May 8, 2022
Read the passage at the bottom of this post: John 10:22-30, The Message or John 10:22-30, The New Revised Standard Version (NRSV).
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The historical background below is derived from Bruce Malina and Richard Rohrbaugh. (See footnote below.)
The context for the question posed in Verse 24 is given in verses 19-21 - controversy among Judeans over who Jesus is. What are they to make of his deviant behaviour? His behaviour must either be caused by an evil spirit or the spirit of God. Jesus' challenging and provoking of the authorities and upsetting social harmony suggest he is possessed by an evil spirit. But on the other hand, "can a demon open the eyes of the blind?"
It can never be stressed too many times that while John was writing at a time when the followers of Jesus were in open hostility with Jews who were not part of John's inner circle, Jesus was not.
Jesus was a Jew, his followers were Jewish. His opponents were the authorities, some of whom were Roman and some of whom were Jewish. The challenges and opposition represented in this text is NOT between Jesus and ALL Jews. It is between Jesus and his Jewish followers and other Jews - most especially those with authority and privileged status.
Thus the distinctions in verse 26 and following is NOT between ALL Jews who do not believe / do not belong to my sheep, and non-Jews who do believe. It is a distinction among Jews who are trying to discern the spirit of Jesus without 2,000 years of hindsight to guide them.
Verse 22. The Festival of the Dedication - refers to Hanukkah.
In my limited understanding of Jewish faith, the request posed in Verse 24:
If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.
is THE pivotal question as the promised Messiah will actually bring God's reign on earth as it is in heaven.
Therefore to falsely claim to be the Messiah, or falsely raise expectations of the imminent return of the Messiah, is a most serious blasphemy.
As usual Jesus does not answer the request directly, but puts the onus back on the challengers - my works speak for me - and by implication, since you are publicly asking this question, you are publicly admitting that you don't see / hear / get what my works are making clear.
As the antagonism between Jesus and the authorities escalates, we read in John sharper and sharper divisions between the in-group of Jesus' followers and the opposing out-group. Unless you are trying to create a group based on external threats and conspiracies to have you arrested and executed, not too much theological significance should be read into this aspect of the text.
The theologically significant heart of the text is Verse 27:
My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me.
Jesus' sheep don't just "hear" his voice - they recognize it. Think of the people whose voice you recognize on the phone simply from them saying "Hello."
The challenge for most mainline Christians is not following Jesus. We've been taught pretty well about that. The challenge for us is recognizing Jesus' voice.
We have not been taught very well how to listen and how to recognize the voice of Jesus. We have not been taught very well how to have a relationship with Jesus in which we feel secure, protected and personally known.
In Jesus' day, real sheep were in constant danger of being snatched away by thieves and wild animals.
So the assurance that the metaphorical sheep of Jesus' followers - us - will not be snatched away is powerful.
The implication that there are "snatchers" should not be overlooked. We face many real internal and external threats to our relationship with God. But NOT from God.
Contrary to John, I think the plain message of Jesus is that this assurance is extended to all of creation with no one and nothing left out. We may screw up, others may harm us, accidents and disease may take our life, but nothing will snatch us out of the caring, restoring, life-giving hand of God.
Note: Historical background information is primarily from Bruce Malina and Richard Rohrbaugh, Social Science Commentary on the Gospel of John, pages 183-191; and the writings of Amy-Jill Levine, et. al. See link below.
John 10:22-30 (NRSV)
22 At that time the festival of the Dedication took place in Jerusalem. It was winter, 23 and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the portico 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 Messiah, tell us plainly." 25 Jesus answered, "I have told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father's name testify to me; 26 but you do not believe, because you do not belong to my sheep. 27 My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand. 29 What my Father has given me is greater than all else, and no one can snatch it out of the Father's hand. 30 The Father and I are one."
New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
John 10:22-30 (The Message)
22 They were celebrating Hanukkah just then in Jerusalem. It was winter. 23 Jesus was strolling in the Temple across Solomon's Porch. 24 The Jews, circling him, said, "How long are you going to keep us guessing? If you're the Messiah, tell us straight out."
25 Jesus answered, "I told you, but you don't believe. Everything I have done has been authorized by my Father, actions that speak louder than words. 26 You don't believe because you're not my sheep. 27 My sheep recognize my voice. I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them real and eternal life. They are protected from the Destroyer for good. No one can steal them from out of my hand. 29 The Father who put them under my care is so much greater than the Destroyer and Thief. No one could ever get them away from him. 30 I and the Father are one heart and mind."
Scripture quotations from THE MESSAGE. Copyright © by Eugene H. Peterson 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.
* Link to Amazon.com Bibliography for Bruce J. Malina and Richard Rohrbaugh, Social Science Commentary on ... The Synoptic Gospels; The Gospel of John; The Book of Acts; The Letters of Paul; The Book of Revelation; and others.
+ Link to Amazon.com Bibliography for Amy-Jill Levine and Marc Zvi Brettler, Jewish Annotated New Testament, The Bible With and Without Jesus, Short Stories by Jesus, Entering the Passion of Jesus, and others.