Jesus came to restore the Covenant of Moses so that He could lead the nation to its intended purpose. Law was always meant to bring about a consciousness of sin, and to indicate the path to restoration of peace with God. He was going to close out the ritual portion of the Law by offering Himself as the ultimate sacrifice. He was going to move the basis of the Covenant into faith by making it painfully obvious where the Law was supposed to take people. The Father sent Him to do this.
The Pharisees had established multiple layers of error and perversion against this very transition, making it nearly impossible. The people were trapped in a system that blinded them, while protecting and enriching the leadership. So Jesus was plowing up the Pharisees’ layers of falsehood and opening the eyes of people who simply didn’t realize how deep the deception ran. He was calling out those people who were locked in a system that hated them and abused them. This was more than a mere political challenge, but a threat to everything the Pharisees had built, and they took it all as a personal insult. Jesus was stealing their sheep, as they saw it.
But Jesus turned that upside down: They had stolen God’s sheep. If they wanted the sheep back under their control, they would have to go through Him. That could mean they were in for the fight of their lives, or that they would have to embrace His teaching. It was polarizing on purpose. The Holy Spirit was the gatekeeper to the sheepfold, and recognized Jesus as the Son of God, the Good Shepherd of the people who genuinely wanted peace with God.
It’s the nature of sheep to follow the voice of the one who was with them out in the pasture. A shepherd was careful to sing or chant regularly so that the sheep would grow accustomed to his unique vocal sound. Then, when it was time to lead the sheep out of their pen, he would simply offer that same song or chant and they would respond. The voice of Jesus was the voice of their shepherd. Even if they had never seen Him before, as was quite literally the case of the blind man in the previous chapter, they recognized His voice because it was the same voice as God’s.
Then He shifted the imagery to say He was the door of the sheep pen. This conjures up the image of shepherds who slept lying across the gateway of their sheep pens. It’s pretty hard to open the gate and sneak in with him there, since it can’t avoid disturbing him. So it is with Jesus, protecting the sheep and opening the gate only to sheep, and then taking them out to His pasture. Anyone seeking to steal God’s sheep would have to kill Him.
The Jewish leadership had not risen in faith to the point of being God’s family, so they remained hirelings. And it showed by their lack of interest in taking risks for the sake of the sheep. When Satan came to raid the Covenant Nation, they failed to protect the sheep. But the Father demands that His shepherds be ready to take full responsibility for His sheep. Jesus knew the Father’s will about such things, and the Father knew Him and trusted Him.
Jesus didn’t have to steal the sheep from anyone. They recognized His voice as the voice of God. The way He taught the Law made it all so utterly clear to anyone who really wanted to see. So Jesus came to lead away those sheep who were truly His, and would join them to His larger flock. His flock would recognize His voice and follow Him. They followed Him also because they were convinced it was safe, that Jesus would willingly lay down His life for them.
Indeed, He claimed to have the full authority to lay it down and take it back up, all in His own timing.