After the Light of the World opened his eyes at Siloam (John 9:1–7), the former blind man found himself arguing with the religious leaders, and he was excommunicated (9:13–34). This did not end the man’s spiritual growth, for when Jesus found him, the man worshiped Him, a response most unlike the response of those Pharisees who trusted in their own insights into God’s ways (9:40). The failures of these shepherds of Israel prompted Jesus to discuss shepherding and declare, “I am the door of the sheep” and “I am the good shepherd” (10:7, 11).
The Lord’s discourse on sheep, shepherding, and sheepfolds did not come out of the blue, for there was good reason for Him to make use of these metaphors, as our reference to the Pharisees as shepherds in the preceding paragraph indicates. In the Bible, Israel’s leaders, including men like the Pharisees, are often likened to shepherds, and the people are equated with sheep (Jer. 3:15). More concretely, the greatest leader of ancient Israel was the shepherd-king, David, who prefigures the ultimate Shepherd-King: Jesus Christ. It makes sense that our Lord would cast Himself as the true Shepherd in this context, for the Pharisees who opposed Him and the man He healed were crooks, not the shepherds they were supposed to be.
Understanding the shepherd’s work in ancient Israel helps us understand how Jesus is the door of the sheepfold (10:7). Most days in ancient Israel, shepherds led their sheep to graze in the nation’s pastures and drink from its streams. At night, however, the shepherds took their sheep to the sheepfold, a walled structure topped with briars to protect the sheep from thieves and wild animals. The gate was the sheepfold’s only proper entryway, and a guardian kept watch there to keep trespassers from getting in. Many different flocks often spent the night in the same sheepfold, but a sheep never got lost in the mass of animals. He might get mixed in with the other sheep, but he knew his master’s voice and always came when the shepherd called.
The sheepfold imagery conveys two things: First, we see that God has a place to bring His sheep where they will be safe forever. Second, if sheepfolds have only one door and Jesus is the door of the sheepfold, then the only way to find eternal safety is through Him. Thus, we have access to God’s mercy in Christ alone (John 14:6).