Jesus said again, “Truly I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep didn’t listen to them…. I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand, since he is not the shepherd and doesn’t own the sheep, leaves them and runs away when he sees a wolf coming…. “ (John 10:7-12, CSB)
When we read John 10 it almost seems like Jesus is mixing His metaphors. First, He says He is the gate for the sheep. Next, He says He is the good shepherd. Then, He says He is not the hired hand that looks after the sheep.
Throughout the Gospel of John Jesus portrayed Himself and His ministry with a number of analogies:
- “I am the bread of life” (John 6:35).
- “I am the light of the world” (John 8:12; 9:5).
- “I am the resurrection and the life” (John 11:25).
- “I am the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6).
- “I am the true vine” (John 15:1, 5).
- “I tell you the truth, before Abraham was born, I am!” (John 8:58). While not an analogy, it is a play on words that the Jews clearly understood in which Jesus equates Himself with the “I AM” title God gave Himself in Exodus 3:14.
There was simply no single way to sufficiently describe the person and purpose of Jesus. In John 10 Jesus used multiple comparisons and contrasts–gate, shepherd, hired hand–to describe the totality of His ministry!
In vs. 1-6 Jesus told a story or parable about shepherding. Shepherding was an occupation with which His audience was undoubtedly familiar. Jesus explained that a shepherd drives his flock of sheep into a pen where he can guard them and keep them safe. The sheep follow him into the pen because they recognize his voice and know he will protect them.
Then, Jesus interpreted the parable using multiple comparisons and contrasts that referred to elements of His purpose and ministry. Sheep pens of the era were constructed with high walls and a single narrow opening, which was the only legitimate means of entry or exit. To control access, the shepherd would stand or lay across the opening to the pen.
Jesus compares Himself to the gatekeeper of the sheep pen who allows entry into the pen and then guards the sheep that are in the pen. He also notes that the sheep will follow the shepherd into the pen where they are protected because they recognize the voice of the shepherd who leads them.
Then, Jesus refers to Himself as the “Good Shepherd” contrasting Himself with the religious leaders of Israel. He notes that hired hands only care for sheep until faced with personal risk. But, the owner of the sheep has a vested interested in protecting them. Jesus is like the owner of the sheep and willing to sacrifice Himself to save those He protects while the Jewish religious leaders are like hired hands who run away when faced with danger.
Jesus may have used may multiple metaphors in these verses but He proclaimed one clear message: Jesus is the one and only way to eternal life with God. If you follow Him He will guide and protect you and keep you safe for eternity.
Truly I tell you, unless someone is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God. (John 3:3, CSB)