Jesus’ Life and Ministry
The Sheepfolds and the Shepherd
JESUS is in Jerusalem at the time of the Festival of Dedication, or Hanukkah, a festival that celebrates the rededication to Jehovah of the temple. In 168 B.C.E., about 200 years earlier, Antiochus IV Epiphanes had captured Jerusalem and desecrated the temple and its altar. However, three years later Jerusalem was recaptured and the temple was rededicated. Afterward, an annual rededication celebration was held.
This Festival of Dedication takes place on Chislev 25, the Jewish month that corresponds to the last part of November and first part of December on our modern calendar. Thus, only a little over a hundred days remain until the momentous Passover of 33 C.E. Because it is the season of cold weather, the apostle John calls it “wintertime.”
Jesus now uses an illustration in which he mentions three sheepfolds and his role as the Fine Shepherd. The first sheepfold he speaks of is identified with the Mosaic Law covenant arrangement. The Law served like a fence that separated the Jews from the corrupting practices of those people not in this special covenant with God. Jesus explains: “Most truly I say to you, He that does not enter into the sheepfold through the door but climbs up some other place, that one is a thief and a plunderer. But he that enters through the door is shepherd of the sheep.”
Others had come and claimed to be the Messiah, or Christ, but they were not the true shepherd of whom Jesus goes on to speak: “The doorkeeper opens to this one, and the sheep listen to his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. . . . A stranger they will by no means follow but will flee from him, because they do not know the voice of strangers.”
The “doorkeeper” of the first sheepfold was John the Baptizer. As the doorkeeper, John ‘opened to’ Jesus by identifying him to those symbolic sheep that he would lead out to pasture. These sheep that Jesus calls by name and leads out are eventually admitted to another sheepfold, as he explains: “Most truly I say to you, I am the door of the sheep,” that is, the door of a new sheepfold. When Jesus institutes the new covenant with his disciples and from heaven pours holy spirit upon them the following Pentecost, they are admitted to this new sheepfold.
Further explaining his role, Jesus says: “I am the door; whoever enters through me will be saved, and he will go in and out and find pasturage. . . . I have come that they might have life and might have it in abundance. . . . I am the fine shepherd, and I know my sheep and my sheep know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I surrender my soul in behalf of the sheep.”
Recently, Jesus had comforted his followers, saying: “Have no fear, little flock, because your Father has approved of giving you the kingdom.” This little flock, which eventually numbers 144,000, comes into this new, or second, sheepfold. But Jesus goes on to observe: “I have other sheep, which are not of this fold; those also I must bring, and they will listen to my voice, and they will become one flock, one shepherd.”
Since the “other sheep” are “not of this fold,” they must be of another fold, a third one. These last two folds, or pens of sheep, have different destinies. The “little flock” in one fold will rule with Christ in heaven, and the “other sheep” in the other fold will live on the Paradise earth. Yet, despite being in two folds, the sheep have no jealousy, nor do they feel segregated, for as Jesus says, they “become one flock” under “one shepherd.”
The Fine Shepherd, Jesus Christ, willingly gives his life for both folds of sheep. “I surrender it of my own initiative,” he says. “I have authority to surrender it, and I have authority to receive it again. The commandment on this I received from my Father.” When Jesus says this, a division results among the Jews.
Many of the crowd say: “He has a demon and is mad. Why do you listen to him?” But others respond: “These are not the sayings of a demonized man.” Then, evidently referring back a couple of months to his curing of the man born blind, they add: “A demon cannot open blind people’s eyes, can it?” John 10:1-22; 9:1-7; Luke 12:32; Revelation 14:1, 3; 21:3, 4; Psalm 37:29.
◆ What is the Festival of Dedication, and when is it celebrated?
◆ What is the first sheepfold, and who is its doorkeeper?
◆ How does the doorkeeper open to the Shepherd, and to what are the sheep thereafter admitted?
◆ Who make up the Fine Shepherd’s two folds, and how many flocks do they become?