“The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.” (John 10:10).
This means that I need to get rid of those things in my life that hold me back from enjoying the abundant life God has given me, right?
Or I have to bind and rebuke the devil for trying to rob me of my abundant life, right?
One of the dangers of pulling verses out of context is that we end up robbing God’s Word of its’ power.
See Casting Vision, or Being Obedient for a great example of this.
And John 10:10 is another great example.
Why do we do this with God’s Word?
I used to be like this, mainly because I was too lazy to study the Bible myself. I neglected to feed myself on the Word daily; instead I would don my spiritual bib once a week, to be shoveled this kind of blended slop that did little but leave a foul taste, and give me lots of gas.
This is now one of my biggest frustrations as a Christian: listening to Pastors and Bible teachers – who can’t be bothered studying the Bible properly – cherry-picking verses from God’s Word, and creating an unbiblical doctrinal smorgasbord. That would be like someone opening a novel randomly at page 154, reading a sentence, and inventing a story line around it. That’s a stupid way to read a book – we might as well write our own! It’s also a stupid way to read God’s Word.
OK, now that that’s off my chest, we need to get some context here. To get the back story, we need to go right back to the start of the previous chapter. So, here we go:
John 9:1-10:41 (NKJV)
Now as Jesus passed by, He saw a man who was blind from birth.
And His disciples asked Him, saying, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”
Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but that the works of God should be revealed in him.
I must work the works of Him who sent Me while it is day; the night is coming when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”
When He had said these things, He spat on the ground and made clay with the saliva; and He anointed the eyes of the blind man with the clay.And He said to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which is translated, Sent). So he went and washed, and came back seeing.
Therefore the neighbors and those who previously had seen that he was blind said, “Is not this he who sat and begged?”
Some said, “This is he.” Others said, “He is like him.”
He said, “I am he.”Therefore they said to him, “How were your eyes opened?”
He answered and said, “A Man called Jesus made clay and anointed my eyes and said to me, ‘Go to the pool of Siloam and wash.’ So I went and washed, and I received sight.”
Then they said to him, “Where is He?”
He said, “I do not know.”
They brought him who formerly was blind to the Pharisees. Now it was a Sabbath when Jesus made the clay and opened his eyes.
Then the Pharisees also asked him again how he had received his sight.
He said to them, “He put clay on my eyes, and I washed, and I see.”
Therefore some of the Pharisees said, “This Man is not from God, because He does not keep the Sabbath.”
Others said, “How can a man who is a sinner do such signs?”
And there was a division among them.
They said to the blind man again, “What do you say about Him because He opened your eyes?”
He said, “He is a prophet.”
But the Jews did not believe concerning him, that he had been blind and received his sight, until they called the parents of him who had received his sight. And they asked them, saying, “Is this your son, who you say was born blind? How then does he now see?”
His parents answered them and said, “We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind; but by what means he now sees we do not know, or who opened his eyes we do not know. He is of age; ask him. He will speak for himself.”
His parents said these things because they feared the Jews, for the Jews had agreed already that if anyone confessed that He was Christ, he would be put out of the synagogue.
Therefore his parents said, “He is of age; ask him.”
So they again called the man who was blind, and said to him, “Give God the glory! We know that this Man is a sinner.”
He answered and said, “Whether He is a sinner or not I do not know. One thing I know: that though I was blind, now I see.”
Then they said to him again, “What did He do to you? How did He open your eyes?”
He answered them, “I told you already, and you did not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to become His disciples?”
Then they reviled him and said, “You are His disciple, but we are Moses’ disciples.
We know that God spoke to Moses; as for this fellow, we do not know where He is from.”
The man answered and said to them, “Why, this is a marvelous thing, that you do not know where He is from; yet He has opened my eyes!
Now we know that God does not hear sinners; but if anyone is a worshiper of God and does His will, He hears him. Since the world began it has been unheard of that anyone opened the eyes of one who was born blind. If this Man were not from God, He could do nothing.”
They answered and said to him, “You were completely born in sins, and are you teaching us?” And they cast him out.
Jesus heard that they had cast him out; and when He had found him, He said to him, “Do you believe in the Son of God?”
He answered and said, “Who is He, Lord, that I may believe in Him?”
And Jesus said to him, “You have both seen Him and it is He who is talking with you.”
Then he said, “Lord, I believe!” And he worshiped Him.
And Jesus said, “For judgment I have come into this world, that those who do not see may see, and that those who see may be made blind.”
Then some of the Pharisees who were with Him heard these words, and said to Him, “Are we blind also?”
Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would have no sin; but now you say, ‘We see.’ Therefore your sin remains.
“Most assuredly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door, but climbs up some other way, the same is a thief and a robber. But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. To him the doorkeeper opens, and the sheep hear his voice; and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. And when he brings out his own sheep, he goes before them; and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice.
Yet they will by no means follow a stranger, but will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers.”
Jesus used this illustration, but they did not understand the things which He spoke to them.
Then Jesus said to them again, “Most assuredly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep.
All who ever came before Me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not hear them.
I am the door. If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture.
The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.
I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd gives His life for the sheep. But a hireling, he who is not the shepherd, one who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees; and the wolf catches the sheep and scatters them.
The hireling flees because he is a hireling and does not care about the sheep. I am the good shepherd; and I know My sheep, and am known by My own.
As the Father knows Me, even so I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep.
And other sheep I have which are not of this fold; them also I must bring, and they will hear My voice; and there will be one flock and one shepherd.
Therefore My Father loves Me, because I lay down My life that I may take it again. No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down of Myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This command I have received from My Father.”
Therefore there was a division again among the Jews because of these sayings.
And many of them said, “He has a demon and is mad. Why do you listen to Him?”
Others said, “These are not the words of one who has a demon. Can a demon open the eyes of the blind?”
Wow, what a great story! It is a long story, but now that you have read it in context, do you feel more enriched?
And do you understand straight away that the takeaway for John 10:10 is NOT that the devil is stealing your joy, or stealthily creeping behind you, waiting to pounce on you and rob you of your abundant life in Christ? Well, not in the same way that scripture-twisting false teachers would have you believe.
There are 2 major themes to this section of scripture: Spiritual blindness, and False shepherds. And both are intrinsically intertwined.
Blindness is an obvious theme, because basically, the story is built around Jesus healing a blind man. You’d have to be, well, blind yourself to not notice that.
But it’s more than just blindness, it’s spiritual blindness.
The disciples asked Jesus whether the man’s blindness was due to him suffering because of sin – either his, or his parents (9:2).
At first this may seem a stupid question. But there are examples in the Bible where God has struck people with debilitating illnesses or sickness due to sin or rebellion; ie King Saul, King Nebuchadnezzar.
But in this instance, we are told that he is blind because of this very moment – so that the works of God be revealed in him (9:3-5).
Imagine being born blind, and having to wait until adulthood to see again – all for the glory of God to be revealed in you! Not that he had a choice in the matter, but if it was me, I would have gladly chosen to stay blind all those years if it meant that God would someday work a miracle through me!
So Jesus rubs this man’s eyes with damp clay, and tells him to wash in the pool of Siloam. He did this, and came out with restored sight. Everyone marvels, and asks him how this happens, so he recounts the story to them (9:6-12).
And then they decide to present this man to the Pharisees (9:13). And this is where the fun starts.
I heard myself give an audible Homer Simpson-like “doh!’ when I read that part. If you want to spoil a good miracle, you send in the Pharisees. They have an uncanny knack of taking the wind out of every Gospel-story sail.
9:14 tells us that it was the Sabbath when Jesus performed this miracle. This is no coincidence. This miracle would be classed as a ‘work’ under Pharisaic law. And if you still follow the Mosaic covenant, work is something you do not do on the Sabbath.
So the Pharisees ask this gentleman to repeat his story, which he does (9:15).
Now, remember back in 9:3-5 we saw that the point of the miracle was that the works of God be revealed in Jesus. But in 9:16 we read what the Pharisees thought – that because Jesus doesn’t keep the Sabbath in that he does works – He can’t be from God.
This is the first glimpse we get of spiritual blindness in this story: that if God doesn’t work or bend to our agenda or our rules, then it can’t be God, and therefore I can dismiss it. The world makes these decisions every day – for example:
– creation doesn’t fit with evolutionary theory, therefore Christians are stupid.
– I want to do this, but the Bible says it’s wrong, therefore God doesn’t exist.
The Pharisees were so intent with keeping the Sabbath to the letter, that they completely lost sight of the reason why the Sabbath was given in the first place, and who it pointed to.
Also in 9:16 we read that there was division among them. This mirrors the same division the crowd had back in 7:40-43.
The Christian message still has the same effect to this day. Every time it is spoken or conveyed, it polarises opinion. This is never a bad thing – there are no grey areas with God – you either reject or accept Him, 100% either way, black or white.
In 9:17 they asked Him again who he thought Jesus was, to which he replied that He was a prophet. Yet they still didn’t believe his story, so they called his parents (9:18).
And this is our first glimpse as to how false shepherds work.
Not content with just rejecting Jesus outright, they go about finding ways of driving home their false narrative. Since they refused to believe that Jesus was the Son of God, they went about trying to prove it.
The first step towards rebellion – reject biblical truth. Jesus doesn’t follow our rules, so He can’t be from God.
Often, it can be blatantly obvious you are dealing with a false teacher. Every biblical scholar through the annals of church history agrees with a certain interpretation on biblical application; yet for some reason, someone decides they are all wrong and that God has revealed something ‘new’ specifically to them. All they need is a few people to agree with them, and voila! – a new heresy is born. When someone finds a ‘new’ slant on biblical truth that no one in 2,000 years has ever seen before, your first reaction should be skeptical, and in most cases it will transpire that it was false.
The next step is just a natural progression – anyone who doesn’t do things our way is automatically a heretic.
Once you have successfully blinded (or scared) the people into believing you, you declare the right to say what is right or wrong. And the people will believe you, otherwise they will be excluded. You declare that yours is now the only acceptable way. Forget that anyone has a life-changing, face-to-face encounter with the real thing – you know better, and will go to any lengths to reject them.
So the man’s parents are before the Pharisees. They ask them to confirm that he was born blind, and also how was it that he could now see (9:19).
What a loaded question that was. How could the parents possibly know how it transpired that he could now see?
So they confirm that he was born blind, but request the Pharisees to ask him directly how it happened again. They feared exclusion from the synagogue if they answered incorrectly (9:20-23). The power of the false shepherds had done its’ work, and silenced them into submission.
They bring the man back in. This time they try to convince the man that Jesus was a sinner. The man answered that he didn’t know about that, the only thing he could say was what caused John Newton to pen the line in that great hymn: “I was blind, but now I see” (9:24-25).
So they ask him how it all happened. By now, the man was getting a little ticked off, and offers a sarcastic reply. In 9:27 he says “I told you already, and you did not listen. Do you also want to become His disciples?”. Well that worked, because they reviled him – meaning they criticised him in an abusive manner.
In their answer they revealed the real reason why they were false prophets. They were followers of Moses (9:28). They followed the law to the letter, thinking they were special due to their pious acts of law-keeping. But not only that, they added the keeping of the traditions of men to their achievements (see Gal 1:14). These were first introduced to point them to Christ, but instead turned out pointing them to themselves.
Flabbergasted that the Pharisees did not know who Jesus was, the man shows he knows more about God than they do. Remember back in 9:3 Jesus said this was so the works of God could be revealed in him? Well, the man uses this to show who Jesus really is. No one else in the history of time had had their blind eyes open, and God doesn’t listen to sinners, so this man must be from God (9:30-33).
This was the last straw for the Pharisees. Embarrassed that he knew more than they did, they accuse him of trying to teach them. Their pride blinded them to anything outside of what they thought to be true.
One true sign that someone is a false teacher is that they are unteachable themselves.
A good bible scholar should be willing to take the opportunity to learn from others. And if they perceive that the other person is wrong in their understanding, they should, in the first instance, be willing to correct them – in love.
A false teacher, however, is so puffed up with pride that they won’t listen to anyone apart from those that agree with their understanding. Rather than be embarrassed in front of everyone, they have the person removed, so that normal (dis)order is resumed.
You may have seen or heard of this happening in some churches, where leadership is challenged on a point Biblically. But rather than search the scriptures to determine if the person is correct, the person is immediately ejected for causing dis-unity in the body. This is how a cult starts.
So this man gets turfed out by the Pharisees, but this turns out to be a good thing, because Jesus tracks him down! Jesus asks him if He believes in the Son of God (9:35).
We know from 9:33 that the man had accepted that whoever healed him must be from God, so he asks “who is He that I may believe in Him?”.
If you remember in 9:7 Jesus sent this man to wash in the pool, and then He left the scene – so this man has no idea that he is looking at the person who healed him. So Jesus said that the healer – the Son of God – is standing before him (9:37-38).
Imagine realising that not only has the Son of God opened your eyes, but now you are looking at Him staring back at you! The man responded correctly, said “Lord, I believe!”, and worshiped Him (9:38).
This fulfills Jesus’ statement that the works of God be revealed in this man (9:3). It was blatantly obvious to the man, but not the Pharisees, as we will see shortly.
This is where this story begins to segue, and it’s really important that we follow the thread, otherwise we will excuse John 10 as being a stand alone story, when it isn’t.
Jesus said “For judgement I have come into this world, that those who do not see may see, and those who see may be made blind” (9:39).
What a strange statement to make. We know that Jesus made blind people see – but that He also makes seeing people blind? What’s that all about?
Well, we find the answer in the next 2 verses. On the surface it looks perplexing, but it does make sense. The Pharisees ask Jesus if they were blind also, and He answers:
“If you were blind, you would have no sin; but now you say, ‘We see.’ Therefore your sin remains.” (9:40-41).
Blindness in this section of scripture is linked to the sin of unbelief. Unbelief that Jesus is the Messiah. Unbelief that He is the Son of God. Unbelief that He can open the spiritual eyes of blind people and cause them to see again.
If you do not believe that Christ is who He says He is, and can do what He says He can do, then you are blind, and walking in spiritual darkness. This is the Pharisees. They rely on their own strength of following Moses’ commandments in order to make themselves pure. In reality, they are all foolish blind men, stumbling around in darkness.
If you, however, admit that you are blind, and believe that Christ is who He says He is, can do the things He says He can do, and cry out for spiritual light, He will cause you to see:
“But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light” (1 Pet 2:9).
And that brings us to Chapter 10.
Jesus turn His attention away from the Pharisees, and addresses the crowd by way of parable. We know that 10:1-5 was a parable, because they didn’t understand what He was saying to them (10:6). They weren’t really meant to understand, because they were blind:
“And the disciples came and said to Him, “Why do you speak to them in parables?” He answered and said to them, “Because it has been given to you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. For whoever has, to him more will be given, and he will have an abundance; but whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him. Therefore I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand.” (Matt 13:10-13).
Now we know why the Pharisees – or most of the crowds listening for that matter – couldn’t comprehend what Jesus was saying most of the time. He was only talking to those who had ears to hear and eyes to see – the ones that had believed that Jesus was the Messiah, and was the Son of God.
Jesus used His parables in such a way as to cause maximum offence to those who rejected Him; i.e.:
- The Prodigal Son – who literally robbed his father, but was restored,
- The Good Samaritan – from an outcast race, but was the hero of the story,
- The tax collector – a despised occupation, but who found favour before God, and not the religious man.
He knew that these characters would stir up hatred in the people that never knew Him. That’s because He bucked the religious trend.
He was talking in secret code to His followers. He used the language of the kingdom of heaven – Heavenese we might call it – so that only those citizens could comprehend what He was saying. And Jesus would only translate the language when it needed translating, for example, after the parable of the farmer who went out to sow seed. In that story, the underlying message was about who is a real follower, and who isn’t.
He also offers an explanation here, as well.
So, back to the story…
Jesus starts the parable using a metaphor the crowd will be familiar with – that of a shepherd. A shepherd back in Biblical times was a very important job. Not only were the sheep used for food and wool, but also for sacrifice in the temple. The sacrificial lamb needed to be spotless, with no blemishes or broken bones, and this required the constant vigilance of the shepherd.
At night, the sheep were kept in a fenced area, or a ‘fold’ to keep them safe. There was one entrance only to the fold which the shepherd used. The shepherd would open the door, and call the sheep out by name, and they would follow his voice, because it was familiar to them.
But someone who climbs the fence, or tries to force their way into the sheepfold by other means, is compared to a thief and a robber. If their intentions were right, they would have gone to the doorkeeper. The doorkeeper would have denied them access, as he is the only one permitted through the door into the fold.
When the stranger enters the fold by jumping the fence, the sheep run away from him. (10:1-5).
When the people did not understand, Jesus offers them an explanation.
He says that He is the door to the sheep, and that everyone before Him are thieves and robbers, but the sheep don’t hear them (10:7-8). This relates to the true believers. They disregard the words of a false teacher, because they are attuned to His voice.
Anyone who enters by Him is saved. He can lead them to safety in the sheepfold, and He can lead them to the best pasture to feed on (10:9). In other words, we can fully trust Christ for our protection, and our nurturing.
And now…dun, dun, dun…the verse we have all been waiting for!
“The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly” (John 10:10)
So does this mean that I need to get rid of those things in my life that hold me back from enjoying the abundant life God has given me?
Or I have to bind and rebuke the devil for trying to rob me of my abundant life?
You can now see how silly these interpretations look in light of the context we have placed before it.
The devil may make an appearance, but he is in the character of the false shepherd. the one who tries to jump the fence. In fact, the irony is, the one who claims that this verse is saying that the devil is robbing you of abundant life, is actually exposing himself as the thief in this story! Why is that? Because he is the one twisting and robbing scripture to say what it doesn’t mean.
Abundance doesn’t necessarily mean amazing, fantastic, or even rich (as some prosperity preachers would have you believe).
It comes from the Greek word perisoss, meaning your life will be full, or beyond measure. It means that you don’t need anything else, because Christ is enough. Your life is complete, because Christ completes it. You don’t need the things of the world anymore, because you are completely satisfied in Him. The devil can’t rob you of your life in Him, because Christ has preserved you in his sheepfold.
Phew, I’m glad we’ve finally settled that little confusion out!
Jesus then turns His attention to the hireling. A hireling is someone who the shepherd uses to look after the sheep while he is away. The sheep do not know the hireling’s voice, and the hireling can take advantage of this. It spoke directly to the Pharisees, who have fleeced the sheep for their own satisfaction, power, and benefit.
A shepherd will give his life for the sheep, but the hireling does not care as much. He will run away when danger nears, and leave the scattered sheep to the peril of the enemy (10:11-13).
Christ gave Himself for his church, and so should a shepherd that leads his local body. They do not belong to the Pastor, they belong to Christ – and it will do well for a Pastor to remember this. His job is to lead them to the rich, nourishing pasture, and satisfying cool water of God’s Word.
But when he welcomes and exposes all manner of wolves and thieves to lead his sheep – from the pulpit, and from leadership, the sheep die from undernourishment, and come under direct spiritual attack. And when this happens, the hireling will never take responsibility, because he only cares for himself, not the sheep.
This is one of my bug-bears with some church fellowships. Their ‘Pastors’ hand over their pulpits and their bible study groups to people or material that they are too lazy to vet appropriately via biblical standards. A little error creeps in – a tempting, tasty little morsel that turns out to be cancerous. The next thing you know, the sheep are exposed to all manner of un-biblical garbage that ends up scattering, and destroying them.
Sometimes I just want to grab these so-called Pastors by the collar and shake the living daylights out of them for destroying Christ’s church.
Jesus then repeats that His sheep know His voice, and that He lays His life down for them. But He also says that there are other sheep that are not of the fold yet. These are the lost, that Jesus has not saved yet, but will eventually be bought into His church (10:16). This is via the great commission of the church – the object by which lost sheep can become found.
A good local shepherd will help and equip his flock to carry out the great commission, but a lazy hireling would rather dress up the sheepfold to entice stray sheep.
Christ also says that He can lay down His life and take it up again – prophetically speaking of His upcoming death and resurrection – because this has been given by command from God Himself (10:17-18).
So Jesus finishes speaking, and again there is division. I can almost hear the steam coming out of the Pharisees’ ears! This discourse was intended for them. They could understand that part, but their hearts were still hardened, and their pride caused their eyes to stay blinded by sin.
Some said he is a demon and He is mad. These are the blind, who have no idea what He is saying – they can’t understand Heavenese. (10:19-20).
But others know that they are listening to the Son of God, the Messiah (10:21).
These are ones who can see, and can understand everything he is saying. They are the true sheep. Their eyes have been opened by Christ, and are in His sheepfold, protected and nourished by the Good Shepherd – who loves them and gives His life for them.
So, in closing, John 10:10 is not a bumper-sticker verse that you can slap on your circumstances. It’s not meant to be used in isolation that way.
The next time you hear it being cherry-picked by uninformed teachers with an agenda outside of its’ intended meaning, let that pass you by.
Disregard it as maybe being naivety by an immature or ill-informed teacher.
Or, disregard it for being a false narrative, from a false teacher – designed to trick the hearer or reader of another agenda outside of scripture.
Instead, let it remind you that Christ, the Good Shepherd, gave His life for you. He has cleansed you of your sin, and opened your eyes.
He leads you to the nourishing green grass, and the thirst-quenching still waters. He guides you back to the sheepfold, and keeps you preserved in Him.
You shall not want of anything else, because He has placed His all-satisfying abundant life in you.
God’s goodness and mercy shall follow after you all the days of your life.
And you shall dwell in the house of the Lord, both in this life, and the next – forever.