Misunderstanding Spiritual Warfare: A Different Perspective of John 10:10
For many years I, like you, have heard numerous messages and read many texts that all tell us an important truth about spiritual warfare. We have been told that Satan’s objective is to steal from us, kill us, and destroy us. The reference comes from John 10:10 when Jesus was speaking to the Pharisees. Granted that we have heard this interpretation from many teachers over many decades but we rarely ask this all important question: Is it true?
I’d like to propose what many might consider a radical idea. Let me state it up front. Then you can stone me. Then I’ll pick up where I left off and explain myself. Got your rocks ready? Here goes.
John 10:10 is not about us.
If we don’t want to misunderstand spiritual warfare then we have to recognize that our simplistic understanding of John 10:10 is not exactly right. You see, when we think that John 10:10 is about Satan stealing, killing, and destroying us we are taking the focus off of what Jesus actually said and placing the focus of our attention in this passage on us, instead of on Jesus, where it belongs. Think about it for a moment as I explain what most people think of when they read John 10:10.
I’ve taught this passage many times over the years and when I do I stand before a group with marker and giant pad at the ready. I ask everyone what it is that Satan wants to steal, kill, and destroy. Every time I’ve taught this the answers are always the same. We write them down. People say things like, he wants to steal my joy, he wants to rob me of my family, he wants to destroy the church, he wants to destroy my faith or my job, he wants to kill me so I can’t serve God, he wants to rob me of my money or blessings, and so on. Often there is a long list of things that people say Satan wants to steal from us or destroy. Now, do you see the thread that runs through all of these answers? It’s right there. The focus is…”me.” It’s then that I draw a big red X over everyone’s answers.
We always think in terms of ourselves. It is human nature. We relate almost everything we read to ourselves. We are our central focus. This is especially true in the Western world. We look at passages like John 10:10 and we apply it to me, me, me. Yet, that is the farthest thing from what the text actually says.
Before I show you the text and give you my novel interpretation let me clarify things a bit by defining Satan’s objectives. You see, Satan’s objective is not to steal, kill, or destroy. This is because these three things are not objectives. Stealing, killing, and destroying are tactics. Frankly, Satan is perfectly happy to let you live, and prosper, and remain whole and in good health as long as you give him what he wants. What does Satan want? What is his objective as opposed to his tactics? We find Satan’s objective in Isaiah 14:13-14. “You said in your heart, ‘I will ascend to Heaven; I will raise my throne above the stars of God, and I will sit on the mount of the assembly in the recesses of the north. I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High.’”
Satan’s objective is to become like God, to literally replace God on his throne. Not convinced? Look what Satan said to Jesus in Matthew 4:9, “All these things will I give you if you fall down and worship me.” Imagine, Satan commanding God to worship him.
So, we see that Satan’s objective is to become like God. In order to accomplish his objective he has many strategies and tactics. As an example, have you ever wondered why Satan has created so many false religious systems in the world that believe so many different and contradictory things? It’s really rather simple. As long as we stay away from Jesus, as long as we ignore his word, we enthrone Satan. “The whole world lies under the power of the Evil One” (I John 5:19). When we disobey God we essentially obey Satan, just as Eve did when she took her first bite.
Satan has objectives, strategies, and tactics. Satan devises strategies to help him attain his goal and he implements tactics to fulfill his strategies. For instance, Satan sometimes uses prosperity to distract God’s people and keep others trapped in materialism instead of sacrificial service to Christ. And yes, he tries to steal, kill, and destroy—but not always. In fact, I dare say that when it gets right down to it, Satan does not have the ability to permanently steal, kill, or destroy where it comes to God’s people. Are you a Christian, truly a Christian? Satan cannot steal you away from God. “No one shall snatch them [Christians] out of the Father’s hands” (John 10:28).
When it comes to eternal life, Satan cannot kill you. Jesus said about this, “I give them eternal life and they shall never perish” (John 10:28). He also said, “Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul” (Matthew 10:28). Nor can Satan destroy the church, God’s covenant community. “I will build my church and the gates of Hell shall not overpower it” (Matthew 16:18). In fact, we might go so far as to say that we are the ones who are charged with stealing and destroying. We are tasked to steal from Satan the souls he has trapped in sin (Jude 1:23; Matthew 12:29). We are to destroy spiritual strongholds (II Corinthians 10:4).
So, who was Jesus talking about in John 10:10? Take a look at the context of the passage, which really begins in John 9 when Jesus was speaking to the Pharisees. Jesus had just finished healing a blind man who just gave himself to Jesus. The Pharisees had been questioning him at length about the healing, trying to prove Jesus to be a false teacher. Jesus, in protection of the man, calls himself the “shepherd of the sheep” (John 10:2,11). Take a read of the whole passage in its context.
“I tell you the truth, the man who does not enter the sheep pen by the gate, but climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a robber. The man who enters by the gate is the shepherd of his sheep. The watchman opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger’s voice.” Jesus used this figure of speech, but they did not understand what he was telling them. Therefore Jesus said again, “I tell you the truth, I am the gate for the sheep. All who ever came before me were thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved.a He will come in and go out, and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand is not the shepherd who owns the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep” (John 10:1-13).
In this passage Jesus calls himself the shepherd of the sheep and the door. He is the one keeping the sheep. Who comes to attack? The wolf. If Jesus is the shepherd, then who is the wolf? The wolf is Satan. For what purpose does the wolf attack? Jesus said he attacks to “steal, kill, and destroy.” So the obvious questions become:
• Who does Satan want to steal from?
• Who does Satan want to kill?
• What does Satan want to destroy?
This is where most westerners get into trouble. You see, we’ve read the context of the passage and it’s clear that Jesus is referring to himself, but suddenly we get to verse 10 and we think the passage is about what Satan wants to do to us. Nothing could be further from the truth. In point of fact, Jesus is telling us what Satan wants to do to him, and to his disciples. Recall the story of Jesus suffering. Can you think of a time when Satan came to steal, kill, and destroy in Jesus’ life? Let’s answer our questions: Satan wants to steal something or someone from Jesus. Since Jesus is the shepherd and the sheep belong to him, he is the one Satan comes to steal from; not us. Satan wants to steal a sheep.
Who does Satan want to kill? He comes to attack the shepherd in hopes of getting a sheep. Who is the shepherd? Jesus! In this passage, Satan comes to kill Jesus.
What does Satan want to destroy? Look carefully at passage. “The wolf attacks the flock and scatters it.” Who is the flock? The flock is made up of sheep. The sheep belong to Jesus. Therefore, who comprises the flock? The disciples!
Now, can you think of a time in the scripture when this happened? My mind immediately turns to the night of Jesus’ arrest. Satan possessed Judas Iscariot, effectively stealing a disciple from Jesus. Jesus acknowledged this in John 17:12 when he prayed, “Not one of them perished but the son of perdition, that the scripture might be fulfilled.” When Judas lead the authorities to Jesus, what happened to the disciples? “Then all the disciples left him and fled” (Matthew 26:56). Just as Jesus predicted, the sheep were scattered. The end result was Jesus arrest, crucifixion, and death. In other words John 10:10 and its context is not about what Satan wants to do to us. It was Jesus foretelling the Jews what they were going to do to him. It was a prophecy in picture of Jesus surrendering his life for his church. Jesus confirmed this by saying, “I am the good shepherd…and I lay down my life for the sheep” (John 10:14,15).
My friends, spiritual warfare is not about us. Spiritual warfare is about Jesus. What can he steal from Jesus? What does Jesus possess that Satan wants to destroy? Whom can he try and kill so that person can no longer serve God in this world? Satan’s objective is to reign. His strategies include getting people to disobey God or ignore him. His tactics include stealing, killing, and destroying (but these are not his only tactics). But all of his focus is on defeating Jesus. Thankfully, Jesus has already defeated Satan through the very act of Satan having him steal from him, kill him, and scatter his flock. Even Satan’s best weapons are tools in the hand of God for Satan’s own self-destruction.
Where is your focus on spiritual warfare? Do you feel it’s all about you? It can certainly feel that way when the press is squeezing us tight. But refocus and recognize what Satan is attempting to do to Jesus through his attack on you. Remember Job. Satan’s attack was actually on God. Job was the instrument he used to try and tempt God and to ruin his reputation. Yet it failed.
Our lives are not about us. Neither is our warfare. In all things it is always about Jesus. He is our life.