I wish life would be as easy as the marketeers make it appear. You feel worthless and unloved? Get this . . . product and be transformed. You are overweight and crave sweets all the time? Do this diet using these special protein shakes and see the pounds drop like dead flies. You are afraid of the unknown? Don’t worry about tomorrow—just be happy and seize the day.
We get, we do, we buy, we try. We love simple answers to complex questions, yet we wonder if we are on the right track.
That’s why we pay attention when we hear Jesus speaking about abundant life.
John 10:10 is one of my favorite Bible texts. I especially love quoting its second half. “I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly” (NKJV).1 I automatically apply this to myself. We all do. Jesus wants to give us life—abundant life. Yet in order to grasp the enormity of what He was saying, we need to look carefully at the larger context. Jesus’ voice reverberates loud and clear throughout John 10:1-18. If you use a red-letter edition of the Bible, you will see most of this section is in red. Red means we need to pay special attention, for these are the words of Jesus.
Twice in the chapter Jesus uses the phrase “most assuredly” (or “truly, truly” [ESV] or “very truly” [NIV]). These translations represent the twofold repetition of the Greek term amen. We use “amen” to express strong affirmation during a sermon or at the end of a prayer. That’s exactly what it meant in both Hebrew and Greek. The use of amen tells us that we should pay attention. Both in John 10:1 and in verse 7, Jesus describes access to a sheepfold. “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.” And again, six verses later: “Most assuredly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep.”
These are emphatic statements. So what does the larger context contribute to grasping the meaning of Jesus’ words? Most ancient manuscripts did not include chapter divisions, or even verse divisions. Chapter 9 offers the real background to the many important statements (including the one about abundant life) Jesus makes in chapter 10.
Jesus passes by a blind man sitting by the roadside. John offers us more background and tells us that he “was blind from birth” (John 9:1). Jesus sees him. He truly sees him. The disciples, noticing the Master’s look, ask a pointed question: “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” (verse 2).
I imagine Jesus cringing. I do that when I hear an inappropriate question. “It was a common belief among Jews that physical infirmity was often a result of sinful behavior,” writes New Testament scholar Urban von Wahlde. “Blindness, as was the case with all physical imperfection, was often looked upon as a result of sin. Physical ‘perfection’ was a prerequisite in a number of Jewish religious rites.”2
The disciples simply expressed what most people believed. Jesus’ reaction is right to the point: “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but that the works of God should be revealed in him” (verse 3). He then declares Himself “the light of the world” (verse 5). The true Light of the world is about to give eyesight to the man who has been blind from birth.
God’s abundance is expressed in His surprising grace.
It’s a ground-shaking miracle. Jesus directs the focus of His audience away from speculating about the causes of sin and suffering to the power of the divine Light-giver. We can see an echo of creation at work. The Creator is right among His people—yet few recognize Him. The remainder of the chapter describes the reaction of the Jewish leaders. Readers are only now informed that Jesus performed this “eye-popping” miracle on a Sabbath (verse 14). By mixing a paste out of the clay of the ground and His saliva (verse 6), Jesus had, according to rabbinical rules,3 worked on the Sabbath. Someone “working” on the Sabbath could not be from God (see verse 16). We get the Pharisees’ logic, even though it’s built on wrong presuppositions.
The formerly blind man finds himself facing Jerusalem’s best scholars and lawyers. Their interrogation circles back to Jesus. They hate this upstart Galilean whose words and deeds they cannot understand—or control.
The man has but one line. “Whether He is a sinner or not I do not know. One thing I know: that though I was blind, now I see” (verse 25). Translation: judge for yourself—and pay attention to the results of His work.
Finally, after insisting that Jesus cannot be from God and that the miracle is impossible, the rulers throw the man out of the synagogue. He has suddenly become persona non grata, an outcast, a nobody. As a blind man he already knew what it meant to be an outsider. Now he has been demoted even lower to being a nobody.
Jesus finds him right then and asks him the crucial question: “Do you believe in the Son of God?” (verse 35). The question connects faith to the issue of authority and origin—and it’s one of John’s most important theological concepts. Believing in Jesus means accepting Him as the Son of God (cf. John 3:36; 6:69; 11:27; 20:31). It’s the question that determines our eternal destiny.
“Lord, I believe!” (John 9:38) is a good answer.
True spiritual vision recognizes one’s own blindness. And it’s evidence of divine help, anointing our eyes with eyesalve (Rev. 3:18), so we can begin to “see” our need.
This important concept is not lost on some of the Pharisees, who ask Jesus directly: “Are we blind also?” (verse 40).
Jesus’ answer is telling: “If you were blind, you would have no sin; but now you say, ‘We see.’ Therefore your sin remains” (verse 41). Spiritual blindness is evenly spread among the seeing and the orthodox and the faithful.
At this point Jesus continues His discourse with two amens. He signals to His audience that what follows is important. Jesus uses two familiar figures (or illustrations) that help His audience distinguish the Good Shepherd from the thieves and robbers whose sole, self-centered purpose is to steal and kill and destroy (John 10:10). Twice Jesus uses the recognizable “I am” formula, echoing the well-known “I AM WHO I AM” of Exodus 3:14. Jesus is the door to the sheepfold (John 10:7, 9), and He is also the Good Shepherd (verse 11). Above all, He claims to be God.
Between the many sayings of Jesus in John 10, verse 6 functions as a disclaimer. Jesus uses “figures” (or “illustrations,” as translated by the NKJV) to communicate complex ideas—“but they did not understand the things which He spoke to them” (verse 6).
We need to understand the identity of “they” and “them” in this verse. The larger context suggests that Jesus was referring to Jewish leaders who were bent on destroying Him.4 We find Pharisees, scribes, and other members of the Sanhedrin carefully listening to Jesus throughout the Gospel. They listen—but they don’t believe. In fact, the entire interrogation of the formerly blind man found in John 9:13-34 seeks to find evidence that Jesus—a sinner in their eyes (cf. verse 24)—is guilty of breaking the Sabbath and thus should be dealt with appropriately.
Jesus uses familiar imagery in John 10:1-18. Shepherds were associated with kings and leaders in the Old Testament (2 Chron. 18:16; Isa. 44:28; Eze. 34:1-10). God often challenged these leaders through His prophets: “‘Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of My pasture!’ says the Lord” (Jer. 23:1; cf. Zech. 10:3; 11:4; etc.). Good shepherds, or leaders, were a rare commodity in Israel. Like a thief or a robber, they would not put the safety and care of their flock first.
That’s why Jesus claims to be “the door of the sheep” (John 10:7). Entrance into His kingdom goes only through Him (verse 9). Jesus’ use of the verb “to save” (sōzō), a term used constantly to describe Jesus as the Saviour in the New Testament, makes it very clear that salvation safety is to be found only in the sheepfold of the Good Shepherd.
Jewish leaders in the time of Jesus highlighted the exclusivity of being “God’s people.” Abraham was their father and David their champion. Gentiles had no part in this and were excluded from God’s kingdom. Yet Jesus, the Good Shepherd, was gathering a flock with a distinct mind-set and values (John 10:16; cf. Matt. 5-7). Those who hear His voice and accept His grace follow Him wherever He leads—wherever they come from.
So what does it mean practically that Jesus offers His followers more abundant life? Here are four suggestions.
First, God’s abundance is accessible to anyone who hears and follows the voice of the Good Shepherd. Exclusivity is not its trademark. Separation is not its battle cry. When we commit to follow the divine Shepherd wherever He goes, we commit to a global community of believers not segregated by ethnicity, race, economic status, or gender.
Second, God’s abundance is expressed in His surprising grace. John wants us to know that we are given life that goes beyond our wildest dreams. The Greek term perissos indicates profusion, abundance in quality and amount, “that which goes way beyond necessity.”5 The coming of Jesus marks the beginning of abundant life—it’s not just an inspirational concept reserved for a future kingdom of God.6
Third, those who experience God’s abundant life will also extend this overflowing life to people around them. “By his death and resurrection Jesus has become the door to an open community and the door of an open community,” writes New Testament scholar James Martin.7 We walk through the “door-made-flesh” and excitedly share it with people surrounding us. Exclusivity has been replaced by profusion and inclusivity.
Fourth, Jesus as the life-giver is a major theme in John’s Gospel. The Greek word for “life” appears 36 times and it is mostly connected with Jesus, the life-giver. Life, real life, is possible only by accepting Jesus, the Christ, and His sacrifice for humanity. John 10:10 describes more closely the quality of this life. God-given life is not a limited quantity that needs to be carefully preserved. It’s profuse, overflowing, extraordinary, and remarkable. It’s not an experience of constant exhilaration or superficial happiness, for bad things also happen to good people; sheep following the Good Shepherd are still pursued and hunted by the wolves and thieves who seek to destroy them.
In the few moments of our lives when it becomes quiet all around us, when we can reflect rather than react, it’s a good exercise to remind ourselves of this abundant life and the Life-giver (and Shepherd) whose sacrifice alone made it possible. “In Jesus, as shown in types, as shadowed in symbols, as manifested in the revelation of the prophets, as unveiled in the lessons given to His disciples, and in the miracles wrought for the sons of men, [people] have beheld ‘the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world’ (John 1:29), and through Him they are brought within the fold of His grace.”8
We are called to be people who affirm life in Him!
Gerald A. Klingbeil serves as associate editor of Adventist Review.