"I understand this lesson to be a parable with a double application. First, Christ compares the Pharisees to shepherds, himself to the door, and declares that those only are true shepherds who enter through the door; that is, through Christ and his authority. All others are thieves and robbers. Then he changes the application and declares himself the good shepherd whose praises David and Isaiah sung, and indicates the nature of the service that he will render unto his sheep by giving for them his life." -- Abbott.
The figure of the shepherd and his sheep is always a favorite one in the Scriptures. Abraham, the founder of the Jewish race, and the father of whom all Christians are children by faith, was a shepherd, as were Isaac, Jacob, the twelve patriarchs, and all the Jewish race up to the time of their settlement in Canaan. Upon the hills of Canaan the shepherd's vocation was always a favorite employment, and David, the great king, was called from his flocks to the throne. It was David who sang, "The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want," and all through the Scriptures the Lord is presented in the position of the shepherd of his people. It is Christ who is the Good Shepherd. (Joh 10:1)
1. He that entereth not by the door into the sheepfold. The sheepfold is a figure of the church, the door into which is Christ. The sheepfolds of the East are large enclosures, open to the sky, but walled around with reeds, or stone, or brick in order to afford a protection against robbers, wolves, and other beasts of prey. There is a large door at which the shepherd enters with the sheep. Sometimes leopards, panthers and robbers clamber over the walls elsewhere in order to prey upon the sheep. At the doors of the large sheepfolds, where many thousands of sheep are protected, a porter, or doorkeeper, remains on guard, and this doorkeeper will only admit those who have the right to enter. (See Sheepfold, in Smith's Bible Dictionary.) All those who climb into the sheepfold some other way than by the door are thieves and robbers.
"Those low, flat buildings on the sheltered side of the valley are sheepfolds. They are called marah; and when the nights are cold the flocks are shut up in them, but in ordinary weather they are merely kept within the yard. This, you observe, is defended by a wide stone wall, crowned all around with thorns, which the prowling wolf will rarely attempt to scale. The nimer, however, and the faked, the wolf and the panther of this country, when pressed with hunger, will overleap this thorny hedge, and with one tremendous bound land in the frightened fold. Then is the time to try the nerve and heart of the faithful shepherd. These humble types of him, who leadeth Joseph like a flock, never leave their helpless charge alone, but accompany them by day and abide with them by night." -- Thompson's The Land and the Book. (Joh 10:2)
2. He that entereth by the door. The one who comes in by the door is the shepherd. The figure is very plain to those familiar with Eastern sheepfolds. The door is for the shepherd and the sheep, while those who get in otherwise are robbers who seek to prey upon the sheep. (Joh 10:3)
3. To him the porter openeth. The gatekeeper, whose business it is to guard the entrance. This servant was furnished with arms to fight off intruders, but the shepherd he would let in. There has been much speculation what Christ signified by the porter. The sheepfold is the church, he is the door by which all enter; he is also the Good Shepherd; there are also the shepherds or teachers under him who enter by the door; the saints are the sheep; those who seek to become leaders of God's people, but have not come in through Christ, are false leaders, thieves and robbers. It is not certain that Christ intended to make the porter a figure of any spiritual thing, but if so, he would represent God, who has decided who shall enter through the door. And the sheep hear his voice. "This is true to the letter. The sheep are so tame and so trained that they follow their keeper with the utmost docility. He leads them forth from the fold just where he pleases." -- Thompson. The Eastern shepherds lead their flocks, while in our country we drive them. A traveler in the Holy Land says: "Two flocks were moving slowly up the slope of the hill, one of sheep, and the other of goats. The shepherd was going before the sheep, and they followed as he led the way to the Jaffa gate; we could not but remember the Savior's words: 'When he putteth forth his own sheep, he goeth before them, and the sheep follow him; for they know his voice.'" He calleth his own sheep by name. This corresponds exactly with the facts of Eastern shepherd life. They give names to sheep as we do to horses, cows and dogs. "Passing by a flock of sheep," says Mr. Hartley, "I asked the shepherd to call one of his sheep. He instantly did so, and it left its pasturage and its companions, and ran to the shepherd with a promptitude and signs of pleasure that I never witnessed before." (Joh 10:4)
4. The sheep follow him, for they know his voice. "As we ate and looked, almost spellbound, the silent hillsides around us were in a moment filled with sounds and life. The shepherds led their flocks forth from the gates of the city. They were in full view and we watched and listened to them with no little interest. Thousands of sheep and goats were there in dense, confused masses. The shepherds stood together until all came out. Then they separated, each shepherd taking a different path, and uttering, as he advanced, a shrill, peculiar call. The sheep heard them. At first the masses swayed and moved as if shaken with some internal convulsion; then points struck out in the direction taken by the shepherds; these became longer and longer, until the confused masses were resolved into long, living streams, flowing after their leaders. Such a sight was not new to me, still it had lost none of its interest. It was, perhaps, one of the most vivid illustrations which human eyes could witness of that beautiful discourse of our Savior recorded by John." -- Porter. (Joh 10:5)
5. And a stranger they will not follow. The sheep refuse to follow a strange voice. A traveler once said to a Palestine shepherd that it was the dress of the master that the sheep knew and not his voice. The shepherd asserted that it was the voice, and to settle the point, he and the traveler changed dresses and went among the sheep. The traveler called them in the shepherd's dress, but they refused to follow him, for they knew not his voice. On the other hand they ran at once at the shepherd's call, though he was in strange attire. The application of this is easy. The sheep of the Good Shepherd hear his voice, know it, and follow him. They will not listen to the voice of a stranger who would call them away. The proof that we are Christ's sheep is that we hear his voice and follow him. (Joh 10:6)
6. This parable spake Jesus unto them. The Greek word rendered here "parable," is not so rendered elsewhere. The above figure is not a parable in the same sense as the term is used elsewhere. There is not a true parable in the whole gospel of John. This is rather a simile. Christ's hearers could not understand the application. Hence he explains in the following verses: (Joh 10:7)
7. I am the door of the sheep. Verses 1-5, speak of shepherds in general. These shepherds enter into the fold and go out by the same door as the sheep. Christ is that door; the Door of the sheep, the one door for all, both sheep and shepherds, into the fold, into the company of God's people, into the church of the living God, to the Father. There is no other way in, for "there is no other name, under heaven, given among men, whereby we must be saved." (Joh 10:8)
8. All that ever came before me are thieves and robbers. This passage has caused much difference of opinion. Alford holds that Satan came before Christ in Eden to sway our race, and that the language refers to Satan and his followers. Abbott holds that the idea is, "All who came, not entering through the door, but claiming to be before me, having the precedence, independent of me, are thieves and robbers." Westcott says that he refers to false messiahs and teachers who had preceded him. I believe that the truth is to be sought by a combination of all these views. That he does not mean in point of time alone by "come before me" is evident because this view would assign Moses, the prophets and John the Baptist to the class of spiritual robbers. There was, however, the body of Jewish religious teachers, the Scribes, the doctors and the Pharisees, who had claimed for centuries before to be the spiritual shepherds but were "blind leaders of the blind," "devourers of widows' houses," and these also in their pride turned away from Christ as too lowly to receive their deference. In point of spiritual precedence they placed themselves "before" him. The underlying principle is that all who claim to be religious and moral leaders and who turn away from Christ as their teacher are not real shepherds whose aim is to save the flock, but "robbers" who wish to prey upon it. This view includes the Jewish rabbis, the Greek philosophers, the pretended prophets, and the "Infallible Pope." These all refuse to bow to his authority. But the sheep did not hear them. The true sheep. It was the goats that wandered off after such leaders. (Joh 10:9)
9. By me, if any man enter in, he shall be saved. Christ is at once the door, the shepherd and the pasture. His pasture is the bread of life and the water of life. They who enter by him, in the way he has appointed, are saved, and shall never be lost if they continue to hear his voice. (Joh 10:10)
10. The thief cometh not, but to steal. All those who enter otherwise than by the door, wish to prey upon the flock. Their object is not to save the lives of the flock, but to destroy them. Christ came to give life, and to give it an abundant development. False religion robs men; true religion blesses and enriches. And to destroy. The false and selfish teacher is not only a thief who steals the substance and the opportunities of the flock, but a destroyer. This is a universal truth that any person of wide observation has seen illustrated too often. He destroys the spiritual life of the flock, leads it away from the Good Shepherd, fills it with false notions, destroys the faith that is in men's hearts, and scatters the flock abroad until the sheep can no longer be found. (Joh 10:11)
11. I am the good shepherd. This title, applied to Jehovah in Psalm 23 and in Ezekiel 34:12, Christ here applies to himself. The mark of the good shepherd is that he giveth his life for his sheep. In that unsettled country the shepherd had often to defend his flock. Dr. Thompson says: "The faithful shepherd has often to put his life into his hand to defend the flock. I have known more than one case in which he had literally to lay it down in the contest. A poor, faithful fellow, last spring, between Tiberias and Tabor, instead of fleeing, actually fought three Bedouin robbers until he was hacked to pieces and died among the sheep he was defending." Thus the Good Shepherd loves his sheep. So, too, does every faithful shepherd among his followers. (Joh 10:12)
12. But the hireling . . . . leaveth his sheep and fleeth. It is not the bare fact of a man receiving pay that makes him a hireling. "The laborer is worthy of his hire." He is a hireling who would not work were it not for this hire. Such hirelings, who are moved by self-interest alone, will abandon the flock in the moment of danger. He only cares for his gains. Thus true and false shepherds are distinguished. (Joh 10:13)
13. The hireling fleeth, because he is an hireling. Because he cares for his hire, but not for the sheep. He is bound to them, not by love, but by self-interest. When the yellow fever struck Memphis the hireling shepherds fled to the North. (Joh 10:14)
14. I am the good shepherd. The Lord does not say that he is the only shepherd. God had in times past sent other shepherds to lead the flock of Israel who had led it to the best of their ability, though imperfectly, but he is distinguished from them as the Good Shepherd. He is the "True Vine" (15:1); the "True Bread" (6:32), as well as the Good Shepherd. The great characteristic of the Good Shepherd is indicated in verse 11, as his devotion of his own life to the sheep. I know my sheep. He knows every one of them, personally, tenderly, lovingly, by name. The very hairs of our heads are numbered. (Joh 10:15)
15. As the Father knoweth me. As the Father knew the Son and the Son the Father, so is there a tender bond between the sheep of Christ and the Good Shepherd. For them he was then giving and would give his life. (Joh 10:16)
16. I have also other sheep, not of this fold. Not Jews, of whom all his followers then were, but Gentiles who would soon be called to him. These would hear his voice, enter through the door, into the same fold as the Jewish Christians, so that there would be "one fold and one shepherd." There is only one Church and one door into it, and one Shepherd over it.
All through the Savior's ministry there shines forth the grand truth that he is the Redeemer of the world, instead of a Jewish Messiah. To Nicodemus he declared, at the first passover of his ministry, that God had sent him, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved by him. At Samaria, shortly after, his teachings so overleaped the narrow bounds of Judaism that the believing Samaritans pronounced him "the Savior of the world." Here in no ambiguous language he announces the breaking down of the "wall of partition" between Jew and Gentile, and the gathering of his sheep "not of this fold" into the same fold where his sheep of the Jewish race were gathered, so that there would be "one fold and one shepherd." Some narrow critics have held that Paul gave to Christianity its impulse to become a universal religion, but not only the prophets, but the life and teaching of Christ, from the time when John pointed to him on the banks of Jordan as the "Lamb of God that taketh away the sins of the world," down do the world-wide commission given as he ascended on high, all declare that he came to be the world's Savior. (Joh 10:17)
17. Therefore doth my Father love me. The ground of the Father's love was that Christ had given himself for man. The Father loves those of us best who are most like Christ in this respect. (Joh 10:18)
18. I lay it down of myself. His life. He gave himself for man of his free will. He laid down his life on the cross; he took it again when he rose from the dead. The plots of men would have been of no avail had he not consented. Indeed his whole life from the time his ministry began was a laying of it down. While constantly bearing the cross he was marching straight to the cross. From the very beginning of his teaching there are references to the death he should die (see John 3:14). (Joh 10:19)
19. There was a division, therefore, again among the Jews. In John 7:43, the division was among the multitude; in 9:16, among the Pharisees; now among "the Jews," or ruling body. Some were wonderfully impressed by his miracles and teachings, while others were obstinately blind. We can hardly wonder at the perplexity of the more honest sort when we are reminded that Jesus did not in any respect, except power and wisdom, answer to their conceptions of the Christ. To accept him was to abandon their national hope, and to accept, instead, the hope of the world. (Joh 10:20)
20. Many said, He hath a devil and is mad. It was a common belief among the Jews that the agency of demons could produce supernatural effects. See Matt.12:24. It was a very convenient way, therefore, of explaining the miraculous power of Christ. (Joh 10:21)
21. These are not the words of him that hath a devil (demon). No person under demoniac influence had ever taught like Christ, and hence the better sort assert that his teachings disprove the charge. Besides it had never been known that a demon could open the eyes of the blind. There had been a display of a mightier power.