We are in the period of Jesus' ministry before the last supper but during a time when he is performing many miracles--displeasing his opponents, the religious authorities. Jesus said that he had come into the world to exercise judgment so that those who don't see can and those who see will become blind." His opponents responded, "Surely we aren't blind, are we?"
So, are Jesus' words in chapter 10 an answer to that question? Is Jesus talking to his followers or his enemies when he describes himself as the shepherd?
Whether he is talking to them or not, isn't he talking about them when he contrasts his own role as the shepherd with that of the thief and bandit?
He has healed a blind man; they have criticized him because he did it on the sabbath. Wouldn't a shepherd have been concerned enough about the sheep in his care not to look on the calendar before helping it?
The sheep can tell the difference between the true shepherd and the false one. They know which one to follow.
John was writing about Pharisees, but they weren't the last false shepherds. Christians must continue to distinguish between the voices speaking to them. Jesus says that the sheep can tell the difference. Is that still true of today's sheep? Do we recognize the voice of the shepherd or are we likely to follow some other attraction?
Jesus offers assurances to his listeners: "I am the gate." I am the way in for those who are in need.
He's still using the metaphor of sheep, so we imagine a flock of sheep pushing against the fence, needing the comforts offered inside and needing protection from the dangers out there where they now are.
Until they can find the gate that will let them in, they are stuck there outside.
Jesus says, "I am the gate." I am the way that the sheep can escape dangers and get into the pasture.
Let's not restrict Jesus' promise to afterlife only. He's telling us sheep that there is a way out of our troubles and a way into what we need now.