“Other Sheep” Not of “This Sheepfold” (Pen)
Who are these “other” sheep?
Psalm 23; John 10:1-18; Revelation 12:1-4
Target Truth Ministries.com Pastor Gerry Crossroads Church, Box 1533, Ukiah, Ca. 95482 707-467-8400
There are many references in God’s Word to sheep, especially lost sheep. In the ancient world, and still in some parts of the world today, a public sheepfold (pen) is used at night, after the sheep have grazed all day. The sheepfold could be formed by rock walls, natural dirt levees, fencing, or any combination of these, to hold the sheep in. In the evening, all the shepherds who live in that town would bring their sheep to the public sheepfold, and turn them in for the night. They would entrust them to the porter, or watchman, who operated the sheepfold. The shepherd would leave the sheep in the sheepfold, and the sheep remained in the pen, behind the porter. There is not a door, as we envision a door today. The porter would block the entrance, protecting the sheep from robbers or strangers. The porter became the door. The porter would even lie across the opening of the sheepfold so the sheep could not get out, and robbers could not get in. Then, the shepherds would go home for the night. The next morning, the shepherds would return, and call their sheep out. Calling the sheep out sounds simple, but we need to recognize that all the sheep, from all the shepherds, are all mixed together for the night in the sheepfold. The sheep were not branded. So, the only way the shepherd was able to retrieve his own sheep, was because they recognized his voice. The shepherd would actually call them by name.
We discover as we read the Bible that Jesus fulfills the three virtues of a shepherd:
- First of all, Jesus is the Good Shepherd, and Jesus describes the role of the good shepherd in John 10: 11-15, part of our text today. The good shepherd won’t abandon his sheep. He will protect them.
- Second, Jesus is the Great Shepherd (written of in Heb. 13:20), who sacrificed Himself for His sheep. Jesus shed His own blood for His sheep.
- Thirdly, Jesus is the Chief Shepherd (written of in 1 Peter 5:4), who will return to call home all His sheep in the end-times — yet to come.
In Matthew 18:12-14, Jesus tells the parable of the lost sheep. How the good shepherd will leave the ninety-nine, and go after the one which is lost (Jesus did leave the host of heaven in order to redeem the lost on earth – Philippians 2:5-8; John 1:1-18).
In Psalm 23, we read the Lord is our Shepherd. Even though we may be in the valley of death, the Lord will provide for those who trust in Him for all eternity. We can trust Christ with our life.
In Ezekiel 34, we read the prophecy of the Good Shepherd coming from the line of David, which was fulfilled by Jesus. Ezekiel tells us that God gave the lost sheep shepherds (priests), but Israel still remained lost. Ezekiel said that in the future, the Good Shepherd (the Messiah), will come from the line of David to restore and reconcile them. Jesus fulfilled this prophecy.
In our text today (John 10:1-18), Jesus gives us another “parable.” Actually, the Greek word, here, is not the same word used in other places for “parable.” The word used here is allegory (symbolic actions and figures of truths).
Verse 1 – “Verily, Verily” (truly, truly) – God is emphasizing the importance of this parable. Anyone who gets into the sheepfold, other than by way of the gate (doorway), does not belong, and will be dealt with—Matthew 22:11-14.
Verse 2 – The shepherd enters in by the gate or doorway.
Verse 3-5 – Jesus tells the disciples that His sheep from “this sheepfold,” or “pen,” follow Him, and will not follow the robber. The sheepfold is safe and protected (like heaven—safe with God), and outside the sheepfold, it is dangerous without the shepherd (like earth—Satan’s domain—dangerous without God). This sounds very straight forward, BUT…..
In verse 6, we read that, for some reason, the disciples didn’t understand. Why didn’t the disciples understand this seemingly simple parable, or allegory? Many people, today, would say that the sheep spoken of by Jesus (here in verses 1-5), refer symbolically to Israel. And, at first glance, this would seem to be a reasonable interpretation. However, just a couple of chapters earlier, we read in John 6:66, that many of Jesus’ followers left Him. Israel, as a nation, was not following God, and Israel was not following Jesus, the Messiah, as God in the flesh. They wanted Jesus’ miracles, but they wouldn’t trust in Him as their Messiah—their Savior. After many disciples left Jesus, the remaining disciples were questioned by Jesus in John 6:67, as to whether they wanted to leave also. We read in John 6:68-69, that Peter replies to Jesus, that Jesus is God. In other words, there are a few, a very few, who are led by God to understand, and trust, and to repent (change), and not remain lost. Peter is one of these. Peter was lost and had been found.
What is so confusing to the disciples, is that no one seems to qualify as the sheep described by Jesus (in verses 1-5), as the sheep of “this sheepfold,” or “pen.” This is because we are all sinners (even the disciples), and until God led them to follow, they, like everyone else, did not hear His voice (John 6:29, 37-44, 65, 15:16). Israel won’t trust in Jesus for their life (as good sheep would if they truly belonged to the Good Shepherd). Israel doesn’t follow Jesus. So, if only a very few are changed, and beginning to follow Jesus, and even these were also once lost, just what does Jesus mean in this parable that His sheep, from “this sheepfold,” always follow Him? This flock never departs. The image being presented by Jesus is of a great flock that is true to God, always. The disciples were confused.
Verses 7-10 – Verily, Verily (truly, truly) – Again Jesus is emphasizing the importance of this parable. Here, Jesus says that He is the gate, or door, of the sheepfold. Back in Verses 1-5, Jesus is seen as the shepherd, leading His sheep into the sheepfold. Jesus, in this parable, is both the shepherd and the gate (the way—John 14:6, John 10:7, 9, 11, 14). Here in verses 7-10, we read Jesus explanation. He basically restates the parable, and says that those who follow the shepherd are safe, and they won’t listen to the robber. Again, the image of “sheep” is a great flock who continually trust in the shepherd. But, Israel doesn’t seem to qualify, because Israel doesn’t trust in Jesus. So, Israel cannot be “this sheepfold.” Even the disciples, who also were lost, and didn’t follow God, cannot be part of “this sheepfold.” “This sheepfold” of verses 1-5, never turns away from God, and never listens to the robber.
In verses 11-18, Jesus then does a follow up (perhaps the disciples still had a confused look on their faces). In this follow up, however, Jesus introduces something new—“other sheep.” The key verse is verse 16.
Jesus gives us an interesting insight in verse 16:
- – He has “other sheep.”
- – These “other sheep” are not part of “this sheepfold,” the fold of verses 1-5 (although in the future they will be combined together).
- – In the future, these “other sheep” will hear His voice, and join with the fold who follow Him already (those sheep who never left God—the sheep who never followed the robber—the sheep of “this sheepfold” of verses 1-5).
Here, Jesus says that He will lay down His own life for the sheep, unlike some priests who flee trouble. And, again, Jesus says, His sheep know His voice.
Now, as stated earlier, some have tried to interpret just who these two groups of sheep are, the “this sheepfold” group, and these “other sheep.” “This sheepfold” is interpreted by many as Israel, and the “other sheep,” as a reference to the Gentiles (other nations – the “other” sheep). However, Israel, as even the disciples recognized, failed the test of “this sheepfold,” because even the disciples, without God’s leading, did not recognize His voice, just as Israel doesn’t recognize Him, and they don’t follow Him. So, Israel cannot be “this sheepfold.” You will recall that in Luke 19:41-44, that Jesus wept because Israel did not recognize Him. Also, in John 6:66, and again in John 12:37, we read that those of Israel, who were following Jesus because of His miracles, would not trust in Him, and eventually they quit following Him. The disciples were lost like everyone else, and were not part of “this sheepfold” described by Jesus in verses 1-5. Even in the prophecy of Ezekiel 34, where the Good Shepherd from the line of David will come to gather the lost sheep, it doesn’t refer to a “fold who follow and hear the shepherd.” Rather, the Good Shepherd will come to gather the lost sheep, all those who do not trust in Christ. Those who are separated from God. Those who don’t have a relationship with God (Eph. 2:1-5). This includes Israel, and the Gentiles, and the disciples. All those who need to be redeemed and reconciled (meaning, of course, all of humanity)—we are all lost, both Israel and all the Gentile nations (Rom. 3:10-12, 23). Even the disciples were lost.
So, the reference to “this sheepfold” must refer to some other group of followers who fully trust God already. They know His voice. They follow Him. They never depart from Him. They never listen to the robber.
Also, Jesus in verse 16 tells us that those He calls “other sheep,” will follow Him in the future sometime. They will (future) hear and follow, someday. In other words, the lost will be redeemed and reconciled (future), after Jesus pays for our debt of sin on the cross, and after He is raised from death. Once the price has been paid, then the lost who trust in Christ can be redeemed, and reconciled to God.
Obviously, the reference to “other sheep,” the lost sheep, then refers to all the lost (all of us born human). We are all sinners…all lost. Both the nation of Israel and all the other nations as well (the Gentiles). All the lost need redemption and reconciliation, which is every person ever born (even the disciples), because we all are sinners (Rom 3:23), and we all enter this life already condemned to death and hell (John 3:18).
Now we can understand why the disciples (in verse 6), didn’t understand this seemingly simple parable. They understood from both Jesus’ teaching, and from the Old Testament, that we are all sinners (Rom. 3:10-12, 23), all condemned at birth to death and hell (Rom. 6:23; John 3:17-18). All of us are incapable of desiring to seek God (Rom. 3:10-18), and therefore, none of us qualify as “good sheep” who listen only to God, and who follow only God, and who ignore other ways (Satan and this world’s ways). So, they questioned, who are these sheep who belong to what Jesus calls “this sheepfold?” “This sheepfold” must refer to the host of creation who remained true to God (in heaven), while others fell from God’s kingdom, and became lost–lost sheep. The only persons who the term “this sheepfold” can refer to are the host of creation, who stayed true to God. They hear His voice. They follow Him. They do not turn away from God (as Adam and Eve, and Satan, and one-third of the heavenly host did), and they do not follow the robber (Satan). Note that in Revelation 12:1-4, one-third of the host of heaven were deceived by Satan (they listened to the robber), and were cast out of heaven, to the earth. They are lost, while two-thirds remain true to God—remain in heaven.
This understanding agrees with what Jesus also says in verse 16 concerning these “other sheep.” Jesus explains in verse 16, that there is “another fold”—“other sheep” not of “this sheepfold.” The sheep of “this sheepfold,” in verse 1-5, are the sheep who stay true to God. The “other sheep” (verse 16), are those who do not hear the Good Shepherd—they do not hear God, just like all of us born into this world. We are born dead in a relationship with God (Eph. 2:1-5; Phil. 2:21), until that time when God leads us to recognize Him, by hearing His Word, the Bible, the Good News (Rom. 10:14-17), or by direct revelation, as God did with Abraham, Moses, and the disciples.
Jesus goes on to explain in verse 16, that in the future He will (future), call to the “others,” and many (not all), will join into “this sheepfold” of sheep already true to God (the host of His kingdom who remained true to Him, and remain with Him). In the future, many of the “lost” will join with “this sheepfold,” and they will become one flock. This calling is going on right now. Each person who hears the Gospel (the Good News), that Jesus paid for our sins, that He died on a cross for us, that He rose from the dead to show us His power over death (Acts 1:1-8; 1 Corin. 15:1-8), and that Jesus will forgive us our sins, if we will trust in Him (John 14:1-6). All of us who do trust, will enjoy a relationship in His kingdom, right now, as well as for all eternity (Rev. 20-22).
God’s Word tells us that God, the Father, gives the lost sheep to be saved to God, the Son, and these lost sheep will be recovered by Jesus, and never be lost again by the Good Shepherd (John 10:26-30).
The Great Shepherd (1 Peter 5:4), is going to return, and Jesus tells us in Matthew 25:31-46, that in the great judgment to come, that He will separate the sheep (those who have always remained true, as well as those who were lost, but now recovered) from the goats (those who are eternally lost—those who do not love Jesus). This is a way of saying that those who do not trust in Christ will be separated out, exposed as goats (Ezek. 34:17). Those who do not trust in Christ, will not be recognized as sheep, but will be recognized as unsaved, and unredeemed host, described as goats. And, the goats will spend all eternity in hell, alone, separated, isolated, in the wilderness–just like the scapegoat on the Day of Atonement (Lev. 16:5-10).
The Good Shepherd continually calls out to His sheep (Matt. 11:15, 13:9, 13:43, etc.) “Those who have ears to hear, let them hear.” The Good Shepherd is calling the names of the lost sheep for whom He has sacrificed Himself (John 10:3). And, each and every day, some of the lost sheep are gathered in, and reconciled to God. God may be calling your name right now. Let’s read Psalm 23.
If you have any questions or comments about this, or ANY other studies Pastor Gerry has done, we encourage you to contact Target Truth Ministries!