(27) My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.
(28) I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand.
John 10:27–28, NIV
Dear Father in heaven, we thank you for moving our hearts so that we may know we are your children. Even in the midst of turmoil and evil, fear and pain, you bring us happiness; we can know that you are holding us with your right hand and will finally deliver us from all evil. Let your Spirit be at work everywhere. Give us patience when time is needed in our own hearts and in the hearts of all people, who also belong to you. Continue to strengthen us so that even the heaviest burden does not crush us and we may exult in hope because you right every wrong, to the glory of your name. Amen.
The context of the words of John 10:27–28, NIV
John 10:22–42 happens a few months after the controversy described in chapter 9 through the first half of chapter 10. Here, Jesus is cornered, in an overt threat, by the same religious leaders He has been castigating for years.
He echoes the metaphors of sheep and shepherd He employed after giving sight to a blind man. Jesus points out that His teachings and miracles are all consistent with predictions of the Messiah, but these men refuse to accept Him. This culminates in another attempt on Jesus' life, which He somehow avoids. This represents the last time Jesus will publicly teach prior to His crucifixion.
This passage continues Jesus' discussion with the religious leaders of Jerusalem, seen in chapter 9. Jesus lays out three separate analogies about His ministry, using the concept of sheep and shepherds. In those statements, Jesus explains why some people refuse to accept Him, declares Himself the only means of salvation, and again predicts His sacrificial death. This leads to controversy. Later, Jesus is cornered by a mob in the temple grounds. They once again try to stone Him as He repeats His divine claims, but He escapes in some way not fully described by the text. After this, Jesus leaves the area and returns to the region where John the Baptist had once preached.
Meaning of the words
"My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me"
This continues Jesus' repetition of an analogy He made several months prior, after healing a man born blind (John 9). There, He pointed out that sheep only recognize the voice of their particular shepherd—those who don't listen to the witness of Jesus are proving they're not part of His "flock" (John 10:1–6). In another analogy, Jesus stated that He was the only means of salvation (John 10:7–9), separating all people into two basic groups: saved and unsaved. Those who refuse to come to Christ are, by definition, part of the group mastered by Satan (John 8:42–47).
Jesus makes this statement under dire circumstances. His critics have trapped Him in a corner of the temple (John 10:24), daring Him to repeat His claims, and apparently prepared for violence (John 10:31). In typical fashion, Jesus not only responds with brave truth, He continues, as shown in the following verses (John 10:28–29), culminating in a statement that seems almost deliberately intended to enrage His critics (John 10:30).
"I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand"
In this verse, Jesus expands on the metaphors He used earlier in this chapter. Jesus explained that those who are "His" are like sheep—they only respond to the voice of their own shepherd. How a person reacts to Jesus proves whether they are, or are not, part of His "flock" (John 10:1–6). Jesus also claimed to be like the single opening in a sheep pen: "the Door" which was the only means of finding rescue from danger (John 10:7–9). He also proclaimed Himself the "Good Shepherd," contrasted with selfish leaders like those He speaks with in this passage, and spoke of His willingness to die for the sake of those who are His (John 10:10–14).
Jesus speaks these words while being overtly threatened by His critics. They've cornered Him in an awkward spot in the temple and are daring Him to repeat His claims (John 10:22–24). Rather than simply repeat them, Jesus is expounding on them.
This statement is a crucial part of our understanding of the gospel. Jesus has already made it clear that there are only two categories of people, spiritually speaking: those who are "in," and those who are "out." These two groups are separated by Jesus Christ, who is "the Door." Those who belong to Christ are safe from being taken away, as a wolf might grab a sheep in the wild (John 10:12). Here, Jesus uses the same Greek root word found in His description of a wolf who "snatches" a sheep: harpazo. Those who are part of Jesus' flock cannot be taken away.
Jesus also makes a crystal-clear, unmistakable reference to the nature of the eternal life He offers: it is permanent and irrevocable. Jesus' literal words in Greek are ou mē apolōntai eis ton aiōna. Ou and mē are both negatives, and eis ton aiōna is somewhat like saying "all the ages," or "for all time." Apolōntai is a reference to loss, condemnation, or death. The eternal life granted by Jesus to His "sheep" cannot and will not ever be stolen, revoked, or lost.
This same Greek phrase also echoes Jesus' conversation with Nicodemus (John 3:16). There, Jesus proclaimed an offer that those who believed would "never perish," which is translated from the same core Greek words: mē apolētai.