John 10:1 – Truly, Truly I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door but climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber.
As we discovered in chapter nine, the Pharisees had essentially drawn a ‘line in the sand’ at this point.
The Pharisees considered themselves to be the spiritual leaders or pastors of the Jews. They ardently opposed Jesus on the grounds that he was not commissioned to be a teacher of the Jews. Because they did not commission Jesus, they considered him an imposter or false teacher (regardless of all signs to the contrary). Therefore, in their minds, the Jews should reject Christ and continue to blindly follow their spiritual leading.
In opposition to their perverted lie, Jesus gives the Jews a parable which describes both true and false shepherds. The parable contains many different truths; we are only going to unlock a few. As you study and meditate on the parable, ask Holy Spirit to reveal further truths to you.
Because parables are natural stories that illustrate spiritual truths, we should begin by examining the role of a common shepherd back in the days of Christ. In general, they:
- Lead their flock into pastures suitable for grazing.
- Lead their flock to fresh water, which is critical for the life of the sheep.
- Watch over the sheep and defend/protect them from any predator attacks.
- Search for any lost sheep which has wandered away from the flock.
- Bind up or heal any injuries the sheep may suffer.
Likewise, God has provided spiritual shepherds for his people. We call them pastors (Ezekiel 34:1-19). In general, they:
- Lead their flocks into the word of God, which is spiritual food.
- Introduce their people to the works of Holy Spirit, which are critical in the life of every believer. Holy Spirit is often compared to water in the scriptures (Acts 1:5).
- Act as spiritual defenders of their congregations. They protect their people from false doctrines and warn them about spiritual attacks.
- Seek out people who are drifting or wandering away from the Lord and try to lead them back into relationship with God.
- Bind up spiritual, physical or emotional wounds or hurts the people of their congregation may suffer.
With that background in mind, let’s begin to look at the parable. Jesus begins his teaching by mentioning the sheepfold. A sheepfold is a roofless pen or enclosure made in a field where sheep are gathered for the night. The purpose of the sheepfold is to keep the flock together and to protect/defend them from robbers or predators.
As evening fell, the shepherds would lead their flocks to this pen. Multiple flocks would often enter the same sheepfold. Once it was full, the door would be secured and an under shepherd would stand guard all night long.
In the morning, each shepherd would come, the door would be opened and he would call for his sheep. Since the sheep recognized his voice, they would leave the pen and follow the shepherd.
What spiritual parallels does this parable show us? In general, we can say:
- The sheep represent individual Christians.
- The flock or fold refers to the Jewish people collectively.
- Jesus also speaks of having another flock/fold which would be the Gentiles.
- Jesus is both the door and the head shepherd.
- The thieves and robbers are those who illegally occupy the office of shepherd/pastor.
What spiritual truths does this parable reveal?
First of all, Jesus gives us a word of warning. He reveals the presence of thieves and robbers. Again, these are people who illegally occupy the office of a spiritual shepherd (pastor).
One example of a thief/robber would be a pastor who was never called/commissioned by God. In other words, this person simply decided that becoming a pastor was an acceptable occupation, so they acquired a degree and applied for the job. Further, we find that these people do not have God’s heart for his flock; consequently they will always lack a sincere regard for the spiritual growth and edification of the people under their care. They will not be genuinely concerned about the salvation of the lost, or the honor of God.
Another example of a thief/robber would be any pastor who teaches that salvation can be obtained without the blood of Christ. Sadly, this was the position of many of the Pharisees and other religious leaders during the days of Christ. They believed and promoted the idea that the Jews would find salvation because:
- They were physical descendants of Abraham.
- They were God’s covenant people.
- They kept the law.
Obviously, none of those things would result in salvation for the Jews. Therefore, when the Pharisees did everything in their power to keep people following them instead of Christ, they were operating as thieves and robbers.
It is interesting to note that the Pharisees and other religious leaders were, well, religious! They wore religious clothes, recited prayers, read the scriptures, gave alms and attended the synagogue. However, none of these things could save them. Only the blood of Christ could do that!
A true Christian certainly does religious things, but their outward actions are the result of the internal salvation they have received from Christ. External works can never produce an inward change of the heart that leads to salvation.
John 10:2-3 – But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. To him the gatekeeper opens. The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.
In contrast to the thieves and robbers, there is a single head shepherd, who has the legal right to open the door of the fold. Spiritually speaking, who is the head shepherd? How does he obtain the legal right to open the door?
The head shepherd is the highest spiritual authority of mankind (both Jews and Gentiles). In order to claim this authority, the person had to:
- Fulfill all of the legal conditions established by God in the law and the prophets.
- Be perfectly obedient to God’s will at all times.
- Accept the role of a servant.
- Live by every word that proceeded out of the mouth of God.
- Be a true shepherd, willing to lay down his life for the sheep.
- Set aside his heavenly glory and take on the form of a man.
- Come to earth to seek out God’s lost people.
In short, only the Messiah could be the head shepherd or highest spiritual authority over mankind. Only the Messiah had the legal right to open the door of the sheepfold.
Psalm 23:1 – The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
So at this point, the Jews had to stop and ask themselves a question.
Was there a person who fulfilled all of the requirements of the law, who demonstrated himself to be approved by God and to whom God therefore gave access to the spiritual lives of his people?
YES. That person was Jesus. He perfectly fulfilled the Law. The hundreds of miracles he performed demonstrated that he was commissioned and approved of God. And despite the hindrance of Rome, the lack of mass communication in that day and the interference of the Jewish leaders, God granted Jesus access to the spiritual lives of the Jewish nation.
As Jesus delivered the gospel message, Holy Spirit anointed every word that came from his mouth. This anointed word had the power to activate faith in the heart of everyone who heard it, which in turn led them to accept salvation.
Thus, those who believed in Christ heard his voice and followed him into a fresh, new and exciting pasture: The age of grace!
Psalm 23:2 – He makes me to lie down in green pastures: he leads me beside the still waters.
It is also true that the Trinity (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) appoint or commission men and women in every age to act as pastors/under-shepherds for Christ. They are charged with the spiritual well being and care of those in their congregations, which is a huge responsibility. But God provides them with everything they need for this task, especially a portion of his own heart for people:
Isaiah 40:11 – He [the Lord] shall feed his flock like a shepherd: he shall gather the lambs with his arm, and carry them in his bosom, and shall gently lead those that are with young.
To be commissioned by God to be a pastor over part of his world-wide flock is both a great honor and a heavy responsibility. So if you appreciate your pastor, let him or her know! Take a moment to tell them how much you value their service and how they have impacted your life. Please also thank that person’s spouse, because they make lots of sacrifices for the congregation too!
John 10:4 – When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice.
It was customary for the shepherd to take a position at the head of the flock and lead them into desirable pastures, clear water, etc. Each individual sheep would follow him because they recognized his voice. They were familiar with his voice because they spent time in his presence each day.
The same is true for us. Jesus assures us that he speaks to each and every one of us, and we have the capacity to hear him. How does the Lord speak to you? Is it through dreams or visions? Is it through his word? Is it through worship? Is it with an audible voice, or perhaps an inward confirmation in your spirit?
Again let me stress that Jesus himself says that each and every one of his children has the capacity to hear his voice. So if we find that we are unable to hear what God is saying to us, we urgently need to correct that problem. How can we do that?
Here is one common method for training yourself to hear the voice of God: Begin by spending a few minutes in praise and worship. Focus your mind on God, shutting out the affairs of daily life. Then, pray and ask Holy Spirit to speak to you through his word. Next, get out your bible and begin to read the scriptures, pausing to meditate on them, and allowing time for Holy Spirit to speak to your heart/mind. It won’t be long before you recognize the voice of God as he speaks to you. The more you do this, the more familiar you will be with the voice of God, until you can hear him quite clearly. The more time you spend in his presence, the easier it becomes to recognize his voice.
If you are one of the people who hears from God in dreams or visions, you should consult some reliable Christians who are skilled in dream interpretation, so they can assist you in understanding the way God speaks in dreams.
Regardless of how God speaks to you, one of the keys to hearing him is to spend time in his presence listening, instead of doing all the talking!
John 10:5 – A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers.
Sadly, there will always be false teachers who try to draw true believers away from Christ. In the book of Acts, Paul warned the elders of the church at Ephesus of this same danger:
Acts 20:28-30 – Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he has purchased with his own blood. For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them.
Jesus issued a similar warning to his followers (Matthew 7:15-16). He also tells us that we can identify these false teachers.
One way to do that is to look at the fruit in their lives. Is it good fruit, or evil fruit?
Another way to identify a false teacher is to compare their teaching with scripture and look for inconsistencies.
Holy Spirit will also warn you against false teachers. Have you ever been listening to a preacher or teacher and Holy Spirit nudges you that something doesn’t seem right? Have you ever felt uneasy in your spirit as you listen to some people? If so, you need to pay close attention; Holy Spirit is giving you a warning.
John 10:6-7 – This figure of speech Jesus used with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them. So Jesus again said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep.”
As we pointed out earlier, the sheepfold only has a single door. This indicates that there is only one way for the sheep to reach the safety of the fold. Jesus plainly tells us that he is that door. We are immediately reminded of some other words of Jesus:
John 14:6 – Jesus said unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man comes unto the Father, but by me.
The meaning is crystal clear: Jesus is the door to the kingdom of heaven. In order to enter the kingdom, you must go through him; there is no other way. His shed blood is the only legal means by which your sin can be purged and you can be reconciled to God. Scripture confirms that there is no other name under heaven whereby man can be saved (Acts 4:12).
John 10:8 – “All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them.”
Who qualifies as “all who came before”?
‘All’ is used in the popular sense; it denotes the great mass or majority, not necessarily every single one.
Those ‘who came before’ does not refer to the true prophets of God. Rather, it means anyone who came pretending to be a pastor or spiritual guide to the Jewish people. It is probable that Jesus was referring to the Scribes and Pharisees of that day. They claimed to be instructors/pastors of the people, but their only true goal was to elevate and enrich themselves, while oppressing the people.
Jeremiah 23:1-2 – Woe be unto the shepherds that destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture! says the LORD. Therefore thus says the LORD God of Israel against the shepherds that feed my people; You have scattered my flock, and driven them away, and have not visited them: behold, I will visit upon you the evil of your doings, says the LORD.
As true Christians we don’t need to be overly concerned about false pastors, because we should be able to spot them fairly quickly. However, there is another facet of this statement that we should consider.
If a false pastor has not been commissioned by God, then what grounds does he or she minister on?
The fact is, the only foundations they have to build upon are their own talents, strengths and wisdom. And no matter how much they know or how talented they are, human abilities are a poor substitute for the strength and wisdom of Holy Spirit. Therefore, anytime a person ministers under their own strength, they are essentially robbing the flock.
Now, stop and consider that for a moment – was there ever a time in your ministry that you operated on your own strength or wisdom? Was there ever a time you implemented a program without consulting Holy Spirit because you thought it was a good idea? My guess is that the answer is ‘yes’ for most of us. This means that at some point, we robbed people of the full blessing God wanted to give them at that time.
I don’t know about you, but I consider that a very sobering thought. Let’s keep this in mind as we minister in the future.
John 10:9 – “I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture.”
Again, any person who goes through Christ to obtain salvation will be saved. He or she will have their sins blotted out, their soul purified and their name written in the Lamb’s book of Life (Revelation 20:12-15).
The phrase ‘going in and out’ is a common Hebrew phrase which denotes the comings and goings of daily life.
The meaning is that in the course of the daily life of a Christian, they safely go about their business always able to come and go to the refuge of Jesus when storms or dangers approach.
Psalm 23:3-4 – He restores my soul: he leads me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for you are with me; your rod and your staff they comfort me.
For his part, Jesus will lead and guide us into communion with himself, the Father and Holy Spirit. He will provide every good thing that we need in our lives as well as many wonderful things we don’t! We never have to fear the evil one, for our Father is vastly greater and more powerful than Satan!
John 10:10 – “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.”
The goodness and abundance that God has bestows upon his people are contrasted with the actions of the false teachers/pastors.
These ‘wolves’ are in the church to promote their own interests at the expense of the spiritual lives of the people. They seek their own honor, as well as the riches and fame of the earth. They do nothing to assist their flock in experiencing true spiritual life and goodness. Once they steal the sheep’s allegiance to Christ, they have destroyed them spiritually and the sheep is in danger of eternal death. Again, this more or less describes many of the Scribes, Pharisees and priests during the time of Christ.
Jesus, however, never brings death or destruction to his people. He brings life – only God can take a valley of dry bones and make them live again!
And when the church (and we as individuals) is made spiritually alive, it is not just a ho-hum boring existence. Jesus has come to bring us abundance! The original Greek word for ‘abundantly’ denotes that which is NOT absolutely essential to life. In other words, it stands for things that are added on top of the essentials to make life happy and blessed. He truly fills our cups until they overflow!
Psalm 23:5 – You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies: you anoint my head with oil; my cup runs over.
If the only thing Jesus provided for us was deliverance from hell, we couldn’t complain (although we probably would). But that is not the case:
- Jesus has generously given us and overflow of eternal joy, peace, love and life.
- We have endless opportunities to know God more.
- We can come into his presence at any time.
- We enjoy greater and deeper spiritual blessings than anything experienced by those who lived prior to the incarnation, including Adam and Eve!
Psalm 23:6 – Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.
And this is just the beginning…eternity with God will be even better!
Let me offer you some encouragement, relief and strength:
Many people live under the false impression that God is stingy and cruel. They picture him as an angry disciplinarian who is just waiting for them to make a mistake, so he can punish them.
Don’t buy into that lie of the enemy! Let me assure you, nothing could be further from the truth!
Jesus died on the cross just to save you. If you were the only person on earth who needed salvation, he still would have done it.
Scripture tells us that it is God’s will/desire for every single person to have salvation (I Timothy 2:3-4). When you do accept him, he becomes a caring, loving Father and companion. He guides you, provides for you and watches over you. He greatly desires to have a unique relationship with YOU!
Go ahead and read Psalms 23 one more time – it oozes with the love that Jesus feels for you!