What About Those Who Are Not His Sheep?
“The works that I do in My Father’s name, they bear witness of Me. But you do not believe, because you are not of My sheep, as I said to you. My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me” (Jn 10:25-27).
It’s good to understand the picture here. A large sheepfold had been built just outside the city gate. It was used by shepherds who had matters to attend to in the city. Their sheep would be kept in the fold with other shepherds’ sheep, where an attending watchman or porter kept guard. When business was finished, the shepherd was recognized first by the porter and given entrance, then by the shepherd’s sheep, who recognized his voice. These he “put forth” out of the large fold, and then led them up into the hills. There he would have a smaller fold where he became the door in the evening, keeping his flock safe until morning.
It has been noted that John 10:26 says, “But you do not believe, because you are not of My sheep.” It doesn’t say, “You are not my sheep because you don’t believe.” Thus, some conclude, Christ has chosen certain sheep to be His, and the others He does not choose. An interesting conclusion in light of the Shepherd’s own parable concerning one lost sheep out of 99 in the fold. Surely, if this was the explanation, He would have been satisfied with far less than 99! But, no, away He went to find that one lost sheep.
But none of the ransomed ever knew
How deep were the waters crossed;
Nor how dark was the night which the Lord passed through
Ere He found the sheep that was lost. (Elizabeth Clephane)
Could They Never Be His Sheep?
Israel were God’s sheep (see, for example, Ezek 34). When the Lord Jesus came to the sheepfold of Judaism, there were some who did not recognize His voice. They did not believe because they had no living relationship with God. But could they never be His sheep? The rest of the chapter shows how they can! “If I do not do the works of My Father, do not believe Me; but if I do, though you do not believe Me, believe the works, that you may know and believe that the Father is in Me, and I in Him” (vv 37-38). They were not the Father’s to be transferred to the Son, but if they would begin their journey by believing His works were of God, they could eventually “know and believe” and if they came to Him, He would not cast them out.
I recall Dr. David Gooding give an excellent illustration of the Savior’s tactic here. Imagine you are strolling along a country lane in England. You come upon a flock of sheep sharing the lane, nibbling on the grass along its edges. You try to approach and befriend the sheep, but sheep are skittish and shy away from you. After a moment’s consideration, you gather a large supply of lush, green English grass and place it between yourself and the sheep. They look at you, then at the grass, but don’t move any closer. You retreat a little. The grass looks tantalizing to the sheep. They don’t know you, but they know grass, so a few venture to the pile and begin to furtively munch on it. Little by little, you place handsful of grass on the path, leaving increasingly less room each time between you and the grass until you have them eating out of your hand.
Dr. Gooding then explained: the Lord understood how shocking it was for the Jews to be informed that the Man standing before them was God incarnate. Enough to make any self-respecting Jew bolt! But, explains the Lord, if you find Me unbelievable, what about My works? Do they “taste” like God? “Though you do not believe Me,” He implored, “believe the works…” Thus those who presently did not believe could believe, as the Savior said: “…you may know and believe that the Father is in Me, and I in Him”
The Savior Safer Than the Sheepfold
Thus, when He spoke to the sheep inside the fold of Judaism, some recognized His voice because they already knew His Father. These He put out of the fold of Judaism, and they were joined with other sheep who became one flock. Judaism, like a fold, had a circumference of stone-like laws to try to keep the sheep in, but this new arrangement had a Shepherd as it’s center, and the Shepherd made promise that He and His Father would cooperatively keep His sheep forever safe (see vv 27-30).
One last point of interest. You remember the man born blind in the previous chapter of John. When he acknowledged the direct link between God and the miracle-working Jesus, we read that the synagogue leaders “…said to him, ‘You were completely born in sins, and are you teaching us?’ And they cast him out” (9:34). The word for “cast out” is ekballo, the very same word used by the Lord in chapter 10:4. “When he brings out (ekballo, “puts forth,” KJV ) his own sheep…” You see, says the Lord, you didn’t put the man out of Judaism; I did!
And all through the mountains, thunder-riven,
And up from the rocky steep,
There arose a cry to the gate of heaven,
“Rejoice! I have found My sheep!” (Elizabeth Clephane)