays down his life for his sheep - the point is Jesus’ sacrificial death on the cross.


“Hired workers” - the term seemed to be used negatively referring to those who acted for pay, not from loyalty or friendship. So, when the hired worker is personally threatened, he saves himself, leaving the sheep in danger.

The very moment the hired worker is needed is the exact moment he fails to perform. Even with good intentions, he is primarily self-interested; there is no personal connection with the sheep.


The reason for the hired worker’ action: the sheep do not matter to him. He takes care of them for a pay, but when his life is threaten he abandons them.

Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd is entirely different.


Jesus, the true shepherd knows his own sheep. The verb “know” occurs four times in verses 14 and 15, and each time it is the present tense indicating its timelessness.

The sheep also “know” their true shepherd. Thus, the verb “know” indicate deep relationship between the Shepherd and the sheep.

The Shepherd provides and loves his sheep , and the sheep respond in gratitude, faith, and obedience to their Good Shepherd.


cf. Mt 11:27 and Luke 10:22.

The union between the Shepherd and his sheep is compared to the union between the Father and the Son.

The Father is now included in the “illustration”. The Father sent the Son to reveal God’s love for the world (3:16). The ultimate revelation of this love is Jesus willingness to die for his sheep (us) on the cross.

The entire plan of salvation is rooted in the Trinitarian God, in that knowledge and love that happens between the Father and the Son (and the Holy Spirit - 7:37–39).


In the historical context of the first-century Judaism, Jesus’ words must refer to the Jews - “this flock” - and the gentile flock. This is the universal mission of the Church (cf. 1:29; 3:16; 4:42).

We have already mentioned Ezekiel as a background for this illustration (Ezek 34:11,23). What is significant is that Ezekiel 34 refers to the unification of Israel and Judah, Jesus refers to the unification of Jews and gentiles (Eph 2:14).

In Greek the phrase one flock, one shepherd are nearly the same: μία ποίμνη· εἷς ποιμήν - notice that only the last two letters exchange their position.

It highlights the fact that the unity of the sheep (Jew and gentile -as the people of God!) finds its origin in the person of the Shepherd.


The Father loves the Son (cf. 3:35; 5:20) because of the Son’s utter self-dedication to do the Father’s will - the longed planned redemption of world - to the point of laying down of his life.

Jesus makes here also the connection between the cross and the resurrection. This verse also indicates that the cross is more about life than death.

This is the mystery of the Gospel or paradox of the Gospel that the cross which historically was the most horrible way to die has become the source of life for all who believe in Jesus.

The one who can impart resurrection life was the first to receive this resurrection life, but only after laying down his own life (12:24).


At the core of the mystery of the gospel is this absolute and certain statement by Jesus. Even in his death, Jesus is not a passive recipient but the initiator, the one in complete control.

This Shepherd faces death with the knowledge that death will not be able to defeat him.

In the case of this Shepherd death is going to be the mean by which he saves his sheep.

This shepherd instead of carrying a wooden staff will carry a wooden cross and he will feed his sheep with his body and blood.

In general, the resurrection of Jesus is referred to as an act of God the Father (cf. Acts 2:24; Rom 1:4; 6:4; Heb 13:20; 1 Peter 1:21). Here, Jesus states that he has the authority over his death and resurrection. John’s Gospel again shows the deep relation between the Son and the Father (10:30) - the authority that Jesus has is the authority that he received from the Father.


Cf. 7:43; 9:16 - here the term “Jews” must refer to the crowd.


The charge of demon-possession is raised once again (7:20; 8:48). Insanity was attributed to demons.

“Why listen to him?” The sheep listen to the voice of their shepherd (10:3–5). But, these people do not want to listen to Jesus, which indicates that the Jews do not know him - his true identity.


The “division” from John 10:19 is now clear. Some do not accept the claim of the others that Jesus is demon-possessed. The proof is in his work of mercy, the restoration of a blind man’s sight. It is a good deed, not an evil deed. A demon cause illness; it does not heal it.

Although they say who Jesus is not - he is not demon-possessed - but they do not say who Jesus.

Home | Previous | Next