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Bible Commentaries

Schaff's Popular Commentary on the New Testament

John 10

 

 

Other Authors
Verses 13-21

The blind man, restored to sight, is brought before the Pharisees with the view of instituting proceedings against Jesus, who, by the healing on the Sabbath, had violated the sanctity of the day of rest. But the process proves a signal failure, issuing as it does in the rescuing of the man from the Pharisaic yoke, and in a solemn rebuke administered by Jesus to those who had placed him at their bar. In this rebuke He points out the blindness and faithlessness of the guides of Israel, and explains the nature of that work which He, the Good Shepherd, had to perform in saving His own from shepherds who had betrayed their trust, and in gathering them out of every fold into His one flock. The effect of the discourse is again to bring about a division among the hearers. The subordinate parts of the section are—(1) John 9:13-34; (2) John 9:35-41; (3) John 10:1-18; (4) John 10:19-21.


Verse 1-2

John 10:1-2. Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that entereth not by the door into the fold of the sheep, but climbeth up from some other quarter, the same is a thief and a robber. But he that entereth in by the door is a shepherd of the sheep. The opening words are of themselves sufficient to show that this chapter must be very closely joined to that which precedes, for nowhere in this Gospel do we find a new discourse introduced by ‘Verily, verily, I say unto you.’ The points of connection will be seen as the chapter proceeds; but we may briefly say that the thought of the Jews, who with their authoritative dictum ‘We know’ (John 9:24; John 9:29) sought to hinder men of ‘the multitude’ from coming to Christ underlies the whole parable, and forms the chief link binding the chapters together. In the last verses of chap. 9 the action of the unbelieving rulers is contemplated in its bearing upon themselves; here in its bearing upon those of whom the Jews were the recognised leaders. The figure used is taken from the very heart of the Old Testament Dispensation. Again and again do the prophets utter language of scathing indignation against unfaithful shepherds who ‘feed themselves and not their flocks;’ and more frequently still is the tender care of the good shepherd portrayed. The Messiah Himself is represented under this character in several prophetic passages: two chapters especially, Ezekiel 34 and Zechariah 11 (in each of which the contrasted types of shepherd are represented and the Messiah brought definitely into view), must be kept before us as we follow the course of this parable. It is unnecessary to dwell at any length upon the familiar facts which form the basis of the similitude employed. The ‘fold’ of the sheep was a large open space enclosed by a paling or by walls of no great height: ingress or egress was given only by a door kept by a porter, who is not to be confounded with the shepherd or shepherds for the protection of whose flocks the fold was used. All other points the narrative itself will bring out. In the first few verses the language is altogether general. A comparison is drawn between all shepherds of the flock and false and treacherous intruders into the fold. The application which Jesus makes to Himself of two of the figures in these opening verses does not yet come before the mind. The sheep are safe in the fold: there the narrative commences. We do not read how or by whom or whence they were brought into that fold for protection amidst the dangers of the night. In the morning the shepherds will come to lead forth their flocks, and having an acknowledged right of entrance will go in at the door. Should any one bent on entering the fold not come to the door, but climb over the fence and thus get in ‘some other way’ (literally, from some other quarter,—and when the parable is interpreted the significance of such a phrase will be felt), his aim is evil,—he wishes to get possession of sheep or of a flock to which he has no right,—he is therefore a thief and a robber, a man determined either by craft or by violence to win spoil for himself. ‘Entering by the door,’ then, is the first mark by which a rightful shepherd is distinguished from a man of selfish and treacherous ends.


Verse 3

John 10:3. To him the porter openeth; and the sheep hear his voice: and he calleth his own sheep by name, and leadeth them out. This verse gives other marks which indicate a true shepherd. The keeper of the gate recognises him and gives him entrance. The sheep in the enclosure show at once that they are familiar with his voice. The sheep of his own particular flock he knows by name, and he calls them one by one. He has come in for their benefit and not his own, to lead them forth to pasturage. To none of these indications does he answer who is an intruder and no shepherd. What travellers tell us of the relation of an Eastern shepherd to his flock shows how true to nature was the language of these verses. It is by his voice that the shepherd is recognised: he calls and the sheep come round him. In every flock there are some to whom he has given particular names, and who are wont to keep near him; every one of these knows his own name and comes to the shepherd when that name is called. In this last feature the language of the parable may go beyond common experience. Such a shepherd as our Lord describes knows and calls every one of his sheep by name. It is sometimes, indeed, maintained that no distinction ought to be made between ‘the sheep’ of the first clause and ‘His own sheep’ in the clause that follows. But this is surely a mistake, resulting from the premature application of these words to Him who is ‘the Good Shepherd.’ He no doubt knows by name every sheep of every flock: as yet, however, we have before us not the Shepherd but every one who is a shepherd of the sheep. There is some difficulty in determining who is meant by the ‘porter’ of this verse. Many explanations have been given, but there are only two that seem really to agree with the conditions of the context. The keeper of the door recognises any rightful shepherd, and especially the True Shepherd (John 10:11), but closes the way to self-seekers,—and this during all that time of waiting of which we have yet to speak. He cannot, therefore, be either Moses or John the Baptist; the thought of Divine care is necessary. We must thus think either of Christ Himself or of the Father or of the Holy Spirit. To refer the term, however, to the first of these would be to confuse the parable: it must belong to one of the two latter,—the Father, or the Holy Spirit who gave and watched over the promises, who called and qualified the prophets of Israel. Perhaps John 10:15, in which Jesus speaks of the Father’s recognition of Himself, makes the first of these two the more probable. The tenor of chap. 6 also, in which there is repeated mention of the Father’s work in relation to the work of Jesus, confirms this view; and a further confirmation may be found in the parable of chap. 15, in which Jesus represents Himself as the vine and His Father as the husbandman.


Verse 4

John 10:4. When he hath put out all his own sheep, he goeth before them, and the sheep follow him: for they know his voice. The first words take up the thought contained in the words that immediately precede (‘and leadeth them out’), but express it with greater force. The shepherd leads forth all his own sheep,—not one is left behind. But the change from leading out to putting out is remarkable. In the figure it may refer to the solicitude of the shepherd to remove every sheep under his care from the fold in which it is not well that any should longer remain: some may be slow in following his lead, but he sees that none shall be overlooked. The real significance of this word, however, is connected with the interpretation of the parable (see below): for we cannot doubt that our Lord designedly uses here that very word which was employed to denote expulsion from the synagogue, and which has already met us in two consecutive verses of the previous chapter (34, 35), when the treatment received from the Jews by the man born blind is described. In this verse again we find complete faithfulness of description. To this day the Eastern shepherd goes before his flock, leading, not driving the sheep, and keeping them near him through their recognition of his voice.


Verse 5

John 10:5. But a stranger will they not follow, but will flee from him: for they know not the voice of strangers. The ‘stranger’ is not one to whom the porter has opened (for the voice of every one who is thus admitted is familiar to all the sheep); he must therefore have entered by some other way, and he is in the fold as ‘a thief and a robber.’ No mark of a true shepherd is found in him. He has not entered by the door, and he has not been recognised by the keeper of the door; the sheep do not know his voice; he cannot call them by their names; his object is not their good, but his own spoil and gain. Lead a flock forth he cannot; the sheep flee from him.


Verse 6

John 10:6. This parable said Jesus unto them: but they understood not what things they were which he spake unto them. The word here used is not that which occurs so frequently in the other gospels in the sense of parable. It is found but four times in the New Testament—in 2 Peter 2:22, and in three verses of this Gospel (here and chap. John 16:25; John 16:29). In 2 Peter 2:22 the word has its ordinary signification ‘proverb:’ in chap. John 16:29 it is opposed to speaking in a way the most direct,—the highest and best for the attainment of the speaker’s end (comp. on John 16:25). The derivation of the word suggests that the primary meaning was a saying beside or out of the common way which had not the direct plain bearing of an ordinary saying, but either was intended to have many applications (as a proverb), or was in some degree circuitous in the method by which it effected its purpose,—enigmatical or difficult. In this latter sense John seems to use the word, which does not therefore differ essentially from the ‘parable,’ as that word is used by the other Evangelists (see Matthew 13:11-15). It seems certain that had any one of them related the comparison of this chapter he would have employed the more familiar name. The Septuagint uses the two words with little difference of sense. On the present occasion it cannot be said that the language of Jesus was in itself difficult to understand; His description was faithful in all its parts; but His words as said ‘to them’ the Pharisees could not comprehend.


Verse 7

John 10:7. Jesus therefore said unto them again, Verily, verily, I say unto you, I am the door of the sheep. The formula which introduced the parable (John 10:1) now brings in the interpretation. This interpretation is given in two parts,—or, as perhaps we ought rather to say, two distinct applications of the parable are given: the two most important points in the figure are taken in succession, and in each aspect the parable finds its fulfilment in the Lord Jesus. But as the formula which introduces this verse is not repeated in John 10:11, it is more correct to divide John 10:1-18 into two parts (John 10:1-6, John 10:7-18—the latter being subdivided at John 10:11) than into three.

First, Jesus declares Himself to be ‘the door of the sheep,’—that is, not the door by which the sheep enter into the fold, but the door through which they will leave the fold at the call of the Shepherd, and (though this is not particularly specified until John 10:9) through which a shepherd enters to his sheep. The whole description of John 10:1-5 must be interpreted in harmony with this word of Jesus. If He is the Door, what is the fold?—who are the sheep? To answer these questions we must look forward to a later verse (John 10:16): ‘And other sheep I have which are not of this fold; them also I must lead, and they shall hear my voice, and they shall become one flock, one shepherd.’ That Jesus here speaks of the heathen world few will doubt; and if so, it is very clear that in John 10:1 the Jewish Church is intended by ‘the fold of the sheep.’ Not that all who are found within the pale of Judaism belong to ‘the sheep’ of which Jesus speaks. The sheep are those who hear a true shepherd’s voice; and we may so far forestall John 10:11 as to say that none are included under this designation who refuse to hear the voice of Jesus Himself. ‘The sheep’ are therefore those who in other passages are described as ‘of God’ (see chap. John 8:47), and ‘of the truth’ (chap. John 18:37), and the ‘fold’ is the Jewish Church in so far as that Church has sheltered these until the fulness of time has come. Then, and not till then, shall the sheep be led out of the fold into the free open pastures: then, too, the ‘other sheep’ will be brought, and there shall be, not two flocks but one, under one Shepherd. It will be seen that in no part of this parable are the sheep said to return to the fold; the shepherds only are spoken of as entering in, and that for the purpose of leading out their flocks. In saying, ‘I am the door of the sheep,’ therefore, Jesus says in effect—(1) that through Him alone has any true guardian and guide of the sheep entered into the fold; (2) that through Him alone will the sheep within the ‘fold’ be led out into the open pastures. The latter thought is easily understood; it presents the same promise of the gladness and freedom and life of Messianic times as was set forth by the symbols of the feast of Tabernacles in the seventh and eighth chapters. Then the figures were the pouring out of water and the lighting of the golden lamps: the figure now is very different, but (as we have seen) equally familiar in Old Testament prophecy. Not until Messiah shall come will the night of patient waiting cease, and the fold be seen to have been only a temporary shelter, not a lasting home. The application of the words before us to the shepherds is more difficult; for when we consider how this chapter is connected with the last, it is plain that Jesus adverts to the presence within the fold of some who are not true shepherds. They have climbed up from some other quarter, and are in the fold to gratify their own selfishness and greed, not to benefit the flock. How then can it be said of them that they did not enter through the Door,—i.e., through our Lord Himself? In answering this question it seems plain that we have here a saying akin to that of chap. John 8:56, or John 12:41, or to that of Hebrews 11:26, in which Moses is said to have esteemed ‘the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt.’ The leading characteristic of preceding ages had been that they were a time of preparation for the Christ, that during them the promise and hope of the Christ had stood in the place of His personal presence. The object of every ruler in the Jewish Church, and of every teacher of the Jewish people, should have been to point forward to the coming of the Messiah; and each should have used all his power and influence, not for himself, but to prepare for the event in which the Jewish Church was to culminate and (in an important sense) come to an end, giving place to the Church Universal. The rulers brought before us in the last chapter had done the reverse; in no true sense had they prepared for the Christ: and, when the Christ appeared, so far from receiving Him, they had combined together to put away from the Church in which they bore rule every one who acknowledged that Jesus was He. Hence, accordingly, the strong language of John 10:1. These teachers had ‘climbed up from another quarter,’ instead of entering by the Door. They had been marked by a spirit of self-exaltation, of earthly Satanic pride; they had appeared as the enemies of God, had refused to submit themselves to His plans, had sought not His glory but their own; their aims had been thoroughly selfish, devilish; they were of their father the devil (John 8:44). Thus, also, we see that the term ‘a thief and a robber,’ applied to such teachers in John 10:1, is not too strong, for they had perverted the whole object of the theocracy; they had made that an end which was only designed to be a means, and had done this as men who had blinded themselves to the true light, and were using the flock of God as instruments for their own aggrandisement. They were in the fold, but they had not entered through the door.

Such then being the meaning of the ‘Door,’ the ‘fold,’ the ‘sheep,’ the true and false shepherds, the rest of the description is easily understood. The true sheep know the voice of every rightful shepherd (John 10:3-4); in all past ages there has been this mutual recognition between teachers sent by God and those who have desired to be taught of God. But the Ml accomplishment of the work described in these verses awaits the coming of Him who is the true Shepherd, through whom the sheep are to be led forth from the fold. To Him alone apply the words in their completeness, but in measure they most truly belong to every shepherd whose mission comes through Him.


Verse 8

John 10:8. All that came before me are thieves and robbers: but the sheep did not hear them. In the similitude of the door, Jesus had declared that it was through Him alone that the flocks could come out of the Jewish fold into the pastures into which they had longed to enter; and this was a truth not depending only upon His proclamation of it, but lying in the very essence of the Old Testament dispensation. The prophecies had fixed the thoughts of all true Israelites on ‘Him that cometh,’ and had shown them that until His coming their hopes could not be fulfilled. But some had forgotten this, and had falsely claimed the place that belonged to Jesus, each deceiver pretending that he himself was the medium through which God’s people were to be led to the satisfaction of their hopes. But those who trusted in God and waited patiently for Him were kept by Him from these deceivers: ‘the sheep did not hear them.’

Such is the general sense of this verse; it is less easy to fill up the outline it presents. We may well wonder that any should have thought that the words all that came before me’ might include the prophets of the former dispensation; for the context most clearly proves that Jesus is speaking of those who ‘came before Him,’ professing to be ‘the door of the sheep.’ The word ‘came,’ indeed, can hardly be interpreted without the thought of that designation so peculiarly belonging to Jesus in the Fourth Gospel, ‘He that cometh.’ No one else has a right thus to say ‘I come,’ ‘I have come,’ ‘I came.’ The idea of taking the work of Jesus in hand lies in ‘came.’ When, accordingly, setting aside the thought of all true prophets, we ask who they are to whom this description applies, we naturally think, in the first instance, of false Messiahs, of whom many appeared in Jewish history. It may be said that we have no record of a claim to Messiahship earlier than the time when these words were spoken. This answer contains too positive an assertion. There is reason for believing that Judas of Galilee (mentioned in Acts 5:37) was regarded by some as the Christ; and Gamaliel’s words respecting Theudas (Acts 5:36) may very possibly cover a similar assumption. The Gospels reveal a state of Messianic hope out of which such deception might easily arise. That popular insurrections were continually occurring is a notorious fact; and if Josephus, our chief authority for the history of this period, fails to give us a careful account of the religious hopes that were fostered by the leaders of revolt, his character and aims as a historian are a sufficient explanation of his silence. But whether the thought of false Messiahs is admissible or not, the meaning of the words must extend much farther, and must embrace all who had sought to turn the people from waiting for the promise which God had given, or had substituted other principles of national life for the hope of the Messiah. Such had long been the practical effect of the rule and teaching of Pharisees and Sadducees. These men had sat in the seat of Moses to make void the law and to extinguish the promise by their vain traditions, and for their selfish ends; and they are certainly, perhaps mainly, thought of here.


Verse 9

John 10:9. I am the door: by me if any one have entered in, he shall be saved, and shall enter in, and shall go out and find pasture. From the thought of the ‘thieves and robbers,’ Jesus turns to mat of ‘a shepherd of the sheep.’ And as entering by the door has been mentioned (John 10:1) as the first mark of a true shepherd, He emphatically repeats His former saying, ‘I am the door.’ In John 10:7, however, as John 10:8 shows, it is of the release of the flock from the fold that we must chiefly think (and therefore the words ‘of the sheep’ were naturally added). The repetition here introduces the other application of the thought. Whoever has entered through this Door (Christ) shall be saved, and shall enter in (to the fold), and shall go out and find pasture (for the flock over which he is placed in charge). The repetition of ‘enter,’ it will be seen, involves no tautology: first the shepherd passes through the door, then goes into the heart of the enclosure to call to him his sheep. He goes in for the purpose of coming out to find pasturage for the flock that follows him from the fold. The chief difficulty lies in the interpretation of the words ‘he shall be saved.’ The sudden introduction of this thought in the very midst of figurative language most consistently preserved (the door, enter in, go out and find pasture) at first appears strange. But the very place which the words hold supplies a key to their interpretation. We cannot content ourselves with saying that the whole parable is instinct with the thought of salvation in its general sense, and that what is present in every part may surely be expressed in one. It is true that in our Lord’s parables we sometimes find a rapid transition from the sign to the thing signified; but such an intermixture of fact and figure as (on that supposition) is found here, we meet with nowhere else. Whatever difficulty may arise, the words must connect themselves with the imagery of the parable. The chapters of Ezekiel and Zechariah, referred to in the note on John 10:1, show at once how this is possible. We have before seen (see chap. John 3:3, John 7:39, John 8:33, etc.) how suddenly our Lord sometimes removes His hearers into a familiar region of Old Testament history or prophecy. To the teachers of the law, who were the hearers of most of the discourses related by John, the letter of the Old Testament was well known; and, moreover, it is very probable that in the discourses as delivered other words may have been added, not necessary to the completeness of the thought, but helpful to the understanding of the hearers. One of the connecting links between this chapter and the last is the evil wrought by unworthy and false shepherds; in this word suddenly introduced in the portraiture of a true shepherd we have vividly brought before us all that the prophets had said of the fate of the unworthy. Those shepherds who had no pity on the flock, but said, ‘Blessed be the Lord, for I am rich,’ the soul of the prophet ‘loathed,’ and he gave them to destruction (Zechariah 11:5; Zechariah 11:8; Zechariah 11:17). From all such penalty of unfaithfulness shall the true shepherd be ‘saved.’ That He whose love to His flock assigns this punishment to the unworthy will reward the faithful, may not be expressed in the figure, but in the interpretation it holds the chief place: to such a shepherd of souls will Jesus give salvation.—It should perhaps be said that (probably in consequence of the difficulty which the words ‘he shall be saved’ seem to present) this verse is usually understood as relating to the sheep and not to the shepherds. It seems impossible, however, to compare the language here used with that of John 10:1-2 without coming to the conclusion that all the three are identical in subject.


Verse 10

John 10:10. The thief cometh not but that he may steal, and kill, and destroy. This verse forms a link of connection between John 10:9 and John 10:11, presenting first the contrast between a true shepherd and ‘the thief,’ and then preparing the way for the highest contrast of all, that between the thief and the Good Shepherd. The rightful Shepherd has entered (John 10:9) that He may lead out His flock to the pastures; the thief cometh only to steal and kill, feeding himself and not the flock, even seeking its destruction.

I came that they may have life, and that they may have abundance. To this point the figure contained in ‘I am the door’ has been more or less clearly preserved, for the shepherd has, and the thief has not, entered the fold by the door. The language now before us does not really depart from this conception (for in opposition to those who ‘came before’ Him professing to be ‘the door of the sheep,’ Jesus here says ‘I came’), although it agrees still better with the thought of John 10:11. In fact the words ‘I came’ stand in double contrast,—with the words of John 10:8, and with the first words of this verse ‘the thief cometh.’ By whatever figure Jesus is represented, the object of His appearing is the same, that His sheep may live. The life and abundance are the reality of which the pasturage (John 10:9) has been the symbol. As in chap. 7 the blessings of Messiah’s kingdom are represented by abundant streams of living water, so here the regions into which Jesus is leading His flock are regions of life and of abundance. To His people He gives eternal life; there shall be no want to them for maintaining their life in all its freedom and joy; their ‘cup runneth over.’


Verse 11

John 10:11. I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd layeth down his life for the sheep. The aspect of the preamble here changes: in the following verses, until the 16th, there is no mention of the fold or of the door, but of the shepherd only and his relation to the flock. The word rendered ‘good’ occurs but seldom in this Gospel: it differs from the word ordinarily so translated (which however John uses still less frequently) in that it is never used to express the idea of kindness, but always signifies what is (outwardly or inwardly) beautiful, noble, excellent of its kind. Both words may be used to denote moral excellence, and with but slight difference of meaning. Here then the epithet has no reference to kindness but to excellence as a Shepherd. Is there a shepherd whose work is not only faithful but all fair, without spot or defect, such a Shepherd of the flock is the Lord Jesus. The highest point which the Shepherd’s faithfulness can reach is His laying down His life for the sheep: when the wolf assaults the flock, the Good Shepherd repels him, although He die in the attempt. Strictly taken these words are general, and may be said of every noble shepherd; but, connected with the first clause, they in effect declare what is done by Jesus Himself. Our Lord’s hearers at the time would understand no more than this, that at the peril of His life He would defend His flock; but it is impossible to read chap. John 11:51 without seeing in the words a reference to the truth declared in chap. John 3:14-15, John 12:32,—the atoning death of the Redeemer which brings life to the world.


Verse 12-13

John 10:12-13. He that is an hireling and not a shepherd, whose own the sheep are not, beholdeth the wolf coming, and leaveth the sheep and fleeth (and the wolf catcheth them and scattereth), because he is an hireling and careth not for the sheep. A true shepherd will purchase the life of his sheep by the sacrifice of his own life. The man who has taken the work of a shepherd for hire, who is only a hireling and careth not for the sheep, abandons them as soon as danger approaches, and gains his own life at the cost of the life of his sheep. Since the sheep are not to him as ‘his own’ the very name of shepherd is denied him. It may seem that the climax which usually shows itself in the narratives and discourses of this Gospel is here wanting, ‘thief’ and ‘robber’ being far stronger terms of reprobation than ‘hireling.’ But it is not really so: the thief at all events has betrayed no trust, and is less guilty than the hireling who in the hour of need forsakes the duty he had pledged himself to fulfil. Whom then does the hireling represent? If ‘the thief’ who comes under the guise of shepherd stands for all who force themselves into the place of rulers and guides, for the sake of private gain, ‘the hireling’ seems to represent those who held such place by lawful right, but when faithfulness was needed most deserted duty through fear. Godet points to chap. John 12:42 as exemplifying the description here given. The lawful rulers dare not avow their own convictions and thus guard the people who trust in them; the Pharisaic spirit is too strong for them; they save themselves by silence and give up those for whom they should care to the persecution of the enemy. Some of these will yield to the foe and deny that Jesus is the Christ; many will be scattered. It is possible therefore that ‘the wolf’ may here represent this spirit of Judaism, but we should rather say that it is the enemy (Luke 10:19) of God and man who is represented under the symbol of the natural foe of the sheep and of the Shepherd. Whatever agency may be used, the ultimate source of the murderous design is the spirit of evil, the Devil, he who was ‘a murderer from the beginning.’


Verse 14-15

John 10:14-15. I am the good shepherd, and I know mine own, and mine own know me, even as the Father knoweth me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep. As the figure of John 10:7 was repeated in John 10:9, that it might receive a new and blessed application, so here we have a repetition of the figure presented in the 11th verse. The repetition removes from view the unworthy: we are brought once more into the presence of Jesus and His own. First and last in these two verses stand the two clauses of the former verse, altered only in so far that what there was said of the Good Shepherd is here said of Jesus Himself (‘I lay down’). Between these two clauses are placed two other sayings, the first suggested at once by the figure used, the second rising higher than any earlier words of the parable. Since Jesus is the good Shepherd, His sheep hear His voice and He calleth His own sheep by name (John 10:3): hence He says that He knows (recognises) His own sheep and His own know (recognise) Him. But once more (see chap. John 8:38) He places in parallelism His own relation to the Father and the relation of His own to Him. He looks on the sheep and sees at once that they are His: they see Him and hear His voice and know that He is their Shepherd. So the Father looks on Him and sees in Him the Good Shepherd whom He sent: He looks on the Father, and constantly recognises His presence as the Father with Him. There is wonderful beauty and elevation in the comparison; no saying of our Lord goes beyond this in unfolding the intimacy of communion between Himself and His people which it reveals and promises. They are His, as He is the Father’s. It seems very probable that in these words there lies a reference to John 10:2, where we read that he who stands at the gate admits the true shepherd within the fold, recognising him, distinguishing him at once from those who falsely claim the name, just as the shepherd distinguishes his own sheep from those that are not of his flock.—These two verses are remarkable for simplicity of structure. As in the simplest examples of Hebrew poetry, thought is attached to thought, one member is placed in parallelism with another. Yet, as in the Hebrew poetry of which this reminds us, a dependence of thought upon thought may be inferred, though it is not expressed. Thus we have seen that, if Jesus is the Good Shepherd, it must be true that He recognises His own sheep. So also (and it is to point out this that we call attention to the structure of the verse) the Father’s recognition of Him closely connects itself with His laying down His life, as the Shepherd for the sheep. In this the Father sees the highest proof of His devotion to the work He has accepted: in the spirit of constant readiness for this crowning act of love He recognises the Father’s constant presence and love (John 10:17). And, as the words of the verse bear witness to the Father’s care for man (not less truly and powerfully because this meaning does not lie on the surface of the words), it is easy to see once more with what fitness we here read ‘the Father,’ and not simply ‘my Father’ (see chap. John 8:27; John 8:38).


Verse 16

John 10:16. And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must lead, and they shall hear my voice. Not in the Jewish Church only was there a work of preparation for His coming: the light had been shining in the darkness (chap. John 1:5),—the light which enlighteneth every man (John 1:9). Many in the Gentile world were waiting only to hear His voice: they will recognise their Shepherd, and He will know His own sheep. He regards them as His own even now (‘other sheep I have’); they are not shunning the light and seeking darkness; He receives them now as His Father’s gift to Him. It is not easy to answer a question which the words immediately suggest: Does our Lord speak of these ‘other sheep’ of the Gentile world as abiding in a fold? It might be so. We cannot see that there would be difficulty in regarding that dispensation of which we know so little, the dealings of the One Father with the heathen world (to which had been given no such revelation as the Jews possessed, but in which He had never left Himself without witness), as symbolized by a ‘fold.’ But there does seem to be an intentional avoidance of any word that would necessarily suggest this image here. No mention is made of ‘entering in’ to the place where these sheep abide, or of the door through which they pass. The word ‘lead’ is used again, but, whereas in John 10:3 we read that the Shepherd leadeth out His own sheep from the Jewish fold, here He says only ‘them also I must lead.’ We conclude therefore that it was not without design that Jesus said—not ‘I have sheep of another fold,’ but—‘I have other sheep, not of this fold.’ The language of chap. John 11:52 suggests rather that these ‘other sheep ‘have been comparatively shelterless, not drawn together by any shepherd’s care, but ‘scattered abroad.’ Their past has been altogether different from that of the devout Israelite; but the future of Jew and Gentile shall be the same. As in the case of Israel, so here the whole work of bringing liberty and life is accomplished by Jesus Himself: it is a work that He must do (comp. chap. John 4:34, John 9:4, etc.), for it is His Father’s will. He seeks the scattered sheep; they come together to Him; He places Himself at the head of this other flock; His voice keeps them near to Him. Passing for a moment from the figure, we recognise once more how Jesus includes all the work of faith and discipleship in ‘hearing Him’ (see chap. John 8:31; John 8:40; John 8:47): all that had been wanting to these heirs of a lower dispensation is supplied when they hear His voice.

And they shall become one flock, one shepherd. Then shall be brought to pass the saving that is written, One flock, One Shepherd (Ezekiel 34:23; Ezekiel 37:22-24). As written by the prophet indeed the words have express reference to the reuniting of scattered and divided Israel; but, as in countless other instances, the history of Israel is a parable of the history of the world. The apostolic comment on the verse is found in Ephesians, chap. 2. It is very unfortunate that in the Authorised Version the rendering ‘one fold’ should have found a place, instead of ‘one flock.’ The whole thought of the parable is thrown into confusion by this error, which is the less excusable inasmuch as the word which actually does mean ‘fold’ (a word altogether dissimilar) occurs in the first part of the verse. Our first and greatest translator, William Tyndale, rightly understood the words: the influence of the Vulgate and of Erasmus was in this case prejudicial, and led Coverdale (who in his own Bible of 1535 had followed Tyndale) to introduce the wrong translation into the Great Bible of 1539. We may well wonder that the Vulgate should contain so strange a mistake; the older Latin version was here correct, but was changed by Jerome.


Verse 17

John 10:17. Therefore doth the Father love me, because I lay down my life that I may take it again. In John 10:15 we have read of the Father’s recognition of the Good Shepherd, who gives the highest proof of His devotion to the shepherd’s work and possession of the shepherd’s character in laying down His life for the sheep. These verses take up and expand that thought, speaking not of recognition only but of love. But it is with John 10:16 that John 10:17 is immediately connected. ‘I must’ had expressed complete union with His Father’s will: the prophecy that follows brought into view the full and certain accomplishment of the Father’s purpose. On this account, because of this union of will and this devotion to His purpose, ‘the Father’ (note once more how perfect is the fitness of this name here) loveth Him,—namely, because He layeth down His life that He may take it again. The two parts of this statement must be closely joined together. The perfect conformity to the Father’s will is shown not in laying down the life only, but also in taking it again. The duty of the Shepherd, as set forth in John 10:15-16, can only in this way be accomplished. He gives His life to purchase life for His sheep, but besides this He must continue to lead the flock of which He is the Only Shepherd. In the execution of His work, therefore, He could not give Himself to death without the purpose of taking His life again: He died that His own may ever live in His life.—But, if the Father’s love can rest on the Son who is obedient even unto death, and unto life through death, it is essential that the obedience be entirely free. Hence the words of the next verse.


Verse 18

John 10:18. No man taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. He lays down His life of Himself. He has the right to do this, and the right to take the life again.

This commandment I received of my Father. By His Father’s express commission He has this right of free decision. For the first time Jesus here speaks of the ‘commandment’ which He has received, and the use of this term is in full harmony with the position He has assumed throughout the parable, the Shepherd of God’s flock, the Servant of Jehovah. On the word ‘love’ (John 10:17) see note on chap. John 5:20 : the word found in that verse is not used here, for the reason there explained. A question is often asked in relation to the words of these verses: if the teaching of Scripture is that the Father raised the Son from the dead, how can Jesus speak as He here does about His resumption of life? But, if the words ‘this commandment’ be interpreted as above, to refer ,to the Father’s will that the death and resurrection should rest on the free choice of Jesus, the answer is plain: Jesus took His life again in voluntarily accepting the exercise of His Father’s power. If we understand the ‘commandment’ to relate—not to the possession of right or power, but—to the actual death and resurrection, the answer is different, but not less easy: Jesus in rising from the dead freely obeys the Father’s will,—the Father’s will is still the ultimate source of the action of the Son.


Verse 19

John 10:19. There arose a division again among the Jews because of these words. The effect related in chap. John 7:43, John 9:16, is again produced. This time however (as in chap. John 8:31) ‘the Jews’ themselves are divided. The preceding parable therefore must have been spoken in the hearing of many who were hostile to Jesus, as well as of Pharisees (chap. John 9:40) who may have been half convinced.


Verse 20-21

John 10:20-21. And many of them said, He hath a demon, and is mad; why hear ye him? Others said, These are not the sayings of one that is possessed by a demon. Can a demon open the eyes of the blind? In the other instances quoted above the division of feeling had been between ‘some’ and ‘others:’ here, where ‘the Jews’ are in question, many are driven by the words of Jesus to more bitter hostility, repeating and extending the charge of which we read in chap. John 7:20, John 8:48. But there are others whom the miracle related in chap. 9 had impressed, though at the time they did not stand up against the action of their party (chap. John 9:34). The effect produced on them by the miracle which Jesus wrought is now deepened by His teaching: as in the case of Nicodemus the ‘sign’ prepared the way for the instruction of the ‘words.’ In the question asked we have the same association of teaching and miracle. A man possessed by a spirit of evil could not say such things as these: a demon (though he might be supposed able to cast out another demon) could not restore to the blind their sight. It is interesting to observe in these last words the tendency of the Evangelist to close a section with words that recall its opening, thus binding all the parts of a narrative into one whole.


Verse 22

John 10:22. There came to pass at that time the feast of the dedication at Jerusalem: it was winter. With these words we enter on a new scene, where the Evangelist first sets before us the outward circumstances, expressing them, after his usual manner, by three clauses. Where and how the weeks intervening between the feast of Tabernacles in chap. 7 and the feast now mentioned were spent John does not inform us. Once more he shows clearly that his intention is not to give a continuous narrative; for, though he has clearly defined two points of time (the two festivals), he records in the interval events of but two or three days. The festival here spoken of was instituted by Judas Maccabeus, B.C. 165. For three years the sanctuary had been desolate, and on the altar of burnt-offering had been placed an altar for idol-worship. After the victory gained at Bethsura (or Bethzur), the first thought of Judas was to ‘cleanse and dedicate the sanctuary’ which had been profaned. The altar of burnt-offering was taken down, and a new altar built; and all Israel ‘ordained that the days of the dedication of the altar should be kept in their season from year to year by the space of eight days, from the five and twentieth day of the month Cisleu, with mirth and gladness’ (1Ma_4:59). The date would correspond to a late day in our month of December. We do not find in the following verses any words of our Lord which directly relate to this festival; but those readers who have noted how carefully the Evangelist points to the idea of every Jewish feast as fulfilled in Jesus will not suppose that there is an exception here. Having heard the words of chap. John 2:19, he could not but associate his Lord with the temple: and a feast which commemorated the reconstruction of the temple must have had great significance in his eyes. The mention of the time of year connects itself naturally with the choice, spoken of in the next verse, of the covered walk (‘Solomon’s Porch’); but the mode in which the fact is mentioned recalls at once chap. John 13:30, where every one acknowledges that the closing words are more than a note of time: the ‘night’ there and the ‘winter’ here are felt by the narrator to be true emblems of the events which he records.


Verses 22-42

The contest with the Jews is continued. The section strikingly illustrates the plan of the gospel (1) by taking up again that claim of Jesus to be the Son of God which had, more than anything else, provoked the opposition of His enemies; (2) by bringing into notice His return to Bethany beyond Jordan, where He had been first made manifest by the Baptist to Israel, and where confession is now made by ‘many’ that everything spoken of Him by the Baptist at His entrance upon His public ministry had proved true. We have here, therefore, the culminating- point of the conflict, and the pause before the highest manifestation by Jesus of Himself as the Resurrection and the Life. The subordinate parts are—(1) John 10:22-39; (2) John 10:40-42.


Verse 23

John 10:23. And Jesus walked in the temple-courts, in Solomon’s porch. The ‘porch’ which bore Solomon’s name was a covered colonnade on the eastern side of the outer court of the temple. According to Josephus this ‘porch’ was the work of Solomon: at all events we may well believe that the massive foundations were laid by him, though the cloisters which he built were in ruins when Herod began his restoration of the temple.


Verse 24

John 10:24. The Jews therefore surrounded mm, and said unto him, How long dost thou excite our soul? If thou art the Christ, tell us plainly. The recurrence of the oft - repeated term ‘the Jews’ is a sufficient indication of the tone and design of the question asked. Taking advantage, perhaps, of the fact that Jesus was in the cloisters of the temple-courts, and not now in the midst of a listening ‘multitude,’ His enemies encompass Him, determined to gain from Him such an avowal of His Messiahship as shall enable them to carry out their designs against His life.—The expression which in the Authorised Version is rendered ‘make us to doubt’ has received various explanations. That adopted by us is perhaps, upon the whole, the most probable. Another, however, may be suggested by what is at least a curious coincidence, that the verb used by the Jews is the same as that used by our Lord for ‘taketh’ in the first clause of John 10:18, and that the noun now rendered ‘soul’ is more probably ‘life, and is indeed so translated in John 10:17. Following these hints we venture to ask whether the words may not mean, ‘How long dost thou take away our life?’ They will then be one of those unconscious prophecies, of those unconscious testimonies to the going on of something deeper than they were themselves aware of, which John delights to find on the lips of the opponents of Jesus. They were stirring up their enmity against Him to a pitch which was to lead them to take away His life; and by their words they confess that He is taking away theirs. It is not meant, in what has now been said, to assert that the Jews actually intended to express this, but only that John sees it in the language which they use. They meant only, How long dost thou excite us or keep us in suspense? Put an end to this by speaking plainly,—or (more literally) by speaking out, telling all Thou hast to tell.


Verse 25

John 10:25. Jesus answered them, I told you, and ye believe not: the works that I do in my Father’s name, they bear witness concerning me. A demand so made was never granted by Jesus. They had already received sufficient evidence, and to this He refers them. He again speaks of both word and deed. What He had said (see chap. John 5:19, John 8:36; John 8:56; John 8:58) had shown clearly who He is; what He had done had borne witness concerning Him (see chap. John 5:36). But both word and works had failed to lead them to belief in Him.


Verse 26

John 10:26. But ye believe not, because ye are not of my sheep. In chap. John 8:47 He had said that they heard not His words because they were not of God: the same thought is expressed here, but with a change of figure. There is no reference to an essential or necessary state, to any ‘decree’ through the operation of which they were incapable of faith. They have not the character, the disposition, of His sheep; through this moral defect (for which they are themselves responsible, see chap. John 3:19, etc.) they will not believe. This is brought out more fully in the next verse.


Verse 27-28

John 10:27-28. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any one pluck them out of my hand. In these verses is given a description of the true sheep. The description is rhythmical, and rises to a climax. The first couplet expresses some property of the sheep, the second a corresponding attitude or action of the Shepherd; and each successive couplet takes us into a higher sphere of thought and blessing.

1. My sheep hear my voice,

And I know them;

2. And they follow me,

And I give unto them eternal life,

3. And they shall never perish.

And no one shall pluck them out of my hand.

The couplets, as will be seen, express successively the mutual recognition of sheep and Shepherd (for this is the meaning conveyed by the word here rendered ‘know,’—see the note on John 10:14-15); the present gift of eternal life to those who follow Jesus (see chap. John 8:12, etc.); the lasting safety of those who thus follow Him and abide with Him. The description presents a complete contrast to the action of ‘the Jews’ who were not of His sheep (John 10:26); who, though He had so often manifested Himself to them by word and work, yet had never recognised His voice, but came to Him saying, ‘If Thou be the Christ, tell us plainly.’ From this contrast arises the order of the clauses in these verses, an order different from that in John 10:14.


Verse 29-30

John 10:29-30. My Father, which hath given them me, is greater than all; and no one is able to pluck out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one. The apparent object of these words is to establish more completely the safety of His sheep. But in answering this purpose they also answer a still higher end; they are a revelation of Jesus Himself. In effect they give a reply to the question of the Jews, but such a reply as only the heart prepared to listen to the truth will receive. Jesus has spoken of ‘My sheep;’ they are His by reason of His Father’s gift. The Father who has given will maintain the gift: and He is greater than all who could seek to snatch away the sheep,—none can snatch aught out of the hand of the Father. The progress of the thought is perfectly simple, but the transition from ‘my Father’ to ‘the Father’ is full of meaning. The letter name is fitly used, since here the axiom of Divine Almightiness is expressed; the same name, moreover, is most appropriate in a passage which traces the development of God’s purpose to make men His sons through His Son. Jesus has used the same words of Himself and of the Father; ‘no one shall pluck them out of my hand,’—‘no one can pluck out of the Father’s hand.’ He might have left His hearers to draw the certain inference, but He will so far grant their request as to ‘tell’ this ‘plainly:’ ‘I and the Father are one.’ There is perhaps nothing in this saying that goes beyond the revelation of chap. 5; but its terseness and its simple force give it a new significance. Unity of action, purpose, power, may be what the context chiefly requires us to recognise as expressed in these words; but the impression which was made upon the Jews (John 10:31), the fuller statement of John 10:38, the analogy of chap. 5 and of expressions (still more closely parallel) in chap. 17 forbid us to depart from the most ancient Christian exposition which sees in this saying of Jesus no less than a claim of unity of essence with the Father.


Verse 31

John 10:31. The Jews took up stones again to stone him. Their view of the blasphemy of His words is given more fully in John 10:33. The word ‘again’ carries us back to chap. John 8:59, where a similar attempt is recorded, but in less definite language. There we see the Jews taking up, hastily snatching up, stones that lay near, to ‘cast on Him:’ here their resolve to inflict the penalty for blasphemy appears more distinctly in their attempt to ‘stone Him.’ The two words rendered ‘take up’ are also different, and it is possible that the Evangelist here presents the Jews as bearing up the stones on high, in the very act of preparing to bury Him beneath them. The climax ought not to pass unobserved.—They are arrested by His words.


Verse 32

John 10:32. Jesus answered them, Many good works have I showed you from the Father; for which of these works do ye stone me? On the word ‘good’ see the note on John 10:11 : every work He has shown them has borne the perfect stamp of a work noble and perfect in its kind, for He has shown it ‘from the Father,’ who sent Him and ever works with and in Him. He knew that they were enraged at His word, and yet He speaks here of His works: the works and the words are essentially one,—alike manifestations of Himself


Verse 33

John 10:33. The Jews answered him, For a good work we stone thee not; but for blasphemy; and because that thou, being a man, makest thyself God. These words show conclusively how the saying of John 10:30 was understood by those who heard it: they perceive now who is meant by ‘the Father’ (comp. John 8:27), and see that to claim oneness with Him is to claim Deity. All recollection of ‘good works’ and indeed all evidence whatever they cast away, treating such a claim as incapable of support by any evidence.


Verse 34

John 10:34. Jesus answered them, Is it not written in your law, I said, Ye are gods? The quotation is from Psalms 82 (the word ‘law’ being used, as in chap. John 15:25 and some other places, for the Old Testament scriptures generally), ‘I have said, Ye are gods, and all of you are children of the Most High; but ye shall die like men, and fall like one of the princes.’ The psalm is a reproof of unrighteous judges. Its opening words bring before us God judging ‘among the gods,’—that is; among the judges, for the sacred name is in other passages (Exodus 21:6; Exodus 22:8, and probably Exodus 22:28) given to those who were to the people the representatives of God, and gave judgment in His name. In following verses of the psalm as far as John 10:7, it is supposed by some that God Himself is the Speaker (comp. Psalms 1.). If so, the words ‘Ye are gods’ are here quoted as if spoken by God; and in the next verse ‘he called’ must be similarly explained. It seems more likely, however, that the rebuke of the judges’ injustice is administered by the psalmist in his own person; and in John 10:35 the meaning will either be that the law ‘called,’ or the speaker implied in the emphatic ‘I,’ viz. the psalmist writing under inspiration from God and expressing His mind. In any case the pronoun ‘I’ is strongly marked,—I myself, who utter the rebuke and had foretold the punishment, had borne witness to the dignity of the position of the judge.


Verse 35-36

John 10:35-36. If he called them gods, unto whom the word of God came, and the scripture cannot be broken; Say ye of him, whom the Father consecrated, and sent into the world, Thou blasphemest; because I said, I am Son of God? If (1) the speaker in the psalm called men ‘gods’ because the word of God (the expression of God’s will, which, as judges, they were bound to carry out) was given to them; and if (2) this passage of scripture cannot be broken, cannot be set aside, but must be taken as inspired by God, how can they accuse Jesus of blasphemy? To the judges the ‘word of God came:’ Jesus was sent into the world by the Father to declare His will, as Himself ‘The Word.’ The judges were commissioned by God for the work to which they proved unfaithful: He, consecrated by the Father to His work, had but fulfilled His trust when He declared Himself Son of God. If then the judge, as a partial and imperfect expression of God (if we may so speak) to the people received the name of ‘god,’ with infinitely higher right may Jesus call Himself Son of God. His claim of the name was in itself no foundation for their charge: their own law should have taught them this.


Verse 37

John 10:37. If I do not the works of my Father, believe me not. In the last verse ‘the Father’ was the Name of which Jesus spoke, thus bringing together in thought God who spoke in the psalm and His Father who sent Him into the world. Here, after the mention of ‘the Son of God,’ He says ‘the works of my Father.’ If He does no such works they have no right to believe His word and acknowledge His claims. It is otherwise it He does them.


Verse 38

John 10:38. But if I do, even if ye believe not me, believe the works: that ye may know, and recognise, that the Father is in me, and I in the Father. If He does the works of His Father, then, even although they might be unwilling to accept His witness respecting Himself, the works bear a testimony they are bound to receive. Receiving this testimony and thus learning that the works of Jesus are the Father’s works, men will know that He and the Father are one, the Father abiding in Him, and He in the Father. But this is not a truth learnt once for all. The words of Jesus are: that ye may ‘know’ (being brought to conviction by the testimony of the works) and (from that point onwards continually) ‘recognise’ . . . Their eyes once opened, they will ever see in the works tokens of the Father’s presence.


Verse 39

John 10:39. They sought again to seize him: and he went forth out of their hand. ‘Again’ seems to point back to chap. 7, where the same word ‘seize’ is found three times (John 7:30; John 7:32; John 7:44). We cannot suppose that the Jews had laid aside their design of stoning Him in consequence of the words just spoken, for these words would either lead to faith or repel to greater enmity. For some reason not mentioned they now seek not to stone Him on the spot, but to seize Him and carry Him away. As in chap. John 8:59, ‘He went forth’ out of their hand, thus illustrating again His own words in John 10:18.


Verse 40

John 10:40. And he went away again beyond Jordan unto the place where John was at first baptizing; and there he abode. The place in which John at first baptized was that mentioned in chap. John 1:28 (not in chap. John 3:22), viz. Bethany beyond Jordan. But why does the Evangelist here make special mention of this fact? It would seem that we have another illustration of his tendency at the close of a period of the history to go back to the beginning of that period. He gathers together the whole ministry of Jesus up to this time under one point of view. With the next chapter we really enter on the final scene: in the raising of Lazarus the work of Jesus reaches its culminating-point; by that miracle His rejection and condemnation by the Jews is made certain. And as in a mountain ascent the traveller may pause before attempting the highest peak, and survey the long path by which he has ascended, so the Evangelist here pauses before relating the last struggle, and (by mentioning the association of the place and not the name of the place itself) leads his readers to survey with him all the period of the ministry of Him to whom John bore witness. Whatever Jesus had since done or said ratified the witness borne by the Baptist. Possibly it was because of John’s testimony that Jesus sought this spot: near it may have lived many whose hearts had been prepared for His teaching. What He did during His stay in Bethany beyond Jordan, or how long was His stay, we do not know. We may certainly suppose that He taught; and the next verse suggests that ‘signs’ were wrought.


Verse 41-42

John 10:41-42. And many came unto him; and they said, John did no sign: but all things whatsoever John spake of this man were true. And many believed in him there. How great the contrast between the scene presented here and those of the preceding chapters! He came to the Jews, but, in spite of works and word, they rejected Him: now, in His retirement, many come unto Him, and many believe in Him. For Jesus this period of rest is a period not of peace only, but also of joy in successful toil. Another contrast implied is between Jesus and the Baptist ‘who did no sign’ but bare witness only. He being dead yet speaketh, in that his testimony is leading men to Jesus in the very place of his own ministry: and there also witness is borne to him, in the emphatic acknowledgment that all his words concerning Jesus had proved true. Nay, even beyond the experience of these believers we may see that this saying expresses truth, for in His most memorable discourses Jesus fulfils the word of the Baptist recorded in chap. 1 of this Gospel, ‘He that cometh after me has become before me because He was before me’ (John 1:15; John 1:27; John 1:30).

 


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Bibliography Information
Schaff, Philip. "Commentary on John 10:4". "Schaff's Popular Commentary on the New Testament". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/scn/john-10.html. 1879-90.

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