Jesus—His Life and Message: The “I Am” Sayings

April 17, 2018

by Peter Amsterdam

The Door

In John chapter 10, Jesus made two “I Am” statements: Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep1 and I am the good shepherd.2 The first ten verses of the chapter contain the first I Am saying, which will be covered in this article.

The chapter begins with:

Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door but climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber.3

The Greek word translated as sheepfold means a walled enclosure, usually attached to a building and open to the sky, like a courtyard. Structures of this nature were used at that time for a variety of purposes. In this case, it would have been a pen or corral where a shepherd would keep his sheep overnight in order to protect them from the elements and from beasts of prey. The courtyard had one entryway with a door which, as we read later in the passage, was guarded by a gatekeeper. The sheep would be safe and protected from predators such as wolves within this enclosure. However, it was possible for thieves and robbers to climb the walls and enter the enclosure to steal a sheep.

In contrast to the thieves and robbers, Jesus described the shepherd by saying, He who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. To him the gatekeeper opens. The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.4 The shepherd is known by the man who guards the door—called the gatekeeper, doorkeeper, or porter in various translations. Unlike the thieves, the shepherd has legitimate access to the sheep.

The sheep know the shepherd’s voice. One author commented:

Shepherds normally became very familiar with their sheep, which would usually not be difficult if the average flock size was about one hundred. “Calling by name” most of all indicates familiarity, and often a degree of affection.5

Another author wrote:

Early one morning I saw an extraordinary sight not far from Bethlehem. Two shepherds had evidently spent the night with their flocks in a cave. The sheep were all mixed together, and the time had come for the shepherds to go in different directions. One of the shepherds stood some distance from the sheep and began to call. First one, then another, then four or five animals ran towards him; and so on until he had counted his whole flock.6

Sheep recognize the voice or the call of their shepherd and respond to it.

John chapter 10 continues:

When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers.7

The shepherd goes ahead of the flock and the sheep follow him, because they were taught to recognize his voice and his commands. Shepherds sometimes used a type of flute, and would convey instructions to the flock by different tunes they would play. As the shepherd prepared to lead his sheep out of the sheep pen, he would give a special call, or if using a flute would play a specific tune, and the sheep would respond and follow. One author noted:

It appears that strangers, even when dressed in the shepherd’s clothing and attempting to imitate his call, succeed only in making the sheep run away. The sheep know their shepherd’s voice but do not know and do not respond to that of a stranger.8

Next we read:

This figure of speech Jesus used with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them.9

The Greek word paroimia, translated as this figure of speech, is only used twice in the New Testament—here and in 2 Peter 2:22, where it is translated as proverb. The definition of paroimia is a saying out of the usual course or deviating from the usual manner of speaking. It is translated in the KJV as “parable,” and elsewhere it is translated as “illustration” and “figure of speech.”

We’re told that those who were listening to Jesus didn’t understand Him. Who were the people listening? The previous chapter ends with Jesus saying to the Pharisees, If you were blind, you would have no guilt; but now that you say, ‘We see,’ your guilt remains.10 Thus it is understood that those who didn’t understand were most likely the Pharisees.

So Jesus again said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them.”11 

By saying He was the door to the sheepfold, Jesus made the point that He was the protector of the sheep. However, the reference to those who came before Jesus is difficult to understand, as it’s not clear who those others were. In one sense, those who came before Him could be seen as the men of God who preceded Jesus—people like Abraham, Moses, the prophets, and John the Baptist. But it’s unlikely that these were who He was referring to, as Jesus spoke positively about these predecessors.12

Jesus most likely was contrasting Himself with the Jewish religious hierarchy of His day, who were more interested in their own well-being than the care of the people. Within the Gospels we see the Pharisees referred to as lovers of money.13 Jesus referred to the scribes as those who devour widows’ houses.14

Devouring widows’ houses can be understood in several ways: accepting payment from widows for legal aid and advice, even though this was forbidden; cheating widows in their roles as guardians of their husband’s estates; sponging off the hospitality of widows; mismanaging of widows’ estates; taking money from widows for lengthy prayers made on their behalf; taking houses as pledges for debts that could not be paid.15

As the door, Jesus protected the sheep from thieves and robbers to whom the door was shut. However, doors don’t always remain shut; and Jesus makes reference to Himself as the door which is open to those who enter through Him.

I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture.16

The sheep are not denied entrance through the open door; for them it is the entryway into the courtyard, to a place of safety.

The statement, if anyone enters by me, he will be saved, echoes other similar sayings of Jesus, showing the wide net He casts as He makes salvation available.

I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever.17

If anyone’s will is to do God’s will, he will know whether the teaching is from God or whether I am speaking on my own authority.18

Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death.19

While it’s an open invitation to salvation, it is only through Jesus that one is able to enter into salvation. As Jesus said, I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.20 One author wrote:

The words “through me” are in an emphatic position; it is he and no other who enables people to enter salvation. There is a certain exclusiveness about “the” door. If there is one door, then people must enter by it or stay outside. They cannot demand another door.21

The death Jesus was speaking about wasn’t physical death, but spiritual death; for though we will physically die, our spirits will live forever.

God raised the Lord and will also raise us up by his power.22

He who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and bring us with you into his presence.23

Jesus concludes by making a comparison between Himself and one who is a thief and robber.

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.24 

The thief in this case not only steals, but also kills. The understanding is that the thief was stealing the sheep in order to slaughter and eat it. Within this Gospel, being destroyed or lost stands in contrast to having eternal life.

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.25

This is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day.26

Contrary to the thief who comes to kill and destroy, Jesus came that we might have life.

Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.27

For as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whom he will.28

For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.29

I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.30

In the first part of John chapter 10, Jesus is portrayed as the door which keeps out the thieves and robbers, thus protecting the sheep, as well as being the gateway to salvation for the sheep. In the rest of the chapter, Jesus goes on to speak of being the good shepherd who loves and cares for His sheep, and this will be covered in the following article.


Unless otherwise indicated, all scriptures are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

General Bibliography

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Brown, Raymond E. The Death of the Messiah. 2 vols. New York: Doubleday, 1994.

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Guelich, Robert A. World Biblical Commentary: Mark 1–8:26. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1989.

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Jeremias, Joachim. Jesus and the Message of the New Testament. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2002.

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Manson, T. W. The Sayings of Jesus. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1957.

Manson, T. W. The Teaching of Jesus. Cambridge: University Press, 1967.

McKnight, Scot. Sermon on the Mount. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2013.

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Milne, Bruce. The Message of John. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1993.

Morris, Leon. The Gospel According to John. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1995.

Morris, Leon. The Gospel According to Matthew. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1992.

Ott, Ludwig. Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma. Rockford: Tan Books and Publishers, Inc., 1960.

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Sanders, E. P. Jesus and Judaism. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1985.

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Stein, Robert H. Jesus the Messiah. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1996.

Stein, Robert H. Mark. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2008.

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Talbert, Charles H. Reading the Sermon on the Mount. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2004.

Williams, J. Rodman. Renewal Theology: Systematic Theology from a Charismatic Perspective. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996.

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Young, Brad H. Jesus the Jewish Theologian. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic,

1 John 10:7.

2 John 10:11.

3 John 10:1.

4 John 10:2–3.

5 Keener, The Gospel of John, A Commentary, Volume 2, 805.

6 In the Steps of the Master (London, 1931), 155, as quoted in Morris, The Gospel According to John.

7 John 10:4–5.

8 Morris, The Gospel According to John, 448.

9 John 10:6.

10 John 9:41.

11 John 10:7–8.

12 John 8:39–40; 5:46–47; 5:33, 35.

13 Luke 16:14.

14 Mark 12:40.

15 Stein, Mark, 575.

16 John 10:9.

17 John 6:51.

18 John 7:17.

19 John 8:51.

20 John 14:6.

21 Morris, The Gospel According to John, 452.

22 1 Corinthians 6:14.

23 2 Corinthians 4:13–14.

24 John 10:10.

25 John 3:16.

26 John 6:39.

27 John 5:24.

28 John 5:21.

29 John 6:40.

30 John 8:12.