September 2022 | Jesus, the Door

The Door Symbol of God's Salvation
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The Door Symbol of God's Salvation

Dr. Jose L.

Johannine gospel employs the divine identity of Jesus through the “I am” sayings. It is through these sayings Jesus applies the divine name of God and his authoritative presence to himself. The shepherding imagery intertwined with the “I am the door” saying explains the salvation brought through Jesus in the shepherd discourse of John.10.

John portrays through the gospel that Jesus is standing in the midst of religious festivals (Jn.6-8) or personal crisis/ longings (Jn.11,14) and narrates that he is the fulfilment of spiritual-emotional and physical longing of our lives. He is the living bread, the light of the world, door, good shepherd, resurrection and the life, the way, the truth and the life, the true vine and the one who gives the abundant life to people. Through these predications, Jesus reveals very openly who he is and his very unique identity. 

Sheep-shepherd imagery is well understood in the Palestinian context of Biblical times and even in the Indian context too. The shepherd leads his/her flock during the day where food is sufficient and provides shelter by night. The shepherd knows each sheep closely and even calls them by name and the sheep recognized the voice of their shepherd. 

The gift of salvation is also described in John by the term “life” or “eternal life.” For John, the eternal life start as a present reality, they have passed from death to life (Jn.5:24-26). The one enters through the gate, drinks this water and eats this bread will live forever (Jn.6:51 58; cf.8:51,52; 11:26). Those who enter through the door would receive eternal life which is the divine life, the life of the Father and the Son Jesus Christ. 

John’s theology emphasises the present manifestations of salvation that starts here and now. Those who enter through the door by faith in Jesus receive eternal life/ salvation now and it continues through eternity. 

The Context of the Saying “I am the Door”

John the evangelist blends two parabolic images: Jesus as the good shepherd and as the door for the sheep (Jn.10). The Saying “I am the Door/ Gate of the sheep” is in the context of the controversy where the blind man received physical sight and spiritual insight (Jn.9). Moreover, the third discourse is in the background of two Jewish festivals (the feast of Tabernacle and the Feast of Dedication) and also Jesus speaking to the Jewish religious leaders of the time. Here, the religious context portrays by the different doors opened by them through the religious laws that were imposed upon the people and also by the celebrations the relgio-political festivals offer to quench the thirst of the people. The shepherd discourse covers two related topics: Jesus is portrayed as the shepherd of the sheep (Jn.10:1-6) and he is depicted as the door of the sheepfold (Jn.10:7-10). It also reminds us of the religio-political leaders in Jerusalem who are compared to thieves, robbers and hirelings, who steal, kill and destroy. 

The Old Testament background of Eze.34 criticised Israel’s false shepherds, not having led, fed and protected. The religio-political leaders have failed to care for the sheep by not showing them the true way and not feeding them properly. God has already promised that he would send a shepherd in the line of David who would feed his people and provide safety and pastures (Ezek.34:23,24). Jesus by using a figurative discourse is making the claim that he is the good shepherd who provides life in abundance (Jn.10:10). 

The healed blind man in Jn.9 is the representative of the common flock who have heard the voice of Jesus the shepherd and have come to him through the open door. On the other side, the Pharisees are the religious leaders who become obstacles for the people to find the door for salvation.

I. Jesus the Good Shepherd (Jn.10:1-6).

The discourse identifies the five features of the good shepherding of Jesus. Jesus receives the appointment from the Father and not self-appointed by the false shepherds of his day (vv.1-2). He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. The sheep listens to the shepherd’s voice (v.3). He guides them out through the door. His sheep follow him because they know his voice (v.4). The intimacy of the relationship between the shepherd and the sheep is demonstrated by recognizing the shepherd’s voice. The shepherd has the greatest role of coming to the sheep, calling them and leading them by name. The Psalmist portrays God as the good shepherd and people of God as the sheep of his pasture (Pss.23:1; 74:1; 79:13; 80:1; 95:7; 100:3). 

The imagery is used in the OT as ‘the shepherds of Israel’ employed for the political and religious leaders of the time. The discourse also brings the image of the bad shepherds (Jn.10:12-13; cf.Eze.34:5-6, 8-10; Jer.23:1-3; Zech.11:15). They have failed to care for the sheep. God is portrayed as the shepherd of Israel (Ps.23:1; 80:1; Isa.40:11). This is the context Johannine Jesus is described as the good shepherd. Prophet Ezekiel condemns the religious leaders of Israel of his time for not taking care of the weak and sick, not bringing back the strays and seeking for the lost but ruled them harshly and brutally (Ez.34:4). God is promising them to rescue the flock by himself and shepherd them with justice (Eze.34:10-16). As a good shepherd he cares for them, rescues them, and feeds them. Jesus identifies as the good shepherd.

John is using the same metaphoric language conveying truth by an analogy. Jesus is portrayed as the gate for the sheep (Jn.10:7,9) and then by the imagery of the good shepherd (Jn.10:11,14).  

II. Jn.10:7-10JESUS AS THE DOOR/ GATE OF THE SHEEP

Jesus Christ as the door is the third of seven “I am” declarations of Jesus recorded in John’s gospel. Jesus said “I am the door”. He is the only door by which we may enter and be saved (Jn.10:9). Jesus is the one who provided eternal life (Jn.3:16). Usually, sheep are incapable of finding their way just like the people of the world. The shepherd imagery explains the guidance, provision and protection for the sheep.  They are designated as gate keepers. They stayed with the sheep through the night, protecting the fold from their enemies. 

The door is a great imagery because it signifies the passage and entrance. In ancient Palestinian world sheep pen was made up of a circle of rocks piled into a wall with small open space to enter where the shepherds lie down as the door and becomes the doorway to the sheep. He literally becomes the door to the sheep. 

Jesus said, “I am the door; whoever enters through me will be saved. He will come in and go out and find pasture” (Jn.10:7, 9). In this discourse the door is a symbol of God’s salvation. It is through Jesus that God has opened the door of salvation to every person on the earth. 

Johannine Jesus uses the pastoral imagery in a new direction. Jesus saying of “very truly, I say to you” indicates a new direction in the discourse. In this discourse Jesus’ self identification as the gate for the sheep (vv.7,9) and also identifies Jesus as the good shepherd (vv.11,14) willingness to lay down his life for the sheep. 

One enters the fold through Jesus based on one’s relationship to Jesus as the door. Those who enter the fold by other ways than the door/ gate are thieves and bandits (v.8). Jesus repeatedly says, “I am the door” revealing that he is the door to salvation. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture.Jesus is portrayed as the door/ gate for the sheep through which the people must enter and find safety and pasture. Through the door imagery the pre-existent logos become the way/door towards God. Anyone who enters by this door will be saved. When they go out through him they find pasture. 

Jesus is also compared to the Kingdom of God as the narrow gate to enter (Mt.7:13,14). However, the gate is as wide as the crucified arms of Jesus stretched out on the cross longing to embrace the whole world (Jn.3:16). In contrast, the false shepherds probably the then Jewish religious leaders brought destruction and death to people by not showing the true door. But Jesus the good shepherd opened the door of salvation so that we might have life in abundance. 

In the Palestinian context the shepherds lie down across the entry of the sheepfold and they become the shield from the thieves and the wild beasts. Psalmist says that “This is the gate of the Lord, the righteous shall enter through it” (Psa.118:20). It is Jesus through the gate the people enter for receiving the abundant life. 

The true shepherd leads his sheep into safety and leads them out into pasture. Jesus presents his relation to the new community of the people of God. It is Jesus the door/gate through which the sheep might enter and the blessings of salvation now available to those who go into the sheep pen through the door/ gate and then go out to pasture (v.9). Jesus is the door/gate (vv.7,8) and he himself is the good shepherd who dies for the sheep (vv.11,15,17,18). 

The Abundant life the Door brings (v.10).

The eternal life Jesus brings to humanity (Jn.3:36); the spring welling up to eternal life (Jn.4:13,14); the resurrection life (Jn.11:25,26); the bread of life (Jn.6:35) and streams of living water (Jn7:37,38). The abundant life Jesus brings is opposite to Pharisaic legalism and ‘lording it over’ nature of the religio-political leaders of the time. The salvation is the abundant life brings through the Good Shepherd (Jn.10:11-21). It is the pre-existent word who brought the abundant life through giving up his own life for humanity.

The Door of God’s Salvation /Moksha/Security and Nourishment: 

The door an imagery is connected with the sheep pen analogy where the sheep find security against robbers and wild animals (Jn.10:8,12,13; cf. Psa.118:20) and the sheep lead out for pasture. Jesus is the door through which they enter and leave the fold to the pasture. He is the door/ gate and the keeper. He is the only door which the sheep can come to the Father (Jn.14:6). The business of the door/doorkeeper is to point out the spiritual nourishment for the sheep as a shepherd who leads them through the living bread and the living water (Jn.6:43-58; Jn.7:37, 38). Jesus is the door/ gate for God’s saving security and nurture.

History has shown that there are political and religious leaders who promised to be the liberators of the time but in truth they were robbers and liars. Leaders promise liberation to the society and the world but they lead people into slavery and torture.

In a world of pluralism Jesus’ exclusive claim for the unique way of salvation is very special. For the Pharisees of Jesus’ time it was blasphemy. But Johannine Jesus is the unique way to the Father. He is the only door through which humanity could be saved, he is the living bread, the living water, the way, truth and the life and the only way to the Father.

Implication for the Present:

In the “I am” saying of John Jesus is depicted as the door/ gate. The saying is parallel to “I am the way, the truth and the life; no one comes to the Father except through me” (Jn.14:16).

In John, the life Jesus has given start here and now. This new life is opened to humanity by piercing his hand, legs and finally by throwing open his side with a spear (Jn.19:34). A new door is opened to humanity through his death on the cross. The one who enters though the door/ gate starts experiencing the abundant life from now on. By believing in Jesus one enters into the abundant - eternal life and eternity has broken into the present life. It is the quality of life one experiences in and through Jesus. It is not limited to the earthly life but it continues through eternity to live with God the Father experiencing abundant life. 

There is a great challenge we face today to proclaim God’s word in a pluralistic society where so many doors open to show the way for salvation. So it is our responsibility to proclaim and lead the people to Jesus, the true door and the good shepherd. The message of the gospel is emphasised: “Jesus has come that all in the world may have life and life in its abundance” (Jn.10:10).The preaching of the exclusive sayings faces threat from the religious fundamentalists but in the midst of many ‘doors’ someone should show the true door for people to have their eternal life/ salvation. 

The Jewish religious leaders were represented as the false shepherds who were robbers and thieves leading the people astray.  We need healing from spiritual blindness so that we will enter through the door of salvation and find pasture. Further we need to listen to the shepherd’s voice and follow him. The door is open to all people all over the world irrespective of the ethnic, socio-religious and economic backgrounds. 

In the eastern religious traditions there is salvation given through various paths/ margas (doors): ‘Karma marga’, ‘Gynamarga’, ‘Bhakthimarga’ and probably so many other margas. But Jesus says that he is the door for the sheep and he will give the salvation/ life in abundance for those who believe in him. Jesus said ‘I came that they may have life and have in abundance’(Jn.10:10).

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