It is often the case that the practical chapter and verse divisions in our Bibles obscure the connection of thought between one passage of Scripture and another. For this reason it is good to cultivate the habit of reading a whole book at a time, or at least reading a complete section of a book in order to gain the sense. For example, in John's Gospel the public ministry of the Lord Jesus is recorded in the first 12 chapters. This is a distinct section of the book and, in turn, it has its own narratives that overflow chapter divisions. The two uses of the expression "Verily, verily" by the Lord Jesus in ch.10 are part of a continuous narrative that fills chs.7-10. The lovely truth of the Good Shepherd in ch.10 makes that passage a favourite with many believers, but its meaning will be better appreciated by seeing its connection with what has gone before, particularly the events of ch.9.
Verses 1-6 of ch.10 are referred to in the AV as "this parable" (10.6). The Greek word paroimia, however, is more correctly translated "proverb" in 16.25 and 29, and is the better word to use here. There is no revelation given in vv.1-6 of ch.10. The Lord Jesus does not state in this section that He is the Good Shepherd or the Door of the sheep. He is simply stating a common maxim that, in itself, would be readily understood by all His hearers. Nevertheless, "they understood not what things they were which he spake unto them" (v.6). Thus the Lord Jesus answered in a very convincing way the question posed moments before by the Pharisees: "Are we blind also?" (9.40). The Lord had responded, "If ye were blind, ye should have no sin: but now ye say, We see; therefore your sin remaineth". The blindness of the Pharisees to spiritual truth was very real, but they would neither admit it nor turn in faith to the One who could alone open their eyes. Their blindness, therefore, was wilful, but they still haughtily assumed the place of the teachers and shepherds of Israel. Many years before, Solomon had written, "To understand a proverb, and the interpretation; the words of the wise, and their dark sayings. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge: but fools despise wisdom and instruction" (Prov 1.6-7). To the blind man, who now could see, they said in their proud anger, "Thou wast altogether born in sins, and dost thou teach us?" (9.34). The blind uncaring shepherds then "cast him out" of the temple, just as they had effectively cast out the Saviour at the end of ch.8.
Now notice the words used by the Lord in 10.4: "And when he putteth forth his own sheep, he goeth before them, and the sheep follow him: for they know his voice". The words "putteth forth" are the translation ofekballo, to throw out of, and the same word is used of the casting out of the blind man in 9.34. Had he been cast out? So had the Lord before him. Had men cast him out of the temple? Yes, but behind the actions of these blind, ungodly Pharisees there lay a sovereign hand that was "putting forth" the man as a sheep to follow the Good Shepherd. Had not the Lord explained already to His disciples, in answer to their question as to the cause of the man's blindness: "Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents: but that the works of God should be made manifest in him" (9.3)? How wonderful! The Lord did not simply take up the case of a blind man and use his condition as a means of teaching a spiritual lesson. Years before the events of John 9 took place, loving parents grieved over a baby boy who was sightless. They did not know, just as the disciples would later be ignorant, that the sovereign God of heaven had a purpose for the blind boy. He was not only destined to receive his sight, but he was also to be numbered amongst the faithful of Israel who would follow the Christ of God out of the restricting, pastureless fold of empty, legal, cruel Judaism into the life and liberty of limitless green pastures! Was it not the case also with Jairus, who could not have known that his act of faith in appealing to the Saviour for the life of his little girl would be the means of an unknown woman coming into blessing? The sovereign hand of God moves in the circumstances of life, usually unrecognised by us, but very real nonetheless. Perhaps the dear saint reading this article is perplexed by some event, the purpose of which you cannot understand. Seek to rest in the truth "that the works of God should be made manifest in him". Let God work out His own purpose which will always result in the blessing of those who believe.
The sheepfold of 10.1 was one of the most common sights in any eastern town or village. It was a protected enclosure in which a number of different flocks would combine for shelter overnight. Whilst the shepherds slept, a porter would serve as guardian. When the night had passed, the various shepherds would come to the sheepfold to claim their flocks and lead them out to pasture. The porter knew them all and, as he let each one into the sheepfold, so the shepherd would utter a unique call that immediately brought his own sheep to him. Anyone not known to the porter would be refused entry via the door, but if they were intent on mischief they would seek to climb into the fold by some other way. Nobody with the wellbeing of the sheep at heart would need to do such a thing, so by definition those who sought alternative means of entry were thieves and robbers. One has said, helpfully, that the thief is characterised by stealth and secrecy, but the robber is characterised by violence and brutality. Judas was a thief, Barabbas was a robber.
The Pharisees wondered why the Lord spoke to them of something so commonplace and fully understood. The spiritual import was lost on them entirely. Within the sheepfold of Judaism there were two flocks, one of them large and comprising unbelieving Jews. The other comprised His "own sheep" (v.4). All the sheep "hear his voice" (v.3) but only "his own sheep" followed Him out. All the sheep had heard His voice in ch.9, but only the man born blind had been called by name and followed the Lord out of the fold. This is really the story of John's Gospel, the process of revelation followed by either reception or rejection. How touching it is to read that "Jesus heard that they had cast him out; and when he had found him, he said unto him, Dost thou believe on the Son of God?" (9.35; italics mine).
The call of the Saviour in the sheepfold of Judaism was one of separation. His call was heard by all, but only a few, those who were truly His, responded and followed Him. The Gospel records are full of such men and women who, hearing the word of life, responded by faith and followed Christ.
The Pharisees, failing to see even the connection between preceding events and the proverb spoken by the Lord, continued in their blindness. To those with ears to hear, however, the Lord spoke again in order to apply the proverb. "Verily, verily, I say unto you, I am the door of the sheep" (v.7). Another fold is in view now, smaller and having a single flock within. Some shepherds would not or could not subscribe to a communal sheepfold and the employment of a porter. Such men would have a small fold for their own sheep, and they would sleep in the narrow entrance to the fold. They became, quite literally, "the door of the sheep". Those who were "put out" of the sheepfold of Judaism because of their trust in Christ were now in this smaller fold. It was a place of safety, security and sustenance for believing Jews.
But there is another fold, in v.16. "And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd". It is unfortunate that the excellent AV obscures the precious truth of this verse. For some reason the translators used the word "fold" twice, but in the original text two different words are used. The second use of "fold" in v.16 should read "flock". The fold being spoken of is one in which not Jewish, but Gentile, believers are secure in Christ. The majestic truth of individual, sovereign election allowed the Saviour to say, "And other sheep I have...them also I must bring", and the equally strong truth of individual responsibility to exercise faith in Christ is seen in His words "they shall hear my voice". From the two folds, the one of Jewish believers and the other of Gentiles, the Lord would make one flock. Often it has been remarked that a fold has a circumference and no centre, but a flock has a centre and no circumference. Jew and Gentile united in Christ by grace, forming the one flock gathered unto Himself alone. And how would this great work be done? "The good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep" (v.11). Praise His name!
To be continued.