“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have [it] abundantly.” – John 10:10
Flip Wilson is said to be responsible for the catchphrase which became a notorious statement of blame – “The Devil made me do it.” Ironically, the Devil gets blamed for many things which may not be his fault. Without a doubt the Devil is a wicked being. Jesus stated that he was a murderer and a liar and has been that way from the beginning. This is the nature of Satan (John 8:44). However, as wicked as Satan is there is at least one passage of Scripture where he gets blamed unjustly. The verse that I speak of is John 10:10.
We could spend the entirety of this entry on the latter half of this text. In my experience the idea of the “abundant life” has been abused as much as Satan has in this particular passage. For the sake of context, and respectability, I included the whole verse in the heading. Nevertheless, in sticking with the topic, we want to expose a common misconception as to who the “thief” of John 10:10 actually is.
The Discipline of Reading
The study in Luke hopefully showed why context is necessary for interpretation. The underlying principle on what has been said regarding context thus far, is simple. Good interpreters are good readers. There is no other way around getting to the heart of the text.
Now, the assumption which has almost unanimously passed as fact, is that Satan is the thief who comes to steal, kill, and destroy. You may be tempted to ask “What is the big deal even if Satan is not the thief in this verse? After all he is evil and wicked. What difference does it make if we ascribe to him the designation ‘thief?’”
In a real sense, we may be able to consider Satan as a thief. However, the question on the table is does the John 10:10 passage say that Satan is the thief? The difference lies in the understanding that our desire is to be “Berean-like,” investigative in our study of Scripture in order to be approved before God as competent stewards over His word. Stewards of the word of God desire to be as accurate as possible with the help of the Holy Spirit. Therefore, to read with the expectancy to get God’s word right, is essential for the Christian. If the Bible does not say a particular thing, we need not say it, lest we be found as those who do not tell the truth about God.
Taking it from the Top
Once again, the interpreter should commence where there has been a clearly identified starting point in the text. Sometimes this could be several verses or even chapters away from the text you are studying. For our examination we do not have to look back that far. You may be familiar with the “I AM” statements of Christ. This pericope (body of verses) contains one of those declarations. Jesus pronounces, “I AM the door” (John 10:9). The importance is Christ being the way of salvation through which the sheep must go. Verse 9, is the immediate context. You would agree that salvation through Jesus Christ is no triviality.This is not a secondary or tertiary doctrine. On the contrary, this is the primary focus of the context and it bleeds into verse 10. Christ extends Himself to the sinner as the only possible means of salvation and there is no one else who can offer such a promise.
Notice. Jesus states at the opening of John chapter 10 that the one who tries to climb up some other way instead of coming through the Door is “a thief and a robber” (v.1). This assertion is critical for our comprehension of the topic at hand. We see that a “thief” and a “robber” in this case, tries to go around Christ for salvation, as opposed to going through Christ.
At this point, it might be safe to ask, “How does Satan go around Christ for salvation?” There is no salvation for him nor does he have a desire to be saved.
Power of the Parallel Passage
A helpful tool in Bible interpretation is the parallel passage. I noted in the preface of this study that it would be good if the student of Scripture had a Bible with cross-references. Many times you will not have a Concordance or Lexicon on hand. The next best thing is to be able to look at the margins of your own Bible and check for other passages in which a certain word or phrase may be found.
How this is useful in our examination, is by distinguishing how “thief” is utilized in John’s Gospel and in other books of the Bible that are relevant to the verse being studied. Not all cross-references are important to your particular text. So, be careful as you employ this aspect of Bible study methods.
The term “thief” is the Greek word kleptés (phonetically, klep’-tace). We derive our English designation kleptomaniac from this word. It basically denotes a person who steals in stealth-like manner. They rob secretly. The first place we want to check for with regards to usage is in John’s writings. Since our text is in the Gospel of John, we need to see how John used the term in his literature. This exercise goes for any passage you undertake to find out what its meaning is.
First, we recognize that it is used several times within the context of our passage. The thief tries to go around “the Door” (Jesus Christ) of salvation. Thus, he is a “thief and a robber” (10:1). Secondly, the thieves and robbers are all those who came before Christ (10:8). Again, context helps us make sense out this statement. A “stranger” according to verse 5 has a voice the sheep do not know. I believe we are to understand verse 8 in light of verse 5. These could be considered as false teachers who with their mouths did not point to the true Messiah. Third, the thief only comes to wreak havoc (10:10). His ploy is to steal, kill, and bring about destruction.
It is also interesting to note that “thief” is used in John 12:6 of Judas Iscariot. There, Judas is called a “thief” because he was stealing out of the money-box that was used for the poor. He took it up in his hands and carried it away – “pilfered.”
The sum total of the findings in examining the parallel passages are; The thief is one who defies “the Door” of salvation by trying to climb up another way. They think their path is better than entrance through Jesus Christ. The thief is also a false prophet they teach a way other than Jesus Christ.
The thief is bent on destroying all who adhere to what they say and do as oppose to heeding the voice of Christ. If you follow those who do not point to and follow Jesus Christ the end is certain death. You could even add Judas as a prime example of a thief – a man who went opposite of Christ and was destroyed in the end.
Satan is not the thief in John 10:10. In fact, he is not mentioned anywhere in John 10. We saw that the context was pertaining to salvation through “the Door” who is Jesus Christ. It is only a thief who will try some other means of salvation. It is only a thief who will preach a different message to point people away from Christ and ultimately destroy any who follow them. Thieves and robbers are the false prophets and false religions (another way). They may be empowered by the Devil, but the ones who are culpable for leading others astray are the thieves themselves. The truth is, only in Christ can we have life and have it more abundantly. The life He gives is eternal life (John 17:2-3).
By being diligent in reading the text carefully and employing the use of cross-references, the interpreter has added another skill to the process of Bible study methods.