Jesus is the gate: Don’t go around him!

by K.W. Leslie, 28 October

John 10.1-10.

Right after Jesus cured a blind guy on Sabbath, for which the guy’s synagogue threw him out, Jesus commented some folks only think they can see, but they’re blind as well. Then he segued straight into talking about sheep. Like so.

John 9.40 – 10.10 KWL
40 Some of the Pharisees were listening to these things, and told Jesus, “We aren’t blind too.”
41 Jesus told them, “If you were blind, you wouldn’t have any sin.
You now say ‘We do so see’—and your sin remains.
1 Amen amen! I promise you one who won’t enter through the sheepfold gate,
but gets in some other way: This person is a thief, a looter.
2 One who enters through the gate is the sheep’s pastor.
3 The gatekeeper opens up for this pastor, and the sheep hears the pastor’s voice.
The pastor calls their own sheep, and leads them out.
4 Whenever the pastor drives out their own sheep, they go on ahead of the pastor,
and their pastor follows, for they know their pastor’s voice.
5 The sheep will never follow a stranger, but will flee from them:
They don’t know the stranger’s voice.”

Sounds like a non-sequitur: He goes from blindness to sheep? But the connection between the situation with the former blind man, and pastors properly leading their sheep out the gate, is that blind or not we oughta be able to hear. The sheep don’t need to identify their pastor by sight; they can hear. Strangers don’t sound right.

And yeah, Jesus is the good pastor. (Or “good shepherd,” as Christians like to call him.) Although we actually haven’t got to that analogy yet. We do in the next verses, and I’ll write about ’em later. Be patient.

In the meanwhile Jesus isn’t yet saying he’s the good pastor. In this bit he’s the gate.

John 10.6-10 KWL
6 Jesus gave them this analogy. That audience didn’t know what he was talking about,
7 so Jesus told them again, “Amen amen! I promise you I’m the sheep’s gate.
8 Anybody who goes around me is a thief and looter. But the sheep won’t hear them.
9 I’m the gate. When one enters through me they’ll be saved,
and they’ll enter, exit, and find pasture.
10 A thief won’t come unless it’s to steal, murder, and ruin;
I come so the sheep might have life, might have abundance.”

It’s not about nullifying the Old Testament.

Too often I’ve heard preachers use this passage to claim Jesus did away with the Old Testament. It’s because they’re quoting the King James Version, then mangling the interpretation.

John 10.8 KJV
All that ever came before me are thieves and robbers: but the sheep did not hear them.

Current translations also render πρὸ ἐμοῦ/pro emú as “before me”:

John 10.8 ESV
“All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them.”

But we gotta translate words based on their context, not based on “Well usually it means ‘before me,’ so let’s go with what it usually means.” No; the context is thieves and robbers, who won’t usually go through the secure, well-watched gate of a sheepfold, but some other way. Over the fence, under it, or through a break in it. Pro can also mean “over,” but I figure “around” covers all the bases.

So certain “New Testament Christians” as they call themselves, who imagine Jesus superseding the Old Testament means he abolished it, interpret “all that ever came before me” to refer to the Old Testament’s prophets. These guys, they claim, taught God wrong, incompletely, or inadequately. Whereas Jesus explains him fully and properly, so we don’t need to read the Prophets anymore. All so they can claim—contrary to what Jesus himself stated—Jesus did away with the Law, and we needn’t obey the LORD’s old instructions any longer.

Others claim “all that ever came before me” is limited only to those who recently came before Jesus: The Samaritans, Pharisees, Sadducees, Qumranis, Essenes, and other sects which cropped up in the previous five centuries after the Old Testament was written. That’s why they’re not in the bible: They’re wrong. Jesus is right. And how we know those sects are wrong, is ’cause they weren’t above using theft, murder, and ruin to achieve their goals.

Thing is, Jesus has been around since the beginning, Jn 1.1-2 remember? He didn’t become the gate in the first century; he’s always been the gate. There was never a time he wasn’t the gate. So how can anyone possibly enter the sheepfold before him? It’s not logically consistent with what this very book taught us about Jesus.

So “before me” is a mistranslation. “Around me” gives the idea in a better way: People are trying to get around the gate. They don’t want to get at Jesus’s people through Jesus: They’re sneaking in, hoping to plunder the flock instead of care for it. Or join it illegitimately, but their inconsistent allegiance and lifestyle ruins us from within.

It’s about bad Christians, corrupt Christian leaders, false teachers and prophets, and other spoilers of Jesus’s church—today, not in antiquity. There are a lot of people trying to jump the fence, so watch out for them. There are plenty of us imagining there are circumstances where Jesus doesn’t need to be involved in our decision-making, our economic choices, our political views; anything we consider “secular” instead of sacred. Whether we mean frauds or friends who try to do any form of end-run around Jesus: They’ll led us astray.

If they can. See, Jesus’s teaching is pretty confident his true followers are gonna do pretty well against such people. Notice he says these thieves and predators don’t lead astray his flock. ’Cause we knows our pastor’s voice. Strangers might hop the fence, but we won’t follow them; we won’t listen to them; we know better. The LORD is our pastor, Ps 23.1 and we aren’t gonna fall for any fake god or illegitimate pastor who tries to scam us.

The devil likes to play God. So lots of Christians like to use Jesus’s “steal, murder, and ruin” line Jn 10.10 to describe Satan—even though Jesus doesn’t particularly identify this sheepfold invader as Satan. Any fake might steal, murder, and ruin. But solid Christians, Jesus’s true flock, know the difference between fakes and God.

Now, here’s the challenge: Are we striving so hard to follow Jesus, we know the difference between God’s voice and frauds?

I admit I’m not quite so infallible. I’ve paid attention to teachers whom I later discovered don’t know what they’re doing or saying ’cause their relationships with Jesus were rubbish. If my own relationship with Jesus were worse, I’d easily fall for any fake god, fake Messiah, antichrist, heretic, or pagan who tried to teach me something I found interesting. Humans are too easily swayed by appealing new ideas.

(Even when we claim we’re totally not—’cause look at all the “liberal ideas” we oppose! But liberal does not mean new. Theological liberalism has always been around, and most of its ideas date back to antiquity. Plus, theological conservatives are plenty open to any new conservative-sounding ideas… which may sound like they’re defending the faith, but in reality are undermining it by getting us to prioritize fundamentals over good fruit, loving our neighbors, and even Jesus himself.)

So we might have abundance.

Ζωὴν ἔχωσιν καὶ περισσὸν ἔχωσιν/zoín ékhosin ke perissón ékhosin, “[they] might have life, and [they] might have abundance” is often translated “might have [it] more abundantly.” Jn 10.10 KJV Of course the KJV added the word “it,” because its translators assumed Jesus meant abundant life, but Jesus didn’t limit what he meant. Abundance can refer to any and every good thing we currently have. Whatever you think Jesus grants us, as wonderful as it might be, he actually has much more and much greater in mind.

Abundant life tends to be equated with eternal life—as if Jesus only offers us quantity, not necessarily quality. Abundance likewise implies more stuff, as if Jesus offers us nothing more than a bigger pile of possessions. But you should know better than to imagine Jesus is trying to promote Christian materialism. There’s more than enough Mammonism mixed up with Christianity as it is.

What do you imagine Jesus offers you? Well our imagination is flawed and limited—and a little twisted sometimes. Some Christians imagine heaven is gonna consist of some pretty carnal delights. (Or, if they know better, they grudgingly allow heaven might have better things than they currently enjoy… but worry it really won’t. Hence all those horny teenage Christians begging Jesus to not return yet, ’cause they wanna experience sex first.) Really, we can’t imagine the great things God has in store for us, 1Co 2.9 the real depth of his riches. Even “abundance” is too limited to describe it.

But life and abundance is what Jesus came to offer us. Tell everyone!

Christ Almighty!