In the story of the man born blind recorded in John 9, we see a sharp contrast between religious leaders who should have known better and a blind man who finally recognized the truth. Although the Pharisees tried their hardest to dissuade the man from following Jesus, even going so far as to excommunicate him from the synagogue, the man would not recant his testimony to the work of Jesus. He heard and followed the Savior.
Returning to the gospel of John today, we begin our study of chapter 10, which features a parable in verses 1–21 that serves as a theological explanation of the events of John 9. To understand this parable, we must first know what raising sheep was like in first-century Palestine. Individual flocks were led by particular shepherds during the day, but in the evening, various flocks would be gathered into one large, walled sheepfold for safety. The sheep would intermingle during the night, but when the shepherds returned the next day to retrieve their sheep, it was easy for each shepherd to find his flock. Each shepherd uttered his call, and only the sheep that belonged to him would come.
Note that the shepherd comes to the gate to access his flock. He has legal right to the sheep and has no need to sneak into the sheepfold. Anyone who climbs into the sheepfold is clearly an intruder who is motivated by ill designs for the sheep. Jesus makes this point in John 10:1–2, alluding to the false shepherds of Israel. He is picking up on the warning in Ezekiel 34:1–10 uttered against those false prophets and others who led God’s people astray. Our Savior, of course, refers to the corrupt Pharisees and other religious leaders who reject Him, such as the Pharisees we read about in John 9.
Though false shepherds try to lead the sheep astray, true sheep will always follow the voice of their true shepherd. They will not follow a stranger out of the sheepfold and into destruction (10:3–6). We learn later that Jesus is the true and good shepherd of the sheep (v. 11), so here our Savior introduces a theme He will later expand on.
The sheepfold provides security for the sheep, and in verses 7–10, Jesus draws on this image to teach us about Himself. He tells us that He is the “door of the sheep” (v. 7). He is the one point of access to eternal safety and security. Only He is the gateway to pasture, to the sustenance of eternal life (v. 9). He is not like those false religious leaders who sneak into the sheepfold in order to destroy the sheep, but He is the gateway to abundant life (v. 10).