Throughout the Gospel of John, every time Jesus says “I Am,” he’s saying that he’s the same God who gave His name to Moses in the burning bush.
Of all the “I Am” statements in the Gospel of God, “I am the gate” from chapter ten is usually overlooked. The others are forever memorialized in hymns and stained glass windows.
But, there just aren’t many great hymns of the church about gates.
“I am the gate” is not only often overlooked, I also think it’s sorely misinterpreted and misunderstood.
Jesus is talking about a gate, a shepherd, a gatekeeper, a group of sheep, and a group of thieves and bandits. And that’s all well and fine, but Jesus explicitly claims to be the gate. Then he explicitly claims to be the shepherd.
And, depending on how you look at it, he might even be the gatekeeper at the same time.
So Jesus-the-shepherd enters Jesus-the-gate because Jesus-maybe-the-gatekeeper opens it for him…so that he can get to the sheep.
Ok, I might be a little confused too.
Jesus is either having an identity crisis, he’s mixing his metaphors…or he’s trying to make a larger point.
Which is what I actually think he’s doing.
There’s a weird little detail that is easily missed, and I think brings the whole thing into focus. In the thirteenth chapter of the Gospel of Luke, Jesus tells his disciples to “strive to enter through the narrow door, for many I tell you will seek to enter and will not be able.”
Unlike the gate-teaching in the Gospel of John that is often lost, this teaching from the Gospel of Luke is much better known.
And there’s the problem. If one isn’t careful, you’d read “I am the gate” in John and think it’s Jesus talking about the same thing as in Luke.
The teaching from Luke is known because of its moralistic tone. Walk the “straight and narrow,” and therefore strive to make it into God’s Kingdom.
That may be what Jesus was saying in Luke. But, that certainly isn’t what Jesus is saying in the Gospel of John.
This is a completely different teaching.
Because the sheep aren’t the ones entering the door—Jesus is going in the door.
The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.
And Jesus leads the sheep out. Not in.
Not into the enclosure—not into the pen—not into the fenced in area.
Jesus enters and leads them—us—out.
Which, of course, begs the question: if Jesus is leading us out, where is he leading us out from?
And, maybe more importantly, where is he leading us to?
You see, there is a tendency among non-Christians,and even among long-time Christians, to think that the Christian life is meant to be narrow, limited, and certainly without fun. There is the fallacy that says that the ideal Christian life is supposed to be bland, reserved, staid—milque-toast, vanilla; that when we become Christians—or when we start to take our faith seriously—it means that we can’t do all the fun things we used to, or say the things we used to, or drink the things we used to, or party the way we used to.
But, what Jesus says is that he’s not here to lead us into constraint…he’s here to lead us out!
What Jesus says is that the old way of life—the ‘world’s’ way of living, with all it’s excesses and addiction—is actually the constrained, fenced in existence from which Jesus is here to free us.
Now, admittedly, all excesses and worldly ways of living don’t end up in addictions, per se, but when you talk to people who are addicted to alcohol, to drugs, to shopping, to food, to sex, to their work, to their looks, etc, they don’t talk about how “free” they are because of all they can eat, buy, smoke, or do.
They talk about how they just can’t stop.
And they talk about it in terms of bondage.
And, what Jesus does…is he sets us free.
He breaks us out of the pen. In fact, the Greek text of John 10 literally reads: he throws us out. And he takes us to what he calls in verse ten: life abundant.
Jesus doesn’t offer milk-toast. He offers life to its fullest: free and unrestrained.
This little allegory that Jesus gives in the opening verses of the tenth chapter of John is actually an account of the meaning of the Incarnation: Jesus enters the world to lead us out.
But, this isn’t Scotty beaming us up. This isn’t the express train “outta Dodge.”
And it’s not something we get when we die.
For in the Gospel of John, we are given the abundant/eternal life now—right now. It’s right here for the taking.
Jesus comes to free us from the world of bondage, sin, excesses, addictions, and constraints and leads us out to be born through the gates of God’s new life where not even death and destruction can touch us.
Like sheep who follow the voice of their shepherd.
All we need do is hear Jesus’ voice, and follow him out.
This blog post is a portion of the 11th chapter of my new book Going to Hell, Getting Saved, and What Jesus Actually Says.