John 10 (cont.) The Messiah?

John 10:22-42 “Are You the One?”

Adult Bible Class of Home Moravian Church, originally broadcast May 13, 2007

Craig D. Atwood


Introduction                Good morning and welcome to the Adult Bible Class of Home Moravian Church. Happy Mothers’ Day to mothers of all kinds. We read Comenius’ School of Motherhood in class recently and I highly recommend it for mothers and fathers. Let me give a shout out to Elizabeth Atwood who will be enjoying a Sunday lunch with her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren after church. Today is Youth Sunday here at Home Church, and the youth have worked hard preparing for worship. I’m sure we will have many proud mothers in worship. Next week is Confirmation and so the youth have been meeting with pastors all week to discuss their faith. Apparently Sarah Atwood was more than usually loquacious in her conversation with Gerry. She claims it was the Cherry Coke talking.

Messianic Expectations        This week we are continuing in our study of John, ch. 10. Our lesson for today takes place during Hanukah. As we discussed earlier, Hanukah is about the rebellion of Judas Maccabeus against the Greek dynasty that ruled Judea in the 2nd century BC. Messianic expectations would have been high during the eight days of the festival, especially for those Jews who believed that the Romans were as oppressive as the Greeks had been. In John’s telling of the life of Jesus, there has been growing anxiety about who Jesus was, especially whether he was the Messiah. We saw that the very first miracle, changing water into wine, had messianic overtones. Speculation has been increasing since he healed the man born blind, and Jesus’ arguments with the religious authorities have grown more intense.

            At the Hanukah festival, the crowds ask Jesus open whether he is the One. “How long will you keep us in suspense?” they ask. The literal translation here is interesting: “How long will you take away our breath (or life)?” We don’t know for sure that this was an idiom for keeping someone in suspense, but that is the way it is usually translated. I think John wants us to picture the people afraid to breathe until they know what is going to happen. The future is in the balance, tensions are rising. Is this the climatic end of history or another disappointment in the making? Are you the One to come?

Parallels to Synoptics            There are strong parallels between this scene in John and the trial of Jesus as presented in Luke 22 and Mark 14. In the synoptic gospels, it is the high priest who asks Jesus to state plainly whether he is “the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed”. I think that John’s account makes sense because such questions would have been asked of Jesus long before he was arrested. The charges brought against him during the trial like summaries of complaints rather than new charges. People did not wake up on Palm Sunday and say, “That chap on the donkey sure looks like he might be the Messiah. Let’s arrest him.” I think it makes more sense that both the support for Jesus and the opposition to Jesus grew over a period of several months in Jerusalem, similar to how John describes it.

            One thing that is interesting in this scene is that the crowd asks Jesus to tell them “plainly” whether he is the Messiah. Like many of us, the crowd was getting tired of parables and metaphorical language about good shepherds, the bread of life, the water of life, and so forth. We have seen that much of the Gospel of John is about Jesus as the Messiah and fulfillment of the hopes of the old covenant, but rarely was this stated plainly. Even the most direct statements about the identity of Jesus have been cryptic and poetic. “Before Abraham I am.” “The Word became flesh.” John the Baptist pointed to Jesus and called him the Lamb of God, but he did not say, “Look, there is the Messiah!”

            So far in the Gospel, the only person to whom Jesus directly said that he was the Messiah was the Samaritan woman. She said that she knew a Messiah was coming, and Jesus told her that he was that person. John’s Gospel leaves the reader in much the same situation as the original audience of Jesus. We are left with questions that we must answer in our own lives. “Is Jesus the One?” If he is the Messiah, what does this mean?

Read: John 10:22-42            

The Christ?                There is no doubt the earliest Christian proclamation about Jesus of Nazareth was that he was the Jewish Messiah. The earliest Christian sources use the word Christ as a personal name for Jesus. Throughout the NT, Jesus is called Jesus Christ or Christ Jesus. Christ is simply the Greek version of the Hebrew word “Messiah.” Messiah, in turn, means anointed. It is probably best that we do not translate Christ into English, otherwise Jesus would be called the anointed, or the oily one.

            The synoptic gospels all go to lengths to demonstrate that Jesus was legitimately the Jewish Messiah. They give dozens of quotations from the OT to show that Jesus was the fulfillment of biblical prophecy. Luke and Matthew both try to show that Jesus was a direct descendent of King David, even though their genealogies diverge. The climax of Mark’s gospel comes when Peter declares that Jesus is the Christ. In all four gospels, the question of Jesus’ Messiah-ship is the central issue at his trials before the priests and before Pilate.

            Why didn’t Jesus just walk into town and announce that he was the King of the Jews? Part of the answer is probably practical and political. He would either be ridiculed or arrested. However, part of the answer may be because Jesus knew that the people had the wrong idea of the Messiah. They were looking for David the warrior, for Joshua the killer of Canaanites. What they got was David the poet, Moses the lawgiver, Solomon the sage. They were looking for someone like Muhammad who raise an army and seize power. Instead they got someone who spoke in metaphors and invited outsiders to sit at the table. They were looking for victory. Instead they got a Messiah who would lay down his life for the sheep.

Shepherd-Messiah     Here in John’s gospel the question of whether Jesus is the Messiah flows naturally from the discourses about the Good Shepherd. The kings of Israel were often referred to as shepherds, and David, who had been a shepherd as a boy, was the exemplar of the kings. David was the founder of the dynasty that ruled the Kingdom of Judah until it was conquered by Babylon in 587 BC. The Jewish messianic expectation was that a descendent of David would arise and reclaim the throne of David in the city of Jerusalem. Like the original David, the Messiah could be an obscure person anointed by God. People in the crowd naturally assumed that when Jesus was comparing himself as the Good Shepherd who would rule his people, he was claiming the role of successor of King David. It is possible that Jesus did not claim the title of Messiah for himself precisely because the Jewish Messiah was expected to be a conquering king like David– one who takes life rather than one who gives life..

You Didn’t Believe:   So, the people are agitated and confused. Are you or aren’t you the One? Jesus replied that he had already told them the answer. This is remarkable because no where in the Gospel of John has Jesus told the people of Jerusalem anything about his being the Messiah. How could he say “I have told you and you do not believe” when he has not told them? We need to read further to find the answer. “The works that I am doing in my Father’s name give testimony for me.” We have a similar story in the other gospels, but there it is the followers of John the Baptist who ask Jesus if he is the Messiah. He tells them to tell John about the works he has done. He has healed the sick, brought good news to the poor, and proclaimed release to the captives.

            The works that Jesus had done testified to his identity as the true Messiah. The reader is asked to recall the signs and wonders that Jesus has done in the Book of Signs and ponder the deeper meaning of his teachings. He has turned water into wine, multiplied food in the desert, healed a dying child, made the crippled walk, opened the eyes of the blind, and walked on water. He has given words of hope and life to Nicodemus at night, called the disciples together, brought the Samaritans into the kingdom of God, and cleansed the Temple. He has been revealed as Moses, Elijah, and now David, the Good Shepherd.

Hearing the Voice of the Shepherd               In response to the question “are you the one,” Jesus also returns to the theme of the Good Shepherd. His sheep know if he is the one. His sheep do not need to ask that question. They know in their hearts that he is the one sent from God. It is those who have distanced themselves from God who have to ask the question. They could not believe that a wandering sage in ragged robes could be the Messiah. Just think how strange the message of Christianity must have sounded in the 1st century. Someone executed by the Roman Empire was the Messiah sent by God to save his people?

Followers are protected         Jesus moves quickly from the question of his identity as the Good Shepherd to assurances that his followers have eternal life and will never perish. This should not be overlooked in the heat of metaphysical arguments about the divinity of Jesus. Those who belong to the shepherd will have life and not be destroyed. The assurance that is given to the sheep of Jesus here is similar to that given by Paul. Nothing, neither angels powers or principalities can snatch God’s flock from the hand of Jesus. The focus here is not only the power of the sheep to persevere; it is on the power of the shepherd to protect and nurture them. The sheep of Jesus do not fear because they know their lives belong to God. This was written to comfort Christians who had been kicked out of the synagogue or who faced persecution from the pagans. The followers of the Son cannot be snatched from the hand of the Father because the Father and the Son are One.

Blasphemy?    John 10:30 is one of the most important verses in the history of Christian doctrine. Jesus said, “The Father and I are one.” This theme runs throughout the Gospel of John, and is particularly strong in the final prayer of Jesus. The Son does not proclaim himself to be the Son of God or the Messiah; it is the Father who witnesses to him through his mighty works. The Son is the Son because he does the will of the Father. According to John, Jesus’ opponents picked up stones in response to his claim that he and the Father were one. It is perhaps intentionally ironic that Jesus does not use the name of God here, which would have been blasphemy, but his opponents do so.

            Incidentally, being stoned in the Bible is a little different from being stoned in modern America, although both can leave you crippled or dead. Jesus’ question is a good one for us. There is a scene in the movie Life of Brian where a man is about to be stoned for saying the name Jehovah. Before the stoning starts he repeatedly shouts the word Jehovah. When the priest warns him that he is only making it harder on himself, he points out that he is going to be stoned. How could it be worse? The crowd is so primed for the stoning that when the priest reads out the man’s crime, the crowd hurls stones at the priest for saying Jehovah. It is a humorous scene that is based in part on this passage in John.

            John is describing a situation in which those who were not of the flock of Jesus respond to his teaching with violence. The violence in the Gospel of John is primarily directed at Jesus by those who reject his teaching. Throughout the Gospel, Jesus is a healer, teacher, and shepherd. It is those who feel their power and authority being threatened who resort to threats and violence. I think John raises an important question: Is it not the greatest blasphemy of all to invoke the name of the Lord God when taking human lives? Jesus stops the impending stoning by asking a question that cuts to the heart of the matter. What is he being attacked for? For doing good things? If the works are good, they must come from the Father in heaven. Then why is wrong to claim unity between the Father and the one who does the Father’s works?

You are Gods             Verses 36-38 are a little obscure for us today, but modern scholars have determined that John has given a good example of 1st century Jewish biblical interpretation. Jesus defends himself from the charge of blasphemy by quoting Psalm 82:6 in which the judges of Israel are called “gods; sons of the Most High.” We cannot go into detail on this issue, but the judges of Israel were like gods because they had to judge as God judges. They were representatives of God in the legal system, even though they were imperfect.

            These verses in the Psalm and John remains a bit shocking for modern readers accustomed to the idea that only the Lord should be called “god.” There is a debate among scholars over whether it was John or Jesus who made this argument from Scripture, but the main point is clear. It could not be blasphemy to call Jesus God if other humans had been called gods in the past. Even by the Jewish law, which his opponents claimed to uphold, it would be unjust to stone Jesus for saying that he is God’s Son.

            It remains a point of debate nearly two thousand years later whether Jesus was here claiming to be the unique Son of God. John 10:22-38 played an important role in the development of Christian teaching on the Trinity. We don’t have time this morning for the history of the Council of Nicea, but opposing sides in doctrinal disputes quoted from this passage. Jesus’ self-defense against blasphemy can be interpreted as evidence that he did not claim to be uniquely divine. On the other hand, some early Christian theologians took the statement that Jesus and the Father are One being to such an extreme that there was no distinction between Father and Son. Arius argued that since the Father sanctified and sent the Son into the world, the Son must be a creature of God rather than God himself. Both views were condemned by several church councils. What is clear that the Gospel of John teaches that Jesus was so intimately connected with the Creator that his works and God’s works were the same. The Father was in the Son and the Son in the Father. If that is too hard to believe, John says, then at least believe in the life-giving work of the Son as a work of the Father.

Escape            The end of ch. 10 is Jesus’ most direct confrontation with the religious authorities who were opposed to him. The chapter ends with their attempt to arrest Jesus, which fails once again. This time no explanation is given for how he eluded his captors, but Jesus leaves Jerusalem and goes to the Jordan River, where John had been baptizing before he was murdered. It is a symbolic journey. Chapter 10 ends with a return to the beginning of the Book of Signs: the witness of John the Baptist to the Lamb of God. When Jesus returns to Jerusalem in ch. 12, it will be as the Paschal Lamb who will be sacrificed by the high priests. But we are left with the basic question of the Gospel. Is Jesus the One expected? Do you believe and will you follow the Lamb of God?  Next week we will look at the climatic end of the first part of John’s Gospel.           

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