Hint: it might not be what you think.
"THE THIEF COMES ONLY TO STEAL AND KILL AND DESTROY; I HAVE COME THAT THEY MAY HAVE LIFE AND HAVE IT TO THE FULL." — JOHN 10:10
YOLO. FOMO. Live your best life.
You and I are inundated all day long with messages and marketing that implore us: life is short, don’t miss out, do whatever you have to do to make this day—this life!—your very best. We know there’s some truth here because the days, seasons, and years keep speeding by. It’s innate within us to want to make the most of the moments we’ve been given.
While our innate desire to live our best lives is good, these pithy statements lead us down an unhelpful path. They speak to a soul-deep desire, but they offer a superficial attempt to get there. Songs, political slogans, and Instagram squares promise us our best lives will be found in the right social circle, in a different gender identity, or on the perfect trip or at the perfect coffee shop or with the perfect lip shape. Every day, countless images tell you and me that we can create our best lives ourselves, right now, if we just grab hold of this or that.
But here’s what’s true: a good, full, abundant life is available to you and me, but there’s only one way to have it. To live our best lives, you and I have to know the Giver of Life. Jesus came that we might have life and have it abundantly.
In John 10, Jesus calls himself the Good Shepherd who lays down his life for his sheep (v 11). He says he knows his sheep and they know him (v 15). Jesus, who is our Creator, also wants to be our Savior, our Good Shepherd. So much so, he stopped at nothing to make us his own. Jesus laid down his life so we might have abundant life. It’s in surrendering to him, in receiving his gift of forgiveness, in becoming one of his own, that you and I experience a truly full life.
Jesus, the Good Shepherd, is full of compassion. He offers his own life to ensure ours.
Here’s something interesting about John 10:10 though. The whole verse says, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly” (ESV). For decades, I assumed the thief in this verse was Satan, our adversary, the devil. And it’s true that Satan does come to steal, kill, and destroy. Jesus is the Giver of Life and Satan is the enemy of it. While my decades-old assumption wasn’t heretical, it wasn’t true to the context.
So who is the thief? The Pharisees. Let me explain.
Jesus begins talking to the Pharisees in John 9 before he uses this “I am the Good Shepherd” statement to describe himself in John 10. Not so subtly, Jesus states that the Pharisees have been inviting people into the sheepfold by a door that’s not him (v 1). In other words, they’ve been teaching people they can find eternal life by means other than faith in Jesus. They’ve been offering false ways of salvation, false means of becoming sheep in God’s pasture. While this accusation is not readily obvious to you and me—we are now 2,000 years removed from this conversation and we don’t know the Old Testament like the Pharisees did—the Pharisees knew exactly what Jesus was referring to.
A fuller understanding of John 10:10 requires us to go back to Ezekiel 34, a prophecy against the shepherds of Israel that the Pharisees would have known well. There the Lord God accuses the shepherds of feeding themselves, rather than the sheep entrusted to them. The leaders of Israel made the people of Israel vulnerable and weak, as they did not feed them, or bind up their injuries, or heal the sick, or seek out those who were lost (Ezekiel 34:2-5). In the context of their selfish shepherding, God says, “Behold, I am against the shepherds… I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep and I myself will make them lie down” (Ezekiel 34:10, 15 ESV). The Pharisees, both in the day of Ezekiel and John, were more concerned about their own status and comfort than seeking true life for their people. In John 10:10 Jesus says they are thieves and their actions steal, kill, and destroy.
Jesus, who freely exchanges his life for ours, is displeased when anyone claims that life can come from any other source. The Pharisees exploited the people. The traditions of man were levied on the Israelites, such that the people believed they had to bear unjust and impossible burdens to have true life. The lies of these false shepherds led to the death of the sheep.
As we so often do today, they sought the good life, a full life, from the wrong source.
Jesus alone is the source of the good life. Our best lives can be found in him and him only. So yes, run after the good life. Run hard. That’s a good desire and it was written on your heart by your Maker and Savior. But don’t fall for the false messages of this world. Don’t believe any shortcuts. Don’t be made vulnerable by the lies of our culture.
Listen to Jesus’s voice and join his fold (John 10:16). He has laid down his life so that you might have abundant life. Receive it.
Consider studying all the “I am” statements of Jesus in the gospel of John including bread of life, light of the world, the door of the sheep, the resurrection and the life, the way, the truth, and the life, and the true vine.
Thanks for reading,
Meet jen oshman
Jen Oshman has been in women's ministry for over two decades on three continents. She’s the author of Enough about Me and Cultural Counterfeits, she hosts a weekly podcast about cultural events and trends called All Things, and she is the mother of four daughters. Jen's family currently resides in Colorado, where they planted Redemption Parker.
ON THE PODCAST
The Good News About Failure // Jen Oshman
Have you ever thought you understood what a Bible verse was saying only to be surprised after taking some time to study it that what you initially thought wasn’t actually the main point? You’re not alone! Don’t miss this conversation between Natalie Abbott and Jen Oshman where they confess their initial misunderstanding of what this verse means, how the Old Testament helps us to understand what Jesus is saying in John 10:10, how to recognize a thief when they come along, and how to encourage ourselves or someone else who is caught up in a lie. Savor the good news today that instead of coming to exploit others like the religious leaders of Jesus’s day were doing, we have a Savior who came for the exact opposite purpose: to lay his own life down so that his people could have abundant life.