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My old friend Johnson sent me this question all the way from India. In the passage below, who is Jesus referring to when he mentions “thieves and robbers”?

Therefore Jesus said again, “All who have come before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep have not listened to them.”

(John 10:7–9 NIV11)

Who did he have in mind? Three possibilities come to mind.

  1. Unspiritual shepherds

There may be an allusion here to OT passages like Jeremiah 23:1–8 and Ezekiel 34, in which the prophets pronounced judgment upon the shepherds of Israel for their failure to care for the people. 

    ““Woe to the shepherds who are destroying and scattering the sheep of my pasture!” declares the LORD. Therefore this is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says to the shepherds who tend my people: “Because you have scattered my flock and driven them away and have not bestowed care on them, I will bestow punishment on you for the evil you have done,” declares the LORD. “I myself will gather the remnant of my flock out of all the countries where I have driven them and will bring them back to their pasture, where they will be fruitful and increase in number. I will place shepherds over them who will tend them, and they will no longer be afraid or terrified, nor will any be missing,” declares the LORD. “The days are coming,” declares the LORD,         “when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch,     a King who will reign wisely         and do what is just and right in the land.     In his days Judah will be saved         and Israel will live in safety.     This is the name by which he will be called:         The LORD Our Righteous Savior. “So then, the days are coming,” declares the LORD, “when people will no longer say, ‘As surely as the LORD lives, who brought the Israelites up out of Egypt,’ but they will say, ‘As surely as the LORD lives, who brought the descendants of Israel up out of the land of the north and out of all the countries where he had banished them.’ Then they will live in their own land.”” (Jeremiah 23:1–8 NIV11)

See also Ezekiel 34 – and the series by Douglas Jacoby.

2. False Messiahs

“For false messiahs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect.” (Matthew 24:24 NIV11)

“For false messiahs and false prophets will appear and perform signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect.” (Mark 13:22 NIV11)

3. ‘The Jews’

  • Who treated the man born blind so badly.
  • Of such leaders, Jesus says, the sheep did not listen to them.
  • The man born blind certainly did not listen to them.
  • Those who belong to Jesus, the true shepherd, do not resonate with voices such as theirs.

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” (John 10:10 NIV11)

What kind of life?
The kind of ‘life’ envisioned is connected with v9 – salvation, safety and sustenance.
“I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out, and find pasture.” (John 10:9 NIV11)

Please add your comments on this week’s topic. We learn best when we learn in community. 

Do you have a question about teaching the Bible? Is it theological, technical, practical? Send me your questions or suggestions. Here’s the email: malcolm@malcolmcox.org.

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“Worship the LORD with gladness; come before him with joyful songs.” (Psalms 100:2 NIV11)

God bless, Malcolm

PS: You might also be interested in my book: “An elephant’s swimming pool”, a devotional look at the Gospel of John