John (Part 35): The Good Shepherd part 2 (ch 10)
Knowing (and understanding and seeing) is the focused point of this allegory as it was all through the narrative of chapter 9. Let’s look at that emphasis. The main thrust at the beginning of this allegory is that the sheep know the shepherd’s voice.
9:11 – The healed man says, “I received my sight.” That is the first symbolic indication of revelation perceived.
9:12 – But then he says that he doesn’t know where Jesus is. This may symbolically indicate that although he has been given revelation to perceive somewhat, additional revelation awaits his response to the first revelation.
9:15 – In this verse we read that the Pharisees, having already heard about the incident, again ask him how he received his sight, showing an inability to grasp knowledge.
9:16 – Although they receive the information of how Jesus restored the man’s sight, they argue, “This man [Jesus] is not from God.”
9:17 – And then again the Pharisees ask about the incident, again showing lack of knowledge.
9:18 – Here the Jews again show disbelief regarding the healing.
9:19 – And yet again, the Pharisees are asking how it happened, again showing lack of knowledge.
9:24 – The Jews again state that they know Jesus is a sinner.
9:25 – The healed man’s words show progression. He says he doesn’t know one thing, but he does know that which has been revealed.
9:26 – Again, the Jews ask how.
9:29 – Here the Jews argue what they know and don’t know, revealing their lack of understanding by saying that they know Moses but don’t know the one of whom Moses spoke.
9:30 – The healed man is dumbfounded, saying that it is amazing that with such revelation right in front of them (i.e., the healing) they still don’t know that Jesus is from God.
9:31 – The healed man shows his growth by stating the obvious progression of events. He says they know that God listens to the God-fearing who do his will.
9:36 – Jesus asks the healed man, as a next step in revelation, who the Son of Man is.
9:38 – When given the revelatory knowledge of the Son of Man (i.e., the Messiah), the healed man says, “I believe!”
Reviewing this list, then, we find in every instance of knowledge spoken of or displayed by the healed man, a progression of faithful response to revelation so that he comes to know fully. By the Pharisees questions and statements, we find that they have no improving progression from their state of ignorance and unbelief.
And we know this allegory is directed at and about the failed Jewish leaders. Jesus is said to speak to them, i.e., the Pharisees, in 9:41. And Jesus speaks, incorporating this allegory, until he is done in verse 18, where immediately afterwards we read that again a division takes place among the Jews. The again is significant in connecting this discussion with the Pharisees in chapter 9 who first had the division (9:16). That connection also gives us certainty that the reason John inserts the 10:6 comment about them not understanding is to emphasize again that the Jews don’t get it—they don’t understand—they don’t know his voice.
The allegory provides us with two main ideas. And because of that some of the imagery is mixed. The first idea focuses on the treachery of the Jewish leaders. But before we get to that, we need to understand the scene. Verse 1 speaks of a sheep pen. It is literally two words in the Greek that some translations merge successfully into the one word sheepfold. The word for fold or pen simply denotes an enclosure. Between a house and the wall separating the property from the street (what we would call the front yard) was such an enclosure. Richer homes had a courtyard around which the buildings were structured. Again this interior courtyard would be called by that same Greek word for enclosure. Therefore, the designation sheep enclosure is important. While some poorer families may have a couple of sheep in their yards by their houses, the idea of a sheep pen is an enclosure out in the fields. Sheep graze all day. But for safety concerns, at night the sheep are gathered into an enclosure constructed out in the fields. And rather than have dozens of enclosures, keeping each individual’s sheep not only within an enclosure but also separated from the other sheep, one large fold could be constructed in which multiple flocks could be kept. This would certainly save on space and the number of necessary pen caretakers. In the morning, the shepherds would come to the fold. The pen caretaker (the doorkeeper), recognizing the shepherd, would open the door allowing the shepherd to enter to get his sheep. The shepherd would call out to his sheep (they often actually named the sheep and would call them by name), and the sheep, recognizing the shepherd’s voice, would come to him and follow him out.
The door of the pen, we find later explained, is Jesus. We also find that the shepherd represents Jesus as well. If we understand the pasture to be the provision of God for the sheep, we see clearly that the sheep must follow the shepherd (Jesus) through the only way to the pasture—the door (Jesus)—to come into the provision of the pasture (relationship with the Caregiver God). But only those sheep who recognize the voice—that of their true shepherd—will follow. Notice also that the shepherd comes in through the door and goes back out with the sheep. That mirrors the insistence of Jesus through John 7 and 8 that he comes from the Father and goes to the Father.
The Pharisees in this first idea are depicted as the thieves and robbers, trying to get to the sheep by climbing over the wall or fence rather than going through the door. Their intention is not to bring the sheep to pasture, but steal them for their own selfish purposes. And just so do we see the leaders of the Jews acting as these thieves by lording over the people for their own selfish purposes.
The second image or idea is found in verses 11 through 18. Here we see a contrast between the Good Shepherd—one who has a vested interest in the sheep—and the hired man. When dangers or difficulties come, the hired man runs off, leaving the sheep exposed to the danger. Don’t read too much in here. Some people want to identify the particular danger in the world at that time that was making the Pharisees desert giving care to the people. Sure we can see the Jewish leaders compromising with Rome so as to be left alone to govern as they wish, but being too specific misses the real point. The danger can be thought of with the Pharisees alone without Rome. They are the robbers as well as the hired man. They present the danger as well as the desertion, all based on their selfish interests. So, although this is a little different from the first image as to who represents the Pharisees, we still see that the motivation is the same—the self interest of the Pharisees. This is contrasted with the Good Shepherd (Jesus) who is willing even to give up his life for the benefit of his sheep.
Notice especially verses 17 and 18. Jesus says he is laying down his life so that he may take it up again. We need to understand what that means. Actually, Jesus is not simply making this statement, but he is giving it as the reason that the Father loves him. Therefore, to understand why the Father loves Jesus, we need to understand what it means to lay down his life so that he may take it up again.
I think we find this statement difficult because we think along earthly lines of thought. It is difficult not to. One earthly line of thought is that life of the body is of primary or ultimate importance. Thus, normally everything we do and the way we think subconsciously is geared toward protecting that thing of ultimate importance—our bodily life. And that is also sometimes why we feel so in awe of Jesus’ sacrifice; he gave up his bodily life—that thing of ultimate importance. But while it is absolutely significant and something for which we should be eternally grateful, the greater sacrifice was God coming into flesh—God taking on bodily life rather than giving it up. One would think that even more than Jesus giving up bodily life, the fact that he, God, descended in the first place to wear this physical cloak and live within this sin environment would more greatly fill our wonder and awe. And then—incredibly!—once freed of this material confinement, he decides to take it up again. Why does he do it?
Jesus lays down his life to take it up again so that his sheep may come together to God. That’s the point of the sheep/shepherd imagery. Jesus is not doing this merely as obedience to a command. He is doing this because he has put aside purely selfish interest for the sake of the Zion purpose of God—the everlasting love relationship of the New Covenant community. He left heaven for that purpose. He became a sin offering for that purpose. He rose from the dead—took on this bodily form again—for that purpose. And this is why God loves him—because Jesus isn’t merely following command; he, as human, is the true image of God—apprehending truth, goodness, and beauty; approbating them through faith and hope; and articulating them in love. God’s purpose is not merely his command. God’s purpose is his heart; as he is in perfect communion with the Father (the oneness he speaks of), God’s purpose has become his own purpose. And so he lays down his life to take it up again to accomplish that true thing of ultimate importance—not bodily life, but everlasting life in love relationship with God and his covenant people.
One other interesting element that Jesus mentions in this allegory is back up in verse 16. He says that he has other sheep not of this fold. Here we see how the fold stands for covenant. The fold he has been speaking of is the Abrahamic covenant, which, in one sense, includes all those physically born from Abraham. But, first, all those in this one fold do not belong to the Good Shepherd. Only those who hear his voice and follow him of this fold are his. But he will go to the larger fold of the world and call for his own from there as well. Then he will bring all his sheep together as one flock (not the dispensationalist idea of two flocks with separate purposes).
The allegory ends. And the Pharisee group renews their discussion again, barely (perhaps not even) understanding his point. The old argument rises up. Some want to dismiss him out of hand. Some others still wonder how he could have done that miracle without God. The Pharisees are left, in verse 21, mulling over the words and works of Jesus.