The Life of the Lord Jesus Christ

By Johann Peter Lange

Edited by Rev. Marcus Dods






Section XXI

Jesus gives the false shepherds of Israel the tokens by which they might know the true shepherd, and sets himself forth as the true shepherd who was ready to give his life for his flock

(Joh 9:40-41; Joh 10:1-21)

When Jesus was speaking the words, that He was come for judgment1 into the world, that the blind might be made seeing and the seeing blind, there were Pharisees close by, probably playing the part of spies, who, on seeing Him conversing with the restored blind man, had approached to the spot. They believed themselves included in the reference which His word made, and yet they deemed that it could not apply to them. They would, indeed, fain be seeing; but that they were becoming blind through misbehaviour towards Him, was what they would not allow. Still less, however, would they choose to acknowledge that they were blind men, who had through Him to be made seeing. They therefore put in the incoherent question, ‘Are we, too, blind?’ Without doubt they ask the question with an affected indignation, and the answer they express themselves by their very mien and bearing: neither blind before, so as to have got their sight through Thee; nor blind since, having lost it through Thee.

Jesus, turning upon them sharply, allows their claim of not being blind, in order from that very circumstance to prove their ruin. ‘Yes; if only ye were blind,’ He said, ‘then were ye free from guilt; but now, as ye assert, We see, your guilt2 remains upon your head.’

According to His earlier statement, the Lord might have said, If ye were blind, ye would become seeing; but just because ye place yourselves among the seeing, ye become blind. But He does not speak so, because He will not continue to use the figure with them, but will describe their condition with its proper name; because He will not now once more announce to them the judgment of God which is coming upon them, but only the guilt through which they bring this judgment to effect. His retort, therefore, is altogether practical, and is aimed at their conscience.

But He abides stedfastly by the principle, that those who are blind before and apart from His appearing get their sight, and those who before and apart from His appearing were seeing become blind. When the morning comes, the birds of day, which in the night cannot see, become seeing; while, on the contrary, the birds of night, which could see without the day, become blind.

The former have enough gleaming of light to see the darkness and to hate it, to long for the light and to love it, and in the light to become seeing; the others have enough gleaming of light to see the light, to hate it, and in the light to grow blind. Both at the dawn find themselves face to face with the light; but for the one party, this middle state becomes the twilight of morning, whilst for the others it becomes that of evening.

The man physically blind can the best illustrate the condition of the former. He has a perfect consciousness of his blindness. This consciousness is as it were half daylight: it is the longing after sight, and the feeling that it is coming. This forefeeling of light in the dark becomes at length crying pain and a faith in the approach of the light, when the blind man finds himself confronted by the Saviour of the eye, the Light of the world. And precisely so is it in the mental world with all blind people whose blindness is genuine and conscious, is conscious unknowingness, not marred by the delusion that they see. They have a twilight which proceeds out of their feeling of blindness and leads them towards the light; as the blind earth at the north pole, in the long winter night, brings forth the gleaming of the northern lights out of her longing for the day.

Oh, were ye only such blind people, says Christ to the Pharisees, so should ye have no sin. Ye should not then fall under the curse of unbelief, but arrive at faith.

That they affirm that they are those who see, apart from and before His appearing, those, that is, who see before the day, this very circumstance makes them birds of night. They are certainly, in a comparative sense, seeing. Through their official position they are conversant with the word of the Old Testament, and through that word they know enough of the kingdom of God, and of the Old Testament delineations of the Messias, to be able to recognize the Messias at His appearing. Moreover they have now received enough impressions of Him, through His words and works, to be able to know that it is He. Their infatuation against Him, therefore, takes place not in the element of blindness, of complete not knowing, but in the element of their seeing; it develops itself out of that dislike of the light with which they reject the person of Jesus against better knowledge and conscience; and on that very account their sin abides upon them. It presses upon them as the guilt of the real excommunication, as the theocratic excommunication, which shuts them out of the real kingdom of God, whilst they are iniquitously loading the disciples of Jesus with excommunication.

Their blindness remaineth, because they, in their high-mindedness, fancy that they see, and do not. Their blindness increases, because they apply their remains of light to the blinding of themselves more and more. Their blindness perfects itself, because they pervert their official calling to greet the light into the office of hating the light and depriving the world of it. This perfects their guilt, that they are not only blind, but also will fain be leaders of the blind, ay, of the great Seeing One Himself, and lead the blind entrusted to their care so long that at last they fall with them into the pit (Mat 15:14).

This word of Christ is therefore closely akin to His declaration, I am come to call sinners to repentance, and not the righteous (Mat 9:13).

As there, what is said is not said of the mere conceit of being righteous, but also of a certain sort of righteousness itself, namely, of Levitical righteousness; so also here, He speaks not of the mere delusion of the Pharisees that they were enlightened, but at the same time of the real twilight-knowledge on which this delusion is grounded.3

The members of the Sanhedrim were certainly the appointed guides of the people—its shepherds. But they had just now, through their ill-treatment of the restored blind man (whom they first had sought to seduce into telling a lie, and then had excommunicated because he resisted their temptations), given a melancholy example how they went on with the flock which had been entrusted to them. This Jesus now holds up to their view in a figure which He draws for them, in a parable or parabolic allegory (παροιμία) of the relation between the Flock and the Shepherd; while He at the same time shows to them how He, on His part, regards and treats the people as His flock. With the Israelites, who were no doubt descended from shepherds, and who still in various ways had to do with the shepherd’s life, it was very usual to regard the people under the image of a flock of sheep,4 and the leaders of the people as shepherds, but especially the Messiah as the Great Shepherd of the nation (Eze 34:23).

This allegorical discourse of Jesus consists of three divisions, of which we may regard the first as the representation in an allegorical parable of the whole relation subsisting between God’s flock and its enemies and friends, and the second and third as statements of the two different main applications of the image.

Jesus presupposes that His hearers have already the shepherd life before their eyes; He therefore at once begins His discourse with the utmost solemnity and seriousness, and with the deepest pathos: ‘Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that entereth not by the door into the sheepfold, but climbeth up in some other quarter’ (over the timber or stone fence which forms the fold), ‘the same is thief and a robber. But he that entereth in by the door is the shepherd of the sheep.’ This then is the first distinction between the friend of the flock and its enemies. The second is as follows:—The true shepherd is also recognized by the door-keeper (who has charge of the night-watch with the flock). ‘The door-keeper opens to him’ the fold, whilst the very same man is intended to keep watch against those thieves and robbers, as well as against ravening beasts, as wolves and jackals, and carries arms for the protection of the flock. And this introduces the third point of distinction. The shepherd goes in, makes his voice heard, and by his voice is recognized by the sheep;—‘The sheep hear his voice.’ But in the flock he has sheep of his own in an especial sense, favourite sheep and objects of particular care, which are in perfect training, which he calls by name, and which follow upon this call. These chosen ones he first calls out: ‘He calleth his own sheep by name and leadeth them out; and when he putteth forth his own sheep, he goeth before them;’ and these and the call of his voice draw after them the whole flock; ‘and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice.’5 ‘But another they will not follow’ (even if he steps in among them and essays to call them), ‘but will rather flee from him, because they know not his voice.’ Thus Christ set forth to His gainsayers their character and behaviour in relation to God’s flock in Israel in contrast with His own, in a transparent image of speaking reality and warmth; but they understood Him not.

It never once entered into their thoughts, that any one could ever call into question the genuineness of their calling to be shepherds, or the exemplary character of their behaviour in this calling.

The Lord therefore saw the necessity of interpreting the allegorical parable which He had painted for them. But He does not in equal measure expound all its particulars; but makes these clear by explaining the leading features of the picture, namely, first the Door, and then the true Shepherd.

He styles Himself the Door, and He styles Himself also the good Shepherd. It follows that the picture is not to be taken as a stiff, unvarying representation, but as a living, figurative representation with shifting scenes.

The first scene is the night-piece in the history of God’s flock. The flock is folded within the sheltering fence, the Israelitish theocracy. At its door stands the door-keeper—the Spirit of the Lord as the guardian spirit of His flock. The door itself is the invisible Christ, or Christ in the spirit of His life. But the contrast between the friends and enemies of the flock is presented here by the true shepherds, who in the morning come in by the door for the purpose of leading the flock out to pasture, and the thieves and robbers who scale the fence of the fold, or break through it. He speaks principally of the latter. They are marked by the circumstance of not entering into the flock by the door; that is, that they do not work with reference to the living Christ, or in the spirit of the name of Christ, but in their own name. And because they have not the chief Shepherd in view, but regard themselves as the chief shepherds, therefore also they have not in view the chief thing in the flock, its pure destination to the highest end; but will fain make a booty of the flock for their own selfish interests, and thereby become robbers and destroyers thereof. Thus, surely that word of Christ gains its interpretation, ‘All that came before Me are thieves and robbers.’6 All those are meant who came to His flock, not as His forerunners, but as taking their stand before Him; who had not the consciousness which John the Baptist had, that Christ had precedency of them in the kingdom of the Spirit (Joh 1:15), but would fain reckon as shepherds in that kingdom in their own right, and in absolute, independent standing. The reference, then, is not immediately to those false messiahs in a literal sense who came subsequently, nor merely to those false prophets in a literal sense who had come previously, nor again, lastly, merely to those gainsayers of Christ understood in the same way, who even then stood opposed to Him. Rather, all shepherds, teachers, and leaders of the people (and not only religious ones, but political as well), who do not come to the flock with reference to, and in the spirit of, the life of Christ; who come, that is, without being qualified through being in a proper relation to Him; who therefore pass by the eternal Christ, like notorious teachers of false doctrine; or set themselves in His place, like hierarchs and despots; or lastly, go beyond Him, like the preachers of a ‘religion of the Spirit’ which is disengaged from Christianity,—all these are fundamentally pseudo-messiahs on this very account, because they thrust themselves upon the consciousness of the flock as independent teachers, priests, leaders, and princes, and in this wise set themselves in the place of Christ. All these know neither the door, nor the fence, nor the flock. The fence is a hindrance to them; the flock a good booty; the door they find a means of seduction or of intimidation, by which they bring the flock into subjection.

The word of Christ therefore contemplates all pseudo-messiahs in the wider sense of the term, who at all times can arise, and in all possible forms. But in its historical form it refers to those in particular stepping forward before Him, who had come previously to Him, and as they then especially stood in opposition to Him.

They were first of all at once rebuked by the very circumstance, that ‘the sheep did not hear,’ give heed to, ‘their voice.’ Constantly have the chosen ones in the Church of Christ turned away from the false shepherds who would fain assume among them the position of the chief Shepherd. But he who, through the chief Shepherd Christ, seeks admission as shepherd in the Church, he is also at the same time a sheep, and by that very characteristic verifies his character as a right under-shepherd. This Jesus expresses by the words, ‘He shall abide secure, and shall go in and out and find pasture.’ These are in fact the two functions of the door: protecting, it shuts in the flock and secures it from hurt; and opening, it leads the flock out into the pasture. Both these gifts are imparted by Christ, deliverance and spiritual nourishment in abundance; and both are just as much needed by the true under-shepherd as by his flock. On the other hand, it is the sole object of the thief in the flock ‘to steal, to kill, and to work destruction.’

With the last features the allegorical night-piece has already changed into a day-piece. And in this the leading and characteristic feature is the true Shepherd,—the historical Christ, as the great, essential chief Shepherd of God’s flock, before whom all faithful under-shepherds change into sheep, and over against whom stand in contrast, as enemies of the flock, the hireling and the wolf. This is the decisive characteristic feature by which ‘the good Shepherd’ proclaims Himself: He ‘lays down His life for the sheep.’ And from Him is distinguished the hireling, who has no shepherd’s heart, whose own the sheep are not, in this: ‘When he sees the wolf coming, he leaves the sheep and fleeth; and the wolf’ is at liberty to carry out his twofold business of destruction, in that he ‘catcheth and killeth the sheep, and also scatters them abroad. The hireling fleeth because he is a hireling; the sheep he careth not for.’

All these traits are so speaking, that they require no great explanation. Christ is the essential good Shepherd, because that faithfulness with which the heart of the true Shepherd beats for the sheep reappears in His heart in a higher form—a faithfulness carried to its utmost perfection on behalf of His human flock, viewed in their need of pasture, of protection, and of a Shepherd; yea, because His heart is the centre and fountainhead of all that faithfulness and compassion, with which true shepherd-hearts, in their spheres of labour, whether spiritual or secular, beat for all living beings which require protection and pasture—for all flocks requiring the shepherd; because He is essentially the ordained Shepherd of mankind, and mankind is eternally His flock, which entirely needs His presiding shepherd’s glance, His protection, and His pasture; and because He is ready to deposit His life for the deliverance of this flock. Under the image of a hireling are here presented all surreptitious leaders of men, who only for reward or gain of some sort or other have undertaken an overseer’s office with a human flock. They are integrated by the wolf, the natural enemy of sheep, who makes havoc of flocks and scatters them. The hireling and the wolf present towards one another an elective affinity and a historical oneness. The one exhibits the heartless flock-leader, who has no concern for the flock, but who seemingly serves them rightly so far as it suits him, for the sake of the hire. The wolf exhibits the principle of hostility to the flock, as it openly appears doing its work of destruction in the person of decided spirits of error and popular seducers. And just by the wolf’s appearing is the hireling revealed as hireling. This last does not live for the flock; he watches not against the wolf. The enemy may be near, and he has yet hardly observed it; as soon as he does observe it, he takes to flight. He is very far from contending with his life against the destructive principles of the wolf, but leaves him to do as he will. Yes, so soon as the delusion of spirits has attained a certain recognition, he joins it. The hireling in the third part of the parable is, we may perceive, to be conjoined with the wolf among the thieves and murderers in the first and second parts. The thief and murderer, when unfolded to view, is half hireling, half wolf.

The Lord next particularly carries out the feature which He had at once depicted with so much satisfaction in giving the image of the shepherd, namely, that the true Shepherd calls His sheep by name, and that they follow Him on hearing His voice. ‘I know Mine,’ He says, ‘and am known of Mine.’ This position He illustrates by the comparison: ‘As the Father knows Me, and I know the Father.’ It is a doubled mystery of mutual knowing, and the former of the two proceeds out of the latter. The Father in His love knows the Son as His elect, and in His Spirit greets Him; the Son feels Himself recognized by Him, and follows His call and drawing, which He continually apprehends through every position of His soul towards the world, and of the world towards His soul. But just in the same manner the Son in His love recognizes with the swiftness of an eagle’s glance the souls susceptible of His grace which have been directed to Him, and their inner being He understands in its individual character, so that He can call it by its name. And when these hear His voice, they feel the secret of the connection which binds them to Him: they apprehend in His voice the faithful and familiar shepherd’s call, and follow where He leads.

Such a flock Jesus had already gained in Israel. But now that it stood clear before His soul that His earthly course was bending to its close; now that He was already beginning, even in the midst of His gainsayers, to intimate that He saw the death which awaited Him coming, and was prepared to die; now He could also more distinctly point to the fact, that His flock was not to consist of the elect in Israel only. ‘Other sheep I have,’ He said, ‘which are not of this fold; these also I must bring, that there shall be one Shepherd, one fold.’ In these words He certainly referred to His fold among the Gentiles. The thought of them was one which would now readily present itself to His mind; for it was just His death which was to do away with the partition between His elect among the Jews and those among the Gentiles (see Eph 2:14). That first uniting in one of believing Jews and believing Gentiles, should then be in turn a token and prelude of all those successive steps of reconciliation which the voice of Christ is destined to work upon the whole dissevered race of man; till at the end of the world there shall be collected one great united Church of those who belong to Him out of all nations.

At the close of this discourse Christ gave utterance to a deep word relative to the significance of that offering up of Himself which He was prepared to make on behalf of His people. ‘Therefore doth My Father love Me, because I offer up My life in order to (ἵνα) gain it again.’ A very remarkable utterance, full of offence for ordinary preconceptions! Does not then the Father love the Son, except in consequence of His offering up His life, that is, in consequence of the moral excellence of His conduct? There is no question that the love of the Father produces and forms the Son, and so far precedes His cheerful self-sacrifice or self-surrender. But, on the other hand, it is all along this feature of the Son’s character in which the love of the Father exhibits itself, and on which His eye rests with divine complacency. But again, is this really self-sacrifice, to surrender the life in order to receive it again? Yes, just this! The Father would reckon nothing of that despairing self-oblation, which had no assurance of the resurrection. Such a self-oblation is attended with a moral despondency—is never altogether true—is no surrender into the hands of the Eternal Spirit, which is of known Love, but an abandoning of the life into the red-hot arms of Moloch, that is, of eternal change. True self-sacrifice has upon it the seal of assurance of the resurrection; and both combined in one express that heroical love of the Son to the Father, which boldly goes forth over the life of the world to the Father, and in which the Father’s love to the Son is perfectly mirrored.

It was profoundly significant that Jesus, confronting His gainsayers, spoke that word of highest consciousness: ‘No man taketh My life from Me’ (against My will), ‘but I lay it down of My own free-will. I have power to lay it down, and have power to take it again. This law of life (in which are contained both of these two forms of full power and of freedom) have I received from My Father.’ It was only on this ground that Jesus could give Himself up to His enemies, namely, that it was allowed and conceded by His Father that He should do so. It was the will of His Father that He should offer up His life, so far as He was dealing with God. But so far as He was dealing with men, and was Himself willing and glad to give Himself up for their salvation, it was the Father’s permission. In this case Will does not exclude Permission; and the power to die is not only a formal authorization, but also the full power to do so, as involved in perfect alacrity in the view of death, and in a perfect holy skill to die in a manner worthy of Divinity.

With this power of Jesus to lay down His life is necessarily connected the power to take it again; and for this reason, because such a dying is the freest self-surrender to the power of the highest life, and therefore an assurance of life clothed with such an energy and power that therein is already contained the guarantee of the new life. We must no doubt hold fast by the truth that Christ did not raise Himself from the dead, but that He was raised by the Father. But that the Father raised Him and no other, is a fact connected with that vital energy which He took down with Him into death; with that force and continued working of His innermost being, whereby even in death itself He asserted His freedom from death. His resurrection is, therefore, also an act of His spontaneity; but most especially the fact, that with His ascension He took back His life wholly discharged from that alliance with the world in which He stood before His death.

These words of Jesus occasioned among bystanders a considerable division. The words were indescribably simple, and yet so lofty that we cannot wonder that it turned men’s heads giddy to be carried aloft so high, Many thought they saw in these words downright nonsense. ‘He hath a devil, and is mad; why waste time in listening to him?’—so these men said. ‘The friends of Jesus, on the other hand, said, ‘ These are not words of one possessed by a devil’ Yet surely these last were not themselves as yet far enough advanced to understand what He said. But in any case it would have been fruitless labour for them to endeavour to explain such words to such gainsayers. They therefore prefer to recur to one particular work of Jesus, the force of which even those gainsayers could not deny, as accrediting His mission: they ask, ‘Cana demon open the eyes of the blind ?'

It is as if they would say, The business of demons is quite of an opposite character; they shut the eyes of the blind ever more and ore.



The discourse of the good Shepherd is not (it is true), strictly speaking, a parable [‘because it is no history,’ Meyer—ED.]; but also it can hardly be taken as mere allegory, as Strauss supposes (p. 680). It is rather of a mixed character, combining allegory with parable. The feature (e.g.) of the good Shepherd that He gives His life for the sheep, is altogether parabolical; while the image of the door belongs to the region of allegory.



1) Κρίμα, the ground which introduces the act of κρίσις.

2) ʻΑμαρτία in the sense in which it applies to a theocratic society, having excommunication for its consequence.

3) V. Bauer (in his above-cited work, p. 121) says, in the text, They therefore are not blind people, because in their seeing they will fain see nothing, and yet are blind, because they see and acknowledge nothing. On the other hand, below, in the note, he says, What is said, certainly is nowhere said of self-blinding, but—of the blind ness of unbelief.ʼ What contradictions!

4) Num. xxvii. 17; Ezek. xxxiv. 12; Matt. x. 6.

5) It seems to me, that we cannot understand τὰ ἴδια here of the whole flock, and suppose that a reference is meant to the shepherd's flock as contrasted with other flocks which (according to the custom) may have been shut in with his flock in one enclosure. For this contrast would here only confuse; since only one flock of God is found in the one fold of the Old Testament theocracy. Rather, the ἴδἰσ πρόβατα are surely the sheep which belong to the shepherd in a peculiar sense; those which he calls by name in contrast with the whole flock. The sheep in general know Him by his voice; but the ἴδἰσ are keen to hear as he calls them by name,  These are meant, according to Lachmann’s reading, in ver. 4, ὅταν τὰ ἴδἰσ. πάντα ἐκβάλῃ. First he calls out the favourite sheep and bell-wethers of the flock; then all the rest of the flock follow. The former are no doubt an image of the chosen ones around whom the large flock forms itself,

6) The expression πρὸ ἐμοῦ is surely to be taken in the sense of absolute preference, so that the one who comes before means not merely to thrust into the background the one put back, but to supplant him altogether. [It is difficult to believe that if this meaning had been intended, such an expression would have been employed. By the various interpretations of this passage, no reason has ever been assigned why we should depart from the proper, direct, temporal signification of the preposition, "This gives a sense which quite satisfies the passage. ‘All that came before Me, i.e. not of course all men whatever, but all who came making pretensions to the Messiahship, to the lordship over the flock, all who up till now—the fulness of time—have claimed to be the true shepherd,—all these are thieves and robbers.—ED.]