We have all heard this scripture, but who do you think is the thief?
Most reading this today would likely immediately say, "the devil " because it's been repeated over and over again by many ministers. However is this an accurate assessment based on the context? I do not believe so. I too used to say "the thief" was the devil, but as I started to read John 10 thoroughly, I had to come to the realization that I was wrong. I've even written a blog post using this verse, which I no longer agree with. I believe there is a lesson in the Parable of the Good Shepherd that Jesus was trying to share that has been lost because many have made "the thief" in this particular parable, the devil. I've seen many use this verse to promote theologies that are otherwise not supported in the bible, so I think it's important to step back and really take a look at this verse.
First let's refresh ours minds of what occurred before Jesus gave the parable.
In John 9, Jesus healed a man who was born blind. It caused quite an uproar because no one had ever been healed of a condition like this before. The Pharisees were not happy when they heard it was done by Jesus and they began to interrogate the man and his parents.
The man told the story of what happened to the Pharisees, but they did not want to listen. Then they called this man's parents in and they were so fearful of the Pharisees, that they essentially left their son to explain it yet again. God used this man who had been born blind to confront the Pharisees and to reveal their true hearts and spiritual condition. God used "a foolish thing to confound the wise". The Pharisees became angry and they kicked him out of the synagogue.
Jesus states in John 9:39-41:
“For judgment I came into this world, so that those who do not see may see, and that those who see may become blind.” Those of the Pharisees who were with Him heard these things and said to Him, “We are not blind too, are we?” Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would have no sin; but since you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains.It is in this exchange that Jesus exposed the Pharisees for what they really were; blind guides leading other blind people to their destruction. The Pharisees said they could see and were followers of the Law and Disciples of Moses. Yet they purposely denied Jesus as the Son of God. Jesus said, "Because you say you see, your sins will remain."
God is merciful to those who are in ignorance and do not know, but His wrath is upon those who purposely close up the way of salvation and abuse His sheep. Although Jesus opened the eyes of an actual blind man there was a spiritual element to what He was teaching. Jesus was clearly teaching about opening the eyes of the spiritually blind.
This is extremely important to remember as we head into the Parable of the Good Shepherd in John 10.
“Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter by the door into the fold of the sheep, but climbs up some other way, he is a thief and a robber."Here Jesus is saying you must enter through the door that leads into the fold. Later on we will see that Jesus is the door. However, the "fold" that Jesus is referring to here is the pasture that holds God's sheep. Therefore, if a person does not enter through the door (Jesus), but climbs up some other way, Jesus says he is a thief and a robber. These thieves and robbers are false teachers (the Pharisees) who were not sent by God. These false shepherds have entered into the pastures of His children, but were not granted access. They gained access unlawfully.
2 But he who enters by the door is a shepherd of the sheep. 3 To him the doorkeeper opens, and the sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.Here Jesus is using an analogy to assert His deity and is showing that He has been sent by God.
In these two verses we see that:
God the Son is the Shepherd.
God the Son is the door to the fold.
God the Father is the doorkeeper.
Jesus is saying that He has been sent by God to shepherd the sheep. The sheep (God's children) know the true shepherd's voice and He calls them by name and leads them! You can see the difference in descriptions here. God calls us by name, but thieves and robbers do not. They do not even use the door and instead gain access into the fold through unlawful means.
4 When he puts forth all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. 5 A stranger they simply will not follow, but will flee from him, because they do not know the voice of strangers.” 6 This figure of speech Jesus spoke to them, but they did not understand what those things were which He had been saying to them.Here Jesus is saying He brings all of His own into the fold. This is likely talking about God calling each of us by name to believe in Jesus for salvation.
Jesus (the Shepherd) has gone ahead of the sheep. He is our example. He shows us the way. The sheep will follow Him because they know His voice. A stranger's voice they will not follow, but instead they will run away because they do not know the voice of strangers. The strangers here are the thieves and robbers that Jesus spoke about in v. 1. They are the ones who have gained unlawful access to the fold. These are the Pharisees, false teachers and false shepherds.
Now Jesus begins to explain this verse in a more plain sense, so they could understand.
7 “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. 8 All who came before Me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not hear them.Jesus was stating here that He is the only way. He is the door (and the Shepherd). He is our salvation. He is telling the crowd you cannot follow any other person or way into the fold. He says, "Those who came before Me were thieves and robbers" These are the Pharisees and other Jewish leaders who killed all of God's prophets. The Pharisees and Jewish leaders were not sent by God and did not lead the sheep by God's authority. They climbed up some other way to deceive the sheep. v.1.
9 I am the door; if anyone enters through Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture. 10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.Here Jesus talks about what a person will find in Him. Jesus is the door to salvation. If a person enters through Jesus, he WILL be saved. Those who enter in through Jesus will go in and out of the fields and find pasture. In this pasture we find forgiveness of sins, love, rest and eternal life!
In verse 10, Jesus is using the idea of a thief to show the contrast between Him as the Good Shepherd and those who are false shepherds. If a person follows the thief, he will steal from the sheep, kill the sheep when it suits him and ultimately destroy the sheep. There is no salvation in the thief. There is no life.The false shepherds and teachers do not care about the sheep, but will actually send them to their destruction. Yet Jesus says,"If you follow Me, then you will have life abundantly." I believe Jesus is talking about eternal life here.
Having gone through all of this verse by verse, I no longer belief that verse 10 is talking about the devil as "the thief". We all know that the devil is our adversary, who prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour (1 Peter 5:8). I am in no way trying to make him look "good" because he is not. However we need to be true to the scriptures. This parable is not talking about the devil, but about false teachers, false shepherds and anyone else who keeps the means of salvation away from the people. It is talking about those who were not called by God, but pretended to be one of His shepherds.
In this particular scripture, Jesus was most definitely talking about the Pharisees, but it is something we should heed even today. There are thieves and robbers pretending to be shepherds who have not been called by God, but are in this for their own selfish ambitions.
As we continue on in the parable, I believe it's even more clear that the thief in v 10 is not the devil.
11 “I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep.Here Jesus is telling us that He is the good shepherd and He is foreshadowing the cross, but we can use this as an example of how we should treat the sheep that God gives each of us to care for. A good shepherd would lay his life down for his sheep. He takes care of them regardless of the cost to himself. Jesus leads by example and He shows us the heart of God for His sheep.
12 He who is a hired hand, and not a shepherd, who is not the owner of the sheep, sees the wolf coming, and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. 13 He flees because he is a hired hand and is not concerned about the sheep.Here Jesus is showing us the contrast. Hired hands are the thieves and robbers that were previously discussed. They only care about the sheep in so much for what the sheep can give them. They do not look to the sheep as their own and so would not lay their life down for them. They are in this for themselves and their own selfish ambitions whether it be money, fame or status.
Good news though. Jesus is not a hired hand! He is the Good Shepherd! God takes possession over us as His children and He is our Father. Jesus willingly surrendered His life for us!
We also see in v. 12, Jesus talks about a wolf coming to the sheep and the hired hands do not care. The wolf could be the devil, hunger, sickness and trials in life. When a hired hand sees the wolf come, they flee because they do not care about the sheep. They only cared about themselves and their own safety. They do not want caught up with the wolf because it is more than they had bargained for. They run and let the sheep to fend for themselves, but a sheep is no match for a wolf and the sheep are scattered! Sheep need a shepherd, but this hired hand was not it and it lead to their destruction. It is the hired hands (thieves) that lead the sheep into being slaughtered.
14 I am the good shepherd, and I know My own and My own know Me, 15 even as the Father knows Me and I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep.Once again, Jesus says, I am the Good Shepherd! He is contrasting Himself to the thieves, robbers and hired hands that came before Him. The hired hands do not care about the sheep, but He says, "I care about the sheep because I know you by name. I own you. You are mine!" Jesus the good shepherd does not flee when the wolf comes, but will lay down His own life willingly! He shows us the kind of service that we should all follow in. Hallelujah!
If we quickly look to Ezekiel 34:1-10, we see that what Jesus was talking about here was prophesied through Ezekiel about the false shepherds in Israel.
Then the word of the Lord came to me saying, 2 “Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel. Prophesy and say to those shepherds, ‘Thus says the Lord God, “Woe, shepherds of Israel who have been feeding themselves! Should not the shepherds feed the flock? 3 You eat the fat and clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the fat sheep without feeding the flock. 4 Those who are sickly you have not strengthened, the diseased you have not healed, the broken you have not bound up, the scattered you have not brought back, nor have you sought for the lost; but with force and with severity you have dominated them. 5 They were scattered for lack of a shepherd, and they became food for every beast of the field and were scattered. 6 My flock wandered through all the mountains and on every high hill; My flock was scattered over all the surface of the earth, and there was no one to search or seek for them.”’”
7 Therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the Lord: 8 “As I live,” declares the Lord God, “surely because My flock has become a prey, My flock has even become food for all the beasts of the field for lack of a shepherd, and My shepherds did not search for My flock, but rather the shepherds fed themselves and did not feed My flock; 9 therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the Lord: 10 ‘Thus says the Lord God, “Behold, I am against the shepherds, and I will demand My sheep from them and make them cease from feeding sheep. So the shepherds will not feed themselves anymore, but I will deliver My flock from their mouth, so that they will not be food for them.”’”God was not happy with the way the shepherds of Israel were treating His sheep. They slaughtered the sheep, took their wool and ate them for food, but did not care about them at all. This is exactly what Jesus was talking about in John 10 with the Parable of the Good Shepherd. This is one of those scriptures that actually shows that Jesus was the prophesied Messiah in the Old Testament.When Jesus was born of a woman and came into the world in flesh, God was taking His sheep back out of the mouths of the false shepherds in Israel. Jesus is the Good Shepherd as opposed to the shepherds of Israel who were thieves, robbers and hired hands.
I truly believe when this parable is read in its entirety and alongside Ezekiel 34, it becomes very clear that "the thief" discussed in v. 10 is not the devil. It is certainly talking about false shepherds and false teachers. If people want to debate that the Pharisees and false shepherds in Israel were doing the devil's work, then that is something as a Church we could certainly debate. However, I still think the point must be made that in this parable, Jesus really was talking about the Pharisees. It ties into what had just occurred in John 9 nicely as well.
I personally feel we should refrain from using this Scripture to create theologies that are otherwise not supported in the Word.
What do you think?