I Am The Door

Easter 4A

John 10: 1 10 


This reading is the first half of the familiar "Good Shepherd" lesson by our Lord. In the first part, verses 1 9 Jesus talks about the sheepfold and especially the door or gateway. Verse 10 is a transition from this lesson to the second part in which he claims to be the model of a caring shepherd (Latin, pastor).

We should brace ourselves for some very straight talking. When it comes to the safety of those he claims have been committed to him by his Father, he is very scathing of anyone who exerts religious authority without ensuring first they know what they are talking about and secondly, practise what they preach!

In our reading Jesus talks about his being the "door" to the sheepfold. His lesson on being the "good shepherd" is one of the readings after Easter in Year B (in 12 months time). Because of the content of this reading we offer below, first a brief explanation by Dr. Ronald Cox, and then a fuller commentary by Dr. J. Ryle, to which we have attached some of his study notes. May all this help you have a most fruitful time of meditation.

Jesus the Door of the Sheepfold

It was probably at Bethany, looking down over the desert of Judea. that Jesus told this parable to his disciples, and some of the people of Jerusalem. Judea is a land of shepherds so our Lord speaks their language whereas in Galilee he spoke of crops and fishing. It was spoken soon after the healing of the blind man, who had been castout of the fold of Israel; there is an obvious contrast between the Pharisees and Jesus in their care of the flocks entrusted to each of them.

In the description Jesus begins with a scene at night, the sheep of different shepherds safe in the sheepfold. Then, in the morning, each shepherd comes to the sheepfold to take out his individual flock to pasturage for the day. These two scenes are developed by our Lord into two distinct parables. The first is concerned with the sheepfold, the second with the flock. Many shepherds put their flocks into the one sheepfold for the night, and set a guard at the door. The sheepfold represents Christ's kingdom; entry can be had only through him; he is the door of approach to God. In his first parable there is question only of the test of a true shepherd; one who has the right of entry to the sheepfold. Jesus' disciples are the only true shepherds; the Pharisees, and the many Messianic claimants in the past, present, and future, have no right in the kingdom; only those authorised by Christ are true teachers.

(The Gospel Story by R. Cox - C.Y.M. Publications 1950)

I Am The Door

Adapted (adaptations shown in itallics) from "Expository Thoughts on St John"
by J. C. Ryle. DD

The chapter we have now begun (John 10: 1 9) is closely connected with the preceding one.

The parable before us was spoken with direct reference to the blind teachers of the Jewish Church. The Scribes and Pharisees were the persons our Lord had in view, when He described the false shepherd. The very men who had just said "We see," were denounced with holy boldness, as "thieves and robbers."

We have, for one thing, in these verses, a vivid picture of a false teacher of religion. Our Lord says that he is one who "enters not by the door into the sheepfold, but climbs up some other way."

The "door," in this sentence, must evidently mean something far more than outward calling and commission. The Jewish teachers, at any rate, were not deficient in this point: they could probably trace up their orders in direct succession to Aaron himself. Ordination is no proof whatever that a man is fit to show others the way to heaven. He may have been regularly set apart by those who have authority to appoint clergy and yet all his life may never come near the door, and at last may die nothing better than "a thief and a robber."

The true sense of the "door," must be sought in our Lord's own interpretation. It is Christ Himself who is "the door." The true shepherd of souls is he who enters the ministry with a single eye to Christ, desiring to glorify Christ, doing all in the strength of Christ, preaching Christ's doctrine, walking in Christ's steps, and labouring to bring men and women to Christ. The false shepherd of souls is he who enters the clerical office with little or no thought about Christ, from worldly and self-exalting motives, but from no desire to exalt Jesus, and the great salvation that is in Him. Christ, in one word, is the grand touchstone of the minister of religion. The man who makes much of Christ is a pastor after God's own heart, whom God delights to honour.

The cleric who makes little of Christ is one whom God regards as an impostor, as one who has climbed up to his holy office not by the door, but by "some other way."

The sentence before us is a sorrowful and humbling one. That it condemns the Jewish teachers of our Lord s time, all men can see. There was no "door" in their ministry. They taught nothing rightly about Messiah. They rejected Christ Himself when He appeared. But all men do not see that the sentence condemns thousands of so-called Christian teachers, quite as much as the leaders and teachers of the Jews. Thousands of ordained men in the present day know nothing whatever about Christ, except His name. They have not entered "the door" themselves, and they are unable to show it to others. Well would it be for Christendom if this were more widely known, and more seriously considered! Unconverted clergy are the dry-rot of the Church. When "the blind lead the blind," both must fall into the ditch. If we would know the value of a man's ministry, we must never fail to ask, Where is the Lamb? Where is the Door? Does he bring forward Christ, and give Him his rightful place?

We have, for another thing, in these verses, a peculiar picture of true Christians. Our Lord describes them as sheep who "hear the voice of a true Shepherd, and know His voice;" and as "sheep who will not follow a stranger, but will flee from him, for they know not the voice of strangers."

The thing taught in these words is a very curious one, and may seem "foolishness" to the world. There is a spiritual instinct in most true believers, which generally enables them to distinguish between true and false teaching. When they hear unsound religious instruction, there is something within them which says, "This is wrong." When they hear the real truth as it is in Jesus, there is something in their hearts which responds, "This is right." The careless man of the world may see no difference whatever between cleric and cleric, sermon and sermon. The poorest sheep of Christ, as a general rule, will "distinguish things that differ," though he may sometimes be unable to explain why.

Let us beware of despising this spiritual instinct. Whatever a sneering world may please to say, it is one of the peculiar marks of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. As such, it is specially mentioned by St. John, when he says, "Ye have an unction from the Holy One, and ye know all things." (1 John 2: 20.) Let us rather pray for it daily, in order that we may be kept from the influence of false shepherds. To lose all power of distinguishing between bitter and sweet, is one of the worst symptoms of bodily disease. To be unable to see any difference between law and gospel, truth and error, the doctrine of Christ and the doctrine of man, is a sure proof that we are yet dead in heart, and need conversion.

We have, lastly, in these verses, a most instructive picture of Christ Himself.  He utters one of those golden sayings which ought to be dear to all true Christians. They apply to people as well as to clergy. "I am the door: by Me if any man enter in, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture."

We are all by nature separate and far off from God. Sin, like a great barrier-wall, rises between us and our Maker. The sense of guilt makes us afraid of Him. The sense of His holiness keeps us at a distance from Him. Born with a heart at enmity with God, we become more and more alienated from Him by practice, the longer we live. The very first questions in religion that must be answered, are these: "How can I draw near to God? How can I be made holy? How can a sinner like me be reconciled to my Maker?"

The Lord Jesus Christ has provided an answer to these mighty questions. By His sacrifice for us on the cross, He has opened a way through the great barrier, and provided pardon and peace for sinners. He has "suffered for sin, the just for the unjust, to bring us to God." (1 Pet. 3: 18.) He has opened a way into the holiest, through His blood, by which we may draw near to God with boldness, and approach God without fear. And now He is able to save to the uttermost all who come unto God by Him. In the highest sense He is "the door." No one can "come to the Father" but by Him.

Let us take heed that we use this door, and do not merely stand outside looking at it. It is a door free and open to the chief of sinners: "If any man enter in by it, he shall be saved." It is a door within which we shall find a full and constant supply for every want of our souls. We shall find that we can "go in and out," and enjoy liberty and peace. The day comes when this door will be shut forever, and men shall strive to enter in, but not be able. Then let us make sure work of our own salvation. Let us not stand tarrying without, and halting between two opinions. Let us enter in and be saved.

End of Article

Notes. John 10: 1 9

Because of the importance of this Gospel passage and our Lord's teaching contained in it, we present a selection of Dr Ryle's own notes which accompany the above article. They are taken direct from his work, and refer to passages in the King James Authorised Version.

1. (Verily…I say…you) Three things must be carefully remembered, if we would rightly understand the first nine verses of this chapter. Inattention to them has caused much confused and inconsistent interpretation.

(a) For one thing, the passage is closely connected with the last chapter. The opening sentence should be read on, without break or separation between, together with the forty-first verse of the ninth chapter. Our Lord is still speaking to the hostile Pharisees who asked, "Are we blind also!" and got the answer, "Ye say, We see; therefore your sin remaineth."

— It is to them that He goes on to say, "I say unto you, He that entereth not in by the door, is a thief and a robber." He is not so much comforting His disciples now, as rebuking and exposing His enemies.

(b) For another thing, the passage is entirely a parable, or aIlegory. (See sixth verse.) In interpreting it, like almost all our Lord's parables, the one great lesson should be kept in view, which is the keynote to the whole. We must not press every detail and little point too far, and try to attach a spiritual meaning to the lesser parts of the picture. Those who do so always run aground in their exposition, and get into difficulties. To this parable, if any, the old quaint sayings are applicable: "No parable stands on four legs." — " Squeeze parables too far, and you will draw blood from them, and not milk."

(c) For another thing, the object that our Lord had in view, in speaking this parable, must be kept steadily before our eyes. That object was to show the entire unfitness of the Pharisees to be pastors and teachers of the Jews, because they had not taken up their office in the right spirit, and with a right understanding of the work they had to do. He is not in this part speaking of Himself as "the Shepherd," but as "the Door:" only as the Door. What Christ is as a "Shepherd," comes afterward; what Christ is as "the Door," is the one point of the first nine verses.

The "progressive" character of our Lord's discourses recorded in St. John, is strikingly illustrated in this chapter. Starting from a very simple statement, our Lord goes on to speak of the highest truths. We see the same in the fourth, fifth, and sixth chapters.

This is one of the twenty-four places in St. John's Gospel, where the double "verily" comes in. Here, as elsewhere, it always prefaces some statement of more than ordinary importance and solemnity.

  • (He that entereth not, etc.) Our Lord here appeals to the common experience of His hearers. They all knew well that any one who was seen entering a sheepfold by climbing over the wall or fence of enclosure, and not by going through the door, would be justly suspected of being a thief. Every true shepherd, as a matter of course, makes use of the door.
    The "door" He afterwards interprets to mean Himself. The latent thought evidently is, that any teacher of religion who does not take up and discharge his office with faith in Christ and His atonement, and with an aim to glorify Christ, is unfit for his business, and unable to do any good. Instead of being a shepherd who helps and feeds, he is no better than a "robber," who does harm. Instead of saving souls, he kills them. Instead of bringing life, he brings death to his hearers.
  • The expression, "some other way," seems to me purposely very wide. Men may become teachers of the Church from many different motives, and in many different frames of mind. Some may be sceptical, some formalists, some worldly; but all alike are wrong, if they do not enter office "through the Door:" viz., by Christ.
  • The word rendered "the same," would be more literally translated, "that man."
  • The expression, "thief and robber," is very strong, and supplies a striking instance of the use of a parable to convey indirectly a sharp and severe rebuke. Of course our Lord could hardly have said to the Pharisees, "You are thieves and robbers." Yet by use of a parable, He says what is tantamount to it.
    Let it be noted that these strong epithets show plainly that there are times when it is right to rebuke sharply. Flattering everybody, and complimenting all teachers who are zealous and earnest, without reference to their soundness in the faith, is not according to Scripture. Nothing seems so offensive to Christ as a false teacher of religion, a false prophet, or a false shepherd. Nothing ought to be so much dreaded in the Church, and if needful, to be so plainly rebuked, opposed, and exposed…….
  • The Greek word rendered "thief," implies secret fraud and dishonesty. The word rendered "robber," implies more open violence. There are false teachers of both sorts…

2. (He that entereth in by the door, etc.) This verse contains the converse of the preceding verse. He that is seen entering the sheepfold by the one proper entrance, the door, may be set down as a true shepherd. Such a man, being duly commissioned by the owner of the flock, and recognized by the sheep as their pastor and friend, has no need to enter clandestinely, like a thief, or by violence, as a robber.

  • The word "the" before shepherd, is not in the Greek. It should be simply, "a shepherd." The omission of the article seems intentional, to show that our Lord is describing true "shepherds of sheep" generally, and not Himself.

3. (To him.....porter openeth, etc.) The whole of this verse is meant to show the character of a true shepherd of sheep, in four respects:

(a) The porter opens the gate to him, knowing by his step and manner of approach, that he is a friend, and not an enemy.

(b) The sheep recognise his voice, and attend to what he says.

(c) He, knowing all his flock individually, calls each sheep by his own peculiar name.

(d) He leads them out to feed, desiring daily to promote their health and well-being. In all these four points, he is unlike the thief and robber.

The different customs of Eastern countries, as compared to our own, must be carefully kept in mind, to understand the expressions of this verse. A fold in Palestine was a space enclosed by high walls, not by low hurdles. It had a gate guarded by a porter at night, as the sheep could not be safely left alone. An Eastern shepherd knows each sheep in his flock, and often has a name for each one. The sheep are led, and not driven.

  • The expression "his own sheep," must not be pressed too far. It simply means that a real shepherd, according to Eastern custorn, knowing his own flock individually by name, calls them at once by their names, and proves his relation to them by so doing. If not his own, he could not do so.

4. (And a Stranger will they not follow, etc.) This verse concludes the picture of a true shepherd and his flock. It was a fact well-known to all our Lord's hearers, that sheep accustomed to one shepherd's voice would not obey a stranger's voice, but would rather be frightened at it. Just so true Christians have a spiritual taste and discernment by which they distinguish a false teacher, and will not hear him. "Ye have an unction from the Holy One, and know all things." (1 John 2: 20.) The poor and illiterate believers often illustrate this in a very extraordinary way.

Brentius observes here the singular faculty which sheep possess of always knowing and recognizing the voice of their own shepherd. He also notices the extraordinary knowledge that the lamb has of its own mother's bleat among a thousand others, as a curious characteristic of an animal in many respects dull and stupid.

Scott observes that this verse justifies true Christians in not listening to false teachers. For leaving their parish church perhaps, under these circumstances, many reproach them. Yet the very men who reproach them would not trust their worldly affairs to an ignorant and dishonest lawyer, or their bodies to an incompetent doctor! Can it be wrong to act on the same principles for our souls?

Besser observes, "Sheep flee from a false shepherd. They will not say, it is enough if we do not follow this strange preacher in those points in which he holds forth unsound teaching. They will have nothing at all to do with him. They will flee from him as from a contagious disease." (2 Tim. 2. 17.)

5. (Then said Jesus...again) Here we see the condescension and patience of our Lord. Seeing His hearers not able to understand Him, He proceeds to explain His meaning more fully. This is an example for all teachers of religion. Without frequent repetition and simplification spiritual lessons can never be taught.

(Verily verily.....you.) Once more this solemn expression is used, and again to the same hearers, the Pharisees.

( I am the door of the sheep.) Here is plain exposition. Jesus here declares that He Himself is the Door through whom, and by faith in whom, both shepherd and sheep must pass, if they would go inside God's fold. "Every single sheep must enter through Me, if he would join God's flock. Every teacher who wishes to be a shepherd over God's flock, must enter his office looking to Me."

This high claim of dignity must have sounded startling to the Pharisees! A higher claim we can hardly conceive. None but One, even the Divine Messiah, could have used such an expression. No prophet or apostle ever did.

Musculus observes that the simple view of Christ being "the Door," is that He is the Mediator between God and man.

Webster observes, "It is worthy of remark that in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 7: 13 17), the description of the strait gate and narrow way immediately precedes the warning against false prophets and ravening wolves." The same also may be seen here.

6. (All that ever came before Me, etc.) These words, "All, before Me," must evidently be limited or qualified. They cannot be taken in their fullest sense. The prophets and John the Baptist were not thieves and robbers. It cannot well be taken to mean, "All who have claimed to be the Messiah." There is no evidence that many claimants did appear before our Lord, if any. Besides, the word "are," in the present tense, seems to exclude those who lived before our Lord's time.

The great knot of the difficulty lies in the words, "came before Me." The Greek word rendered "before," has only four meanings:

(1) before in point of time;

(2) before in point of place;

(3) before in point of dignity and honour;

(4) before in the way of substitution.

Of these, the two first seem out of the question, and we are shut up to the two last. I can only conjecture that the sentence must be paraphrased in this way: "All who have come into the Church professing to be teachers, claiming honour for themselves instead of Me, or honouring anything in preference to Me,.……- all such are not true shepherds, but thieves and robbers." I can see no better solution, and I admit that the sentence is a difficulty.

7. (I am the door, etc.) This verse is one of those wide, broad, grand statements which our Lord sometimes makes, stretching far beyond the subject of which He is immediately speaking. It is like, "I am the Bread, I am the Light, I am the Way." The primary meaning is, "I am He through whom and by whom alone true pastors must enter the Church. All such pastors, entering by Me, shall find themselves at home in the fold, and enjoy the confidence of my flock, and find food for the souls of my sheep, their hearers." The secondary or fuller meaning is, "I am the Way of access to God. All who come to the Father by Me, whether pastors or hearers, shall find through Me safety and liberty, and possess continual food for their souls."

  • The expression, "go in and out," implies a habit of using familiarly a dwelling, and treating it as a home. It is a Hebraism. It expresses beautifully the habitual communion and happy intercourse with Christ which a true believer enjoys. (See Acts 1: 21; 9: 28; John 14: 23;
    Rev. 3: 20.
  • The "finding pasture" implies the satisfaction, comfort, and refreshment of soul which every one who uses Christ as his Door into heaven shall experience. The latent thought is evidently Psalm 23: 1, 2, etc.

Burgon remarks, "The concluding words describe the security and enjoyment which are the privilege of God's people. To go in and out is to transact the business of each day's life: its rest and labour, the beginning and end of every work. The Hebrew phrase denotes a man's whole life and conversation. The promises connected therewith seem to imply that in their daily walk, it may be in the world's dusky lane and crowded mart, the people of God will find spiritual support and consolation, even meat for their souls, which the world knows not of. Elsewhere the phrase is often, 'go out and come in.' Here, not without meaning, the expressions are transposed. The former is the order of nature, the latter the order of grace."

In leaving this difficult passage, it is well to remember that though our Lord is not speaking of Himself as a Shepherd here, and is only giving a descriptive picture of a good shepherd, there is a latent application to Himself. There is no one to whom the various features of the picture apply so literally, clearly, and exactly, as they do to the great Shepherd of believers. "Every expression," says Burgon, "has a marked reference to Christ; yet it is plain that it is not of Himself that He is primarily speaking."

Throughout the passage it is noteworthy how much stress is laid on the "voice" of the shepherd, and on hearing his voice. I cannot but regard this as intentional. It is the "voice in teaching" which makes the great difference between one earthly pastor and another. "The shepherd," says Burgon, "must not be silent while among his sheep." It is hearing the voice of the Chief Shepherd which is one great mark of all true believers.

End of Notes

Next Page Home Site Map Search Disclaimer

Copyright © 2000 Community of Affirmation