The Certainty of the Work of Jesus

John 10

This chapter presents us with the seventh discourse in John, the discourse on the Good Shepherd. It is contained mainly in verses 1-21. Jesus makes specific application of it to the Jews in at the Feast of Dedication in verses 26-30. The opposition of the Pharisees has been seething for some time indicated by their attempt to arrest him in 7:32 and intensifies through 8:59 (“They picked up stones to throw at him”). From Jesus’ assertion that the guilt of the Pharisees remained (9:41) to their irrational accusation of his being demonic (10:20, 21), Jesus narrative of his being the true shepherd as opposed to thieves and hirelings (10:1-18) is prompted by the Pharisees opposition to Jesus (9:13, 15-16, 22, 24, 28, 40). Jesus continues to identify Himself as the true caretaker of the people of God as opposed to the evil, demonic, self-centered motivation of the Pharisees (8:44-47)

I. Jesus Takes perfect Care of his Sheep 

A. Verses 1-10 – In these verses Jesus refers to Himself as both the shepherd and the door to the sheepfold. This concentratedly Christocentric emphasis is instructive as to the treasures that are present in the person of Christ. Not only does he speak the truth, he is the truth; not only does he show the way, he is the way; not only does he give us eternal life, he is eternal life; not only does he make propitiation, he is our propitiation; not only does he unfold for us the wisdom of God, he is the wisdom of God etc. In this passage, He is the shepherd and he also is the door through which he as the shepherd enters.

1. These images must have been perplexing to the disciples at this time. His figures of speech did not connect with anything substantial in their current knowledge (verse 6). Jesus spoke in anticipation of realities that would only unfold as the nature of his redemptive work was revealed “to God’s holy apostles and prophets” subsequent to his ascension. The first figure he uses is the door. The shepherd must enter by the door or he is a thief and robber. Jesus had in mind the Pharisees and the man-made legalistic structure of righteousness. They sought to create a knowledge of God and a way to God that clearly bypassed the cross. They did not, therefore, enter by the door.

      • Verse 2 – Christ does enter by the door. He does not seek any way to salvation other than that which will surely accomplish it. We see his resolve in this matter (12:23, 24, 27). To the cross he must go, and there he must suffer as the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world. Through that door only—a propitiatory death—the shepherd must enter for he alone is qualfied.
      • Verse 3 – It seems appropriate to press the image and state that the Gatekeeper is the Father. Leon Morris commented, “Various attempts have been made to find a meaning for the door-keeper but none has won wide acceptance, and none, it would seem, should. The point is that in an allegory not all details are significant. Some are inserted as necessary parts of the picture even though they have no part to play in the symbolism” [Commentary, 502]. In general, the principle is true, but it does not necessarily apply here, for there is sufficient doctrinal and textual substance to fill in the identity of the Gatekeeper. “Giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (Colossians 1:12-14). Under the threat of the Father’s eternal wrath the sheep presently abide. Because Jesus enters through the door of reconciliation, Jesus may claim those sheep that are his own. He will call all of them by name and they will follow him. The gatekeepr, according to the eternal covenant, admits only the price-payer and those for whom the price is paid. The Father gave them to the Son and he loses none of them.
      • Verses 4, 5 – All of those, therefore, for whom Christ, the shepherd, dies will be called and they will follow. They will be given spiritual knowledge of their sin and of Christ as their Savior, hope, friend, and Lord. They will recognize his voice and follow him. He certainly will bring out “all his own.” Many will be led astray by false teachers and by religions that have no redemptive message. They follow the voice of strangers and have neither a true and proper “door” through which to enter nor a shepherd who calls them. For the ones given to the Son by name, however, all over the world and in every age we have the word of surety: “And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him {Christ} [or in it (the cross)].” Colossians 2:13-15) They are given by this spiritual circumcision ears to hear, and eyes to see and they hear the voice of the Shepherd, see his glory in the gospel, and follow him.
      • The disciples do not understand these images at this time (6).

2. Not only must the shepherd enter by the door, to meet the moral necessity of a unified salvation, he must be the door through which he enters to claim his sheep. Jesus said, “I am the door of the sheep.” In the death of Jesus, therefore, he becomes the door through which he himself as the Good Shepherd enters to call out those given him by the Father.

      • Any that seek union with God and eternal life through any means other than the blood and righteousness of Christ are thieves and robbers. They rob God of his glory, his absolute holiness and righteousness, and the manifestation of his justice in the cross. They rob their adherents of true repentance and the joy of entering into the mercies of a God who shows mercy unto thousands, who forgives iniquity, and remembers trespasses against us no more. The sheep, however, will not settle for a message that stops short of a full entrance into all the glories of God and his holy redemptive love. Jesus has in mind teachers that have established the traditions that have so captivated the minds of the Pharisees that they hate him and his message of being lifted up and giving his life for the sheep.
      • Verse 9 – Only those that enter by him as the door “will be saved.” He Himself pleads for them the merit of his blood. His work of substitution on the cross gives free access to all the spiritual blessings of eternal life that the children of God receive.
      • Verse 10a – That one that energizes all false ways, the devil, is a thief. His intent is to kill and destroy. Those that follow his many false and counterfeit paths will find themselves still under divine wrath in the day of judgment. 
      • Verse 10b – Jesus, however, as the true door, the only way that any can enter salvation, gives life and gives it abundantly. Here we have true forgiveness and justification, the presence of the Spirit of God, the fellowship of his people and hereafter participation in the glory and love of the triune God without the hindrance of any remaining corruptions of indwelling sin. We will have a perfectly pure love of all the brethren in that never-ending life of beauty and joy and glory.

B. Not only does he keep the sheep in safety, He dies for them. Verses 11-18

1. He sets forth an absolute statement of his position as the Shepherd who gives his life (11). This certainly was implied in verses 2-5. He now establishes without any lack of clarity that he was speaking of himself. He first had to give images of his being the door through which he Himself would enter to show that our entire salvation and hope reside in Him alone, and to his work alone could the Father, as the gatekeepr, respond. 

2. Verses 12, 13 – Again Jesus contrasts the certainty of his work, a certainty assured by the intimacy and love that he has for the sheep under his care, with the carelessness of the work done by hirelings. Founders of other religions have no knowledge of their followers in any redemptive sense or even in any historical sense. They did not “foreknow,” that is, have personal love for, their followers and they could not claim to know any of them by name. Nor do they lay down their lives to make them their subjects. They have no power to protect, nor any long-term commitment to intervene for their benefit, and preserve them for eternal life. Some have only vague notions of eternal life and others none. Their conceptions of it give no ground for praise of a redeemer that has bought them, but propose a concentrated dose of carnal earthly pleasures built upon some measure of personal merit. Jesus pointed particularly to the hateful attitudes of the Pharisees of his day as hirelings that cared nothing for the true well-being of the sheep. They had demonstrated that sufficiently in their treatment of the blind man healed by Jesus (9:34).

3. Verses 14, 15 – Here Jesus unfolds something of the internal working of the eternal covenant of redemption. Just as certainly as there is a perfect knowledge that the Father and Son have of each other, so certain is their covenantal arrangement whereby the Son would give his life for the redemption of a people whom he loved and would call by name. Even so there will be the infallible certainty of the saving knowledge that the Shepherd has for the sheep and the impossibility of the sheep giving other than a saving response to him. Those redeemed by the blood of Christ, through all the ages find their salvation through the worthiness of that Great Shepherd of the Sheep who has won their release through the blood of the eternal covenant (Hebrews 13:20, 21). The tightness of the teaching of these verses shows that the knowledge Jesus has of his sheep is directly related to the internal and eternal purpose of God to have a people that would be “the called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).

4. Verse 16 – Here Jesus opens to those hearing him that his purpose of giving his life goes beyond their narrow conceptions of the Jews’ false understanding of their privileged exclusivity. In knowing his sheep by name, he reveals that this includes people among other peoples and in other ages. They too will hear the call of the gospel to a crucified Savior and will recognize that this is exactly suited to their needs, and they will repent of sin and flee to take refuge in Christ. In the end, however, they all will be there as one flock. He alone will be their shepherd for he has bought them with his blood; he will lose not one of them.

5. Verses 17, 18 – In this entire passage Jesus speaks precisely as the uniquely qualified Messiah, the one that is both God and Man. In no other nature could he die for sinful human beings than in his human nature. At the same time, in no other nature than the divine could his sacrifice be a “fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Ephesians 5:2) or be sufficient “by a single offering” to perfect “for all time those who are being sanctified” (Hebrews 10:12-14). The Father’s love for the Son in his eternal state of being generated by the love of the Father, he is loved naturally and eternally; in his estate of being Messiah and coming to do the will of the Father he is loved for the worthiness of obedience to the charge he received from the Father. For the purpose of redemption, this particular human nature with all of its uniquely human, created, qualities was “foreknown” that he might shed “precious” blood and be raised again for the consummation of redemption (1 Peter 1:18-21). Jesus says, therefore, “for this reason the Father loves me.” Again, he indicates that the warrant for all this action, that of laying down his life with a particular outcome in mind and his taking it up again, is in pursuit of fulfilling the covenant established with the Father and the Spirit before the foundation of the world. The sphere in which he gives himself over to death and then the subsequent resurrection is the human; the power by which he controls the time in which he gives himself and then takes his life back again is the divine.

6. Verse 19-21 – The response to these radical and disturbing claims created a division among the Jews. Many thought that only an insane man could speak thus. They knew full well at least a part of what he was saying, and his words indicating such a close affinity to and knowledge of the Father seemed deranged to them. Others, looking at his healing of the blind man, concluded that his claims of such conformity to the will of God must have the ring of truth to them. As crazy as it seemed, the fruits were not demonic (21).

II. Verses 22-42 –  Jesus Perfectly reflects and performs the will and the works of the Father.

A.  This occurs at the feast of dedication, Hanukkah (the festival of lights), when Judas Maccabaeus rededicated the Temple for the purpose of pure worship after its desecration by Antiochus Epiphanes in 165 B. C. Jesus ends his public ministry by his final announcement of the end of the ceremonial age and his inauguration of the age of true worship and true light by the dedication of his temple to the divine holiness and justice by his death. John points out that Jesus was walking in the Temple. We should be reminded of Jesus’ words, “Destroy this Temple and in three days I will raise it up.” (John 2:19)

1. Verses 24-26 – A Question and an answer

      • The Jews, weary of all the attention given to Jesus and the supposedly extravagant conclusions being drawn about him, want privileged knowledge. Above all others, he should tell them, should he not, if he indeed would make a direct claim to be Messiah. After all, were they not the governors of the religious life and perceptions of the people? The language indicates some degree of vexation as they say, “How long will you keep us in suspense?” Indeed, they demand a plain, clear, distinct avowal that he is the Christ or that he is not (24).
      • Jesus indicates that he has told them plainly. If they are the religious teachers of Israel, they should have discerned the nature of his claims from the beginning. All that he did was in pursuit of his real role as Messiah. He had told the woman in Samaria, and essentially had told the blind man he recently healed. But these Jewish teachers also had understood his claims so clearly that they had intended to stone him immediately (8:59). The problem was not that he was unclear, either in words, action, attitude, or intent, but that they did not believe. Their hearts were hard, they were at enmity with God, they did not have eyes to see, their affections were sealed in self-aggrandizement and self-congratulation and thus would neither consent to nor submit to the clear direction of Jesus’ teaching and ministry. Ironically, their call for his crucifixion would become the means by which he would fulfill his ministry of giving his life for the sheep (19:15).
      • In the common lot of rebellious creatures that seek their own and do not seek God, they are left in their unbelief because God in his wise mercy did not purpose to name them as among those for whom his Son would give his life. Jesus told them plainly (they wanted plain talk after all) that they were not part of his flock. The grace of calling, therefore, and the effectual speaking of his voice to create belief would not come to them.

2. Verses 27-30 – The inseparability and inviolability of the will of the Father and Son for the salvation of the sheep leads to the impossibility of their failing to gain eternal life.

      • 27, 28 – Jesus maintains absolute determination to save his sheep. The Pharisees did not believe, but the sheep for certain will and do hear his voice. They understand the claims that he makes, and they submit to his way of salvation. This is because, as he says, “I know them.” This means that he has placed his great love on them and will draw them with cords of everlasting kindness. Thus the natural outcome is that they follow him.
      • While he continues in his exposition of the reason for this disbelief as well as the assured safety of his sheep, he also gives new reason for them to know that he is claiming Messianic status. He claims both omnipotence and the right and power to bestow eternal life. He bestows it on them, and none can snatch them away from him (29b, 30).
      • Verse 29 as it stands in the ESV and KJV and others is a convenient but uncertain reading. Weymouth translates it, according to another reading, “What my Father has given me is greater than all,” rather than, “My Father . . . is greater than all.” The latter certainly is true affirmed in many places; the latter, however, also is true and seems to be Jesus’ emphasis in this passage. The original thought is that the flock, the sheep incorporated, is the greatest gift of the Father to the Son for his messianic labors, and indeed has been the only reason that justified such labors. They were foreknown and predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son in order that he might be the firstborn among many brethren” (Roman 8:29). This valuable gift will be protected by the Father also. He bestowed the gift as the inheritance of the Son by covenantal arrangement and will not fail to deliver them to the Son in eternity. This is consistent with the prayer of Paul in Ephesians 1 where He prays that they might know “what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints” (Ephesians 1:18).
      • Verse 30 – Jesus asserts that there is no distinction in essence between Himself and the Father. Thus there can be no difference either in their knowledge of the sheep, their intent to save them, and their power to do so. He does not say that he and the Father are one person, but they are one “thing,” that is one in type or essence, though clearly two in persons.

B. Verses 31-39 – They clearly understand his claim and give occasion for Jesus to show their lack of scriptural understanding and their aggressive, recalcitrant hypocrisy.

1. As in 8:59, and as placed in their intent in 5:18, the Jews sought to stone him for this clear statement (for which they had asked!) of his person and divinely appointed office.

2. Jesus immediately asks them for the evidence that would make their intent truly harmonious with the Law (32). What has he done that is not consistent with this claim for which they seek to kill him?

3. Again, as in 5:18 they recognize that his claim is tantamount to claiming equality with God, and thus he is blaspheming.

4. verse 34-39 – Jesus makes them face up to the relation between titles and works.

      • He points to Psalm 82. Rulers are called “gods” because they are supposed to act with justice and compassion in the governing of the people over whom God has placed them. (Psalm 82:1-4). In the Psalm, those called “gods” did not perform these tasks with faithfulness but they judged unjustly and showed partiality. 
      • If these mere sinful men, who acted unfaithfully were, nevertheless, given the moniker of “gods” in their position, then how much more should these Jews be willing to recognize Jesus as the true Son of God.
      • As he had claimed on many occasions, he was “sent” into the world by the Father, and, as a result, he freely confesses, “I am the Son of God.” His pre-existence is affirmed again in that, before he was sent, he was “consecrated,” that is, set apart for the holy purpose of redeeming a people (See 17:19 and Hebrews 10:29). If, as in Psalm 82 he had not been consistent with that title he claimed then he certainly would come into judgment, not only by them but by God Himself.
      • He had performed both in word and deed those actions that were consistent with his claims. When they seek to kill him, therefore, they are pushing away the saving knowledge that he has set before them without ambiguity.
      • They should conclude that there is a perfect harmony between the attributes, knowledge and power of the Father and the attributes, knowledge, and power of the Son (38). As he has said above, so he intensifies now, the unity of the Son with the Father is an ever-present, natural, eternal, immutable unity in which their knowledge of and love for one another unceasingly penetrates to the deepest level of their being. To reject this knowledge that should lead to a love for the Son and for all the work that he does is indeed to prefer death to life.
      • Rather than worship, they choose to arrest. He escaped again, for his time was not yet come (39).

C.  Verse 40-42 – Jesus now excludes himself from any public ministry that would put him into the sphere of their power. He goes back to the place that he first inaugurated his eternal mission, the place where John was baptizing (John 1:28). This prompts John to issue his final word on John the Baptist. The testimonies he recorded elevate the Baptist’s ministry as the forerunner. At the same time, even as the forerunner himself did, they subdue it to the person and work of Christ. He did not do miracles, but he set forth the word of God as a true prophet (41).

Tom has most recently served as the Professor of Historical Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He previously taught at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School where he was Professor of Church History and Chair of the Department of Church History. Prior to that, he taught at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary. Along with numerous journal articles and scholarly papers, Dr. Nettles is the author and editor of fifteen books. Among his books are By His Grace and For His Glory; Baptists and the Bible, James Petigru Boyce: A Southern Baptist Statesman, and Living by Revealed Truth: The Life and Pastoral Theology of Charles H. Spurgeon.
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