Summary: Jesus is the door to everlasting life.
How do you enter your home--down the chimney or through a window? Not hardly; and there’s no complicated way to enter fullness of life; we simply come to Jesus. And when we do, it is like opening a door to a new world; we leave our sins and regrets behind and enter.
There are many voices clamoring for attention; some are malicious, as Jesus points out in verse 1. We see this especially in the rise of cults, focused on leaders who demand unquestioning allegiance; often they claim divinity, or profess to be closer to God than their followers, with exclusive authority and anointing. They denounce all other teachers as wrong and manipulate their followers. Error is deadly; truth is life-giving. Jesus is warning us against such false teachers. They are “thieves” by robbing people of truth, and often of money. They indoctrinate and intimidate people into following them…and in so doing they lead people away from God.
The prophet Ezekiel condemned false shepherds and predicted that the true Shepherd, the Messiah, will provide genuine care and leadership (34). Just as there are false shepherds, there are false doors. In Matthew 7:13-14, Jesus warns His listeners: “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” It matters which door we choose.
The watchmen or gatekeepers of verses 2-4 are the shepherds. Who are they? The Pharisees would have gladly claimed this position, but Jesus assigns them another title. Prophets in the Old Testament and Pastors in the New are identified in Scripture as shepherds of their congregations. They are called to feed, guide, protect, correct, and love their flocks. They occasionally go after lost sheep to bring them back to the fold. They keep the flock from dangers on the outside and discord from within.
To be a shepherd involves relationship. Pastors are not mere “religious service providers.” We’re not remote, detached, or impersonal; we’re involved. The role of “pastor” has been defined as one “who is passionate for God and compassionate with people” (Peterson). With every encounter we hope to bring people before the presence of God.
Sheep recognize the shepherd’s voice, verse 5. They “hear his voice and follow.” Sheep won’t sheep follow a stranger because there is no personal connection. They know the familiar “voice” of truth and concern. Believers who are well-grounded in Scripture recognize the sound of false teaching.
In Bible times it was common for several flocks to be kept in a common, stone enclosure with an entrance on one side, the kind of fold we read about in the Nativity story. There was no other way for the sheep to enter the fold. The top of the wall would be lined with thorns to discourage predators and thieves. After gathering the flock in the fold, the shepherd would stand, and at night lie down in the narrow opening, becoming the gate--a living door. No sheep could leave, and no predators or intruders would enter; the shepherd became the door.
Shepherds watching their flocks would take turns guarding the entrance. When it came time for grazing in the fields, the shepherds would stand at the entrance and call, and their sheep would recognize their shepherd’s voice and come to him. Only the shepherd has the right to enter the sheep-fold. In the Scottish Highlands, shepherds have been known to give names to their sheep, and when called, each sheep would recognize their name and respond.
Figurative language doesn’t always go over well. Our Lord’s metaphor went over the heads of His hearers, verse 6. Sheep-folds were commonplace in the 1st Century, and Jesus’ very literal listeners didn’t catch the symbolism. Nonetheless, Jesus continues with one more image…
In verse 7, He declares in another “I AM” statement, “I am the gate for the sheep.” How is He the “gate”? A gate, or door, is a passageway; it is access, an opportunity, protection from danger, a refuge. Jesus is all these things for those who enter, who turn to Him. What does the door teach us about Jesus? He is the Way to the Father. What good is a home without a door? Consider how wonderful Heaven must be, yet what good is that to us if there were no door? Jesus is the door to everlasting life.
Jesus again warns that some who came before Him were thieves and robbers, verse 8. They lacked compassion for people, and invented their own gateways, appointing themselves as gate-keepers. They were fleecing the flock! None of them possessed the authentic voice of the Shepherd. Who is Jesus referring to here? Certainly not the Hebrew prophets! Jesus is likely referring to imposters, false prophets, and many of the religious leaders who had rejected His teachings and turned Judaism into a legalistic system. They were unworthy shepherds. The Sadducees in particular were known to make a lot of money out of the Temple system.