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John 10:22–30

8 May 2022

Exploring the Scripture

Jesus was in Jerusalem and according to the Gospel of John, he had been there for several weeks. In chapter 7 Jesus quietly, if not reluctantly, makes the pilgrimage to Jerusalem to attend the Feast of Tabernacles. Tabernacles, like Passover and Pentecost, is a pilgrimage feast that was celebrated only in Jerusalem. Pilgrims traveled there to take part. It was an autumnal festival originally scheduled to celebrate the harvest. By our modern calendar the festival would be held in late September or early October in the Northern Hemisphere and March or April in the Southern Hemisphere.

Jesus didn’t leave when the feast was over. He stayed on in Jerusalem preaching, teaching, and doing miracles. In verse 10:22 it is now winter and the Feast of Dedication is in progress. The Feast of Dedication celebrates the temple’s rededication to the God of Israel in 165 BCE, after it had been defiled by the Syrians. This feast takes place in December and is known today as Hanukkah.

John has a purpose in setting this scene during the Feast of Dedication. First, when put side by side with the Feast of Tabernacles we understand the passage of time. Jesus’ vague speeches over weeks of being with the people in Jerusalem help highlight the impatience in the tone of the question when the crowd asks Jesus, “How long will you keep us in suspense?” (v. 24). Second, the temple’s rededication had an unexpected result. The rededication fueled a rise in the expectation for a coming Messiah who would conquer the Israelite’s foes, whether Syrian or Roman. Even during Jesus’ time the feast had overtones of political messianic expectation. Early readers of John’s Gospel, as well as the crowd around Jesus that day, understood the poignancy of the feast being celebrated at the same time they made their plea “If you are the Messiah, tell us…” (v. 24).

The crowd challenged Jesus, “Tell us plainly” (v. 24). In reply, Jesus did not say anything new in his answer. He had already talked about this during his stay in Jerusalem. However, the way he had said it before was not easily understood. They had not understood what Jesus meant because Jesus used metaphors, but they wanted him to make clear statements. Jesus plainly puts them in their place, saying they don’t understand because they don’t believe.

Jesus has talked at length about being the Good Shepherd before this speech. His use of the good shepherd imagery in verse 27 reminds us of verses 11–18. The imagery itself comes from Ezekiel 34 which describes the kings of Israel as bad shepherds who ignore the sheep, leaving the animals to fend for themselves. Then immediately the prophet lifts God as a good shepherd who will tend the flock. For Jesus to use the image of the good shepherd pointedly implies Jesus is fulfilling God’s promise to love and care for God’s people.

It is likely second and third-century theologians used verse 30 as one of the scriptural foundations for the doctrine of the Trinity. As we consider the meaning of the phrase “The Father and I are one” we have centuries of Christian thought that allow us to discuss the nature and persons of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. But as we do so we need to understand clearly that John’s inclusion of that phrase was not to make a statement about the nature and person of God and Jesus. John included the phrase because it was one more example of the message John was trying get across in his Gospel. From the first word to the last, the Gospel of John delivers the message that God’s love is made alive in the world in the words, works, and form of Jesus. For John, the phrase simply says that Jesus acts and speaks with the incarnate compassion as God.

Is Jesus the Messiah? Despite personal experiences and faithful commitments, life as a disciple sometimes challenges what we think we know. As we strive to live God’s love in our words and works, as we allow Christ’s mission to give direction to our lives, we are often faced with moral and ethical decisions that cause us to pause. We have to consider what to do and in our impatience with the struggle, we sometimes cry, “tell us plainly” (v. 24). Yet it is the struggle to understand God’s ways and purposes that reminds us who is our shepherd, to whom we belong and, in the end, whose voice we hear. Christ remains the Messiah when we who follow and hear his voice carry out his mission and make God’s love alive in the world.

Central Ideas

  1. We often are impatient with the way God is present in our lives.
  2. We need to take time to listen for God’s voice.
  3. We are called to make God’s love alive (incarnate) in the world by our words and acts.

Questions to Consider

  1. Consider a time when your long-held ideas about Christ’s mission were How did you handle the challenge?
  2. When have you faced moral and ethical decisions? How did your discipleship figure into your decision making?
  3. Where is God calling you in your journey as a disciple?
  4. How is your congregation making God’s love incarnate in the world?

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