At that time the Feast of Dedication took place at Jerusalem. It was winter, 23 and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the colonnade of Solomon. 24 So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.”
25 Jesus answered them, “I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name bear witness about me, 26 but you do not believe because you are not part of my flock. 27 My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. 30 I and the Father are one.”
31 The Jews picked up stones again to stone him. 32 Jesus answered them, “I have shown you many good works from the Father; for which of them are you going to stone me?” 33 The Jews answered him, “It is not for a good work that we are going to stone you but for blasphemy, because you, being a man, make yourself God.”
34 Jesus answered them, “Is it not written in your Law, ‘I said, you are gods’? 35 If he called them gods to whom the word of God came—and Scripture cannot be broken— 36 do you say of him whom the Father consecrated and sent into the world, ‘You are blaspheming,’ because I said, ‘I am the Son of God’? 37 If I am not doing the works of my Father, then do not believe me; 38 but if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me and I am in the Father.” 39 Again they sought to arrest him, but he escaped from their hands.
40 He went away again across the Jordan to the place where John had been baptizing at first, and there he remained. 41 And many came to him. And they said, “John did no sign, but everything that John said about this man was true.” 42 And many believed in him there.
Up till now in John 10, Jesus has been unfolding a figure speech. Verse 6 says, “This figure of speech Jesus used with them.” And in that figure of speech, he says that there is a sheepfold, and he is the door to the sheepfold (verse 7), and he is the good shepherd (verse 11). And he has sheep that are his in the Jewish flock (verses 1–3), and he has sheep that are his outside the Jewish flock—“other sheep” that are not of that fold (verse 16).
And his mission in this world, given him by God the Father, is to lay down his life for his sheep (verse 17), and then to take up his life again (verse 18), and to call his sheep by name all over the world through the voice of his disciples (John 17:20). And he says that his sheep know his voice when he calls them, and they follow him (verses 16 and 27). And in the end, there will be one flock from all the peoples of the world (John 10:16; 11:51–52; Revelation 5:9), enjoying eternal life together (verse 28). And there will be one shepherd (verse 16), and complete safety (verse 28–29) and pleasure (verse 9) for the sheep forevermore.
Jesus Gone Crazy
And even though it’s a figure of speech, he says all this plainly enough so that the veil over his deity is partly lifted, and some of this listeners think he has gone crazy. Verse 20: “He has a demon, and is insane; why listen to him?” Which is an understandable response if you hear someone say, “I have authority to lay my life down, and I have authority to take it up again” (John 10:18). Dead people don’t take up their lives again. If there is a resurrection from the dead, God does it, not the dead. And that’s the point.
Now we don’t know how much time goes by between verse 21 and 22. But I think not much. Jesus came up to Jerusalem at the Feast of Booths in John 7 (see verese 2 and 10). And according to John 10:22, it is now the time of the Feast of Dedication which happens about two months later. But we don’t know how spread out the events of John 7:1 to 10:22 are. What we do know is that the interaction of Jesus with the Jews picks up here in 10:22 and following where it left off with the figure of speech in 10:1–21.
The Big Picture
Let me try to give you the big picture of what I think is happening in 10:22–42 and then let it unfold in detail. Jesus is walking in the Temple, and according to verse 24, “The Jews gathered around him and said to him, ‘How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ [the Messiah, the long-hoped-for one who would bring in the kingdom of God], tell us plainly.’” In other words, the figure of speech that you’ve been using, with all that talk about sheep and shepherd and door, isn’t plain enough. We just want some plain speech. Are you the Messiah?
What happens then is that Jesus answers them way beyond what they expected. They are on the brink of killing him for blasphemy, and to defuse the crisis (since it’s not time yet for his death), he deflects their rage with a peculiar biblical maneuver, and in the little time that this buys him before they try to seize him, he offers them one more invitation to at least make a start in understanding and accepting who he is. And then John transports us across the Jordan River for a closing scene, which contains a key to faith.
Four Questions and Five Parts
That’s what we are going to see as we walk through this text. And what I would encourage you to watch for, that could have a huge impact on you life—your faith, your love, your marriage, your singleness, your work, your money, your peace, your joy, your courage—is 1) Who is he? Not just the truth that you already know, but more. Can you know him more deeply? 2) How does who he is define the way he loves you and cares for you and helps you? 3) Is there still time for you? Is it too late? Too late to know him? To late to welcome him? Too late to start your pilgrimage with him? 4) Is there a key to being a person who can believe in Jesus? In this story Jesus says something to all those questions.
We’ll break the text down into five parts: 1) Jesus’ answer (verses 25–30); 2) their response (verses 31–33); 3) Jesus’ maneuver (verses 34–36); 4) the final invitation (verses 37–39); 5) the key to faith (verses 40–42).
1. Jesus’ Answer (John 10:25–30)
They say at the end of verse 24, “If you are the Christ [the Messiah], tell us plainly.” And Jesus answers (verse 25): “I told you.” In other words, that’s what the figure of speech has been about. The door. The good shepherd. The one who (like Isaiah 53) lays down his life. The one who has invincible, supernatural authority to take back his own life from the jaws (no, the stomach!) of death. The one who is gathering a people to live forever in joy. Am I the Messiah? I told you. That’s my answer.
And then he adds in verse 25, “The works that I do in my Father’s name bear witness about me.” Not only have I told you. I have shown you. This is always the way it is in the life of Jesus: Not either-or, but both-and. The word and the work make his messiahship clear. Deeds alone don’t make it plain. Words alone don’t make it powerful. But together the witness of his word and the witness of his work are decisive.
Messiah and So Much More
So instead of giving you a new figure of speech, or no figure of speech, I will press this one as far as it can possibly go. And it will go way beyond messiahship. Verses 26–30:
But you do not believe, because you are not part of my flock. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.
Notice three things. First, when the Father gives his sheep into the omnipotent hand of the Son, they are still in the Father’s hand. Verse 29: “My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand.” Even though the Father has put them into the Son’s hand, they are in the Father’s hand. What does this imply?
Second, notice that Jesus explains this with the words of verse 30: “I and the Father are one.” His final answer about his identity is way beyond messiahship. It is oneness with God the Father.
And third, notice that Jesus takes us to this answer by showing how this oneness serves our salvation—our eternal safety and joy. The Father and I are one. No one can take you from me because I am stronger than all. And no one can take you from my Father, because my Father is stronger than all. When you are in my hand, you are in his hand, and when you are in his hand, you are in my hand. Our omnipotence, and our unity are your safety, your salvation.
Now there is a lesson here, and I want to drive it home. Jesus takes us to the heights of doctrinal truth about himself. He is one with the Father. “In the beginning was the word and the word was with God and the word was God. . . . And the Word became flesh” (John 1:1, 14). But he does it by showing us the immediate implication for our lives: No one can snatch you from my hand. Or the Father’s hand. Which are one hand. In other words, doctrine, theology, biblical propositions (like “I and the Father are one”) are always related to their implications for human life. Don’t be afraid of doctrine. Just be afraid of disconnected doctrine. Doctrine that doesn’t make a difference for life and eternity.
So Jesus’ answer to the question in verse 24 is yes. “I am the Messiah and infinitely more. And all of this is infinitely relevant for your eternal safety.”
2. Their Response (John 10:31–33)
They start to execute him. Verses 31–34:
The Jews picked up stones again to stone him. Jesus answered them, “I have shown you many good works from the Father; for which of them are you going to stone me?” The Jews answered him, “It is not for a good work that we are going to stone you but for blasphemy, because you, being a man, make yourself God.”
So what’s clear here is how the Jewish leaders understood verse 30, where Jesus said, “I and the Father are one.” They heard blasphemy. Verse 33: “Blasphemy, because you, being a man, make yourself God.”
They Heard a Claim to Deity
This is not the first time they accused Jesus of talking this way. Listen to John 5:18: “This was why the Jews were seeking all the more to kill him, because not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God.” So they are not just saying in John 10:33, “You’re acting like “a god.” They are saying, You are acting like God. That’s what it means to say, “You make yourself equal with God.” The same as God.
So their response is understandable: Blasphemy. Execution. A man claiming to be God! Were they right? Was Jesus making this claim? We all know the words of verse 30 by themselves don’t have to mean this. “I and the Father are one.” There are a dozen ways they could be one without Jesus being God (see John 17:22). One in purpose. One in action. One in affection.
They Were Right
But they were right. They were understanding these words. And Jesus knew they were right. They whole context of the Gospel of John says they were right. Here are six passages that say they were right.
- John 1:1, 14: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. . . . And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.”
- John 5:19: “Jesus said to them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise.’” No mere human can say this: All that the Father does, the Son does.
- John 8:58: “Jesus said to them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.’”
- John 10:18: “I have authority to lay my life down, and I have authority to take it up again.” No mere human can take up his life when he is dead.
- John 12:41: “Isaiah said these things because he saw his glory and spoke of him.” John considers the glory of God that Isaiah saw to be the glory of Jesus.
- John 20:28: “Thomas answered him, ‘My Lord and my God!’” And Jesus accepted this worship and called it faith.
They Picked Up Stones
So we know that the charge of blasphemy in John 10:33 is based on something Jesus adversaries were seeing correctly. He was claiming to be equal with God. And for that they were about to kill him. Verse 31 says they had picked up stones.
What will Jesus do to defuse this explosive moment? It is not his hour to die. And this is not the way it was planned by the Father. What he does is divert their hostility with an exegetical maneuver.
3. Jesus’ Maneuver (John 10:34–36)
Jesus answered them, “Is it not written in your Law, ‘I said, you are gods’? If he called them gods to whom the word of God came—and Scripture cannot be broken—do you say of him whom the Father consecrated and sent into the world, ‘You are blaspheming,’ because I said, ‘I am the Son of God’?”
The reason I call this a maneuver is that it doesn’t lead to any conclusion that would resolve the matter. Psalm 82:6 says that God uses the term “gods” (and “sons of God”) to refer to some lesser beings who are the recipients of his word (see Psalm 8:5; 82:1; Job 1:6; 38:7). And Jesus infers: If God uses the term “gods” for something less than God, might it not be feasible that he would use the term “Son of God” for the one whom he “consecrated and sent into the world”?
It’s not a conclusive argument. It’s a deflection, a diversion. It doesn’t settle the issue. A maneuver. It’s true. A valid pointer to a certain openness of language. But not conclusive. What the maneuver did was keep the stones from flying, and buy Jesus enough time (before they try to seize him in verse 39) to give one more invitation.
4. The Final Invitation (John 10:37–39)
They are just about to seize him (verse 39), but he gives one more plea. And if there was still a chance for them, there is a chance for you. He says in verses 37–38:
“If I am not doing the works of my Father, then do not believe me; but if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works, that you may know and understand [it’s the same word for know and understand, only a different in past tense and present tense: “that you may know and go on to know more fully”] that the Father is in me and I am in the Father.” Again they sought to arrest him, but he escaped from their hands.
This strikes me as amazingly merciful. I hope you hear it that way for yourself. If you can’t see your way clear to grasp my words and my person, then at least grasp what you can make of my deeds. Why? Because that bit of knowing might turn into a fuller knowing and understanding of who he is. This was Jesus’ last offer. And they came at him to seize him.
And you would think that the story is over. And it ends with opposition and unbelief. John could have stopped here and turned to the story of Lazarus in chapter 11. But he didn’t. For some reason, he gave another snapshot of Jesus across the Jordan to the northeast where many believed on him.
5. The Key to Faith (John 10:40–42)
The Jerusalem story ends with anger and unbelief and murderous plans. But across the Jordan they believed. Is there a key here? Is John giving us a clue to what it is that opens the door of faith? Here’s what he says in verses 40–42:
He went away again across the Jordan to the place where John had been baptizing at first, and there he remained. And many came to him. And they said, “John did no sign, but everything that John said about this man was true.” And many believed in him there.
Here’s what I think John is doing. He is showing us the key to faith—the kind of soil in which faith springs up and grows. He says that this place was where John the Baptist had preached and baptized. In other words, where John’s message was embraced and respected faith in Jesus flourished. And what did he say about John’s ministry? What did the Gospel writer focus on? He reported what the people said (verse 41): “John did no sign, but everything that John said about this man was true.”
Putting the Spotlight on Jesus
In other words, John’s ministry was utterly unpretentious. He was not after fame. He threw the spotlight utterly on Jesus. And wherever that mindset is admired and embraced, faith in Jesus flourishes. It didn’t flourish in Jerusalem. They rejected John and his message (Matthew 21:23–27).
But where John’s humble, self-effacing mindset was embraced people recognized Jesus. They heard his voice. They were his sheep.
Jesus Must Increase, I Must Decrease
Let me close with the words of John the Baptist. And as I read them, pray that you would love this humble mindset. That it would be yours. And that your heart would be the good soil where faith in Jesus springs up and keeps on growing.
“I am not the Christ, but I have been sent before him. The one who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. Therefore this joy of mine is now complete. He must increase, but I must decrease.” (John 3:28–30)
This mindset is the key to faith in Jesus. Is it yours?