Turning His thoughts to the thieves and robbers, who were the pretenders and presumptuous usurpers that had come before Him (in no way is Satan somehow in view here as the thief and robber), while we also consider those that would have followed after Jesus and been known to the Johannine community (especially considering the fact of the destruction of the Jewish revolt of 66-70, the destruction of the Temple, and the burning of Jerusalem), Jesus offers commentary on their methods, saying that “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy” (10:10a). This was not God’s intention for His people. Then, as it is now, it was not God’s design for His chosen people to establish and extend His kingdom by force of arms and violent revolution. There was no need to steal and kill and destroy, as this is quite counter-productive to God’s plans. That is the method of the thieves and robbers.
Rather, Jesus, speaking forth as the Messiah that came to do the will of His Father, said “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly” (10:10b). When Jesus speaks of this giving of life in abundance, is that gift to be thought of as being directed to Israel? Naturally, that answer is yes. However, we cannot disconnect the giving of life abundant from the statements about the stealing, killing, and destroying employed by the thieves and robbers that had come before Him (and after Him, as was well known to John’s audience). In that, it must be understood that Jesus is also offering that gift to the Gentiles that were then in possession of the land---the gift of the blessings of the covenant God---in His establishment of the kingdom of God, which was contrary to a good portion of the then-current ways of thinking. The people wanted their Messiah to steal from and kill and destroy the oppressors, but Jesus intended the opposite, desiring to establish the kingdom through acts that were the extension of His love. Yes, Jesus intended that the hated Romans, and all Gentile nations, were to have the blessings of abundant life as well. This is the love of God, first referenced in the third chapter (3:16), in action for the world.
Making the point about the nature of His kingdom and His role as Israel’s Messiah, Jesus adds to this and says “I am the good shepherd” (10:11a). This use of “good shepherd,” owing to usage in the Hebrew Scriptures (the book of Zechariah), as well as being something of a reference to Moses (the prophet that was to come into the world), was another way of speaking about the Messiah. In this capacity, Jesus says, “The good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep” (10:11b). This seems to have been designed to begin preparing the people for the fact that their Messiah was going to be killed at the hands of the very ones that the people thought He would forcefully overthrow, which also answered the criticisms of those that stood opposed to the ongoing Jesus movement, who pointed to the fact that Jesus had been crucified by the Romans and therefore could not have been the Messiah. It had always been the case that when a potential messiah arose to do battle against the enemies of God’s people, the evidence that the person in question was obviously not the messiah was his eventual death at the hands of those same enemies. Execution or death at arms was the clear signal of another failed Messiah, but this was not going be the case for Jesus. This pattern had been repeated numerous times both before and after Jesus, so these words of Jesus not only take on a prophetic role when directed to His hearers, but an apologetic role when constructed in this way for the community as they learned to tell the story of Jesus.
Elaborating on this thought, Jesus presents a short analogy in reference to would-be messiahs that had risen before Him (thieves and robbers), saying “He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep” (10:12-13). How many men before Him had risen up to lead the people in revolution? How many, when the pressure came and death threatened, ran away, leaving those whom he had previously led to suffer gruesome deaths? As it relates to Jesus, the scattering can be understood as another reference to the words of Zechariah (13:7), while also serving to make the point that Jesus, though He knew what was in store for Him in His pending crucifixion, was not going to flee from the wolf (the Romans and their cross) and leave His sheep unguarded. No, He was going to be the shepherd that cared for His sheep, faithfully seeing His role through to the very end, for their salvation and life in His kingdom. Driving this point home, He reiterates that He is “the good shepherd” (10:14a), and says “I lay down My life for the sheep” (10:15b).