John 10:10 says “the thief comes only to steal, kill, and destroy”. Most presume that “the thief” refers to the devil. But does it? In this case, it is a simple task of reading the entire passage.
Some hints help guide us in the right direction.
- This chapter flows naturally from the previous chapter. Ignoring chapter numbers will bring clarity here.
- In vs 6, John tips us off by saying that Jesus was using a figure of speech.
- vs 7 tells us that Jesus is the gate
- vs 1 says that “anyone who does not enter the sheep pen by the gate, but climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a robber”
- vs 8 tells us that there has been been more than one thief
So, putting all this together gives us this:
In John 9, Jesus had just healed a blind man. Still, the Pharisees did not believe he was God. They had already said that anyone who confessed Jesus was the Christ must be put out of the synagogues. They set themselves up as the arbiters of who was in and who was out, and they did so for their own selfish gain. They set themselves up us the keepers of the flock.
In John 10, Jesus was not talking about real gates, real sheep, or real thieves – it was all a metaphor. He said that he was both the gate and the shepherd. The sheep are those who belonged to him that were under his protection. The thieves and robbers are others who put themselves in his place – claiming to be him or representing him. There were multiple thieves and robbers. Given everything presented in this passage, Jesus is making a very clear point. He is the sole authority. Only by his freedom does anyone have the liberty to come and go. They did not have that right. All who came before him and set themselves up as authorities did so with selfish motives. The thieves and robbers in this specific instance are the Pharisees, but in general he is pointing to all false teachers as thieves.
Is Satan a thief? Does he steal, kill and destroy? Sure – I suppose he does in a manner of speaking. But when looking for information about Satan’s character, we would be better off to look to places that speak about him. John 10 is not one of them.