The Pulpit Commentary

John 10:1-21 (John 10:1-21)

5. Christ the Shepherd of the flock of God . The discourse which now follows was the Lord's parabolic or allegoric reply to the conduct of the Pharisaic malignants. These men, claiming to be infallible guides of the ignorant, to be veritable shepherds of the flock of God, had ignored the advent of the true and good Shepherd, had opposed the Divine call and supreme claim of the Messiah, had set themselves to disturb and dislocate the relations between him and those who saw his glory and found in him the Consolation of Israel. They had excommunicated the adoring disciple who had passed out of lifelong darkness into marvelous light. They had exaggerated the faint glimmer of light which had broken upon their own blindness into true vision. They had said, "We see," and thus shown themselves to be willfully in the wrong. Their sin abode upon them. The fold of God's sheep was something different from their own expectations and definitions. Their way into it proved that they did not know its true nature. To meet this crisis our Lord delivers a triad of related and parallel pictures, which differ from the ordinary parable ( παραβολή ). The parable is a picture which is complete in its elf, and invites the reader to discover some answering spiritual truth. It consists of a careful setting forth of some physical fact, some fragment of biography, some personal or domestic detail. It is true to life and experience, and embodies some ethical principle or religious emotion; and while it does not explicitly teach either, yet it suggests them to the inquiring mind. The parables of the synoptic Gospels are not exclusive or rigid in their form. The so-called parable of "the Pharisee and the publican" and that of "the good Samaritan" are at once transformable into patterns or principles of action. The element of its own interpretation is also conspicuous in that of "the rich man and Lazarus" and "the rich fool." With these latter specimens of our Lord's teaching may be compared the allegoric illustrations of the present discourse. These pictures are "transparencies" (Godet), through which the Savior's spiritual teaching pours its own illumination. They both alike differ from the "fable," a form of address in which personal characters and activities are attributed (as in the apologue of Jotham, etc.) to the irrational or even to the inanimate creation.

The first of the similitudes before us has more of the character of the parable proper, because it does not at once carry its own interpretation with it. John 10:1-6 represent in parabolic form the claims of those who aspired to provide a "door," i . e . a sure and safe entrance to the theocratic fold. In John 10:7-10 our Lord interprets and expands the first representation by giving special significance to the words he had already used, adding something to their meaning, and contrasting his own position with that of all others. From the eleventh to the eighteenth verse he once more reverts to the original picture, and claims to occupy a relation to the sheep of God's band of far more intimate and suggestive kind than what was connoted by the door into the fold. He is "the good Shepherd." In that capacity he adds other and marvelous features. The parabolic or allegorical language passes away into vivid description of the leading features of his work. The parable at last glows into burning metaphor.

In the first paragraph our Lord gives a parabolic picture of flock and fold, door and porter, robber and shepherd. In the second paragraph he emphasizes the relation between the door and the fold, claiming to be "the Door ." In the third he illustrates the function and the responsibility of the true "Shepherd," and the relation of the shepherd to the flock , and he claims to be the Shepherd of Israel.

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John 10:11-21 (John 10:11-21)

(3) The functions and responsibilities of the veritable Shepherd , and the relation of the Shepherd to the flock .

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John 10:11 (John 10:11)

I am the good Shepherd . The word here rendered "good" means more than the "true" ( ἀληθής ) or the" veritable" ( ἀληθινός ); more than ἀγαθός , good, in the sense of being morally excellent and inwardly fulfilling God's purpose that the sheep should be shepherded. The word καλός suggests a "goodness" that is conspicuous, that shows and approves itself to the experience and observation of all. Thus the Lord fills up the meaning of the first parable by emphasizing another element in it. There may be many shepherds worthy of the name, but he alone justifies the designation. This imagery has inwrought itself into Christian literature and art. The earliest representations of Christ in the catacombs depict him as "the good Shepherd" (Tertullian, 'De Fuga.,' c. 11; Hermas, 'Sire.,' John 6:2 ); the earliest hymns and latest minstrelsy of the Church dwell fondly on the image which portrays his individual watchfulness, his tender care, his self-sacrificing love. The good Shepherd layeth £ down his life for the sheep ; not only does his work with his life in his hand, but he deliberately lays down his life and consciously divests himself of his life, and is doing it now. The Shepherd dies that the sheep may live (cf. 1 John 3:16 ; John 15:13 ). Elsewhere Jesus says, "The Son of man gives his life a ransom for many" ( Matthew 20:28 ). The thought is very grand, and is a strange addition to the claim to be the Shepherd of Israel, and gives intense pathos to the language of our Lord to Simon Peter ( John 21:6 ), "Shepherd my sheep." The further development of the parable shows that in the metaphor he regards his death as no disastrous termination of the Shepherd's function, but as an event in his career. Hence it is not just of Reuse ('Theol. Chretien,' 2.) to contend that our Lord does not here suggest a vicarious or propitiatory death on his part. This is a veritable death, which secures the life of the sheep, and does not arrest the Shepherd's care (see John 10:17 , John 10:18 ).

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John 10:11-21 (John 10:11-21)

Allegory of the good Shepherd.

There is a progress of thought in each allegory.

I. THE CHARACTER OF THE GOOD SHEPHERD . "I am the good Shepherd: the good Shepherd giveth his life for the sheep."

1. He is himself " the great Shepherd of the sheep " of whom the prophets stoke . ( Ezekiel 34:23 ; Genesis 49:24 ; Isaiah 40:11 .)

2. This interest in his sheep is manifested in his throwing away his life/or their protection . Like David, he exposes his life freely for the sake of his Father's flock; he gives his life in their room and stead. Our Lord constantly emphasizes that doctrine of atonement which the "wisdom of the world" rejects.


1. He has no natural concern for the sheep . "But he that is an hireling, and not a shepherd, whose own the sheep are not, sooth the wolf coming, and leaveth the sheep." Hirelings of this class mind their own things, not the things of Jesus Christ, seeking only their gain from their quarter. They care not, therefore, what becomes of the sheep. Our Lord here refers, probably, to the natural guides of the Jewish people—the priests and the Levites, who had come to forget or ignore all their religious responsibilities.

2. He allows the wolves to scatter the flock . "The wolf catcheth them, and scattereth the sheep." The wolf represents the natural enemy of the sheep. Jesus had said before, "I send you as sheep in the midst of wolves" ( Matthew 10:16 ). The Pharisees were "wolves" from their rapacity, their falseness, and their temper of domination.

III. THE RELATION BETWEEN THE GOOD SHEPHERD AND HIS SHEEP . "I know my sheep, and am known of mine. As the Father knoweth me, and as I know the Father."

1. This bespeaks mutual knowledge .

(a) trust,

(b) love,

(c) admiration.

2. He sacrifices his life for the sheep . "And I give my life for the sheep." The sacrifice was yet future, but clearly foreseen. There was no life for the sheep but through the death of the Shepherd.

3. He has also purposes of mercy for the Gentiles . "And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also must I bring, and they shall hear my voice; and they shall be one flock, one Shepherd."

(a) Jesus by his death has made both one—"one new man"—breaking down the middle wall of partition between Jew and Gentile.

(b) There may be many folds, that is, many visible Churches, but there is but one flock.

(c) There is but one Shepherd in this flock. Our Lord foresees the great mission-work of the Church in coming ages.

IV. MARK THE PERFECT FREEDOM OF THE SHEPHERD 'S DEATH . "Therefore doth my Father love me, because I give my life, that I may take it again. No one taketh it from me, but I give it of myself."

1. There is more in the sacrifice of Christ than in the death of a shepherd , who lets himself be torn in pieces that his flock may escape.

2. Christ ' s was a death absolutely self-determined , yet in accordance with his Father's will, and therefore does it specially challenge the Father's love.

V. CONSIDER THE EFFECT OF OUR LORD 'S TEACHING . "There was a division therefore again among the Jews by reason of these words." There is always the same result: a few accept the teaching, the rest become increasingly hostile and insulting. The question, "Why hear ye him?" implies an uneasiness at the favor shown to him by a portion of the Jews.

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John 10:11 (John 10:11)

The good Shepherd.

I. THE INFORMATION GIVEN TO US . We may ourselves be very ignorant of sheep and shepherding; and what should we know of Eastern customs? Hence it is well to study the information given in the first five verses of this chapter. We are to imagine a large fold where a great number of sheep are gathered together. At the door of the fold a man is stationed to keep guard, chiefly, as one may suppose, to prevent the entrance of unauthorized persons. For the sheep within do not constitute one flock. They are not the property of one person. The fold has been made for the common advantage. Each shepherd could not afford to make a fold for himself and employ a doorkeeper of his own. Imagine, then, some shepherd having a hundred sheep. He has been out with them all day, watching them and leading them from pasture to pasture. Then at night he brings them to the common fold and leaves them with the doorkeeper. Next morning he returns to take them out for the day; and how must he find his own amid the mixed crowd? By the simple plan of calling each sheep by name. And so the shepherd takes them out and goes in front of them till the pasture is reached. His voice is quite enough to keep them right. They will not follow a stranger, for they know not the voice of strangers.

II. JESUS CAN SAY MORE FOR THE SHEEP THAN FOR THE SHEPHERDS . He can say this of a sheep, that if a shepherd gives it a name, and then calls it by that name, it will make its way to the familiar voice, even though it be amid a large crowd of other sheep. But take a lad and entrust him with a flock of sheep. Explain to him their ways, their wants, and their perils. Still you cannot tell beforehand what sort of shepherd he will turn out. He must be tried by actual experience, and the name good or bad given to him according to the way in which he behaves.

III. JESUS THE GOOD SHEPHERD . What power there is in the word "I" when Jesus uses it! We like Jesus all the bettor when he talks about himself. We do not call him egotist. Think in how many respects men are like sheep, and need a good shepherd. In many things we can look after ourselves, but in the most important things we need to be looked after. The true shepherd will not submit to have his property scattered and lost without a determined attempt to save it. He has a special and supreme interest in the sheep because they are his sheep. Every human being has something of the sheep-nature in him. Jesus looks on every company of human beings as a fold wherein sheep of different flocks are gathered together, and he has to get his own flock out of them. We cannot do without some shepherd, and happy is it for us if we have the good shepherd. He laid down his life for the sheep, seemed to be destroyed by the wolf, but really he was engaged in its effectual destruction. He has gained for his sheep broad, even measureless lands of green pastures and still waters, where the sheep may feed at leisure without a foe and without a fear. In all those lands no ravenous beast has his haunt. Nothing shall hurt or destroy in all the holy mountain of the Lord.—Y.

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