“I am the door” (John 10:7, 9). This is figurative language. It attracts attention, and beckons one to look closer in order to understand the point of comparison.
The language is of a sheepfold (John 10:1-10 cf. Numbers 32:16; Judges 5:16; 2 Chronicles 32:28; Psalm 78:70; Zephaniah 2:6). A sheepfold (sometimes called a sheepcote) is an enclosure in which sheep were kept for protection. At night, shepherds would take their sheep to a sheepfold. The folds were typically a stonewalled, unroofed enclosure, which was often hedged around in thorny hedge to deter predators. Many were large enough to hold several herds at once (Confusion did not exist because each herd knew the voice of its shepherd, and each shepherd knew his sheep). A porter [(KJV), gatekeeper (ESV), doorkeeper (NKJV, NASB)] was stationed to guard the one door leading in and out of the sheepfold. It was his responsibility to restrict who came and went to only authorized shepherds. Shepherds commonly were provided a ‘bunk house’ in which to rest, while the porter kept watch.
Sometimes thieves and robbers stole sheep. They did not typically do so by the door (John 10:1). Instead, “the current criminal practice was to climb over the wall, slaughter as many sheep as possible before detection, and throw them to accomplices outside…” (Ralph Gower, The New Manners and Customs of Bible Times, p. 133-140. Quoted in the Eighteenth Annual Denton Lectureship Book, p. 202).
Jesus used the picture of the ancient sheepfold to make three points: (1) He is the door that leads to good things. He said, “I am the door. If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture… I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly” (John 10:9-10). Sheep in times of old passed through the door of the sheepfold. They entered for physical safety, and generally found it (though, there were bad men who would occasionally enter unlawfully and kill the sheep). They exited to find pasture, that is, physical sustenance. The point is, Jesus is the one we go through to receive spiritual safety and sustenance. He provides abundant life. He provides everlasting life (John 3:16; John 10:28; 12:25; 1 John 2:25; 1 John 5:11-13).
(2) He reminds them that not all religious leaders lead to good things. He said, “The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy” (John 10:10). Sheep thieves did not come with the best interest of the sheep’s well-being. They were plunderers, interested in self. Even so, many religious leaders are not interested in the people’s spiritual well-being; they are motivated by other things, purely selfish things (Rom. 16:18; 1 Tim. 6:5; Tit. 1:11; 2 Pet. 2:3). He indicated that such had been the nature of many even prior to His coming (John 10:8). There had been false messiahs. However, now that He has come, all religious leaders should lead the people through Him. He is the door through which the sheep are to pass.
(3) Faithful sheep are discerning. They don’t follow any and every voice (John 10:3-5; 8b). We need to investigate matters (Acts 17:11; 1 Thes. 5:21). We need to prove preachers (1 John 4:1). We need to know the difference between the doctrine of Christ and the commandments of men (Matt. 15:9). How well do you know the voice of the Shepherd?