Question: To what or whom does the thief in John 10:10 refer? I heard someone identify the thief as the Law of Moses.
Answer: The purpose of Jesus’ discussion about the sheep is to declare his commitment to the sheep in contrast with that of the present religious leadership and to declare the future inclusion of new sheep not of Israel’s flock. In this description Jesus depicts two kinds of people who have vied to be the shepherds of God’s people: (1) thieves and robbers (whom Jesus says fits all those who came before him) and (2) the hired hand. Both are committed to themselves and ultimately care nothing for the sheep.
To say that the Law of Moses is the thief that only comes to steal, kill and destroy is a suspect interpretation. The Law is never depicted by Jesus or the apostles as something that is evil. It is something that Jesus came to fulfill and whose statutes will never pass away. The Law is “holy, righteous and good” according to Paul (Romans 7:12). The problem with the Law is not the Law itself, but the human heart’s inability to keep it. Paul says the “law was powerless” to free us from the law of sin and death “in that it was weakened by the sinful nature” (Romans 8:3). He says the “law is good if one uses it properly” (1 Timothy 1:8). It is not the law that is the thief but fallen human beings who might seek to make the requirements of the law our basis for salvation, rather than the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.
If there were any particular face we might put on the thief Jesus speaks about, it would be Satan. He is everywhere described as one who seeks to “devour” us (1 Peter 5:8). He may feign concern and care for us, but he only cares about himself and will quickly discard us once his purpose for us is served.