The Immediate Context of the Shepherd Discourse

The Immediate Context of the Shepherd Discourse (John 10:1-21)

Johannine commentators have different ways of structuring the Fourth Gospel (=FG). Bruce Milne, for instance, divides the FG as follows:

The ministry of the pre-incarnate king (1:1-18);
The ministry of the incarnate king (1:19 – 19:42);
The ministry of the risen king (20:1 – 21:25)

In Milne‘s structure, the Shepherd Discourse (10:1-21) falls under the ministry of the incarnate king.

Here the metaphorical discourse on the Good Shepherd (10:1-21) belongs to the Book of Signs. It is called Book of Signs because it relates stories of remarkable things Jesus did, which are repeatedly called ‘signs’. In Brown’s outline, the Shepherd Discourse belongs to a bigger unit (chapters 5-10) organized around Jewish festivals. John 9:1–10:21 brings Tabernacles to close: Jesus is the light, the living water and the messianic Good Shepherd. Gail R. O’Day situates the discourse under John 6:1–10:42 with the description, Jesus‘ Ministry Continues: Conflict and Opposition Grows. Bruce Wilkinson and Kenneth Boa divide the Gospel of John into four parts:

Part One: The Incarnation of the Son of God (1:1-18)
Part Two: The Presentation of the Son of God (1:19—4:54)
Part Three: The Opposition to the Son of God (5:1—12:50)
The Opposition at the Feast in Jerusalem (5:1-47)
The Opposition during Passover Time in Galilee (6:1-71)
The Opposition at the Feast of Tabernacles in Jerusalem (7:1—10:21)
The Opposition at the Feast of Dedication in Jerusalem (10:22-42)
The Opposition at Bethany (11:1—12:11)
The Opposition at Jerusalem (12:12-50)
Part Four: The Preparation of the Disciples by the Son of God (13:1—17:26)
Part Five: The Crucifixion and Resurrection of the Son of Go (18:1—21:25)

The Shepherd Discourse, for Wilkinson and Boa, belongs to the Opposition to the Son of God after the celebration of the feast of Tabernacles. Despite commentators’ different ways of structuring and situating the Good Shepherd Discourse, one thing remains the same. The passage is part of the growing opposition, confrontation and disbelief of the Jewish religious leaders that will culminate in Jesus’ final rejection on the cross.

In the passage under scrutiny, Jesus is apparently still speaking to the Pharisees from John 9:40. In short, the metaphorical discourse on the good shepherd is directed to the Pharisees whom Jesus accused of being blind in 9:40-41. In this discourse, which uses different metaphors offering different ways of looking at the same reality, Jesus is presented as: ―the gate by which the shepherd goes to the sheep, and by which the sheep come in to the fold and go out to pasture; and Jesus is the model shepherd who both knows his sheep by name and is willing to lay down his life for them.

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