There are 5 statements in John 10 that deserve careful attention:
“He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out” (John 10:3b)
“When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them…” (John 10:4a)
“I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also” (John 10:16a-b)
“…but you do not believe because you are not my sheep” (10:26)
“My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me” (10:27)
John 10 is the famous “Good Shepherd” discourse that constantly speaks of people who are God’s “sheep.” While most readers may assume that “sheep” in John 10 refers to “Christians”/”believers,” there are several statements that should give us pause here. Above, in John 10:3b, the sheep are called “his own” before he ever leads them out, and he calls to those who are “his own” before they ever follow him. Jesus brings out “his own” in 10:4a. This means that before these “sheep” become believers in the Lord and followers of the Shepherd, they are already in some sense “his.” And while there may be many other sheep in that particular sheep pen, Jesus came only to call “his own” sheep.
Jesus said earlier, “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away” (John 6:37), and, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him” (6:44a).
Who are the sheep in John 10? The sheep are the chosen people, the elect of God, those whom the Father gave to the Son before the foundation of the world (Eph 1:4). Before he even calls to them, Jesus describes the sheep whom he will call as “his own” because they were chosen.
Understanding the “sheep” of John 10 as those who are mercifully chosen by God for salvation makes the best sense of other verses, like John 10:26: “but you do not believe because you are not my sheep.” Jesus was talking to the Jewish opposition, who were clearly unbelievers. Notice Jesus does not say, “You are not yet my sheep because you do not believe,” as if it was believing in Jesus that resulted in becoming a sheep of Jesus. Rather, the reverse is true! According to Jesus, it is being a sheep of the Lord that leads to believing in the Lord!
Think also about John 10:27, “My sheep listen to my voice…and they follow me.” One does not listen to Jesus’ voice and then (upon proper response) become a sheep of the Lord. Instead, the only ones who will listen to Jesus’ voice are Jesus’ sheep, the chosen ones. Jesus’ sheep listen to his sovereign call. “He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out” (10:3b). There are others who are not Jesus’ sheep, and Jesus does not sovereignly call them and lead them out.
Finally, consider “I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen” (10:16a). Since Jesus’ primary audience in John 10 is composed of Pharisees and other Jews, “this sheep pen” is probably the sheep pen of Judaism. This means that the “other sheep” who are “not of this sheep pen” are the Gentiles who will believe. What is Jesus teaching us in John 10?
(1) God has chosen a people for himself, and they are the “sheep”
(2) Jesus is the Good Shepherd who calls to his sheep and leads them to salvation
(3) Jesus’ sheep come from the sheep pens of the Jews and the Gentiles, and he forms one people of God (10:16c)
(4) Being a sheep of Jesus will result in believing in Jesus, not vice versa (10:26)
(5) Jesus will bring all of his sheep to salvation; they will follow (10:16b-c)