Wednesday, 10 May 2023

Christ the Gate

I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved,
and will come in and go out and find pasture.
The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy.
I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.

–John 10:9-10

When I hear the word ‘gatekeeper’, I tend to think of someone in a privileged, oftentimes undeserved position who from that perch may prevent deserving people from accessing certain goods to which they would otherwise be entitled. Indeed, the Cambridge Dictionary defines gatekeeping as “the activity of trying to control who gets particular resources, power, or opportunities, and who does not.”

Does Jesus Messiah claim to be this kind of power broker in John 10? I don’t hear his message that way. Jesus tells his audience that “the one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep,” and then proceeds in verse 3 to claim that “the gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice.” One might naturally conclude from this verse that Jesus does in fact claim the gatekeeper’s role, granting entry to the shepherd while barring the “thief and bandit” mentioned in verse 1.

Yet Jesus does not claim to be the gatekeeper in John 10, but rather the gate itself. That is a crucial difference. Moreover, the passage opens by telling us that the thief avoids the gate entirely, and instead “climbs in by another way” (vs. 1). It seems, then, that the gatekeeper’s job is rather easy, because only shepherds approach the gate, almost as if they are the only ones who know it is there or can recognize it for the peculiar entrance it in fact is. There is not much the gatekeeper can do, at any rate, to prevent the thief from breaking in at a different spot.

So, what of the gate itself, the gate that Jesus claims to be? What does this gate open onto? In verse 7, Jesus tells us that this gate, the gate he himself is, is for the sheep: “Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture.” Do we not spy true freedom here in this wonderful idea of “coming in and going out” to find pasture? While the thief only comes “to steal and kill and destroy,” Christ the gate opens instead onto the abundant life of the nurturing field (vs. 10).

How often do we pass by this gate without noticing it, I wonder, in the expectation of instead coming across a grand entrance to some great “gated community,” one designed as much to keep people out as to hem them in? Can such a checkpoint really be Christ the gate? What if instead this grand entrance is where the thief once broke in, and thus leads to the opposite of the abundant life Jesus promises?

Verse 8 tells us that the sheep can perceive and ignore the seductive messaging of all life’s thieves and bandits. The abundant life Jesus promises does not lie along that way. How do we know? Well, do the thieves and bandits lay down their lives for the sheep they hope to attract and control? Does trusting their promises lead to abundant life? We need to ask ourselves some tough questions here and as we do, strive to embrace the love that does in fact lay down its life for others (vs. 11, 15).


For the first time on this well-trodden path, I stop and notice the wind-worn, overgrown garden gate off to the side, where it swings freely on its aged hinges. With the slightest squeak, it beckons me to cross its threshold.

Shalom, friends!

Ron Kuipers