Shepherding metaphors are often used for the leaders of God’s people in Scripture, and not always in a positive sense. Jeremiah 2:8, for example, talks about priests in Judah who did not know the Lord or search for Him. They are likened to shepherds who committed transgressions against the Lord.
During the first century, the failures of the shepherds of the Jews continued. The crowds Jesus encountered were “like sheep without a shepherd,” Matthew 9:36 informs us. Chapter 9 of John’s gospel contains a particularly egregious example of the failure of the shepherds of God’s people. The man born blind was excommunicated from the synagogue for his testimony of Christ after Jesus opened his eyes at Siloam (John 9:1–34). If anyone should have recognized Jesus, it was the Pharisees, who were experts in God’s law and served as shepherds of the people. However, not only did they deny Christ, but they also sought to silence others who did affirm Him. These false shepherds insisted on trusting in themselves and did not display the attitude of worshipful submission that characterized the man born blind (v. 40). Their failure forms the backdrop of Jesus’ statements “I am the door of the sheep” and “I am the good shepherd” (10:7, 11). In light of the failures of the crooked shepherds, Jesus comes as the only true and faithful shepherd of God’s people.
When Jesus claims to be “the door of the sheep” (v. 7), He is really indicating that He is the door of the sheepfold. In ancient Palestine, Jewish shepherds brought their flocks back to the sheepfold for protection after a day of grazing. Predators such as wolves and other animals sought to eat the sheep, and they were particularly active at night. But they could not penetrate the sheepfold, which was a walled structure topped with briars to keep out those who wanted to destroy the sheep. It had but one entrance—its gate—and many shepherds would share the same sheepfold. Thus, sheep might get separated from their flocks in the sheepfold, but in the morning, when the shepherd called, everything got sorted out, for every sheep knew the voice of its shepherd.
If Jesus is the door of the sheepfold, then we are to understand His statement in today’s passage as meaning that He is the only way to safety from the enemies of God’s people. To find safety in the Lord’s arms, we must come to our Creator in the name of Christ alone (John 14:6).