We have often thought it might be interesting and instructive if we were to devote a short series of articles to some of the misunderstood and misinterpreted texts of the Bible. They are not few in number, nor are the mistakes made in their interpretation trivial in importance: there is nothing trivial in the Holy Scriptures, and it is always to our personal loss when we misapply them. Among those verses whose real meaning is often misunderstood is, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that entereth not by the door into the sheepfold, but climbeth up some other way, the same is a thief and a robber” (John 10:1). Those words have been strangely wrested both by pulpit and pew, and there seems a real need to prayerfully ascertain their significance, for they contain a warning which is a very timely one for these days.
The reference in John 10:1 is not to unregenerate souls creeping into the Church of God, still less to their obtaining an entrance to Heaven. It is well-nigh unthinkable that any commentator should take such a view, for “thieves and robbers” never invade the celestial Paradise (Matt. 6:20), nor does Christ lead His sheep out of the Church, as He does from this “fold” (John 10:3). It is not fictitious sheep but false shepherds our Lord is here depicting. It is not unregenerate souls attempting to steal salvation, but unregenerate preachers seeking to fleece the flock of Christ who are represented by these “thieves and robbers.” Sheep are quite incapable of “climbing up” high fences, but men who would prey upon them will stop at nothing in their determination to fatten at the expense of their victims.
Here, as everywhere, careful attention must be paid to the setting of our verse. John 10:1 forms part of a “parable” (v. 6) or proverb. It is manifestly a continuation of the previous chapter, and therefore the false teachers among the Jews (those who had cast out of the Temple the one whose sight Christ had restored—9:35) were primarily intended by the “thieves and robbers.” The priests and scribes demanded of Christ by what authority He acted, seeing that He had received no commission from them. Here He turns the tables upon them and insists that they had no Divine authority to officiate as the pastors of God’s people. In its wider application, the appellation, “thieves and robbers,” refers to all those who invade the pastoral office that are neither called nor equipped by God. “Verily, verily, I say unto you.” The “you,” then, are the Pharisees of 9:40. “He that entereth not in by the door into the sheepfold”—this “door” must not be confused with that of verse 9: here it is the door into the “sheepfold,” there it is the door of salvation. The “sheepfold” was Judaism, then degenerate; today it is Christendom, now apostate. The “door,” into it denoted the lawful means of entrance—a Divine call: being in contrast from “some other way” by which the thieves and robbers gained access. In styling the Pharisees “thieves and robbers,” Christ denounced them as false shepherds with no Divine commission, in sharp antithesis from Himself, who had (by His credentials) evidenced Himself to be the lawful and good Shepherd (John 10:2).
(Editor’s Note: This article was written by Arthur Pink and originally published at Eternal Life Ministries.)