“Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door but climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber. But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. To him the gatekeeper opens. The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers. This figure of speech Jesus used with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them.” (John 10:1-6)
The immediate question that should come to mind is exactly to whom is Jesus speaking? His statements occur within the same preceding and immediate context of Jesus’ healing of the man born blind and the subsequent debate with the Pharisees. This is important for us to know because Jesus begins His discourse on being the door and the good shepherd with the words “truly, truly.”
As we have observed in previous articles, repetitious statements in the Scriptures are placed in the text for emphasis. John’s record of Jesus’ statements carry particular importance regarding who He is and what He will do on behalf of His people who He calls “sheep.”
The word “truly” comes from the Greek word ἀμήν from which we derive our English word Amen. The word means an affirmation that something is true and indeed real in the sight of God. To repeat the word emphasizes the importance of what Jesus is going to say and how true it truly is.
The text begins by Jesus saying, ““Truly, truly, I say to you.” Jesus is invoking His own authority in speaking and giving revelation about Himself. He does so because He is God and has the privilege and power to do so.
It should be noted that the pronoun “you” is in the plural form. Jesus could be speaking to not only the man born blind but also to the common people along with His disciples.
However, John 10:6 gives us a greater insight as to whom Jesus is addressing. The verse says, “This figure of speech Jesus used with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them.” Both pronouns “them” and “they” are also in the plural form. It is therefore reasonable to assume that these are the same people Jesus begins speaking to in vs. 1. The only thing said about these people is that “they did not understand what he was saying to them.” While this statement could refer to the common people who initially questioned the blind man, it makes more sense to understand that Jesus is speaking to the Pharisees.
Consider the contrasts Jesus provides in using the sustained metaphor of a shepherd and his sheep. He identifies some people as thieves, robbers and strangers. He then refers to the shepherd of the sheep. It is he to whom the sheep will follow because he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out of the sheepfold or enclosure.
Dr. John MacArthur explains that, “Jesus spoke in vv. 1–30 using a sustained metaphor based on first-century sheep ranching. The sheep were kept in a pen, which had a gate through which the sheep entered and left. The shepherd engaged a “gatekeeper” (v. 3) or “hired hand” (v. 12) as an under-shepherd to guard the gate. The shepherd entered through that gate. He whose interest was stealing or wounding the sheep would choose another way to attempt entrance. The words of Ezekiel 34 most likely form the background to Jesus’ teaching since God decried the false shepherds of Israel (i.e., the spiritual leaders of the nation) for not caring properly for the flock of Israel (i.e., the nation). The Gospels themselves contain extensive sheep/shepherd imagery (see Matthew 9:36; Mark 6:34; 14:27; Luke 15:1–7).
As in Jesus’ day, there are many false teachers who present themselves as shepherds of the sheep or pastors of the people of God. However, they are in reality spiritual thieves, robbers and strangers. We need to be discerning as to the true nature of these charlatans or imposters. They truly do not care for the people of God but rather only themselves and the fulfillment of their various sinful appetites.
One way of identifying such false teachers or false shepherds is by observing what or who they emphasize. Do they speak of themselves or do they point the congregation to Jesus Christ? Do they seek to dominate what the congregation does or does not do? Do they place themselves as the final authority rather than the Word of God? Do they have a teachable spirit or are the condemning of everyone who disagrees with them and their ideas?
Important questions to consider in discerning whether you, or someone you know, are under the ministry of a false teacher or shepherd. More to come.
Soli deo Gloria!