Below are some thoughts/questions I had when beginning to dig in to John chapter 10. For foundational work, I would point non-regular readers also to the prior posts on John:
A very good place to (re)start (John 8)
Right out of the gate (pun-pardon, please) in chapter 10, I quickly become confused in the metaphors of sheep, gate/door, sheep fold, shepherd, and bandits. For instance, Jesus is both gate and shepherd. On one hand, this chapter seems a bit less complex than 8 or 9, but its imagery may be somewhat lost on the 21st-century reader. I’m also reminded not to press specifics too far when analyzing parables and other metaphors and similes.
The “other sheep” . . . admitting a bias by which most others wouldn’t be bothered, I assert that this “other sheep” group in 10:16 has nothing to do with the so-called Latter-day Saints. (They are fond of saying that the text is about them.) In its historical context, this reference to “other sheep” should probably be viewed as referring to something the original hearers and readers could conceive of: probably, the non-Jews!
More about the “other sheep” appears in 26ff. Jesus appears to be stressing this idea. I am driven to ask this: if Jews are supposedly safe because of their Jewishness, what do we do with this passage? Not even these pre-crucifixion Jews, which many of us have tended to sanctify neatly because of the chronology, seem to be in a good soteriological place in this text! I acknowledge that concerns over today’s geopolitical Israel, Jerusalem, etc., were not the concerns of Jesus or John. We should take care in applying scripture to problems unknown in the original context, and yet some timeless principles certainly appear — such as the imperative to believe in the One God sent.
Now looking at verses 17-19: I initially wondered whether there might be any structural relationship between the idea of laying down one’s life and something in chapter 8. What I found is an identical expression (ἀπʼ ἐμαυτοῦ — ap emautou — “from myself”) in 8:42 and 10:18. These verses are respectively approximately the same “distance” from chapter 9. (See prior thoughts on the center/core.) Hmmm. . . . In the first case, the expression has the negative particle attached to it: I have not come from myself, or on my own. In the second instance, we might have a positive, complementary thought: I lay [my life] down on my own. Time for a word search. . . .
My software tells me I had missed this same expression a few verses earlier, in 8:28. The words also appear in 5:30, 7:17, 7:28, and 14:10 — a total of 7 times, somewhat concentrated in the middle of the gospel. Further, a variant of the same expression is used in 10:18. That text might well involve an intentional, emphatic structure of some kind, if not a chiasm. Let’s look at it more closely. Expanding to include verse 17, a semi-literal translation of 10:17-18 would run something like this:
therefore me the Father loves because I lay down the life of me that again I might take it
no one takes it from me
but I lay down it from myself
authority I have to lay down it
and authority I have again to receive it
this the command I took from the Father of me
This wording appears to be intentionally structured — very striking! The colors may help to see the relationships that don’t always come through in English translations. For instance, forms of the verb “to take” are used in 10:17, but in the NIV and NASB, they are translated “take” and “receive,” respectively. I used the teal color to show a possible relationship with both the blue and the green.
In the person of Jesus, there is of course a rock to stumble over. The Jews here are presented as deaf/blind stumblers, if not obtuse: they do not grasp the core truth that He is, in fact, the Christ of God. This crux — belief in Jesus as God’s Messiah — figures in prominently throughout much of John. While one might think, duh, that’s obviously the point of each of the canonical gospels, not so. Mark’s emphases are different, for example.
Why did Jesus go back to the far side of the Jordan? Is there a large-scale structural significance at the literary level of the entire gospel? The references to John, initiatory immersing, and the Jordan are in chapters 1, 3-4, and 10. (John is also mentioned in chapter 5, without express mention of baptism.) I expect that more study will reveal contextual significance here. I’ll specifically be observing the material that follows each of these sections, wondering whether each one serves to initiate something substantial.