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Bible Commentaries

F. B. Hole's Old and New Testament Commentary

John 10

 

 

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Verses 1-42

THERE IS NO real break where this chapter commences in our Bibles. The Lord’s answer which commenced in the last verse of the ninth chapter, continues to the end of verse John 10:5 of this chapter. He propounded to them the parable of the Shepherd and the fold, and it illustrated the point, inasmuch as there were not only “the sheep” but also “His own sheep.” These last knew the Shepherd’s voice and so recognized Him. The man of the previous chapter was one of “His own sheep.”

The religious system instituted through Moses was like a fold. Thereby the Jews were penned up apart from the Gentiles awaiting the coming of the true Messiah. The door of entrance had been prescribed by the voices of the prophets: He must be born of a virgin, at Bethlehem, etc. Imposters had appeared, but lacking these credentials they had sought an entrance in some other way and thereby betrayed themselves. Now the true Shepherd had appeared, and entering by the door, it had been kept open for Him by the providence of God. It had been said, “Behold, He that keepeth Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep” (Psalms 121:4), and that watchful eye and hand had prevented Herod from closing the door of entrance against Him. God saw to it that He had full access to the sheep.

But now comes what no one had anticipated: He enters the fold not to reform or improve it but to call an election from the mass— “His own sheep”—and lead them out into something new. Israel had been the elect nation but now it is entirely individual, for He calls His own sheep “by name,” establishing personal contact with each of these. Further, He leads them out by first going out Himself: they follow Him because this contact exists and they recognize His voice and trust Him. In the beginning of this Gospel these elect souls were referred to as, “born... of God,” being, “as many as received Him” (John 1:12, John 1:13).

Christ’s sheep do not follow strangers, not because they have a wide acquaintance with them and know their voices right well, but because “they know not the voice of strangers.” They know the Shepherd’s voice well and that suffices. As to all others they simply say, That is not the Shepherd’s voice. We have here in parabolic form the same basic fact as John stated, when he wrote to the babes in the family of God, saying, “I have not written unto you because ye know not the truth, but because ye know it, and that no lie is of the truth” (1 John 2:21). As Paul also says we are to be “wise unto that which is good, and simple concerning evil” (Romans 16:19). Let us cultivate this acquaintance with our Lord, for it develops a spiritual instinct which preserves against straying feet.

Blind as ever, the Pharisees understood none of these things; but that did not hinder the Lord pursuing His parable somewhat further. He was the door Himself; for all exit from the fold, and all entrance into the new place of blessing to be established, must be by Him. That new blessing we generally speak of as Christianity, in contrast with Judaism. Verse John 10:9 begins to enumerate the blessings. Parabolic language is still used, as evidenced by the word “pasture,” yet in saying, “if any man enter in,” Jesus showed that He was speaking in accord with that great Old Testament chapter which ends, “Ye My flock, the flock of My pasture, are men” (Ezekiel 34:31).

The initial blessing of Christianity is salvation. It meets us as we enter by Christ the door. Most of the references to salvation in the Old Testament have to do with deliverance from enemies and troubles. The spiritual emancipation which comes to us by the gospel could not be known then, since the work on which it rests was not accomplished. Let Hebrews 9:6-14 and Hebrews 10:1-14 be read and inwardly digested, and this fact will be very plain. Only by the death and resurrection of Christ is the door opened into salvation in its fulness.

The words, “shall go in and out,” indicate liberty. In Judaism there was no liberty of access to God since “the way into the holiest of all was not yet made manifest;” nor had they permission to go out to the nations and spread any knowledge of God they had. They were enclosed within the fold of the law of Moses and its ordinances, and there they had to stay. As Christians we have “boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus,” and we may go out as did those early believers who “went everywhere preaching the word” (Acts 8:4). In both directions we are carried far beyond the privileges of the Jewish fold.

Then, thirdly, we may “find pasture.” This may carry our thoughts back to Ezekiel 34:1-31, where we find a tremendous indictment of the former shepherds of Israel. These religious leaders fed themselves and not the sheep, and set so bad an example, that the stronger among the sheep oppressed the weaker and had “eaten up the good pasture,” and with their feet had trodden down “the residue of your pastures” (verse John 10:18). Consequently for the poor of the flock there was no pasture at all. Jesus, the true Shepherd of Israel, leads His own sheep into an abundance of spiritual food.

In verses John 10:10-11 we get the contrast between the thief and the Good Shepherd. These thieves and robbers were men such as those mentioned by Gamaliel, in Acts 5:36, Acts 5:37; self-seeking imposters who brought in destruction and death. The true Shepherd brought in life; laying down His own life in order to do so. If He had not come and died, there would have been no life at all for sinful men; having done so, life is made available, and it is bestowed in abundant measure upon His sheep. We live in the light of the abundant revelation of God which has reached us in the Word made flesh, hence we have life abundantly. The life given to saints in all ages may be intrinsically the same, yet its fulness can only be known as God is fully revealed. This is indicated in 1 John 1:1-4.

Next we have, in verses John 10:12-15, the contrast between the hireling and the Good Shepherd. The hireling is not necessarily evil like the thief; but being a man who works for wages, his interest is primarily a monetary one. The sheep are of interest to him in so far as they are the means of his livelihood. He does not really care for them to the extent of risking his skin on their behalf. It is far otherwise with the Shepherd, who lays down His life for them and establishes a link of wonderful intimacy. His sheep are men, and hence capable of knowing Him in an intimate way; so much so that His knowledge of them and their knowledge of Him can be compared to the Father’s knowledge of Himself and His knowledge of the Father. And we must remember that it is by the knowledge of Him that we come to know the Father. Nothing at all approaching this had been possible in the Jewish fold before the Shepherd came.

The Lord’s words in verse John 10:16 add another unexpected development. He was about to find sheep who had been outside that fold. There was to be the calling of an election from among the Gentiles. We see the beginning of this early in the Acts—the Ethiopian in John 8:1-59, Cornelius and his friends in John 10:1-42. We have often dwelt upon the “must” which occurs several times in John 3:1-36 : have we ever praised God for the “must” here? — “them also I MUST bring.” Sinners of the Gentiles become the subjects of the Divine work. They hear the Shepherd’s voice and are attached to Him. Then, as a result of this two-fold calling—from Jewish fold and from the straying Gentiles—there is to be established one flock, held together under the authority of the one Shepherd. The word in this verse is definitely “flock” and not “fold.” Sheep held together by outward restrictions: that was Judaism. Sheep constituted a flock by the personal power and attraction of the Shepherd: that is Christianity.

But for this not only death but resurrection also was needful. The Shepherd truly had to be smitten as the prophet had said, but it is in His risen life that He gathers His flock out of both Jew and Gentile. Jesus proceeded to show that His death was in order to His resurrection. Both are viewed here as His own act. His death was His laying down of His life: His resurrection His taking of it again, though under new conditions. In both He was acting according to the Father’s commandment; and furnishing the Father with a fresh motive for His love to the Son.

The Lord’s words, recorded in verse John 10:18, are thoroughly in keeping with the character of this Gospel. As recorded in other Gospels, He spoke again and again to His disciples of how He should be delivered by the chief priests and rulers to the Gentiles, that they should put Him to death; yet here He asserts that no man should take His life from Him, since both death and resurrection would be His own acts. Men did to Him that, which for any mere man, made death inevitable; yet in His case nothing would have had any effect, if He had not been pleased to lay down His life. His Deity is emphasized, but also the true Humanity which He assumed in subjection to the will of God, for all was in keeping with the Father’s commandment. Life was in Him, and it was “the light of men” (John 1:4), even while He was here; but now He is to take up His life in resurrection, and thus He was to become the very life of His own in the power of the Spirit, as indicated in John 20:22.

By these parables the Lord had furnished the Jews with a condensed summary of the great changes that were impending as the result of His coming as the true Shepherd into the midst of Israel. The Divine programme was opened out to them, but God’s purposes so cut across the grain of their self-sufficient thoughts that His words sounded to many like the words of a madman or worse. Others, impressed by the miracle on the blind man, could not accept this extreme opinion. As the succeeding verses show, they took the place of “honest doubters,” yet wished to insinuate that His ambiguity lay at the root of their vacillation. The trouble lay, however, not in His words but in their minds, It was thus with their forefathers when the law was given and they “could not steadfastly look to the end of that which is abolished” (2 Corinthians 3:13); that is, they never saw God’s purpose in it all. Now religious pride was lying as a veil on the minds of these Jews and they could not perceive “the end” of the Lord’s words. In just the same way does “the god of this age” impose a veil on the minds of the unbelieving today; no matter how able and acute they may be in the ordinary matters of the world.

Their demand was, “If Thou be the Christ, tell us plainly.” Jesus at once asserted that He had told them plainly, and that His works equally with His words had borne plain witness to Him. Then He told them plainly that their unbelief had put the veil over their eyes. The evidence was there plainly enough, but they could not see it; and what lay behind that fact was that though of Israel nationally they were not the true Israel (see Romans 9:6): they were not “My sheep,” though sheep within the Jewish fold, They were spiritually dead and hence unresponsive. Thus Jesus told them plainly not only the truth about Himself but about themselves.

Having put a sentence of condemnation upon them, He added words of the greatest comfort and assurance for the benefit of His own sheep. On their side they hear His voice and follow Him. On His side He knows them and gives them eternal life. This ensures that they shall never perish as under God’s judgment, nor can any created power seize them out of the Shepherd’s hand. This assurance is reinforced by the perfect oneness subsisting between the Son and the Father. The Son had taken the subject place on earth and the Father remained “greater than all” in heaven, but this did not militate against Their oneness. Being in the hand of the Son involved being in the hand of the Father, and the purpose of the Godhead in securing the sheep is guaranteed by both the Son and the Father. The same glorious fact confronts us in that great passage, Romans 8:29-39.

These words moved the Jews to murderous intentions. They did not understand their drift, but they did see that in saying, “I and the Father are one,” He was claiming equality with God. It might have been slightly less offensive had He put the Father first by saying, “The Father and I” but no, it was “I and the Father.” This was intolerable to them, for there was no mistaking the drift of such words as these. To them it was atrocious blasphemy—a man making himself God. We accept His words in the spirit of worship, for we know He was truly God, yet had made Himself Man. We reverse the terms of their accusation and find in it soul-saving truth.

In His reply Jesus referred to His own words, “I am the Son of God,” in such a way as to identify them with their accusation of making Himself

God. He did not defend His claim by one of His own emphatic assertions but by an argument based on their Scripture. Those acknowledged as “gods” in Psalms 82:6, were authorities “unto whom the word of God came.” He who had been set apart and sent into the world by the Father was the Word Himself— “the Word... made flesh.” How vast the difference! It was not blasphemy but sober truth when He said, “I am the Son of God.” Moreover His works bore witness to His claim, as being unmistakably the works of God. They plainly set forth the fact that the Father was in Him, livingly declared and revealed; and He was in the Father, as to essential life and nature. Once let that be known and believed, and there is no difficulty in receiving Him as the Son of God; for both statements set forth the same foundation fact, though in different words.

But the moment was not yet come for their murderous hatred to take effect, and in His retirement to the place of John’s baptism beyond Jordan the faith of a number was made manifest. John’s witness was recalled and the truth of his words acknowledged. John was the last prophet of the old dispensation, and amidst its ruins miracles were not in season. They were in season, and in full measure, directly the Christ the Son of God appeared. Still John bore a true and faithful and unswerving witness to Christ, which was better than miracles. We too are at the end time of a dispensation, so let us not crave for miracles but emulate John in faithfulness of testimony. If it could be said of any of us before the judgment seat, that all things we have spoken of Christ are TRUE—that were commendation indeed!

 


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Bibliography Information
Hole, Frank Binford. "Commentary on John 10:4". "F. B. Hole's Old and New Testament Commentary". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/fbh/john-10.html. 1947.

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