“Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door but climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber. But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. To him the gatekeeper opens. The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers. This figure of speech Jesus used with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them.” (John 10:1-6, ESV)
At the end of chapter 9 we have the contrast between the blind man given sight who believed and those who thought they knew it all and did not believe. One proved just how much he needed great help and the others were proud in themselves and blind to the One sent to save. Having responded to the Jews about their blindness and their guilt remaining, John next records for us Jesus’ words about how the sheep know their shepherd.
John said in verse 6 (last verse for today) that Jesus used a figure of speech with the Jews that they did not understand. In the next verses Jesus will go on to explain it, but looking at the illustration (or figure of speech) itself we read a contrast between the shepherd and the robber thief. The shepherd enters by the door. He enters the right way, because the door is his to use. He has no need to sneak around or to be deceptive. He enters where the sheep are and he calls them away from the sheepfold in which they are enclosed. We also read that he then goes before them to lead them to their new destination. The sheep follow him because they know him. They are comfortable. They know that they are following the right one, and they trust him to lead them rightly.
On the other hand, the one who does not belong there is much more secretive. As he goes about his efforts to steal away the sheep he sneaks around. The big problem he has, though, is that the sheep do not know him and they are not comfortable following him. Once they are outside the doors of their enclosure they flee his presence. The voice they know is that of the shepherd, and it is only him that they will follow.
Being in an agrarian society, I’m pretty confident that they understood how the shepherd thing worked. I imagine where they got lost was in the “so what?” Jesus spoke to them about sheep only knowing and following their shepherd and that they would flee from the presence of anyone else. But what did this have to do with anything else. The Jews were accusing Jesus of being from the devil, a false prophet, and other such things. They were seeking every opportunity to bring Him down, and this illustration just did not make any sense. What did a story about a shepherd, some sheep, and a thief have to do with anything? Was He just trying to change the subject in order to deflect their accusations?
Of course, having read through John and having observed Jesus take one thing after another and bringing it around to a teaching point we shouldn’t be surprised by this either. He obviously had a point, and there would be those who got it and there would be those who didn’t. The ones who got it would believe and be saved, and the ones who didn’t would continue in their efforts to destroy Him.
I wonder sometimes if there is anything I can say to those people who are firmly convinced that they are right. They are so set in their direction that they will not listen to anyone who seeks to question or bring about a change in that direction. They will even deny what appears to be plain facts in order to foster their chosen path. This is what we have seen of the Jews standing up against Jesus. All that He said seemed to only infuriate them more, leading even to division among themselves as to what to believe or what to do in response. Yet, we also see like in the case of the blind man that there are those who heard Him, believed Him, and were prepared to follow Him. In their hearts they knew and in faith they believed. They heard the voice of the shepherd. They did not flee, but followed.