(Part 4 of a series – my thoughts on some of the unusual ways that Jesus describes Himself. I have not researched how theologians think about these passages, but their influence may appear implicitly nevertheless since I have attended church for years, heard a lot of preaching, and read a lot. If a citation is needed, I’m happy to insert it and will do so honestly if I am aware one is needed.)
So Jesus said again, “I assure you: I am the gate of the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep didn’t listen to them. I am the gate. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will come in and go out and find pasture.” John 10:7-9
A gate or door (or doorway) serves several purposes. One purpose is to mark the entrance to an establishment – the way in. Some buildings have entrances that are not easily identified, while other buildings have prominent entrances. The appearance and accessibility of the door is often interpreted as an indication of how welcoming the owner of the establishment is toward visitors. But all who enter a building go through a door.
A second purpose for a door is to prevent unwanted entrance. A door can be shut and locked to keep out intruders, or simply closed to keep out prying eyes or allow privacy. Finally, a door is used to retain – to keep in those who might mistakenly wander out. This use is primarily for small children or animals that might otherwise go out through the door and in doing so find themselves lost or in danger. Doors to prisons may keep in those who would otherwise desire to leave, but there is no indication in the context of this passage that this function is what Jesus had in mind. Verse 9 says “He will come in and go out, and find pasture,” which suggests that imprisonment is not implied.
This passage seems to indicate that Jesus Christ is the way into life – that being the spiritual living Jesus spoke of earlier. Verse 10 ends with “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” This is the way to salvation – eternal life. Verse 28 says “I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand.” In the same way that the door is the exclusive way into a building, Jesus is the exclusive way into everlasting life (Acts 4:12). And just as He said in 8:12 that He is the light of the world, a lit doorway in the darkness is inviting and welcoming in appearance. It is a beacon of safety to those who are lost among the dangers of the night. Whoever is lost can seek the illuminated door of Christ and be found again. The door that Christ serves as also serves as protection from Satan. Thieves and robbers come to steal and destroy, and Satan is the ultimate thief and robber. But once we have gone through the Door and into everlasting life, Satan can no longer destroy us. Christ says in 17:12 that “not one of [us] is lost” if we are guarded by Jesus. Let this be encouraging! While we still sin in this life, once Jesus has claimed us we cannot be lost again. By entering through the door, as a welcomed newcomer, we find there our new home in Christ.
There is an interesting miracle recorded in John that seems tied to this statement in a way. In John 5:2-9, Jesus meets a man “near the Sheep Gate” in Jerusalem, at a pool named Bethesda. This was a pool where an angel would stir up the waters, and the first person into the pool would be healed of their malady. The man Jesus met had been handicapped for nearly 40 years and had never been able to find his way into the pool without somebody else getting there first. Jesus cured the man then and there, without using the pool at all. It was not the pool that was needed, but faith in the God behind the cure. The man had faith, and Christ – the Gate to life – healed him.