Thieves and Robbers

This coming Sunday is the 4th Sunday of Easter in Lectionary Cycle A. 8 All who came (before me) are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. Who are the thieves and robbers? Does the phrase in v. 1 refer to the same group as the phrase in v.8 (or “thief” in v. 10) or not? It is likely that they may refer to different groups. Whoever they are in v.8, they came before Jesus. The ones in v.1 are contemporaries with the shepherd. They also seem similar to the “thief” in v. 10, who also has malevolent intentions against the sheep. It would be very Johannine if there are different layers of meaning to this phrase, e.g.: Some of the possibilities are:

  • Jesus is continuing his attack against the blind Pharisees from 9:41. So the “thieves and robbers” could refer to them.
  • They are disruptive people within the community; people who have entered the flock — but not through the proper entrance — not through Jesus, who is later pictured as the gate. For example, Judas Iscariot, one of the “insiders,” is called a “thief” in 12:6. Acts 20:28-29 uses some of the same language: “Keep watch over yourselves and over the whole flock of which the holy Spirit has appointed you overseers, in which you tend the church of God that he acquired with his own blood. I know that after my departure savage wolves will come among you, and they will not spare the flock.”
  • It also may be a polemic against the agenda laden leaders within the Fourth Evangelist’s own church.
  • In a general sense the phrase may refer to any deceptive leaders or people – people with hidden agendas.
  • Verse 6 makes it clear that the opening verse has more than figurative meaning: “Although Jesus used this figure of speech, they did not realize what he was trying to tell them.”

Image credit: Frank Merino, Pexels, image 7360551

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