In the first five verses of Chapter 10, Jesus spoke a parable which His listeners did not understand. The text before us is an explanation of the parable — an explanation which reveals hidden things concerning the door, the shepherd, the sheep, and the purpose for which the thieves and robbers came.
Jesus identifies Himself as “the door of the sheep” (v. 7). The physical image before us is a sheepfold (a pen) which has a door by which sheep must enter and exit. A sheepfold is a temporary dwelling place — a place lacking life-sustaining forage and water. It is not a place where sheep can live out a natural lifespan. The physical is an image of the spiritual. Jesus is the door through which sheep must pass to enter into life beyond the pen which encloses them.
The spiritual picture continues in verse 8. “All that ever came before me are thieves and robbers . . .” Jesus does not directly identify the thieves and robbers who have climbed into the sheepfold by some other way. Thieves and robbers come to steal, kill and destroy (v. 10). New Testament believers know that Jesus came to seek and to save (Lk. 19:10). The actions of thieves and robbers are completely opposite of seeking and saving.
Jesus is the door in that He is the means by which a man must enter in and be saved. Those who enter in through the door are saved and are pictured as sheep (believers dependent upon the shepherd). The sheep are led into and out of the sheepfold to find pasture. The sheep trust the shepherd, are dependent upon the shepherd, and are members of his fold.
In verse 8, Jesus states that all who came before Him are thieves and robbers. A thief attempts to gain access to the sheepfold through a means other than the door (Christ Jesus). A thief and a robber is neither a shepherd or a sheep. The thief and robber comes with the express purpose of preying upon the sheep (believers).
When Jesus states that all who came before Him are thieves and robbers, He is not speaking of Abraham or the prophets or other Old Testament believers. Old Testament believers are sheep who heard the voice of the pre-incarnate Christ and followed Him. All who preceded Jesus were those who would take sheep from the shepherd. The scribes and Pharisees fit the bill in that they would lead men to green pastures by scaling the walls of the sheepfold on strength of their works. These religious leaders sought positions of power and honor. They sought to achieve righteousness by works. They did not submit themselves to God. They climbed the walls of the sheepfold by keeping a form of the law and sought to impose that same form upon the sheep. Their quest was to steal the shepherd’s sheep. They sought to take that which belongs to God.
Jesus stated that the sheep do not hear the voice of thieves and robbers. That is not to say that sheep are unaware of the presence of thieves and robbers. Sheep may or may not be aware of a predator in their midst, but they do know the voice of the shepherd and they follow Him. Believers are led of God and are not deceived by pretenders who esteem themselves to be shepherds of the flock.
Jesus Christ is not a pretender. He is the Good Shepherd. The picture of the Lord Jesus Christ as the Good Shepherd is presented to us by David in Psalm 23, and then by Isaiah (Isa. 40:11) and by Jeremiah (Jer. 31:10).
The difference between the Good Shepherd and the hireling (a pretender) is that the Good Shepherd gives His life for the sheep. The measure of a shepherd is the love which he bestows upon the flock. A hireling’s measure is material gain. For scribes and Pharisees, the gain was power and prestige.
In verse 15, Jesus prophesies His crucifixion. The Son knows the Father (He knows the Father’s love of the world —a love so great that the Father gave His only begotten Son). The Son is the Good Shepherd who gave His life for the sheep (all who believe in Him) so that the sheep may be brought into the pasture of everlasting life.
The other sheep (v. 16) are of the Gentiles. They are sheep because they shall hear and recognize the voice of the Good Shepherd. God told Abram (Abraham) that all families of the earth would be blessed through him (Gen. 12:3). The Son (the Good Shepherd) is the means chosen by the Father to fulfill His promise to Abraham.
In verse 17, the Son prophesies both His crucifixion and His resurrection, and, in verse 18, states that He possesses the power to resurrect from the dead. The Son was given the mission to lay down His life and take it up again by the Father.
The Good Shepherd willingly laid down His life for all the sheep such that they might receive the gift of life eternal. He is the door that one must enter into the pasture of life eternal. Hear His voice (the voice of the one shepherd) and enter in to the pasture and be blessed. Believe and receive. He died that men might live.