JOHN 10. THE CONTEXT
John 10:22-30 is a continuation of the Good Shepherd discourse (vv. 1-18), which results in some of “the Jews” accusing him of having a demon (vv. 19-21). Verses 22-30 are followed by a rejection of Jesus, including an attempt to stone him (vv. 31-39) and his departure from Jerusalem to “the place where John was baptizing at first” (v. 40) where “many believed in him” (v. 42).
The common lectionary deals with this chapter by spreading it across, not three successive weeks, but three successive years (Easter 4A, 4B, and 4C)—so we cannot expect our congregations to appreciate its linkage to the rest of the chapter. It behooves us, therefore, to re-familiarize ourselves with the chapter as a whole so that our preaching this week incorporates the full richness of the chapter.
Rejection is a major theme of this chapter, and is reflected in the hostility of “the Jews” who challenge Jesus to “tell us plainly” (v. 24). The passages that immediately precede and follow this text (vv. 19-21 and 31-39) deal explicitly with that rejection, although they also make clear that “the Jews” are divided—some saying that Jesus has a demon (v. 20) and others saying, “These are not the sayings of one possessed by a demon. It isn’t possible for a demon to open the eyes of the blind, is it?” (v. 21; see also 8:31; 12:42).
A word about this phrase, “the Jews.” It is not Jewish people at large who oppose Jesus, but Jewish leaders—Pharisees in particular (7:32, 45; 8:13; 9:40)—people with power and prestige to protect. Common people find it easier to believe in Jesus. The more sophisticated, wealthy, or powerful we become, the more obstacles we encounter on the road to faith. Jesus turns upside down the lives of those who would follow him. Those who “have it made” are less willing to allow Jesus to disturb their comfortable world.
JOHN 10:22-24. IF YOU ARE THE CHRIST, TELL US PLAINLY
22It was the Feast of the Dedication at Jerusalem. 23It was winter, and Jesus was walking in the temple, in Solomon’s porch. 24The Jews therefore came around (Greek: ekuklosan) him and said to him, “How long will you hold us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.”
“It was the Feast of the Dedication at Jerusalem” (v. 22a). This Gospel presents much of Jesus’ teaching and the resulting controversy as occurring on the Sabbath or on festival days such as Passover and Tabernacles.
The Feast of the Dedication is now better known as Chanukah or Hanukkah, and is observed for eight days in the month of Chislev, near our Christmas. It commemorates the triumph of Judas Maccabeus (Jewish) over Antiochus Epiphanes (Syrian) in 164 or 165 B.C. Antiochus tried to force Greek philosophy and religion on the Jews. Failing that, he attacked Jerusalem, looted the temple treasury, and desecrated the altar by sacrificing a pig on it. Judas Maccabeus and his brothers gathered an army, liberated Jerusalem, cleansed the temple, and rededicated the altar. The festival of Dedication, observed with the lighting of lamps and rejoicing, commemorates that rededication.
John’s mention of the festival of Dedication has meaning beyond marking a particular time. The temple represents the presence of God with his people, and Jesus is the new temple (2:19-21). Just as Antiochus profaned the temple, the religious leaders are preparing to profane the new temple—Jesus.
“It was winter” (v. 22b). This festival takes place in December, but in this Gospel, statements of this sort have a significance beyond that which is immediately apparent. For instance, mentions of light or darkness allude to spiritual as well as physical conditions. The same is true with this phrase, “It was winter,” which hints that there is a spiritual chill in the air.
“Jesus was walking in the temple, in Solomon’s porch” (v. 23). He has apparently been in Jerusalem since the festival of Booths, more than two months earlier (7:2, 37). Given the winter climate, Jesus teaches under the cover of the portico rather than outdoors. His opponents find this an easy place to trap Jesus and to try to force him into incriminating statements (Gossip, 631-632).
“The Jews therefore came around (ekuklosan – encircled) him” (v. 24a). The Jewish leaders gather around or encircle Jesus in their eagerness to entrap him.
“How long will you hold us in suspense?” (v. 24b). The Jewish leaders have been frustrated by their inability to find grounds to convict Jesus. It is not suspense but frustration that is the issue here.
“If you are the Christ, tell us plainly” (v. 24c). It is a hostile challenge, designed to force Jesus into the open and to bring things to a head. Anything that Jesus says can and will be used against him.
The issue of Jesus’ messiahship has been raised previously in this Gospel:
• Seeing Jesus teach without opposition from the authorities, the people asked, “Can it be that the rulers indeed know that this is truly the Christ?” (7:26).
• The people responded to Jesus’ miracles by asking, “When the Christ comes, he won’t do more signs than those which this man has done, will he?” (7:31).
• They thought him to be the Messiah, except that he comes from Galilee rather than Bethlehem (7:41-43).
• His opponents asked, “Who are you?” (8:25) and “Who do you make yourself out to be?” (8:53).
• The parents of the blind man whom Jesus had healed were afraid, because “the Jews had already agreed that if any man would confess him as Christ, he would be put out of the synagogue” (9:22).
JOHN 10:25-30. I TOLD YOU, AND YOU DON’T BELIEVE
25Jesus answered them, “I told you, and you don’t believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name, these testify about me. 26But you don’t believe, because you are not of my sheep, as I told you. 27My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. 28I give eternal life to them. They will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. 29My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all. No one is able to snatch them out of my Father’s hand. 30I and the Father are one.”
“I told you, and you don’t believe” (v. 25a). The Prologue to this Gospel says, that the Word “came to his own, and those who were his own didn’t receive him” (1:10-11). We see that acted out in this Gospel lesson.
Jesus proclaimed himself plainly to the Samaritan woman (4:25-26) and the man born blind (9:5, 35-37), but does not do so to these interrogators because they come seeking, not truth, but grounds for conviction. They not only ignored the evidence of his works, but also sought to turn those works against him (5:10-18; 9:13-34).
“They do not believe, not because Jesus is not a shepherd but because they are not sheep” (Chrysostom, quoted in Craddock, 248). They are the ones whom Jesus has identified as thieves, bandits, and hired hands who come “to steal, kill, and destroy” (10:10a). As such, they oppose Jesus, who “came that they (the sheep) may have life, and may have it abundantly” (10:10b). Thieves and bandits hate good shepherds, because a good shepherd prevents them from carrying out their evil intentions.
Jesus also resists the title of Messiah because the popular idea distorts its true meaning. The people expected a Messiah like King David—a warrior-king who would re-establish Israel as a great nation. Jesus’ Messiahship would look quite different.
“The works that I do in my Father’s name, these testify about me” (v. 25b). Jesus’ words and works give compelling testimony to his Godly power. After healing the man by the pool, Jesus said, “The works which the Father gave me to accomplish, the very works that I do, testify about me, that the Father has sent me” (5:36). Now, after healing a blind man (9:1-41), Jesus says, “The very works that I do, testify about me.”
“but you don’t believe, because you are not of my sheep, as I told you” (v. 26). God leaves us free to believe or not believe. Jesus’ enemies choose not to believe in spite of the clear testimony of Jesus’ works. They persecuted Jesus because he healed on the Sabbath (5:16), and proved blind to the evidence when he healed a blind man (9:35-41). In the next chapter, his enemies will respond to the resurrection of Lazarus, not by believing, but by conspiring to kill Jesus (11:45-53).
Opposition to Christ is as common today as it was then. In every time and place, opponents of Christ ignore the work of the church among the vulnerable and the evidence of changed lives. Such evidence serves only to fire their hatred and harden their hearts.
• Observe how the church is portrayed in movies and on television. Rarely is it treated sympathetically. Usually Christians are portrayed as negative and judgmental or are made the butt of a joke.
• In academic circles, while professors treat non-Christian religions with great respect, many of them disparage Christianity. When our son left home to attend a state university, my wife spoke of it as “sending him behind enemy lines.”
• The press and courts are often hostile to the church.
• In many nations today, Christians are actively persecuted and martyred for their faith.
However, faith is less easily subverted by hostility than by comfort. The blood of the martyrs is indeed the seed of the church. The most serious enemies of Christ are those who wear his name badly—who proclaim a Prosperity Gospel instead of a Cross —who preach love without loving—who stain their vestments with their immorality.
“My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me” (v. 27). This verse mirrors portions of the Good Shepherd discourse (10:3-5, 16), and bears careful reading. We expect Jesus to say that the sheep follow him because they know him, but instead he says that they follow him because he knows them. We long to be known—to be understood at the deepest levels. Profound intimacy bespeaks profound love. This Gospel makes it clear that Jesus sees to the depth of the heart, and it is no wonder that the sheep perceive that and follow him.
“I give eternal life to them. They will never perish” (v. 28a). Eternal life in this Gospel is not mere longevity, but is rather life lived in the presence of God. In his High Priestly prayer, Jesus will say, “This is eternal life, that they should know you, the only true God, and him whom you sent, Jesus Christ” (17:3).
However, eternal life also involves longevity. Earlier, Jesus promised, “If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever” (6:51) and “if a person keeps my word, he will never see death” (8:51; see also 6:58; 11:25-26). This cannot mean that Christians will not suffer physical death; by the time of this Gospel, many Christians have been martyred. Jesus’ assurance is that these people continue life in God’s care.
Jesus’ opponents, however, are comfortable, and will not risk embracing a new kind of Messiah so that they might enjoy the eternal life that Jesus offers.
“and no one will snatch them out of my hand” (v. 28b). The security that Jesus offers is not security as the world understands security. The sheep will not perish and no one will snatch them out of Jesus’ hand, but many will die for their faith—or lose their jobs—or be denied opportunity—or suffer ridicule. What they will not lose is their relationship to the Father and the Son or the salvation that relationship brings.
“My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all” (v. 29a). Ancient manuscripts differ, making this a difficult verse to translate. Many scholars, believing that the gift that the Father gives cannot be greater than the Father, prefer a manuscript that reads, “My Father…is greater than all” (Smith, 211). However, it is possible that Jesus is saying that the sheep that the Father has entrusted to him are truly a precious gift, greater than any other gift—a gift to be jealously guarded so that no one can snatch it.
“No one is able to snatch them out of my Father’s hand” (v. 29b). In the previous verse, Jesus promised that no one could snatch them from his hand, but now he promises that no one can snatch them from the Father’s hand. The Father has given the disciples into Jesus’ hand, but has not withdrawn the protection of his own hand.
“I and the Father are one” (hen) (v. 30). These are inflammatory words. In fact, if Jesus is not the Messiah, they are blasphemous words. We are reminded of the opening verse of this Gospel, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (1:1). Later, Jesus will pray that his disciples “may all be one; even as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be one in us; that the world may believe that you sent me” (17:21). At the heart of this Gospel is the unity between the Father and the Son. Jesus prays that his disciples become a part of this unity.
“Therefore Jews took up stones again to stone him” (v. 31). Stoning is the prescribed penalty specified by the Torah for serious sins (Leviticus 20:27; Deuteronomy 17:2-7; 21:18-21; Ezekiel 16:40). However, it involves a judicial process involving witnesses, and requires the witnesses to the sin to cast the first stone (Deuteronomy 17:7). However, in this instance, the Jewish leaders—men committed to insuring that people observe the Torah—violate the Torah by acting as a mob. However, they fail to kill Jesus. When his hour comes, he will give up his life willingly.
SCRIPTURE QUOTATIONS are from the World English Bible (WEB), a public domain (no copyright) modern English translation of the Holy Bible. The World English Bible is based on the American Standard Version (ASV) of the Bible, the Biblia Hebraica Stutgartensa Old Testament, and the Greek Majority Text New Testament. The ASV, which is also in the public domain due to expired copyrights, was a very good translation, but included many archaic words (hast, shineth, etc.), which the WEB has updated.
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Copyright 2007, 2010, 2015, Richard Niell Donovan