Live in God’s Care
Sunday School Lesson for November 10, 2002
Background Passage: John 10:1-42
Jesus the Good Shepherd Knows His Sheep (10:7-18)
Having introduced the concept of the shepherd in verses 1-6 by means of a “figure of speech,” or parable, Jesus began to speak more explicitly regarding His ministry as the “good shepherd” (v. 11). Here in this section of verses, Jesus expands His figure to include the “gate” of the sheepfold with the declaration that He is not only the shepherd of His sheep, but also “the gate for the sheep.” To understand this concept, apparently drawn from the prophet Ezekiel (chap. 34), we must keep in mind that the typical sheepfold would consist of a stone enclosure with a doorway to one side. For added protection, briars might be placed on the top of each wall to discourage animals or thieves from entering.
In verse 8, Jesus contrasts His loving care for His sheep with those who “came before”—an apparent allusion to messianic pretenders and the religious establishment that had dogged Jesus’ every step (cf. Ezek. 34:2-4). These, He says, are really “thieves and robbers” who do not love the sheep and do not have their best interest at heart. In other words, no true shepherd of Israel has ever appeared until now in the person of the Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth.
In contrast to the many false shepherds of Israel, Jesus, the very “gate” to the sheepfold, will provide eternal life and salvation for all those who enter into fold through Him—“whoever enters through me will be saved” (v. 9). As we have noted, entrance into the sheepfold is by faith in the shepherd. Thus, belief in Christ characterizes those who are His sheep (note how this is stated negatively in 10:26). That His sheep will “come in, and go out and find pasture” represents the fullness of life and freedom found only in the good shepherd.
In verse 10, Jesus once again paints a dramatic contrast between Israel’s true shepherd and the “thief”(false prophets, messianic pretenders, religious establishment) whose real agenda is death and destruction. In contrast, the “good shepherd” has come in order that through Him the sheep “may have life, and have it to the full” (cf. Ezekiel 34:12-15, 25-31). F. F. Bruce offers this helpful explanation:
The thief’s designs on the sheep are wholly malicious; the good shepherd’s plans for them are entirely benevolent. He desires and promotes their wellbeing; he is not content that they should eke out a bare and miserable existence; he wants them to live life to the full, to have plenty of good pasturage and enjoy good health .
Having contrasted Himself with the thieves and robbers, Jesus now draws the distinction between the good shepherd who “lays down his life for the sheep” and the “hired hand.” Such hired workers were only temporary and had no real concern for the lives of the sheep they were charged with watching (cf. Exod. 22:13). Thus, whenever a “wolf” or other predator approached the sheep, the hireling would abandon them and run away in search of personal safety—“he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep” (v. 13). With the sheep left completely defenseless, the “wolf attacks” and “scatters” the terrified flock (v. 12).
Yet, Jesus, the good shepherd, is not some temporary hireling. He has a personal relationship of love and commitment to His sheep. They know Him as their personal shepherd and He knows them “by name” (v. 3) with the same degree of knowledge, love, and commitment expressed within the Trinity itself—“just as the Father knows me and I know the Father” (v. 15). That is, the awesome love “which the Father and the Son have for each other in the eternal order is extended to embrace those whom the Son calls his ‘own’” [Bruce, 227]. That Jesus has “other sheep that are not of this pen” indicates that His saving love extends beyond the boundaries of ethnic Israel. Consequently, the Gentiles who believe in Christ will be brought into His fold where all believers, without distinctions of race or class, will be “one flock” under the loving guidance of “one shepherd” (v. 16). Thus, in Christ, both Jew and Gentile are brought into “one messianic community” [Kostenberger, 102]. These words, then, emphatically “point to the Gentile mission and the formation of the community, comprising believing Jews and believing Gentiles, in which there is ‘neither Jew nor Greek’ (Gal. 3:28; Col. 3:11)” [Bruce, 228].
Here Jesus speaks more directly regarding His relationship to the Father. At the core of this relationship is an eternal love—a love between the Father and the obedient Son who, at the Father’s pleasure, lays down His very life for His sheep. The Son gives His life in sacrifice for the sheep in obedience to the Father’s “command” and then takes it “up again” in the resurrection. Verse 18 stresses that the Son alone has full authority to both give His life in death, and to “take it up again.” While on one side the death of Jesus was a life taken by murder, on the other it was a life freely given in conformity to the Father’s eternal will and plans.
Jesus the Good Shepherd Preserves His Sheep (10:27-30)
Once again Jesus stresses that His sheep not only hear his voice and “follow” Him, thus proving that He is their Shepherd, but that He knows, or loves, His own sheep—“I know them and they follow me” (cf. vv. 14-15). Therefore, those sheep who “belong to the Lord’s flock are characterized by obedience, recognition of the shepherd, and allegiance to him” [Tenney, EBC, 112]. As a consequence of His timeless love for them He not only grants them “eternal life,” He also guarantees their eternal preservation—“no one can snatch them out of my hand.”
Building upon this theme of eternal preservation, or what is commonly called the “security of the believer,” Jesus appeals to the fact that His sheep have been “given” to Him by the Father who is “greater than all.” This reiterates His declaration in 6:37-39.
All that the Father gives Me shall come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out. 38 For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me. 39 And this is the will of Him who sent Me, that of all that He has given Me I lose nothing, but raise it up on the last day.
Note that whereas Jesus had earlier proclaimed that no one could take the sheep out of His hand, here He states, “no on can snatch them out of my Father’s hand.” This change in focus supports the reality of Christ’s full divinity as the Son of God—“I and the Father are one.” The shepherd of the sheep, then, is no less that God Himself who guarantees both the salvation and eternal security of those who believe and follow Christ.
One: The image of the shepherd—Why do you suppose that Jesus chose this figure to depict His relationship and ministry to His sheep? What are some of the characteristics of a faithful shepherd that reveal Christ to us?
Two: The doorway of the sheepfold—What is implied about Jesus, sheep, and eternal life in this figure? How is Christ a “gate” for those who believe in His name for salvation?
Three: One flock and one shepherd—What are the implications of this concept and how shall we apply them in light of our pluralistic culture?
Four: Characteristics of real sheep—From this passage see if you can identify the distinguishing marks of Jesus’ sheep.
Five: Preservation as opposed to security—Why is it, perhaps, better to speak of the preservation of the believer by God rather than the security of the believer? Is there any significant difference in the two expressions?