THE FATHER’S LOVE FOR THE SON-SHEPHERD(John 10:17, 18)
Jesus is the good Shepherd of the sheep which the Father gave Him as His own. He is not an hireling whose own the sheep are not. The sheep are his peculiar possession. He loves all the sheep, both of the Old Testament dispensation and of the New Testament in his blood, with a love which causes him to lay down his life for them. Thus had Jesus spoken in the foregoing section of this chapter.
Now he will reveal another aspect, another dimension, so to speak, of his being the Shepherd. He is an obedient Shepherd. He is the eternal Son of God in the flesh. The life which he gives for the sheep is human life. He became like unto the sheep in all things, sin excepted. He is busy in the things which pertain to God as a high priest. It is all official ministry. He fulfills the command of His heavenly Father, so that of all which the Father has given Him He will lose none, but will raise them up in the last day. His authority to suffer and to die in behalf of the sheep is given him from the heavenly Father. It is very real; it is not usurped, but it is given Him; He is the solely authorized and appointed Shepherd. God declares from the decree: thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee. (Psalm 2:7)
This we must bear in mind constantly.
Jesus here affirms the Father’s love for Himself. What is this “love”? In what capacity does Christ here speak of Himself as being the peculiar object of this love? And what is the legal basis of this love of the Father for the Son?
To be sure, Jesus is the eternal Son of God, very God of God, coequal and co-eternal with the Father and with the Holy Ghost. Wherefore we might be tempted here to view this love of the Father as the love which the first Person cherishes toward the second Person in the divine Trinity. Of course, this is not to be ruled out. God is love, out of the Father, through the Son, and in the Spirit. However, that is not the viewpoint here in the text. Christ is speaking here of Himself as the eternal Son in the flesh. He is here the Son-Shepherd, appointed of the Triune God in His covenant of peace. Here the Christ is David’s great Son, and Lord. He is the First-begotten from the dead, the Firstborn of all creatures, the Firstborn Son among many brethren. (Rom. 8:29; Col. 1:16) He is the eternal Logos in the flesh, full of grace and glory. (John 1:14) He is the Wisdom of God in which the Lord has His daily delight. (Prov. 8:30)
Christ, the good Shepherd is here the object of the Father’s love, the One in Whom the Triune God has all his good pleasure and delight. In our text Christ lays bare the mystery of this love of the Triune God for the Shepherd. Says Christ: “therefore doth my Father love me, because I lay down my life in order that I might take it again.” (John 10:17).
There is some difference of opinion amongst commentators concerning the grammatical construction in verse 17. Some hold that the “therefore” (dia touto in Greek) is resumptive and refers back to the immediate context. Then the thought is that the Father loves the Shepherd because He will bring all the sheep of all ages into one fold under one Shepherd. This makes good sense. Then the love of the Father toward the Son-Shepherd is based upon what He accomplishes in the salvation of all the sheep. Others hold that the “therefore” refers to what follows in the text, “That I lay down my life to take it again.” This would emphasize the legal basis and reason of the Father’s love for the Son-Shepherd. According to this construction, Jesus here unfolds the mystery of the cross and resurrection as the ground of the Father’s love for the Son in the flesh, as this love is concretely shown in the Son’s exaltation over all things, the Lord of glory, the great Shepherd of Israel. And this love for the Son in the flesh is at once also the love of God for all the sheep in Christ. We are loved for the sake of the love which God has for His suffering Servant, Who was wounded for our transgressions, who was bruised for our iniquities, and upon whom the chastisement of our peace is, and by Whose stripes we are healed. (Isaiah 53:5)
It seems to me that the latter interpretation is to be preferred. It agrees with the great emphasis which Christ places upon His laying down of His life in order to take it again. The question is: what does it mean, “I give my life”? The Greek text emphasizes that Christ emphatically states that “I, I give my life” (egoo titheemi) He is the giver of His life. He lays it down as a sacrifice. He is the subject. And this laying down of His life is pure act. In His passive obedience He is wholly active in giving His life. No man ever gives his life. In the battlefields of the world a man loses his life; he is shot, killed by sword, or otherwise, but he does not lay down his life as a pure act of his will. But Christ is the Lamb Who is dumb before his shearers. This is so important an element in the suffering of Christ and for the consequent love of the Father for Him, that He repeats with emphasis: “No man taketh it from me. I have power to lay it down of mine own self.” vs. 18. This is borne out in the sufferings of Christ in every stage. No one could destroy him, for his hour was not yet, we often read. (John 1:39, 7:30, 8:20) Never was there a moment when Christ did not wholly give Himself unto death. With great longing and desire he longed to eat the Passover with his disciples. (Luke 22:15) When Peter would defend Him in Gethsemane Christ speaks of the willingness to drink the cup. Had He willed, He could have summoned twelve legions of angels to His aid. But He laid down His life. He tasted death in our behalf. Such is the import of the phrase, “because I lay down my life.”
However, the fine point of Jesus’ instruction is that he lays down His life with the purpose of taking it again. All His sufferings were such that, in that suffering, He was laying hold on the crown. He endured the cross and despised the shame. He did this because of the “joy which was set before him.” (Hebrews 12:2) Thus He went and sat down on the right hand of God, which is the exhibition of all the Father’s love for the Son in His eternal good pleasure.
We should not overlook the import of Christ’s teaching concerning His “taking his life again.” This is more than a passive receiving of His life again. When the saints shall rise in the day of the resurrection they shall not take their life: they shall receive everlasting life and glory. In this case, however, Christ takes up His life again. He has the power and the authority to do this. (John 10:18) The pangs of death could not hold Him; it was not possible that He should be holden of death. (Acts 2:24) Had He not, through dying, destroyed him who has the power of death, the Devil? We read in Romans 1:4that Christ is powerfully revealed to be the Son of God, according to the Spirit of sanctification, through the resurrection of the dead. Is He not the Firstborn of all creatures as the Firstborn out of the dead? (Col. 1:15, 18) Is He not the Begotten of God in God’s counsel as the Firstborn out of the dead? Hence, He does not merely receive His life again, but He takes it to Himself.
When the Shepherd takes his life again, He is not where He was before He laid down His life. He has made a gain which no mortal ever has made. He has passed from the earthly into the heavenly. He has broken down the middle wall of partition in the temple, which made separation between the circumcision and the uncircumcision, between the sheep in the stable of the Old Testament sheep and the stable of the New Testament sheep. He removes the types and the shadows forever by His death and resurrection, and thus He makes a new man, a new creation, one fold and one shepherd in heavenly glory!
Thus the commandment which Christ received of His Father in heaven is fulfilled, the word of prophecy is come to pass, and God is all in all.
THE SHEPHERD OF ISRAEL—THE SWORD OFDIVISION (John 10:19-21)
There is a certain sinful aversion which men have for “division.” The Greek word for this is “schisma,” from which comes our English term schism. We know that there is sinful schism which should not be. Of such sinful schism Paul speaks in I Corinthians 1:10: “Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, that there be no divisions (Schisms) among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment.” And again, in I Corinthians 11:18 we read: “For first of all when ye come together in the church, I hear that there be divisions among you; and I partly believe it.” For such schisms we may well have great disapproval.
But there is a division too amongst men and in the church which is due to Christ, His Word, His kingdom and the work of God’s grace in gathering, defending, and preserving of the church in the world. This is the enmity between the two “seeds,” the Seed of the Woman and the Serpent-seed in the world, as this enmity makes a division right through the church of God. The great question is: what say ye of the Christ? It is the division between believers and unbelievers, between those for whom the true preacher of the Word is either a savor of life unto life, or a savor of death unto death. Of this division Christ speaks in Matthew 10:34: “Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace but a sword. For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a man’s foes shall be they of his own household.”
Such is the clear-cut language of Scripture.
Of this division the evangelist John speaks more than once. It was the common occurrence that, when Jesus spoke, there was the expression of faith’s approval of Christ and of unbelief’s disapproval. We read in John 7:43: “so there was a division among the people because of him.” Again in John 9:16 we read: “Therefore said some of the Pharisees, This man is not of God because he keepeth not the Sabbath day. Others said, how can a man that is a sinner do such miracles. And there was a division among them.” In our text we have the indication that this division was quite a common occurrence. We read: “There was therefore a division again amongst the Jews for these sayings.” Ever and again the Word of God is the sword of division, the two-edged sword. O, those who believed in Him appeal to the works which He performs, particularly to the work of the opening the eyes of the man who was born blind. Can such work be ascribed to demons? But unbelief deliberately attributes Christ as being of the cause of the Devil. Therefore the sword of division is clearly manifest. He that is not for Me is against Me!