Episode 99 - Jesus at the Feast of Dedication - Opening Up the Gospels

In Episode 98 we looked at Jesus’ rebuke of the Pharisees in John 10, which occurred sometime just before the Feast of Dedication in December of 28AD. We saw how Jesus drew directly from the language of Ezekiel 34 to say that the Jewish authorities were being bad shepherds and were failing to lead the sheep in righteousness. He said that they were feeding themselves, identifying them as thieves and robbers who did not care at all for the people but only for their own gain. In contrast, Jesus was the good shepherd, the one who Ezekiel had prophesied about who would lay down His life for the sheep and who would shepherd them to dwell in safety in the land of Israel. God had promised that it would be through Abraham’s family that all of the other families of the earth would be blessed, and despite their covenantal failures, He intends to keep that promise. In today’s episode we’re going to look at the latter part of John 10 where Jesus is in Jerusalem for the Feast of Dedication. Let’s read today starting in verse 22: “At that time the Feast of Dedication took place at Jerusalem. It was winter, and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the colonnade of Solomon. 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.” 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, but you do not believe because you are not among my sheep. 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.”” (John 10:22–30 ESV) John tells us that Jesus is in the temple in Jerusalem during the winter Feast of Dedication, which as I’ve mentioned takes place in December each year. This feast isn’t something that the Old Testament establishes, unlike the Passover for instance. This feast celebrates the rededication of the Temple in December of 164BC after Antiochus Epiphanies had desecrated it in 168BC. I talked about that back in Episode 35. Now Jesus was walking in the colonnade of Solomon, which was a large area of the Temple where people would meet. I described this area back in Episode 48 when I looked at the Temple, so go back and watch that for more. Now the Jews gathered around Jesus and asked Him to tell them plainly if He was the Christ, that final Davidic king they were expecting. It seems like their question is somewhat insincere though, because if they really didn’t know if He was the messiah or not, why would they try to kill him over and over again? Jesus said that He was indeed the Christ, but they simply did not want to believe Him even though the works He was doing testified to what He was saying. Jesus said to the Jews that they didn’t believe because they were not His sheep. He’s building again on the words He spoke to them earlier in John 10. Unlike the ones who had hardened their own hearts towards Jesus and His message, there were people in Israel who did hear Him. Jesus is once again seen as the one to bring division to Israel here. The ones who follow Jesus trust in Him for eternal life – they will have breath in their lungs forever as they dwell in safety and security in the land in the age to come. Because Jesus is the good shepherd, His sheep will never die, and they never have to fear that wolves will snatch them out of His hand and kill them. This is all referencing the same language He used just a few verses earlier in John 10:12. Jesus is the promised Davidic king, the one who will shepherd God’s people Israel in righteousness, and He says that His Father will not falter in fulfilling His promises. The allusions to the Father/son relationship between the shepherd king and the God of Israel in the Davidic covenant from 2 Samuel 7 are strong here. For Jesus to say that He and the Father are one, at least in this context, is about a functional unity and the unity of their works. The king is obeying God per the command of Deuteronomy 17, and therefore their agendas are the same. However, there is certainly more here than simply an accordance of the will of the Father and the Son. Scholars have pointed out the allusion to the “Shema”, a main confession of Judaism which says: ““Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.” (Deuteronomy 6:4 ESV) The word “one” is a theologically potent word for the Jews. In modern times we often associate “God is one” with the Trinity. While there is indeed some truth to that, we immediately think that way because of the influence of Greek philosophy in the 2nd and 3rd centuries. However for Jews in New Testament times, the word “one” implied uniqueness or singularity, not so much “trinity”. Remember, Jesus has just used this word multiple times in His rebuke of the Pharisees when He was quoting Ezekiel. He said that there would be one flock, and He would be the one shepherd over them. The uniqueness of the people, both Jew and Gentile, is related to the uniqueness of their leader. The sheep are “one flock” in the sense that they are loyal to their one shepherd who lays His life down for them. In this context, Jesus is claiming something revolutionary. He is saying that the uniqueness of the God of Israel consists in the communion between the Father and the Son. To assert this idea of “oneness”, of “personal communion” is unprecedented in early Judaism. It’s for this reason that the people want to stone Him. Let’s keep reading in John 10: “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.” 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’? 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 that the Father is in me and I am in the Father.” Again they sought to arrest him, but he escaped from their hands.” (John 10:31–39 ESV) The Jews pick up stones because they believe Jesus is blaspheming by saying He is God. According to Leviticus 24:16, anyone who blasphemes the name of the Lord must be put to death. Jesus defends Himself by quoting a particular verse from Psalm 82, the only reference to Psalm 82 in the New Testament. The theme of that Psalm is the judgment of unjust judges or rulers where there is an indictment, a verdict, and a plea. Jesus quotes verse 6, which is part of the section containing the verdict. The psalm says that God has put judges in an exalted position, but they will die an ordinary death because they did not administer justice faithfully. Jesus is using this passage to essentially say that there is Old Testament precedent for referring to humans as “gods”. As He has done in the past, Jesus cites the works that He does as proof that His claims are true. But the climax of Jesus’ defense is an equally audacious claim as the one He made that caused them to pick up stones. In verse 38 he says that “the Father is in me and I am in the Father”. I believe we should take this claim as a further explanation of the first one back in verse 30. How can the Father and Son be one? Because the Father is in the Son and the Son is in the Father. That “in one another” language (which is also seen later in John’s Gospel) refers to this uniquely intimate communion that unites the Father and the Son. It’s not just the Father and the Son are going about the same kind of thing or that they are united in will. With the allusion to the Shema, something much more is being said. There is relational intimacy between Jesus and His Father within the identity of the One God. And because of this, He can rightfully claim to be God’s son. Once again the Jews sought to arrest Him, but He escapes from them. Let’s look again at the text: “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.” (John 10:40–42 ESV) John says that Jesus goes away again across the Jordan to where John had been baptizing. Let’s not forget what we’ve been looking at since Episode 90. Jesus had left Galilee and was ministering in Judea and Perea, then He goes to the Feast of Tabernacles. After Tabernacles in October, He leaves Jerusalem and travels again in Judea and Perea, as we’ve seen from Luke’s Gospel. But because John says right here that Jesus “went away again across the Jordan to where John had been baptizing at first”, and this is after the Feast of Dedication in December, I think we can imply that Jesus had also withdrawn to Bethany beyond the Jordan after the feast of Tabernacles too. Does that make sense? Now John tells us that many came to Jesus there. I think that Jesus is further validating John’s ministry, and it seems that’s what the people gather as well. Many believed in Him there, undoubtedly remembering what John had said about him nearly two years prior. Again, I hope you see the division Jesus is causing. The Jews in Jerusalem wanted to kill him, yet there are Jews outside of the hallowed walls of the Temple who heard John’s message and are putting their faith in Him. In the next episode, we’re going to jump back to Luke’s Gospel and have a look at Jesus’ teachings in Bethany Beyond the Jordan.