THE ‘GOOD SHEPHERD’ AND HIS ‘ONE FLOCK’
LAST DISCOURSE AT THE FEAST OF TABERNACLES
The closing words which Jesus had spoken to those Pharisees who followed Him breathe the sadness of expected near judgment, rather than the hopefulness of expostulation. And the Discourse which followed, ere He once more left Jerusalem, is of the same character. It seems, as if Jesus could not part from the City in holy anger, but ever, and only, with tears. All the topics of the former Discourses are now resumed and applied. They are not in any way softened or modified, but uttered in accents of loving sadness rather than of reproving monition. This connection with the past proves, that the Discourse was spoken immediately after, and in connection with, the events recorded in the previous chapters. At the same time, the tone adopted by Christ prepares us for His Peræan Ministry, which may be described as that of the last and fullest outgoing of His most intense pity. This, in contrast to what was exhibited by the rulers of Israel, and which would so soon bring terrible judgment on them. For, if such things were done in ‘the green tree’ of Israel’s Messiah-King, what would the end be in the dry wood of Israel’s commonwealth and institutions?
It was in accordance with the character of the Discourse presently under consideration, that Jesus spake it, not, indeed, in Parables in the strict sense (for none such are recorded in the Fourth Gospel), but in an allegory 1 in the Parabolic form, 2 hiding the higher truths from those who, having eyes, had not seen, but revealing them to such whose eyes had been opened. If the scenes of the last few days had made anything plain, it was the utter unfitness of the teachers of Israel for their professed work of feeding the flock of God. The Rabbinists also called their spiritual leaders ‘feeders,’ Parnasin (Nysnrp) – a term by which the Targum renders some of the references to ‘the Shepherds’ in Ezek. 34 and Zech 11 v 3 The term comprised the two ideas of ‘leading’ and ‘feeding,’ which are separately insisted on in the Lord’s allegory. As we think of it, no better illustration, nor more apt, could be found for those to whom ‘the flock of God’ was entrusted. It needed not therefore that a sheepfold should have been in view, 4 to explain the form of Christ’s address. 5 It only required to recall the Old Testament language about the shepherding of God, and that of evil shepherds, to make the application to what had so lately happened. They were, surely, not shepherds, who had cast out the healed blind man, or who so judged of the Christ, and would cast out all His disciples. They had entered into God’s Sheepfold, but not by the door by which the owner, God, had brought His flock into the fold. To it the entrance had been His free love, His gracious provision, His thoughts of pardoning, His purpose of saving mercy. That was God’s Old Testament-door into His Sheepfold. Not by that door, as had so lately fully appeared, had Israel’s rulers come in. They had climbed up to their place in the fold some other way – with the same right, or by the same wrong, as a thief or a robber. They had wrongfully taken what did not belong to them – cunningly and undetected, like a thief; they had allotted it to themselves, and usurped it by violence, like a robber. What more accurate description could be given of the means by which the Pharisees and Sadducees had attained the rule over God’s flock, and claimed it for themselves? And what was true of them holds equally so of all, who, like them, enter by ‘some other way.’
How different He, Who comes in and leads us through God’s door of covenant-mercy and Gospel-promise – the door by which God had brought, and ever brings, His flock into His fold! This was the true Shepherd. The allegory must, of course, not be too closely pressed; but, as we remember how in the East the flocks are at night driven into a large fold, and charge of them is given to an under shepherd, we can understand how, when the shepherd comes in the morning, ‘the doorkeeper’ 6 or ‘guardian’ opens to him. In interpreting the allegory, stress must be laid not so much on any single phrase, be it the ‘porter,’ the ‘door,’ or the ‘opening,’ as on their combination. If the shepherd comes to the door, the porter hastens to open it to him from within, that he may obtain access to the flock; and when a true spiritual Shepherd comes to the true spiritual door, it is opened to him by the guardian from within, that is, he finds ready and immediate access. Equally pictorial is the progress of the allegory. Having thus gained access to His flock, it has not been to steal or rob, but the Shepherd knows and calls them, each by his name, and leads them out. We mark that in the expression: ‘when He has put forth all His own’ 7 – the word is a strong one. For they have to go each singly, and perhaps they are not willing to go out each by himself, or even to leave that fold, and so he ‘puts’ or thrusts them forth, and He does so to ‘all His own.’ Then the Eastern shepherd places himself at the head of his flock, and goes before them, guiding them, making sure of their following simply by his voice, which they know. So would His flock follow Christ, for they know His Voice, and in vain would strangers seek to lead them away, as the Pharisees had tried. It was not the known Voice of their own Shepherd, and they would only flee from it. 8
We can scarcely wonder, that they who heard it did not understand the allegory, for they were not of His flock and knew not His Voice. But His own knew it then, and would know it for ever. ‘Therefore,’ 9 both for the sake of the one and the other, He continued, now dividing for greater clearness the two leading ideas of His allegory, and applying each separately for better comfort. These two ideas were: entrance by the door, and the characteristics of the good Shepherd – thus affording a twofold test by which to recognise the true, and distinguish it from the false.
I. The door – Christ was the Door. 10 The entrance into God’s fold and to God’s flock was only through that, of which Christ was the reality. And it had ever been so. All the Old Testament institutions, prophecies, and promises, so far as they referred to access into God’s fold, meant Christ. And all those who went before Him, 11 pretending to be the door – whether Pharisees, Sadducees, or Nationalists – were only thieves and robbers: that was not the door into the Kingdom of God. And the sheep, God’s flock, did not hear them; for, although they might pretend to lead the flock, the voice was that of strangers. The transition now to another application of the allegorical idea of the ‘door’ was natural and almost necessary, though it appears somewhat abrupt. Even in this it is peculiarly Jewish. We must understand this transition as follows: I am the Door; those who professed otherwise to gain access to the fold have climbed in some other way. But if I am the only, I am also truly the Door. And, dropping the figure, if any man enters by Me, he shall be saved, securely go out and in (where the language is not to be closely pressed), in the sense of having liberty and finding pasture.
II. This forms also the transition to the second leading idea of the allegory: the True and Good Shepherd. Here we mark a fourfold progression of thought, which reminds us of the poetry of the Book of Psalms. There the thought expressed in one line or one couplet is carried forward and developed in the next, forming what are called the Psalms of Ascent (‘of Degrees’). And in the Discourse of Christ also the final thought of each couplet of verses is carried forward, or rather leads upward in the next. Thus we have here a Psalm of Degrees concerning the Good Shepherd and His Flock, and, at the same time, a New Testament version of Psalm xxiii. Accordingly its analysis might be formulated as follows: –
‘Life,’ nay, that they may have it, I ‘lay down’ 15 Mine: so does it appear that ‘I am the Good 16 Shepherd.’ 17
Truly He is – is seen to be – ‘the fair Shepherder,’ 19 Whose are the sheep, and as such, ‘I know Mine, and Mine know Me, even as the Father knoweth Me, and I know the Father. And I lay down My Life for the sheep.’
And thus is the great goal of the Old Testament reached, and ‘the good tidings of great joy’ which issue from Israel ‘are unto all people.’ The Kingdom of David, which is the Kingdom of God, is set up upon earth, and opened to all believers. We cannot help noticing – though it almost seems to detract from it – how different from the Jewish ideas of it is this Kingdom with its Shepherd-King, Who knows and Who lays down His Life for the sheep, and Who leads the Gentiles not to subjection nor to inferiority, but to equality of faith and privileges, taking the Jews out of their special fold and leading up the Gentiles, and so making of both ‘one flock.’ Whence did Jesus of Nazareth obtain these thoughts and views, towering so far aloft of all around?
But, on the other hand, they are utterly un-Gentile also – if by the term ‘Gentile’ we mean the ‘Gentile Churches,’ in antagonism to the Jewish Christians, as a certain school of critics would represent them, which traces the origin of this Gospel to this separation. A Gospel written in that spirit would never have spoken on this wise of the mutual relation of Jews and Gentiles towards Christ and in the Church. The sublime words of Jesus are only compatible with one supposition: that He was indeed the Christ of God. Nay, although men have studied or cavilled at these words for eighteen and a half centuries, they have not yet reached unto this: ‘They shall become one flock, one Shepherd.’
His Death, His Resurrection, let no one imagine that it comes from without! It is His own act. He has ‘power’ in regard to both, and both are His own, voluntary, Sovereign, and Divine acts.
And this, all this, in order to be the Shepherd-Saviour – to die, and rise for His Sheep, and thus to gather them all, Jews and Gentiles, into one flock, and to be their Shepherd. This, neither more nor less, was the Mission which God had given Him; this, ‘the commandment’ which He had received of His Father – that which God had given Him to do. 22
It was a noble close of the series of those Discourses in the Temple, which had it for their object to show, that He was truly sent of God.
And, in a measure, they attained that object. To some, indeed, it all seemed unintelligible, incoherent, madness; and they fell back on the favourite explanation of all this strange drama – He hath a demon! But others there were – let us hope, many, not yet His disciples – to whose hearts these words went straight. And how could they resist the impression? ‘These utterances are not of a demonised’ – and, then, it came back to them: ‘Can a demon open the eyes of the blind?’
And so, once again, the Light of His Words and His Person fell upon His Works, and, as ever, revealed their character, and made them clear.
Note. – It seems right here, in a kind of ‘Postscript-Note,’ to call attention to what could not have been inserted in the text without breaking up its unity, and yet seems too important to be relegated to an ordinary foot-note. In Yoma 66 b, lines 18 to 24 from top, we have a series of questions addressed to Rabbi Eliezer ben Hyrcanos, designed – as it seems to me – to test his views about Jesus and his relation to the new doctrine. Rabbi Eliezer, one of the greatest Rabbis, was the brother-in-law of Gamaliel II., the son of that Gamaliel at whose feet Paul sat. He may, therefore, have been acquainted with the Apostle. And we have indubitable evidence that he had intercourse with Jewish Christians, and took pleasure in their teaching; and, further, that he was accused of favouring Christianity. Under these circumstances, the series of covered, enigmatic questions, reported as addressed to him, gains a new interest. I can only repeat, that I regard them as referring to the Person and the Words of Christ. One of these questions is to this effect: ‘Is it [right, proper, duty] for the Shepherd to save a lamb from the lion?’ To this the Rabbi gives (as always in this series of questions) an evasive answer, as follows: ‘You have only asked me about the lamb.’ On this the following question is next put, I presume by way of forcing an express reply: ‘Is it [right, proper, duty] to save the Shepherd from the lion?’ and to this the Rabbi once more evasively replies: ‘You have only asked me about the Shepherd.’ Thus, as the words of Christ to which covert reference is made have only meaning when the two ideas of the Sheep and the Shepherd are combined, the Rabbi, by dividing them, cleverly evaded giving an answer to his questioners. But these inferences come to us, all of deepest importance: 1. I regard the questions above quoted as containing a distinct reference to the words of Christ in John 10 v 11. Indeed, the whole string of questions, of which the above form part, refers to Christ and His Words. It casts a peculiar light, not only upon the personal history of this great Rabbi, the brother-in-law of the Patriarch Gamaliel II., but a side-light also, on the history of Nicodemus. Of course, such evasive answers are utterly unworthy of a disciple of Christ, and quite incompatible with the boldness of confession which must characterise them. But the question arises – now often seriously discussed by Jewish writers: how far many Rabbis and laymen may have gone in their belief of Christ, and yet – at least in too many instances – fallen short of discipleship; and, lastly, as to the relation between the early Church and the Jews, on which not a few things of deep interest have to be said, though it may not be on the present occasion. 3. Critically also, the quotation is of the deepest importance. For, does it not furnish a reference – and that on the lips of Jews – to the Fourth Gospel, and that from the close of the first century? There is here something which the opponents of its genuineness and authenticity will have to meet and answer.
Another series of similar allegorical questions in connection with R. Joshua b. Chananyah is recorded in Bekhor. 8 a and b, but answered by the Rabbi in an anti-Christian sense. See Mandelstamm, Talmud. Stud. i. But Mandelstamm goes too far in his view of the purely allegorical meaning, especially of the introductory part.