What did Jesus mean in John 10:10 when he said “life and have it abundantly”? Was he talking about living a full earthly life with happiness? Was he talking about material possessions? Or was he talking about salvation? We’ve heard this verse a thousand times and almost always wrongly used in the context of a happy life or money. If we aren’t careful, the way we are biased to define “abundant life” can obscure the deep and rich meaning of Jesus’ words. We will end up exchanging Christ’s glorious promise of eternal life, for a lesser (false) one of wealth and material happiness.
“The thief comes only to steal, kill, and destroy; I have come that they may have life and have it abundantly.” John 10:10
The Greek Word for Used for Life Means “Life in the Spirit”
The true meaning of this text can be found by simply looking at the Greek word for “life”. If Jesus was talking about material life such as possessions and earthly prosperity, then the Greek word used for life would have been “bios”, which refers to earthly, physical life, or “that by which life is sustained such as resources, wealth, or goods”. However, the Greek word used in the text is “zoe”, which means “…life, both essential and ethical, which belongs to God, and through him both to the hypostatic “logos” and to Christ in whom the “logos” put on human nature”. So when Jesus said “I have come that they may have life and have it abundantly“, he is talking about the things of the spirit, he was talking about eternal life. This word fits perfectly with the entire context of John 10.
The Subject and Context is Clearly of Eternal Salvation
The subject Christ is addressing and the context in which he is speaking is in regard to salvation. Jesus is teaching about how to spiritually enter the Kingdom of God and he uses the example of describing himself as a door or gate (mediator) through which his sheep enter into pasture (eternal life). In verse 9 he says, “I am the door, if anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture.” He uses the term “he will be saved” because Jesus is talking about the means by which we are spiritually reconciled back to God. He’s saying, if you are seeking spiritual reconciliation, it can only be found and accomplished through him. Nowhere in this passage does he mention his mission being to give a fulfilled life or to grant material possessions.
A little further down in the same chapter, Jesus is going to use the example of describing himself as a Shepherd with us as his sheep, but he is going to be more blunt with the meaning.
“My sheep hear my voice, 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
There are other clues in John 10:10 as well. Jesus says Satan comes to steal, kill, and destroy. We often present this verse in the context of Satan destroying your life through various means such as sickness or taking away your wealth and security. Satan does do that, however it is always for the greater ultimate purpose of separating you from Christ. This isn’t about your pocketbook or your happiness, this is about getting you to curse Christ and to turn from him.
“In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” 2 Corinthians 4:4
“I am afraid that as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your thoughts will be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ.” 2 Corinthians 11:3
“Satan answered the Lord and said, “Skin for skin! All that a man has he will give for his life. But stretch out your hand and touch his bone and his flesh, and he will curse you to your face.” Job 1:11-12
So when Jesus says the thief, (Satan) has come for this purpose (to destroy with the purpose of separating), he immediately says in rebuttal to this “but I have come…“. So why did Christ come? To reconcile us to God through Christ with the promise of eternal life. Again, nowhere in this passage does it claim explicitly or imply through context that the coming of Christ is about a temporal material definition of “abundant life”.
Christ was sent from God the Father (John 6:57);
to accomplish the will of God (John 6:38); which is
to resurrect people to eternal life (John 6:40).
This entire passage and the words of Jesus paint a large picture of Christ’s eternal mission to reconcile man back to God and the means by which he bestows salvation. It would make no sense given the Greek word used and the context Jesus was speaking in for him to all of the sudden start talking about temporal material possessions. To translate this text in that way completely takes the beauty off of Jesus’ promise of eternal life and instead, hangs it on the idol of material prosperity. When this happens, we miss out on hearing Jesus boldly proclaim his promise that anyone who hears and follows him will be given eternal life, and no one will be able to take that away from us. Don’t fall into the trap of exchanging Christ’s greater eternal promises of salvation for lesser temporal ones by misinterpreting Christ’s words and ignoring the context in which he was speaking.