John 10 opens with Jesus sharing sayings about shepherds and sheepfolds. Jesus is the shepherd. We are his sheep. In his own voice, he calls to each of us by name to follow him. His sheep know his voice and follow him. They will not follow a strange voice (John 10:1-5). All of the discussion of “voice” links to the theme of hearing unto salvation.
The people hearing these sayings do not understand (John 10:6). So Jesus teaches and elaborates further (John 10:7-18). Jesus is the good shepherd who knows and loves his sheep. He is willing to lay down his life to save the sheep. This ultimate sacrifice would not be undertaken by a hireling or a servant, only the shepherd master.
Even after hearing additional sayings from Jesus, the people still are confused (John 10:19). Notice the use of the words like “hear” and “words” that play on the theme of hearing in the quotes below.
Some said, “He hath a devil, and is mad; why hear ye him?” (John 10:20, italics added).
“Others said, These are not the words of him that hath a devil. Can a devil open the eyes of the blind?” (John 10:21, italics added).
The context for this exchange may have some interpretive relevance, so let’s look at context for a moment. Jesus is in the temple teaching the people during the Feast of Dedication (John 10:22). This feast celebrates the rededication of the Jerusalem temple that occurred during the Maccabean time period.
Some 200 years prior to the time of Jesus, the Jews had been under Greek rule and domination. A group of Jews, led by the Maccabean family, launched a revolt against the Greeks. The Jews finally won control of the Jerusalem temple, expelling the Greeks, who had defiled it with pig sacrifices and a statue to Zeus (likely the "abomination that maketh desolate" referred to in Daniel 11:31). But the Jews only had one day of purified oil available to rededicate the temple. They needed eight days’ worth. Miraculously, the one-day supply of oil lasted for the entire eight days and the Jews were able to rededicate their temple.
The memory of those momentous events of the Jews overthrowing foreign rule and purifying their holy sites became known as the “Feast of Dedication” or Hanukkah. Each year at the feast, the Jews remembered their physical salvation from foreign domination. Moreover, they looked forward to another kingly (messiah) figure who would provide physical salvation from the Romans.
In this Feast of Dedication context, Jesus is in the temple teaching that salvation comes to those who hear his voice as the good shepherd. But because of their history, and their future expectations, many Jews could not imagine a humble shepherd when they were expecting a mighty messianic king.
That is why there is confusion among the Jews in John 10. And that is why the people pointedly ask Jesus who he is. “Then came the Jews round about him, and said unto him, How long dost thou make us to doubt? If thou be the Christ (i.e., “the Messiah”), tell us plainly” (John 10:24).
Perhaps wishing to teach the truth without confirming the wrong messianic opinion, Jesus responds to those whose ears were not truly open to hear him, “I told you, and ye believed not: the works that I do in my Father's name, they bear witness of me. But ye believe not, because ye are not of my sheep, as I said unto you. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me” (John 10:25-27).
Again, we see the theme of hearing at work in John 10. Those who truly hear the Lord will be admitted into his kingdom. Analogously, in John 9, those who have eyes to see, or rather, those who have their blindness cured, are saved. In John 10, those who unstop their ears, remove the distracting interpretations of the past and quiet the cacophony of future expectations — those who can truly hear the voice of Jesus will be his sheep and he will be their shepherd.
Bible Video: The Good Shepherd
Taylor Halverson, who holds doctorates in biblical studies and instructional technology, is a BYU teaching and learning consultant. His website is taylorhalverson.com. His views are his own.