THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO JOHN - PART XIII
JESUS AS THE
GOOD SHEPHERD AND AS ONE WITH THE FATHER
I. Jesus continues His discourses surrounding the Feast of Tabernacles with His Good Shepherd discourse.
A. In this discourse He picks up on Old Testaments themes of God, the king, and religious leaders as shepherds of the Chosen People.
1. God above
all is the Shepherd of His people, both protecting them and guiding
them through the dangers of the world to the green fields of prosperity.
Gen. 48:18, 49:24; Ps. 23:1-4, 77:21, 80:1-2, 95:7; Is. 49:8-9; Ez.
34:11-31; Micah 7:14.
2. The king,
as God's appointed representative, was also the shepherd of the people,
especially of those who are most defenseless. He would keep vice
and injustice at bay and bring God's strength to earth. See
Ps. 2:9; Ez. 34:23, 37:24; Micah 5:2 (referring to the future king);
see also Num. 27:18 (describing Joshua as a shepherd.) King David
had been a shepherd before being anointed king. See 1 Sam.
16:11. Moses likewise cared for the flocks of his father-in-law
Jethro before being called by God. Ex. 3:1.
3. The religious
leaders are also meant to be shepherds, guiding the people to righteousness
and keeping errors at bay. However, we know of this image mostly
in the negative sense, for the prophets would condemn the poor religious
leaders (and possibly kings) for shepherding the people falsely or for
self-interest. See Jer. 2:8, 10:21; 23:1-3; Ez.34:1-10.
4. Isaiah, Jeremiah,
and Ezekiel had all prophesied that God would replace the poor shepherds
by His own direct power and that He would send new shepherds "after
[His] own heart" to guide His people rightly. See Is. 40:11;
Jer. 23:4-6, Ez. 34:17-34 (describing both God and an heir to David
as the shepherd.)
5. The New Testament
would pick up on this theme of shepherding, calling for pastors (in
Latin "shepherds") to guide the Christian flock faithfully.
See, e.g., Acts 20:28; Eph. 4:11; 1 Peter 5:3-4
B. The image of shepherds is an interesting one, for it combines majesty and humility.
1. In calling
for the king and religious leaders to be shepherds, God is calling on
them to be with their people, as shepherds must be with the sheep.
And in describing Himself as a shepherd, God even in the Old Testament
was giving a hint that He would do the same.
2. The curious
thing was that, as a practical matter, shepherds were lower class and
looked down upon in part because they were semi-nomadic and could not
keep the religious customs (e.g., the Sabbaths and the feasts) like
3. In addition, sheep were at the same time valuable, but also frustrating, for they could easily wander off and had to be protected. The sheep wool was valuable for its purity, but for the same reason had to be kept clean. Thus, the image implies a role of guidance, protection, and purification. The shepherd would count each sheep as he went in the gate and see if anything was wrong. If so, he would heal the sheep if possible. Cf. Lev. 27:32.
- The sheep were
kept primarily for their wool, not for eating, although Zechariah does
have an image of a ruthless shepherd, who sells the sheep (God's people)
for slaughter. See Zech. 11:4-17.
4. There is also
a contrast between the idyllic "pastoral" scenes common in classical
and Hebrew art and literature and the harsh realities of cold, thieves,
and wild animals that shepherds often faced. Jesus combines the
two ideas together by indicating that, precisely by taking on the harsh
realities of the human condition, He leads us to the ideal realm.
II. Jesus begins with a familiar contrast, between the robber, who would take the sheep away from their rightful owner, and the true shepherd.
A. The robber is
deceitful, coming in by a different way. The implication is that
if one comes presenting a completely different way that what has been
done before, he is a false shepherd, taking the flock away. See
B. Jesus goes further and says that the shepherd calls His sheep "by name" and that they know His voice. He is picking up on the fact that good shepherds know each sheep individually and train the sheep to come to them at the sound of their voice and no other.
- God had in the Old
Testament said that He called His People as a whole "by name," but
here He applies this principle more individually. See Is. 43:1.
Part of the idea is that salvation is not only a general principle,
but also that God personally applies it to each person.
- There is also an
implication that those who accept God's guidance will intuitively
recognize that Jesus is from God. Likewise there will be an intuition
about which callings are from Him.
C. As is common, the people misunderstand Jesus, perhaps not recognizing the point He is trying to make about Himself.
1. His explanation presents Himself as both the shepherd and as the "door" that lets in other shepherds. This image would not be surprising, for the shepherd would commonly stay at the entrance to the sheepfold, acting as a doorkeeper, letting in only the assistants who were authorized.
- The implication
is that Jesus is the shepherd, but that there will be other shepherds.
This notion is consistent with the prophesies of having one shepherd,
but also having others sent by God. See Jer. 3:4, 15. The other
shepherds must be called by Christ Himself and imitate Him, following
2. Jesus then
contrasts the true shepherd and the mere hireling, who works only for
pay and does not care about his masters flocks enough really to defend
them, knowing that he can always get work elsewhere if he fails here.
3. Jesus also by implication indicates, here and especially in the parable of the lost sheep in the Synoptic Gospels, that He is also not the like a vastly wealthy owner who considers the loss of one sheep minor issue. See Mat. 18:12-14; Luke 5:3-7. Rather, like a son caring for his father's flock, he does not want to lose any of His Father's people. See 1 Sam. 17:34-37.
- Jesus also says
He has other sheep not of this flock, but will join them to the one
flock. Most plainly, the reference is to the fact that many non-Jewish
nations will also be brought into the one fold. Thus, Jesus is
indicating that the prophesies of foreign nations coming to the kingdom
of God are about to be fulfilled. Se, e.g., Is. 2:2-6, 42:6, 49:6-7,
66:17-19; Zech. 14:16-19 see also Romans 2:12-16. There is also
a possible implication that, even among those not expressly Christian
or Catholic, God is calling them in a mysterious way.
See Vatican II Council, Lumen Gentium 6. However, the calling
is to be a member of the one flock.
4. He takes even
this image of loyalty a step further, indicating that: (1) laying down
His life is not merely a risk He is taking but is a part of His mission,
one that He freely takes upon Himself; and (2) that He Himself has the
power to take it up again, and that doing so is also a part of His mission.
He also says in verse 10 that He comes, not only to protect, but to
give life in abundance. Jesus' claim of divine power is becoming
5. As a result,
there is a division among the people. Some believe that, because
He is claiming what by all reasonable accounts is divine power, He must
have a demon. Others, however, accept Him noting the calmness
and consistency of His teachings and the miraculous cure of the blind
man, which reflects the order of God and which the Old Testament lists
as a divine prerogative. Ex. 4:11; Ps. 146:8; Is. 29:19, 35:5.
II. On the Feast of the Dedication (Hanukkah), which would occur in late December, Jesus then indicates His identity with the Father, presenting as evidence His works, and also indicates that His disciples will have a share in divine life.
A. The feast celebrates
the re-purification of the Temple in 165 B.C. when, under Judas Maccabeus,
the Jews re-conquered the Holy Land and Jerusalem from the Selucid dynasty
of Syria. One of the Selucid kings, Antiochus IV Epiphanes had
persecuted the Jews and placed an altar and/or statue of Zeus in the
Temple. When the Jews re-conquered Jerusalem, they re-purified
the Temple, and held a festival of lights, which were a symbol of the
Law and of liberty. See 1 Macc. 4:36-59, 2 Macc. 10:1-8.
According to tradition, there was only enough oil to keep the lights
going for one day, but it miraculously lasted eight days for the whole
festival. Ezekiel 34, with its passage regarding the current false
shepherd and God's promise to shepherd His people would be read during
B. In His discourse on this festival, the people want to know whether Jesus is the Messiah who, like the Maccabees, will liberate them again and restore their greatness.
- Jesus does not answer directly, for if they are unwilling or unable to understand His words or His miracles, they will not accept Him as the Messiah, at least not in the proper way. Cf. Is. 6:8-13.
- It may be that the
people simply wanted evidence against Him, or that they wanted a mere
earthly king. In either case, they were not really placing faith
in Jesus' words, and so He refuses to answer them directly.
C. Jesus indicates that they should know who He is in at least two related ways.
1. First He says
that His works testify to Him. This standard He has cited before.
See John 5:36. He indicates that if they were His sheep, they would
understand the worked.
2. The second,
and related way, is that they should hear His divine voice, if they
were really of God's flock. The idea is again that, if one is
really trying to follow God, God will give one an intuitive sense of
what is right or wrong. See John 5:37-38.
D. Jesus then increases
the stakes by saying that He can give "eternal life" and that He
and the Father are one, likely referring back to Deuteronomy 6:4, which
stated the great principle "The Lord our God is one Lord."
The claim to divinity being plain, the people try to stone Jesus, who
tries to refer them back to His works as an indication of His truthfulness
and what He can do for them.
E. Building on this idea of divine power, He quotes from Psalm 82, which called even unjust rulers "gods." He says that He is more so because the Father has "consecrated" Him.
1. The same word
for consecration is used in the Septuagint for the sanctification of
the Tent of Dwelling in the desert. See Num. 7:1. The implication
is that Jesus is replacing the old Temple as the place for God's presence
2. There is also
a notion that even mere humans can in some way can share in the divine
life, although there is a warning in Psalm 82 that, if they fail to
carry out God's commands, they will die. Jesus may be indicating
that His ministry will fulfill the promise and the warning.
3. Jesus now
refers to His human nature, which God has consecrated Him and joined
to His divine nature. To avoid any implication that He is merely
at the level of the others whom God has sent, He says that He is "in
the Father" and the Father in Him, indicating an equality as well
as a consecration by the Father.
F. Showing His power again, He escapes and goes to the Jordan River, which is the place of John the Baptist's ministry.
- The implication is that, as John pointed the way to Jesus, so all of these Jewish feasts and customs should be seen as pointing the way to Jesus.
- Some people do recall the words of John the Baptist and accept Jesus, while others do not.