Jesus has said several times in John 10:1–16 that His sheep hear His voice and follow Him. When the gospel goes forth and the elect hear it, there is no doubt that they will believe. Those who are not His sheep will not hear His voice. They will not follow Him to the end; they will either reject Him outright or, having never had saving faith to begin with, will go out from His people and abandon their profession (1 John 2:19). The last three verses of today’s passage provide something of an illustration of this point, as they show many of the Jews again rejecting Jesus (John 10:19–21). Assuming that they never came to saving faith later on, these individuals were clearly not among the sheep of Christ.
The sheep of Christ hear the voice of Jesus, and they recognize that He has laid down His life for their salvation (vv. 11, 15). In John 10:17, Jesus notes that the Father loves Him because He lays down His life. Here we see a glimpse of the eternal and reciprocal love between the Father and the Son. The Son loves His Father so much that He is willing to accept the charge to surrender His life for His people, and the Father loves the Son so much that He gives Him this charge for the sake of the Son’s final glory (see 8:54; 12:27–32). Commentators also note that we should read John 10:17 as having a purpose clause: Jesus laid down His life in order to take it up again. He died in order to rise again, for without the resurrection, the crucifixion accomplishes nothing. Christ had to rise again for our justification (Rom. 4:23–25).
What is also important to note here is that the Father is not One who is reluctant to forgive and must be convinced by the Son and His work to pardon us. No, the Father sent the Son because of His willingness to forgive. He wanted to forgive His sheep, and He refused to spare His own Son in order to accomplish it. He sent His Son to lay down His life and to take it up again for our salvation (John 10:19). The willingness of the Father to send His Son is paralleled by the Son’s willingness to die. Although wicked men certainly played a part in the crucifixion of Jesus (Acts 4:27–28), they did not force death upon Him. He died under His own authority, allowing others to kill Him. As John Calvin comments, Christ “does not die by constraint, but offers himself willingly for the salvation of his flock.” At no point in our Lord’s passion was He not in control of its events. His death was no accident of history but was the accomplishment of the divine will.