Rev. Harbach is a minister emeritus in the Protestant Reformed Churches.

I.The Door of the Fold

II.The Folded Sheep

III.The True Shepherds Who Enter by the Door

In this tenth chapter of John’s Gospel we have double revelation: first, the door revelation (John 1-10), and, second, the shepherd revelation (John 11-18). John 10:1-5contains an illustration of the door revelation; John 10:6-10contains the interpretation of the door revelation. The illustrative part puts before us the undershepherds and the porter (John 10:1-3a), then the Shepherd and the sheep (John 10:3b-5). There are interesting figures of speech in the passage. There are the fold, the door, the porter, the thief, the sheep, the shepherd, the hireling, the wolf. Christ is the door. Who is the porter? who is the thief? the wolf? the hireling?

Strictly speaking, this double revelation is not a parable (v. 6, KJV). The word is not parabole, a word which John never uses, but paroimia, which the KJV translates proverb, as in John 16:25, 29. “These things have I spoken unto you in proverbs; but the time cometh when I shall no more speak unto you inproverbs, but I shall show you plainly of the Father . : . . His disciples said unto Him, ‘Lo, now speakest Thou plainly; and speakest no proverb.” Neither does Peter ever use the word parable, but instead this word proverb. “But it is happened unto them according to the true proverb . . .” (II Pet. 2:22). What is meant by this word paroimia is, figure of speech. Take note that Jesus spoke this parable (proverb) “unto them.” This refers us back to verse one, “Verily, verily, (amen! amen!) I say unto you.” The pronoun, in turn, reaches back to John 9:34-41. The two pronouns, “them” (v. 6) and “you” (v. 1) refer to “the Pharisees” (John 9:40).

The Lord is telling the Pharisees that though they arrogantly claim to be spiritually clear-sighted and farsighted, they are really blind and unfit for the office of shepherd in Israel. The man born blind was an example of a true sheep of Christ’s flock: he would not listen to the voice of strangers, but he did know the true (good) Shepherd’s voice. What Jesus is doing here is denouncing the Pharisees as falseshepherds. So this Good Shepherd Discourse arose immediately out of the miracle of the healing of the man born blind and its effects of chapter 9.

We may look at the picture this way: Jesus, after the labor of that day (John 9:4), leaves Jerusalem for Bethany calling attention to the flocks returning from their mountain pastures under the care of their shepherds to the sheepfold for the night. The sheepfold was a rather large, stone-walled corral, which, for the night, enclosed the flocks of a number of shepherds. In the morning the shepherd entered the fold, being admitted by the porter, calling his own sheep by name, and leading them out. He does this by putting forth his own sheep, usually by calling the name of the herd leader, putting it forth, as it would never make any initial move of its own accord. Then the rest of the flock would follow in its train, the shepherd leading them all out (John 10:2, 4).

In the night scene, the flocks are folded, the door is secured by the porter who is sentinel at his post for the night. He is a watchman on the walls and at the door guarding against a possible “thief and robber” who, bypassing the entrance, might attempt pole-vaulting the wall. “But he that entereth in by the door is (Greek) a shepherd of the sheep.” The scene then reveals a thief, a robber, and a shepherd (1, 2). In the morning the porter opens to the shepherd who identifies himself at the door and is admitted to take charge of his flock for the day. He then guides his own sheep to the particular pasture he has found for them. Keeping in mind that double revelation, Christ is the door of the sheepfold, and He is the chief (master) shepherd.

Christ is the door of the sheepfold. He did say (v. 7) “I am the door of the sheep.” But we must exercise care in answering the question whether the central idea of the figure is that of the door by which the sheep, or by which the shepherds enter the fold! The latter is the specific idea, missed by most commentators. For the contrast is not between sheep which enter the fold, and sheep which do not, but between a person who enters by the door, and a person who climbs up some other way. The idea in general is the sheepfold door by which both sheep (at night) and shepherds (in the morning) enter.

The “porter” is, literally, doorkeeper (masculine gender). The hierarchical high priest’s courtyard may have a portress (feminine gender), John 18:16, 17, but the doorkeeper of the sheepfold is a male, not a female. Jesus does not interpret this figure. But the door is not Michael the archangel, nor some lesser angel, not Abraham, nor Moses, so revered by the Pharisees, nor, very definitely, the virgin Mary, and absolutely not Peter, so revered in Roman Catholic tradition as porter at the gates of heaven. Jesus, at verse 9, says with an absolute, divine assertiveness, “I am the door.” Sheep are not at all very assertive. A shepherd dog is very assertive. The humble do not exercise a bold assertiveness; the proud do that. But that is a unique, an exclusive assertiveness. No one else does, nor may assert this. “I am, exclusively, the door.” As we said, the door in the first place is specifically for the shepherds. Neither shepherds nor sheep can get into the fold any other way.

The sheepfold and pasture (v. 9) are spheres in the visible kingdom of grace. Some of these spheres are the covenant home, the covenant school, and the Christian church. The minister of the Word moves in and out of these spheres preaching the Gospel. As shepherd he in this way finds (provides) pasture. “I am the door; by me if any one (who is a shepherd—masculine) enter in he shall be safe and sound, and shall go in and out and find pasture.” The sheep do not do this. The shepherd always attends to finding pasture for the sheep (Acts 1:21Num. 27:15-17). Moses had prayed that the Lord would set a man over the congregation of Israel who, after his (Moses’) death, would go before them, to lead them out and bring them in as a shepherd does with his sheep. Joshua was qualified by the Holy Spirit to be this undershepherd, and was ordained to the task and given a charge to enter faithfully upon it and get on with it. So, at Joshua’s word, the flock of Israel went out and came in, he and all the children of Israel with him (Num. 27:21).

The sheep cannot get into the sheepfold any other way than by a shepherd who leads them in through the door. The walls of the visible church may be undermined or overleaped, but getting into the fold of the spiritual church is only by the door. “By (through) Me,” through the mediation of Christ, men enter the sphere of the covenant (and not merely come under the administration of the covenant). “By Me if anyone (who is a shepherd) enter in, he shall be saved, that is, “be safe and sound” (Thayer’s Greek lexicon). Otherwise, he himself shall be a castaway (I Cor. 4:27).

No one can enter among the occupants of the fold as a shepherd, no one can lawfully claim to be one of these shepherds of the sheepfold, except one who enters through Christ as the door. No one can take up the calling of a faithful undershepherd of Christ’s spiritual flock but one who enters by the door. This one alone has the qualifications Christ alone gives. This one alone has received the call required by the Chief Shepherd. Only such a shepherd is in his calling safe and sound (Cf. Matt. 22:13).

The folded sheep are distinguished from persons “not Christ’s sheep” (John 10:26). They are Christ’s own (John 10:14). These include not only Jewish but Gentile elect (John 10:6).

The nation of Israel was like the organism of a seed. There was an Israel (the seed) within Israel (the shell). There were descendants of Abraham who were children after the flesh; the rest were children after (according to) the Spirit. The latter were “Israelites indeed,” “Jews inwardly.” They had not only the circumcision of Abraham, but the faith of Abraham. “The Lord hath set apart him that is godly for Himself” (Ps. 4:3). “The sheep” in that day of our Lord were “the lost sheep of the house of Israel,” now redeemed with the precious blood of Christ, “as of a lamb without spot and without blemish” (I Pet. 1:18, 19). They were then “a little flock,” a Jewish flock, which Jesus referred to as “this flock” (John 10:16, Gk), which with the Gentiles would form “one fold” under the “one shepherd.”

True shepherds always enter the fold to tend their sheep by the door (v. 2). False shepherds, apostate ministers, do not enter by the door. They intrude themselves into the ministry by having climbed up some other way. The honor of shepherds they took to themselves, not being called a God (Heb. 5:4). These were the Pharisees, the “you” and “them” of verses 1, 6. They were thieves and robbers. Thieves steal by stealth; robbers steal by extreme force, even by the violence of murder (v. 10). Judas was a thief (John 12:6); Saul of Tarsus was a robber/murderer (Acts 9).

Who is the shepherd of the sheep? Be careful at this point, for although Jesus says, “I am the Good Shepherd,” we must not refer these words to Him. Looking at verse 2 more carefully we see that the original reads “a shepherd.” Three human persons are in view: a thief, a robber (so the two are not one and the same), and a shepherd. Besides, Christ does not enter the fold through Himself as the door! Jesus is contrasting what a shepherd does and what false shepherds do. Christ as the shepherd is not brought into the record until verse 11. “A shepherd of the sheep” refers to one of the subordinate shepherds of the sheep. They are the official shepherds of Israel, like the seventy disciples, the twelve apostles, the ministers of the early New Testament church.

(To be continued, D.V.)