In our day and age, we can’t relate as much to the parallels and word usage which we see in Scripture as could the people back in ancient Israel. They were an agrarian society that lived close to the land. They farmed and raised herds of animals. As such, they were intimately familiar with crops and the ways of their sheep and cattle. Because we’re so much more “civilized” than they (we think we are, but not really!), our understanding of their lifestyle is limited.
I recently saw a video that drove home this point. It was actually filmed in Norway but done so with Israel and the Bible in mind, which makes it even more pertinent. (Link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e45dVgWgV64) A group of young people are encouraged one-by-one to call to a flock of sheep in a field. The sheep completely ignore them. Then their shepherd calls. Immediately upon hearing his voice, they perk up. They raise their heads; their ears pick up the sound of the one who cares for them. As the shepherd beckons to them, they start running toward him. It’s the most amazing thing. They hear their master’s voice – he calls – they come. (I challenge you to watch this video without getting chills up your spine and tears in your eyes.)
This is the context for John 10:27, when Jesus said:
“My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.”
Wherever Jesus was, there were always many around Him. The scene in which Jesus makes this declaration is winter, in the temple in Jerusalem, as He walked in Solomon’s colonnade. (This would have been effectively a long covered sidewalk with columns or pillars flanking it on both sides.) Inevitably, not only were Jesus’ disciples present, but there were always Jews around Him as well, i.e. religious leaders such as Pharisees and scribes.
As He usually did, Jesus provoked these learned men. He spoke the Truth, and because they were blinded in their religious legalism, they couldn’t grasp the veracity of Jesus’ Words in their hearts. They were not among the flock who heard and comprehended. When they heard Jesus’ voice, they heard only that of a stranger. As a result, when Jesus said in John 10:30:
“I and the Father are one.”
… it was another straw weighing down the camel; of course, through this cliche, we know that the final such stalk breaks the beast’s back.
From this statement, these men completely understood that Jesus was equating Himself with God. In their view, which missed the heart of God’s intent, they couldn’t comprehend how this could be. God could not be a man. Man could not be God! It was blasphemy, and the Law of Moses demanded that whoever made such statements must be stoned to death (Leviticus 24:16).
When Jesus tried to reason with them from Scripture, their minds were veiled. The fact of what Jesus said moments before played out in life. These Jews weren’t part of Jesus’ flock. When He spoke, they ignored Him because His Words couldn’t resonate in their hearts.
This is the difference today for those of us indwelt by the Holy Spirit and those who are not. This is one of the results of true salvation. When someone is born again by the Spirit of God, this enables him to hear the voice of Jesus – for that voice to resonate in our hearts.
Upon hearing what Jesus says – what He commands – because of the Spirit within, we desire to obey, just as the physical sheep obeyed their shepherd. When someone claims to be a Christian, but doesn’t heed the Word of God, is he truly one of the flock? Is he one of Jesus’ sheep? Or does he follow the voice of someone else?
Only God knows the true intentions of our heart. However, for anyone claiming the Name of Christ, he would do well to obey His Word. It is only by that that Jesus knows His own.