Exploring the Gospel of John: 10

EXPLORING THE GOSPEL OF JOHN

By the Rev. Dr. Michael Petty [Fr. Michael Petty]

St. Peter’s Anglican Church [2006]

Jesus: The Good Shepherd

John 10:1-42

10:1-21

(1)   This section clearly follows the episode of the man born blind, in John 9.  The audience is the same (9:18, 10:19), there is once again a division of opinion (9:16, 10:19), and there is a clear reference back to the healing of the blind man (10:21).  “The Jews” are leaders of Israel, who drive the man born blind out of the synagogue.  This action allows Jesus to introduce the traditional imagery of Israel’s leaders (kings, priests, prophets), which is the imagery of the “shepherd.”  Jesus sets up a contrast between false leadership and himself.

(2)   While the shepherd was a prominent symbol of leadership, beginning with Joshua (Numbers 12:27-33), it comes to full stature in David, the shepherd who became king (2 Samuel 5:2; 7:7-8).  After David, the shepherd becomes the ideal of the messianic king (Micah 5:2-4).  Ezekiel 34 draws a stark contrast drawn between Israel’s shepherds — who have not been feeding the sheep but have been feeding themselves – on the sheep (34:2-3).  God will replace such shepherds by the ultimate shepherd  — who is God himself:  “I will feed them with good pasture, and on the mountain heights of Israel shall be their grazing land . . . I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I myself will make them lie down, declares the Lord God” (34:14, 15).

(3)   10:1-6 is a mini-parable, which establishes two things:

  •  The legitimate access of the shepherd to the sheep.  Most Palestinian sheep herds were small and the shepherd kept the herd in a fenced or walled sheepfold at night.  The shepherd assumed that anyone entering the sheepfold, by means other than the gate, was a thief (10:1).
  • The intimate relationship between sheep and shepherd.  An average flock consisted of one hundred sheep and the shepherd gave a name to each sheep.  The shepherd moved the flock, by going before the flock, and by calling each sheep by name.  While not intelligent animals, sheep do not follow strangers or respond to their voices.  But they do respond to the voice of the shepherd (10:5).  10:6 points out that the meaning of this parable is not understood.  “The Jews” think of themselves as the shepherd and of Jesus as the intruder.

(4)   10:7-10 expands upon 10:1-2.  Instead of emphasizing that Jesus is the shepherd who comes through the gate, this section emphasizes that Jesus is the gate.  He embodies access to the sheepfold:  “I am the door of the sheep” (10:7).  In this way, Jesus fulfills the role of God, which Ezekiel 34:10 depicts, where God himself rescues his sheep from the devouring “shepherds.”  Just as in Ezekiel 34, this passage in John sets up a sharp contrast between the “shepherds” who “kill and destroy” (10:10) and the “real Shepherd,” who comes “that they may have life and have it abundantly” (10:10).

(5)   10:11-18 focuses on the identification that the reader has been anticipating:  that of Jesus’ identification with the shepherd (with Ezekiel 34 as the backdrop).  Jesus is the “good shepherd” (10:11) and here, the Greek word “kalos” (translated as “good”) really means “ideal” or “true.”  Jesus is the true shepherd of Israel because “he lays down his life for the sheep” (10:11).  Being a shepherd brought exposure to danger but, here, the dedication of the shepherd to the sheep is amazing and beyond expectation.  The emphasis falls on two important things:  that the shepherd’s death is voluntary (not merely inflicted or accidental) and that the shepherd’s death is on behalf of the sheep:  This is a radical contrast with the shepherds who feed on the sheep.  The solemn pronouncement “I am the good [true] shepherd” is spoken twice (10:11, 14) and, in each case, the warrant for this saying is the shepherd’s willingness to die for the sheep (10:11, 15).  Jesus’ death proceeds from two things, each of which is equally important:  his knowledge of the Father (10:15) and his intimate relationship with the sheep (10:14).

The pretend “shepherds” possess neither of these things. 10:16  “I have other sheep that are not of this fold” probably refers to Gentile believers.  The background for this is still Ezekiel 34:23 and 37:24, where God gathers a scattered Israel into one “pasture,” with its ultimate shepherd.  10:16 makes the point that the scattered Israel includes Gentiles, as well.  The result of Jesus’ work will fulfill Ezekiel 34“So there will be one flock, one shepherd” (10:16).  10:17-18 focus on Jesus’ death and resurrection as acts of sovereign freedom and forecloses any notion that Jesus is a victim.  Jesus’ death is a gift of himself (he is not simply killed) and his resurrection is accomplished by virtue of who he is (John 1:1), not given to him as a “reward” for having done well.  The accusation that Jesus is possessed (in 10:20) takes us back to 8:48, 52, while the argument that a demon possessed man could not restore sight takes us back to 9:31-33.

10:22-42

(1)  This section is another interrogation scene, in which Jesus is in conflict with “the Jews” (10:24).  The themes of 10:1-21 continue but some time has passed because we are told that, instead of being in Jerusalem to celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles (7:2), Jesus is in Jerusalem to celebrate the Feast of Dedication (10:22).

(2)   10:22-30 is the first part of this section.  “The Jews” now want an explicit “yes” or “no” from Jesus, about whether he is the Messiah.  Jesus has not claimed to be the Messiah, in the presence of religious authorities although, from 1:41 onwards, the issue of “messiah-ship” has come up (note also 4:25-26).  Jesus’ response to the questioning is twofold:

  • First, he says that his works answer their question (5:36).
  • Second, he says that their lack of faith is due, ultimately, to the fact that “you are not part of my flock” (10:26).  As 6:44 has made clear, only the Father can draw a person to Jesus.  The lack of clarity, in the minds of the religious leaders, is not an indication that Jesus’ works lack clarity.  In contrast to the religious leaders, those who are part of Jesus’ flock enjoy an eternal security, held by both Jesus and the Father who, ultimately, while distinct, have one “hand” (10:28-29).  In the salvation they provide and in the eternal security they guarantee, Father and Son act as one.

(3)  In 10:31-39, the point of contention between Jesus and “the Jews” is sharply made clear.  In 10:33, Jesus is accused of blasphemy, in the sense that he has made himself equal to God or has identified God with himself. This was the implicit issue in 8:58-59.  The Christian confession that Father and Son have equal status was one of the main points of contention between the Church and the synagogue.  Jesus offers a counter-argument, which draws upon Psalm 82:6, in which God addresses a gathering, by telling them:  “You are gods.”  The identity of the group addressed need not detain us here, since the simple point is that, if this group can be so addressed, how can there possibly be any objection to Jesus, “whom the Father consecrated and sent into the world” (10:36)? The word “consecrated,” of course, picks up on the Feast of Dedication (which marked the re-consecration of the Temple) and identifies Jesus as its fulfillment.  Jesus’ works make it clear that his claim is not blasphemy because his claim is true; his works make it clear that “the Father is in me and I am in the Father” (10:38).

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Filed under The Gospel of John, theology and doxology

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