“The sheep pen could hold several flocks. During the night a guard would be hired to stay by the only door. In the morning each shepherd would arrive, call his sheep and they would follow him to pasture. The guard would admit true shepherds by the gate, robbers could only get in by climbing the wall.” (Bruce Milne)
Ezekiel (about 590 BC) prophesied against the shepherds of Israel. He said that they only take care of themselves. He said, ‘Should not shepherds take care of the flock?’ Ez.34.2 Ezekiel’s words are true about the Jews who hurled insults at the man born blind and threw him out. What sort of care was that for one of their flock? Ezekiel went on to say that God would send a shepherd in the line of David who would tend the sheep and save them. The prophet would have loved to meet Jesus. 1 Peter 1:10f
Jesus uses a sheep pen as an illustration of several different points. It is not one picture but several. He continues talking about the Pharisees, saying that any shepherd of God’s flock must themselves enter by the gate, by Jesus. But they showed that there was no way they were going to listen to Jesus. A church leader who doesn’t truly know and follow Jesus is a false shepherd, he has not entered by the gate. Thank God for the ability given to the sheep to recognise when they hear a false voice v5. Entering by the gate is a picture of being saved v9. It is those who have been saved who are the members of Christ’s flock. He is the gate. Then Jesus says he is the good shepherd, who lays down his life for the sheep and doesn’t run away like a hired guard.
Jesus has often spoken of the life that he gives. For example, ‘whoever believes in Him shall have eternal life’ 3.16; ‘everyone who looks to the Son and believes in Him shall have eternal life’ 6.40; ‘I have come that they may have life and have it to the full’ 10.10; and many other quotes. Now we start to learn that the eternal life Jesus offers is only possible if he is to give up his own life. How remarkable and wise is that!
Finally Jesus says that he knows his sheep and his sheep know him, and this is like the knowledge there is between him and his Father. How wonderful if we should please him, pray to him, do what he wants and keep close to him as he did with his Father.