John 10:27-28 (NASB)
“My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand.”
These two memory verses are from the good shepherd passage of John. One of the important doctrines demonstrated in these verses is eternal security. The sheep in the passage represent those who believe in Jesus and follow Him. He knows who His sheep are and the sheep know who Jesus is and they follow Him. Jesus’ sheep respond to his voice; others reject him. The verses also imply divine election within the passage (vs1-20).
God’s people, his “flock,” had been led astray by irresponsible “shepherds,” leaders who fed themselves rather than the people entrusted to them. The Pharisees of Jesus’s time were just the latest representatives of this tradition of ungodly leadership in Israel. Jesus fulfilled the messianic predictions surrounding the shepherd of the Lord, the “good shepherd” who could be trusted to protect and care for God’s flock. The metaphor of the “flock,” an everyday feature of Jewish life, pervades the Old Testament. God himself was called the “Shepherd of Israel”
The word sheep is used 219 times in the Bible. Of the 41 times the word sheep is used in the New Testament it is almost always used as a metaphor or an image. Here it is used of a follower of Christ, with the implication of needing care and guidance— ‘a person who is like a sheep’ or ‘take care of my people, who are like sheep’. (John 21:16) The shepherding metaphor is also used to express the role of Jesus in John’s Gospel, but here Jesus functions as the door (the door represents salvation, v.9) through which the sheep enter into the safety of the fold. However; the sheep can go freely in and out in safety; the implication is that those who “belong” to the sheepfold are assured of the protection of the shepherd wherever they are. The sheepfold is the sum of all believers in Jesus, and His gospel.
To his own sheep Jesus gives eternal life. Using the sheep metaphor, Jesus has already said that he gives them ‘life … to the full’, abundant life (v. 10); now he plainly states that such life is his own eternal life. The consequence of his knowing his sheep, and of his gift to them of eternal life, is that they shall never perish. The focus is not on the power of the life itself, but on Jesus’ power: no-one can snatch them out of my hand, not the marauding wolf (v. 12), not the thieves and robbers (vv. 1, 8), not anyone. The ultimate security of Jesus’ sheep rests with the good shepherd. Eternal security or the perseverance of the saints means that all those who are truly believers will be kept by God’s power and will persevere as Christians until the end of their lives, and they will surely live with Christ in heaven forever.
In his discourse, Jesus presents himself as the legitimate shepherd of God’s people, casting the Jewish religious leadership as illegitimate. In a case of mixed metaphors Jesus is both the door and the shepherd of the sheep. At the same time, Jesus is the good shepherd who lays down his life for the sheep (v. 11).
And in our verses the sheep are used to convey a strongly positive image: the intimacy between the sheep and their legitimate shepherd. “I know my sheep and my sheep know me.… My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand” (vv. 14, 27–28).