Our Need for Protection

The Point:  Jesus is the only One who offers us ultimate protection.

The Good Shepherd:  John 10:7-15.

[7]  So Jesus again said to them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. [8]  All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. [9]  I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture. [10]  The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. [11]  I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. [12]  He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. [13]  He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. [14]  I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, [15]  just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep.  [ESV]

“In the parable of the good shepherd [10:1-5], Jesus spoke of the true Shepherd who comes to the door, gains entry, and calls His own sheep by name. This parable is so familiar to Christians that it is hard for us to imagine anyone failing to grasp its meaning. But John says that when Jesus first spoke this figure of speech, His hearers did not understand what he was saying to them [6]. Jesus responded with another figure of speech in which He made clear the reference to Himself: Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep [7]. There were two kinds of sheepfolds in ancient Palestine, and Jesus refers to both in this chapter. In the parable [1-5], Jesus made use of the more durable structure in the towns: a high-walled sheep pen with a paid guard, into which all the shepherds would bring their flocks. But now He refers to the more rustic sheepfolds out in the fields. These were smaller and less substantial, and were used for the sheep’s safety at night. The key feature of these sheep pens was that they did not have a door, only an open space in the wall of piled rocks. After bringing in his sheep, the shepherd would lay his own body across that space so that as he slept in the entry, he himself became the door. Unlike the large town sheepfold that He mentioned earlier, which symbolized Judaism, from which Jesus drew out His sheep, this sheepfold stands for His own flock – His church. The way in is through His body, which He offered for our sins on the cross. Jesus is the door of the sheep, and those who enter are safe for eternity. This is the third I am statement that Jesus makes in the Gospel of John. There are seven in all, presenting a mini-Christology all their own. If we can understand the meaning of these seven sayings, we will have grasped the very heart of the Christian faith. And if we receive them in personal faith, we will have gained Jesus as our own great I am in salvation. With each of the seven I am statements, Jesus meaning is clear. Here, the point is that one may enter salvation only through faith in Him. There was only one entryway into the sheepfold; likewise, faith in Jesus is the only way to enter God’s salvation. This is an important point to affirm because so many people today, including some who call themselves Christians, deny that Jesus is the only way of salvation. This is why the teaching of Christ as the only Savior is Christianity’s gravest offense in our relativistic age. Jesus says here, I am the door of the sheep. He is not one of many doors, but the one and only door to salvation. This is something that Jesus emphasizes all through John’s Gospel. People who object that God has provided only one way of salvation show that they do not recognize the reality of their need. The unbeliever’s true objection to Jesus is really an objection to God’s verdict on sin. Unbelievers refuse to confess their guilt. They demand another way – any other way – that grants a salvation that is to their own glory instead of to God’s. But when it comes to salvation, Jesus insists, I am the door. Moreover, it is clear from Jesus’ teaching in John’s Gospel that this door may be entered only by faith alone. If Jesus is the door, who are the people who may enter through faith in Him? According to Jesus, the answer is anyone. He said: I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved [9]. This shows that while Jesus presents only one way of salvation, that one way is open to absolutely everyone. The Gospel is genuinely and freely offered to any and all. But this is not a contradiction of the Bible’s doctrine of election. In John 6:37, Jesus said: All that the Father gives me will come to me. This means that all who believe come to Christ because they were chosen by the Father and were given to His Son for salvation. These two teachings present the gospel from two perspectives, one from the side of the divine decree and the other from the side of man’s opportunity. Jesus continues in verse 11: I am the good shepherd, and His sheep enter His fold through faith in Him. But what does it mean to enter Jesus’ flock? He explains with three promises: he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture [9]. First, those who enter through Christ will be saved. The only way to escape the unyielding justice of a holy God in His wrath against our sins is through Jesus Christ. Through faith in His cross, we enter into a salvation that is made eternally secure by the precious blood of Christ. The second blessing is made clear by the illustration of the door in the sheepfold. When the sheep entered in and the shepherd laid his body across the doorway, they were protected from every intruder. Likewise, those who enter in by Christ not only will be saved but also will be safe. This is the point of Jesus’ saying that the sheep will go in and out [9]. This means that they will constantly live under the protection offered by their Good Shepherd. Sheep are the most helpless animals on the face of the earth, with no means of defending themselves. This depicts our spiritual vulnerability in a world of sin and evil. But those who enter in through Christ will not be left unguarded against spiritual attacks and the condemnation of sin, but are forever safe under His shepherding care. As Jesus goes on to say, They will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand [28]. Finally, the true sheep who answer Christ’s call and enter in by Him will find pasture [9]. This means that believers in Jesus not only will be saved and be safe, but also will be satisfied. Jesus continues in verse 10 to make His great purpose in coming clear: I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. It was to give eternal life that Jesus came and taught, and gave His life on the cross. We should remember that Jesus spoke these words in the midst of His dispute with the Pharisees: the thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. This is Jesus’ assessment not only of the Pharisees, but of all false religious leaders. Those who preach a way of salvation based on good works or ritual performance or the paying of money – or any way other than faith alone in Christ – are as wolves among the sheep. Today, false religious leaders include those who preach tolerance for sin but who will not tolerate the Bible’s teaching. They also include those who minister for personal gain and twist the gospel to attract followers. Jesus, by His atoning death on the cross, is the one and only door to true life, and faith alone is the one way of entering through Him. In verse 11, Jesus gives the fourth I am statement: I am the good shepherd. Jesus spoke these words to contrast Himself with the false shepherds of Israel, especially the hard-hearted Pharisees. Accordingly, He contrasts the Good Shepherd with those who watch the sheep for hire: He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them [12]. As Jesus says, the hired hand may serve fairly well when things are safe. It is when danger comes that the hired hand flees. He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep [13]. The same thing happens in the church when its ministers serve only for money or other gain, to the detriment of the flock. This makes the point that each of us acts according to our character. We do according to what we are. The false shepherd flees because he is a hired hand, whereas the true Shepherd lays down His life because of the love in His heart. Moreover, our character is especially tested in times of crisis and trouble. Many a paid shepherd is revealed as a hired hand only when the wolf appears, just as many a good shepherd is recognized only when he sacrifices for the good of the flock. Given this, character should always be a prime consideration whether you are selecting someone for a job opening, deciding on someone to marry, or choosing a spiritual leader to follow. Character matters. This is how Jesus revealed Himself as the Good Shepherd: The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep [11]. There are two Greek words for good. One speaks of moral goodness, while the second speaks of beauty or excellence. The second one is used in this verse to indicate that Jesus is the genuine, lovely, attractive, and true Shepherd to whom others can only dimly be compared. Seeing Jesus as the Good Shepherd gives comfort to every Christian. To be saved is to enjoy a personal relationship as a sheep to the most wonderful, trustworthy Shepherd of our souls. Jesus is the Good Shepherd because He lays down his life for the sheep [11]. In a general sense, this may refer to the way in which a shepherd pours out his time and energy for the well-being of his flock. But it is clear that Jesus specifically refers to His sacrificial death on the cross. Indeed, Jesus’ description provides a valuable summary of the Christian doctrine of the atonement. The first thing we should observe is the centrality of the cross for the Christian faith. The distinctive and central feature of Christianity is its teaching of the cross of Christ where He laid down His life for His people. Second, Jesus emphasizes the voluntary nature of His sacrificial death. The Good Shepherd willingly lays down his life for the sheep [11,15]. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord [18]. Jesus came into the world for the primary purpose of laying down His life for the sheep, and He did so by His own will. This points to the third feature of Jesus’ teaching: His death was a vicarious sacrifice. Vicarious describes something performed or suffered in the place of others. Jesus says that He died for his sheep. He offered Himself as a Substitute for sinners before the holy justice of God. He accepted the guilt that our sins deserved and received God’s just wrath in our place. This shows us that Christian salvation comes not by what we do for ourselves or even what we might do for God. Rather, the heart of the gospel is what Jesus did for us and on our behalf. Jesus teaches a fourth thing about His cross, namely, that it was planned in advance according to God’s will. He explains that He laid down His life because This charge I have received from my Father [18]. Peter preached that Jesus died according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God [Acts 2:23]. And according to the same plan, Jesus rose from the dead to give eternal life to His sheep. So not only did Jesus die for us, but it was also for us that God gave His divine Son. Fifth, Jesus’ atoning death was personal and particular in its design. That is, Jesus died for specific, particular people whom He was saving. Jesus does not say that He died for the whole world. Of course, it is true that His death offers salvation to everyone. But He died for his sheep [11,15], that is, for the elect people whom God had given Him from all eternity. This leads to one last, and sixth, point that Jesus makes about His atoning death: it was born of His great love. There is no greater love than that which offers its own life. The Good Shepherd loves His sheep, and that is why He lays down His life for them.”  [Phillips, pp. 624-652].

Given Eternal Life:  John 10:27-30.

[27]  My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. [28]  I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. [29]  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. [30]  I and the Father are one."  [ESV]

“Jesus says, My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me [27]. It is because Jesus calls us my sheep that He says that we hear His voice and follow. To be sure, one must believe to be saved. Yet our salvation does not rest on our faith, but rather on God’s grace in Christ, who calls His sheep to faith. Consider the question: Why does a Christian believe whereas another does not? Is it because the Christian is more spiritual by nature, more willing or more able in and of himself or herself? Not according to the Bible! Christians were just as sinful and spiritually dead as anyone else before being born again. It is only by God’s sovereign grace in election that Christ’s sheep believe and are saved. When we speak of salvation by grace, we mean that sinners receive eternal life as a free gift from God. Jesus states this plainly: I give them eternal life [28]. This implies that before being saved, we do not have eternal life. This is why we are not able to believe until we are first born again. As a gift, salvation is free. A gift is not something we claim as a right; God is not obliged to save sinners, but out of His grace He gives eternal life [Eph. 2:8-9]. How, then, do we receive this gift? The answer is through faith in Jesus Christ. Paul explains: All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, … to be received by faith [Rom. 3:23-25]. John 10:27-28 gives a short summary of the meaning of saving faith. We may say that faith involves three elements, the first of which is the faith of the hands. Jesus says, I give them eternal life [28], and faith receives His gift. Faith does not reject the gift of eternal life or resent the fact that we cannot earn our own way to heaven. Faith gratefully accepts what God offers us in Jesus Christ. But there is also the faith of the ear. This was Jesus’ point in answering the Jews’ question. They demanded that He tell them plainly whether He was the Messiah. Jesus replied that if they had the ears of faith, they would already have believed His teaching and miracles. The ears of the unconverted are dead to Christ’s voice, but the ears of His sheep hear and believe. My sheep hear my voice, He says [27]. Finally, there is the faith of the foot. And they follow me, Jesus adds [27]. This is where our claim to faith is tested. Do you say that you believe in Christ? Then are you following Him? Do you obey God’s commandments? Do you strive to copy Jesus’ example? Is your character being conformed to His – in humility, love, and holiness? If your hands have received God’s gift of eternal life, if your ears have heard and believed, and if your feet are following after Jesus, you may be confident that you belong to Jesus and have eternal life. Those who truly belong to Christ not only possess eternal life, but also have the blessing of knowing that they can never lose it. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand [28]. Given such a clear statement, it is hard to understand how so many Christians can be taught that a true believer can lose eternal life. By its very definition, eternal life cannot be lost. As everlasting life, it lasts forever. It is true that false disciples may lose their salvation, for the simple reason that they never really had it. But those who truly believe – who have received God’s gift into their hands and are marked on the ear and foot through a living, obedient faith – cannot lose a life that is eternal. Eternal life is a true gift from God. A gift that is taken back was never truly a gift. And since God cannot change, His gifts cannot be revoked. For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable [Rom. 11:29]. Since we are prone to doubt, Jesus expresses this as a promise that He is obliged to fulfill. They will never perish, He says [28]. In John 10:29, Jesus gives one more reason why His sheep are eternally secure: the power of God the Father in keeping safe His own. 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. It is self-evident that nothing is stronger than God. So if we are placed in His hand, we can never be taken out [see Rom. 8:38-39]. This wonderful teaching of God’s saving grace for Christ’s sheep leaves only one question: How can I be sure that I am one? The reality is that some who profess faith in Christ do not persist to the end. According to the Bible, this proves that they never were truly saved. John says of them in his first epistle, They were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us [1 John 2:19]. So how can I be sure that I am not one of those who fall away? Ultimately, we can be sure of our eternal safety only through a present and living faith in Jesus that continues in this life. Jesus says that His sheep are those who accept God’s gracious gift of salvation, hear His voice, and follow him. Have you accepted the gift, continually hear His voice and follow Him? If so, you can be confident in the safety of your salvation and gift of eternal life?”  [Phillips, pp. 653-662].   

Questions for Discussion:

1.         What does Jesus mean with His statement: I am the door of the sheep? Why do people object to the teaching that Jesus is the only way of salvation?

2.         What three promises does Jesus give His sheep in 10:9?

3.         What six points does Phillips make concerning the doctrine of atonement?

4.         Phillips writes that saving faith has three elements: hands, ears, and feet. What is Phillips teaching us concerning saving faith with these three elements?


The Gospel according to John, D. A. Carson, Eerdmans.

John, Andreas Kostenberger, BENT, Baker.

The Gospel according to John, Leon Morris, Eerdmans.

John, vol. 1, Richard Phillips, REC, P & R Publishing.

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