28 I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand.
Eisegesis: the practice of reading meaning into a text, rather than exegesis, which is ‘drawing out’ or ‘extracting the meaning’ from a text.
In a prior post we addressed a parallel passage to this – where Paul says nothing can separate he and his Roman brethren from the love of God. Here the Apostle that Jesus loved – John – nears the end of his account of the Good Shepherd discourse. The verses above are not an island unto themselves – the entire discourse leads up to this and affirms the point made here. To examine this passage we must first bring in the bigger context of chapter ten.
In John 10, Jesus continues his encounter with some Pharisees from chapter nine. In chapter nine, Jesus had healed a man on the Sabbath (v. 14), incurring the wrath of the Pharisees once they found out the man had been healed on the Sabbath (v. 16). Not only did they get upset with Jesus, they also didn’t believe the man had been born blind, at least until they contacted the man’s parents and confirmed his prior blindness (v. 18). The man’s parents were afraid of these Jewish leaders – they feared being put out of the synagogue (v. 22).
The Pharisees then talked to the man again and the man says he has already told them what happened (v. 27). The Pharisees then revile the man (v. 28), calling upon their being disciples of Moses as opposed this man who is a disciple of Jesus. The man responds by telling them never has a man been born blind and subsequently had his eyes opened, and that if this man – Jesus – were not from God, he could do nothing (vv. 30-33). They respond by saying this man was born in utter sin and they cast him out (v. 34). In the midst of this is a hint of divine presence – the Old Testament says in Isaiah 35:5 and 42:7 that God will open the eyes that are blind, which is exactly what the Christ did with this man.
Jesus hears about this, encounters the man and while he is talking with the man some Pharisees get involved (v. 40), which leads us into chapter ten.
Chapter nine is setting up a contrast with chapter ten – a contrast of the bad shepherds (the Pharisees) vs. the Good Shepherd (Christ).
In chapter ten, verses 1-6, Jesus says concerning the Good Shepherd:
- He is the one who enters by the door
- The sheep hear his voice
- He calls the sheep by name
- He leads the sheep
- The sheep follow him
Then, in verse seven, he identifies himself as the door which he mentioned in verse two. He goes on to say that all who came before him were thieves and robbers and the sheep didn’t listen to these thieves and robbers (v. 8).
He repeats the statement that he himself is “the door” in verse nine. He then says if anyone enters by him, he will be saved. Not that he will be saved, then unsaved, then saved again depending upon his own “free will.” He will be saved. As a result of this having been saved, the one saved will have pasture, a clear reference to Old Testament passages such as Psalm 23:1-6, Psalm 95:7, Psalm 100:3, Isaiah 40:11, Isaiah 49:9-10 and Ezekiel 34:12-16.
We have already commented on verse 10 and will not do so again here, but the comment is relevant and would be worthy of perusal. Suffice it to say here that verse 10 addresses the contrast between bad shepherds and the Good Shepherd rather starkly. The bad shepherds kill, steal and destroy – the Good Shepherd came to give abundant life.
In verse 11, Jesus identifies himself as this Good Shepherd, stating that the Good Shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. Not for the sheep and the goats, but for the sheep, which he repeats in verse fifteen. We see further contrasts in verses 12-14.
Jesus makes a startling comparison in verses fourteen and fifteen as he compares his knowledge of the sheep with the knowledge that he and the Father have for each other. The “knowledge” is not a mere cognitive awareness, but a special, intimate relationship. The relationship between the Father and the Good Shepherd is an eternal one and cannot be broken; this is why the comparison is so startling – the relationship between these sheep and the Shepherd is comparable in degree and in duration.
In verse sixteen, Jesus says he has other sheep not yet in the fold – but that he must bring them also. Not that he may bring them, but that he must. This is an absolute – something that necessarily happens. Not only will he bring them, the sheep will hear – they will listen to his voice. Again, this is an absolute. It is not that the sheep could possibly hear his voice, but that they will hear. Why? So there will be one flock. There will not be scattered flocks of sheep in varied locations, some under the oversight of other shepherds or even no shepherd at all. The sheep will hear, being brought into the one flock under the One Shepherd.
In verse seventeen we see the love of the Shepherd for the sheep once again expressed by the intent of his sacrificial death on behalf of the sheep and this is reflected by the Father’s love for the Shepherd, who says in verse eighteen that no one forces him to lay down his life, but he does it willingly. In John 6 we read of Jesus stating that he came to do the Father’s will – and that will was what? To lose none of those given to him by the Father. He said that he did not come to do his own will but the will of the father who sent him. He had given a precursor to this in John 4 where he said that his ‘food’ was to “do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work.” (v. 34) John 6 gives us detail on what this will entailed and John 10 gives yet more. This was the charge received from the Shepherd from the father as verse eighteen closes the discourse.
That sets up the confrontation we see beginning in verse 21 and running through verse 39. Jesus’ opponents ask for an answer to the issue of whether or not he is the Messiah and Jesus responds by telling them they already have the answer (vv. 25-26). But why do they not believe? Why do they not understand? Verse 26 states that their unbelief is not because they don’t have enough information, but it is because they are not among his sheep. What difference does that make? Verse 27 gives us the answer: the sheep hear. Hear what? The voice of the Shepherd. Resulting in what action on the part of the sheep? They follow the Shepherd. It is not merely that the sheep can hear, it is that they will hear. Once hearing, they will follow.
Upon “hearing,” the Good Shepherd gives them eternal life. Jesus makes a threefold statement, using parallelism to say the same thing from three different perspectives: 1) the duration of the life, 2) the ability to lose the life, and 3) the means by which the life is assured. Repeatedly in John, John writes that eternal life is a gift (3:16; 3:36; 6:27; 6:40; 17:2) – a gift that cannot be revoked, if it is indeed eternal. Life which may cease is not eternal. Paul writes that the gifts and calling of God are irrevocable in Romans 11:29. Paul had written in Romans 8:29 that those who are called according to his purpose have been foreknown, then predestined to be conformed to the image of the Son. Then those who are predestined are called, then those who are called are justified, then those who are justified are glorified – all in an unbroken chain. The gift of eternal life – given to the sheep who hear – and all the sheep will hear, because the Shepherd will chase after the one from the hundred which is lost (Luke 15:4-6) is irrevocable and eternal indeed.
Verses 28 and 29 are nothing more than the summation of what has been presented in verses 1-27. The Shepherd gives the sheep eternal life, which by definition being eternal, cannot cease. It cannot cease because the Shepherd is the Good Shepherd and he will guard the sheep to the point of dying in their place to assure they will not perish. This Shepherd has all authority in his hands and it is into these hands that the sheep are placed. In these hands the sheep are secure. In these hands the sheep are safe. The oneness of the Father and the Shepherd is displayed in the statements of verses 29 and 30. The sheep are safe – eternally safe, in the hands of the Father and the hands of the Shepherd. In Isaiah 49, we see another statement concerning the people of God and their being in the hands of the Lord. Isaiah 49:16 says that the people of God are not just in his hands, but on his hands:
Behold, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands; your walls are continually before me.
This statement concerning Israel relates to verses 28-29 – the people of God are not just written, but engraved on the hands of the Lord. Engravings last. So does the life given to the sheep as a gift – after all, it is eternal.
What makes this Shepherd so Good? None of his sheep will perish. They will follow him. They will hear his voice. They will have pasture. Once in the fold, they are kept there by the might of the Shepherd and the might of the Father (cf. 1 Peter 1:5).
The eisegesis of our title? The common objection to this passage’s statement concerning the security of the sheep is that, “Well, you can take yourself out of the hands.” To say that is the case is to do violence to the entirety of the passage and its point being made that this Shepherd is not like the shepherds of chapter nine. This Shepherd will not lose any of his sheep. The work done by the Shepherd will be completed (Phil. 1:6). The work done by the Spirit will enable, but even more so, cause the sheep to hear, follow and remain (John 3:8; Ezek. 36:26-27; Phil. 2:13).
Another objection heard recently was voiced by a pastor in an online conversation I witnessed. His statement? Verses 28-29 only concern “those sheep in the fold who could be stolen by the thief. It has nothing to do with sheep who decide to not hear.” He also said that Satan is the thief of 10:10, which was addressed in our prior essay referenced above. Again, this does violence to the fullness of the passage. It is not as if there are sheep who decide to not hear – all the sheep will hear. They will follow. They will find pasture. These sheep are the ones given by the father to the Shepherd in John 6. In John 6, the Shepherd says he will lose nothing of that which was given to him – but why? It was the will of the Father for him to save them and if we wish to say in any way that the Shepherd did not fulfill the will of the Father – in whole or in part – we have a huge biblical problem.
John 10:28-29 gives great, great comfort to those who have bowed the knee to the Good Shepherd. If this passage does not do so, one will have to look long and hard to find passages that will give such comfort. Let us rejoice that the hands of the father and the hands of the Shepherd are mighty to save!