Entirety of security in Christ
Pr. Ratheesh A. P.
Life has to think in connection with God. It belongs to him and characterizes God, he exists eternally, and he is the source of life. Eternal life reflects an understanding that, it is the life of God or divine life. In this life a person who lives on a total dependence with God who is a life giver. “Eternal life” can then nearly be equated with “knowing God,” where “knowledge” is understood in terms of personal relationship. According to John, the signs are to lead people to faith so that they may have life (20:31), and the signs themselves image the gift of life that God bestows. Because Jesus shares in the very life of God, he also shares the prerogatives of God to bestow life.
Full Life in Christ
Eternal life or full life in John is a ‘spiritual’ reality. Here much depends upon our definition or terms. Even though Johannine view of salvation is a spiritual reality but it has also material elements included, such as bread and water. Physical healings serve as images of God’s gift of life. The changing of water to wine is a tangible manifestation of the presence of the messianic age. God works through, not apart from, the material realities of this world in bringing salvation. Nor are these material realities to be understood merely as ‘symbols’ of another realm of reality or life. Indeed, where all life is understood to come from the living God, then that same God touches, heals, and restores all that is. God gave and God gives life.
John is explaining how the metaphors of light and life mirroring in his Gospel. In the prologue, Jesus described as the life that gives light to all people, in chapter 9 Jesus’ work is displayed as light as he gave sight to the blind (9:39) and the portrayal of the gate is to give life in all its fullness to his sheep (10:10). The central focus of John 10 is life. Marianne Meye Thompson Says, “Zoe in the Fourth Gospel is not opposed to physical life: it is life in its perfection, including physical life. For there is only one ‘life’ life given in creation. The new birth of which John speaks is no metaphysical re-creation, but the realization and fulfillment of created life. In short, life comes from God; but God alone has it eternally.” To provide a deep meaning of Christ’s love towards his followers, he draws a metaphorical example from the life of Shepherd and sheep relationship. Here, the Shepherd risks his life to protect the sheep from danger, gives them eternal life, and making them feel secure. In verses 10:27-28a Jesus says, “My sheep hear my voice. I know them and they follow me. I give them eternal life (zoēn aiōnion), and they will never perish.” The parallel voice echoes in the same chapter, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life (zoēn), and have it abundantly” (10:10). Jesus delivers his sheep from the hands of false Shepherd, who are depicted here as Pharisees or Jews, and provide them eternal life. The uniqueness of Jesus, the Good Shepherd is to lead the sheep into life what the false shepherds cannot.
The cultural context of that time gives a clear picture of this passage. People were not nomadic at the time of Jesus as they were when Abraham the Patriarch was alive. Therefore, the villages and towns needed to construct a place to keep the sheep at night. A communal sheep tent was constructed because of land constraints and for the people to work together for the need to attend to the sheep at night. So the Shepherd who sits at the entrance as the doorkeeper, viewed as a door, because it was he or she who determined to pass into and out of the tent. The sheep were kept in the tent in the evening and night. So the good Shepherd Jesus, the door of the tent of the sheep, protects the sheep from the attack of the false shepherd and gives them life. Eternal life is a gift (10:28); it is not something we own apart from God because we are not gods. We are absolutely dependent upon Jesus our Shepherd for that gift, and it is incumbent upon us to live in gratitude to God for this new life in Christ.
To keep the commandment is to choose life
In the Old Testament, a person has to observe the commandment to keep his life from evil and to enjoy the protection of Yahweh. In the Deuteronomy Yahweh promises the gift of life and protection to those who keep the commandment (Deut. 30;1-20), but on the other hand, if they do not keep the commandment and hear his voice they will perish (Deut 28:20, 22, 24, 45). In the Jewish prayer, Israel addresses God as “Yahweh is one” (Deut. 6:4) means only Yahweh hears and loves them, so they need to obey him for Israel to receive life and prosperity in the Land. In his Gospel, John presents that all the covenantal blessings are now located in Jesus, who stands in relationship with the father on behalf of the sheep. So if the life and prosperity were assured through the faithfulness and knowledge of the Torah, it is now achieved through the knowledge and faithfulness to the son Jesus Christ.
Life is secured when the sheep hear the voice of the Shepherd
We hear polyphonic or multiple voices in the gospels. Jesus often criticizes the Jewish leaders for misleading people through their miss communications and miss quoting the scripture. The Polyphonic voices of the false shepherds distract the people to hear the monophonic voice of the true shepherd. Verse 27 notes that ‘My sheep listen to my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.’ So the shepherd knows the sheep that listen to his voice and follow him. The term hearing is so central to John chapters 5 and 8 which reflect in chapter 10. At one point, the issue of hearing is raised as a question: when “the Jews” are divided because of Jesus’ words, some brand him a lunatic and ask, “Why hear him?” (10:20). The question is ironic; these people are not his sheep. Rather, they are like “the Jews” of John 8:43, who cannot hear. As in John 5 and 8, hearing is related to Christology: it is Jesus who must be heard. But the Pharisees are both blind (9:40-41) and deaf (10:4); they do not see the Father’s works in Jesus nor can they hear the words of the Father speaking through him.
In the discourse chapter 10 Jesus portrays that he is the good shepherd and the Pharisees, thieves and bandits are portrayed in opposite dimensions who are out to steal, kill and destroy the sheep (10:10). Jesus is making clear that the Pharisees are not only blind (9:39-41) but also deaf to God’s voice. They are intentionally deaf to the voice of God. This may be because they are rebellion or trust in their self-righteousness. They are blind guides who themselves do not enter into the Kingdom, nor they allow others to enter into it (Matt.23:13). They are unrighteous leaders who steal the feeble ones and lead them to their destruction. But on the other hand, the sheep belongs to Jesus hear his voice and follow him; they will not follow a stranger (10:3, 8, 16; 10:27). When the shepherd calls them and leads them out, they recognize their shepherd’s voice over a stranger’s voice. Jesus is acknowledging the ability of his sheep to hear the voice of the shepherd to follow him and run away from strangers.
The role of Christians today is to identify the polyphonic voices of the false shepherds who mislead the sheep into eternal destruction. It becomes a reality of today is that, instead of providing abundant life to the sheep, they take the life of the sheep and feed themselves. In today’s context, it is not the wolf who wears sheep’s clothes that threatens the life of the sheep rather false shepherds who use the rod of the true shepherd for the sake of guiding the sheep. The weak are not taken care of, they are oppressed, marginalized, voices are suppressed and many are redundant privileges. Ezekiel warns the false shepherds; ‘You have not strengthened the weak, healed the sick, bandaged the injured, brought back the strays, or sought the lost, but with force and harshness you have ruled over them (Ezek.34:4).’ So listening to the monophonic voice of the true shepherd will lead us to the secured full life.
Life is secured in the hands of Shepherd
In verse 28 says, Jesus gives eternal life to his own sheep. In terms of the sheep metaphor, Jesus has already said that he gives them ‘life…to the full’, abundant life (v. 10); now he plainly states that such life is his own eternal life, frequently ‘hidden’ in the Gospel under the figures of water, bread, light, good pasture. The consequence of his knowing his sheep, and of his gift to them of eternal life, is that ‘they shall never perish.’ It could not be otherwise, if they have eternal life. Even so, the focus is not on the power of the life itself, but on Jesus’ power: ‘no-one can snatch them out of my hand,’ not the marauding wolf (v. 12), not the thieves and robbers (vv. 1, 8), not anyone. We see here the strong declaration of Jesus for his sheep, ‘They shall never perish. No one can take them out of my hand (10:28), nor will he allow them to be destroyed (apollumi; 10:10, 28). This is an assurance of security and confidence of Christians when they face hostility in the community. The enemy can destroy their material body but the life which is secured in the hands of God cannot be taken away from them. Christians’ intimate relationship with Christ cannot be perished by the threat of the external hostile forces (10:28). As the sheep hear the voice of the shepherd and follow him (10:27), Christians are here represented as sheep who know the directions of their Shepherd and in following him have the wonderful sense of the assurance of their salvation (10:29). Bultmann notes, “The security which the believer finds in Jesus is grounded in the relationship to God, in his unity with God...He and the Father are one. In Jesus and only in him does God encounter man, two are one in their ability to give life and protect the community from harm.” To secure life in Christ, believers have to hear the voice of God in Jesus and realize as Yahweh is one, Jesus is one with God. So belief in Jesus gives life to God’s people, not obedience to the command (1:17).
In short, eternal life is a free gift from God; it is a life with God and experiencing his life through hearing his voice and following him in our daily life. Listening to the voice of Christ and obedience to him will lead us to the secured full life. One can attempt to describe life and to suggest what one enjoys when one has life. For example, one can speak of deliverance from sin and judgment, radical transformation and enrichment of existence, fellowship with God, or the experience of the unification of one’s life