Jesus’ mission statement in John 10:10 states, “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” If your interpretation of “abundantly” doesn’t go beyond fine dining, designer clothes, or a luxury car, then you are missing His point. In fact, if you take it even further to include perfect health, the spouse of your dreams, and worldwide fame, you still fall far short of Jesus’ meaning. Jesus’ understanding of the abundant life is not your best life now. It is so much more.
To understand John 10:10, we must first enter Jesus’ analogy of sheep, shepherds, and thieves. In the analogy, God’s people are the sheep, Jesus is the shepherd, and the thieves are any who approach the sheep illegitimately and with ill-intent.
From the earliest books of the Bible, God’s people are compared to sheep (see Num. 27:17). As a result, this was already a well-known image by the time Jesus used it, and the image still applies today. In whatever time or place they may live, God’s people are sheep who need someone to care for them—to lead them to food and water, to rescue them when they wander away, and to defend them from wolves and thieves.
As for the thieves, their ranks include anyone who approaches God’s people without license or love. The thief doesn’t enter by the door, with the gate-keeper’s approval, but “climbs in by another way” (John 10:1). He hops the fence because he doesn’t have the right to be there, and he comes to do harm. He doesn’t care for the sheep. His purpose is to “steal and kill and destroy” (John 10:10).
But no thief will succeed against the flock of the “good shepherd” (John 10:11). Whereas the thief comes to take life, the good shepherd stands ready to give it. But it is not the sheep’s lives that he gives. He gives his own: “the good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” The good shepherd takes upon himself the harm that the thief intends for the sheep, and he neutralizes the threat. The sheep are no longer in danger of being killed, robbed, or destroyed. And the shepherd does more than that. He not only protects and sustains their current life; he makes it abound.
I’ve already discounted the idea that this abounding or abundant life refers merely to the temporal surplus of health, wealth, and prosperity. Jesus does promise blessing in this life for those who forsake all to follow Him, which includes not only the “stuff” we need to live, but also a wealth of relationships, albeit with persecutions (see Mark 10:29–31). At the same time, He makes plain that true life is not defined by what we own: “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions” (Luke 12:15). Possessions may, in fact, be more of a risk than a reward, since a heart set on them is more prone to covetousness.
Jesus unpacks what He means by the “abundant life” a few verses after John 10:10 saying: “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand” (John 10:27–28).
What is more abundant than life as we currently know it? As Jesus says here, it is life that is eternal, life without perishing, life that is protected by the hands of our Savior Himself. This is one aspect of the abundant life Jesus offers: it lasts forever. It abounds in duration. But just as important, Jesus says the abundant life is one in which we are known by Him and we follow Him. In other words, the abundant life is one not only of greatest quantity (eternal) but also of greatest quality.
The Apostle Paul teaches that we can live in this world but not be truly alive. Our “living” is only in disobedience, following the sinful leadings of our flesh, the world, and the devil, and ending in wrath (Eph. 2:1–3). But the gospel says that after the Good Shepherd laid down His life for the sheep on the cross, God raised Him up from the dead. And in His great mercy, He offers the same for all who put their faith in Jesus. He grants them to follow the Shepherd by raising them up with Him and seating them with Him in the heavenly places. And to what purpose? So that “in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus” (Eph. 2:7). To be known by Christ and to follow Him means to be welcomed with Him into glory and to be showered with the “immeasurable riches” of God’s grace—riches so abundant they defy calculation. And not only for a moment but for “coming ages.”
So, Jesus’ offer of abundant life in John 10:10 means that to gain Him as your Shepherd is far and away the greatest thing that could ever happen to you. It means that anything this world may either give to you or take away from you doesn’t really matter that much, because a life awaits you beyond the present that greatly surpasses this one in every way. It means that for the one who has faith in Jesus, the best is yet to come.