This passage is figurative. (John 10:6) There are 8 components of the extended metaphor in this section: The shepherd is the caretaker and owner of the sheep. The sheep (flock) are the animals that the shepherd loves and cares for. The thief is the one who tries to steal the sheep away from their rightful owner, the watchman is the one who opens the gate only for the shepherd, the hired hand watches the sheep, but lacks the dedication of the shepherd. The wolf is a predator that terrorizes kills and scatters the flock, and the sheep pen is the protective enclosure in which the flock is kept for safety during the night.
He begins in 1-6 with the thief; the thief enters the pen by any manner other than through the gate. He sneaks in by some form of subterfuge for the express purpose of stealing the sheep away from the flock. The man who enters by the gate is the shepherd, who is recognized by the watchman as the legitimate shepherd. In addition, he is also recognized by the sheep who love and trust him. He calls them by name (has a deep relationship with them) and they will follow him where ever he goes. They will not follow anyone who is not the shepherd, because they are strangers to the sheep; they only follow the shepherd.
Jesus begins to make His point beginning at verse 7. Jesus Himself is the gate; no one enters the flock except through Him. If they enter the pen through Jesus, they will be saved and have life to the full. The thief on the other hand, enters the pen by a means other than Jesus; his motive is to steal, kill and destroy: The sheep do not follow such a person.
Jesus is not only the gate, but He is the Good Shepherd. He is the “good” shepherd because when all others run away, He will lay down His life for the salvation of the sheep. His caring is so great for His sheep that He will die for them.
In this final section, vv. 14-18, Jesus sets out the theology of His coming sacrifice on the cross. He will willingly lay down His life for His flock. No one will take it from Him, for His act is voluntary. It is authorized and ordained by His Father in Heaven, for it will result in the redemption of all mankind. This act will not only seal the salvation of His sheep, but redeem mankind back to fellowship with God, something that has been absent from creation ever since Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden. This will also highlight the separation of those within the flock, and those without the flock; nothing will ever be the same again.
We find the reaction of the people in 10:19-21; the reaction of the crowd is typical. His opponents, unable to refute what He has said seek to marginalize Him with ridicule. Once again they claim He must be demon-possessed and ask “Why listen to him?” What else can they do if they insist on opposing Him? The others (v. 21) say exactly the words that their leaders fear, pointing out that Jesus is not saying things a demon-possessed person would say, and then dropping their trump card: “Can a demon open the eyes of the blind?” There is nothing that the opponents of Christ can say to that. These people who believe Jesus have had their eyes opened; now they can really see… and Jesus isn’t quite finished, as we will see next time.