John 10 – Sheepshifting

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Today’s PassageJohn 10

Welcome to the Sheep Chapter. Here, Jesus famously declares himself to be the good shepherd and develops the sheep-herding metaphor at length. I had forgotten that it continues directly from the previous chapter. I’d thought chapter 9 was the Man Blind from Birth Chapter, then the last verse of chapter 9, and scene, and then the curtain opens on a new section where Jesus teaches about his relationship to his sheep. But no! All this sheep talk comes hot on the heels of a handful of Pharisees asking Jesus if they are blind, and Jesus responding: yes. Yes, you are.

It makes sense, then, that a recurring theme of the shepherd metaphor is that Jesus’ sheep know him. Early in his teaching, he tells the crowd: “The sheep follow [the good shepherd] because they know his voice” (4), contrasting the shepherd with thieves and robbers, wolves, and hired hands. These others either want to steal the sheep for themselves or have no skin in the game when it comes to the sheep’s safety. And the sheep know better than to trust them, not because sheep are particularly smart (they’re sheep), but because they know the shepherd’s voice. They’re familiar with him.

So when a crowd of people in Jerusalem natives presses him to come out and say whether he’s the Messiah, Jesus brings back the shepherd metaphor. He points to his miracles as a clear indication of who he is and what he’s about, then says, “But you do not believe because you are not of My sheep” (26). Like the Pharisees from the end of the previous chapter, they’re blind to their own blindness. They don’t recognize the shepherd, they don’t recognize his voice, and they betray their own ignorance of him through their unbelief.

What determines whether a person is in the good shepherd’s flock or not? Jesus does note that sheep from outside the fold can join his flock: “I have other sheep, which are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will hear My voice; and they will become one flock with one shepherd” (16). What’s the trick? They hear his voice. They listen.

But there’s another crucial property of sheep that differentiates the good shepherd’s flock from the others. Jesus declares: “My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand” (29). They’re part of Jesus’ flock because God the Father has given them to him. They’re a gift, and moreover, they still belong to the Father even after he gives them to the Son; God and Jesus Christ together own the flock.

While I was in high school, I told my dad about an atheist friend with whom I was having some conversations about Christianity. He recommended that I share this chapter with my friend, because of its picture of Jesus as pursuing humanity’s well-being, not its punishment or detriment. And it’s good to be a sheep in the good shepherd’s flock! You get pasture and protection; you get abundant eternal life. So how do you become part of the good shepherd’s flock? First, listen to his voice and follow it. And second, belong to God and be given to him by God.


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