JESUS SPEAKS OF THE FINE SHEPHERD AND THE SHEEPFOLDS
As Jesus continues teaching in Judea, he now draws on something that his listeners can easily picture—sheep and sheepfolds. But he is speaking illustratively. The Jews may recall David’s words: “Jehovah is my Shepherd. I will lack nothing. In grassy pastures he makes me lie down.” (Psalm 23:1, 2) In another psalm, David invited the nation: “Let us kneel before Jehovah our Maker. For he is our God, and we are the people of his pasture.” (Psalm 95:6, 7) Yes, the Israelites under the Law were long likened to a flock of sheep.
These “sheep” have been in a “sheepfold” in that they were born under the Mosaic Law covenant. The Law served as a fence, separating them from the corrupting practices of people not under this arrangement. Some Israelites, however, mistreated God’s flock. Jesus states: “Most truly I say to you, the one who does not enter into the sheepfold through the door but climbs in by another way, that one is a thief and a plunderer. But the one who enters through the door is the shepherd of the sheep.”—John 10:1, 2.
The people may think of men who have claimed to be the Messiah, or Christ. These are like thieves and plunderers. The people should not follow such impostors. Rather, they should follow “the shepherd of the sheep,” about whom Jesus says:
“The doorkeeper opens to this one, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought all his own out, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him, because they know his voice. They will by no means follow a stranger but will flee from him, because they do not know the voice of strangers.”—John 10:3-5.
Earlier, John the Baptist, like a doorkeeper, identified Jesus as the one whom those symbolic sheep under the Law should follow. And some sheep, in Galilee and right here in Judea, have recognized Jesus’ voice. To where would he ‘lead them out’? And what would result from following him? Some hearing this illustration may wonder, because ‘they do not understand what he is saying to them.’—John 10:6.
Jesus explains: “Most truly I say to you, I am the door for the sheep. All those who have come in place of me are thieves and plunderers; but the sheep have not listened to them. I am the door; whoever enters through me will be saved, and that one will go in and out and find pasturage.”—John 10:7-9.
Clearly, Jesus is introducing something new. His listeners know that he is not the door to the Law covenant, which has existed for centuries. So he must be saying that the sheep he ‘leads out’ are to enter another sheepfold. With what result?
Further explaining his role, Jesus says: “I have come that they may have life and have it in abundance. I am the fine shepherd; the fine shepherd surrenders his life in behalf of the sheep.” (John 10:10, 11) Jesus had earlier comforted his disciples by saying: “Have no fear, little flock, for your Father has approved of giving you the Kingdom.” (Luke 12:32) Indeed, those who make up the “little flock” are ones Jesus will lead into a new sheepfold, so that they may “have life and have it in abundance.” What a blessing to be part of that flock!
Jesus does not end the matter there, though. He observes: “I have other sheep, which are not of this fold; those too I must bring in, and they will listen to my voice, and they will become one flock, one shepherd.” (John 10:16) These “other sheep” are “not of this fold.” Hence, they must be of yet another fold, different from the “little flock” who will inherit the Kingdom. These two folds, or pens of sheep, have different destinies. Still, the sheep in both folds will benefit from Jesus’ role. He says: “This is why the Father loves me, because I surrender my life.”—John 10:17.
Many of the crowd respond: “He has a demon and is out of his mind.” Yet others show that they are listening with interest and are inclined to follow the Fine Shepherd. They say: “These are not the sayings of a demonized man. A demon cannot open blind people’s eyes, can it?” (John 10:20, 21) They evidently are referring to Jesus’ earlier curing of the man born blind.