Notes on John 10
10:1-6 The misunderstood figure of speech The Lord mentions shepherds of two kinds and implies there are sheep of two kinds. The analogy also included a sheep pen with a gate and an employee who worked there. The Pharisees (mentioned in 9:40, 41) did not understand His extended metaphor in this paragraph, just as they did not understand His words in 9:39. Later Jesus will say that He is the good shepherd and that those who follow Him are His flock.
(Note the placement
of “truly, truly” above.) Two kinds of shepherds are contrasted. It is not
necessary to look for some meaning for the hired watchman. The simple point is
that he recognizes and opens to legitimate shepherds; false ones sneak in some
other way. Probably sheep of different flocks share the same protection and
location at night. Every morning shepherds appeared to take their flocks out to
pasture. If the shepherd is genuine, he has no need to enter in a secret way.
The man at the gate opens for legitimate shepherds who have sheep inside. The
sad truth is that there are false shepherds, a theme stressed by the prophets
10:3-5 It is not only the watchman who discerns whether a man coming for sheep had a right to do so; the sheep also recognize or reject the man approaching them. In a land familiar with shepherding, all these things Jesus said were familiar to them. What they did not grasp was how He applied these figures of speech. The sheep recognize their shepherd and follow Him, just as the blind man believed (9:38). He heard the Shepherd’s voice (5:25) and showed himself to be one of the Lord’s sheep. Jesus’ sheep listen to His voice (v.3) and follow because they know His voice. This paragraph is not about how to recognize false teachers; their character is described later. His sheep (by the working of God’s Spirit, 1 John 3:21 – 4:3) are discerning, so they follow the right shepherd. This defines who His sheep are.
10:7-10 The metaphors change. Since the identity of genuine sheep is being emphasized, in these verses Jesus presents Himself as the gate. Only those who are of His flock go in with Him through that gate or leave for pasture with Him through that gate. Those who enter His flock by means of Christ the Gate are His; they are saved. “Whoever enters” (v.9) shows that “outsiders” are allowed in. Again Jesus stresses that the true sheep reject every rival to Him. A number of false messiahs had made great claims and succeeded in gathering a following. (Today too, many false shepherds call for us to follow them.) The Lord’s sheep did not listen to deceptive messiahs, but when God’s Anointed One appeared, they heeded His call and entered His flock. Salvation is by entering the Christ Gate; those who do, join the people of God.
10:11-13 Shepherd & Savior When Jesus presented Himself as the Good Shepherd, He drew attention to His ministry. He not only prevents the wolf killing His own, He sacrificed His life for them.
Shepherd Jesus is
again revealing His deity. He acts as a shepherd because He is the Shepherd. It
is essential that we read the NT in the light of previous Scripture. The words
“I Am” are consistent with His claim of deity in 8:58. His title “Shepherd” is
the language of God describing Himself as the Shepherd of Israel (Psalm 23:1;
80:1). The NT also speaks of Christ as the Chief and Great Shepherd (1 Peter
5:4, Hebrews 13:20). In light of OT affirmations of the Lord as the Shepherd of
God’s people, it would be blasphemous for Jesus to speak this way of Himself if
He were not the Lord God of
Second, as Sacrifice The sheep are sinful and a sacrifice must be made for them. In John 10 our sinfulness is not reviewed, but the sacrifice is. When the Lord spoke, He never gave all aspects of truth on one occasion. He does say the sheep will be saved which is also a salvation from our sin, as well as the power of the enemy. Five times in John 10, Jesus referred to His death on the cross as giving or laying down His life (vv.11,15,17, & twice in v.18). The only time He gave up His life was in the crucifixion. Because He laid it down, it was a willing act; His life was not taken from Him. Then the Lord stressed that His death had specific beneficiaries. He laid down His life for His sheep. In this chapter His sheep are limited to those who enter through Him, so He is not making a reference to every person on earth. In chapter 17 Jesus was explicit that He was not praying for the world. That prayer was priestly intercession, so it would not make sense to reason that the next day our Priest offered a sacrifice for those He refused to pray for the preceding evening! The solution is simple: “The Good Shepherd lays down His life for the sheep” (v.11).
In the Lord’s analogies, others bring harm to the sheep. The thief/robber with evil intent comes to destroy, while the hired man runs to save himself from the wolf. He cares only for his paycheck. In contrast, the Good Shepherd loves His sheep (John 13:1; 15:13) and gives His life for them. Pastoral work must recognize and counter the approach of the devil’s wolves to God’s flock (Acts 20:28-32; 1 Peter 5:1-11). The sheep do not belong to the hired man; they belong to Christ and the Lord knows His own (v.14). Belonging to Christ is the privileged position of every believer. This truth demands great commitment to the well-being of all our fellow Christians. To be a pastor is to share in the ministry of the Good Shepherd.
The intimacy of
our relationship with Christ is in possessive language – “my own”. This time in
the first person it is, “I lay down My life.” Further, He says we
know Him. Seeing Him is not necessary to knowing and loving Him, but believing
in Him is (1 Peter 1:8). Knowing someone we have never seen shows that this is
a spiritual work done in us. Just as the Lord spoke of
The knowledge the sheep and Shepherd have is like that of the Father and the Son. It is surprising that the Lord would say this, since God’s knowledge is infinite and transcendent, and Their fellowship is sinless. That intimate knowledge – i.e., of one divine Person with Another – is the foundation of our coming to know the Lord, as vv.17,18 make clear. It is also a foretaste of the eternal fellowship when God and man will walk together again (Revelation 21:3). Peter was present to hear all that John reports in chapter 10; he too speaks much of the believer knowing God in 2 Peter 1:1-8 & 3:18.
have other sheep [Gentiles] that are not of this fold [
The other sheep that Christ
has are the Gentiles; they are strangers to the covenants of promise; they are
excluded from citizenship in
He says of these future believers that He has them, thus they are already His sheep. So it is certain that they will come by listening to His voice when the gospel is proclaimed to them. For this reason missionary work is never futile. These “other sheep” are also among those the Father has given Him (6:37-40). God can speak of having those He will yet save, as we read in Acts 18:10, when He told Paul prior to saving them, “I have many people in this city.” In Acts 18:5 after Jewish rejection of the gospel, Paul turned to evangelize “other sheep,” the Gentiles! After facing difficulty, the Lord spoke to him in a vision to encourage him. Part of that encouragement was that word that He had many people in that city (Acts 18:9,10). In Acts 13:44-52, Paul had spoken of their ministry to Gentiles as commanded by God in Isaiah 49:6. They were to be “a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.” Thus the Lord Jesus, Who promised to be with His servants till the end of the age (Matthew 28:18-20), was bringing in other sheep who were not of the original sheep pen. He was fulfilling His words in John 10:16.
result of this salvation going to the ends of the earth is that all the
gathered sheep will be one flock under one Shepherd. This raises in our day one
of the perplexing differences of viewpoint among serious Christians over the
relationship of the
10:17,18 The Father loves the Son for
His obedience unto death (Philippians 2:8). He was authorized by the Father to
make such a sacrifice, and He obeyed His Father’s command. This obedience was
10:19-21 Many thought that Jesus speaking of laying down His life (which anyone can do) and taking it up again (which no man can do) was the speech of a madman. John reports many insults of those rejecting Him. (See Hebrews 12:3.) Yet there was no uniform assessment of Christ. Some could not escape the significance of His miraculous works (10:37,38). All the research the Pharisees pursued had only proven that the blind man had been blind from birth, and they knew it was Jesus Who had healed him. Such a wonder was not the kindness of a demon. The Lord taught in Matthew 13:3-9; 13:18-23 that we too will face a variety of responses when sowing the seed of God’s Word. John 9 & 10 supports the principle: as it was with the Master, so will it be with His servants (John 15:20).
They were divided (9:16; 10:19), and the world today is still divided. Some day Christ will be seen even by those who crucified Him (Zechariah 12:10; John 19:37) and condemned Him to death (Mark 14:61,62). Then all shall know Who He really is, and all shall bow and every mouth will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord (Philippians 2:9-11). By exalting Christ, the Father will show the universe His love for His Son (10:17). Till that Day there will not be and cannot be on this earth a united humanity. Only when all Christ-rejecters are removed, and the full number of His sheep is gathered under one Shepherd, will there be peace on earth. Meanwhile, expect division and strife.
John 10:22-42 It is obvious from v.22 that the remainder of John 10 is at a later time than the previous verses. At times in this Gospel, John uses feasts to show a progression in time; now in chapter 10 the narrative comes ever closer to the crucifixion. Some events are a year apart in John 4, 5, & 6, but in John 7 – 10 the reported events come closer together. The Feast of Tabernacles (chapter 7) is in the fall and this Feast of Dedication was only a few weeks later in early winter. Though the time is later by a few weeks, the analogy of sheep and shepherd reappears. It is clear that these are different occasions, though Jesus may have been talking to the same people in both parts of John 10.
10:22,23 the time and place The Feast of Dedication is not mandated in the OT. It celebrates one of the highest moments in all of Jewish history, an event in the years between the Old and New Testaments. The Jews rebelled against the extreme cruelty of a pagan king who had desecrated their temple by offering a pig on the altar of the Lord. The Jews succeeded in driving the Gentile power out and restored the worship of the Lord in His holy temple. Thus the term Feast of Dedication marks this joyful time. Known today as Hanukkah, the feast began on the 25th day of that early winter month. Possibly related to colder weather Jesus was approached in a more sheltered place. He was not teaching a crowd at the time.
10:24 the question: “Are you the Christ?” A group approached and demanded of Jesus a straight answer whether He was the Christ. There is no record that Jesus ever used this title for Himself in a public context, prior to the time of the crucifixion. He did tell the Samaritan woman that he was the Christ in 4:25,26. Then in private with His disciples in Matthew 16:13-20, He affirmed that He was the Christ, but He would not permit them to tell that to others.
10:25-30 the answer Jesus answered their question without using the precise words they were looking for. He did not say for them, “I am the Messiah.” When He said, “I did tell you,” it means He had given them sufficient to know whether He was the Messiah. They already had more than His words, because those who questioned Him were observers of His works, plus they had the OT Scriptures. The Apostle John in this Gospel reviews multiple indications that Christ was from God, sufficient to show He is the Messiah. From the Lord’s lips in that part of the temple area where they stopped Him, He gave the strong reply of 10:37,38. John 5:30-47 is a detailed statement of evidence for Who He was. His action in His Father’s House was a kind of claim that He was the Son of God, a term Jesus did use of Himself publicly (5:25). Often He said He was the One sent by God, an accurate description of the Messiah’s role. They already had ample answer from Him, because the works of God are also a kind of “speech” without words (Psalm 19:1-4 and Romans 10:18).
10:26,27 an explanation of unbelief They could look at Jesus’ works and not believe. This shows the blindness (2 Corinthians 4:4) and deceitfulness (Jeremiah 17:9) of the human heart. It believes and rejects what it wishes. Sin is more than self-deceit, it brings bondage rather than the will being free to do what it should. Adam chose a new master when He obeyed Satan, and Satan holds his victims in a powerful grip. Man’s salvation depends entirely on the intervention of God to bind “the strong man” (Mark 3:23-27). Christ acts to free, ransom, deliver, and save. Those He has chosen to rescue are again called His sheep. (For a fuller discussion see below Appendix 10 B Jesus’ Teaching in John 10 on Election and Related Doctrines.)
10:27 the sheep will follow In our day, the church has been damaged greatly by a doctrine that asserts that one may be a genuine Christian, and still live in sin without repentance. All that is needed is to believe, whether one accepts Jesus as Lord or not. This is a doctrine that one may have justification (which includes forgiveness) while not having sanctification (which deals with spiritual transformation and conduct). Jesus taught that His sheep will follow; the carnal Christian doctrine says, they may or may not, but if they have believed they are still His sheep, eternally safe. See below Appendix 10 C: The Carnal Christian. When the sheep listen, it means they hear the Lord obediently; they follow – all of them. Anyone who will not follow is not one of His sheep, and will find that out on the Judgment Day. We never become Christians by following; instead we follow because we are.
10:28 the sheep are safe If they have eternal life, they shall never perish. These are simply two sides of the same coin, and the Lord stated them together. In John 6:39, the Lord said He would lose none. That looks at this from the angle of the assignment His Father gave Him, an assignment the Lord Jesus could not fail to fulfill. Now in John 10, from a different angle, He adds that He loses none because no enemy is capable of taking His sheep from Him. The power of Christ guards against the Evil One (2 Thessalonians 3:3).
10:29,30 the reference to the Father We would expect that being assured that no one can snatch His sheep from His hand would be adequate assurance. But since Jesus came to make the Father known, He encouraged by speaking also of the Father’s commitment (see Colossians 3:3). A number of themes converge: the eternal purpose, the unity of God, the role of the Father and Son, and the commitment of the Persons in the Trinity to our eternal salvation.
This is the second of the three occasions in John where Jesus said that His people are the gift the Father had already given Him even before their conversion! (See the notes on 6:37,39.) Since the Father and Son have this eternal agreement (or covenant) between them, both share the commitment to see it fulfilled. Our salvation is not Jesus acting on His own, or even with only the permission of the Father. The Father has a greater role as the Head in the Trinity. Thus our salvation is at His initiative with the Son’s full and obedient cooperation to be the Redeemer of God’s elect. When we see the Son at work, we are always seeing the Father at work (John 14:10,11). The Father sent the Son. He does all that the Father does (5:19,20). Even though the Father and the Son have different identities (the Father is not the Son, and the Son is not the Father), it is fully proper to say of the entire ministry of Jesus that this was the Father at work through Him. (2 Corinthians 5:19 is an example of this.) That is the unity of the Father and the Son. All that belongs to the Father belongs to Christ (John 16:15).
The ones yearning to hear if Jesus would say He was the Messiah received an answer that went beyond their question. Christ affirmed unity with God, not as another God beside God, nor simply as one who shared God’s purpose, but One united to Him as Eternal Son to Eternal Father, sharing fully the same essence. The Word was with God and the Word was God. Our unity with the Lord is not a unity of equals; Jesus’ unity with the Father is. Our unity is imperfect in practice, not thoroughly understood by us, and has a beginning. The unity of Father and Son has no such limitation or qualification. Christ and the Father are one.
10:31-32 the reaction When the Jews picked up stones (see 8:59), it was not because Jesus claimed a unity with God in purpose. That is the kind of unity they too would profess for themselves. They sought to stone Him because they grasped what He was really saying. In 5:17,18 the leaders could see that calling God “My Father” implied equality with Him, and for that reason there was eagerness to kill Him. Therefore when Jesus said, “I and the Father are one,” those who spoke His language and heard His words understood this as a claim to deity. In Mark 14:61,62, Jesus affirmed that He was the Christ, the Son of the Blessed, and the Son of Man Who would someday come on the clouds of heaven. That confession was also viewed as blasphemy because it was so clearly a statement that He is God. The penalty for blasphemy was death by stoning (Leviticus 24:13-16).
The Lord replied by drawing attention to another way He made the Father known. He used not only words but works. What is wrong with healing a man on the Sabbath who had lain there for thirty-eight years? What is so evil about healing the man born blind, or (later than John 10) raising Lazarus from the dead? These are specific miracles reported in this Gospel which happened in or close to Jerusalem. It is not difficult to see why there is no reply to Jesus’ question. (Those who suspect that it is unspiritual to use logic should observe how rational the reasoning of Jesus was.)
As happened so often, Jesus’ enemies avoided His question (see Matthew 22:41-45; Mark 10:17-22; 11:27-33; 12:13-17). They made no reply about His works. How could they admit that they might stone Him for good works? Later in 11:47-53, they decided to kill Him to stop His miracles.
10:33 the second charge Next they turned to challenge Him for saying that He was the Son of God (5:19-26). They probably wanted to hear Him say He was the Messiah so they could intensify their charges against Him. In spite of all the good works of great power, they assumed He was only a man claiming falsely to be God. With such a hardened view, they felt no need to weigh the evidence before them.
10:34-36 the defense Jesus’ reply is full of
surprise especially to us so many years later. First, it is a simple
correction; the OT uses the word god for others than God! The NT uses
the word for the devil in 2Corinthians 4:4! “God” is not a name for the Lord,
but a title that means a leader or authority; it is often used for idols. In
Psalm 82:1 & 6 the word “gods” refers to angels and human leaders. Jesus
simply points out that the word does not always mean the Lord God of
10:37,38 the challenge This conversation began with a question about the word Messiah, and continued with an accusation of blasphemy. He gave them a vigorous reply. Jesus spoke of the significance of His works. He admitted that if He did not do what His Father did – God acting as God! – that would give them some room for not believing. But the miracles were well-known, observable, historical reality. The leaders looked for a way to escape the testimony of the miracles, but when they could not deny that the miracles had happened, they simply refused to believe anyway. The good works of Christ are God in Christ showing Himself in a convincing way. The rejection of Christ, His works, and the Father Who sent him shows the nature of the sinful heart. Jesus did not ask for a “leap of faith”. He did not ask people to believe without a reason, because faith is in the certainty of God’s Word and action. True faith is not irrational. They would not believe what they had been given, so they were denied more.
10:39 the rejection continued Nothing changed; they picked up stones to stone Him in v.31 (see also 7:30), but He answered their charges and made a further appeal to believe. They still tried to seize Him. Note that there was no rational response to His replies, just more heated rejection.
transition Going far across the Jordan River to stay for a
while, Jesus was away from the hostility centered in
John the Baptist had been
dead for some time, yet his testimony of Christ was still in the memory of
people beyond the
God did not allow His servant the Baptist to have a greater ministry than Jesus (3:25-30). Even though he was a very great prophet, John never performed a miracle. God can use a Spirit-filled (Luke 1:15) ministry of preaching apart from supernatural signs. God had reserved miracles for the later ministry of Christ and His disciples.
Appendix 10 A: One People or Two?
How should we understand John 10:16?
or Two? I
suppose that it ought to be obvious that salvation to the Gentiles results in
one people of God. That is the simple reading of John 10:16. However, many
sincere Christians [among them the majority of my relatives and very many of my
closest friends] insist that we ought to maintain a distinction so as never to
consider the church and
* One rather serious problem with saying that the OT saints are not in Christ relates to the two different representations in Romans 5:12-19: being in Adam or in Christ. In Christ means we are represented by Him and united to Him. To be in Adam is to be without salvation, and to be in Christ is the only way to have salvation. Moses, who chose reproach for Christ (Hebrews 11:26), was surely “in Christ.” OT saints had to be in Christ, or they could not be saved.
Q. 1 Does the OT foretell that in the present time Gentiles would be added to the people of God?
Answer: Yes. When God promised in Isaiah 49:8 to restore Israel in a time of favor, a “day of salvation,” Paul said in 2 Corinthians 6:2 that that was the time when he was writing. My brothers who differ from me consider the time of Paul’s ministry as within the church age, yet Paul indicates that the promised day of salvation in Isaiah 49 was now. Thus the present age was predicted in the OT.
Q. 2 Do
believing Gentiles become part of
Gentiles are not forever excluded from the house of Jacob; Isaiah 14:1,2 looks
forward to a day when they will join it.
Anyone who like Ruth joins the house of Jacob becomes part of
Ephesians 2 may be the most
explicit statement. Gentiles once excluded from citizenship in
Gentiles have been made partakers of the promise made to
Romans 11:11-24, Paul speaks of wild Gentile branches (the branches are
individual Gentiles) being grafted into the cultivated olive tree of
1 Peter 2:4-10, Peter speaks of Christ as the Stone laid in
In the notes at John 10:16 above there is a box on Ezekiel 34. That prophecy emphasizes the role of Christ as the “one shepherd” God sets over His people. The first coming of Christ fulfilled this prophecy. The result is that the House of Israel will know that the Lord is with them and that they are His sheep. They never cease being the House of Israel (Ezekiel 34:30). When Jesus brings in the other sheep of John 10:16, those other sheep were simply added to the House of Israel under one Shepherd. John 10:16 in the NT and Ezekiel 34 in the OT both speak of Christ as the Shepherd and the flock in Ezekiel is only the House of Israel. There is no other flock into which Jesus brings His sheep.
in this age brought into the new covenant.
time we partake of the cup in the Lord’s Supper, we have indicated our
inclusion in the benefits of the new covenant, for Jesus said that the cup was
the new covenant in His blood (Luke 22:20). This new covenant, of which Christ
is Mediator, has made the first one obsolete (Hebrews 8:6,13). This is a
fulfillment of Jeremiah 31:31-37, where the new covenant will be made with the house of
Lord Jesus is the Son of David. Thus He is the King of
Q. 3 Will the OT saints of
Answer: Yes. (Note
reference to Hebrews 11:39,40 above.)
The Lord spoke of the future in Matthew 8:5-13. He had healed the
servant of a Gentile Roman military officer. Jesus marveled at the faith of the
centurion since He had seen no faith like it in
The New Jerusalem In
Galatian 4:25,26 there are two Jerusalems. From Isaiah 54:1 Paul speaks of
Q. 4 What difference does it make?
Answer: Accepting that God has one people gives a clearer sense of history. OT prophecies are not detached from the current agenda of God. This is crucial to understanding our time and our ministry role in it. Prophecies related to the coming of Christ and life in the eternal city, are all part of one divine program for all His people. As heirs of the same promises, we are not left wondering if some OT truth or promise applies maybe to us or maybe to them. That kind of distinction confuses. The encouragement of John 10:16 is that Christ with certainty will bring about the gathering of all His sheep into one fold under one Shepherd. This is exactly what the OT taught, and every time some soul is saved today, the prophecy spelled out in both Ezekiel 34 and John 10 is being fulfilled.
Appendix 10 B
My Father gave them to Me (v.29); You do not believe because you are not part of my flock (v.26);
I lay down my life for the sheep (v.15); my sheep hear my voice (v.27); they follow me (v.27);
they will never perish (28).
A. His Sheep in Advance
In John 10 Jesus shows that He has a select group who are His and shall become His:
1. He calls them His sheep. In vv. 4, 14, 16 & 27, His sheep are called His (v.4), all His own (v.4), and My sheep (v.27). He says, “I have other sheep” (v.16). This possessive language is consistent: If He has them then they are His. In v.16 Jesus referred to some He would later bring in as being His sheep even before they believed.
2. He knows them The way know is used in the languages of the Bible reveals activity and commitment. Of course Christ knew everything as factual information about all men. He knew what His enemies were thinking in Matthew 12:25, yet He said of the disobedient in Matthew 7:23, “I never knew you.” In that sense, for Jesus to know His sheep indicates that He claims, embraces them, or reaches for them prior to their faith in Him. Thus their response is to His knowing them. When God said in Amos 3:2, "You only have I chosen of all the families of the earth…” (NIV), the word for chosen is the Hebrew word for “known”.
3. Only the sheep will believe. “You do not believe because you are not my sheep” (v.26). This is the negative way to state it. It implies that those who are His sheep will listen because in some sense they are His before they believe. That same point in v.4 is in positive terms: “His sheep follow him because they know his voice.” Certain persons will not believe because they are not His sheep, and certain ones will because they are. They did not appoint themselves to be His sheep, so there must be another factor that explains this. That factor is stated in v.29.
4. His sheep are those the Father has given “My Father, who has given them to me …” v.29 The only ones who will believe are those who have been given in advance to Christ by the Father. In John 6:35-45 the ones the Father has given Me is a description of those who will be saved, said of them before they did.
A related point: “I have come that they may have life”(v.10). Election is not an abstract idea isolated from events; it has definite results. The purpose of God for these sheep, results in an action of God to save them. In other words, Jesus came “so that”. The Father gave them to Christ (v.29). For this reason Christ has a mission to bring them in (v.16) and give them life (v.10). This mission included laying down His life for them (v.11). Thus the Father’s gift of persons to Christ, the work on the cross, and the conversion of specific persons are connected. They should not be separated.
B. Christ’s Life Laid Down for His Sheep
“The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” v.11. This laying down is Jesus’ voluntary death on the cross. The intended beneficiaries of His sacrifice are His sheep. They are identified within John 10 both as a gift from the Father, and as those who will believe and follow.
When the Lord speaks of bringing out all his own in v.4, He was acting for a specified group. What He was doing was for all of them, like the all in 6:37, with not one of them being lost (6:39). He does not bring out sheep who are not His. So when He laid down His life for His sheep (v.11), a definite group was indicated. When He said His death was for His sheep and later declared that His rejecters were not His sheep (v.26), His sacrifice cannot be for the rejecters as well. That offering was for His own. John 10 leads us to conclude that the death of Christ was for His elect.
C. The Negative Response
The natural thing for people to do, now that we have become sinners against God, is to reject the gospel. We will respond positively only if a divine intervention causes us to do so. Jesus said to some persons, "I did tell you, but you do not believe” (v.25). They were exposed to a powerful witness about Christ, because “the miracles I do in my Father's name speak for me.” But the nature of their hearts was such that He said, “you do not believe because you are not my sheep” (vv.25,26). If they had been His sheep, they would have believed, but unless God had decided they would be Jesus’ sheep, they had no native inclination or ability to believe.
This aspect of human resistance to Christ is not developed in John 10. It is indicated though, in the fact that if one is not a sheep belonging to Christ in advance of hearing the gospel, then he simply will not believe. That such a soul cannot believe is taught in John 6 & 8, and other parts of the Bible. Since men are dead in their sins (Ephesians 2:1) and hostile to God (Romans 8:5-8), they have no ability or inclination to believe, but, if they are the Lord’s sheep, He will bring them in (10:16).
D. The Positive Response
Other Scriptures in John tell how our sinful rejection is overcome. To get started we must be born of the Spirit, which is being born from above. This is a birth from God (1:13), which is new life from above (3:3-8) in the case of all in whom the Spirit is pleased to produce life (3:8)! Those who are not Jesus’ sheep will not believe, but those who are His sheep listen when He calls them (v.3). They follow Him because they know his voice (v.4). This is a positive response to Christ. In John 10, the only negative response found in Jesus’ true flock is directed to false shepherds. “They will never follow a stranger” (v.5) or “listen to them” (v.8). In contrast, the Lord emphasized that they will listen to His voice (v.16) and follow Him (v.27). This is stated not as a description of what has happened, but as a certain response before it happens. It is said of persons before they were even exposed to the gospel. So, not only have the sheep been given to the Son by the Father, they will surely come, all of them, with no exception. Anyone who will not listen to Christ, is not one of His sheep. The sheep will not follow a false teacher, but they will believe in the Good Shepherd sent to save them. No person the Father has given to the Son opts out of this salvation. For the Father’s gift of a bride for Christ means that salvation will occur in each case.
E. His Sheep Never Perish
Not only will His sheep believe, they cannot be lost when they do. “I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand” (v.28). In 6:39, the Lord Jesus cannot lose them, and in 10:28,29 no one can take them away from the Son or the Father. The Shepherd finds them, holds them, and keeps them.
“His sheep follow him because they know his voice” (v.4). The positive response is not for one moment only. All who listen follow (v.27) and continue to follow. There is no such thing as one truly believing who does not then follow (a term that means “obey”.) Not just believing but obeying is a mark of each and every sheep belonging to Christ. Following cannot refer to taking one isolated step but to a pattern of life. This is sanctification (Philippians 2:12,13). The Shepherd leads them out (v.3) and brings them in (v.16). The sheep listen and follow; they cleave to the Lord. Keeping describes the Shepherd’s eternal commitment, while following/cleaving shows the heart response induced by the Lord (Ezekiel 36:25,26) in the sheep He has called to Himself.
The five sections above from A to E could be given doctrinal labels as: A. Election by God, B. Definite Atonement, C. Human Inability, D. Irresistible Grace, and E. Perseverance of the Saints.
The emphasis such teaching has in the rest of this Gospel: This specific kind of teaching is not confined to John 10. In other parts of John we find:
Appendix 10 C: The Carnal Christian
My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me (John 10:27)
In the 20th century a new doctrine became
popular in much of the evangelical church, especially in
Yet for all these emphatic statements of Scripture, the notion that one may live in carnality and yet be a justified person persists in our day. This error is countered by the warning that without holiness no man will see the Lord (Hebrews 12:14). The carnal Christian is a person without holiness, so he is not a Christian at all. When they ought to fear (Hebrews 4:1) they presume. Repeating, “Lord, Lord,” while not doing the will of the Father, they will not enter the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 7:21-23). Christ knows His sheep, and this results in their obedience. Those He knows follow; no exception is given in any Scripture.
To the disobedient, Jesus will say, “I never knew you!” No horror can be imagined that exceeds the eternal shock when this false confidence that one is “in” is shattered by Christ. Those who would not obey learn when it is too late, that the Lord never ever knew that soul, and the door is forever closed. The land that bears thistles will be burned (Hebrews 6:7,8), the fruitless branches will be thrown into the fire (John 15:1-8), but those with true faith have in their lives fruit that always accompanies salvation (Hebrews 6:10). Only the Holy Spirit can produce such fruit.
In the rest of this letter, the apostle scolds them for a surprising number of deficiencies. For example, their callous eating in the presence of others who were going hungry was shameful (11:20-22). That is one of many flaws in those saints whom Paul loved so much and challenged so vigorously. To have a party spirit and its strife is distinctly carnal behavior (3:3,4). The source of it was not the Holy Spirit but their sinful nature. Cleansing from this was needed.
We should not argue that their
condition created the class they were in. We are not spiritual based on our
conduct, but on God’s intervention for us in Christ, His uniting us to Him by
faith, and His giving us His Spirit. We
did not become sinners by sinning, but because we were represented by Father
Adam in the Garden. We began our lives as “natural” persons, sinners before we
committed our first sin! Within this status of being in Christ, and being a
saint, or a spiritual person, there are many lessons needed, many applications
of the blood of Christ and the Word of God to sanctify us. The spiritual man is
not a man without sin, and the Christians in
Two Classes of Human Beings In contrast to this three-class teaching, the Bible views men in two. There are two roads, the broad and the narrow (Matthew 7:13,14). Jesus did not make room for the notion of a broad road which somehow still leads to life. In the same Sermon on the Mount, He spoke of two possibilities only: building on the rock or building on the sand. The man who built on the sand fits the description of “the carnal Christian”; he hears Christ’s words but does not obey. However, he does not go to heaven anyway, riding on a profession of faith in the Christ he disobeys; his house will fall in ruins (Matthew 7:24-27).
speaks in Romans 8 of a two-class humanity, those who live according to
the flesh, or according to the Spirit (v.5). The mind of the flesh is death; it
is hostile to God (vv.6-8). No room is left in what Paul said for any
possibility being dominated the flesh yet being recognized as Christians.
According to Ephesians 5:5, no one who is sexually immoral, impure, or covetous
has any inheritance in the
The New Covenant Includes
The Two Classes of Men in Romans 5:12-21 According to Romans 5:12-21, we are either in Christ or in Adam; there is no middle position. In this life, we are in Christ with sin still in us, but our standing with God is in the righteousness of Christ, for it is based in His obedience not ours. The apostle teaches two standings before God, and thus two classifications. If we do not have an additional classification, then we can legitimately speak of variation in maturity and conduct. Christian conduct depends on being in Christ. All in Christ have the Spirit (a point not made in Romans 5:12-21 but elsewhere), and all in Christ “reign in life” because of the free gift of righteousness that came to us through Christ (Romans 5:17). Thus it is not possible for one to have the status of being in Christ without being a “spiritual man”. Paul is consistent with both new covenant promises; in Christ we have both “justification and life” (Romans 5:18). The carnal Christian doctrine comes from a tendency to divide things that God has made inseparable, such as justification and life. Jesus taught that those who are really His sheep follow Him.
The Warning from James James makes us face whether our professed conversions are genuine. We are justified apart from works (Romans 3:28), but a faith that does not result in good works is not a faith that saves; it is a false faith. Faith without obedience is dead (James 2:14-26). This text alone should cause us to deny the possibility that one may have a true faith and yet have a life dominated by the old sinful nature.
The Word from John “No one who keeps on sinning has either seen Him or known Him” (1 John 3:6). John does not leave room for the possibility that a person may be a Christian of a different class; John is denying that there has been a conversion if a person lives in sin; such a soul has never seen the Lord. (Compare with John 3:3.) “Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil” (1 John 3:8), and hopefully no one is suggesting that there is a kind of Christian who is still of the devil. If a man has been born of God, “he cannot keep on sinning!” (1 John 3:9). In a very clear assertion of two classes, John says, “This is how we know who the children of God are and who the children of the devil are: Anyone who does not do what is right is not a child of God; nor is anyone who does not love his brother” 1 John 3:10. John is so emphatic about this that I wonder how anyone could hold to the carnal Christian hypothesis while reading 1 John.
1 John is a book that calls for spiritual reality. It gives many contrasts to polarize sin and righteousness. A strong emphasis is, “We know we have come to know Him if we obey His commands” (2:3), and if a person continues in sin, he has never been born of God (3:9; 5:18). Thus one way to know we have been born of God is to see evidence of it in our lives. We will obey (2:5,6), do what is right (2:29; 3:7,10), love others (2:10; 3:14,18; 4:12), love God (5:2,3), and hold to the truth we have learned of Him (2:21, 4:2,15). The transformed life of a person is evidence that he has been born of God. We are very cautious about telling anyone to look within his own heart for assurance. When we examine ourselves we will discover sin. 1 John 1:8-10 is very clear about this. Yet if God has given us His Spirit (3:24; 4:14), then we should see major changes from the old life of sin. By this transformation we know we belong to Christ (2:3,5,29; 3:14,19,24; 5:2,13).
In John 10 the Lord identified Himself as the Good Shepherd. As our Shepherd He keeps His sheep. He linked their behavior (i.e., that they follow) to their membership in His flock. They all reject false shepherds, but listen to, hear, and follow the true One. When our Lord Jesus said that His sheep follow Him, He was defining Christians as ones who follow. We live in a day when false distinctions are made: as if we can have Jesus as Savior but not as Lord, as if we can be believers but not disciples, and as if we can be members of His flock but not sheep who follow. Jesus’ words do not allow for that kind of discrepancy, so we must conclude that the notion of a carnal Christian is a false one. The truth is that everyone born of God is an “overcomer” (1 John 5:4). Their lives are afflicted but not controlled by their sinful natures; they are led by the Spirit (Romans 8:14).
I should add that the idea of a carnal Christian was one I once accepted when, early in life, I was taught this viewpoint. In time I learned that the Lord who is our righteousness is also our sanctification (1 Corinthians 1:30). I must also add that those dear Christians who taught me that some Christians are spiritual and some are in the class of a carnal Christian, never lived in carnality themselves, and never justified sin. They pursued righteousness as the genuine saints that they were. Most of my teachers are now with the Lord and are already perfected in holiness. Their memory is sweet, and I sincerely honor them, though I must disagree with this part of their teaching!
 Messiah and Christ are the same word. Messiah is Hebrew, and Christ is Greek for “the Anointed One”. Anointed means the One eternally chosen and then publicly appointed by God to be the King of Israel, the Mediator for His people, the Priest who would serve forever, and the ultimate Prophet to make the Father known.
 A text we used, which is still in use, was He That is Spiritual by Lewis Sperry Chafer. Dr. Chafer taught that the flesh dominates carnal Christians, p.10. He says a carnal Christian is not in the flesh, but the flesh is in him. This implies that the flesh is not in the spiritual man, which is quite an error. He said carnal Christians walk according to the course of this world, a strange thing to say because Paul uses that very description of the unregenerate in Ephesians 2:2! We should not assume that those who hold to some way of stating the carnal Christian viewpoint would use such an argument for it today. Dr. Chafer said further that the carnal Christian is characterized by a walk that is on the same plane as that of the natural man. My response to that is: It is fair to say that by such assertions he was teaching there can be little or no difference in the lives of carnal Christians and unsaved men. Dr. Chafer’s book is old, © 1918 and mistaken.
In 2005, the Campus Crusade for Christ website continues to promote three categories of Christians. In their diagrams they show no difference in the pattern of life of an unbeliever and a carnal man. In both cases the life is self-directed; the only difference depicted is that the carnal person has Christ in his life. Lately, they have included a helpful warning: “The individual who professes to be a Christian but who continues to practice sin should realize that he may not be a Christian at all, according to 1 John 2:3; 3:6, 9; Ephesians 5:5”. However, these texts do not agree with the “may not be” aspect of the warning, because those Scriptures insist that one who continues to practice sin has not been born of God at all. At least Campus Crusade is considering the right words of Scripture; I hope they will come to agree with what those verses are really saying.