Who are the “Other Sheep” in John 10:16?

There is a page on this site where readers can submit questions or suggest topics. Recently I received the following question:

What does John 10:16 mean, where Jesus says: “And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.”

In the Gospel of John, chapter 10, Jesus explains that, opposed to the bad shepherds (spiritual leaders) of Israel, he is the “Good Shepherd.”

The occasion for this message was that in chapter 9, the Pharisees were upset with a man whom Jesus had healed of blindness, because he refused to stop saying that Jesus had healed him. In response, the Pharisees excommunicated this man from the synagogue, and thereby the Jewish community (see John 9:35).

Fulfillment of Messianic Prophecies

However, by denouncing the bad shepherds and declaring himself to be the Good Shepherd, Jesus wasn’t just saying that he was a more caring spiritual leader than the Pharisees of that day – Jesus was actually identifying himself as the fulfillment of the Messianic prophecies, that God was going to raise up ONE shepherd, a good shepherd, to lead his people.

In Ezekiel 34:23 and 37:24, Ezekiel (writing hundreds of years after the death of King David, predicted a future day when “David” would rule over the people of Israel as their single shepherd.

Rather than having many shepherds (spiritual leaders), who were often bad, God was going to raise up a single shepherd, from the line of David. This was certainly a reference to the promise God made to David in 2 Samuel 8, called the Davidic Covenant, in which God promised that the Messiah would come from David’s family line.

Consider this passage from Jeremiah 23, which is clearly speaking of Jesus as the future, coming “Good Shepherd.”

“Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture!” declares the LORD. Therefore thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, concerning the shepherds who care for my people: “You have scattered my flock and have driven them away, and you have not attended to them. Behold, I will attend to you for your evil deeds, declares the LORD. Then I will gather the remnant of my flock out of all the countries where I have driven them, and I will bring them back to their fold, and they shall be fruitful and multiply. I will set shepherds over them who will care for them, and they shall fear no more, nor be dismayed, neither shall any be missing, declares the LORD.
“Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In his days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell securely. And this is the name by which he will be called: The LORD is our righteousness.’

Jeremiah 23:1-6

A Flock of Seagulls Gentiles (Too)

The surprise twist that Jesus introduces to his Jewish audience, is that this flock that he will shepherd will not only be made up of Jews – who were traditionally referred to as the flock of God (see Psalm 100:3). Instead, Jesus was telling them, he was going to also bring “others” into the flock. The others he was referring to are: Gentiles (non-Jews).

These Gentiles, who would also come to believe in Jesus as their Savior, points to the fact that Jesus’ message and mission were not just for the Jewish people, but for all people, regardless of their ethnic or national background.

This idea of the universality of Jesus’ message is a central theme of the Gospel of John. Throughout the Gospel, Jesus is depicted as the Light of the World and the Savior of all people. This passage emphasizes that Jesus’ mission is not limited to a the Jewish people, but extends to all people who will listen to and follow Him.

This message is not unique to John’s Gospel. In Luke 4, when we read about Jesus’ first sermon in his hometown of Nazareth, this message of God’s love and grace extending to the Gentiles is something which causes an uproar, leading to people trying to throw him off a cliff.

Furthermore, this message was also an important part of the Old Testament, going all the way back to God’s promise to Abraham in Genesis 12, that through his offspring (the Messiah), people of all nations would be blessed. It’s a theme that is found in the prophets, who spoke of God’s love for and care about the salvation of the nations.

In John 10:16, Jesus is likely alluding to Isaiah 56:8, which says: “The Lord GOD, who gathers the outcasts of Israel, declares, “I will gather yet others to him besides those already gathered.”

Though many Jewish people in Jesus’ day were surprised to hear that God was interested in and cared about the Gentiles too, their surprise was due to their failure to read their own scriptures carefully enough.

The Fulfillment of Jesus’ Words

The fulfillment of this promise of creating “one flock” with “one shepherd” is realized in the New Testament in the Church. In Matthew 28:19, Jesus instructs his disciples to “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations…” In Ephesians 2:11-22, Paul the Apostle talks about how Jews and non-Jews have now become ONE “flock” in Christ, who has torn down the wall of division between them.

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One thought on “Who are the “Other Sheep” in John 10:16?

  1. Well done with a lot of ground/details covered on this topic…I enjoyed you pointing out different sections of the Bible that all come together on this topic. How great it is to see the prophets, apostles, and Jesus all in sync!

    Regards,
    Ryan in Parker, Colorado

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