“I Am the Good Shepherd”
John Chapter Ten
In this chapter, Jesus continues his debate with his opponents. The setting is still at the Feast of Booths, however, there is a division that shifts to the Festival of Dedication in verse twenty-two. Boring and Craddock want us to be able to distinguish between the Synoptic Gospels’ message and the Johannine message. In the Synoptics, the message is the Kingdom of God. In the Johannine message, it is Jesus himself who is being proclaimed.[i]
Jesus begins this text with a familiar saying, “Verily, verily, I tell you.” Scholars speculate that Jesus was about to say something that needed to be received as truth. Jesus used the metaphor of sheep, gatekeeper, and shepherd to convey his identity among those who will believe and follow him. Anyone who does not come through the gate is a thief and robber. The gatekeeper (who is the gatekeeper?) opens the door for the Shepherd to come in. The sheep do not follow a stranger; they know the voice of their Shepherd and will follow him. Those who heard this saying did not understand it. By its own standard, no one will understand Jesus’ message or identity, “until the story of his life is concluded in the cross and resurrection. This is the Christological nature of the gospel.”[ii]
Jesus refers to himself as the good shepherd, i.e., “I am the good shepherd.” The “good shepherd” lays down his life for his sheep. God loves the son because he lays down his life for his sheep. Hear Jesus say, “I lay down my life in order to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again” (New Revised Standard Version, John 10:17-18). John presents Jesus as a victor and not a victim. We hear references throughout scripture that Jesus did not come on his own authority, but on the authority of the Father. Usually, the resurrection is represented in the New Testament as the act of God…Jesus does not rise, but is raised. God is the actor in the resurrection event. When Jesus is here pictured as having the power to raise himself, from the point of view of the Johannine theology, this is no contradiction…for in John, Jesus paradoxically represents both humanity and deity.
Hired hands (which can be concluded as bad church leaders and/or false teachers) see the wolf coming and leave the sheep. Hired hands do not really care for the sheep. They are there to do a job and get paid. Jesus went on to say, “Other sheep I have that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them in also.” For many scholars, this saying represents the future of Gentiles “who will be brought into the community of Christian faith by the post-Easter church under the guidance of the risen Lord.”[iii] We can appreciate John’s larger vision to see all of humanity come into the fold of the sheep.
Then the focus shifts to the Festival of Dedication, a celebration of remembrance to acknowledge the temple being defiled by Antiochus IV Epiphanes and rededicated by Judas Maccabeus in 164 BCE.[iv] It was winter, and Jesus was walking in the portico of Solomon. The Jews came to him again and asked, “How long will you keep us in suspense. If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.” Jesus reiterated that he told them who he was on previous occasions, and they did not believe him. Therefore, they were not of his sheepfold, as Jesus’ sheep hears his voice and follows him. Jesus challenged them by suggesting that if they did not believe in his identity, then believe him for the works that testified of him and the Father. The Jews took stones to stone him. Jesus asked, “Are you stoning me for showing you the works of my Father? For which one are you going to stone me?” The Jews said it is not for good works that they wanted to stone Jesus, but because he was human, claiming to be God.
This is an important conversation as Jesus used scripture that can’t be annulled, written in Ps. 82:6, that reflects, “I said you are gods (read the entire Psalm).” If the scripture called us gods, and God is sending the true God among us, how can the Jews say that Jesus is blaspheming because Jesus said, “I am God’s Son”? Whew! During staff meeting, after reading this chapter, I asked Kristen and Teonicka, “Does this make us little gods?” If we are made in the image of God, do we classify as God as well? Craddock and Boring remind us that “John’s Christology is not from below, where we try to make humans divine…it is from above, the story of God’s becoming human, not the divinization of a human being – incarnation, not apotheosis.”[v] In addition, Christians would search the Bible for texts that undergirded their theology against Judaism. Psalm 86 became a useful text in their quest. They sum up this argument by reminding us “since our Bible teaches us that it is legitimate to refer to human beings who proclaim the word of God as god (or sons of God)…how much more legitimate it is to use God language of the one who is uniquely the Word of God.”[vi]
Well, Jesus escaped from their hands again, crossed the Jordan River, to the place where John (his forerunner who baptized him earlier in that place) started his ministry. He remained there among the people. In response to Jesus’ presence among them, they said, “John performed no sign, but everything John said about this man was true.” He gained some other sheep in this setting too, as many believed in him.
[i]Boring and Craddock, pg. 320.
[iii] Ibid., 321.
[iv] Ibid., 322.
[v] Ibid., 323.