Many preachers quote John 10:10 as support for the idea that Christianity leads to physical prosperity and “every good thing.” The verse has been used as a description of the Christian life, the normative pattern of life that Christians can expect because of God’s blessings.
Other scriptures, including the salutation of 3 John 2, “I wish above all things that you prosper and be in good health,” are also used to teach that Christians are promised health and wealth if they have enough faith. However, the New Testament usually emphasizes a radically different result of following Christ. We are told that we will be persecuted, that Christ’s message is divisive, that we will need to take up our cross and follow him, that the normative expectation for Christian is suffering. Job promotions, new cars, and throwing away crutches are not among the fringe benefits offered by Jesus Christ.
3 John 2 appears as a part of the introductory comments of the letter, and it was meant specifically for a man named Gaius. It was simply part of the polite way to begin a letter in those days, and similar greetings are found in other ancient writings. One manual of letter writing explains that this is the appropriate was to begin a letter. Someone today might begin a letter by saying, “I hope that this letter finds you in good health.” It is not meant as a promise. Likewise, 3 John 2 should not be used as a promise that God applies to all his people. This scripture does not guarantee that Gaius, or any other Christians, will be rich or that they will never suffer from sickness or disease.
And in order to understand what John 10:10 means, we need to look at its context. Chapter 10 of John’s Gospel develops the biblical theme of sheep and the shepherd. The shepherd is accessible to the sheep. Strangers do not have a personal relationship with the flock, but the good shepherd does. Verse 10 draws the contrast between Jesus and false shepherds, the thieves who come to kill, steal and destroy.
John 20:31 describes the purpose of this Gospel. Speaking of the miracles and signs, John says, “But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” The New International Commentary on the New Testament comments,
Life is one of John’s characteristic concepts. He uses the term 36 times, whereas no other New Testament writing has it more than 17 times (this is Revelation; next comes Romans with 14 times, and 1 John 13 times). Thus in this one writing there occur more than a quarter of all the New Testament references to life. “Life” in John characteristically refers to eternal life (see on 3:15), the gift of God through His Son. Here, however, the term must be taken in its broadest sense. It is only because there is life in the Logos that there is life in anything on earth at all.” (John, page 82).
The Expositor’s Bible Commentary says this about John 10:10:
Jesus’ main purpose was the salvation (health) of the sheep, which he defined as free access to pasture and fullness of life. Under his protection and by his gift they can experience the best life can offer. In the context of John’s emphasis on eternal life, this statement takes on new significance. Jesus can give a whole new meaning to living because he provides full satisfaction and perfect guidance.
Barclay’s Daily Study Bible adds,
Jesus claims that he came that men might have life and might have it more abundantly. The Greek phrase used for having it more abundantly means to have a superabundance of a thing. To be a follower of Jesus, to know who he is and what he means, is to have a superabundance of life. A Roman soldier came to Julius Caesar with a request for permission to commit suicide. He was a wretched dispirited creature with no vitality. Caesar looked at him. “Man,” he said, “were you ever really alive?” When we try to live our own lives, life is a dull, dispirited thing. When we walk with Jesus, there comes a new vitality, a superabundance of life. It is only when we live with Christ that life becomes really worth living and we begin to live in the real sense of the word.
In its volume on John, the Tyndale New Testament Commentaries summarizes the passage that leads up to John 10:10:
Those who are really “His own” listen to His voice. They recognize that He has been sent from God, and are ready to follow Him as the good Shepherd, who by His sacrificial love rescues His flock from evil and death, and leads them into the best of all pasturage where they can enjoy a richer and a fuller life (9,10). He does not offer them an extension of physical life nor an increase of material possessions, but the possibility, nay the certainty, of a life lived at a higher level in obedience to God’s will and reflecting His glory.
In summary, John 10:10 should not be used as though it gives some promise of an improved physical life for the Christian. Such a view, in light of the context, is shallow, and it overlooks the profound truth of the passage. The passage promises superior, superabundant spiritual life, life empowered by the indwelling of Jesus Christ. Because Christians “have” Jesus Christ, because he lives within them, they have the riches of the superabundant life. This is what Paul meant when he said he counted all things loss, that he might win Christ. John 10:10 promises a spiritual dimension to life, not physical abundance. A focus on the physical trivializes the profound depth of John 10:10.
Author: Paul Kroll