Israel

The Old and the New: Two Testaments, Two Covenants

1. The Old and the New: Two Testaments, Two Covenants

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When we open the Bible, one of the first things that we notice is that the Bible is divided into two sections: the Old Testament and the New Testament. Within the Old and New Testaments, there are covenants, special agreements ratified by sacrifice and sign. There are covenants between individuals such as Abraham and Abimelech (Genesis 21:27). More importantly, there are covenants between God and man.

For example, God made a covenant with Noah that He would never again destroy the earth by Flood. He put the rainbow in the sky as a sign of the covenant.

Genesis 9:14-15 ESV When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, 15 I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh. And the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh.

God made a covenant with Abraham that the childless old man would yet become the father of a multitude of nations, that kings would come from him and that God would give them the land of Canaan (Genesis 15:18; 17:1-21).

Besides these covenants, God made a covenant with the nation of Israel:

Exodus 34:27-28 ESV And the LORD said to Moses, “Write these words, for in accordance with these words I have made a covenant with you and with Israel.” 28 So he was there with the LORD forty days and forty nights. He neither ate bread nor drank water. And he wrote on the tablets the words of the covenant, the Ten Commandments.

Though Israel would break the covenant, God would not forget His covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Though He would judge Israel and drive them into other nations, God says in Leviticus 26,

Leviticus 26:42 ESV then I will remember my covenant with Jacob, and I will remember my covenant with Isaac and my covenant with Abraham, and I will remember the land.

Leviticus 26:45 ESV But I will for their sake remember the covenant with their forefathers, whom I brought out of the land of Egypt in the sight of the nations, that I might be their God: I am the LORD.”

When God makes a covenant with man, it is a gracious act on his part. It is not a negotiated contract whereby we haggle and try to get God to do something that we want. God is God and he does whatever he pleases (Ecclesiastes 8:3; Psalm 115:3). When God makes a covenant, he takes the initiative and promises blessing if we will fulfill the terms of the covenant.

The covenant that God made with Israel would eventually be called the Old Covenant. In speaking of the Jews, Paul says,

2 Corinthians 3:14 NLT …to this day whenever the old covenant is being read, the same veil covers their minds so they cannot understand the truth. And this veil can be removed only by believing in Christ.

So the covenant of the Law that God made with Israel is called the Old Covenant. And if the covenant of the Law is the Old Covenant, there must be a New Covenant. There is a New Covenant and that New Covenant was announced under the Old Covenant in the Old Testament, more than 600 years before the coming of Christ. We read in Jeremiah,

Jeremiah 31:31-34 NLT “The day is coming,” says the LORD, “when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and Judah. 32 This covenant will not be like the one I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand and brought them out of the land of Egypt. They broke that covenant, though I loved them as a husband loves his wife,” says the LORD. 33 “But this is the new covenant I will make with the people of Israel on that day,” says the LORD. “I will put my instructions deep within them, and I will write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. 34 And they will not need to teach their neighbors, nor will they need to teach their relatives, saying, ‘You should know the LORD.’ For everyone, from the least to the greatest, will know me already,” says the LORD. “And I will forgive their wickedness, and I will never again remember their sins.”

So we see the great difference between the Old and New Covenants. God says, “This covenant will not be like the one I made with their ancestors.” The Old Covenant was the Law. It was external. It was written on tablets of stone. In all, there were 613 rules that they had to follow. Six hundred thirteen! Most people could not tell you what the 10 commandments were, much less the 613 rules of the Old Covenant.

God says that the New Covenant would not be like the Old Covenant. It would not be external. It would not be outside of man. It would not be written stone tablets. Rather, God would write His instructions on our hearts:

Jeremiah 31:33 ESV For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people.

So God’s instructions would not be on the outside of man; they would be on the inside. God would write his instructions on the heart.

The prophet Ezekiel describes the newness that comes with the New Covenant:

Ezekiel 36:25-27 ESV I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. 26 And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. 27 And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.

This new heart and new Spirit is the new birth that Jesus talked about in John 3. Jesus describes it as being born of water and the Spirit. The water represents the cleansing from sin and uncleanness that Ezekiel describes: “I will sprinkle clean water on you… I will cleanse you.”

Ezekiel also tells us that this New Covenant would include a new heart and a new spirit. In fact, God would put His Spirit in us: “I will put my Spirit within you…” This is what it means to be born of the Spirit. This is the new birth, being born of water and the Spirit, being cleansed of sin and made alive unto God. This is the new birth that is necessary to enter the kingdom of God.

That was the promise of a New Covenant that God gave through the prophets Jeremiah and Ezekiel as the Israelites were about to be carried off into the Babylonian Captivity because they had broken the Old Covenant that God had made with them. As they had broken the Old Covenant, God promised the New Covenant.

Fast forward more than 600 years to the night before the crucifixion. Jesus and his disciples are gathered together in the upper room to celebrate the Passover meal. Jesus takes bread, gives thanks, and gave it to his disciples, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me” (Luke 22:19). Then he takes the cup, saying, “This cup is the New Covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me” (Luke 22:20; 1 Corinthians 11:25).

“This cup is the New Covenant in my blood,” he said.

Every time we come to the Lord’s Supper, Holy Communion, we celebrate the New Covenant.

The writer of Hebrews gives a remarkable commentary on the Old Covenant comparing it with the New Covenant of Jeremiah’s prophecy. In Hebrews 8:6f, we read that Jesus,

Hebrews 8:6-13 NLT …mediates for us a far better covenant with God, based on better promises. 7 If the first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no need for a second covenant to replace it. 8 But when God found fault with the people, he said: “The day is coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and Judah. 9 This covenant will not be like the one I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand and led them out of the land of Egypt. They did not remain faithful to my covenant, so I turned my back on them, says the LORD. 10 But this is the new covenant I will make with the people of Israel on that day, says the LORD: I will put my laws in their minds, and I will write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. 11 And they will not need to teach their neighbors, nor will they need to teach their relatives, saying, ‘You should know the LORD.’ For everyone, from the least to the greatest, will know me already. 12 And I will forgive their wickedness, and I will never again remember their sins.”

So the author of Hebrews quotes the lengthy prophecy of Jeremiah about the New Covenant. Then he makes this commentary:

13 When God speaks of a “new” covenant, it means he has made the first one obsolete. It is now out of date and will soon disappear.

This is a most remarkable commentary. The New Covenant that was enacted by the shed blood of Christ is far superior to the Old Covenant of the Law. Had the Old Covenant been faultless, “there would have been no need for a second covenant to replace it” (8:7). The Law was inadequate. The Law cannot change the heart. The Law needed to be replaced.

Hebrews 8:13 ESV In speaking of a new covenant, he makes the first one obsolete. And what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away.

The Old Covenant of the Law is obsolete. It’s out of date.

Sometimes you go to the grocery store and you see that they have radically dropped the price on something that you have been wanting to buy. Says it’s a box of cereal that normally sells for 2000vt, and you see that it is on sale for 500vt. Well, you grab it up, all excited about the great deal that you just got: a 2000vt box of cereal for 500vt! You can hardly wait for breakfast the next morning. You get out your cereal bowl and pour in the cereal, but what do you find? The cereal is full of bugs! It’s stale! It is inedible! How did that happen?

You search all over the box until you find the expiration date. You look at the calendar. Oh, no! The cereal is past the expiration date. It expired a week ago, a month ago or more! It’s no good!

That’s what the writer to the Hebrews is saying. The Old Covenant of the Law has passed its date of expiration. It is out of date. It is no longer valid. It has been replaced with the New Covenant.

So why are you still clinging to the Law? Why have you bought into the Old Covenant of the Law? Why are you trying to live by the Law? It has passed its expiration date. It was valid for a time but it has been superseded by the New Covenant. Why are you trying to live by the external Law? “Do this, do that.”

That is like trying to use an old mechanical typewriter instead of a computer. Why are you doing that? Why are you using an old worn out mechanical typewriter when there is a brand new powerful computer sitting on your desk? Why are you trying to live by the letter of the Law instead of by the power of the Spirit of God? God has given us the power of the Spirit so that we can live in a way the pleases and glorifies Him.

The Law is finished. It’s over. Get over it.

2. Shadow and Reality

Hebrews tells us that the Law was only a shadow, not the real thing:

Hebrews 10:1 ESV For since the law has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered every year, make perfect those who draw near.

The Law was only a shadow. Let me illustrate. You and I are walking down the road together one afternoon. We are hungry and would like something to eat. The sun is shining brightly and suddenly on the road in front of us, we notice a shadow. We recognize from its shape that it is the shadow of a papaya tree full of papayas. Let me ask you, “Will that shadow satisfy our hunger? Will we get any nourishment or strength from the shadow?” No, we will not. But the shadow is there because there is a real papaya tree with real papayas that can satisfy our hunger and meet our need.

Hebrews tells us that the Law was only a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities. You have tried to satisfy yourself with the shadow. You have embraced the Law thinking that it is the real deal. It is not. It is only a shadow. It pointed to the reality. It pointed to Christ.

Paul also writes of the Law as a shadow in Colossians 2. He tells us that God forgave all our sins and canceled the legal charges against us by nailing them to the cross (v. 14).

Colossians 2:16-17 NLT So don’t let anyone condemn you for what you eat or drink, or for not celebrating certain holy days or new moon ceremonies or Sabbaths. 17 For these rules are only shadows of the reality yet to come. And Christ himself is that reality.

So there are no food laws to follow: “Do not let anyone condemn you for what you eat or drink.” The Christian is free to eat whatever he likes. You are free to eat meat. You are free to eat pork or any other meat that you may like. Jesus himself declared that all foods are clean:

Mark 7:14-19 NLT Then Jesus called to the crowd to come and hear. “All of you listen,” he said, “and try to understand. 15 It’s not what goes into your body that defiles you; you are defiled by what comes from your heart.” 17 Then Jesus went into a house to get away from the crowd, and his disciples asked him what he meant by the parable he had just used. 18 “Don’t you understand either?” he asked. “Can’t you see that the food you put into your body cannot defile you? 19 Food doesn’t go into your heart, but only passes through the stomach and then goes into the sewer.” (By saying this, he declared that every kind of food is acceptable in God’s eyes.)

The English Standard Version renders Mark’s explanation, “Thus he declared all foods clean.” So all foods are clean. Bon appétit!

Again in Colossians 2, Paul goes on to say that these people are not holding on to Christ, but the danger for you is that if you follow their teaching, they will disqualify you or cause you to lose the prize:

Colossians 2:18 ESV Let no one disqualify you, insisting on asceticism [abstaining from certain things, doing without] and worship of angels, going on in detail about visions, puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind,

The Scriptures warn us about people who have visions and try to take authority over our lives and rob us of our freedom in Christ. “Let no one disqualify you… going on in detail about visions…” They tell you to abstain from foods and how you must worship. These rules about what you can eat and when you must worship have nothing to do with the Christian faith. In the next verses, the Apostle Paul tells us that we are free from these rules:

Colossians 2:20-23 NLT You have died with Christ, and he has set you free from the spiritual powers of this world. So why do you keep on following the rules of the world, such as, 21 “Don’t handle! Don’t taste! Don’t touch!”? 22 Such rules are mere human teachings about things that deteriorate as we use them. 23 These rules may seem wise because they require strong devotion, pious self-denial, and severe bodily discipline. But they provide no help in conquering a person’s evil desires.

The Apostle Paul tells us,

  1. Do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or for not celebrating certain holy days or new moon ceremonies or Sabbaths.
  2. Do not let anyone rob you of your salvation by insisting on self-denial and submission to angels. Hold on to Christ.
  3. Stop living as if you belonged to the world. Man-made rules have an appearance of wisdom, they will do nothing to help you live a life of holiness.

3. Room for Difference of Opinion

All that is very clear. There are matters of consequence, and where the Word of God speaks clearly, we must speak clearly. We must not compromise on issues where God has spoken or we will be found to oppose God. Such matters include the biblical teachings about the inspiration of the Scriptures, the nature of God, the Trinity, the deity of the Lord Jesus Christ, his eternal existence before coming into the world, his virgin birth, his sinless life, his miracles, his death on the cross for the whole world, his literal physical resurrection from the dead, his ascension to the right hand of the Father, his intercession for us. To that we could add the fall of man, salvation by grace alone through faith alone in the finished work of Christ, the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit in the believer producing a life of holiness without which no man shall see God, the primacy of the Church and its mission, the return of Christ, the final judgment, and the new heavens and the new earth. These truths are non-negotiables. You can see that these are weighty matters and on them the Scriptures speak with absolute clarity.

But there are also matters of opinion, areas where there may be different points of view or conviction. For example, in the area of food. We do not have the problem so much today, but in the early church there were both Gentile and Jewish Christians. The Gentile Christians were free to eat foods that some Jewish Christians, because of their upbringing, could not eat without feeling guilty. Can you imagine a church dinner where the Jewish believers would bring their kosher Jewish foods and the Gentiles would bring their non-kosher foods including pork and non-kosher foods of various kinds? The Gentiles could enjoy it all: chicken, salmon, tuna, beef, lamb, venison, and gefilte fish. Sounds good! Sometimes it is good to be a Gentile! But the Jewish believers would have a hard time swallowing bat, catfish, eel, shark, lobster, oyster, scallops, shrimp, snails, horse meat, or pork! Although Jesus declared all foods clean, some Jewish Christians having been brought up in kosher homes might have a troubled conscience if they were to eat non-kosher food.

The Bible addresses this issue in Romans 14:

Romans 14:1-4 ESV As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions. 2 One person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables. 3 Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him. 4 Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand.

You know what? Food matters do not matter. So if someone is weak in faith and feels that they cannot eat pork, let him be. Don’t look down on him. And the person who does not eat pork is not to think that he is any better than the one who does.

I’ve been to some stores where they had canned food with labels that told the customer that the ingredients looked like meat, smelled like meat, and tasted like meat, but that you could eat it because it was not really meat! If you are a Christian, you are free to eat it whether or not it is meat!

Food matters do not matter.

What about differences of opinion about the day of worship? This sounds so much more important. Surely we’ve got to get the day right! Not so. We have already seen in Colossians 2:16 that we are not to let others condemn us for not celebrating the Sabbath. The Bible says the same thing here in Romans 14:

Romans 14:5-12 NLT In the same way, some think one day is more holy than another day, while others think every day is alike. You should each be fully convinced that whichever day you choose is acceptable. 6 Those who worship the Lord on a special day do it to honor him. Those who eat any kind of food do so to honor the Lord, since they give thanks to God before eating. And those who refuse to eat certain foods also want to please the Lord and give thanks to God. 7 For we don’t live for ourselves or die for ourselves. 8 If we live, it’s to honor the Lord. And if we die, it’s to honor the Lord. So whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord. 9 Christ died and rose again for this very purpose– to be Lord both of the living and of the dead. 10 So why do you condemn another believer? Why do you look down on another believer? Remember, we will all stand before the judgment seat of God. 11 For the Scriptures say, “‘As surely as I live,’ says the LORD, ‘every knee will bend to me, and every tongue will confess and give praise to God.'” 12 Yes, each of us will give a personal account to God.

What does all this mean? It simply means that worshiping God in spirit and truth has nothing to do with the day that you meet for corporate worship. The person who meets with other believers to worship on Sunday must not look down on those who meet on Saturday. And those who meet to worship on Saturday must not condemn those who meet on Sundays.

Why does it not matter? It does not matter because we are not under the Old Covenant. The Old Covenant is obsolete. We are under the New Covenant.

4. Living with a Corpse

Death is a terrible enemy. And the Bible tells us that it is the last enemy that will be destroyed, being cast into the lake of fire (Revelation 20:14). But imagine a widow who did not want to admit that her husband had died. Going to the graveside she talks endlessly to the grave, wondering why her husband does not respond. She prepares wonderful meals for him and pleads with him to come home for something to eat. In the evening she says, “Honey won’t you come to bed with me? It’s so cold out here.” As ridiculous as that sounds, many people try to live with a corpse.

We live under the New Covenant, and according to the New Covenant we are dead to the Law. Hear the Apostle Paul in Romans 7:1-4.

Romans 7:1-4 ESV Or do you not know, brothers– for I am speaking to those who know the law– that the law is binding on a person only as long as he lives? 2 For a married woman is bound by law to her husband while he lives, but if her husband dies she is released from the law of marriage. 3 Accordingly, she will be called an adulteress if she lives with another man while her husband is alive. But if her husband dies, she is free from that law, and if she marries another man she is not an adulteress. 4 Likewise, my brothers, you also have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God.

God made a covenant with Israel. It was the Old Covenant of the Law. By the Law, we died to the Law. This is how Paul says it in Galatians 2:19,

Galatians 2:19-21 ESV For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. 20 I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. 21 I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.

We died to the Law. We have been released from it. We are no longer under it.

Romans 7:6 NLT But now we have been released from the law, for we died to it and are no longer captive to its power. Now we can serve God, not in the old way of obeying the letter of the law, but in the new way of living in the Spirit.

New Testament scholar Craig Blomberg explains,

Rom 7:7–13 clarifies that it was not the Law that was evil or deficient in any way. It was God’s perfect covenant for its era. But to try to continue to follow the Law after its fulfillment has come is like a woman who tries to remain married to her deceased husband after she is widowed. Christians are freed from the law as the covenant to which they are obligated (7:1– 6). Thus, when Paul declares in Rom 10:4 that Christ is the telos (end) of the law “so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes,” he means that Christ is both its goal and termination, as nicely captured in the TNIV’s translation “culmination.”

The coming of Christ changed everything.

Romans 10:4 NIV Christ is the [end] culmination of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes.

Are you trusting in the Law? Or are you trusting in Christ? Sabbath keeping will not save you. Abstaining from meat will not save you. Christ alone can save you. Hanging on the cross, he declared, “It is finished!” and the work was done.

Ephesians 2:8-9 ESV  For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast.

Let me encourage you to find a Bible-believing church where the Word of God is preached, taught, and lived, and where the Bible and only the Bible — not someone’s vision or some other book — but the Bible and the Bible alone is the one and only final authority for what we believe and what we do. There is no other foundation than the Word of God.

See also “Seventh Day Adventism”:

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John 10:01-06, “The Good Shepherd, Part 1”

Stained glass at St John the Baptist's Anglica...

Jesus, the Good Shepherd, John 10. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Introduction

Who are your listening to? I don’t mean right this moment. I’m asking who you are following. Who is the final authority in your life? Whose voice are you obeying? Have you heard the voice of Jesus? Do you know his voice? Do you follow him?

1.      THE GOOD SHEPHERD AND THE BAD!

Today we will continue our journey through the Gospel of John. We come to John 10, a well known passage where Jesus makes two “I am” declarations: “I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture.” And the other “I am” declaration is, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”

1.1.     Chapter and Verse!

When we come to John chapter 10, we might miss the connection with chapter 9 about the healing of the blind man. Chapter 10 is a continuation of Jesus’ dialogue with the Pharisees that we find at the end of chapter 9.

It might help for us to realize that John never wrote a verse. He never wrote a chapter. He wrote a book. And he wrote three letters — First, Second, and Third John — and he wrote the Book of Revelation. But he never wrote a chapter or a verse. What do I mean by that? I mean that the writers of the Scriptures never wrote verse numbers or chapter numbers. They simply wrote books under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Much later, the 66 books of the Bible were divided into chapters and verses. It was about 1000 A.D. that the books of the Bible were divided into chapters.

The verse numbers were inserted in 1551 by a French printer named Robert Étienne. Thanks to the chapter and verse divisions, we can all find the same passage with ease. I can say that Jesus claimed to be the good shepherd in John 10:11, and you can verify that this is so. Chapter and verse numbers are very convenient.

However, these divisions have led many to treat the Bible like a book full of individual sayings. People pull verses out context and treat them like lucky verses. And that is one of the reasons why some people don’t understand the Bible. That is not the way to read the Bible. That is not the way to read any book. That is not the way to read the newspaper. We don’t open a book and turn to any page at random and read a sentence from it and imagine that we can understand the sentence when we have not bothered to read the greater context, the paragraph, the chapter, or the book. When we receive a letter from someone, we read the whole letter, not just part of it.

Let me make a statement that might surprise some. We must read the Bible the same way that we read any other book: we must read everything in context. The difference between the Bible and other books is that the Bible is the Word of God. It is to be read with reverence and humility and a readiness to obey it, for what the Bible says, God says.

1.2.     Continuation from Chapter 9

What we might not see right away is that chapter 10 is a continuation of chapter 9. Jesus healed a man who was born blind. Such a thing had never happened before in the history of the world. No person born blind had ever been healed of their blindness. The people wanted to know what it meant. So they took the man to the Pharisees. These were the religious authorities. They should be to explain the significance of such an event. But as the former blind man begins to see more and more clearly just who Jesus is, the religious authorities become more and more blind, refusing to see, refusing to understand, refusing to accept that Jesus is the Son of God. They insult the man and excommunicate him, kicking him out of the synagogue.

We’ll pick up the dialogue in John 9:39,

Jesus said, “For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and those who see may become blind.” 40 Some of the Pharisees near him heard these things, and said to him, “Are we also blind?” 41 Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would have no guilt; but now that you say, ‘We see,’ your guilt remains (John 9:39-41 ESV).

Jesus continues in the very next verse. There is no break. There is no change in circumstance or the crowd. Jesus continues to speak to the very same people:

“Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door but climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber. 2 But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. 3 To him the gatekeeper opens. The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4 When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. 5 A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers.” 6 This figure of speech Jesus used with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them (John 10:1-6 ESV).

2.        False Shepherds

In John 9, Jesus is confronting the false shepherds of Israel. Sheep and shepherds were part of the life of Judea. Way back in the history of Israel, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob had flocks of sheep and goats. Jacob’s 12 sons were shepherds. In Egypt, the Israelites had their flocks of sheep and goats. King David had been the ideal shepherd, killing lions and bears to protect his sheep. We read in the Psalms “The Lord is my shepherd,” (Psalm 23) and “We are the sheep of his pasture” (Psalm 100).

So the people of Israel were likened to sheep, and the leaders were called shepherds. But the shepherds of Israel had been abusive to the people. Ezekiel 34 rebukes the false shepherds of Israel:

Then this message came to me from the LORD: 2 “Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds, the leaders of Israel. Give them this message from the Sovereign LORD: What sorrow awaits you shepherds who feed yourselves instead of your flocks. Shouldn’t shepherds feed their sheep? 3 You drink the milk, wear the wool, and butcher the best animals, but you let your flocks starve. 4 You have not taken care of the weak. You have not tended the sick or bound up the injured. You have not gone looking for those who have wandered away and are lost. Instead, you have ruled them with harshness and cruelty. 5 So my sheep have been scattered without a shepherd, and they are easy prey for any wild animal. 6 They have wandered through all the mountains and all the hills, across the face of the earth, yet no one has gone to search for them. 7 “Therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the LORD: 8 As surely as I live, says the Sovereign LORD, you abandoned my flock and left them to be attacked by every wild animal. And though you were my shepherds, you didn’t search for my sheep when they were lost. You took care of yourselves and left the sheep to starve. 9 Therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the LORD. 10 This is what the Sovereign LORD says: I now consider these shepherds my enemies, and I will hold them responsible for what has happened to my flock. I will take away their right to feed the flock, and I will stop them from feeding themselves. I will rescue my flock from their mouths; the sheep will no longer be their prey. 11 “For this is what the Sovereign LORD says: I myself will search and find my sheep (Ezekiel 34:1-11 NLT).

The entire chapter of Ezekiel 34 is a rebuke of the false shepherds of Israel. In John 9 and 10, Jesus is rebuking the false shepherds of Israel, the Pharisees and Jewish authorities who had assumed their roles. They did not know God, and they did not care about the sheep. They were only concerned about their position and power. They despised the people, abused them, and called them accursed. They were righteous only in their own eyes, and trampled the people under foot.

Jesus had healed the beggar who was born blind, but they wouldn’t believe it. They interrogated him, and when they weren’t satisfied with his testimony, they interrogated his parents. The parents were too afraid to talk because the Pharisees had already decided that they would put out of the synagogue anyone who confessed that Jesus was the Christ. They brought the beggar back in for more interrogation. But when he marshaled evidence that Jesus was sent from God, the Pharisees cursed him and put him out of the synagogue.

In Ezekiel’s prophecy, God says that he will rescue his flock:

So I will rescue my flock, and they will no longer be abused. I will judge between one animal of the flock and another. 23 And I will set over them one shepherd, my servant David. He will feed them and be a shepherd to them. 24 And I, the LORD, will be their God, and my servant David will be a prince among my people. I, the LORD, have spoken! (Ezekiel 34:22-24 NLT).

God would set over them his servant David. When Ezekiel wrote these words, David had been dead for 400 years, but God had promised that David’s many times great grandson would reign forever and ever. This prophecy of Ezekiel points to Jesus, the Son of David.

Jesus, the good shepherd, found that man and showed that the religious authorities were the ones who were really blind. “None are so blind as those who will not see.”

False shepherds: We find them in the Old Testament, in the New Testament, and we find them today. Whenever you find them, wherever you find them, they are all the same. They don’t care about the flock, the people. They only use the flock. They abuse the flock. They fleece the flock. All they care about is themselves. They are hungry for power, prestige, glory, and money.

3.        THE ILLUSTRATION

These religious authorities had abused the formerly blind man. They had excluded him from the synagogue. Jesus said that they were the ones who were blind and guilty. Now he illustrates their blindness in the first five verses of chapter 10. But verse six says that they could not understand what he was saying to them. They couldn’t see it. Of course not, they were blind.

John calls this a figure of speech or an illustration. It’s like an allegory. Jesus gave this illustration for two reasons: (1) so that some would not understand, and (2) so that some would understand. The Pharisees are blind. They are blind leaders of the blind. They are the ones who do not understand. The TNIV shows that Jesus is addressing the Pharisees, and that they do not understand:

“Very truly I tell you Pharisees, anyone who does not enter the sheep pen by the gate, but climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a robber (John 10:1 TNIV).

Jesus used this figure of speech, but the Pharisees did not understand what he was telling them (John 10:6 TNIV).

So it is the Pharisees who do not understand.

Jesus contrasts “the shepherd of the sheep” with the one who is “a thief and a robber.” What makes the difference? Verification is based on the method of entry into the sheepfold. The difference is whether you enter by the door or climb in another way.

“Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door but climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber. 2 But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep (John 10:1-2 ESV).

So we have a sheepfold, a door, a thief and a robber, and a shepherd. We need to put this illustration back into its original setting before we try to interpret what Jesus means.

Shepherding in Palestine was hard work. It meant a lot of walking to find green pastures. Abraham and Lot went their separate ways because there was not enough green pasture for their flocks. In Genesis 37, Jacob sends Joseph to find his brothers who had been gone for many days traveling many miles to find green pastures for their flocks. So shepherds would not return home with their flocks each night. But they had to protect their sheep from wolves and other night predators. But every village had a common sheepfold or a sheep pen where shepherds could keep their sheep. A gatekeeper was hired to care for the sheepfold during the night. The gatekeeper would shut the door or the gate and be on guard against animals or thieves and robbers who might come to steal or slaughter the sheep. The gatekeeper would not let others into the sheepfold; only the shepherd.

3.1.     The Sheepfold

So first we have the sheepfold. What does this represent? Some people think that the sheepfold represents the church. But that doesn’t really work because verse three says that the shepherd calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. So it does not make sense that Jesus would say that he is leading his sheep out of the church.

Another idea is that the sheepfold represents heaven, but again, Jesus is not going to lead us out of heaven. Furthermore, it is quite impossible for thieves and robbers to climb in by another way!

So what is is? Quite simply, the sheepfold is Judaism. The sheep are Jews, and the sheepfold is Judaism. Jesus is talking to Jews. He is talking to the Jewish authorities who have put the blind beggar out of the synagogue. Jesus is saying in effect, “You haven’t put him out of the synagogue. I have called him out.”

3.2.     The Door

The door is the legitimate claim to the messiahship. There were many pretenders, many who claimed to be the Messiah, but they did not have the qualifications. Their credentials were not in order. They were false Messiahs. They could not enter by the door; they tried to climb in another way. Jesus says in effect,

“You are thieves and robbers. You have no legitimate claim to the messiahship. God is the gatekeeper, and I have entered by the door. I have all the proper credentials. All the prophets pointed to me. I alone was born of a virgin as Isaiah prophesied 700 ago. I was born in Bethlehem as Micah prophesied 700 years ago. I am of the tribe of Judah. I am the Son of David. I am the shepherd of the sheep.”

But the old wineskins of Judaism cannot contain the new wine of the kingdom of God. I am calling my sheep by name. They know my voice, and they follow me. I lead them out. They will not put their trust in Judaism; they will put their trust in me. I will go before them, and lead them, and they will follow me. This man heard my voice and has followed me.”

3.3.     The Shepherd

The shepherd knows his sheep. He calls them each by name. Isn’t that marvelous that the good shepherd knows his sheep and calls them by name? The good shepherd does not see us as a flock or a herd, but as individuals. He knows us and calls us by name. Such individual care.

3.4.     The Sheep

The sheep hear the voice of the shepherd. The Pharisees refused to recognize the voice of the good shepherd. The blind man recognized his voice. “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” Jesus asked him. “Who is he, sir, that I may believe in him?” Jesus said to him, “You have seen him, and it is he who is speaking to you.” The man recognized the voice of the one who had told him to go wash in the pool of Siloam. He knew the voice of the good shepherd.

3.5.     Other Sheep

“Well,” you say, “I have never been in the sheepfold of Judaism. I am not Jewish. How am I to follow the good shepherd?” Not to worry, Jesus is not only the Savior of the Jews; he is the Savior of the whole world as the Samaritans declared in John 4:42. That is why he said in John 10:16,

And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd (John 10:16 ESV).

I am one of the other sheep. I am a Gentile. Jesus said that he had sheep that were not of the sheepfold of Judaism. He has Gentile sheep. He said, “I must bring them also.” He must. It is a divine necessity. It is the will and plan of God. One flock, made up on both Jews and Gentiles.

This is the message of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. We Gentiles were separated from Christ, excluded from citizenship among the people of Israel. We did not even know the covenant promises God had made to them. We lived in this world without God and without hope. We were far from God, but now we have been brought near through the blood of Christ. Christ himself is our peace. He has united Jews and Gentiles into one people. Through his death on the cross, he broke down the wall of hostility that separated us. He did this, Paul says in Ephesians 2:15, “by ending the system of law with its commandments and regulations” (NLT). He made peace between Jews and Gentiles by creating in himself one new people from the two groups. This is how the New Living Translation puts it in Ephesians 2:16ff:

Together as one body, Christ reconciled both groups to God by means of his death on the cross, and our hostility toward each other was put to death. 17 He brought this Good News of peace to you Gentiles who were far away from him, and peace to the Jews who were near. 18 Now all of us can come to the Father through the same Holy Spirit because of what Christ has done for us. 19 So now you Gentiles are no longer strangers and foreigners. You are citizens along with all of God’s holy people. You are members of God’s family. 20 Together, we are his house, built on the foundation of the apostles and the prophets. And the cornerstone is Christ Jesus himself. 21 We are carefully joined together in him, becoming a holy temple for the Lord. 22 Through him you Gentiles are also being made part of this dwelling where God lives by his Spirit.

…Both Gentiles and Jews who believe the Good News share equally in the riches inherited by God’s children. Both are part of the same body, and both enjoy the promise of blessings because they belong to Christ Jesus (Ephesians 2:16-22; 3:6 NLT).

Yes, there will be one flock with one shepherd (John 10:16 NLT).

4.      STRANGERS

The sheep of the good shepherd will not follow the voice of the stranger:

They won’t follow a stranger; they will run from him because they don’t know his voice” (John 10:5 NLT).

Many sheep today are following strangers, but they are not the sheep of the good shepherd. The sheep of the good shepherd follow the good shepherd. They are led by Christ. They will not follow strangers. They will not follow modern day prophets. They will not follow false shepherds who lead people away from Christ. The sheep of the good shepherd run from strangers. They run from other voices. There are many voices that we hear today, voices claiming authority. Voices claiming to speak for God. Many sheep are led astray by these false shepherd, false christs, false teachers, and false prophets.

How do you recognize strangers, false shepherds, false teachers, and false prophets? They have common characteristics. We can use the mathematical terms “addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division” to see how they work.

4.1.     Addition

First, false shepherds add other sources of authority to the 66 books of the Bible. The Pharisees added many traditions to the Word of God and Jesus condemned them for it. False shepherds add other so-called inspired books to the Scripture. They may quote from the Bible, but they always add something to “fix” the Bible. They put their teachings on the same level with the Word of God. They say that the Bible cannot be understood without their books to explain it. Some false shepherds have even admitted that people would not be able to hold to their teachings if they only read the Bible.

Others say that their revelations recover many truths of the Bible. They say that their writings to be the authoritative key to understanding the Bible, that it cannot be understood alone. Curtis Crenshaw said correctly, “If anything is contrary to Scripture, it is wrong. If anything is the same as Scripture, it is not needed. If anything goes beyond Scripture, it has no authority.” The sheep of the good shepherd run from the voice of strangers. They will not follow those who add to the Bible.

4.2.     Subtraction

False teachers subtract from the deity of the persons of the Trinity. They may say that God was once just like us before evolving and becoming God. Or that we can become gods, or that there are actually many gods. Or they may say that Jesus was the first of all creation, that he was an archangel, denying that he is God. If Christ is not God, he cannot save us from God. Some deny the full deity of the Holy Spirit but the sheep of the good shepherd will run from these false shepherds because they know that their voice is not the voice of the good shepherd.

4.3.     Multiplication

False shepherds multiply works that are necessary for salvation. They say that what Jesus did on the cross is not enough to save us. They say that we must earn our salvation by paying for our sins now, by following certain formulas, or by our own diligent efforts. But the sheep that belong to the good shepherd, know that the good shepherd laid down his life for the sheep and that when he did so, he declared, “It is finished!” (John 19:30).

4.4.     Division

False shepherds divide the Body of Christ by claiming to be the only true church. Since they add new revelation, subtract from the deity of one or more members of the Godhead, and multiply works that are necessary for salvation, they say that you must follow them since they are the only group that understands these things! They teach that salvation is found in their organization, not in Christ. But salvation is not accomplished by the church; it is accomplished by Christ. The church is simply the people of God, those who have been saved by Christ and function as his Body in the world. There are many different churches and denominations that faithfully proclaim the Bible and nothing but the Bible as the Word of God.

5.      THE VOICE OF THE GOOD SHEPHERD

Have you heard the voice of the good shepherd? The blind man heard his voice, worshipped Jesus, and followed him. He came out of Judaism. No religion can save you. No church can save you. Only the good shepherd who gives his life for his sheep. If you are following a false shepherd, the good shepherd is calling you to come out if you will but hear his voice. Have your heard the voice of the good shepherd calling you out?

See also “Gospel of John”: