Notes on John 10:22-30
This is a continuation of Jesus’ claim to be the Good Shepherd. This incident comments on the material that appears in the first part of this chapter.
This passage is very important for establishing Jesus’ role as Messiah and Son of God. Here we discover something of what is meant by claiming that Jesus fulfills those roles. We also come to some sense of what it means to be part of Jesus’ sheep — his followers.
Ἐγένετο τότε τὰ ἐγκαίνια ἐν τοῖς Ἱεροσολύμοις, χειμὼν ἦν,
“At that time the festival of the Dedication took place in Jerusalem. It was winter,”
Happy Hanukkah! The “Festival of Dedication” mentioned here is the same thing as the “Festival of Lights” or, more commonly nowadays, Hanukkah. This was celebrated in memory of the dedication of the temple by Judas Maccabeus in December, 165 B.C. — after it had been desecrated by Antiochus Epiphanes. This was the last great event of deliverance the Jews remembered in their history. Thus, we read in 1 Maccabees 4:59: “Then Judas [Maccabeus] and his brothers and all the assembly of Israel determined that every year at that season the days of dedication of the altar should be observed with joy and gladness for eight days, beginning with the twenty-fifth day of the month of Chislev.” It was about three months after the Feast of Tabernacles, mentioned in 7:37. John adds the detail that: “It was winter” for those who were not familiar with the celebrations in the Jewish calendar.
John Wesley adds this comment: “So our Lord observed festivals even of human appointment. Is it not, at least, innocent for us to do the same?”
καὶ περιεπάτει ὁ Ἰησοῦς ἐν τῷ ἱερῷ ἐν τῇ στοᾷ τοῦ Σολομῶνος.
“and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the portico of Solomon.”
This roofed structure is also mentioned in Acts 3:11; 5:12. While called the “portico of Solomon” (τῇ στοᾷ τοῦ Σολομῶνος) it is not believed to have actually dated that far back.
ἐκύκλωσαν οὖν αὐτὸν οἱ Ἰουδαῖοι καὶ ἔλεγον αὐτῷ· ἕως πότε τὴν ψυχὴν ἡμῶν αἴρεις; εἰ σὺ εἶ ὁ χριστός, εἰπὲ ἡμῖν παρρησίᾳ.
“So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, "How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly."
The question is at least taunting, if not downright hostile. The word ἐκύκλωσαν can mean surround or encircle. They are seeking to force a definitive answer from him. There is a very interesting expression that is used here: ἕως πότε τὴν ψυχὴν ἡμῶν αἴρεις — “how long will you take away our soul (or life)”. I like Adam Clarke’s paraphrase: “How long dost thou kill us with suspense?” The fact that they later, in verse 31, pick up stones to stone him, is an indication of their general hostility. It is possible that they want an open declaration from Jesus, so that they can report this to the Romans.
The difficulty here is that Jesus’ conception of Messiahship did not agree with the common conceptions of the day. Thus, to these Jewish leaders, he is being evasive. The Jews here want to know if Jesus is making a claim to be an insurrectionist against the Romans — a political figure who has come to reign as King over the country. But, this is not the kind of Messiah Jesus has come to be. Jesus has (earlier in this chapter) claimed to be the Good Shepherd — and this could be taken as a Messianic claim. So, now the Jewish leaders are saying: “Out with it! Are you the Messiah or not?”
Verses 25, 26:
ἀπεκρίθη αὐτοῖς ὁ Ἰησοῦς· εἶπον ὑμῖν καὶ οὐ πιστεύετε· τὰ ἔργα ἃ ἐγὼ ποιῶ ἐν τῷ ὀνόματι τοῦ πατρός μου ταῦτα μαρτυρεῖ περὶ ἐμοῦ· ἀλλὰ ὑμεῖς οὐ πιστεύετε, ὅτι οὐκ ἐστὲ ἐκ τῶν προβάτων τῶν ἐμῶν.
“Jesus answered, ‘I have told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father's name testify to me; but you do not believe, because you do not belong to my sheep.’”
Jesus claims he has not been evasive. But, again, the problem here is that the Jewish leaders and Jesus are not operating from the same concept of Messiahship. From Jesus’ point of view, he had made all the appropriate claims, but that didn’t fit the Messiah-concept in other people’s minds.
Adam Clarke writes:
That is, I told you before what I tell you now again, that the works which I do, bear testimony to me. I have told you that I am the light of the world: the Son of God: the good shepherd: that I am come to save-to give life — to give liberty — to redeem you: that, in order to this, I must die, and rise again; and that I am absolute master of my life, and of my death. Have you not noticed my omniscience, in searching and discovering the very secrets of your hearts? Have you not seen my omnipotence in the miracles which I have wrought? Have not all these been sufficient to convince you?- and yet ye will not believe!
But, those looking for a political Messiah, are not likely to be impressed with such claims.
And, again, it could be that these people wanted Jesus to claim Messiahship at this point to get him in trouble with the Roman authorities.
τὰ πρόβατα τὰ ἐμὰ τῆς φωνῆς μου ἀκούουσιν, κἀγὼ γινώσκω αὐτὰ καὶ ἀκολουθοῦσίν μοι,
“My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me.”
Here are the basic qualifications of being a part of Jesus’ flock:
Hearing Christ’s voice and following —> thus, being in relationship with Him.
Both of the verbs hear (ἀκούουσιν) and follow (ἀκολουθοῦσίν) are in the present tense — denoting continuing action. What is envisioned here is not a past event, but a continuing state of openness and obedience.
The contrast in this passage is between the Jewish leaders that are pressing Jesus for the kind of answers they want (in the terms that they want) and the humble followers who have heard Christ’s voice and have followed. Christ’s very life — as well as his message — called for a response.
Adam Clarke re-states it this way:
But ye will not hear: — my sheep follow me; but ye will neither follow nor acknowledge me. Any person who reads without prejudice may easily see, that our Lord does not at all insinuate that these persons could not believe, because God had made it impossible to them; but simply because they did not hear and follow Christ, which the whole of our blessed Lord’s discourse proves that they might have done. The sheep of Christ are not those who are included in any eternal decree, to the exclusion of others from the yearnings of the bowels of eternal mercy; but they are those who hear, believe in, follow, and obey the saviour of the world.
In his 1960 book Life in the Son Robert Shank writes (page 208):
The language of relationship is prominent throughout the writings of John. We invited to abide in Christ — to know Christ and be known of Him.
κἀγὼ δίδωμι αὐτοῖς ζωὴν αἰώνιον καὶ οὐ μὴ ἀπόλωνται εἰς τὸν αἰῶνα καὶ οὐχ ἁρπάσει τις αὐτὰ ἐκ τῆς χειρός μου.
“I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand.”
The promise is conditional: those who fulfill the conditions of discipleship (in this case: hearing Christ’s voice and following Him) are kept secure. There is no threat to this relationship from outside the self. Apostasy is possible — as the New Testament often confirms — but the trusting heart need not fear.
There is no possibility that some power of circumstance may snatch from Christ’s hand even the weakest one who trusts in Him. There is perfect safety and security in the Saviour and in the Father for the weakest sheep who follows the Good Shepherd and listens to His voice (John 10:27-29). The sole peril is that we may fail to listen to His voice and to follow Him. We may fail to abide in Him (John 15:4-6) and thus fail to continue to share His life and victory.
And, again I quote Clarke:
They shall never perish]. Why? Because they hear my voice, and follow me; therefore I know, I approve of and love them, and give them eternal life. They who continue to hear Christ’s voice, and to follow him, shall never perish. They give themselves up to God - believe so on Jesus that he lives in their hearts: God hath given unto them eternal life, and this life is in his Son; and he that hath the Son hath life, 1 John v. 11, 12. Now it is evident that only those who have Christ living in and governing their souls, so that they possess the mind that was in him, are his sheep-are those that shall never perish, because they have this eternal life abiding in them: therefore to talk of a man’s being one of the elect-one that shall never perish-one who shall have eternal life-who shall never be plucked out of the hand of God, &c., while he lives in sin, has no Christ in his heart, has either never received or fallen away from the grace of God, is as contrary to common sense as it is to the nature and testimonies of the Most High. Final perseverance implies final faithfulness-he that endures to the end shall be saved — he that is faithful unto death shall have a crown of life. And will any man attempt to say that he who does not endure to the end, and is unfaithful, shall ever enter into life?
And John Wesley re-states it this way:
Those who follow me, neither men nor devils can pluck out of my hand. My Father who hath, by an unchangeable decree, given me all that believe, love, and obey, is greater than all in heaven or earth, and none is able to pluck them out of his hand.
Yes, there is a sense in which this teaches “eternal security” — but only for those who remain trusting and obedient. There is no danger from outside, if a person remains hearing and obedient. See also Romans 8:35-39. But, this does not mean that salvation cannot be lost. It is possible for believers to turn their back upon the Savior — and this has happened from time to time since the beginning.
B. F. Westcott remarks:
If man falls at any stage in his spiritual life, it is not from want of divine grace, nor from the overwhelming power of adversaries, but from his neglect to use that which he may or may not use. We canon be protected against ourselves in spite of ourselves.
— quoted by Shank in Life in the Son.
ὁ πατήρ μου ὃ δέδωκέν μοι πάντων μεῖζόν ἐστιν, καὶ οὐδεὶς δύναται ἁρπάζειν ἐκ τῆς χειρὸς τοῦ πατρός.
“What my Father has given me is greater than all else, and no one can snatch it out of the Father's hand.”
Here the emphasis falls on the power of God, the Father. Christ’s sheep (those listening and following) are kept by the Father’s power. Thus, it is the power of God that lies behind the ministry of Christ. Christ comes into the world to do the Father’s will. And, those who belong to Christ belong to God.
ἐγὼ καὶ ὁ πατὴρ ἕν ἐσμεν.
“The Father and I are one."
It is little wonder that after such a statement the Jews react violently and accuse Jesus of blasphemy. They were looking for an answer to their question — but, definitely not this answer! Though, obviously, this is a key text in the development of the doctrine of the Trinity, it is also good to remember the point here: Jesus and the Father are one in purpose. Those whom Jesus calls are kept by the Father’s power. Jesus and the Father are one in purpose as well as in being.
But, Jesus’ unity of being and purpose with God the Father assures us that the Good Shepherd’s mission on earth — his mission to save and redeem people and the world — will be accomplished.
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