Contextual BackgroundThe context for the text this morning grows out of the sustained and continued conflict of the Lord Christ with His enemies, the Pharisees. This particular conflict starts in John 9 with Jesus healing the man born blind. Much of what is said in this passage this morning reaches back to that conflict. That this is intense verbal conflict can be seen by the fact that this incident is sandwiched between attempts to stone the Lord Christ (John 8:59; 10:31).
John 8:59 Then took they up stones to cast at him, but Jesus hid himself, and went out of the Temple: And he passed through the midst of them, and so went his way.
John 10:31 Then the Jews again took up stones, to stone him.
It would do well to remember that the Pharisees were the ruling religious and cultural elite at the time. They were what we today would call “the Establishment.” This Establishment was a ruling order whose goal was to operate in the name of the Law to destroy the law in order to justify and cloak their own twisting and violation of the law.
At this point of the conflict the Lord Christ has just engaged the formerly blind man who He had healed and who had been excommunicated by those who opposed Christ. The Lord Christ receives this outcast “sheep” as His own and talks about the blind who can see and the seeing who are blind (9:38f). This outrages His enemies who see the insult in Christ’s words.
The Lord Christ then illustrates this whole particular conflict with the Pharisees that takes place in John 9, with the words we find in John 10 as He contrasts images of the true, good shepherd (Himself), on the one hand, and the thieves and bandits who oppose him on the other; the false shepherds, who do not enter the sheepfold by the gate but climb in by another way, who do not have the best interests of the sheep at heart; they steal, kill, and destroy, while Jesus, who is metaphorically both the door to the sheepfold and the shepherd of the sheep, offers abundant life.
This is then the context of the text before us.
We should say at the outset that the Lord Christ has put on display for us here a couple realities already. The Lord Christ in this passage is
Judgmental — He has assessed the situation and has determined that those who are opposing Him are false shepherds. Every time the Lord Christ speaks of Himself as “The good Shepherd” the Pharisees would have understood instantly the implication of themselves as being false shepherds. The comparison of this idea of false Shepherds had a long OT History.
In Ezekiel 34 God complained of false shepherds
Woe be unto the shepherds of Israel, that feed themselves: should not the shepherds feed the flocks? 3 Ye eat the fat, and ye clothe you with the wool: ye kill them that are fed, but ye feed not the sheep. 4 The weak have ye not strengthened: the sick have ye not healed, neither have ye bound up the broken, nor brought again that which was driven away, neither have ye sought that which was lost, but with cruelty, and with rigor have ye ruled them. 5 And they were scattered without a shepherd: and when they were dispersed, they were devoured of all the beasts of the field.
Because of the false shepherds God promises a time when a Good shepherd will come
Ezekiel 34:22 Therefore will I help my sheep, and they shall no more be spoiled, and I will judge between sheep and sheep. 23 And I will set up a shepherd over them, and he shall feed them, even my servant David, he shall feed them, and he shall be their shepherd.
So, the Lord Christ, in positing that He is the promised Good shepherd. He is, at the same time, given the immediate context, adjudicating that the Pharisees are false shepherds, or merely Hirelings. I point this judgmental disposition of the Lord Christ out in order to place a counter weight to the constant sniping one will often hear that Christians shouldn’t judge.
This idea of the absolute necessity to judge is all over this passage. It is not only Christ who is judging His false shepherd enemies here but the idea of judging is contained in the truth of vs. 5
5 And they (Christ’s sheep) will not follow a stranger, but they flee from him: for they know not the voice of strangers.
You see. The sheep judges the voices that it hears. It knows the voice of the Good Shepherd and follows. The sheep judges between voices.
Fellow Christians — My fellow Sheep — we have to judge. All through our lives we have to judge. Now our judgments are to be made with charity and are not to be self-righteous. Further, we should gather all the facts so that we do not make “unrighteous judgments,” but we have to judge.
Isn’t our lack of judging rightly a great fault of the Church today? Our problem is not that we are too judgmental but that we aren’t judicious in the slightest. The sheep who comprise the visible Church today seem to have very little discernment at all for they follow almost any voice that is raised.
And yet our Lord Christ says here that sheep will not follow the voice of the stranger. The Lord Christ says here that the Sheep know His voice and follow Him. This perhaps suggests how vast the necessity is within the Church to do Evangelism and Apologetics. If it is really the case that sheep of Christ will not follow the voice of a stranger and yet so many sheep in the visible Church are following voices of strangers then the only thing we can conclude, it seems, is that those sheep who are following the voices of strangers are not sheep and so need to be evangelized.
As we consider vs. 11-18 we note a clear theme here. The theme here is that the goodness of the Noble Shepherd is demonstrated by the cost that He bears. The “good Shepherd lays down His life.” This phrase is repeated 5 times between vs. 11-18 and suggests that this is the theme of these verses.
Read in light of the cross this emphasis thus has a soteriological emphasis to it. The Good Shepherd demonstrates His love for the Sheep by doing all to keep the flock. Unlike the hireling or false shepherds the Noble Shepherd consistent with His calling (cmp. vs. 18) prioritizes the flock. When we deal with the accusations of old slewfoot … when we are burdened by our Sin … we need to keep in mind that the Good Shepherd gave His life for the flock. In the giving of His life for the flock there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are resting in the offices of the Good shepherd.
We might also employ here a greater to lesser argument. If the Noble Shepherd will do the greater work of laying down His life for the Sheep will He not also do all the lesser works that a Shepherd does with respect to the Sheep? If the True Shepherd will lay down His life for the Sheep, will He not also provide for, care for, and protect the Sheep?
This is an important point to note because Sheep are notoriously frightful and skittish beasts. And so we are. When we are tempted to be frightful and skittish we must remind ourselves of the Good Shepherd and how He keeps His own. He is the Good Shepherd. He will not abandon us nor leave us defenseless. Because we are His flock He will continue to care for us come what may.
This good Shepherd who lays down His life is more than merely a Shepherd though. This good Shepherd is divine. The divinity of the good Shepherd is already hinted at by the fact that Christ is the Divine Shepherd spoken of in Isaiah 40:11. There we find the promise of the Divine King
10 Behold, the Lord God will come with power, and his arm shall rule for him: behold, his reward is with him, and his work before him. He shall feed his flock like a shepherd: he shall gather the lambs with his arm, and carry them in his bosom, and shall guide them with young.
This note of the Divinity of Christ as the Good Shepherd is sounded throughout this passage with the 4 “I am statements in 7, 9, 11, and 14 and made most explicit in 10:30.
30 I and my Father are one.
So this good Shepherd who lays down His life for the Sheep is a Divine Good Shepherd. This is a passage then I would go to in order to set forth the fact that the Lord Christ was very God of very God were I dealing with someone like a JW or a Muslim.
We should note the echoes that we find here of the truth of the particularity of the Atonement. Christ is going out of His way to insist that there are sheep that hear His voice and follow Him and sheep who do not hear His voice and do not follow Him (cmp. 26-27). Further, the Lord Christ says here that He lays down His life for those sheep who know Him (10:15). This pushes us to observe that the death of Christ was particular only to those Sheep that have belonged to the Shepherd from all eternity. Christ did not die for those who were not, nor ever were, nor ever would be His Sheep.
To insist that the Lord Christ died for those who were not His sheep, and never would be His Sheep would be to insist that the death of Christ failed in its intent, and in its design to protect His sheep. It is to insist that God had an intent and design that failed. But if God had an intent and design that failed then that would require someone or something that caused God to fail in His intent and design. Whatever or whoever caused God’s intent and design to fail then would at that point be greater than God and so God would be no God. The good Shepherd who lays down His life for the Sheep gathers only the Sheep that for whom He died.
What else might we say here concerning Sheep and Shepherd?
Well, He knows his own (and loves them, 13:1). And they know him (10:14) ( see also 10:4). This is a statement that was put on display by the man born blind who at the end embraces Christ (9:38). This reciprocal knowing is placed in parallel with the knowing intimacy between the Father and the Son (15). What is being communicated is that just as there is this harmony of interpersonal knowing between the Father and the Son so there is a interpersonal harmony of knowing between the Sheep and the Shepherd.
Of course this knowing here, though never less then a mental understanding, is more then that. This knowing implies a fondness and a relational standing. I might say “I know my accountant.” This is more of a mental understanding. I can also say “I know my Son.” In that knowing there is more then mental understanding. In God’s knowing of us there is a intimate knowing that includes a commitment of Redemption, and the preserving of us on His part.
Now, don’t miss here an important fact. If the sheep know the Shepherd and if the Shepherd knows the Father then by necessity the Sheep know the Father. Here is the great truth that the only way to know the Father is through the Son. There is no knowing God naked. If God is to be known by the believer it is only as mediated by Christ. The knowing of the Father is only done by the knowing of the Shepherd.
Considering the other sheep of 10:16
Not of this fold — This fold doubtless refers to the fold of Israel.
What is being communicated here is the intent of the Gospel to go to the Nations.
They will hear my voice — Irresistible Grace
One Flock …. One Shepherd —
Unity and diversity here.
The diversity is found in the reality that the sheep who are to be gathered in the future are from other folds. There are distinctions between folds. Israel and the Nations are distinct.
The unity is found in the fact that these diverse folds will form one flock with one Shepherd.
The way I read this unity in diversity is that in the flock of Christ (Unity) will be many folds comprised of different nations (Diversity). There will be a Spiritual Unity comprised of Nations that are diverse by God’s creative work. The One and the Many is thus satisfied and we avoid both a Unity that gives a amalgamated Unitarianism and a diversity that would yield the war of all against all.
There is thus a Missionary impulse here. We are to be aware that the Gospel is to go to the Nations. Woe be to the person who suggests that Christ is not available for some people or nation.