Rev. Harbach is a minister emeritus in the Protestant Reformed Churches.
“He that entereth in by the door is the (literally, a) shepherd of the sheep” (John 10:2). In the previous article we pointed out that most commentaries in their exposition apply this verse to Jesus. But this, we believe, results in a faulty exegesis. It is a shepherd who enters in by the door of the sheep. This shepherd represents the teaching and preaching elder of the church. To this person, “the doorkeeper openeth.” The spiritual shepherd of the sheep does not climb up over the wall. He does not force the door, nor sneak in unnoticed by the doorkeeper. The overseer of the door is the doorkeeper. He recognizes the shepherd as an officebearer appointed by the Chief Shepherd, and so grants him entrance. The door gives access because the doorkeeper opens. We may say that the Father is the doorkeeper. The door is subject to Him. The Father brings all the shepherds, and all the sheep to Jesus the Good Shepherd who is the Chief Shepherd of all undershepherds. Therefore the door opens when the doorkeeper so wills it. Christ the Door, the Mediator, admits true pastors at the behest of the Father. The pastor of a flock holds office in Christ’s church. Entering by the door, going in and out, and finding pasture is his daily work as an undershepherd. Early in the morning he approaches the gate of the fold. He has no problem gaining admittance. The doorkeeper opens, he enters, issues his pastoral call, steps back out through the gate, his own sheep following, he leads them, then at night he guides them back to the fold again.
The sheep hear his voice (John 10:3) they know his voice (John 10:4). They DO understand his word; they believe it not because it is his, but because it is his and the Chief Shepherds. The people of God recognize their pastor as a divinely appointed officer and overseer of the church; and it is the mark of a true Shepherd that true Christians approve of his teaching, “He calleth his own sheep by name.” Jesus is speaking of what “a shepherd does in the sheep country of the Holy Land. The Lord is saying that He as the great Shepherd has many under-shepherds who have their own flock. The undershepherd calls his own sheep by name. He knows them well because he goes in and out among them. The other shepherds who bed down their sheep in the same fold do likewise. These shepherds have all entered in by the door. Therefore they shall be saved, kept safe and sound. As one shepherd put it, “I was delivered out of the mouth of the lion; and the Lord shall deliver me from every evil work, and will preserve me unto His heavenly kingdom” (II Tim. 4:17, 18). The undershepherd shall also go in and out and find pasture for his own sheep. Solomon prayed for wisdom that he might be a faithful shepherd of Israel, “that I may go out and come in before this people” (II Chron. 1:10). Solomon found green pastures for the flock of Israel in His Psalms, Proverbs, and Song of Solomon.
These are whom the Gospel account calls “the Jews” (John 9:22), and “the Pharisees” (John 9:40). They were the “thieves and robbers” (John 10:8) of whom Jesus spoke. They did not, would not enter by the door. They were never called nor commissioned by the Lord, as the apostles were. They “climbed up some other way.” They were what Jesus described as “stranger” and “not my sheep.” They refused the Bread of Life. What the Scribes and Pharisees presented was the husks which the swine did eat. They were office bearers in the false, hierarchical church. They persecuted the true church. They claimed to be official shepherds in Israel, but they did not feed the flock; instead, they fleeced the flock. Their system of doctrine was not the gospel. It could hardly be said to be even “another gospel.” It was Judaism, a spiritually dead religion of “by-works righteousness,” a piece of Jewish arrogance by which the church was never for long deceived.
Jesus had this class of persons in view when He said, “All that ever came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not hear them.” Rendering the text “All who made a public appearance previous to My coming, laying claim to being divinely commissioned teachers, are thieves and robbers” is totally unacceptable. For that would be to call Moses and all the prophets, including John the Baptist, impostors. This is Gnostic heresy which taught that in these words is Christ’s testimony against the Old Testament.
Some took the words of verse 8 to mean, “All who came professing to be the Messiah before Me were impostors.” But where is there one instance of any who appeared before Christ making this claim? It was after Him that many came making this claim! Others interpret “all” to mean “all for the most part.” That, however, is an unjustifiable usage of the word “all,” as much as it would be at John 12:32. Other strained interpretations have been tried, as, “all who have come without Me,” or “apart from Me.” But “before Me” (pro mou) cannot be wrenched to mean “apart from Me” (choris mou). Some would make “before Me” mean “in My place” (anti or huper). There is no need for any of this.
Jeremiah 17:16, leads us in the right direction: “As for me, I have not hastened from being a pastor (shepherd) to follow Thee . . . .” Paraphrased this means, I have not gone before, but followed the Chief Shepherd! “All who ever came before Me are thieves . . . ,”before Me, putting themselves between Me and mankind, placing themselves above Me, usurping My place as mediator. Through Me, if any one enter the door, admitted by the doorkeeper, he is a true shepherd. All who came “before Me,” present themselves to Me as the door, but do not labor to enter into that strait-gate, but seek to by-pass the door, are thieves and robbers. All who do not recognize Me as the door, do not use Me as the door, are not true, but pretended shepherds. They stand before the door, but despising it, do not themselves enter, and do all they can to keep the sheep from entering. That’s the way it was with the Scribes and Pharisees. That’s the way it is with false teachers and hypocritical pastors and leaders in the modern cults. In the western hierarchical church. there is the Pope who comes before; in front of, Christ. In the eastern hierarchical church there is thepatriarch, or in this country, it is a “Rev. Ike” or Pastor Jim Jones. The church must have nothing to do with the like of these. The contextual connection is plain: in John 10:7 is Christ’s divine assertion that He is the door; in John 10:8 we have a description of those who do not enter by the door: and in John 10:9 a description of those who do enter by the door. The word before is pro, and has the sense of “in superiority to,” “in preference to” (Thayer). The law of God demands, “Thou shalt have no other gods before(in superiority to, or in preference to) Me. To comebefore Christ in this sense is the sin of idolatry. It is to intrude self before His authority.
For us in Christ’s church this means, “Try the spirits.” Not everyone has the right to go in and out among us to lead us in green pastures. No one has that right who by the doorkeeper has not been introduced through the door into the sheepfold. That one may not be considered as one of the shepherds who follow the chief shepherd. Beware of those who have climbed up some other way to enter the sheepfold. Beware of a pretended shepherd in whose voice you cannot hear the echoes of the Good Shepherds voice. When the Chief Shepherd has given us an undershepherd who shows evidence of having entered through the door, then treat him as your shepherd, hear his voice, follow him. He will not require you to receive his message merely because he says so. He will never have you ,accept anything on his own authority, nor to do anything because he asserts it. He never says, I say unto you, but always, thus said the Lord. His ministry will be “profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that we may be thoroughly furnished unto all good works” (II Tim. 3:16, 17). He will “preach the Word, be instant (diligent) in season, out of season, (to) reprove, rebuke (and) exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine” (II Tim. 4:2). So hear him faithfully and thankfully.
If we are Christ’s sheep, and our pastor is a true shepherd, then sheep and shepherd will have mutual confidence in each other, and will together walk in the ways of the Lord. There are false shepherds as well as true within the fold of the visible church. There are many ways by which men obtain admission to the office of minister, but if they do not enter by Christ the Door, and if their ministerial conduct and instruction do not give evidence that He has called and sent them, they have an awesome account to give of themselves before the judgment seat of Christ. Therefore, let every under-shepherd severely examine his own motives, principles, and the tendency of his own doctrine and practice for having sought the Christian ministry. False shepherds, modernist ministers, including current, clever purveyors of the pseudo “health and wealth gospel,” must answer for the privileges and distinctions sought in the pastoral office in which they so ostentatiously glory. They seize on an office by which they have become rich. Yet they lack the knowledge, honesty, humility and industry to labor as a true shepherd of the sheep and preacher of the Christian, historic, orthodox Reformed Faith. Such a shepherds aim is not the glory of God, nor the conversion of sinners, nor the edification of believers, for he cannot say to his flock, “I seek not yours, but you.” The true shepherd knows his people, attends to their spiritual needs, leads them in the knowledge, experience and practice of the most holy faith, and goes before them in every good work. Every Christian who values his own soul, and his own spiritual welfare must avoid those who intrude into the ministry, whose doctrine is earthly, and who suppose that gain is godliness. (I Tim. 6:5). True people of God will flee the hireling teachers, who care not for the sheep, for they know not the voice of strangers. Christ is the source of all the authority of pastors, their role model as the Good Shepherd and the judge of all their pretensions. Many preachers of the health and wealth gospel have debased the sacred ministry in rising from obscurity to riches, grandeur, and luxury as hirelings. Their procedure does not resemble the conduct of the Good Shepherd, but is in contrast to it. They entered the ministry out of carnal motives, and therefore in an unholy manner. Let true undershepherds examine themselves, whether they be in the faith. Let them crucify the flesh and every covetous, selfish and sensual desire. Let them declare the whole counsel of God, then they shall never earn for themselves the name of “thief”, “robber” or “hireling”, being faithful unto death.