Yesterday we looked at Acts 16 and the text which speaks about the Lord opening Lydia’s heart so she believed the message Paul preached. I said at the end of that post that there is something Jesus says in John 10 which helps us understand what happened with Lydia.
Sheep Not of this Sheepfold?
In John 10:15-16, Jesus indicates that there are two sheepfolds which will be brought together into one flock. In verse 16 he speaks of sheep not of this sheepfold. What is Jesus referring to? Based on the context, I believe Jesus is referring to Jewish and Gentile people who worship God. In Jesus Christ, they will be brought together into one flock, which we now think of as the church.
Jesus goes on to say something very curious in John 10:26-30. He says that some do not believe because they are not His sheep. Some have taken this to mean that God has chosen who the sheep will be before they ever believe in Jesus, and when people hear the Gospel, only those who are predestined to be God’s sheep will actually believe.
But I don’t think this is what Jesus is saying at all.
Instead, I believe Jesus is explaining the transitional nature of His ministry.
The Transitional Nature of Jesus’ Ministry
Prior to the life and ministry of Jesus, people could not “believe in Jesus” because Jesus had not yet been born. Instead, they believe in the promises of God, the goodness and grace of God, and that somehow, in some unknown way, out of God’s love, goodness, mercy, and grace, God would forgive their sins and give them eternal life. They knew, as do we, that the blood of bulls and goats could not take away sin, and that there was no sacrifice for willful sin, and so they had to depend solely on the grace and mercy of God, just as we do today.
Prior to the coming of Jesus, all those who believed on God in this way were added to His sheepfold.
But when Jesus came along, He began a new sheepfold, which came to be known as the “church.”
In beginning to make this sheepfold, God the Father gave all His sheep to Jesus (John 10:29). Though before, they followed God and listened to God’s voice, when they heard Jesus, they recognized the voice of God in Jesus, and they knew Him, and they followed Him (John 10:14, 27). In John 10, Jesus is speaking to Jewish people, and He says that those who were already sheep of God recognized the voice of their shepherd in Jesus, and that is why they believed in Him.
They received new revelation about Who their Shepherd was. Jesus says, of course, that there are other sheep which are not of this sheepfold (John 10:16), which most likely refers to Gentile believers who were known as “God-fearing Gentiles.” They also will recognize Jesus as their Shepherd when they hear His voice, so that both Jews and Gentiles will be joined together into one flock, under one Shepherd (John 10:16).
And Jesus says that all the sheep should rest assured, because just as they were safe and secure under the watchful protection of God’s hand, so also, they will be safe and secure in the hands of Jesus (John 10:28-30). Jesus is not less secure than God, but if anything, provides an extra level of security.
Bringing All Sheep Together Into One Sheepfold
So in other words, “the sheep not of this sheepfold” that Jesus is referring to throughout John 10 are already sheep before they believe in Him. They are not unregenerate sheep.
Instead, they are sheep who have believed in the grace and mercy of God, and as a result have received eternal life from God, but who must now recognize that the true source of their eternal life is Jesus Christ, God in the flesh, their good and true Shepherd.
And when they hear His voice, they believe in Him, just as they have already believed in the grace and mercy of God.
Prior to believing in Jesus, they are the Father’s sheep, and they become Jesus’ sheep when they believe in Him. In Jesus, both Jewish sheep and Gentile sheep are brought together into one sheepfold. In John 10, the sheep Jesus is talking to are Jewish sheep, and the sheep not of this sheepfold are the Gentile sheep, and Jesus will bring both flocks together into one sheepfold, the fold of Jesus Christ, the church.
Are there “Other Sheep” today?
Is it possible that there might be people today who have believed in the grace and mercy of God, but who have not yet believed in Jesus? I think so. Yes, I believe that “there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12), and that Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, and no one comes to the Father except through Him (John 14:6), but I also think that sometimes people are on the Jesus train and they don’t know it.
I think almost all of the Old Testament saints were of this category, and maybe many people today who live in areas where the Gospel of Jesus has not been proclaimed.
I think that prior to hearing the message about Jesus, Cornelius and Lydia were these sorts of people. But when they heard about Jesus, the light clicked on in their heads and they realized that what they believed about God had been made flesh in Jesus Christ, and He was their source of grace, mercy, and eternal life.
So also today, there may be people who have responded to the light they have received form God, and God is sending them further revelation so that they can respond further. This revelation may come through dreams and visions, through receiving the Scripture, or maybe even through you, as you faithfully proclaim the Gospel to your friends, neighbors, or to people around the world.