Who are the sheep in John 10
John 10:11 – “I am the Good Shepherd: the good Shepherd giveth His life for
John 10:14-16 – “I am the Good Shepherd, and know my sheep, and am known of mine. As the Father knoweth Me, even so know I the Father: and I lay down My life for the sheep. And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear My voice; and they shall hear My voice; and there shall be one fold, and one Shepherd.
The writer of Hebrews calls Christ “that Great Shepherd of the sheep” (Heb. 13:20).
Peter calls Christ the “Shepherd and Bishop of your souls” (I Peter 2:25).
The book of Hebrews was written to Israel. Peter wrote to the scattered tribes of Israel.
But of whom did Christ refer as “the other sheep”?
We know that when Christ was on earth, He spoke to Israel.
Let’s look at Matthew 15:24,26 and see what Christ said to a Gentile woman: - “”But He answered and said, “I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of Israel. … But He answered and said, “It is not meet to take the children’s bread, and to cast it to dogs.”
Who are the sheep that Christ mentioned? Obviously the Israelites.
Who are the dogs? Gentiles. Did some of the Gentile dogs become sheep later?
Peter had an interesting vision on top of his house, as recorded in Acts 10. God sent Peter to go preach to a Gentile named Cornelius. Cornelius worshipped Israel’s God and prayed to Israel’s God. This was in accordance with God’s promise to Abram that God would bless those who bless Israel. He had a good report among the Jews (Acts 10:22).
Peter saw a sheet come down out of heaven. On the sheet were various kinds of “unclean” animals (vs 11-14). These unclean animals symbolized Gentiles who were unclean in God’s sight. There were no sheep on the sheet.
According to Ephesians 2:12, Gentiles were aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in this world.
Even Cornelius, a God-fearing, Jew-loving, respectable man, was represented by unclean animals, not by a sheep.
A sheep was clean to Israel. Unclean animals represented Gentiles. God called Gentiles ‘dogs’.
Here are a few Old Testament references to God’s people, Israel, being called sheep.
Psalm 78:52 says God “made His own people to go forth (out of Egypt) like sheep, and guided them in the wilderness like a flock”.
Psalm 79:13 says, “So we Thy people and sheep of Thy pasture will give Thee thanks for ever; we will shew forth Thy praise to all generations.”
Psalm 95:7 says, “For He is our God; and we are the people of His pasture, and the sheep of His hand.”
Jeremiah 50:17 – “Israel is a scattered sheep; the lions have driven him away; first the King of Assyria hath devoured him; and the last this Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon hath broken his bones.
Jeremiah 50:6 – “My people hath been lost sheep: their shepherds have caused them to go astray, they have turned them away on the mountains: they have gone from mountain to hill, they have forgotten their resting place”.
Isaiah 40:9b, 11 – “Behold your God!…He shall feed His flock like a shepherd: he shall gather the lambs with His arm, and carry them in His bosom, and shall gently lead those that are with young.”
Ezekiel 34:6: My sheep wandered through all the mountains, and upon every high hill: yea, my flock was scattered upon all the face of the earth, and none did search or seek after them.
The sheep were going back to the land of Israel.
Ezekiel 24-26: “And David my servant shall be king over them; and they all shall have one shepherd: they shall also walk in my judgments, and observe my statutes, and do them.
And they shall dwell in the land that I have given unto Jacob my servant, wherein your fathers have dwelt; and they shall dwell therein, even they, and their children, and their children's children for ever: and my servant David shall be their prince for ever. Moreover I will make a covenant of peace with them; it shall be an everlasting covenant with them: and I will place them, and multiply them, and will set my sanctuary in the midst of them for evermore.”
In Hebrews 13:20 we read, “Now the God of peace, that brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant,”
Daniel 9:7 - The sheep of Israel are divided into two groups – those who are near, and those far off.
“O Lord, righteousness belongeth unto Thee, but unto us confusion of faces, as at this day; to the men of Judah, and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and unto all Israel, that are near, and that are far off, through all the countries whither Thou hast driven them, because of their trespass that they have trespassed against Thee.”
On the day of Pentecost, Peter addressed both groups:
Acts 2:39 – “For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call.”
Peter addressed the whole house of Israel at Pentecost:
Acts 2:36 – “Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly, that God hath made that same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ.”
Both Peter and James wrote to the scattered 12 tribes of Israel:
I Peter 1:1 – “Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to the strangers scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia,”
James 1:1 – “James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad, greeting.”
In John 21:15-17, Christ told Peter to “feed My lambs and feed My sheep”.
This was in accordance to an agreement that was made between the Apostle Paul and James, Peter, and John.
This agreement is outlined in Galatians 2:9 - “And when James, Cephas, and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given unto me, they gave to me and Barnabas the right hands of fellowship; that we should go unto the heathen, and they unto the circumcision.”
But Israel (the sheep) rejected the Shepherd, and God has temporarily set aside. They said, “We have no King but Caesar.” They demanded the crucifixion of the Shepherd. They blasphemed the Holy Ghost in stoning Stephen in Acts 7.
After this, God chose an Israelite, Saul of Tarsus, to go to the Gentiles. Saul, later known as Paul (his Gentile name) said in Romans 11:13 - “For I speak to you Gentiles, inasmuch as I am the apostle of the Gentiles, I magnify mine office:”
“For as ye (Gentiles) in times past have not believed God, yet have now obtained mercy through their (Israel’s) unbelief:”
The Apostle Paul, an Israelite by birth, loved his fellow Jews, and desperately wanted to them get saved. As he traveled, preaching the Gospel of the Grace of God, and establishing local churches, he would go to the synagogues first, where he tried to show the Israelites through their Scriptures that Christ was Messiah.
But Israel’s response was rejection:
Acts 13:46: Then Paul and Barnabas waxed bold, and said, It was necessary that the word of God should first have been spoken to you: but seeing ye put it from you, and judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life, lo, we turn to the Gentiles.
Again in Acts 18:6 – “And when they opposed themselves, and blasphemed, he shook his raiment, and said unto them, Your blood be upon your own heads; I am clean: from henceforth I will go unto the Gentiles.”
But who are these Gentiles unto whom Paul ministered?
As we partially read previously in Ephesians 2:12-15:
“That at that time ye (Gentiles) were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world: But now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace, who hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us; Having abolished in his flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances; for to make in himself of twain one new man, so making peace;”
The Gentiles had been alienated from God. God had given them up before He even chose Israel. He completely cut them off when He gave Israel the covenant of circumcision. Gentiles were never sheep that strayed from the Shepherd’s flock or fold. They are never called lost sheep. But Israelites are called sheep, whether they are saved or not, according to the Bible.
David was the shepherd-king of Israel. Jesus Christ came to earth to be Israel’s Shepherd-King. He was born in the city of David. The announcement of His birth was first given to shepherds (Luke 2:6:14):
“And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn. And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”
The angel Gabriel had told Mary that her Son was to take the throne of David and be King of Israel, in Luke 1:26-33:
“And in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God unto a city of Galilee, named Nazareth, To a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin's name was Mary. And the angel came in unto her, and said, Hail, thou that art highly favoured, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women. And when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying, and cast in her mind what manner of salutation this should be.
And the angel said unto her, Fear not, Mary: for thou hast found favour with God. And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a Son, and shalt call His name JESUS. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto Him the throne of his father David: And He shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of His kingdom there shall be no end.”
Remember that Christ said, while on earth, that he was “not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matthew 15:24).
Luke 19:9,10 – “And Jesus said unto him, This day is salvation come to this house, forsomuch as he also is a son of Abraham. For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost.”
Christ came to save the lost sons of Abraham.
Ezekiel prophesied in 34:11-16:
“For thus saith the Lord GOD; Behold, I, even I, will both search My sheep, and seek them out.”
As a shepherd seeketh out his flock in the day that he is among his sheep that are scattered; so will I seek out my sheep, and will deliver them out of all places where they have been scattered in the cloudy and dark day. And I will bring them out from the people, and gather them from the countries, and will bring them to their own land, and feed them upon the mountains of Israel by the rivers, and in all the inhabited places of the country. I will feed them in a good pasture, and upon the high mountains of Israel shall their fold be: there shall they lie in a good fold, and in a fat pasture shall they feed upon the mountains of Israel. I will feed my flock, and I will cause them to lie down, saith the Lord GOD. “I will seek that which was lost, and bring again that which was driven away, and will bind up that which was broken, and will strengthen that which was sick: but I will destroy the fat and the strong; I will feed them with judgment.”
“Therefore will I save my flock, and they shall no more be a prey; and I will judge between cattle and cattle. And I will set up one shepherd over them, and he shall feed them, even My servant David; he shall feed them, and he shall be their shepherd. And I the LORD will be their God, and My servant David a prince among them; I the LORD have spoken it. And I will make with them a covenant of peace, and will cause the evil beasts to cease out of the land: and they shall dwell safely in the wilderness, and sleep in the woods.”
“And they were scattered, because there is no shepherd: and they became meat to all the beasts of the field, when they were scattered. My sheep wandered through all the mountains, and upon every high hill: yea, my flock was scattered upon all the face of the earth, and none did search or seek after them.
The Bible never refers to unsaved Gentiles as sheep. But there are many today who teach that when Gentiles are saved, they become sheep.
But the Bible says that when Gentiles are saved, they become joint-heirs along with saved Israelites in a joint-body, which is called the Body of Christ (Ephesians 3:6).
Galatians 3:28: - “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.”
Together, saved Jews and Gentiles are “One New Man”.
Is the “one flock” in John 10:16 the same as the “one new man” of Ephesians 2:15?
The “one new man” of Ephesians 2:15 is called a “joint-body” in Ephesians 3:6.
Ezekiel didn’t know anything about the ‘joint-body’.
Colossians 1:24-27 says, “Who now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh for his body's sake, which is the church: Whereof I am made a minister, according to the dispensation of God which is given to me for you, to fulfil the word of God; Even the mystery which hath been hid from ages and from generations, but now is made manifest to his saints: To whom God would make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles; which is Christ in you, the hope of glory:”
Ephesians 3:3-5 – “How that by revelation he made known unto me the mystery; (as I wrote afore in few words, Whereby, when ye read, ye may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ) Which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit”
But Ezekiel did prophecy concerning the one flock and one shepherd.
Some Christians dogmatically oppose calling saved Gentiles “spiritual Israel”, but are not opposed to calling them “spiritual sheep”.
They do so based on Acts 20:28 - “Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood.”
But it is obvious that the Lord Jesus Christ was not speaking of the “Church of the Mystery” when He spoke of the ‘one flock” in John 10.
So, in conclusion, the other sheep are Israelites, not Gentiles.