The Good Shepherd: That They Might Have Life

In John 10, Jesus used a figure of speech while he was teaching and, verse six, people did not get it. That is a comfort to me, a preacher, for there have been times when I was speaking that I realized people weren’t “getting it.” I am a very imperfect teacher, but just knowing that Jesus, the perfect teacher, experienced the same thing is helpful. He knows. Whether people get it or not, he gets me.

When the perfect teacher realized his hearers weren’t getting it, he did not chastise them; he simply changed his approach and gave them a different way of looking at it. Verse seven: “I tell you the truth, I am the gate for the sheep. All who ever came before me were thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. He will come in and go out, and find pasture.”

How can Jesus says that “all who came before him were thieves and robbers”? Is he referring to the prophets? No. The context makes that clear. This teaching comes in the wake of what had just happened: the religious leaders – the false shepherds – had tried to use a man (the one born blind but healed by Jesus) to advance their schemes and, when he would not cooperate, they excommunicated him. In the light of that action, Jesus speaks about strangers and thieves and robbers.

The Greek bears out this conclusion. For some reason, the NIV translates, “All who ever came before me were thieves and robbers,” but the original language clearly reads, “Are thieves and robbers.” Jesus is talking about those who are presently on the scene. Some, no doubt, in this very crowd.

One of the key words in this section is the word, “gate” or, as is could be translated, “door.” It is used in verses 1, 2, 3, 7 and 9. In verses 7 and 9 Jesus changes the image and says that he is the door and claims that “whoever enters through me will be saved” (verse 9). Jesus saw himself as the means of entrance into salvation.

This is a compelling claim, especially when taken together with the other claims Jesus made: that he is the bread of heaven who gives life to the world;[1] that whoever eats this bread will live forever;[2] that he is the source of living water;[3] that he is the light of the world;[4] that whoever does not believe in him will die in his or her sins.[5]

Here he claims to be the gate. In a similar passage in John 14, Jesus claims to be the way to the Father. St. Peter heard that, and later said, “There is no other name (a Hebraism for “no one else”) under heaven, given among men, whereby we must be saved.”[6] He is the only Door, the one Way in.

Now, we come to the verse in which Jesus tells us why he came. Verse 10: “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” The thief comes to steal. . . You see, the thief – the false shepherd – cannot get the sheep to follow him, so he steals them. He uses deception. (This, by the way, is one of the dangers of making religious programming on television your church. Because you cannot see how the TV preacher lives his life, the possibility of deception is always present).

Remember that Jesus had just witnessed these religious leaders’ attempt to use a man for their own gain. We have the story in the previous chapter. Those leaders were not looking out for the man’s interests, but their own. And when they couldn’t use him, they cast him aside like trash. The thief comes to kill and destroy. The false shepherd eats the sheep, while the Good Shepherd feeds them. The thief desires to live off of the sheep, while the shepherd is willing to die for the sheep. Think of Paul, who was willing to forego a salary in order to serve the Corinthian Church. He did not think of his interests, but theirs. Jesus says in verse 11: “The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” When you find a preacher or ministry leader who seems more concerned about his plans than about God’s people, or more committed to “the ministry” than he is to those to whom he ministers, something is very wrong. Watch out for any teacher who is prepared to sacrifice the sheep but not himself. That is not the way of Christ.

Christ came, not to live off the sheep, but to give them life. There are several things to notice. First, Jesus does not say, “I have come that they might have life at some date in the future, after their bodies die.” The verb is present tense. “That they may have life – now.”

It seems that in God’s original design, humans were to be born with two kinds of life: one biological and one spiritual. They were a kind of hybrid: Like angels, but unlike animals, they had spiritual life. Like animals, but unlike angels, they had biological life. But then came the Great Rebellion – chronicled in Genesis three – when humankind deserted God. Humans continued to enter the world with biological life (though even that seems to have been diminished), but without spiritual life. That is important because the spirit is the nexus between man and God. Jesus came to restore that life. “He came that we might have life.”

And he came that we might have it to the full. The Greek says, “that they may have life and to excess (or “to a surplus”; or, “to an abundance”) may have it.” The common picture of the Christian life as a dull affair or an endless list of rules was certainly not what Jesus had in mind. It took later generations to come up with that one. The life he gives is coursing and vigorous. It is not restrained by the confining bonds of sin, nor even by the inevitable boundary of death. His life not only leads us into safety (verse 9); it leads us out to service. It is life as life was meant to be.


[1]John 6:33-35

[2]John 6:51

[3] John 7:37-38

[4] John 8:12

[5] John 8:24

[6]Acts 4:12

About salooper57

Husband, father, pastor, follower. I am a disciple of Jesus, learning how to do life from him. I read, write, walk, play a little guitar, enjoy my family.
This entry was posted in Bible, Sermons, Spiritual life, Theology and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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