John 10:22-30 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 among my sheep. 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.”
This passage in John 10 records yet another encounter between Jesus and “the Jews”. In many of the previous encounters, Jesus said or did something that elicited a response from those who heard or saw Him. In this encounter, however, He was merely walking “in the temple, in the colonnade of Solomon” (23) when the Jews confronted Him with a question of their own.
The result of their questioning, once again, was a back and forth between Jesus and the Jews. For His part, Jesus explained why the Jews should have believed Him, why they didn’t believe Him, and what was at stake because of it. For their part, as we’ll see next week, the Jews felt that Jesus gave them what they needed to condemn Him and so they tried to arrest and kill Him.
In all of this we learn a few more things about Jesus’ nature and are reminded of a few others. And on a practical level, we’re faced yet again with the exact same question as Jesus’ original hearers were: Do we believe Jesus or not? Do we accept His claim to be the Christ or don’t we? Will we follow Jesus or forsake Him?
The main point of it all is that Jesus has said and done more than enough to convince anyone with eyes to see and ears to hear that He is the Christ and one with the Father. What’s more, all who turn to Him with God’s help will be rescued from sin and death and will be given blessings beyond measure. Let’s pray that it would be so.
THE FEAST OF DEDICATION
The opening line of our passage sets the stage. John 7-9 is set during the Feast of Booths (Tabernacles). John 10:1-21 probably describes an event that took place sometime shortly after that Feast. And our passage for this morning, as John makes clear, took place during the “Feast of Dedication” (Hanukkah). The Feast of Booths is late September/mid-October and the Feast of Dedication is two months later in late November/early-December.
While the main literary role of John’s reference to the Feast is simply to establishing the timeline, his theological reason is much more important: to help us see that Jesus is the fulfillment of it! What, then, is the Feast of Dedication and what does it mean that Jesus fulfills it?
One commentator (Kruse, TNTC, 236-237) explains the Feast’s origins like this:
The Feast of Dedication is not one of the feasts prescribed by the Mosaic law. It celebrates an event that took place in intertestamental times [in the time between the OT and NT]. Following the victories of Alexander the Great in the fourth century BC, Greek culture and language were introduced to the subjugated nations, including Judea. After the death of Alexander this policy continued [through several different nations/rulers for several hundred years. Eventually, a Syrian leader, Antiochus IV, went a step too far for the Jews to take. He attempted to implement laws which meant]…that practices such as Sabbath observance and circumcision were prohibited, and the books of the Law were burnt. In 167 BC the temple in Jerusalem was desecrated by offering swine’s flesh on the altar, and Jewish people were required to offer sacrifices to pagan deities. This led pious Jews to revolt against Antiochus IV, a revolt led by [Judas Maccabeus (“Hammer”)]. They fled to the mountains, from whence they conducted guerilla warfare…Their campaign was crowned with success, and in 164 BC the temple was rededicated to the worship of Yahweh…the Feast of Dedication was modeled on the Feast of Tabernacles…It lasted for eight days, involved the carrying of palm fronds and beautiful branches, and eventually included singing of the Hallel (Psalms 113-118). According to the Talmud, lamps were lit in the people’s homes as well as in the temple [which is why it is sometimes called the “Festival of Lights”].
There are three main elements of this Feast, and Jesus is the fulfillment of them all. The Feast of Dedication has a hero, a deliverance, and a symbol. Judas Maccabeus was the hero, successful guerilla warfare was the means of their deliverance and recapturing of the temple, and light was the symbol of remembrance.
Jesus, of course, is the true hero. Every godly leader and every significant victory of the Jews was a pointer to the greater leadership and victory of Jesus. Jesus is the deliverance and the temple. He would lay down His life, His Body, the True Temple, so that none might be lost and God might dwell with all, and all with God. And Jesus is the light of the world, the light that overcomes darkness.
This realization ought to do two main things for us. First, it ought to stir us to worship. Jesus’ glory is such that all history really is His story. God, the Father, in His infinite wisdom and goodness was driving all things, since the beginning of creation, to Jesus, His Son. If we’re able to even begin to get our heads around the fact that every earthly victory experienced by God’s people, as staggering and freeing as they were on their own, was a mere signpost, pointing to the immeasurably superior victory that Jesus would win for His people, then we can begin to see the rightness and eternally satisfying goodness of worshiping Jesus.
The second thing that it ought to do, then, is to make clearer still the staggering power of the sinfulness of sin. When we close our eyes in a dark room, the darkness seems nearly complete. If we close our eyes in a room with the lights on, there’s usually a bit of light that gets through. And if we stand outside on a cloudless day with our face turned toward the sun, it doesn’t matter how tightly we clench our eyes, it’s impossible to block out all the light. Since Jesus’ glory shines infinitely brighter than the brightest star in the sky, we’re right to marvel at sin’s power to block it all out, such that the Jews standing in front of Jesus (and millions around the world today) could not (and cannot) see Jesus’ glory through the darkness.
John has made a point of showing Jesus at the different feasts of the Jews. A significant reason for that is to show his readers that they all point to Jesus, that Jesus is the fulfillment of them all. And in that, John was further highlighting the folly of the Jews for failing to receive Jesus as the Christ.
ARE YOU THE CHRIST?
With that, let’s get to the question of the Jews that set this whole exchange in motion during the Feast of Dedication.
On the surface, it seems as if the Jews were simply seeking clarity from Jesus, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly” (24). That’s a good question and a reasonable request. If Jesus is the Christ, that means a whole lot of things. What’s more, the main purpose of John’s Gospel is to convince his readers that Jesus is the Christ. Along those lines, let me urge you yet again to believe in Jesus as the Christ. Listen to Jesus’ words, consider His glory, learn from the hardness of hearts among the Jews and receive Him as the Christ today. This is not some throwaway, 2,000-year-old cult belief. Jesus is the Christ and that means more than we can possibly imagine (some of which we’ll come to shortly). And because of that, as the Jews (seemingly) requested, hearing Jesus speak plainly on the matter seems entirely relevant and thoroughly significant.
As has often been the case throughout John’s Gospel, however, things are often different than they first appear. As the rest of the passage makes clear, the Jews were not really interested in gaining clarity concerning Jesus’ claims. This was not a matter of sincere children of the promise eager to receive Jesus as the promised Christ. Instead, it was another attempt to get Jesus to publically admit to something with which they could condemn Him.
ARE YOU THE CHRIST? JESUS’ ANSWER
Surely aware of their treachery, as He always was, the only question was how Jesus would respond to it. Let’s consider the several layers of what He said.
I Already Told You
Jesus’ immediate reply was a mild rebuke, “25 Jesus answered them, “I told you…”.
When I first read this passage as I was preparing to preach on it, I remember thinking, “But did He?” Had Jesus plainly and explicitly said “yes” to the question of whether or not He is the Christ? He did to the Samaritan woman in chapter 4, but had He ever done so among the Jews? I found a helpful summary of Jesus’ most staggering claims (in 1-10:21). Listen carefully to see if you hear a Christ-claim among them (Kruse, TNTC, 238).
He told Nicodemus… that he was the Son of Man who came down from heaven (3:13-14). Following the healing of the lame man at the Pool of Bethesda Jesus told ‘the Jews’ the works he did were the works of his Father…(5:16-18). Jesus told them God had entrusted all judgment to him and granted him to have life in himself so that he could raise the dead, both of which are divine prerogatives (5:22, 24-26). During the Feast of Tabernacles he told ‘the Jews’ that he knew God and had been sent by God (7:28-29). He also publicly invited those who were thirsty to come to him and drink, promising to give them the streams of living water of which the Scriptures spoke (7:37-38). He told ‘the Jews’ that before Abraham was born I am’ (8:58), appropriating for himself the divine name. [And] He presented himself as the good shepherd (11, 14), identifying himself with God who, in the OT, is the shepherd of Israel.
Again, those are some spectacular claims and they typically elicited significant responses. But, as you probably noticed, the short answer to my initial question is “no”. Jesus hadn’t yet explicitly claimed to be the Christ among the Jews. Of course, Jesus wasn’t lying when He said “I told you…”. His main point was that He’d told them enough about who He really was such that if they didn’t believe what He’d already said, speaking plainly about this wouldn’t make any difference.
I Already Showed You
What’s more, Jesus went on to explain that He’d not only spoken plainly about who He was, but He also acted plainly. “25 The works that I do in my Father’s name bear witness about me…”. He’d turned water into wine in a very public way and performed many other signs at that time as well (2:11, 2:23, 3:2). He’d miraculously healed an official’s son (4:43-54), He’d healed a man crippled from birth (5:1-9), He’d fed 5,000+ people from a few loaves of bread and fish (6:1-5), He’d walked on water (6:16-25), and He’d publically healed a man born blind (9).
In other words, Jesus was telling the Jews that He’d already done and said more than enough to make it clear who He was, such that doing or saying something even more plainly wasn’t the real issue. Increased clarity from Jesus was not what was keeping the Jews from believing.
But You Do Not Believe
We know that’s true and what Jesus meant when we consider the whole of v.25, “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.” I’ve said and done more than enough already, but you still don’t believe. Tragically, persistence in unbelief is what marked most of the Jews of Jesus’ day.
Again, in this, we see another example of the sinfulness of sin. Sin’s death and blindness is so complete that the very image of God standing in front of them, talking to them, sharing the mind of God, and performing the works of God (on top of being the true fulfillment of the Feast of Dedication) was not enough to overcome it.
Before we look at what Jesus said is at stake in accepting or rejecting Him as the Christ, consider the fact that once again, embedded in Jesus’ words is the answer to an implied question—why, in light of who Jesus was, what He said and did, in light of His unsurpassed glory, did the Jews still refuse to accept Him as the Christ? Why did they continue in their unbelief? Why were they not able to overcome sin’s grip?
25 Jesus answered them, “I told you, and you do not believe. … 26 but you do not believe because you are not among my sheep… And in v.29 we see that the sheep are those whom [the] Father…has given… to [Jesus].
The explicitly stated reasons for the Jew’s persistent unbelief (this is far from the first time Jesus gave this kind of answer) were twofold. First, Jesus said they did not believe because they were not among Jesus’ sheep. And second, Jesus said that they were not among His sheep because they had not been given to Him by the Father. There’s work to be done to explain exactly what this means and doesn’t mean, but I think we should all be able to agree on two things from this passage in this regard.
- It is those given to Jesus by the Father who come to Jesus
- We are commanded and responsible to “believe” in Jesus.
- There is a gracious work that God must do if our eyes are to be opened to the glory of Jesus Christ.
- We are responsible to look upon Jesus and be saved.
The debates surrounding these truths within the Church seem to come almost exclusively from an attempt to deny or overemphasize one of them. The thing for us to see is that the whatever the source of the tension we feel when we face these truths, it is entirely unbiblical. They are continually put right next to each other in the Bible without explanation or apology.
Among the clearest examples for me has always been Philippians 2:12-13. In it, Paul commands his readers to “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.” You are responsible to work out your salvation. Do it. Follow God. Your faith hangs in the balance. But without pause or blush, the sentence continues, “for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” You do it because if you don’t, you will die in your sin, but if you do it, it, it will be according to God’s will, work, and pleasure.
Grace, both truths (God is sovereign and we are responsible) are simply, gloriously, and simultaneously true. Any tension is man-made, not God made. Often, they are presented as at-odds with one another when people debate the extent of God’s sovereignty over salvation, but Scripture consistently presents them as inseparably connected and entirely compatible.
We must consider all of these elements of the disbelief of the Jews when we share the gospel with our friends and neighbors today. We must understand that sin’s power to blind is complete, that they need God’s grace to overcome it, and that they must choose to believe in Jesus. We can’t miss or ignore any of those elements when we evangelize the unbelievers in our lives. And taking them into account means at least three things. It means that we must share the gospel (for no one can be saved apart from it), we must share in prayer (for we are powerless to save anyone on our own), and we must entrust the results to God (for His grace is sufficient).
What’s at Stake
In calling the Jews to believe in Him, Jesus explained that He’d already told them and shown them enough to prove that they should. He also explained why they couldn’t hear or see Him as they should. From there, in vs.27-29, Jesus continued His reply to the Jews by offering a handful of blessings that come with believing in Him. I’ve told you plainly, I’ve shown you plainly, I’ve explained the problem plainly, and now I’ll state the rewards plainly.
- 27 My sheep hear my voice… How much money have you paid and how much time have you given to hear the voice of your favorite artist (records, CD’s, streaming services, headphones, concerts, etc)? How much time have you spent listening to your favorite podcasts or watching your favorite YouTubers? Likewise, how much time and money have you spent to hear the voice of professors in pursuit of college degrees or authors in their books?
If we have a category for eagerly making that kind of investment to hear those kinds of voices, how much sweeter of an offer is it that Jesus Christ speaks to His followers and they hear Him? I’ve said this many times throughout our time in John so I won’t belabor the point, but where you find the words of Jesus, who is the Word of God, you have found something infinitely better than all other words in the universe combined. The only reason it does not seem that way to us at times, is that God is not finished undoing the effects of sin on our ears. God’s story is the most exciting story and its power is the greatest power. The problem is with our hearing, not Jesus’ words. And Jesus is fixing the ears of all His sheep.
- and I know them… Not only does Jesus speak to His followers in such a way that they can hear His words for what they are, but He does so as one who truly knows His followers. He is not like the artists, professors, authors, or internet personalities you pay to listen to. You are a complete stranger to them. They might want you to hear them in a generic sense, but they have no idea whether you do or not. They speak at you, not with you. But Jesus knows you personally and He speaks directly to you. He doesn’t merely know about you or of you. He knows you. He knows your every thought, feeling, desire, and action. He loves you and is walking with you through them all. That’s another part of what’s at stake in whether we believe Jesus is the Christ—that we are known by Him in a unique way when we do.
- and they follow me… The aim in hearing Jesus’ voice and being known by Him is that we would follow Jesus. Hearing and being known are good, but not enough. The abundant life Jesus came to bring involves more than mere knowledge. It involves a changed life. It involves our whole being. It involves what happens inside of us and outside. It involves what we think, feel, believe, and do. And Jesus doesn’t merely tell us the practical implications hearing and being known by Him, He shows us. He lived the life we were made to live. He did the things we were made to do. He said the things we were made to say. To believe that Jesus is the Christ means turning that belief into action and Jesus’ perfectly modeled the action God means us to take.
Grace, simply, do what Jesus did, in the church and in the world. Jesus helped His followers know what God expected of them. Find a specific way to help another Christian live as God commands this week. Jesus cared for the poor and vulnerable. Find someone who is suffering or lacking and meet a practical need of theirs this week. Jesus rebuked those who spoke lies about God. Engage in an apologetic discussion with a skeptic this week. Jesus prayed constantly to the Father. Make a list of a different person or aspect of your own faith to pray for each day this week. Jesus took the good news to the world. Find a specific way to support one of our missionaries this week. Follow Jesus as a command and reward.
- 28 I give them eternal life… What’s at stake in believing that Jesus is the Christ is hearing Jesus’ voice, being known by Jesus, and following Jesus, unto eternal life. As we saw earlier in John 10, Jesus came that we might have life and have it abundantly. We see here that the abundant life is an eternally abundant life.
- and they will never perish… And to be clear, this is not an offer that can ever be rescinded or lost once it is accepted. To believe in Jesus as the Christ is to be given eternal life, eternally. The promise is not that we might never perish, but that we will never perish.
- and no one will snatch them out of my hand… Not only will God never take it back and will we never be able to lose it, but no one can take it from us. And to make sure there is no mistake, Jesus continued, 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. The eternal security of those who truly believe in Jesus as the Christ is guaranteed ultimately by God himself who is “greater than all”. The interplay between our responsible choices and God’s sovereign grace is not merely the means by which we come to receive Jesus as the Christ. It is also the means by which are kept believing in Jesus as the Christ.
What’s at stake in believing in Jesus? Positively, it’s the ability to hear Jesus’ voice, be known by Him, follow Him, and receive eternal life and security from Him. That’s awesome!
Negatively, what’s at stake is stated explicitly elsewhere (3:18), but only implied here. Those who reject Jesus as the Christ remain condemned, at enmity with God, blind to the things of God, and separated from the pleasure of God. Clearly, there’s a lot at stake. Consider these things carefully, Grace.
My Relationship with the Father
Finally, Jesus responded to the question and request/demand of the Jews, not by doing what they asked, but by being clear on something just as significant. Rather than say plainly that He is the Christ, Jesus said, “30 I and the Father are one.”
What, exactly and precisely this means has been the topic of countless prayers, study, and writing for two thousand years. Perhaps the most helpful formulation for right now is the Westminster Shorter Catechism’s answer to the question of “How many persons are there in the godhead?”.
There are three persons in the Godhead; the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost; and these three are one God, the same in substance, equal in power and glory.
Jesus declared here something the Jews couldn’t possibly have fathomed previously. Jesus claimed to be one with the Father in power, glory, and substance. God is one in essence, and three in person, and Jesus is one of the persons of the godhead.
That the Jews understood at least the main point of what Jesus was saying is evidenced by the fact that, as we’ll see next week, the Jews responded by picking up stones to stone Him (31).
And so, Grace Church, consider Jesus’ words and believe in Him. Consider Jesus’ works and believe in Him. Consider what’s at stake in belief and disbelief and believe in Him. Believe in Jesus and allow that belief to transform every single though, feeling, and action of your life. Believe in Jesus and take that belief into the world, sharing the love of God with the world, calling the world to repentance, sharing with the world what it means to live abundantly in every facet, and bringing hope for this life and the next to the world. That’s what Jesus was after in His ministry and in this passage, and it is what He commissioned us to be after as well. Soli Deo Gloria.