Removing the Mask From the Thief: Leaders Who Steal, Kill, and Destroy

Uncategorized Feb 15, 2024

I have often heard people say that the Bible teaches that the devil is a thief who “steals, kills, and destroys.” This quote is from John 10:10, where Jesus said: “The thief’s purpose is to steal, kill, and destroy. My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life.” Or I should say, it’s almost a quote.

I say this is almost a quote because most people think the “thief” Jesus referred to was the devil. True, yet not entirely accurate. It might surprise you that Jesus made this statement referencing the religious leaders of his day, the Pharisees. Let me explain.

In the previous chapter of John, chapter nine, Jesus had healed a man who had been born blind. Because Jesus did this miracle on the Sabbath, the Pharisees and religious leaders took issue with it. There were strict religious laws against doing any work on the Sabbath that was not considered an emergency. And, in the opinion of the Pharisees, blindness was not an emergency. They thought Jesus should have waited until the next day.

But on top of the violation of the Sabbath laws was the fact that this miracle served to validate Jesus as an authentic, divine messenger. They understood that the purpose of miracles was to serve as signs so that the message of the one who performed the miracle would be received and believed. So, this created an interesting conflict. The Pharisees would say that any person who does not keep the laws of the Sabbath is a sinner. But if a man opens the eyes of the blind, he is authenticated as a messenger from God. The Pharisees could not allow Jesus to break their laws and challenge their authority but also validate Him as a true messenger from God in the sight of the people. It threatened the Pharisees’ position of leadership. If you read John chapter nine, you’ll see this is the at the heart of the conflict.

So the Pharisees grilled the blind man, who could now see, with questions fitting a congressional deposition. How can you see now? Maybe you were not born blind after all? Let’s question your parents and see if you’ve been lying about being blind your whole life. What did Jesus do to you to make you see? If he violated the laws of the Sabbath, doesn’t that make him a sinner? So, Mr. Blind Man, would you say that the power of a demon opened your eyes?

Can you imagine such questions? This man had been blind his whole life. Now, he can miraculously see. While he is trying to process what has happened to him emotionally, he also has to defend his former blindness and try to explain his current ability to see.

Christians have loved this story of the blind man’s healing. While defending the miracle he received, he also came to defend Jesus as a true messenger from God logically and became a believer and worshiper of Jesus in the process. It is this blind man who spoke a phrase that you might recognize. The composer used it in the old hymn “Amazing Grace.” The blind man said, “I know this: I was blind, and now I can see!” (John 9:25).

The Pharisees became so angry at not being able to defend their religious positions and condemn the influence of Jesus among the people that they decided to take harsh action against the former blind man. They kick the poor guy out of the synagogue - I mean, he was actually excommunicated from the synagogue. The religious leaders told him he could no longer attend religious services!

It’s important to realize that the audience that heard Jesus say, “The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy,” was the same audience that had just witnessed Jesus heal the blind man and had watched as the Pharisees excommunicate the man from the synagogue.

With this in mind, Jesus’ opening words of this discourse make a lot more sense. Jesus starts talking about shepherds, sheep, thieves, and robbers. At first, the people didn’t catch on to his metaphors to understand what he meant. But eventually, it became clear that Jesus was drawing contrasts between himself and the religious leaders of that day. Listen to this list of contrasts that Jesus makes during this entire discourse:

  • The shepherd of the sheep is different from thieves and robbers. 
  • The shepherd enters at the door, and the doorkeeper opens up to him, but the thieves break in another way.
  • The shepherd’s voice is different from the stranger’s voice. The sheep know and follow the shepherd’s voice, but they will not follow strangers.
  • The door of the sheep (i.e., the one who has rightful access to the fold and can come into the sheep pen) is different from thieves and robbers. Because . . .
  • . . . the shepherd’s motives are different from the thief’s motives. The thief comes to steal, kill, and destroy the flock. But the shepherd comes to give abundant life.
  • A good shepherd is different from a hireling. The shepherd will lay his life down to protect the sheep from wolves and thieves, but the hireling flees to save his own life.

By the end of this public conversation, it became clear that Jesus was comparing himself to the Pharisees and religious leaders. He clearly stated that he was the “Good Shepherd” and that the Pharisees were thieves and robbers. It created quite a stir, and the people were divided in their opinions about Jesus. Some thought he was insane or demon-possessed. Others said, “He doesn’t sound like a possessed or insane man. Can a demon open the eyes of a blind man?”

This scene is so captivating to imagine. And I’d like to use it to discuss leadership for the next few articles. Why leadership? Because the identity of the thief who comes to steal, kill, and destroy is not just the devil. The thief is the devil working through corrupt leaders who care only about profiting from the flock.

As a leader, I am grieved when I see other leaders making unwise, hurtful decisions that are not for the best of those who follow. There is currently a vacuum of quality leaders in our society, especially in the area of church ministry. And it seems that the most dangerous leaders are thief-like: they steal, kill, and destroy the flock.

What does it mean for a leader to steal the flock? What does it mean for a leader to kill (figuratively) the flock? And what does it mean for a leader to destroy the flock? How is the devil accomplishing these things through corrupt leaders? These questions are worth our time. 

Stay with me for the next few blogs as I try to remove the mask from the thief.


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