Knowing His Voice
by Lois Tverberg

"He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger's voice." John 10:3-5

Jesus often speaks of himself as "the shepherd," which is not just a lovely poetic image. Rather, it was a bold messianic claim because it was frequently used in Old Testament prophecies about the coming Messiah. For instance, in Ezekiel 34 we hear the background of Jesus' statement about future judgment:

"`For this is what the Sovereign LORD says: I myself will search for my sheep and look after them. As a shepherd looks after his scattered flock when he is with them, so will I look after my sheep. "`As for you, my flock, this is what the Sovereign LORD says: I will judge between one sheep and another, and between rams and goats." (Ezek. 34:11-12,17)

The words in Ezekiel speak about judging between sheep and goats, which Jesus quotes in Matthew 25:32-33. The obvious question seems to be how does one judge between one sheep and another, or between sheep and goats? 

An insight comes from Jesus' words in John, and learning a little about shepherding. Sheep are shy creatures that run from humans, but once they know a shepherd, they will come to his or her voice and be quite loyal to him or her. This makes it so if two shepherds meet and their flocks mingle, all they need to do to identify their own is to walk away from the other shepherd and call to them, and the sheep will run to their own shepherd. In the passage at the beginning of this article, Jesus says this very thing - that his own sheep run toward him, and won't wander off to follow a stranger. Then he makes an even bolder statement in verse 16:

I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd.

Here Jesus is talking about the Gentiles who will follow him in coming ages. This would have been shocking to his audience, who thought of Gentiles as hardened and worldly.

An interesting thought occurs to me about the picture that this has for future judgment. Jesus says that his own sheep know his voice, and that is what differentiates them from others. How much else do sheep know about their shepherd? Do they know the fine points of his theology, like his understanding of the godhead, or predestination vs. free will? Sheep know none of that, but they know his voice. They know their shepherd in the Hebraic sense of the word "know," which can mean loyalty and devotion, not just academic knowledge.

So what do we need to know about Jesus to be saved? Probably Satan knows more about him than anyone in the universe, and can explain the various doctrines about him like the Incarnation and Trinity better than any human being. Does that save him? In contrast, is there really any human that has perfect beliefs about Christ, any more than anyone is fully righteous?

Often Christians like to determine the "salvation state" of others by examining the minutia of their beliefs and stances on various issues. Certainly there are basic truths about Christ that must be deep in the soul of every believer, the most important being that he is our LORD, and that he died to redeem us from our sins.

But beyond that, I wonder if when Jesus comes again and judges the sheep and the goats, he won't ask "what side of the fence were you on with this issue?" Instead, he'll simply call, and his true sheep will eagerly leap up and bound toward him because throughout their lives they have learned to follow him, and to know and love his call.

6 Lois A. Tverberg, Ph.D., All rights
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