John 10, Life's Shepherding

[Here is what I preached on John 10 five years ago. I point out the words that I now dissent from. Having studied such people as Paula Fredicksen, John Howard Yoder and Brad H. Young (and others), I think differently about the Torah and what Paul was saying about it. Five years ago, I tried to distinguish between the Oral Torah and the Written Torah, which shows that I was already struggling with this issue, but now I think this distinction was not at the heart of the problem. The Oral Torah (as Brad Young shows) was not in contradiction to Jesus’ teaching.

The problem for the synagogue was the shift in perspective that was required by the fact (for us who believe) that the Messiah had actually come. Before, everything was structured around expectation: the synagogue waited. For believers, the expectation continues, but it only continues in light of the fulfillment having already taken place. For example, the prophets foretold how when the Messiah came—that is, when the Kingdom of God had come—the Gentiles would come to the God of Israel as Gentiles (as such), no longer as proselytes to Judaism. The synagogue was building up resistance to this shift in thinking. How could the Kingdom of God have come—and be here—in the person of the Messiah yet the Kingdom of God still not be manifested “universally,” in the world, that is, on the broad stage of history?

The other problem was the puritanical thinking of the Pharisaic school of Shammai (as opposed to Hillel) that was intolerant of sinners and Gentiles and encouraged (maybe even instigated) the zeal and violence of what became the Zealot movement which opposed the priestly (Sadducean) aristocracy in Jerusalem and the Roman occupation. This type of zeal in effect says that we are responsible for making the Kingdom of God come by the force of our actions. These leaders and their followers lent their zeal and violence against the early Christian movement.

Together these two factors—which, though in contradiction to each other, mingled in people’s minds—led some synagogues to expel those who believed in Jesus. These were factors in the ministry of Jesus and continued to be factors in the early history of the church. The violence of the zealous (those partial to Shammai’s attitude) led to the expulsion of all Jews and Christians from Rome in 49 CE. By the time Paul wrote the Epistle to the Romans in the winter of 56-57 CE, the Jews were back in Rome and apparently the Messianic and non-Messianic Jews had reconciled (in other words, the rhetoric which instigated the earlier violence must no longer have been tolerated). This shows that the separation between Judaism and Christianity was not, by the nature of things, inevitable. I do not favor an interpretation of the gospels that seems to make it so. It happened (and perhaps this was foreseen in the New Testament), but it had not yet happened during the time of the New Testament and it certainly was not demanded. At least, this is my more mature view.

The following notes, unfortunately, do not shed any light on verses 31-39.]

Life’s Shepherding (John 10)

[April 10, 2005] Chapter 10 of the Gospel according to John is a continuation of chapter 9. Read Jesus’ words, “Truly, truly, I say to you” in 10:1, as a continuation of His words in 9:41. The thieves and robbers who climbed into the sheepfold are the Pharisees and their like.

The man born blind is cast out of the synagogue because Jesus heals his blindness and he believes. In chapter 10 Jesus compares this to the Shepherd entering the sheepfold, calling His own sheep by name, and casting them out. The word “brought out” (verse 4, RSV) is literally to “throw out,” the same word used in 9:34. When “they cast him out” of the synagogue, it was the Shepherd leading (10:3) him out of the sheepfold into His flock. So in our lives, often we feel that “they” are casting us out of a place where formerly we were comfortable, but in reality the Shepherd is leading us into a better place.

The sheepfold is a sheep pen where the sheep stay at night and are protected from wild animals and thieves. It is an enclosure made of stone or perhaps briar bushes for which there is only one opening, the door, across which the “gatekeeper” slept. The sheepfold is Judaism and the wall is the Oral Torah [I no longer agree with this equation], and the gatekeeper is the Holy Spirit. The Door to the sheepfold is Christ through which Moses and all the true prophets and faithful leaders entered, and through which the sheep in New Testament times exit.

In John 5:39 Jesus said the Scriptures (the Old Testament) “testify concerning Me,” and in 5:46 he said, “Moses wrote concerning Me.” This was long before Jesus was born, which means the scriptural writers wrote concerning Jesus through types (symbolic pictures) and prophesies. Judaism developed a vast tradition of interpretation, the Oral Torah, which Jesus rejected [I no longer believe that He did!]. Jesus favored of an interpretation of the Old Testament that sees the whole thing as pointing towards a reality that at the time of its writing had not yet emerged. For Jesus, the Oral Torah in effect takes the place of the Written Torah and becomes the wall that encloses the sheep [I no longer believe this is true]. The leaders who would keep the sheep in this enclosure are thieves and robbers because their interpretation of the Scriptures does not “testify concerning Me.”

The Shepherd leads the sheep out of the nighttime fold into the daylight pasture where they find life abundant. Christ is the Door, the Shepherd, and also the Pasture. “I have come that they may have life and may have it abundantly” (verse 10). In the pasture the sheep become His one flock (verse 16), which is the church.

There is a big difference between a fold and a flock. Before they were confined, now they are free. Before they were protected by a wall that constrained them, now they are protected by the Shepherd who leads them. Before they might have been fed hay that had been mown, now they feed on living grass and living streams. In the church, the Spirit of Christ replaces law [this statement has to be qualified: the Spirit of God does not do away with the Torah for the Jew but rather with the “Pelagian” application of it] and Christ through the Spirit leads us. Jesus said, “I give to them eternal life, and they shall by no means perish forever, and no one shall snatch them out of My hand” (verse 28), and again, “No one can snatch them out of My Father’s hand” (verse 29). The Father’s hand is His love which chooses us (17:23; 6:38-39), and the Son’s hand is His grace which saves us. Love is the source and grace the means by which we receive the divine life that guides, feeds, and keeps us. The divine life itself is the fellowship of the Holy Spirit (2 Corinthians 13:14). The Father, the Son and the Spirit are one.

How does Jesus effect all of this? By laying down His life (literally, His soul) for the sheep (verses 11, 15, 17-18). The word for life in verse 10 and for eternal life in verse 28 is zōē and refers to divine life. The words for life in verses 11, 15, and17-18 is psychē, soul, and refers to human life. Jesus lays down His limited human life and takes it up again in resurrection so He can share with us His divine life.

In order to come out of the fold (that which constricts us), we must die to ourselves. In order to enter the flock where there is freedom and green pasture, we must believe into Jesus who is our new life. We are not willing to die on our own, but we can die to ourselves (and come out of ourselves) by dying with Jesus—and letting His death work in us—which we can do only insofar as we believe into Him so that He becomes our new identity in ever unfolding life. Then we enter a new “space” in which love is. By faith in Him we “substantiate” the new life (Hebrews 11:1).

The story takes place during the Feast of the Dedication (verse 22), which we know as Hanukkah. Hanukkah celebrates the rededication of the Temple after it was desecrated by Antiochus Epiphanes, the Greek tyrant. This is related to John 9-10: the fold for the sheep has been desecrated by thieves and robbers, as it were, and Jesus, by leading the sheep out of the fold and making them into His flock, rededicates the Temple of God, His Father’s House, by moving the sheep from the types and shadows of the Old Testament to the church, in which we find the reality of the New Testament.

Hanukkah is also known as the Festival of Lights. In John 9-10 the Shepherd calls the sheep by name and leads them out of the fold by the healing of our blindness with which we were born. Healing our blindness is the same as giving us light: Jesus is the light of life (John 8:12) that saves us (by being, as we saw in chapter 8, the “I AM” that is God) when we believe.

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