We’ve been considering a question J. H. asked about believers and perseverance (see here). In part 1, we considered his general question. Then in part 2, we looked at three of seven verses he asked about. In part 3, we will look at two other verses he asked about, both from John 10.
John 10:4. The Lord said, “And when he brings out his own sheep, he goes before them; and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice.” J. H. comments, “My understanding of this verse is that the Lord’s sheep are saved Christians, characterized by recognizing his voice.”
At the time the Lord wrote, there were no Christians. The Church did not begin until after Jesus’ death, burial, resurrection, appearances, and ascension to the third heaven. The term Christian was not used until Acts 11:26. But I get the point. J. H. is right that the people the Lord is talking about are born again. They will be in His coming kingdom. But J. H. seems to think that the words they follow him refers to perseverance in a life of obedience.
That hardly could be the Lord’s point in John 10:4 or John 10:27, where the same expression is found. Peter was one of Jesus’ sheep. And when the Lord told him that He was going to the cross, he tried to correct the Lord Jesus Christ (Matt 16:21-23). At that point the Lord rebuked Peter and said that all who wish to come after Him must deny themselves, take up their crosses, and follow Him (Matt 16:24). The reference to following in Matt 16:24 is clearly a discipleship idea. And it is not guaranteed, either.
In the Gospels, following Christ most often literally meant physically traveling with Him (Matt 16:24 is an exception). In the Epistles, the expression follow Him is rare. How rare? It is never found in the Epistles.
In a few cases the concept is present in the Epistles. See 1 Thess 1:6 and 1 Pet 2:21. In a handful of verses Paul indicated that his followers should follow him, that is, his example (Phil 3:17; 2 Thess 3:7, 9; 2 Tim 3:10; see also Heb 13:7). Once he said that they should imitate him as he imitates Christ (1 Cor 11:1). But again, this following (and imitating) is not guaranteed.
The reference in John 10:4 and 10:27 to following the Good Shepherd either is a picture of believing in Him (the view of Zane Hodges) or a picture of going where He goes (my view). So, if a believer dies, he goes to be with the Lord in the third heaven. At the time of the Rapture, all believers from the church age, living and dead, will follow Him to the clouds, and later to earth at the end of the tribulation. After Jesus destroys the current heavens and earth, all believers will follow Him to the new earth. My view is that John 10:4 and 10:27 refer to the promise that Jesus’ sheep will be with Him forever.
John 10:14. The Lord Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd; and I know My sheep, and am known by My own.” J. H. comments, “It’s hard to understand this verse if apostasy is possible. Why would He identify His sheep (saved believers) as those who know Him if some of His sheep no longer know Him?” All believers know Christ in a positional sense. The author of Hebrews said, “For we know Him who said, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord. And again, ‘The Lord will judge His people’” (Heb 10:30). However, most references to knowing the Lord in the NT refer to knowing Him in our experience (e.g., 1 John 2: 3, 4, 5).
It is likely that the Lord has in mind the inner self, the born of God part of us. We are told in Rom 8:15-16 that whenever we pray, our human spirit is crying out, “Abba, Father.” We are not aware of this occurring. But it does. Our inner self is agreeing with the Holy Spirit that we are children of God. Our inner self always knows that we are children of God. Even if a believer became an atheist, he would still have God’s Spirit in Him, and he would still know God in his inner self.
The words, “I am known by My own,” do not mean that every believer is walking in fellowship with God all the time. They do not even mean that every believer walks with God most of the time. The issue here is not walking with God. The issue here is that God knows those who are His, and they know Him in a positional sense (i.e., in the inner man).
I know with certainty that apostasy is possible because that is what the Scriptures often warn against. Every Bible teacher knows this. However, many Bible teachers say that if someone apostatizes, then he proves that he was never a true believer in the first place. The problem with that view is that the very verses they cite regarding the possibility of apostasy concern believers, not unbelievers. See, for example, Luke 8:13; 2 Tim 2:12-13; Heb 3:12; 6:4-8; 2 Pet 2:18-22. God warns believers, not unbelievers, of the danger of falling away. Unbelievers cannot fall away since they are not in the faith in the first place.