Christ’s Intercession for His Bride

Below are my notes from Sunday School almost two weeks ago.  I list several reasons why I believe that the doctrine of Definite Atonement is the best way for us to understand Christ’s mighty work upon the cross.  I left off a reason that has since been brought to my attention by Dr. Stephen Wellum, namely that in His role as our High Priest Christ is interceding for the church alone, not for any outside the church.  One might think of how the priests of the Old Covenant never made sacrifices for sin for gentiles outside their nation – they were making atonement for a specific group of people, or individuals. It would have been preposterous for them to make sacrifices “for the whole world” when the point of such sacrifices was to point forward to an Ultimate Sacrifice for the elect, namely the blood shed by Christ at Calvary.

I hope you enjoy the notes!

17:9-10 I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours. [10] All mine are yours, and yours are mine, and I am glorified in them.

Jesus says three really profound things here – some of which we’ve already talked about, but because they are being repeated by Jesus I think we can assume that means they’re important, so, we’ll discuss them again.

Jesus is praying for an exclusive group of people and not praying for another group. He’s also saying in His prayer that that ownership over these people is shared between Himself and the Father, and lastly, that He’s “glorified” in these people.

First, I think that verse nine is probably one of the best proof texts for the doctrine known as “limited” or “definite” atonement. The doctrine is a divisive one for us Baptists – so much so that its very difficult to hold the view that the doctrine is indeed reality without getting at least some grief from church and lay leadership.

The doctrine of Definite Atonement, simply stated, espouses that while the atonement Jesus offered on the cross is so valuable that its meritorious for the whole world, yet, that atonement has not been done for the whole world, but only for those whom God has chosen out of the world.

J.C. Ryle puts it this way, “It is true that Christ loves all sinners, and invites all to be saved; but it is also true that He specially loves the ‘blessed company of all faithful people’, whom He sanctifies and glorifies. It is true that He has wrought out a redemption sufficient for all mankind, and offers it freely to all; but it is also true that His redemption is effectual only to them that believe.”

This doctrine is rooted in love.  It is for love that we are called, and for the glory of God that He chooses to intercede for some and not others.  Paul says, “In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will…” (Eph. 1:4b-5).

D.A. Carson notices that though God loves the world in the broader sense of His creation, yet there is a specific sense in which He loves His elect unto salvation, “However wide is the love of God (3:16), however salvific the stance of Jesus toward the world (12:47), there is a peculiar relationship of love, intimacy, disclosure, obedience, faith, dependence, joy, peace, eschatological blessing and fruitfulness that binds the disciples together with the Godhead. These themes have dominated the farewell discourse.”

Although this is a tricky doctrine to get our minds around, I believe it is easiest to understand to doctrine in terms of God’s intentions. Did He send Jesus to die for every single person in the whole world, or did you send Jesus to die for only certain chosen people that were predestined to salvation?

It seems to me that verses like 17:9, and others, when combined with shear logic and an understanding of God’s character and plan of redemption lead us unquestionably to the latter choice – that Jesus died specifically for His sheep, the elect, the chosen ones.

There are many reasons Biblically for thinking this, In John 5:21 we learn that the Son grants life only “to whom he will.”  In John 6:37-44 we learn that both the Father and the Son are working together to select and draw a specific group of people to themselves – a thought which so confused and offended the Jews (along with Christ’s claim to be “bread from heaven”) that many abandoned Him soon thereafter (John 6:66).  In John 10 we learn that Jesus laid down His life for His “sheep” – a specific group of people that were “His”, as distinguished from all people everywhere.

But there are numerous instances in Scripture outside of John’s gospel where the doctrine is assumed as an underlying principle of truth. In Ephesians 5:25 we learn of how men ought to love their wives as Christ loved the church and “gave himself up for her” – again, not for the whole world, but for “her”, for the church, the elect.

In Acts 20:28 Paul states the Jesus died for the church specifically, and that in His death He “obtained” her by His blood.  This is a theme throughout Paul’s writings.  In Ephesians chapter one Paul labors the point that a specific group of people were predestined to salvation from “before the foundation of the world.” This group was called according to a purpose and according to the power of God (which is what Ephesians 2:1-10 explains).

Paul appropriates this saving work to a specific group of people, and includes himself in that group when he says in 2 Corinthians 5:21 that Christ became sin “for our sake.”

Not only is this the clear teaching of Scripture, but there are also logical reasons for thinking this.  Let me offer a few of them that have helped me sort this out in the years I’ve studied the topic:

First, Ephesians 1:4 tells us that believers were predestined “before the foundation of the world.” If God knew whom He would save, why would Jesus not know those for whom He was dying? It doesn’t seem probable that in His incarnation He would suddenly forget His own plan and scope of redemption.

Perhaps you could posit that Jesus, in His humanity, didn’t know all of that information – as we see with His second coming in (Mark 13:32). However, Jesus doesn’t show any specific ignorance or underlying ignorance in this are in the gospels. Furthermore, we must remember that He never stopped being God. Infinite knowledge was at His disposal, and regardless of whether He tapped into that (so to speak), or had it conveyed to His humanity by the Spirit (as we see in other places like Luke 2:52), the preponderance of Biblical evidence seems to favor His knowing at a minimum that He was dying for a specific group of people, and probably exactly who those people were.

Secondly, even if you manage to believe that Jesus didn’t know everyone who He was dying for during His ministry on earth, you would still have to explain what the other Members of the Trinity were thinking. In other words, God the Father and God the Spirit still knew (and never stopped knowing) who would be saved by Jesus’ work of atonement. They never stopped being omniscient, did they? They didn’t suddenly get amnesia!  It wasn’t as if they looked down on humanity after the cross and said, “Now, who were we going to apply this to again?”

Third, Definite Atonement is called “definite” because it means that if Jesus died to save you, you will definitely be saved. This doctrine complies with God’s character and power and the spirit of Ephesians 2:1-10 and Romans 8:31-19.  There is a plan that’s been in place from eternity past and it involves you – a plan that cannot be thwarted! Similarly, God’s character is such that He desires all the praise and glory, and this is exactly what He gets when His precise plan of redemption is applied by the work of the Spirit in the lives of lost sinners. No credit goes to us, and there is no sense of uncertainty in this doctrine because God is faithful to His plan and is powerful enough to carry it out.

Lastly, if God didn’t know for whom Jesus was dying, then how would God the Spirit know who to regenerate to life? I believe that God is the one who sovereignly awakens Christians to spiritual life from spiritual death.  And because of this, I believe that God is the one who takes the initiative to regenerate us, which means that He must know who His “targets” are (so to speak)!  It’s not as if the spirit simply goes around “accidentally” regenerating people! No does He wait for some inkling of faith to appear in the heart of an unbeliever – for we know that faith is not something that is created apart from the work of God – it is a gift (Eph. 2:8-9)!

There are immense implications – especially for our comfort as Christians.  The first comfort is that the necessary result of believing that God is sovereign over salvation is believing that He will definitely finish the work He set out to do (Phil. 1:6), and that He actually knows who He’s saving – and has always known!

The second comfort is knowing that if Christ loves us enough to intercede on our behalf for salvation, certainly He continues to intercede for us as our Great High Priest every day and every moment.  He is seated at God’s right hand and is praying on our behalf – He is speaking to the Father for us. What an Advocate!  Not simply for salvation, but for our every need. I remember that fellow deacon Jim Dobbs devoted an entire year to praying for me as a new deacon – he told me this upon my ordination, and it blew me away.  I would get check ups from him every now and again, and he would remind me of his prayer for me.  This holiness, this love will always remain in my mind. How much more impressed ought we to be when the Son of God promises and does the same thing for us – not for the past year alone, but from before the foundation of the world!

Therefore, for all our difficulties with this doctrine Jesus doesn’t seem to share in our mental hardship. Jesus does it for us when He says, “I am not praying for the world.” He states that He has a certain group of people for whom He is interceding (John 17:9), for whom He is calling (John 6:44) and therefore for whom He is (be extension) living and dying for.

It’s as if He wanted to stop and say “by the way, not that you don’t already know this, but I’m not interceding on behalf of the whole world here, just the specific people I’ve mentioned above.”

Carson goes a step farther, “To pray for the world, the created moral order in active rebellion against God, would be blasphemous; there is no hope for the world. There is hope only for some who now constitute the world but who will cease to be the world and will join those of whom Jesus says for they are yours.”

Well the consequences of all of this ought to be joy for us.  We ought to really enjoy the fact that Jesus had a plan, stuck to the plan, succeeded in the plan, and is powerful enough to bring that plan to fruition and consummation when He returns.

The second thing we read in these verses (9-10) concerns ownership and this idea that within the Trinity we are cherished and “shared”, if you will, by the Father and Son.  A few examples:

For as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whom he will. (John 5:21)

All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. (John 6:37)

If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.” (John 14:7)

Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who dwells in me does his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, or else believe on account of the works themselves. (John 14:9-11)

In Luke’s Gospel we read a series of verses that really sum up this passage in John – which simply shows the consistency of Christ’s teaching on this point:

All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows who the Son is except the Father, or who the Father is except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.” (Luke 10:22)

The upshot of this is that for many of us who long to belong to someone or something greater than ourselves, Christ is that someone. I wonder how many Christians miss out on the sweetness of these verses and the beautiful soul comforting truth that you belong to someone, not just anyone, not just the run of the mill guy or gal, or the Kiwanis or the Rotary, but to the most powerful, most loving Person in the world (and outside of it) and the most meaningful, most important cause in world history – the church of Christ.

If you are lonely, if you are unattached, if you are a lone wolf, then you now must realize the truth that Christ has not left you alone.  He has not left you unattached. You are His sheep, the “human sheep” of His pastor, and He cares deeply for you.  As we read in John 16:27, “for the Father himself loves you, because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God.”

Again, don’t miss this: God’s saving purposes may be mysterious to us, but one part of the mystery is not veiled, and that is the unmistakable mark of love that these doctrines are rooted in.  It is love for us, and most of all a love for His glory that underlies and drives this narrative.

The third thing Jesus says is that He is “glorified” in us.  This is very important because of what verse 11 says about Him leaving the world. He has left the world and has manifested His Father’s name to us, and now it is our mission, our life’s goal to manifest His name (His gospel) to the world.

We know as Christians that our end is often said to “glorify God”, and we also know from many church services and Sunday school lessons that we do this by obeying Him, and in so doing we’re bringing Him glory. But the fact that He is gone and we are here got me thinking about how much He has included us in His work.  It’s not that He’s left us alone – we know that much from this context especially – and we know He is the One working in and through us, yet He gets glory from our obedience.  He changes our hearts and we in turn obey. He is irresistibly good to us, is He not?

Perhaps I am not adding anything valuable that anyone else wouldn’t have thought of, but when I think that we are His instruments down here on earth to carry out His plan and that He is actually here using us, working through us, helping us to be like Him, remaking us in His image – that really puts the whole passage in an amazing light. He chooses us, He cares for us, He intercedes for us, He owns us as His own, and He finds glory in us. I love the fact that He is working in my life and the lives of those around me!  That gives me great purpose as I type out my notes, as I study the Bible, as I minister to others.  I know that all I do He is doing with and through me, and that He’s right here.  I cannot help but point to Him in all I do.  We Christians out to read verses like this, and reason through them with the truth that Paul came to when extolling the Corinthian church with what is our mission and our message as well:

For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, [23] but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, [24] but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. [25] For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.

For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. [27] But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; [28] God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, [29] so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. [30] And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, [31] so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord” (1 Corinthians 1:22-31).

John 17:1-3 How the Son Brings Glory to the Father

Introduction to John 17

Perhaps chapter 17 of this gospel could be said to be the apex of the theology that John has been narrating for us.  That theology, that doctrine which has been so beautifully and in some instances ineffably expounded for us by our Lord in the last few chapters has now come to a point in which we find the Lord breaking from his addresses to the disciples and beginning to address His Father.

There is a sense in which this chapter is so holy, so high, and so magnificent that we must take a step back in wonder that the Lord God would allow us the privilege of listening in on a conversation between the members of the Trinity.

Sinclair Ferguson rightly states that “John 17 is holy ground, and, at least metaphorically, we need to take off our shoes if we are to walk on it.”

I readily admit that in the weeks leading up to my studies on this chapter I had a wariness about it simply because of the depth of the mysteries here.  Not necessarily because the concepts are too difficult to understand, but because of the shear weight of the glory and excellency of it.  There is an excitement in reading it and wanting to study it, but there is also a holy fear in approaching it in anyway less than Jesus would have us to.  I have no adequate words to articulate what I mean to say here, and perhaps my own inadequacy upon the commencement of the study is the only safe place to be.

Therefore I encourage you to look on with me as we examine the chapter together and ask that God would mercifully grant us discernment and right thinking; that we might “think His thoughts after Him” as so many have wisely expressed.

17:1 When Jesus had spoken these words, he lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you, [2] since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him.

When John says, “When Jesus had spoken these words” he’s meaning the entirety of the discourses that we’ve just been studying.  Jesus is in the garden, in Gethsemane, and He is praying presumably aloud so that His disciples may benefit from what He has to say.  Again, we recall that all of what Jesus has been saying to them is with the aim of comforting them and leading them into truth.  He is setting them on a course of understanding, and His love for them and their guidance seems to overwhelm any specific care for His own end. Not that He is capricious about His death, far from it, rather He is focused on serving and loving His disciples until the very end (see John 13:1), and this same purpose is born out in His prayer.

His first sentence contains three amazing truths:

1. His Hour Has Come

It’s been mentioned before, but it’s worth repeating, that Jesus was driving toward a goal in His ministry.  He has His face set on the cross and was determined to see His mission to its end (Luke 9:51).  So when He states “the hour has come” we must understand that Jesus, the man, was not only conscious that He had a mission here to obey, but Jesus as God in the flesh understood that this plan was one of His own devising from before the foundation of the world (Eph. 1:1-4).

2. Glory is mutually Shared Within the Trinity

Jesus says here “glorify your son, so that your son may glorify you.”  It is a distinct characteristic of the Trinity that they all have a passion for one another’s glory.  The Spirit exalts the Son and the Son exalts the Father, and the Father takes pleasure in shining a spotlight on the Son, and here for the last few chapters the Son has been lauding the divine work of the Spirit.

The Son’s greatest desires are to magnify the work of the Father, the plan of the Father, the purposes of the Father, the character and attributes of the Father and the love of the Father and so on.  Likewise He appeals to His Father’s plan here in that He desires for the Father to glorify Him in order that He will bring glory to His Father. As Bruce Ware notes, “…more than anything else, Jesus cared about doing what the Father wanted him to do.”  The intensity of desire to magnify one another cannot be missed.

Specifically, when Jesus in this context is saying, “glorify your son” He’s referencing the cross.  How will the cross then glorify the Father?  John Piper says that there are at least two ways God will get glory and specifically take pleasure in the cross:

  1. God’s pleasure is in what the Son accomplishes in dying.
  2. The depth of the Son’s suffering was the measure of his love for the Father’s glory.

Piper says this, “It was the Father’s righteous allegiance to his own name that made recompense for sin necessary. So when the Son willingly took the suffering of that recompense on himself, every footfall on the way to Calvary echoed through the universe this message: The glory of God is of infinite value! The Glory of God is on infinite value!

Piper ends by saying, “When Jesus died, he glorified the Father’s name and saved his Father’s people. And since the Father has overflowing pleasure in the honor of his name, and since he delights with unbounded joy in the election of a sinful people for himself, how then shall he not delight in the bruising of his Son by which these two magnificent divine joys are reconciled and made one!”

3. Jesus Has All Authority

It is simply an amazing truth that Jesus had all authority vested in Himself, yet did not abuse that authority. His authority extended not only to those around Him (as teacher of a small group of men), not only to his role as an influential public figure (whose popularity with the masses was ever increasing), but to the very expanses of the heavens and the entire universe itself.

The old saying goes that “absolute power corrupts absolutely.”  Yet Jesus who had absolute power could never be corrupted. When referring to His inevitable triumph over Satan and the world we have recently read the following:

I will no longer talk much with you, for the ruler of this world is coming. He has no claim on me, (John 14:30)

I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

And so for Jesus, power was used at His discretion and it only took one thought, one snap of the figures, one spoken word of “be still” (Mark 4:39) and all of creation would obey. We’re going to see later that the mere mention of His name brings heathens to their knees (John 18:6).

The point is that all authority was vested in Jesus and this authority He used to bring gory to the Father.

Now, how is it that He does this?  If we’re not careful we’ll miss it.  Jesus says that “since” the Father has given Him all authority “over all flesh” He is able to “give eternal life to all whom you have given him.”

Two points about this: First, Jesus glorifies the Father by giving eternal life to sinful, fallen, spiritually dead human beings and, secondly, Jesus glorifies the Father by giving eternal life to a specific group of human beings and thus fulfilling the plan of election that the Father and the Son have drawn up from before the foundation of the World (again, Eph. 1).

Jesus Glorified In the Salvation of Sinners

There are so many times – many, many times – when the question has come up in seminary or in Sunday School or in a discipleship class that tends to the “why” of God’s method of redemption. The question usually sounds something like this: Why in the world did God create all of us when He knew that sin was going to happen?  Why didn’t He just prevent sin in the first place?

From “the ground” (to use Matt Chandler’s vernacular) this seems just as mysterious as it does from God’s perspective (if we were putting ourselves in His seat, that is).  From the ground, we see our sin-ravaged world and our fallen miserable state and wonder “why God?”

There are mysteries that go beyond the ability for us to know the heart of “why.”  Job asked the same things.  He protested that God was not being merciful to him.  God didn’t address Job with answers but instead rebuked him over the course of three chapters that basically said in a nutshell “I am God and you are not – who are you to ask why?”

Human theologians have done everything they possibly can to create excuses or ways out for God (theodicies) so that He is not the author of sin and evil and yet somehow still has control over all things.  And while I also affirm these two truths, I think the aim is wrong.  We don’t need to let God off the hook.  The truth is that He ordained the world to be as it is and He ordained that His Son would die for our sins before He ever said “let there be light.”

That still leaves us with the question: why? And though we cannot answer or understand the deepest counsels of God’s will, we do get a very clear purpose statement here as to the broader reason for this, and its couched in the context of salvation.

Jesus tells us plainly here that the reason why He has been granted authority to give salvation is to glorify God.  Therefore, all of the purposes of God for this world, which are so intrinsically and beautifully tied up in the mission of Christ, are foundationally to be understood in terms of God’s glory.  God sent His son for the same reason He breathed life into Adam and Eve: for His glory.  Jesus’ life, death, burial, resurrection and ascension are all basically founded in this principle – God’s glory.  At the heart of every breath, every word, ever action of our Lord during His time here on earth was this goal: for His glory.

As John Piper nicely sums up, “When we are dealing with the glory of God, we are dealing with a reality that is not only ultimate in the aim of history, but central to the gospel.”

God Glorified in Jesus’ Salvation of the Elect

The second part of this is that Jesus says this, “to give eternal life to all whom you have given him.”  He is now speaking in the third person, referring to “him” as himself, Jesus.

At the very heart of this mission of salvation is the salvation of a specific group of people – the elect of God.  Jesus’ aim in bringing God glory is founded in the purpose for which He came, namely to die for those whom He had foreordained unto salvation.

This atonement, this sacrifice was not for a faceless, nameless mass of unknown people, but for an elect group of saints chosen from before the foundation of the world.  Piper states, “The atonement does not make possible the spiritual quickening of all people; it makes certain and effective the spiritual quickening of the elect.”

Interestingly, when you get into discussions with people in church about the nature of election one of the things that dissenters inevitably bring up is the supposed “unfairness” of election. And, of course, the idea that God would have a specific group of elect people in mind is offensive to many people.  Even evangelicals in our own sphere of influence would rather not pause over this verse too long for fear that it might lead them to believe the Jesus actually knew those for whom He was about to die!

Yet we cannot skip over this detail because evidently this is the way Jesus seems to want to bring the most glory to the Father.  Remember, Jesus’ aim here is to bring maximum glory to the Father.  And in His prayer to the Father in this chapter it will become evident again and again.

So when He says He has come to give eternal life to “all whom you (the Father) have given him (the Son)” He is saying that in His mission to bring the Father the most possible glory, the Father has endued the Son with all of the authority necessary to dispense eternal life. And that eternal life is to be dispersed according to a plan that has been made between the Members of the Trinity from before the foundation of the world.  I’ve cited this before but it seems good just to read this passage from Paul here:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, [4] even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love [5] he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, [6] to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. (Ephesians 1:3-6)

And so when Paul says here that God predestined those who were chosen “in him before the foundation of the world” the purpose of this was “to the praise of His glorious grace”!

Why does God only save some and not others.  We can’t know the hidden councils of the Lord (Romans 11:33-36) for they are past finding out, but we can know that God does things the way He does them in order to achieve maximum fame and glory for Himself.  Therefore I conclude that Jesus’ goal in achieving the atonement for his chosen people is grounded in the fact that this will bring the Father maximum glory.

So, as you can see, the end of all things is glory of God.  Christ sought us, bought us, and here intercedes for us in order to bring the Father glory.

Edwards puts it this way, “All that is ever spoken of in the Scripture as an ultimate end of God’s works is included in that one phrase, ‘the glory of God’; which is the name by which the last end of God’s works is most commonly called in Scripture.”

17:3 And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.

There are a few places in the New Testament that the gospel of salvation is laid out with such succinctness and this is one of them. Jesus has already said that His mission here is to give eternal life to those whom God gave to Him.  And we’ve talked about how obedience to this plan brings God glory. But what struck me about verse three here is that Jesus is so gracious in His awareness that we would have this verse for centuries to come.  He clarifies even more what He was saying.

Therefore this verse is the equivalent of John 14:6 “Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.’”

He proclaims that the Father is the only true God – adoration and acknowledgement of the truth of who God is – and ties this to what eternal life means: to “know” God the Father and to “know” Jesus Christ (note that he equates himself to being on par with God, and thus equal with God).

This word “know” is the familiar word for NT scholars ginōskō and carries with it the same close knowledge or understanding that you would have with anyone that you came to know over a period of time.

What Jesus is saying is that eternal life is rooted in having a relationship with God – and this relationship is life-giving.  That life, which is not in us for we have fallen, flows from the Holy Spirit who keeps us sealed until the day of Christ’s return.

These are supernatural concepts; they have eternal consequences.  So to those who say that Jesus taught merely moral teachings for us to follow as examples, I say that you have missed the entire point of Jesus’ ministry.  And its verses like this that make this all the more evident.

1-6-13 Study Notes

10:14-15 I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, [15] just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. [16] And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.

The Mission of Christ

By saying that “I know my own and my own know me” Christ is saying that He is on a specific mission to rescue specific sheep.  This is what He’s been expounding upon and now by repeating it He gives even further emphasis to this.

Furthermore, Christ has more to say about the scope of His work.  For in verse 16 He says that He has “other sheep” to rescue as well – “not of this fold.”  And the end goal is “there will be one flock” – and this is certainly referring to the church of Christ.

So who are those who are “not of this fold”? These are the gentiles who are not part of the nation of ethnic Israel. He has specific sheep that He is rescuing from among all people’s on the earth. This speaks to what we call “particular redemption” or “limited atonement.”  The doctrine is described by Paul this way:

…even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love [5] he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, (Ephesians 1:4-5 ESV)

So the mission of Christ has been founded from before time began, and scope of this mission is worldwide (1 John 2:2). Paul is saying is that from the beginning God had a rescue plan for specific people – not all people, but specific sheep. These sheep (the “elect”) respond to their Shepherd because they have been united with Him through faith and by the power of the Holy Spirit. It is the Spirit who exercises the will of the Father and of Christ; they are all of one mind (vs. 30).

Carson comments on the call of Christ the Shepherd, “Jesus comes to the sheep pen of Judaism, and calls his own sheep out individually to constitutes his own messianic ‘flock.’ The assumption is that they are in some way ‘his’ before he calls them.”

That’s a HUGE insight by Carson.  There is ownership here.  Christ has purchased you by His blood, when He calls you by the efficacious power of the Holy Spirit, He will make sure that His love overpowers your enmity toward Him. Carson later says, “Christ’s elect sheep inevitably follow him.” He will not allow the sheep He has purchased to go astray into the hands of robbers and thieves.  He will certainly complete the work; He will come and claim those for whom He died!

The Trinity as an Example

Lastly, although I just mentioned this, I love the appeal Christ makes to the Trinity here and it’s worth just looking over closely again because it permeates the teaching of Christ. He says, “Just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep.” He will even go on to say in verse 30 that, “I and the Father are one.”  The word “just” in verse 15 signals to us here that Christ is making a comparison between His relationship with the Father, and His relationship with us, His sheep.

MacArthur comments, “In these verses, “know” has that same connotation of a relationship of love. The simple truth here is that Jesus is love knows His own, they in love know Him, the Father in loves knows Jesus, and He in love knows the Father.  Believers are caught up in the deep and intimate affection that is shared between God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”

That we can be united with Christ in this way is an amazing truth. He is talking about bringing us into a relationship with God, and there are a few things that ought to run through our minds when we think about what that mean – things we ought to be meditating on. For instance, this entire picture of the relationship between us and God, and between God and Christ is one that exudes love. The care and compassion of the shepherd for the sheep signals the sort of care and compassion that we will receive from our Shepherd. There are so many other things to consider here, but I think the love relationship between the trinity and its implications for our relationship with God are numerous and profound and worthy of our consideration and meditation.

10:17-18 For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. [18] No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.”

The Reason…

This theme of love again permeates these verses, and Christ here expounds on what true love looks like in action. True love lays down one’s life for another man/woman. John wrote of this in his epistles, and Christ tells us that it is love – love for the Father, and love of the Father – that is the driving force behind His atoning death on the cross.

This ought to cause us to take a step back and ask if our actions are loving on a daily basis, and even ask if the larger plan and vision we have for our lives is being motivated out of love for God, and love for others. Can I say that what I plan on doing today, as well as my long-term vision for 5 and 10 and 25 years from now is being driven by love for God and others? I think we probably don’t plan that way normally.  Do we ask, “How do my plans show love for Christ? How can I adapt my plans or words to better glorify God and love others?”

These are difficult questions.  I don’t know exactly how to answer them, I’m sure that there are mixed answers – perhaps in some ways my life’s goals are motivated out of love, but perhaps they are mostly motivated out of greed, or self-seeking desires as well. These are questions that Christians alone must face. No unbeliever has to worry about these kinds of examinations. But if we are walking in the light, these kinds of questions ought to both encourage our hearts, and cause us to repent.

The Authority of Christ

The next thing we see in this passage is that Christ reiterates what He already told us in chapter five:

[19] So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise. [20] For the Father loves the Son and shows him all that he himself is doing. And greater works than these will he show him, so that you may marvel. [21] For as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whom he will. [22] The Father judges no one, but has given all judgment to the Son, [23] that all may honor the Son, just as they honor the Father. Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him. [24] Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.

[25] “Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live. [26] For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself. [27] And he has given him authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of Man. [28] Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice [29] and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment. (John 5:19-29 ESV)

In chapter five as I note above, we see that Christ has been given all authority by the Father. In fact, in 5:26 we see that Jesus Himself has “life in himself.”  That means that in His very being He has life – the power of being is a very profound thing that we don’t have space here to cover, needless to say that the authority to create life from nothing at all has been given to Christ, and He has been executing that authority for a long time.

Now, if Christ has the authority and power to create life ex nilhilo, then certainly He has authority and power of when and where He lays down His own life.

This ought to give us great confidence in the power and plan of Christ. No one did a single thing to Him that He did not allow to happen.  Such was the magnificent meekness of Christ, that He possessed complete power and ultimate authority, yet He yielded all of His rights to exercise the privileges of His deity during His first advent in order that He might in humiliation die a bloody death as a disgraced and rejected Jewish man.

Yet because He has this power of being (of life) within Himself, we are told that the grave could not hold Him (Acts 2:24). You see it is impossible for darkness to swallow up the light of life.  And Christ, who embodied life in His very being, would inevitably triumph over the grave.

This is why it should not surprise us that when He calls us, when He powerfully transfers us from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of light, His voice alone is powerful enough not simply for us to recognize Him, but for Him to create new life within us. His sheep hear the voice of the one who has created within them a new life, who has made us a new creation!

10:19-21 There was again a division among the Jews because of these words. [20] Many of them said, “He has a demon, and is insane; why listen to him?” [21] Others said, “These are not the words of one who is oppressed by a demon. Can a demon open the eyes of the blind?”

Just as in chapters 7 and 9, we see a division among the hearers of Christ. There are some who can’t stand what Jesus is saying, but others who are thinking logically and “swim upstream” as Henry puts it, and posit a more thoughtful/logical response (even if they aren’t believers yet).

I think there is also something interesting here about where life and the power of life comes from.  I just finished talking about how Christ had the power of life within Himself, and here we see that even the common folks of earth recognize that the Devil and his agents do not have this same power.  They state “can a demon open the eyes of the blind?” because demons don’t have that power – darkness doesn’t have the power of light. It is a logical impossibility.

Not only is it a logical impossibility, but it goes against all practical knowledge as well. What I mean by that is this: when was the last time you read of a demon doing something positive for mankind? Sounds ridiculous doesn’t it? That’s because it is. And yet that was the argument that the Pharisees used against Jesus, that He was of the Devil and used the Devil’s power to cast out demons (Luke 11:15).  Christ explained how this was a logical impossibility, and also just didn’t mesh with real life. Demons don’t help people, they don’t cast each other out, they don’t heal people – even if they could they wouldn’t!

10:22-23 At that time the Feast of Dedication took place at Jerusalem. It was winter, [23] and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the colonnade of Solomon.

The Feast of the Dedication was a relatively new feast, it was not an old testament feast but rather a feast that celebrated the Jewish freedom from the oppressive persecution of Antiochus Epiphanes.  Wikipedia actually has a pretty decent outline of the background that largely agrees with what D.A. Carson has to say as well:

The Feast of Dedication, today Hannukah, once also called “Feast of the Maccabees” was a Jewish festival observed for eight days from the 25th of Kislev (usually in December, but occasionally late November, due to the lunisolar calendar). It was instituted by Judas Maccabeus, his brothers, and the elders of the congregation of Israel, in the year 165 B.C. in commemoration of the re-consecration of the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem, and especially of the altar of burnt offering, after they had been desecrated in the persecution under Antiochus Epiphanes (168 BC). The significant happenings of the festival were the illumination of houses and synagogues, a custom probably taken over from the Feast of Tabernacles, and the recitation of Psalm 30:1-12.  J. Wellhausen suggests that the feast was originally connected with the winter solstice, and only afterwards with the events narrated in Maccabees.

10:24 So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.” [25] Jesus answered them, “I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name bear witness about me, [26] but you do not believe because you are not among my sheep. [27] My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.

The Method of Christ

It seems to me that though Christ had been teaching these people, they did not like His methodology. Here they complain about His lack of clarity on the matter of His messianic role.

The Implication

When Christ says here that they don’t believe Him, He is saying that they don’t believe Him “because” of something.  There’s a reason attached, and that reason is because they are not His sheep.

The implication of this is that God must take the initiative to call them and create the belief within them before they will respond.  The ESV Study Notes put it well:

Those who belong to Jesus’ flock (i.e., those who are chosen by him) are those who believe. The reason people do not believe is because they are not among Jesus’ sheep, implying that God must first give them the ability to believe and make them part of his people with a new heart (see 1:13; 6:44). Eternal life (10:28) by definition can never be taken away (see note on 6:40), especially when Jesus’ sheep belong to him and to his Father.

Therefore, the fact that these people were still not able to understand what Christ was telling them signaled that they were not His sheep.  He even makes a distinction to serve as a sort of bookend the point, as if to say, “I’ve already told you who I am, and if you were one of my sheep you would already have picked up on this and be following me. Evidently you are not one of my sheep because you don’t follow me – and you aren’t my sheep because I have not enabled you to be my sheep.”

The idea that belief is a gift from God is not foreign to us, for we read of it in Paul’s letter to the church at Ephesus:

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God (Ephesians 2:8 ESV)

10:28-29 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.

In this simple analogy of the shepherd and his sheep, there are many theological implications. We don’t have to read into the analogy too far to find them because Christ Himself brings to our attention exactly what He wants us to learn from the analogy.  He is quite explicit in this section of His teaching (contrary to what some in His presence felt), and in verses 28 and 29 He continues to explore some of the radical implications of our relationship with Him as our shepherd.

The Perseverance of the Saints

Perhaps no doctrine is more beloved among conservative Christians (I speak as a Baptist) than that of The Perseverance of the Saints.  The doctrine simply states that once one is born again, that person can never lose their salvation.

This belief is based on passages like the one we’re looking at now – as well as many others. For example, Paul says in Philippians that, “I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Phil. 1:6).

Here the picture is that no one will lose eternal life because of the power of Jesus to keep that life intact. “No one will snatch them out of my hand” indicates that Christ is powerful enough to keep us from death and hell (which are the same thing at the end of the day). What a beautiful truth to cling to!

A Love Gift from the Father

But in case His hearers were to be concerned about the power of Christ to live up to His word (I speak tongue-in-cheek), He takes this teaching a step further.  He claims that God the Father has given us who believe into His hands.  Who is going to believe that the Father would be thwarted?  No one – as Christ says for emphasis that “He is greater than all” to make this very point.

Therefore, we are a give of love from the Father to the Son. Think about that for a minute – that means that there is real value in each one of us.  We are valued because we are created by Him to bear the divine image. We are not valuable because of what we do, but simply because He made us and loves us. We bear His image and He is renewing us day by day so that we will be more and more like the Adam…the second Adam!

In Matthew 7 Jesus talks about how the Father knows how to give good gifts – this passage is referring to the blessings of God in common grace, and how He will take care of us. But it also reminds me of His character. He not only acts in love toward us, but also toward His son as well.  That is why it is so important to understand the nature and relationship of the trinity.  It helps us understand how God will relate to us if we understand His character and How the Father relates to the Son and the Son to the Father and so on. This has enormous implications for our hope for tomorrow, and our help for today. How we understand the trinity/the Godhead helps us understand the character of God in His dealings with us and consequently how we ought to deal with and behave (lovingly) toward others).

10:30 I and the Father are one.

The Shema in Deuteronomy six is echoed here.  The ESV Study Notes explain this, and also why it is that this would have caused such an angry reaction:

Jesus’ claim that I and the Father are one (i.e., one entity—the Gk. is neuter; cf. 5:17–18; 10:33–38) echoes the Shema, the basic confession of Judaism, whose first word in Deut. 6:4 is shema‘ (Hb. “hear”). Jesus’ words thus amount to a claim to deity. Hence, the Jews pick up stones to put him to death. Jesus’ unity with the Father is later said to constitute the basis on which Jesus’ followers are to be unified (John 17:22). As in 1:1, here again the basic building blocks of the doctrine of the Trinity emerge: “I and the Father” implies more than one person in the Godhead, but “are one” implies that God is one being.

One thing I especially note here is how the people expect a non-divine messiah.  They ask Him the question about His messianic role in verse 24, but they didn’t do it in order to bait Him into claiming deity so that they could then stone Him. Instead, they had a misconception about the nature of the messiah. They felt it would be a man – a great man yes, but not the Son of YHWY!  This is not at all what they expected, so the idea of deity and the divine nature of Christ had not entered their thinking, and, apparently from this text, it was very difficult for them to wrap their head this truth.