John 10:22-30

For forty-three years I signed official documents for three colleges and two seminaries. Often I write out the full name complete with middle initial, but in-house documents required only the initials KOG which I have surely signed thousands of times. Putting either my name or initials on a document indicates not only that I have read it, but more likely that I have written it and am now officially and personally identifying myself with it. That’s what Jesus provides for His sheep – a signature, an identity by which people can know they belong to the one true and good shepherd.

In John 10, during the Feast of Dedication which we commemorate today as Hanukkah, Jesus came to Jerusalem, still the target of the Pharisees and unbelieving Jews. At the invitation of the Jews to tell us plainly if he was really the Messiah, Jesus returned again to the metaphor of the shepherd and the sheep pen and emphasized how secure are those sheep who belong to the true shepherd.

In these few verses John almost writes like Luke with a seasonal notation, specific geographical reference, and identification of the surrounding crowd. The Feast of Dedication was also a feast of lights pointing to a time when the Messiah would come to the temple and throw out all invaders, thereby reestablishing the kingdom. These grand visions persisted in the Israeli nation until the sack by the Romans in A.D. 70. The attack on Jesus claiming demon possession takes on greater impact when we recognize that “Johannine writings never mention any miracle of exorcism on Jesus’ part but employ this language only to report the way his opponents described his utterances and behavior” (Tenney, EBC, 110).

In John 10:25-26 we find our key word again – believe – appearing in both verses and indicating that the first characteristic of true sheep is that they believe in the shepherd. Jesus makes faith the cardinal issue separating unbelieving Jews from the true sheep. His miracles had been done publicly and in the Father’s name; but unbelievers seemed unmoved by these divine acts because you are not my sheep. To be sure, one becomes a true sheep by placing faith in Jesus Christ for salvation. But once the Holy Spirit implants that nature in us, we respond to the Shepherd because that’s what sheep do.

Though only thirteen words long in the English text (fourteen in the Greek), John 10:27 identifies two more signatures of the sheep – they listen to the shepherd and then they follow the shepherd. This is not new information since we found it already in John 10:16, but obviously repetition emphasizes importance. True sheep listen to the shepherd; false sheep pay no attention.

This segment of John’s Gospel, particularly this portion of the chapter, overflows with basic doctrine. Consider the following list:

• Union of Christ – my sheep
• Calling – hear my voice
• Identification – I know them
• Sanctification – they follow me
• Grace – I give
• Security – eternal life
• Election – given them to me
• Omnipotence – greater than all

Yet another signature of true sheep is that they receive eternal life from the Shepherd (John 10:28). Surely this is one of the strongest verses in the Bible emphasizing the believer’s assurance of life in heaven. In one short verse Jesus states it three ways: I give them eternal life; they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. How did the old Swedish hymn writer put it? “More secure is no one ever than the loved ones of the Savior.” Yet this security, this assurance that God will honor faith in the Good Shepherd, should not be claimed apart from a balance of biblical responsibility. Borchert spells it out.

The perishing of true sheep was an unthinkable idea to early Christians. But contemporary Christians often wrestle with the question because they fail to perceive the logic of the biblical writers. Moreover, they often fail to read thoroughly texts like Hebrews 6. The biblical writers did not have such a superficial view of salvation that would consider walking down the aisle of a church and going through the waters of baptism to be a guarantee of salvation. Nor did the biblical writers have a superficial temporal view of salvation based on an inadequate understanding of John 3:3 and other passages. Instead, the biblical writers have no problem placing side by side texts concerning God’s love, grace and covenant promises with God’s stern warnings to the readers of the Scripture (339).

Sheep signatures, we now know, include belief in the Shepherd, listening to the Shepherd, following the Shepherd, receiving eternal life from the Shepherd, and now protection by the Shepherd’s Father. This is not just the promise of a Galilean prophet whose miracles substantiate his claim to greatness. Throughout the entire narrative of John, Jesus repeatedly refers to the Father’s power. Even if the unbelieving Jews doubt his own ability and authority, they can never doubt the omnipotence of the Father (John 10:29-30).

But that is precisely the point of unbelief. Since they do not believe that this itinerant prophet, this carpenter from Nazareth, has any relationship whatsoever with God, they do not see him as their Shepherd. But his response could not be more clear: I and the Father are one. Numerous verses in the Bible establish the deity of Jesus Christ, but few as precise and pointed as this one.

Modern theologians argue that Jesus died a martyr’s death because the people of his day misunderstood him. They argue that Jesus never claimed to be God and could have escaped death simply by denying this confusion. But the confusion is theirs. Jesus fully intended everyone who heard him speak to understand precisely he made himself equal with God in every way-and that is why they killed him.

Nor can we miss the hint of election at the beginning of John 10:29 when we read my Father, who has given them to me. There can be no greater security, no safer shelter, no more sure salvation and no more clear signature than this relationship to the God of the Bible through his Son the Good Shepherd. No wonder Paul could write “your life is now hidden with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:3). Lightner summarizes for us.

As we watch Jesus face death at the hands of his tormentors, we are reminded of how often he spoke to his disciples regarding the cost of discipleship. There’s an old story about a brilliant violinist who performed with a major urban symphony. Presumably he served as concert master and occasional soloist, heard often and known well by classical music lovers in that city.

On one occasion one of his admirers chatted with him briefly at a benefit luncheon staged by the symphony society. After asking the usual questions about favorite composers, practice time and guest conductors, the sponsor said to the violinist, “I’d give my life to play as well as you do.” Without missing a beat the musician responded, “I did.”

Life in Christ begins with regeneration and the Gospel of John has a great deal to say about that. But throughout this Gospel as well as the Synoptics, Jesus repeatedly calls for followers who not only believe but follow through in obedience. Indeed, as New Testament theology develops, true faith can almost be equated with willing obedience.

As we read the Lord’s description of himself as the Good Shepherd, we do well to examine our own lives in relationship to sheep, both “our own kind” and those of other flocks. How much do we speak to provide security for other sheep? How well do we serve so they may have shelter? How deeply do we sacrifice for their salvation? Such was the signature of the good and perfect Shepherd.


Kenneth O. Gangel is Distinguished Professor Emeritus at Dallas Seminary and Scholar-in-Residence at Toccoa Falls College (GA).


This article is adapted from Kenneth O. Gangel’s JOHN commentary published by Broadman & Holman and distributed through Lifeway. See his website at

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