What does John 10:4 mean?
ESV: When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice.
NIV: When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice.
NASB: When he puts all his own sheep outside, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice.
CSB: When he has brought all his own outside, he goes ahead of them. The sheep follow him because they know his voice.
NLT: After he has gathered his own flock, he walks ahead of them, and they follow him because they know his voice.
KJV: And when he putteth forth his own sheep, he goeth before them, and the sheep follow him: for they know his voice.
NKJV: And when he brings out his own sheep, he goes before them; and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice.
Verse Commentary:
In Jesus' era, several separate flocks of sheep would be housed in a single sheep pen. These structures were walled off to prevent other animals from getting in. They also featured a single, narrow opening. The gatekeeper of the pen would only allow approved shepherds in or out. The only reason for someone to climb over the walls would be theft.

To get a particular flock back out of the pen, a shepherd could simply call them. The nature of shepherding means those animals were constantly being spoken to by that one man. In response to his voice—and his voice alone—they would come to the doorway to be let out by the gatekeeper.

Jesus is following his confrontation with religious leaders in chapter 9, where He gave sight to a man born blind. The metaphor He uses here echoes what Jesus told His critics in John 8:42–47. Namely, that they did not listen to Jesus because they were not "His." Those who belong to God recognize the voice of God. But, like sheep from a foreign flock, those who belong to the Devil don't respond when called by Christ.

Jesus will follow this analogy with two more analogies that flesh out the idea that Jesus is the one and only means of salvation, and that those who are part of God's kingdom will recognize no other except Him.
Verse Context:
John 10:1–21 continues directly from Jesus' encounter with local religious leaders, after giving sight to a man born blind (John 9). Jesus' references here to shepherds and shepherding are pointed barbs at these hypocritical, self-serving figures. In this section, Jesus actually creates three separate metaphors; these are not meant to be understood as a single analogy. The first comes in verses 1 through 6, the second in verses 7 through 9, and the third in verses 10 through 18. In doing so, Jesus explains how He differs from the corrupt leaders He confronts. He also delivers His third and fourth ''I am'' statements, out of seven in this gospel.
Chapter Summary:
This passage continues Jesus' discussion with the religious leaders of Jerusalem, seen in chapter 9. Jesus lays out three separate analogies about His ministry, using the concept of sheep and shepherds. In those statements, Jesus explains why some people refuse to accept Him, declares Himself the only means of salvation, and again predicts His sacrificial death. This leads to controversy. Later, Jesus is cornered by a mob in the temple grounds. They once again try to stone Him as He repeats His divine claims, but He escapes in some way not fully described by the text. After this, Jesus leaves the area and returns to the region where John the Baptist had once preached.
Chapter Context:
Starting in chapter 7, the gospel of John describes Jesus' preaching at the Feast of Booths in Jerusalem. Through chapters 7 and 8, He debates with critics and attempts to explain spiritual truths. On the way out of the city, Jesus gives sight to a man born blind, as shown in chapter 9. That begins an extended debate which continues in this chapter. Jesus gives analogies of His mission using shepherding as a theme. Months later, He repeats those ideas when cornered by an aggressive mob in the temple. This sets the stage for His grandest miracle, the raising of Lazarus, seen in chapter 11.
Book Summary:
The disciple John wrote the gospel of John decades after the gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke were written. The author assumes that a reader is already familiar with the content of these other works. So, John presents a different perspective, with a greater emphasis on meaning. John uses seven miracles—which he calls "signs"— to prove that Jesus is, in fact, God incarnate. Some of the most well-known verses in the Bible are found here. None is more famous than the one-sentence summary of the gospel found in John 3:16.
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