Friday, March 23, 2012

The Shepherd and the Gate Are One

We are continuing on the Gospel of John, following the anecdote where Jesus had healed a blind man by rubbing mud, made from Jesus' spit, on the blind man's eyes on a Sabbath day. Eventually, when the man was brought before the local Pharisees, the Pharisees launched an investigation into the matter, but eventually ended up throwing the ex-blind man out of their synagogue after he had mocked them. Jesus later met up with the ex-blind man, who then worshiped Jesus.

The Shepherd and the Gate Are One
Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so, but does God the Father love Jesus? Yes, of course, and the Bible tells us that also. Do you know what else? The Bible tells us why God, the Father, loves Jesus, and that is pretty special. We will see the reason for His love, and some other "special" reasoning, as we cover another passage of John.

We will start at the end of a chapter, John 9:39-41. Immediately after a formerly blind man started worshiping Jesus, Jesus spoke. Where Jesus was and to whom He was speaking is unknown, but we do know that He was speaking about some metaphorically blind Pharisees, among others, when according to John 9:39:
Jesus said, "For judgment I have come into this world, so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind." NIV
With this statement, you can see Jesus' purpose. He was coming with both Salvation and condemnation simultaneously. He was to make those who think that they already know God (those who think that they "see") "blind," thereby binding them in their sins. At the same time, He was to help the "blind," which, by implicit contrast, were those people who did not think that they knew God. As the chapter concludes, Jesus condemns the Pharisees because they claim that they see the truth. This is an important concept, because, contrary to what some Christians believe, Jesus did not want to save everyone.

The next chapter seems to continue this same discourse up to John 10:19-21, ending with the Jews having mixed opinions about Jesus after hearing Him speak. Some Jews cite, as a defense for Him, that He obviously cannot be demon-possessed because He has made blind men see (as in literal blindness, and literal seeing, unlike metaphorical John 9:39 mentioned above; a reference to Jesus healing the blind man in the previous chapter).

In between the above mentioned "book ends" is a series of metaphorical allegories. These type of allegories are the closest things that you will find in the Gospel of John to the parables you see in the Synoptic Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke. Unlike in the Synoptic Gospels, where Jesus used parables to prevent people from understanding, in John, Jesus used allegories to help explain things to whom He was speaking. So let us take a look at what He was trying to say.

John 10:1-6 sets the stage. Jesus told them that a shepherd will go into the sheep pen by the gate, but thieves jump the fence instead. The watchman opens the gate for the shepherd. The sheep will only be led out by their shepherd because they only recognize the shepherd's voice. Got it? Good, because hereafter Jesus explained what He meant by this.

In John 10:7-10, we discover that Jesus is the gate for the sheep, and whoever enters through that gate will be Saved, coming in and going out to the pasture of abundant life. Everyone who came before Jesus was a thief, bent on destruction, but Jesus' sheep did not listen to them.

Let us reflect on this explanation. When we refer to entering a gate, we imply entering some enclosure of property. So the sheep in the pen have presumably already entered the gate, and, in turn, are already saved. This is the doctrine of predestined Salvation, the Elect. There is no clarification of the watchman who opens the gate, either here or later. At best, we could assume that this was supposed to be John the Baptist. Yet we have that enigmatic statement, that "[a]ll who ever came before" Jesus were thieves. John the Baptist started his ministry prior to Jesus, so was he a thief? Even if we do not include John the Baptist, what about all of the prophets; Isaiah, Jeremiah, Daniel, etc.? That does not add up either, so by "all" it seems that Jesus meant some. That "some" possibly referred to the other false Messiahs which had sprung up in those times, and perhaps even extended to pagan oracles.

That brings us to another important point to touch on: One of the defenses sometimes used by Christians is that it is unlikely that Jesus and/or the Disciples would have created a false religious movement because of the great personal risk involved. Yet there were other false Messiahs who did just that, both before and after Jesus.

Anyway, Jesus continued His explanation in John 10:11-13, where He said that He was the "Good Shepherd" who lays down His life for the sheep, unlike a hired hand who would abandon the sheep when a wolf attacked, scattering the flock. Yet this is an odd distortion of what a good shepherd does. A good shepherd is one who protects the flock (ideally by killing off wolves who threaten the sheep to help prevent future threats), not one who lays down his life. We would not expect a shepherd to go to the wolf and say "hey, wolfy, eat me instead of the sheep." A dead shepherd is worth nothing to the flock. Contrast that with a shepherd who instead constantly and perfectly protects his sheep. Which of these two shepherds would really be "good?" Which type of shepherd is Jesus?

Jesus built on that same theme as He continued in John 10:14-18: He repeated that He was the Good Shepherd and that His sheep know Him, just like He knows God, the Father. He also said that there were other sheep not of this pen (implicitly the Gentile "sheep") who Jesus would gather and unite with these sheep into one common flock. Also, God, the Father, loved Jesus because He would lay down His life, and then take it up again, which Jesus would do under His own authority.

Wait, why does God love Jesus? Let us look at the actual words in John 10:17-18
"The reason My Father loves Me is that I lay down My life—only to take it up again. No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down of My own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from My Father." NIV
God loves Jesus because He will do what He is told to do, voluntarily. But how could Jesus do anything other than the will of God if He is part of God? This is akin to you loving your toes, because they always wiggle when you want them to wiggle, for Jesus had no real choice or desire to do other than what God commanded. Furthermore, God is commanding Jesus to do and undo that which Jesus Himself can both do and undo, which makes it not particularly special. It is like if someone had commanded you to give all of your money to Fred, with full knowledge that you could take your money back from Fred at any time.

Summing all of this up: Jesus leads people to or keeps people from Salvation in the roles of both gate and shepherd. Those who are saved were destined to be saved, and they know His voice. God loves Jesus because He does what He is told, even though He really does not have a choice. Well isn't that special?


  1. Hey TWF,
    You said:

    "contrary to what some Christians believe, Jesus did not want to save everyone."

    I think Christians who believe Jesus wanted to save everyone, comes in at least two flavors:

    (1) Universalists: They believe that his sacrificed DID save everyone, whether they wanted to be saved or not. Sort of like the Mormons are trying to do with holocaust Jews.

    (2) Jesus-is-Sweet-ists: The ones you are alluding too. Jesus offers salvation to all -- for it is our choice.

    But it seems this passage sounds like it supports some version sympathetic to Calvinism where God/his-boy decides who gets saved.

    But for me, I don't think the writers of the gospels were trying to write careful theology, nor to be historians. You just caught them in their sloppiness -- they might of had a laugh with you and fixed it, had you been there sharing mead with them.

    Concerning "the shepherd laying down his life" -- that made me smile. Indeed, a good shepherd would sacrifice a few sheep to save the rest of the sheep and likewise save his own ass. So it looks like the Calvinists are right again.

    Finally, the image of a free-acting robot was enjoyable.

  2. @Sabio
    Regarding the Universalists and Sweet-Jesus-ists, I would add another flavor held more by the laity than the heads of denominations. With John 3:16, God loving the world so much yada yada yada, there is a generalized perception of Jesus wanting to save everybody. Or, at least, that Salvation was equally available to all, but clearly, if you can believe John, it is not.

    But, yes, the Calvinism is strong in this one. It is clear that Calvin was not trying to just start a cult based off of a twisted meaning of a verse here or there, but that he instead had a very good foundation for his beliefs.

    And, alas, I think the author of John may have had a laugh or two over some mead. I would have to agree that he was not trying to write a careful theology, or, if he was, he was woefully unskilled. No, it seems more that he wanted to get the meaning out a little too anxiously for his proofreading (if any) to catch. :-)