The works I do in my Father’s name testify about me, but you do not believe because you are not my sheep. My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand. (John 10:25-28)
Jesus had come to Jerusalem for the Festival of Dedication (aka Hanukkah) and was standing in Solomon’s Colonnade, in the temple complex. Several of the Jews who opposed him came up to him and demanded, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly” (John 10:24). Jesus answered, “I did tell you, but you did not believe me” (v. 25), then spoke to them about the works that testified about him. But they did not believe him, he said, because they were not his sheep.
Now, mind you, the whole of John 10 is about Jesus the Shepherd and his sheep. He talked about the Pharisees and others who tried to sneak into the sheepfold in order to steal the sheep (v. 1). He said that the one who comes through the “gate” is the rightful shepherd (v. 2). That the “gatekeeper” “opened the gate” for him (v. 3) — perhaps a reference to Moses (see John 5:45-47) or more likely to John the Baptist (see John 1:29-34). Jesus said that his sheep listen to him and follow him because they recognize his voice and not the voice of a stranger (v. 4-5). That he himself is the “gate” for the sheep and that all who enter in by him will be saved (vv. 7-9). That the thief comes to steal, kill and destroy, but Jesus comes that the sheep may have abundant life (the life of the age to come) because he is the good shepherd who lays down his life for the sheep (vv. 10-11). He is the good shepherd — he knows his sheep and his sheep know him, just as he knows the Father and the Father knows him — and he lays down his life for the sheep (vv. 14-18).
And now, even though he and others have testified plainly to his opponents about who he is and has done healing signs and miracles in the name of the Father, they still refuse to trust him, to listen to him, to follow him. They did not really believe Moses and the prophets or else they would have believed Jesus, because he is the one Moses and the prophets spoke of.
You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life. (John 5:39-40)They did not listen to Jesus’ voice because they did not listen to the voice of Moses and the prophets. They did not follow Jesus because they did not follow Moses and the prophets. They were not Jesus’ sheep because they were never God’s sheep.
But do not think I will accuse you before the Father. Your accuser is Moses, on whom your hopes are set. If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote about me. But since you do not believe what he wrote, how are you going to believe what I say? (John 5:45-47)
But now let’s look at who Jesus’ sheep are: “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.” Jesus’ sheep are the ones who listen to his voice, the ones who follow him. That is what faith is, what it looks like, what it does. Faith is more than an acknowledgement of who Jesus is or agreement with some facts about what he has done. Faith means trusting him, which is to say, entrusting ourselves to him — putting our lives in his hands. So it is listening to him and following him. The man who says he is trusting Jesus but does not listen and follow is not really trusting after all, merely acknowledging something about him.
Acknowledging who Jesus is may be more than those Jewish opponents were willing to do, but it does not measure up to faith. More importantly, it falls short of how Jesus identifies his sheep. Listening to his voice and following him describes their faith, their trust in him. And it is specifically of these that Jesus says, “I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish.”