There are many ways that Jesus has been described but here he is calling himself a ‘gate.’ Gates have two purposes. They keep unwanted things out and they keep what is inside safe. Comparing himself to a gate, Jesus is the means by which his sheep come and go to find pasture. He is also giving a defining contrast to the ‘thieves and robbers’ who only seek to kill and destroy. So who are the ‘thieves and robbers?’
A point to remember is that the Gospel of John was written several decades following Jesus’ death and resurrection. It was also written following the Roman destruction of the Temple which left Jerusalem in rubble. So the Gospel was written to those living in tumultuous times while also having heard the astounding news of Jesus risen.
In the Old Testament, shepherds were the kings and rulers of the people. The judgment against them was how they were willing to sacrifice the people for their own personal gain. Their pursuit of personal goals meant that people would end up killed and that hopes for justice and life were destroyed. Attempts to claim a place in God’s kingdom exposed their true nature and Jesus’ sheep should listen and know the truth against their false claims.
Jesus called himself the gate by which people would come and go to find pasture (life that can only be described as abundant). In contrast to the ‘thieves and robbers’ who cared only for their own benefit, Jesus in the following verses described himself as the ‘Good Shepherd’ because he was willing to lay down his life for the sheep. The contrast couldn’t be greater. Those who listen to the voice of Jesus…who follow his examples of bringing healing to the sick and invitation to the outsider…who announce the news of forgiveness where God welcomes us into relationship with him and each other are his sheep. They are the ones for whom Jesus is the gate, the way, to life that is abundant.
The Gospel of John was written for people facing tumultuous times and we fit that category as well. The message is still the same. There are those looking for their own advantage and benefit. There is Jesus who gave his life for us. Only one is the gate, the way, through which life is going to be found for all.