In John 10 Jesus reveals who He died for and who He calls to salvation. It confirms Sovereign Election and Particular Redemption.
Note: It would be helpful for you to also read my Commentary on John 10.
(John 10:14-16) – 14 I am the good shepherd, and I know My own and My own know Me, 15 even as the Father knows Me and I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep. 16 I have other sheep, which are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will hear My voice; and they will become one flock with one shepherd. NASB
(John 10:25-28) – 25 Jesus answered them, “I told you, and you do not believe; the works that I do in My Father’s name, these testify of Me. 26 But you do not believe because you are not of My sheep. 27 My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; 28 and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand. NASB
In verse 14 Jesus says “I know My own” and “My own know Me.” This includes the sheep of His day (Jewish believers), and all “other sheep” who will be born and believe until the time of Christ’s return, when His Church is complete. After establishing that the Shepherd and sheep know each other, Jesus says “even as the Father knows Me and I know the Father.” In other words, there’s a special relationship between the Shepherd and His sheep, just as there is between the Father and His Son. There’s an eternal certainty of that relationship. But the main point I want to make is that Christ’s sheep includes those who will be born in the future (from His day). He knows all those who belong to Him. He knew His sheep in the present and He knew them in the future.
Jesus then says, “I lay down my life for the sheep.”
Jesus didn’t lay down His life for mere possibilities. No, He already knew His own sheep, and He had each and every one of them in mind when He went to the cross. The revelation of His redeemed that we see in Rev 5:9 and Rev 7:9 is His complete Church. Those are the ones Jesus saw, knew, and died for.
Observe carefully: He knows His own, and He lays down His life for His own, which includes the “other sheep” that He mentions in verse 16—which, again, refers to all sheep outside of the Jewish fold—referring to Gentiles. After that, Jesus says that “they will hear My voice,” which is the call to salvation. And when called, they will “believe” and “follow” (vss. 26 & 27). Those who believe and follow, Jesus says “I give eternal life to them” (vs. 28).
What Jesus reveals here is that He knows His sheep, He lays down His life for His sheep, His sheep hear His voice, and they believe and follow. In other words, every person who truly hears the voice of Christ, which is the call to salvation, always responds in faith.
Note also in verse 26, addressing unbelievers, Jesus says “you do not believe because you are not of My sheep.” Here Jesus reveals the very reason a person does not hear and believe. It’s because they are not His sheep. The meaning is clear, only those for whom Jesus died, are able to hear His voice and respond in faith.
Therefore, the idea that Jesus died for every person who comes into the world is not consistent with what Jesus reveals here. The idea that everyone who hears the gospel message is able to hear His voice, and decide whether to believe and follow Him – or not – is not consistent with what Jesus says.
Jesus does not say these things about the “goats” of the world (Matt 25:31-46), which refer to all unbelievers. This means that those who die without Christ (goats), never hear the voice of Christ. They may hear the gospel message, but they don’t hear the voice of Christ in those words. They don’t understand to the same degree that the sheep do, whose eyes are fully opened.
This is contrary to Arminian theology. Arminians believe that Jesus died for all and that salvation is available to all. They further believe that whenever the gospel message is given, each person is enabled by the Holy Spirit to hear and understand. They further believe that their will is enabled or freed to make a decision to receive Christ as their Savior—or not. They believe that after the Holy Spirit has enabled all of this, they are then given the freedom to take it the rest of the way on their own, that they can choose to receive or they can choose to reject. They can choose to believe or they can choose not to believe. This is a false notion based on a biased position.
Again, this is all contrary to what Jesus plainly says in John 10. Only His sheep are able to hear. Only His sheep recognize His voice as their Shepherd. And every sheep who hears, also believes and follows. No one who hears ever refuses to follow, because sheep know the voice of their shepherd, and they naturally follow. They’re not forced against their will.
This is all we need, to know that the Arminian position on election and the atonement cannot be correct. But there’s more:
Arminians like to argue that “just because Jesus died for His sheep (or for His Church), doesn’t mean that He didn’t die for everyone else.” They reason that “it’s like Paul saying, ‘Christ died for me’ (Gal 2:20), but that doesn’t mean that He didn’t die for anyone else.” However, that’s an illogical argument. Because, if you’re not a sheep, what does that make you? It makes you a “goat.” And as Jesus Himself says, it’s the goats who “will go away into eternal punishment” (Matt 25:46). Jesus is not trying to confuse us. This is a clear revelation of His atonement and who it applies to.
Also, if you say that Jesus died for every person, and not just for His sheep, then you must also say that He gives eternal life to every person (including the goats), and not just to His sheep—because He also says that He gives eternal life to His sheep. In other words, Jesus not only says that He lays down His life for His sheep, but also that He gives them eternal life. You can’t make the first argument without making the second. However, the second argument disproves the first, because we know that not everyone responds to the gospel message in faith.
Jesus plainly says, “I lay down My life for the sheep.” This is an emphatic statement of who He died for. We don’t have to wonder or assume that He has anyone else in mind. To go looking for others beyond the sheep, you’re just looking for a way to line this up with Arminian theology.
Nowhere does He say that He lays down His life for the “goats”—those who die without Christ and eternally punished. The very idea doesn’t even make sense. It’s that type of logic that disproves unlimited atonement. The idea that the blood of Christ is not applied to those for whom He died, is inconsistent. It’s a certainty that the blood He shed, will be applied to those for whom it was shed (His sheep). The wishy-washy idea that it may be applied or may not be applied to those whom He died, is not an accurate picture of the sovereignty of God or of the atonement. The blood of Christ has a particular purpose for a particular people, and it never fails.
If He doesn’t give eternal life to every person, then it necessarily follows that He only died for those whom He does give eternal life to, which He plainly says are His sheep.
So why is there so much debate about who Christ died for, when He already told us in no uncertain terms? The mystery isn’t the doctrine of election, the real mystery is that there is any debate about it at all.