The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah
THE DESCENT: FROM THE MOUNT OF TRANSFIGURATION
INTO THE VALLEY OF HUMILIATION AND DEATH.
THE 'GOOD SHEPHERD' AND HIS 'ONE FLOCK'
LAST DISCOURSE AT THE FEAST OF TABERNACLES
(St. John 10:1-21.)
The closing words which Jesus had spoken to those Pharisees who
followed Him breathe the sadness of expected near judgment, rather than the
hopefulness of expostulation. And the Discourse which followed, ere He once
more left Jerusalem, is of the same character. It seems, as if Jesus could not
part from the City in holy anger, but ever, and only, with tears. All the
topics of the former Discourses are now resumed and applied. They are not in
any way softened or modified, but uttered in accents of loving sadness rather
than of reproving monition. This connection with the past proves, that the
Discourse was spoken immediately after, and in connection with, the events
recorded in the previous chapters. At the same time, the tone adopted by Christ
prepares us for His Per�an Ministry, which may be described as that of the last
and fullest outgoing of His most intense pity. This, in contrast to what was
exhibited by the rulers of Israel, and which would so soon bring terrible
judgment on them. For, if such things were done in 'the green tree' of Israel's
Messiah-King, what would the end be in the dry wood of Israel's commonwealth
It was in accordance with the character of the Discourse
presently under consideration, that Jesus spake it, not, indeed, in Parables in
the strict sense (for none such are recorded in the Fourth Gospel), but in an
allegory1 in the
hiding the higher truths from those who, having eyes, had not seen, but
revealing them to such whose eyes had been opened. If the scenes of the last
few days had made anything plain, it was the utter unfitness of the teachers of
Israel for their professed work of feeding the flock of God. The Rabbinists
also called their spiritual leaders 'feeders,' Parnasin (Nysnrp) - a
term by which the Targum renders some of the references to 'the Shepherds' in
Ezek. xxxiv. and Zech xi.3
The term comprised the two ideas of 'leading' and 'feeding,' which are
separately insisted on in the Lord's allegory. As we think of it, no better
illustration, nor more apt, could be found for those to whom 'the flock of God'
was entrusted. It needed not therefore that a sheepfold should have been in
explain the form of Christ's address.5
It only required to recall the Old Testament language about the shepherding of
God, and that of evil shepherds, to make the application to what had so lately
happened. They were, surely, not shepherds, who had cast out the healed blind
man, or who so judged of the Christ, and would cast out all His disciples. They
had entered into God's Sheepfold, but not by the door by which the owner, God,
had brought His flock into the fold. To it the entrance had been His free love,
His gracious provision, His thoughts of pardoning, His purpose of saving mercy.
That was God's Old Testament-door into His Sheepfold. Not by that door, as had
so lately fully appeared, had Israel's rulers come in. They had climbed up to
their place in the fold some other way - with the same right, or by the same
wrong, as a thief or a robber. They had wrongfully taken what did not belong to
them - cunningly and undetected, like a thief; they had allotted it to
themselves, and usurped it by violence, like a robber. What more accurate
description could be given of the means by which the Pharisees and Sadducees
had attained the rule over God's flock, and claimed it for themselves? And what
was true of them holds equally so of all, who, like them, enter by 'some other
1. The word is not parable, but paroimia
proverb or allegory. On the essential characteristics of the Parables, see Book III. ch. xxiii.
2. St. John x. 6.
3. The figure of a shepherd is familiar in Rabbinic as in Biblical literature. Comp.
Bemidb. R. 23; Yalkut i. p. 68 a.
4. This is the view advocated by Archdeacon Watkins, ad loc.
5. St. John x. 1-5.
How different He, Who comes in and leads us through God's door
of covenant-mercy and Gospel-promise - the door by which God had brought, and
ever brings, His flock into His fold! This was the true Shepherd. The allegory
must, of course, not be too closely pressed; but, as we remember how in the
East the flocks are at night driven into a large fold, and charge of them is
given to an under shepherd, we can understand how, when the shepherd comes in
the morning, 'the doorkeeper'6
or 'guardian' opens to him. In interpreting the allegory, stress must be laid
not so much on any single phrase, be it the 'porter,' the 'door,' or the
'opening,' as on their combination. If the shepherd comes to the door, the
porter hastens to open it to him from within, that he may obtain access to the
flock; and when a true spiritual Shepherd comes to the true spiritual door, it
is opened to him by the guardian from within, that is, he finds ready and
immediate access. Equally pictorial is the progress of the allegory. Having
thus gained access to His flock, it has not been to steal or rob, but the
Shepherd knows and calls them, each by his name, and leads them out. We mark
that in the expression: 'when He has put forth all His own'7
- the word is a strong one. For they have to go each singly, and perhaps they
are not willing to go out each by himself, or even to leave that fold, and so
he 'puts' or thrusts them forth, and He does so to 'all His own.' Then the
Eastern shepherd places himself at the head of his flock, and goes before them,
guiding them, making sure of their following simply by his voice, which they
know. So would His flock follow Christ, for they know His Voice, and in vain
would strangers seek to lead them away, as the Pharisees had tried. It was not
the known Voice of their own Shepherd, and they would only flee from it.8
6. This is the proper reading: he who locked the door from within and guarded it.
7. This is the literal rendering.
8. St. John x. 4, 5.
We can scarcely wonder, that they who heard it did not
understand the allegory, for they were not of His flock and knew not His Voice.
But His own knew it then, and would know it for ever. 'Therefore,'9
both for the sake of the one and the other, He continued, now dividing for
greater clearness the two leading ideas of His allegory, and applying each
separately for better comfort. These two ideas were: entrance by the door,
and the characteristics of the good Shepherd - thus affording a twofold
test by which to recognise the true, and distinguish it from the false.
9. ver. 7.
I. The door - Christ was the Door.10
The entrance into God's fold and to God's flock was only through that, of which
Christ was the reality. And it had ever been so. All the Old Testament
institutions, prophecies, and promises, so far as they referred to access into
God's fold, meant Christ. And all those who went before Him,11
pretending to be the door - whether Pharisees, Sadducees, or Nationalists -
were only thieves and robbers: that was not the door into the Kingdom of God.
And the sheep, God's flock, did not hear them; for, although they might pretend
to lead the flock, the voice was that of strangers. The transition now to
another application of the allegorical idea of the 'door' was natural and
almost necessary, though it appears somewhat abrupt. Even in this it is peculiarly
Jewish. We must understand this transition as follows: I am the Door; those who
professed otherwise to gain access to the fold have climbed in some other way.
But if I am the only, I am also truly the Door. And, dropping the figure, if
any man enters by Me, he shall be saved, securely go out and in (where the
language is not to be closely pressed), in the sense of having liberty and
10. vv. 7-9.
11. The words 'who went before Me' are questioned by many.
II. This forms also the transition to the second leading idea
of the allegory: the True and Good Shepherd. Here we mark a fourfold
progression of thought, which reminds us of the poetry of the Book of Psalms.
There the thought expressed in one line or one couplet is carried forward and
developed in the next, forming what are called the Psalms of Ascent ('of
Degrees'). And in the Discourse of Christ also the final thought of each
couplet of verses is carried forward, or rather leads upward in the next. Thus
we have here a Psalm of Degrees concerning the Good Shepherd and His Flock,
and, at the same time, a New Testament version of Psalm xxiii. Accordingly its
analysis might be formulated as follows: -
1. Christ, the Good Shepherd, in contrast to others who
falsely claimed to be the shepherds.12
Their object had been self, and they had pursued it even at the cost of the
sheep, of their life and safety. He 'came'13
for them, to give, not to take, 'that they may have life and have abundance.'14
12. ver. 10.
13. Not as in the A.V., 'am come.'
14. As Canon Westcott remarks, 'this points to something more than life.'
'Life,' nay, that they may have it, I 'lay down'15Mine: so does it appear that 'I am the Good16
15. This is the proper rendering.
16. Literally 'fair.' As Canon Westcott, with his usual happiness, expresses it: 'not only good inwardly (agaqoV) but good as perceived (kaloV).'
17. This would be all the more striking that, according to Rabbinic law, a shepherd was not
called upon to expose his own life for the safety of his flock, nor responsible
in such a case. The opposite view depends on a misunderstanding of a sentence quoted from Bab. Mez. 93 b. As the context there shows, if a shepherd
leaves his flock, and in his absence the wolf comes, the shepherd is
responsible, but only because he ought not to have left the flock, and his
presence might have prevented the accident. In case of attack by force
sup�rieure he is not responsible for his flock.
2. The Good Shepherd Who layeth down His life for His Sheep!
What a contrast to a mere hireling, whose are not the sheep, and who fleeth at
sight of the wolf (danger), 'and the wolf seizeth them, and scattereth (viz.,
the flock): (he fleeth) because he is a hireling, and careth not for the
sheep.' The simile of the wolf must not be too closely pressed, but taken in a
general sense, to point the contrast to Him 'Who layeth down His Life for His
18. See an important note at the end of this chapter.
Truly He is - is seen to be - 'the fair Shepherder,'19
Whose are the sheep, and as such, 'I know Mine, and Mine know Me, even
as the Father knoweth Me, and I know the Father. And I lay down My Life for
19. See Note 4.
3. For the sheep that are Mine, whom I know, and for whom I
lay down My Life! But those sheep, they are not only 'of this fold,' not
all of the Jewish 'fold,' but also scattered sheep of the Gentiles. They have
all the characteristics of the flock: they are His; and they hear His Voice;
but as yet they are outside the fold. Them also the Good Shepherd 'must lead,'
and, in evidence that they are His, as He calls them and goes before them, they
shall hear His Voice, and so, O most glorious consummation, 'they shall become
one flock20 and one
20. Not 'fold,' as in the A.V.
And thus is the great goal of the Old Testament reached, and
'the good tidings of great joy' which issue from Israel 'are unto all people.'
The Kingdom of David, which is the Kingdom of God, is set up upon earth, and
opened to all believers. We cannot help noticing - though it almost seems to
detract from it - how different from the Jewish ideas of it is this Kingdom
with its Shepherd-King, Who knows and Who lays down His Life for the sheep, and
Who leads the Gentiles not to subjection nor to inferiority, but to equality of
faith and privileges, taking the Jews out of their special fold and leading up
the Gentiles, and so making of both 'one flock.' Whence did Jesus of Nazareth
obtain these thoughts and views, towering so far aloft of all around?
But, on the other hand, they are utterly un-Gentile also - if
by the term 'Gentile' we mean the 'Gentile Churches,' in antagonism to the
Jewish Christians, as a certain school of critics would represent them, which
traces the origin of this Gospel to this separation. A Gospel written in that
spirit would never have spoken on this wise of the mutual relation of Jews and
Gentiles towards Christ and in the Church. The sublime words of Jesus are only
compatible with one supposition: that He was indeed the Christ of God. Nay,
although men have studied or cavilled at these words for eighteen and a half
centuries, they have not yet reached unto this: 'They shall become one flock,
4. In the final Step of 'Ascent'21
the leading thoughts of the whole Discourse are taken up and carried to the
last and highest thought. The Good Shepherd that brings together the One
Flock! Yes - by laying down His Life, but also by taking it up again. Both
are necessary for the work of the Good Shepherd - nay, the life is laid down in
the surrender of sacrifice, in order that it may be taken up again, and much
more fully, in the Resurrection-Power. And, therefore, His Father loveth Him as
the Messiah-Shepherd, Who so fully does the work committed to Him, and so
entirely surrenders Himself to it.
21. St. John x. 17, 18.
His Death, His Resurrection, let no one imagine that it comes
from without! It is His own act. He has 'power' in regard to both, and both are
His own, voluntary, Sovereign, and Divine acts.
And this, all this, in order to be the Shepherd-Saviour - to
die, and rise for His Sheep, and thus to gather them all, Jews and Gentiles,
into one flock, and to be their Shepherd. This, neither more nor less, was the
Mission which God had given Him; this, 'the commandment' which He had
received of His Father - that which God had given Him to do.22
22. St. John x. 18.
It was a noble close of the series of those Discourses in the
Temple, which had it for their object to show, that He was truly sent of God.
And, in a measure, they attained that object. To some, indeed,
it all seemed unintelligible, incoherent, madness; and they fell back on the favourite
explanation of all this strange drama - He hath a demon! But others there were
- let us hope, many, not yet His disciples - to whose hearts these words went
straight. And how could they resist the impression? 'These utterances are not
of a demonised' - and, then, it came back to them: 'Can a demon open the eyes
of the blind?'
And so, once again, the Light of His Words and His Person fell
upon His Works, and, as ever, revealed their character, and made them clear.
Note. - It seems right here, in a kind of 'Postscript-Note,' to
call attention to what could not have been inserted in the text without
breaking up its unity, and yet seems too important to be relegated to an
ordinary foot-note. In Yoma 66 b, lines 18 to 24 from top, we have a
series of questions addressed to Rabbi Eliezer ben Hyrcanos, designed - as it
seems to me - to test his views about Jesus and his relation to the new
doctrine. Rabbi Eliezer, one of the greatest Rabbis, was the brother-in-law of
Gamaliel II., the son of that Gamaliel at whose feet Paul sat. He may,
therefore, have been acquainted with the Apostle. And we have indubitable
evidence that he had intercourse with Jewish Christians, and took pleasure in
their teaching; and, further, that he was accused of favouring Christianity.
Under these circumstances, the series of covered, enigmatic questions, reported
as addressed to him, gains a new interest. I can only repeat, that I regard
them as referring to the Person and the Words of Christ. One of these questions
is to this effect: 'Is it [right, proper, duty] for the Shepherd to save a lamb
from the lion?' To this the Rabbi gives (as always in this series of questions)
an evasive answer, as follows: 'You have only asked me about the lamb.' On this
the following question is next put, I presume by way of forcing an express
reply: 'Is it [right, proper, duty] to save the Shepherd from the lion?' and to
this the Rabbi once more evasively replies: 'You have only asked me about the
Shepherd.' Thus, as the words of Christ to which covert reference is made have
only meaning when the two ideas of the Sheep and the Shepherd are combined, the
Rabbi, by dividing them, cleverly evaded giving an answer to his questioners.
But these inferences come to us, all of deepest importance: 1. I regard the
questions above quoted as containing a distinct reference to the words of
Christ in St. John x. 11. Indeed, the whole string of questions, of which the
above form part, refers to Christ and His Words. 2. It casts a peculiar light,
not only upon the personal history of this great Rabbi, the brother-in-law of
the Patriarch Gamaliel II., but a side-light also, on the history of Nicodemus.
Of course, such evasive answers are utterly unworthy of a disciple of Christ,
and quite incompatible with the boldness of confession which must characterise
them. But the question arises - now often seriously discussed by Jewish
writers: how far many Rabbis and laymen may have gone in their belief of
Christ, and yet - at least in too many instances - fallen short of discipleship;
and, lastly, as to the relation between the early Church and the Jews, on which
not a few things of deep interest have to be said, though it may not be on the
present occasion. 3. Critically also, the quotation is of the deepest
importance. For, does it not furnish a reference - and that on the lips
of Jews - to the Fourth Gospel, and that from the close of the first
century? There is here something which the opponents of its genuineness and
authenticity will have to meet and answer.
Another series of similar allegorical questions in connection
with R. Joshua b. Chananyah is recorded in Bekhor. 8 a and b, but
answered by the Rabbi in an anti-Christian sense. See Mandelstamm,
Talmud. Stud. i. But Mandelstamm goes too far in his view of the purely
allegorical meaning, especially of the introductory part.