John’s Gospel: Chapter 10:22-29 (“no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand”)

(John 10:22-23 ESV)  22 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 Dedication is Hanukkah. As the NET Bible translators explain,

The feast of the Dedication (also known as Hanukkah) was a feast celebrating annually the Maccabean victories of 165–164 B.C. – when Judas Maccabeus drove out the Syrians, rebuilt the altar, and rededicated the temple on 25 Kislev (1Ma 4:41-61). From a historical standpoint, it was the last great deliverance the Jewish people had experienced, and it came at a time when least expected. Josephus ends his account of the institution of the festival with the following statement: “And from that time to the present we observe this festival, which we call the festival of Lights, giving this name to it, I think, from the fact that the right to worship appeared to us at a time when we hardly dared hope for it” (Ant. 12.7.6 [12.325]).

It is not a biblical feast. Rather, it was a religious celebration added by the Jewish people long after the completion of the Old Testament and well before the time of Jesus. And Jesus participated in the festival — in the Temple.

The colonnade of Solomon was a covered area — a roof held up by columns — that was a convenient location for groups to gather.

(John 10:24 ESV)  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.”

“Christ” is the Greek word for “Messiah.” (I’d prefer that the translators use “Messiah,” because most readers fail to realize that meaning of “Christ.”)

Now, you can just see Jesus rolling his eyes. He’d claims to be the Messiah many times — even slyly claiming to be God by claiming the title of “Good Shepherd.” Indeed, the Old Testament uses “shepherd” of Israel to refer either to God or the King. Either one works!

Prevenient grace (astonishing how many vocabulary words one must master to discuss Calvinism)

(John 10:25-27 ESV)  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.

John the Baptist had declared him to be the Messiah. Jesus repeatedly claimed to have come from heaven and to have received special knowledge from God. He was only lacking a signboard saying “I’m the Messiah.”

And so, because his audience failed to see the obvious, he concludes they have closed minds. Therefore, they are not among “my sheep.” They don’t respond to his voice and follow him.

Prevenient grace (the idea that no one can come to faith without the Holy Spirit opening their hearts)? Maybe. Is he saying that they are not among the elect? Well, yes. Is he saying that they had no choice. Well, no.

Rather, his point seems to be that they had a choice — saw the miracles, heard his teachings — and failed to respond. The choice they made makes them not his sheep.

But — and this is important — Jesus’ argument proceeds from “you are not among my sheep” to “you do not believe.” As the Calvinists would correctly point out, it’s not the other way around.

Given that direction, must we conclude that they don’t believe because God has not opened their hearts to believe? Or is it more likely that they are not among Jesus’ sheep because they have closed hearts due to worldly priorities, a self-centered perspective, etc.? (Think of the Parable of the Sower. Matt 13:18 ff.)

Why does it have to be God’s sovereign choice? Why not their own choice to be obstinate, to preserve their power and privileges? After all, they were obstinate and power-hungry before Jesus came — soil filled with choking weeds. If you sow seed in weed-choked soil, the result is predestined, but not by a change in the will of the weeds. They’re weeds.

Jesus’ point, I believe, is simply that he has no intention of being any plainer with them because they are not his friends and not looking to believe. They are looking for grounds to arrest him. If they were open-minded, good-hearted people, they’d have already been drawn to him by his love and his words from God. As it is, further self-revelation would only further their ambitions, not God’s.

(John 10:28-29 ESV)  28 “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.”

A classic proof text for perseverance of the saints. The word translated “snatch” (haparzo) is also found in –

(John 6:15)  Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself.

(John 10:12)  The hired hand is not the shepherd who owns the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it.

(Acts 23:10)  The dispute became so violent that the commander was afraid Paul would be torn to pieces by them. He ordered the troops to go down and take him away from them by force and bring him into the barracks.

The usage in the Septuagint is the same –

(Deu 28:31)  Your ox will be slaughtered before your eyes, but you will eat none of it. Your donkey will be forcibly taken from you and will not be returned. Your sheep will be given to your enemies, and no one will rescue them.

(Lev 19:13)  “‘Do not defraud your neighbor or rob him. “‘Do not hold back the wages of a hired man overnight.

(Psa 7:1b-2) O LORD my God, I take refuge in you; save and deliver me from all who pursue me, 2 or they will tear me like a lion and rip me to pieces with no one to rescue me.

Clearly, the word carries with it the sense of violence. “Snatch” refers to forcible action by a third party. And it’s a particularly vivid verb — not at all the word choice if you mean to say “no one [will choose to leave] out of my hand.”

Imagine a military engineer who has just built a fort declaring that no one “can take the fort by force.” If he were a First Century Greek speaker, he’d use harpazo for “take by force.” But that word hardly indicates that the defenders will never change loyalty. He’d be speaking of protection against third parties.

The Good Shepherd

Next, consider the context of John 10. The chapter begins with Jesus declaring himself the “Good Shepherd.”

(John 10:12-13)  The hired hand is not the shepherd who owns the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks [harpazo] the flock and scatters it. 13 The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.

Jesus is speaking of a third-party, a wolf, attacking his people — the sheep. Unlike a hired man, Jesus protects the sheep against wolves. And the parallel use of harpazo – an unusual word — in 10:12 and in 10:28-29, both in the context of shepherding, has to be intentional.

Hence, “snatch” really means something like “stolen from me by wolves [such as the Jewish leaders].”

“They shall never perish”

“They shall never perish” is a Hebraic parallel with “I give them eternal life.” The English translations aren’t very true to the Greek. The Greek is literally —

And I give to them life eternal [aionion], and by no means they perish unto the age [aiona], and shall not [forcibly] seize anyone them out of the hand of me.

(Translation from Alfred Marshall’s Greek interlinear).

Notice that the “unto the age” (aiona) isn’t translated in most translations. Morris argues  that just as aionion refers to eternal life (literally, life in the next age), the aiona (the next age) means they won’t die eternally. (Leon Morris, New International Commentary on John).

And that’s very parallel: “I give them life in the next age, and they certainly won’t die in the next age” is a very precise translation, I think — remembering that “eternal” is only a rough translation of aionion, which literally speaks of the next age and doesn’t take “everlasting” as its primary meaning.

It seems that Jesus’ thought is “I give them eternal life, and they won’t lose eternal life because even wolves like you won’t be able to attack and seize them from the hand of God.”

Jesus’ emphasis in this part of the verse, therefore, isn’t on perseverance but on his protection of his sheep from wolves. That is, this no more speaks of perseverance than the hundreds of other references in scripture to “eternal life.” For example,

(John 3:16)  “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

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About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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