This statement in John 10:16 occurs near the end of Jesus’ earthly ministry. The Gospel of John is distinct from the synoptic Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke. True it is an inspired writing that has God’s hand all over it. However, John is inspired to record the earthly ministry of Jesus in quite a different way. Perhaps you have noticed how John’s narrative concisely divvies 3 ½ years into the first 11 chapters and then 8 days which include Jesus’ passion, death, burial, and resurrection into the remaining 10 chapters. This is significant with all things considered. When will Jesus have time before He is nailed to the Cross to bring in other sheep? It is obvious that Jesus intends to use us. There is no doubt He will bring them in, but He will use us as part of His plan to do so.
During the time of Jesus’ earthly ministry and long prior, the Israelites envisioned a free Jewish State for Jewish people. Longing for exclusivity, they were waiting for a savior who would restore the kingdom to previous glory. Imagine their disappointment with Jesus when He comes to town announcing a kingdom that has nothing to do with their nationalist aspirations. In the context of this “I must” statement there was explicit division among the Jews because of the Good Shepherd discourse. Nationalism is nothing new. There are very few, if any, good things to say about nationalism. One only need mention the Ottoman Empire or Rwanda for extreme instances. Typically, nationalism is driven by fear or hate in association with xenophobia. Profane bias which elevates one type of people above another is a precursor for exclusivity. Yet unbiblical bias is not limited to nationalist ideas, general bigotry, or unwarranted prejudice, but the local church can be found excluding people for unbiblical reasons. I know it is an unpleasant and severe comparison, but the point is Christians cannot exclude people for unbiblical reasons. Incidentally, this is apart from the debate regarding Exclusivity vs Inclusivity that considers questions of how salvation is imparted.
Seemingly out of nowhere Jesus announces and acknowledges there are other sheep. He is in Jerusalem for the Feast of Dedication or Hanukkah. This Feast was inaugurated during a time of the Seleucid Empire when Antiochus IV Epiphanes was in power. The dedication of the Temple served to remind them of its desecration and efforts to restore the religious rites of Judaism. Certainly, the sheep of Israel would remember it was Greeks and Greek sympathizers who were instrumental the proscription of their practices. The audacity of the timing of Jesus’ announcement and acknowledgement. Who are these other sheep? These are the elect among the Gentiles. But wait, early in His ministry, Jesus is on record for having said to his apostles not to go to the Gentiles and not to go into the towns of the Samaritans but only go to the lost sheep of Israel. He also says to the Canaanite woman, I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. Lest we find this to have an air of xenophobia Isaiah.56:6-8 is helpful. “And the foreigners who join themselves to the Lord, to minister to Him, to love the name of the Lord, and to be His servants, everyone who keeps the Sabbath and does not profane it, and holds fast my covenant these I will bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer; their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.” The Lord God, who gathers the outcasts of Israel, declares, “I will gather yet others to Him besides those already gathered.” Even back to Abraham, when God says, “all people will be blessed by your seed,” there is an acknowledgement of Gentiles coming into the flock. After Jesus sent him to go get the Gentiles, Peter said, “truly I understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears Him and does what is right is acceptable to Him.”
Here is where it becomes a real complication for some churches. Particularly, small churches that are unaccustomed to regularly receiving new members. There can be an uninviting culture that develops that is akin to xenophobia. Unlike many phobias, xenophobia is often deeply rooted in a combination of upbringing, religious teachings, and previous experiences. I believe in some cases it is unintentional. And some churches do not even realize that a spirit of exclusion has crept in. This tribalism can lead to the death of a local body. But where this is the intentional stance of a local body there is a huge problem. Where the Bible teaches love some churches are bound up in fear and inhumane hatred that produces a persistent state of abiding darkness. It is invidious. Where is the light? I thank God for welcoming Christians who understand that God can do the same for others as He has done for them. But it is not just waiting for them to come. Jesus said, I must bring them in also. This signals that we must bring them also. Our efforts must be intentional. Our efforts must be godly. Our efforts must be done in love. Our efforts must be full of compassion. Our efforts must be like sheep who follow Christ. By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. Love is the resolution. Love is how we bring them in.
Jesus speaks the language of truth. He speaks the language of forgiveness. He speaks the language of grace. He speaks the language of love. But He also speaks the language of repentance. As far as I can tell the lack of repentance is the only exclusionary language in Scripture. When the true sheep of Jesus hear His voice, they do not hear what they want to hear. They hear what He actually says. When Jesus speaks, He will not contradict Scripture. Indeed, His voice will be aligned with the Word. The church has been under attack for positions that are considered by some exclusionary. The Church has been accused of fear and hate as a means of excluding others. The Church that has heard the voice of Jesus understands that we love all people be we do not affirm any sin. How could we? Jesus died for our sins. Can we hear the Savior saying that? He died so that our sins maybe forgiven through faith in Him. Can we hear the Savior saying that? He rose that we might be pardoned from our sins. Can we hear the Savior saying that? Let the Savior speak. Still He speak from eternity and I, if I be lifted up from the earth will draw all men unto me. After all, He did say, “I must bring them also.” Remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.