The good shepherd: how to identify the true Messiah

He would defend the flock to the death, if needed.

John 10:9 I am the door. If anyone enters in by me, he will be saved, and will go in and go out, and will find pasture.

This section of Scripture is interesting to me on a couple of levels: one, because it is typically used as a “salvation” passage, and two, because it mentions those who have been “saved” going back out into the pasture. If this is a salvation passage, why is it that the sheep go in, but then go back out? If the sheepfold is representative of being saved and in the kingdom, why would those who are saved leave the kingdom?

I believe the difficulty arises when we make this a salvation passage just because the word “saved” is used. The larger context of the parable is not salvation, but the identification of the good shepherd who is contrasted with the thief. Clearly (at least to us in perfect hindsight) we can see that Yeshua is that good shepherd. I think we could benefit from a wider perspective and context to understand some of this in more detail.

In verses one through six, Yeshua had just used the parable of the sheepfold that includes a thief, a gatekeeper and a shepherd. Yeshua mentions the gatekeeper opens the door for the true shepherd, and the sheep recognize his voice and dutifully follow him and will not follow the thief because they don’t recognize his voice. In this parable, Yeshua identifies himself as the shepherd. This is none other than an only slightly veiled reference to himself as the Messiah, and that the true “sheep” would recognize him when he arrived.

However, it is said in verse six that “Yeshua spoke this parable to them, but they didn’t understand what he was telling them.” So, while keeping the same characters in play, he transitions the identification of himself from the good shepherd to the gate or entrance to the sheepfold.

John 10:7-10 Yeshua therefore said to them again, “Most certainly, I tell you, I am the sheep’s door. All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep didn’t listen to them. I am the door. If anyone enters in by me, he will be saved, and will go in and go out, and will find pasture. The thief only comes to steal, kill, and destroy. I came that they may have life, and may have it abundantly.”

In this section, Yeshua positions himself as the authoritative entrance to the sheepfold who keeps the sheep safe while they are in the sheepfold. The gatekeeper opened up to him because he is the good shepherd. Here he identifies as the only passage into the sheepfold; there is no other way into the sheepfold. Thieves may try to climb in some other way (verse 1), but there is a unique and exclusionary emphasis to Yeshua claiming to be the gate. The sheep who would want to be safe must go through him.

John 14:6 – Yeshua said to him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father, except through me.

The word for “saved” there can and does mean saved in other contexts, but here it means that the sheep are safe or protected while they are in the sheepfold and the gate is shut; that is the purpose of the gate: to keep the thieves and wolves out.

However, the sheep need to leave the sheepfold in order to eat and survive. They can’t just stay protected in the sheepfold all day. So Yeshua also mentions that he is the good shepherd who will not run away even if wolves come to attack the flock while they are out of the sheepfold and in the pasture. He is not just a hired hand who has no commitment to the sheep, but he would defend the flock to the death, if needed.

Once again, we see Yeshua providing an indication of how he was going to demonstrate to the sheep that he was the true and good shepherd and not just a “hired hand.” He would ultimately give his life for them, and that would be the final authentication of his Messiahship.

So, while this passage is many times used as a salvation proof text, in reality, the meaning of the parable was of Yeshua indicating that he was indeed the Messiah the sheep were waiting for, and he would ultimately give his life to demonstrate his role.

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