For this reason the Father loves me, because [“that”] I lay down my life that I may take it up again. John 10:17
This verse has been discussed and dissected no doubt ever since our Lord spoke it. What does it mean?
It seems from this verse that the love of God the Father to His Son is conditional. However the Father has loved His Son from eternity, even as they are with the Spirit united in glory and essence from eternity (e.g. John 17:5b). This love of the Father to His Son is eternally unconditional, which is the way love is. In the same vein the Son of God as a man does not need to “earn” the Father’s love. Jesus is not meriting His Father’s love by dying and rising from the dead.
We believe the understanding of this statement by Jesus is grasped by realizing the meaning of the deepest form of love. The lover says to that which is loved, “You are of the highest value to me.” The first commandment tells us to love God; that is to say of God, “You are of the highest value to me.” To love something on this highest plane is to be willing even to give one’s life for that which is loved. Some people will thus give their lives for their nation, for their comrades or for their families. They willingly give their lives because they love…nation, comrades, families and the like. Thus are we to love God.
However this deepest form of love can and does find another expression, one that parallels the giving of one’s self. This expression of love willingly gives to God that which is loved, for God is loved even more than that which is given. For instance God told Abraham, Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you [Gen 22:2]. Abraham was being asked to give the son whom he loved as a sacrifice to God…thus identifying the fact that Abraham loved God even more than his beloved son. This love of Abraham to God—a love that willingly gives his beloved son—appears to be just as great as the love that gives one’s own life. Isn’t this part of what Luther means when he writes in his famous hymn: “And take they our life, goods, fame, child and wife…”? “God, out of love for you I am willing to give my life, yes even my child and my wife!” What faith this takes! What love toward God!
I believe that this meaning of love is wrapped up in the verse that is before us. Perhaps we can clarify this meaning by translating and rearranging Jesus’ phrases. By thus moving the phrases I believe this more clearly conveys the meaning of the verse: “For this reason, that I lay down my life that I may take it again, the Father loves me.” The Father’s love to His Son is seen in connection with the Son’s dying and rising. Understood this way, the Father literally commands His Son to die (v 18), for even greater than Abraham’s love for his son is God’s love for His Son. But for what is the Father sacrificing His beloved Son? For the world! John 3:16 says this same thing: “God loved the world in this way: that He gave His only begotten Son…”
In effect God the Father is saying that He loves the world so much that He mandates His beloved Son to die and rise again. Viewing the death and resurrection of Jesus as the Father giving that which is of His highest value—His Son—shows a love for the fallen world that makes us speechless. The Father loves His eternal Son, and thus the Father says to Him, “You are of the highest value to me. Now I love the fallen world by giving you—my beloved Son—for it.” Our verse then is understood: “Because to my Father I am of the highest value, I lay down my life that I may take it again; I thus purchase the world.” Is the Good Shepherd’s love any less than His Father’s? The Son willingly obeys and gives His life for us: No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge [“command”]I have received from my Father [v 18]. In love, the Father gives His Son; in love, the Son obeys and gives His life. Like Father, like Son.