Examining John 10:10
In the first article, I introduced a teaching that adds healing and financial blessing to the atonement. (This is in addition to salvation.) In the second article, I provided a primary reason why I think that this teaching is dangerous. In the third article, I examined Isaiah 53:5 which is the primary passage that is cited by those who teach this doctrine.
The second key passage cited as a proof text for this teaching is John 10:10. It reads, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.”
The argument builds upon the last phrase “have life and have it abundantly.” It contrasts the phrase with “steal and kill and destroy.” The reasoning goes, if the thief is taking away from us by causing sin, sickness, and poverty, and Jesus came to do the opposite, He should be reversing these things. And especially this, Jesus didn’t come to give life and life only. (This is noted to be spiritual life in eternity.) He also came to give that and more – namely, a prosperous physical life in opposition to what the thief does.
However, a closer examination of the text will reveal something quite different. As done with Isaiah 53:5, let us get a context on the passage in order to set our minds in the place to understand.
First of all, there is no disconnection between chapter 9 and chapter 10 of John. The narrative just continues. So a better place to start may be in the chapter before. There, we find the story of when Jesus heals the bling beggar. In verse 2, the disciples asked Jesus, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” He negates both saying, it was so that “the works of God might be displayed in him.” (So this whole incident was preordained by God to happen for a particular purpose which, I think, unfolds in chapter 10.)
Jesus heals the beggar. The beggar does not know who healed him since he was blind when Jesus touched him. Seeing the beggar now healed, the people there take him to the Pharisees. The Pharisees were already after Jesus because he was a threat to their rule. So they ignored the healed beggar, cast him out of the synagogue and went straight after Jesus. They cared nothing for the beggar (Jn. 9:13-34).
Jesus heard that they cast him out and goes to him. He tells the beggar who He is and the beggar worships Him (Jn. 9:38). Jesus says, “For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and those who see may become blind.” Then He accuses the Pharisees of being those who will become blind.
The point here is that Jesus is giving sight to the blind and causing blindness to those who think they see. The Pharisees, who pomp around as the enlightened ones who see and know, are coming into judgment.
Now, in chapter 10, Jesus speaks to the crowd for they were all watching. It is a mixed crowd made up of Pharisees, Jews, the disciples, the healed beggar, and more. Jesus speaks to them in a “paroimia” which is more of a simile than a parable. He says this:
“Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door but climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber. But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. To him the gatekeeper opens. The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers.”
It is important to see the subjects of the story. They are the sheepfold, the door, the thief, the robber, and the shepherd. Our goal is to find out who the thief is and where Jesus is found in order to understand John 10:10.
We need to be natural and general with our interpretation of the story since it is just simile. The purpose was to communicate a truth to those who would understand and to hide such truth from those who were not meant to understand. As indicated in verse 6, the Pharisees did not understand. This story, then, is a judgment to them.
Judea was very familiar with shepherds and sheep. The land was a plateau and dry. There was little grass except out in the pastures. Each day, a shepherd would lead the sheep into the sheepfold so that the Gatekeeper (or Porter) would watch over them during the night. The next morning, the shepherd will go and call out to his sheep. They would hear and recognize his voice and follow.
During the night, thieves and robbers would attempt to climb the walls to get the sheep. The thieves would steal them and the robbers would kill them for meat. But the shepherd was the only one who could go through the gate and draw the sheep out.
In this story, the sheep are the Israelites. The shepherd is the Messiah, Jesus. The thieves and robbers are the Pharisees (and any one else who would seek to cross the wall). In the second part of the story, Jesus refers to Himself as the door as well (Jn. 10:7,9). So, it is through Him that the sheep enter and it is He that leads them out as their shepherd.
The contrast here is the true and false shepherds. Christ is the true. The sheep here is voice and follow. The Pharisees are the false (Jn. 10:8). They climb the walls to steal, kill, and destroy the sheep (just as they did with the healed beggar).
So, in this context Jesus says to the people who understand, “I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly” (Jn. 10:9-10). Jesus adds, when the wolves come, the false shepherd “flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep” (Jn. 10:13).
What is clear is that the thief in verse 10 is a simile to those who are self-appointed shepherds. They care nothing of the sheep. They come in the wrong way and steal rather than lead. Jesus, in contrast, is the true shepherd and the door by which the sheep come to eternal life. The thief is not Satan nor suffering. However, the false shepherds do cause suffering.
Thus, the question is this: What does it mean that Jesus came so that the sheep he leads out will have life and have it abundantly? A good indication, to get us started, is found in the verse before where it says in the simile, that those who are saved “will go in and out and find pasture.”
Is the pasture symbolic of earthly prosperity? Does it refer to healing and blessing? John wrote much about “life” in his gospel. In fact, the word appears in the fourth verse of the first chapter: “In him was life, and the life was the light of men.” This is a reference to Jesus.
John’s use of life throughout his gospel is not limited to physical or spiritual eternity. At times, he references the quality of life. And this is where the examination has its real value. What kind of quality of life is John meaning when he calls it abundant?
There are several passages to turn to in John’s gospel, but I’ll mention one. Back in chapter 6, John describes the story of the feeding of the five thousand. The crowd is following Jesus as he ministers and travels. Seeing the multitude of people hungry, Jesus feeds them by performing a miracle. He multiplies a young boy’s basket of bread and fish. The entire crowd is fed and then some.
The crowd, impressed with what just happened, pressed toward Jesus. So He withdrew to a mountain by Himself. The next day, a portion of the crowd found Jesus again and followed him for more food. But Jesus gives them none saying, “You are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not labor for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life” (Jn. 6:26-27).
Jesus then calls Himself the “bread of life” (Jn. 6:35). But they grumbled because they wanted more food. They pressed Him several times and He still gave them no more. He only said that He was the food they needed. The word “life” is used many times here in reference to Himself rather than earthly provisions – in particular, food. Jesus denies them food in order to emphasize Himself as the necessity.
So life is meant to mean a quality of living that surpasses all considerations of natural life. It is the special quality of relationship that Jesus established between God and man. From this powerful quality of life flows freedom, knowledge, truth, and love that cannot be experienced through any other means. This is the life abundant. This is the extra stuff that is communicated in John’s gospel when he speaks of having life in Christ. It is the quality of trust in God. It is living beyond and through current sufferings.
So, the reference to going in and out and finding pasture makes more sense. It is not finding food since you can have none and still have such abundant life. You can live without natural provisions and experience abundance in Christ. Rather than healing and financial blessing, “go in and out and find pastures” refers to the freedom and safety those in Christ experience when the thieves come to steal, kill, and destroy.
In the context of John 10, these thieves come to take away the quality of relationship with God that Jesus came to give. They seek to harm people as they did the beggar. They seek their own gain and will cast the sheep out. And when the sheep are out, they are vulnerable to the wolves. But the sheep that are in Christ are safe in Him.
Matthew 24:24 says, “For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect.” Those in Christ are safe in Christ. When the false shepherds come to deceive, the sheep that were drawn out by Jesus will not suffer such deceit. It is not possible. They are safe to go in and out and find pasture.
There is more to be said about this. Ezekiel 34 sheds a lot of light on this subject and shadows this exact story that we find in John 9 and 10. It is a prophecy against the shepherds of Israel. Jesus is the true shepherd that draws His sheep out through the gate and into a life of abundance where they enjoy a quality of life and relationship of trust in God.
In Christ, we are satisfied by Him since He is the bread of life. We need Him only. The things of this world, be they poverty or sickness, will come and the sheep following the Great Shepherd will enjoy abundance in God. “The cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful” (Matt. 3:22).
The abundant living that Jesus came to give is security, safety, and a quality of relationship in God whereby the Christian trusts and is satisfied in Him above all of the things that happen. This is how the disciples understood it. They were there when Jesus said these things.
The disciples suffered terrible persecution in their last years as all but one were martyred. Peter encouraged the suffering believers to keep the inheritance of heaven in mind as they bore the trails here on earth. Paul suffered many things even near death (1 Cor. 11:23-28). And, he could not heal his young disciple, Timothy (1 Tim. 5:23). All of them experienced something quite different than natural prosperity. They had a love and a relationship with God that exceeded anything that this earth could offer. This is the abundant life.