Questions From Readers
▪ How does what Jesus said in John chapter 10 about sheepfolds relate to the Abrahamic covenant?
The covenant that Jehovah God made with Abraham sets out the marvelous, long-range purpose of God to bless people out of all nations through the seed of Abraham. The sheepfolds that Jesus spoke of in John the 10th chapter are features within the outworking of God’s purpose revealed in the Abrahamic covenant.
When enlarging on the covenant as first stated at Genesis 12:1-3, God said to Abraham: “I shall surely bless you and I shall surely multiply your seed like the stars of the heavens and like the grains of sand that are on the seashore; and your seed will take possession of the gate of his enemies. And by means of your seed all nations of the earth will certainly bless themselves due to the fact that you have listened to my voice.”—Genesis 22:17, 18.
But how would the line of that seed be protected and kept pure, and how would the promised seed be identified when he arrived? Jehovah God stepped in and provided the Law covenant mediated by Moses; this did not negate the Abrahamic covenant but was added to it. (Galatians 3:16-18) The requirements of the Law helped to keep Israel protected from spiritual, moral and physical contamination from the nations round about. Thus the Israelites became like sheep within the protective walls of a solid sheepfold. Further, as Galatians 3:24 says, the Law was a tutor leading to the Messianic “seed,” so that when he arrived the Israelites would be in position to recognize their sinfulness and their need for him.
Jesus Christ became the primary seed of the Abrahamic covenant, yet God purposed to select other humans to become a secondary seed. The apostle Paul thus wrote that those who ‘belong to Christ are really Abraham’s seed, heirs with reference to a promise.’ (Galatians 3:29) How was this aspect of the Abrahamic covenant to be accomplished?
Christ appeared to “the lost sheep of the house of Israel” and selected faithful followers from among the sheep in the Mosaic Law sheepfold. (Matthew 10:6) The Jews who recognized him as the Messiah, and as the shepherd that they so needed, he led into a new fold, that of spiritual Israel in the foretold “new covenant” mediated by Jesus himself. (Hebrews 8:7-13; Galatians 6:16) Later, circumcised Samaritans and uncircumcised Gentiles were brought into this fold, also becoming part of the secondary seed of Abraham. In John 10:11 Jesus said, “I am the fine shepherd.” That he certainly was toward Jews and Gentiles who became anointed Christians gathered into the sheepfold of the new covenant.
All of this shows how both the sheepfold of the Mosaic Law for natural Israel and the sheepfold of the new covenant with spiritual Israel served in conjunction with the Abrahamic covenant.
What, though, of the “other sheep” who were not of “this fold,” the fold of spiritual Israel who make up the secondary seed of Abraham? (John 10:16) The other sheep also come within the scope of the Abrahamic covenant, for you will recall that God promised Abraham that “by means of your seed all nations of the earth will certainly bless themselves.” (Genesis 22:18) These other sheep may be described as being in a separate fold (a second fold) under the Fine Shepherd. They certainly are not in the same fold as those humans who have become heirs with reference to the promise to Abraham. But they work cooperatively with the secondary seed of Abraham, coming to be one flock under the one shepherd who is the primary seed of Abraham. These other sheep have the delightful prospect of everlasting life in a restored earthly Paradise. No one would deny that they are thus blessing themselves by means of Abraham’s seed.
Consequently, the various sheepfolds of John chapter 10—the Mosaic Law sheepfold for natural Israelites, the fold for spiritual Israel in the new covenant, and the foldlike arrangement for the other sheep who are out of “all nations of the earth”—all relate to the fulfilling of God’s grand purpose indicated in the Abrahamic covenant.