John 10:22–42: I and the Father Are One
Before getting into the text, just a quick reminder that the word “Christ” wasn’t Jesus’ name, it was his title. The terms “Christ” (Greek) and “Messiah” (Hebrew) mean something akin to “Saviour.” The Israelites were looking forward to a saviour/Messiah/Christ who was prophesied in the Old Testament Scriptures. The Scriptures weren’t completely clear as to what this Messiah would do, but the general consensus was that he’d be a powerful king for the nation of Israel. In Jesus’ day, they would have definitely thought a Messiah would free them from the Romans, making them into a self-governing nation of Israel again, and bringing them back to proper worship of God in the fashion of King David.
As an aside, I’ve also wrestled before with the fact that John calls out three people the Jews were expecting: Elijah, the Messiah, and the Prophet, though I’m even less clear on what the anticipated role of “the Prophet” was supposed to have been.
So when the Jews ask Jesus in this passage if he’s “the Christ,” they’re asking him if he’s the king they’ve been expecting, prophesied in the Scriptures. If he’d said yes, there would have been numerous ramifications, not least of which would have been political. What they weren’t expecting, however, was for him to claim to be God!
Though Jesus was really executed by the religious leaders for challenging their authority1, the ostensible/legal reason was blasphemy. In this passage, they’re going to get very explicit about it. In fact, they come right out and say it:
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.” (verse 24)
One could argue that Jesus has been pretty clear, so far, but they want it laid out neatly for them: “Yes, I am the Christ,” or, “No, I’m not the Christ.” I don’t think they’re expecting what he actually says, though:
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.” (verses 25–30)
I don’t think the Jews have been entirely comfortable with Jesus talking about “my Father” all the time. It’s an informal way of saying that he is like God, in a way that humans just shouldn’t do. But I don’t think it’s out-and-out blasphemy; I think it’s more of a grey area. So if Jesus had said, “God sent me to be the Christ,” they would have known what to do with that statement. If he had said, “My Father sent me to be the Christ,” they would have been less comfortable, and might have felt it was dancing a bit too close to the line of blasphemy, but like I say, it would also be kind of a grey area. But for Jesus to say, “I and the Father are one” (emphasis added)? There’s no grey area! I’m not surprised at all that his listeners take their next action, and pick up stones to stone him. He’s not saying “God and I have a special relationship” at this point; he’s saying “I am God.”
But before they can stone him, Jesus asks them: out of all the good works from the Father that he’s performed, which of them are they stoning him for? Which is a disingenuous question—if I can use that word of Jesus Christ, the sinless Son of God. He knows they’re not about to stone him for anything he’s done; they’re about to stone him because he said he’s God. But he’s reiterating a point that he’s already made: throughout his ministry, his actions have been speaking for him. The point has been made time and time again in the Gospel of John: If Jesus wasn’t from God, could he do all of the things he’s done? Jesus’ answer to that question is a resounding no: if he wasn’t from God he wouldn’t be able to do the things he’s done; and therefore, since he has done the things he’s done…
So they answer him, it’s not for a “good work” that they’re going to stone him—acknowledging that, yes, the works he’s been doing are good—but because he, being a man, is “making [himself] 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.” (verses 34–38)
And I think this ameliorates their concerns a bit, because it says that they’re still seeking to arrest him, but there’s no mention of stoning. Regardless, he “escaped from their hands” (verse 39), and then went to another part of the country—in fact, back to the place where John the Baptist had been baptising.
A lot of people start coming to Jesus there, and it’s the signs (i.e. miracles) he’s performed that seem to be the draw: “John did no sign,” they say, “but everything that John said about this man was true” (verse 41).
Given the things that Jesus has performed, it would be beneficial for his listeners (and for us) to listen to what He says.
If you were my sheep, you’d already believe
The people ask Jesus flat out if he’s the Christ, and his message essentially boils down to, “I’ve already told you and you still don’t believe, but that’s expected because if you were my sheep you would already believe.”
But let’s dig into it a bit more.
|“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…”||There’s a sense, I think, in which Jesus’ listeners are correct that he hasn’t said the specific words, “I am the Christ.” But Jesus has spoken in more than just words, his actions have demonstrated who he is.|
|“… because you are not among my sheep. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.”||Part of the reason Jesus’ listeners don’t understand is that they don’t belong to him in the first place. The Spirit needs to move in our hearts to accept a message that we are, frankly, predisposed not to accept.|
|“I give them eternal life, and they will never perish…”||Now I think Jesus is starting to lose his listeners. They’re looking for a king, and he’s talking about eternal life? And what does he mean that they’ll “never perish”—everyone dies! But Jesus is talking about life in a relationship with God; real life. Going to Hell is more than just a different location for a person to be located; it’s a matter of not having eternal life in communion with God, which is what we were made for.|
|“… 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.”||Jesus is starting to skirt the blasphemous part here, blurring the lines between his hand and the Father’s hand, but that’s not the point, the point is one of comfort (for me): if you’re a Christian, you will always be a Christian. You will sin, you might even sin badly, but there is no power in the universe—including yourself or your own sin—powerful enough to snatch you from the hands of the Father, who is “greater than all.”|
|“I and the Father are one.”||This is flat-out blasphemy if what Jesus is saying isn’t true. He’s literally saying, “I am God;” if he’s not God, he should be stoned! But if He is, then that makes Christianity different from any other religion or system of thought ever devised. When God speaks, we should listen.|
“You are gods”
When I was younger, and first read this passage, it bothered me a bit, because it seemed to me like Jesus was trying to argue his way out of a stoning based on a bad-faith way of using the Scriptures in his favour. Quoting a Psalm—which uses poetic language—and using it in this way seemed to me like Jesus was doing what so many people do today: picking and choosing parts of the Bible to prove a point. “See? It says ‘gods’—so you can’t stone me for claiming to be God!”
However, that’s not what Jesus is doing, and if I’d been thinking clearly I wouldn’t have been accusing him of it in the first place. We should always keep in mind who God is, who Jesus is, and read Scriptures in that light. Remembering that Jesus is God, that He never sinned—that if He had sinned the whole of Christianity would have been useless—would have helped me to look a little deeper into what he was doing2.
So I did exactly that, and dug into Psalm 82, in which God addresses “the gods” (Israel’s judges), and accuses them of not properly administering God’s law, betraying the weak and the fatherless in favour of the wicked.
And so what’s Jesus’ point in quoting that Psalm? God addresses the judges of Israel as “gods” because they are supposed to be like Him: if they had administered His Law properly, they would have been like him. Using language similar to the language Jesus has been using throughout the book of John, we might call them “sons of God.” But another way to put it is that judging properly would have made them “little gods” (lowercase
g), which is the approach taken in Psalm 82.
Jesus does administer God’s Law properly. Not just properly, perfectly. In a way that no human ever has. Jesus is taking an argument from the lesser to the greater: If that Psalm calls Israel’s judges “gods” because they administer God’s Law, how much more so would Jesus—the one God consecrated and sent into the world—be called “the Son of God”?
And remember, again, the whole point of Psalm 82 is that the Israelite judges were not administering God’s Law properly—but Jesus did. So, as he says:
“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.” (verses 37–38)
Saying that Jesus was executed for challenging the religious leaders’ authority isn’t exactly a “hot take” or original. And it’s also more complicated than that; I think there are instances in the Gospels of people really wrestling with what Jesus tells them (and not liking what they see). If Jesus is right (and He is), following Him means more than just obeying some rules, it means giving your entire life, even down to your thoughts, into His control. None of us want that. (Those of us who do put everything under Him realize that we get back much more in return than what we’re giving up—and there’s a point to be made that we never had control in the first place because we were slaves to sin—but before we were saved, we felt like everyone else did, because it’s natural: I don’t want to give up control of my soul to anyone but myself.) ↩︎
This is the downside of reading large passages of Scripture in one reading. Which, to be clear, I’m a big proponent of, I think we need to study the Bible by reading large passages as blocks—for example, reading entire books/letters in one go—but we also need to do careful, verse-by-verse readings, and dig into things deeply. I get the impression that a lot of Christians tend to err on the side of the deep readings by default (without doing longer readings), whereas I err the other way and default to long readings (without always digging deep). I think this particular passage is a case where I read the longer passage, without stopping to say, “wait, I know that Jesus couldn’t have meant what I think he meant—I should go deeper into this.” ↩︎
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