Therefore doth my Father love me, because I lay down my life, that I might take it again. No man taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This commandment have I received of my Father. There was a division therefore again among the Jews for these sayings. And many of them said, He hath a devil, and is mad; why hear ye him? Others said, These are not the words of him that hath a devil. Can a devil open the eyes of the blind? And it was at Jerusalem the feast of the dedication, and it was winter. And Jesus walked in the temple in Solomon’s porch. Then came the Jews round about him, and said unto him, How long dost thou make us to doubt? If thou be the Christ, tell us plainly. Jesus answered them, I told you, and ye believed not: the works that I do in my Father’s name, they bear witness of me. But ye believe not, because ye are not of my sheep, as I said unto you. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: and I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand. My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father’s hand. I and my Father are one.
There are two outstanding themes in these verses, and perhaps it may be well to say that verses 17-18 really belong to the previous paragraph, which sets forth our Savior as the Good Shepherd who laid down His life for the sheep. Our Lord stresses the fact that it was not man that forced Him to do that. In other words, He did not have to die. His humanity was different from ours in this, that we begin to die as soon as we are born. The seeds of death, as it were, are in the body of every child of Adam. We are all under that Adamic curse, “Dying, thou shalt die.” These bodies of ours are mortal, that is, subject to death. It was otherwise with the body of our Lord Jesus. We are told that, “Sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death” (James 1:15). That is why we die, because we have all inherited the virus of Adam’s sin. But our Lord Jesus Christ was the Sinless One, and, therefore, while He came into the world with a body that could die, it was not necessary that it should die. He had in His own power the ability to die or to live on for endless years. But He died out of love for our guilty souls and out of love for the Father, because He came to do the Father’s will.
In Psalm 118 we hear Him saying, through the psalmist, “God is the LORD, which hath shown us light: bind the sacrifice with cords, even unto the horns of the altar” (v. 27). He Himself was the One whom all the sacrifices of the law typified; therefore, this verse refers to Him. The altar of old had four brazen horns, and we might never have known what they were used for had it not been for these words. But we learn from this psalm that when they brought a beast, such as an ox or a lamb, for sacrifice they bound it to the horns of the altar, and its blood was spilled about the altar, for “without shedding of blood [there] is no remission” (Heb. 9:22).
So our Lord Jesus Christ was bound with cords to the horns of the altar. What were the cords? We read in Hosea 11:4 that God has drawn us with the cords of love: “I drew them with cords of a man, with bands of love.” The cords of love have drawn our poor hearts to Christ and bound us to Him, and it was the cords of love that bound Him to the cross.
’Twas love that sought Gethsemane,
Or Judas ne’er had found Him;
’Twas love that held Him to the tree,
Or iron ne’er had bound Him.
And there was not only one cord; there were cords. There was the cord of love to the Father, and the cord of love to us. We hear Him saying, “That the world may know that I love the Father, and as the Father gave me commandment, even so I do. Arise, let us go hence” (John 14:31). And He went out to the garden of sorrow and on to the cross of atonement. Love to the Father took Him there, thus to lay down His life for us. But it is also written that “Christ… loved the church, and gave himself for it; that he might sanctify and cleanse it” (Eph. 5:24-26). The apostle could say, “The Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me” (Gal. 2:20). So it was love for us, for our needy souls, that took Him there and led Him to die as a sacrifice for sin.
So He says, “Therefore doth My Father love me, because I lay down my life, that I might take it again” (John 10:17), though it is also perfectly true that sinful men laid hold of Him and nailed Him to the cross. The apostle Peter said to the Jews of his day, “Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain” (Acts 2:23). And speaking of the Gentiles and their rulers, the apostle Paul says, “Which none of the princes of this world knew: for had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory” (1 Cor. 2:8). Man is held responsible for the rejection of Christ, but man was perfectly powerless to take His life. He laid it down of Himself. He says in verse 18, “No man taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down.” That is, He had commandment from the Father to lay it down, and He came to do the Father’s will, and that will involved His becoming the great sin offering.
Then observe, just as He had authority to lay down His life, so He had authority to take it again. “This commandment have I received of my Father” (v. 18). The resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ is attributed to each person of the Holy Trinity. We read that He was “raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father” (Rom. 6:4). We read of the “Spirit… that raised up Christ from the dead” (8:11). The Holy Spirit then had His part in the resurrection. But Jesus also said, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up” (John 2:19). “He spake of the temple of His body” (v. 21). So the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit were all concerned in the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ even as all were concerned in His death. It was the Father who gave the Son that He might die as our Redeemer. It was in the power of the Eternal Spirit that Christ offered Himself without spot unto God. And it was in His own love and grace that He laid down His life as the Good Shepherd, and rose again that we might know redemption from the guilt and power of sin.
You remember we quoted several passages from the Old Testament in which we saw that the Shepherd of Israel was the coming One, God Himself, who was to be manifested here on earth. So when Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep” (10:11), He was declaring that He was the One who would fulfill all these Scripture passages.
But the people were not ready to receive Him. Many declared that He had a demon. Others said, “These [words] are not the words of him that hath a [demon]” (v. 21a). They seemed to be so carefully chosen, and so reverent and holy. They did not sound to some of His hearers like the words of one speaking under the power of an evil spirit. Then they asked very sensibly, “Can a [demon] open the eyes of the blind?” (v. 21b). They remembered that wonderful miracle that had been done among them. It seemed that, after all, Jesus might be the expected Messiah.
And now in verse 22 we are told that “it was at Jerusalem the feast of the dedication.” This was celebrated annually since the days of the return under the leadership of Zerubbabel, of David’s lineage, and of Joshua, the high priest, and the scribe Ezra and the governor Nehemiah. It was winter, and Jesus walked in the temple in Solomon’s porch, or court. “Then came the Jews round about him, and said unto him, How long dost thou make us to doubt?” (v. 24).
He had told them many times, but again they put the question. Jesus answered and said, “I told you, and ye believed not: the works that I do in My Father’s name, they bear witness of me” (v. 25). Why did they not consider the signs, the evidences? They seemed to be blind to these things. And He gave the reason for this. “Ye believe not, because ye are not of my sheep, as I said unto you” (v. 26). They refused to believe His message. His sheep are those who have turned to God in repentance and have accepted the message that He brought. He says, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.”
And now I have come to a rather crucial passage, about which there has been probably more controversy than concerning anything else in the gospel of John. One is often asked: Do you think that this passage teaches that if a man is once saved, he is saved forever? That it is impossible to fall from grace?—that a man will continue to be a Christian, no matter what sins he commits, if he has once professed faith in Christ? We need to be very careful here. It is good to follow the exact words of Jesus, and then we will not go astray.
First, He says, “My sheep hear my voice” (v. 27a). John 5:24 tells us, “He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life.” “Hear, and your soul shall live” (Isa. 55:3). So He says, “My sheep hear my voice.” We cannot say that people are numbered among His sheep simply because they make a profession. There are people even in evangelical churches who are not numbered among the sheep of Christ, because actually they have never heard His voice. They are formalists, members of the church outwardly, but not of the church which is His body. Such people make a religious profession, maybe under emotion, and flock into the church. For a time they seem to go on very well, and then by-and-by the newness wears off and their enthusiasm disappears. The hankering for the world wells up in their souls and then they begin to drift. We say, “Poor souls, they are backsliders.” But, as one has well said, “They were never frontsliders.” They had turned from their sins, reforming themselves, but they had never heard the voice of the Son of God in their inmost souls. Their hearts were like that house that was swept and garnished, but left empty after the evil spirit had departed.
Such as these are those who bring reproach upon the doctrine of the eternal security of the believer in the Lord Jesus Christ. They were never real believers at all. No matter what people profess, if they do not hear the voice of the Son of God, they are not actually His sheep. I wish we may get that clear. Of all His sheep He says, “I know them, and they follow me” (John 10:27b). Now, will you put in contrast to that a passage in Matthew’s gospel: “Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of My Father which is in heaven” (7:21). “He that doeth the will”—stop there for a moment. Are we saved by doing? No, we are saved by faith. What does He mean when He says, “Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that does the will of my Father which is in heaven”? We are not saved by doing, but we manifest the reality of our faith by doing the will of God. You remember that passage again in Ephesians 2:8-9: “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast.” But he immediately adds, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them” (v. 10).
Be very clear about that. Our works have nothing to do with procuring eternal life, but no man has eternal life who is not manifesting good works.
I would not work my soul to save;
That work my Lord has done;
But I would work like any slave
From love to God’s dear Son.
“Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works?” (Matt. 7:21-22). He is referring to the day of judgment, the day of manifestation. We might put that in modern language, “Have we not preached in Your name?” Perhaps through their preaching men have been delivered from the awful power of Satan, for I believe that many an unsaved preacher has been used of God to save men, even though his own life was all wrong. God uses His word by whomsoever proclaimed. “And in thy name have cast out demons.” “And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity” (v. 23).
He will never say to anyone in that day of judgment, “I used to know you, but I do not know you anymore.” He says, “I never knew you.” But of His own He says, “I know them.”
Now if you will keep that in mind, I do not think you will have any question about the eternal security of the believer. He never knew those who, though they seemed to be workers in His own vineyard, had never heard His voice.
So then, first, His sheep know His voice. Second, He says, “I know them.” Notice the third thing, “and they follow me.” There is no use to profess to be a sheep of Christ’s unless you follow Him. Christ means so much to those who are truly born again that their souls delight to follow Him. Do you follow Him? Is His will precious to you? We do not become sheep by following Jesus. It is the very opposite. We follow Him because we belong to His flock. Having been saved, we manifest that by following Him. There are a great many people who bear the Christian name who are not really born of God. This accounts for so many who at one time seemed to be Christians, but because there was no reality, they never knew the Lord. They never found any satisfaction in following Him, and so they fell away.
Speaking of His own sheep, “I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand” (John 10:28). What kind of life? Eternal life. My brother, my sister, you who have questioned the eternal security of the believer, how long is “eternal?” “I give unto them eternal life.” Do you not see? It is not probationary life. It is not temporal life. It is eternal life.
A lady came to me in San Francisco, where I had been preaching on John 5:24, and she said, “I agree with everything you said tonight except that doctrine—once saved, always saved. I have never found that in the Bible.” I said, “Don’t you believe the words of the Lord Jesus? Let me show you what He said.” She replied, “I know where you are going to turn: John 10:28-29.” “Well,” I said, “you do know. But let me read the verses: ‘And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand. My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father’s hand.’”
I inquired, “Do you believe that?” She said, “Not in your way.” I said, “What is my way?” “Well,” she said, “you believe that if a person is once saved he can never be lost.” I read it again, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: and I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand. My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father’s hand.” I said, “Do you believe that?” “Not in your way.” “But I am not telling you my way. I have not explained it at all. Do you not believe what the Son of God has said?” “Not the way you do.” “Well, let me read it again.” And I read it through once more, except for one change. I put “ten years” in place of “eternal life.” I inquired, “What does that mean?” She answered, “Well, it would mean that if a person once got saved he would be saved for ten years.” “Exactly! Now let us stretch it a bit. ‘I give unto them life for forty years.’ What does it mean now?” She admitted it would imply that one thus saved would be secure for forty years. “Suppose it read, ‘I give unto them life as long as they are faithful’.” “That is what I believe,” she replied. “But that is not what it says. It says, ‘My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: and I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my Father’s hand.’ How long does that mean?” She said, “As long as they remain His sheep.” And she went out. She did not want light, so turned her back upon it.
If one would only take God’s Word at its face value. “I give unto them eternal life.” It could not be eternal if it could ever come to an end, and He said, “They shall never perish.” “No man can pluck them out of my hand.” There could not be a stronger statement. His sheep are safe in the hands of the Father and the Son. There is no power in earth or hell that can pluck us out, and there is no power in heaven that would want to do so. You say, “Well, but you know I can take myself out.” But you would perish then, wouldn’t you? The marvelous thing is that when He saves a person He puts such a love for Himself in the heart that none would wish to be separated from Him.
I remember a dear friend of mine, a minister of the gospel, a kindly, gracious man, who was reasoning with me about this. He said finally, “My brother, if I believed as you do, I could go out and sin all I want to, and it would not make any difference.” I said, “My dear brother, do you want to sin?” “Oh, no!” he replied. “I do not want to sin.” That’s it. The Christian does not want to sin. Nothing makes him more miserable than failure or falling into sin. His only joy is found in walking in fellowship with God.
What does Jesus mean when He says, “My Father…is greater than all” (v. 29)? He was coequal with the Father from all eternity. But as Man here on earth, He could say, “My Father … is greater than all.” He was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, that He by the grace of God should taste death for every man. He voluntarily took the subject place in the days of His flesh.
But having said, “My Father…is greater than all,” He immediately adds, “I and my Father are one” (v. 30). What a proof of His true Deity we have right there! “I and my Father.” Why, you would have thought He would have said, “My Father and I.” It would be the natural thing—would it not?—for the subservient One. But there is no subservience here. God the Son, and God the Father, and God the Holy Spirit are coequal. So He says, “I and my Father are one.”
Isn’t it marvelous grace! The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are united in sending this gospel to the world and inviting sinners everywhere to put their trust in the work that Jesus did. And when you trust Him you have eternal life, and you will be as secure as God Himself can make you, even as we read elsewhere, “For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8:38-39). What a gospel to proclaim to poor, dying men! If there is one who reads these words who has never trusted the Savior, won’t you come to Him today?
Years ago, there was a poor old man who lived in a miserable hovel and subsisted on what he could beg. Finally he was taken to a hospital, very ill, and when the nurse moved his clothes she found a worn paper that he had put away in an inner pocket. When she examined it she saw that it was an order on the Treasury of the United States to give him a pension because of his faithfulness in serving as a scout in the army during the war between the States. The poor old man said, “Oh, don’t take that away from me! President Lincoln gave me that, and I value it above all else.” And yet, he had never cashed in on it! He had never availed himself of his privileges.
Are you treating God’s salvation like that? You have the right to come to Jesus and receive eternal life and forgiveness of sins. “Today if you will hear his voice, harden not your hearts” (Heb. 3:7, 15; 4:7).