[February 27, 2011] Next Sunday we will celebrate the Transfiguration of Christ, which ends the season of Epiphany. When we remember Jesus in the synoptic gospels, the season of Epiphany travels from the epiphany (“manifestation”) of the voice from heaven at the baptism of our Lord to the epiphany of the voice from heaven on the mountain. In John’s gospel the scene on the mountain is not repeated, but a voice does speak from heaven in epiphany in 12:28. I have chosen to speak on John 10:22-42 this week to segue to the passage in chapter 12 next week.
10:22-42 comes at the end of the Jesus’ teaching on the Good Shepherd which precedes the story of the Raising of Lazarus. The teaching on the Good Shepherd who lays down His soul for the sake of His sheep and has the authority to take it again, is the One with the authority to raise Lazarus from the dead. He who is the resurrection and the life passes through death that we may participate in His life.
The passage on the Good Shepherd is preceded by the healing of the man born blind in chapter 9, a sheep, who because he recognizes the voice of the Shepherd and comes to Him, was cast out of the fold and enters into the flock of disciples. This is preceded in chapters 7—8 with Jesus’ declaration that He is the light of the world (repeated in 9). His light is the light of God’s glory; He is the “I AM” before Abraham came into being. “So they picked up stones to throw at Him, but Jesus was hidden and went out of the Temple” (John 8:59).
Now Jesus is in the Temple again, and again they threaten to stone Him, and again, when “they sought again to seize Him, He went forth out of their hand” and went out of the Temple.
These correspondences and echoes take us back and forth through the gospel, weaving it together in one.
The present passage begins by telling us that Jesus is in the outer Temple, walking in the portico of Solomon, the scene where earlier they had tried to stone Him for identifying Himself with YHWH. We are told it is the Feast of Dedication, the holiday that we are familiar with as Hanukah (which means “Dedication”), or the Festival of Lights. This was when God miraculously supplied oil for the menorah, the candelabra in the Temple.
When the Temple was desecrated by the Greek ruler Antiochus IV Epiphanes in 167 BC, Mattathias led a revolt. The Temple was liberated two years later by Judah Maccabee. An eight day festival was instituted to rededicate the Temple. The candelabra needed to burn throughout the festival but even though there was only enough oil for the first day it burned miraculously for eight days. This is the legend that Jesus knew and on which the modern celebration is based.
The miracle is not mentioned in the 1st Book of the Maccabees where the story of the rededication of the Temple can be found. Historians believe “the first Hanukkah was in effect a belated celebration of the festivals of Sukkot and Shemini Atzeret. During the war the Jews were not able to celebrate Sukkot/Shemini Atzeret properly; the combined festivals also last eight days, and the Sukkot festivities featured the lighting of lamps in the Temple” (Wikipedia article on Hanukkah). The Gospel according to John also makes this connection, for Sukkot was the festival that Jesus was celebrating in chapters 7—8, when He declared that He is the Light of the World.
In John 2:19 Jesus also declared, “Destroy this Temple, and in three days I will raise it up,” referring to His body. He is the Father’s House, the new Temple for the people of God (John 14:2) that outlasts the Second Temple that was destroyed in 70 AD. “I lay down My soul that I may take it again. No one takes it away from Me, but I lay it down of Myself. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it again. This commandment I received from My Father” (John 10:18). On Easter our Lord (at the commandment received from the Father) rededicates the Father’s House—on the nine-branched Menorah, the Holy Spirit (John 7:39) is the miraculous oil and Jesus becomes the raised central candle, the shamash, that lights the other candles—thereby fulfilling the meaning of Hanakah.
The Chiastic Structure
This passage, John 10:22-39, follows a chiastic structure, verses 22-23 corresponding to 39b; 24 to 39a; 25-26 to 37-38; 27 to 36; 28a to 34-35; 28b-30 to 33b; 31-32a to 33a; and 32b, “for which of these works are you stoning Me?” in the center. In a chiasm the pairs can correspond to each other either by similarity or contrast—often repeating the same or similar words or their opposite—though usually on the rebound (the lower half of the chiasm) the effect is intensified or fulfilled. More than the modern outline form, this type of structure has an organic flow to it. When we use an outline, we usually divide the passage into sections (for example, verse 31 might start a new section), but a chiasm draws connections that we might not otherwise make.
In the Gospel according to John, the “Jews” do not usually refer to the general category of the genetic and religious successors of the Southern Kingdom of Judah, which would include Jesus, all the apostles, the author of the gospel, the Galileans, and most Christians. In some contexts it seems to refer to the Judeans as opposed to the Galileans and those in the Diaspora. Other times it may be referring to a particularly zealous party within Judaism—which is a common usage in Luke and Paul. The “Jews” are often the Judaizers, the “Party of the Circumcision” (those who insisted that Gentile Christians become Jewish converts), who later evolved into the wartime Zealots or at least those associated with them. Let us call them the Judeans, since Jesus is in Jerusalem and their reception of Him is not the same as the reception He received in Galilee.
They surround Him when He is in the portico of Solomon, the place where rabbis often congregated with their disciples. “How long will You hold our soul in suspense? If You are the Christ, tell us plainly?” Later they will physically try to seize Him (verse 39a) but here they are trying to trap Him with His words by complaining that He is “holding” them in suspense. When He finally announces whether or not He is the Davidic Messiah, the suspense will be broken. To give them the benefit of the doubt, they may not be trying to snare Him, at the moment. They may just want to know. But what they want to know is superficial and misses the point. Their question is concerned with the play of power, the politics of this world. It is not that Jesus is aloof from the politics of this world; it is just that apart from His perspective, the politics of the world—the way people understand the role and the purpose of power—is trivial.
“I (already) told you,” Jesus says to them, “and you do not believe. The works which I do in My Father’s name, these testify concerning Me.” Jesus is being elusive, but we need to know what He is talking about. In the Gospel according to John, Jesus from the time the gospel began, has been revealing Himself, who He is. Yet only those who believe can see it. These Judeans do not believe because “you are not of My sheep.”
The Works that He Does
Verses 25-26a correspond with 37-38. Jesus speaks of “the works which I do in My Father’s name,” and says “I do the works of my Father.” He speaks in a similar way in 5:36-38. The “works which the Father has given Me to finish, the works themselves which I do, testify concerning Me that the Father has sent Me. And the Father who sent Me, He has testified concerning Me. You have neither heard His voice at any time, nor have you seen His form, and you do not have His word abiding in you, for Him whom He sent, this One you do not believe.” These works continue to be the issue in verses 31-33a. At first we might assume that He is talking about His miracles (see 7:3). The key however is that the works testify concerning Him that the Father has sent Him. Those who receive the Father’s testimony concerning Him are the ones who believe.
In John 4:34, in relation to the Samaritan woman to whom Jesus revealed Him, He speaks of doing the will of Him who sent Me and finishing His work (see 5:36; 17:4). In the next verses He relates that to reaping the harvest of believers. In 9:4 the “works of Him who sent Me” refers to giving sight to the blind man, spiritual sight that corresponded to the man’s physical sight. In the first case, Jesus reveals that He is the divine “I AM” (4:26) and in the second case He reveals that He is the Son of God (9:35-38; see 10:36).
The works that Jesus does are the Father’s way of testifying concerning who Jesus is: that the Father has sent Him. These works glorify the Father (17:4) for “he who has ‘seen’ Me has seen the Father” (14:9). If we “see” Jesus—that is, spiritually, because He is inwardly revealed to us—what we have seen is that “the Father is in Me and I am in the Father” (10:38). The “works” of Jesus are to manifest that He embodies the Triune God. The revelation of who Jesus is reveals the Triune God. Who He is is the divine Presence, the “I AM.” When people “see” Jesus, they believe. The purpose of the works is to create belief by producing this inward vision.
Those Who Hear His Voice
Verse 36 is the reverse of 27a. Those who believe are His sheep. The Father has given them to Him and He knows them (17:2). They hear His voice, that is, they recognize it, and they follow Him. See John 5:24-25. To inwardly recognize Jesus’ voice as the revelation of God is the Father’s gift. However, until we hear it, we are dead, utterly powerless. We have nothing to draw on in order to believe. His voice, however, has the “authority” to raise us from the dead, not just bodily on the last day but now, in our spirits. This “voice” is what speaks to us through the Gospel, through the story of His works. It is not just information; but the words of the Gospel are the vehicle for the Holy Spirit to enlighten us and give us life.
The Gift of Eternal Life
Verse 28a corresponds to verses 34-35. In 5:24 Jesus says, “He who hears My word and believes Him who sent Me has eternal life.” “For just as the Father has life in Himself, so He gave to the Son to also have life in Himself” (5:26). As I often point out, the gift of eternal life is the uncreated life of the Triune God. It has no beginning or end. Past and future exist simultaneously in the present. The life of the Trinity is the dynamism of Their mutual love and indwelling. It is this which, by our Lord’s death and resurrection, He gives to us. The grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, and He who was alone rises up to bear much fruit in the form of many grains of wheat (12:24). This is the glorification of the Son of Man (12:23; 17:1, 5).
Then we understand what Jesus means in verses 34-35. In the Scriptures which cannot be broken, God says, “You are gods” (Psalm 82:6). If Jesus says, “I am the Son of God,” He claims that He is divine, that He shares—genetically—the divine nature. This is similar to His claim to possess (and to have the authority to impart) eternal life. This is not so outrageous if in the Scriptures God says they were gods to whom the Word of God came. If “he who hears My word and believes Him who sent Me has eternal life” (5:24), then those to whom the Word of Jesus comes, who hear His voice and believe, have eternal life. To have eternal life is to participate in God’s own being and nature. Those who have eternal life are, in this particular sense, “gods.” They are not gods in the sense of being independent beings “like” God. Rather, they are the children of God, those who share in the divine nature by participation, through grace. Unlike the “gods” in Psalm 82, however, “they shall by no means perish forever.”
The gift of eternal life is the beginning of the process of deification or divinization. In the incarnation, the divine became flesh. In the process of theosis (divinization), flesh—our created substance, “createdness”—becomes divine. The firstborn of all creation was Jesus on Easter day. His human nature was divinized. It was still human but His human nature now participated fully in His divine nature—their properties intercommunicated. What was bound by space and time became omnipresent and eternal. One day the entire creation will be divinized. This process, which began in Jesus, starts to take place in us when we receive the gift of eternal life. Our spirit and the Holy Spirit are joined in one. While they are distinct, they are indistinguishable and inseparable. Let me qualify: the Holy Spirit remains His own hypostasis, as do we. It is by the sharing of the divine energies that we participate in divinity, and we do so by God’s unilateral grace. We never become divine hypostatically, at least not until time and space are subsumed into eternity when the distinction becomes incomprehensible. Hypostatically we remain creatures. We can only receive the divine nature and participate in it by grace. Nevertheless, that said, our participation is real and not symbolic or representative.
“I and the Father Are One”
Jesus says that those to whom He gives eternal life shall by no means perish forever. How is that? Because no one shall, and no one can, snatch them out of His hand. This speaks of the grace that keeps us in eternal life. Just as we cannot give the gift of eternal life to ourselves, nor can we take it away. It is a divine prerogative. It is a matter of divine grace. The notion that it is by our own “free will” that we believe is mistaken, for our will is not free until it is freed, and even if it were free enough to choose, we are blind and cannot see the choice before us. The gift of sight comes first—we cannot give ourselves this gift—and then the will becomes free by this gift. We may even say that the will becomes free in order to receive this gift, but when the gift of sight is given, the will has no motive to choose otherwise. God’s grace is in this sense irresistible. It is irresistible because the motive to receive it is given and this is what liberates the will. The gift is irresistibly attractive. The will is freed by its choice of grace. Otherwise, the will is still within the closed system of the false self where no outside choice is possible.
When the gift of eternal life is planted in our spirit, it cannot be lost. It is there on the basis of God’s predestination. We are already Christ’s sheep before we hear His voice. We hear His voice because the Father has given us to the Son. It is not our doing. Nor can we undo it.
In this the Father and Son are one. Their role and purpose is one. Just as no one can snatch us out of the Son’s hand, no one can snatch us out of the Father’s hand. Father and Son function together here. The words, “I and the Father are one” refer to this inseparability, but those who hear these words interpret them as, “You, being a Man, are making Yourself God.” They are not wrong, and Jesus does not disagree with Him. Jesus only disagrees that this is blasphemous. If it is true, it is not blasphemous.
The Father and Son are one, just as God and the Word (corresponding to the Son) are One, and God and His Wisdom (corresponding to the Spirit) are One. But how can a man be God? This is the scandal here. Jesus—the Man—makes Himself out to be God. On the one hand, Jesus as a Man, exists in only one place at a time and travels through time just like His peers. This will no longer be so after the resurrection. But how can someone who is limited as a created Being claim to be identical to the Eternal One?
The answer in terms of logic is that the nature is not the subject of the hypostasis; it is its predicate. The hypostasis (the person) has a nature and is ontologically prior to it. The nature does not give rise to the person. Jesus’ human nature did not precede His Person but rather His divine Person “assumed” human nature. His divine Person thus has two natures: His divine nature He had “by nature” and His human nature He assumed at a particular place and in a particular time. The subject of both natures is His divine Person. The subject of His human nature is God (the Person of God the Son). Both His divine and human natures are predicates of this Person. His assumption of human nature is its sanctification (verse 36).
The same is true of us. We are human by nature. Our person is human. But our human nature is not what gives rise to our person. We have a human nature. The subject is our person, the predicate is our nature. Personhood is ontologically prior to nature. When we are divinized in the process of salvation, then the divine nature is predicated to us. We do not become divine subjects. And that divine nature is always a gift. We do not possess it as if it were subject to us. It is still subject to the divine Person.
The divinization of our human nature is the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit, just as the Lord’s assumption of our human nature is the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit. It is this sanctifying work that makes the Spirit of God the “Holy” Spirit, and why the Spirit of God is never called the “Holy” Spirit until the incarnation of Christ in the womb of the Virgin. In this sense, for the rest of us, the Spirit is “not yet” according to 7:39, until Easter.
The Revelation of Christ Is Rejected by the World
The Judeans take up stones to kill Jesus as a premonition or foreshadow of the cross. In the center of this piece, verses 31-33b, are Jesus’ words, “for which of these good works are you stoning Me?” The issue is the good work of the Father for which Jesus is being stoned. This is the reason for their murderous rejection.
This question is what unifies the whole passage, for it is a question of what Jesus’ work is. The work of Jesus is to reveal Himself so that people may “see,” or in other words, so that His sheep may “hear His voice” and believe. What He reveals is not a doctrinal or dogmatic proposition, but the reality of His Presence—that the Father is in Him and He is in the Father. He who “sees” Him sees the Father. The object of His work is for people to see through His human nature to His divine Person, to see beyond the miracles to that which they signify, to see beyond titles like “Christ” to the divine-human reality behind them. This is the work of Christ which He came to accomplish. By calling believers to Himself He accomplished this work. The Samaritan woman’s faith was an accomplishing of His work.
This startling revelation however would destroy the “world.” It would burst the closed system that the world attempts to be. The whole basis of human civilization is Babel, the attempt to exist independently of God, to lock God outside, to hermetically seal ourselves off from God. The revelation of Christ breaks the seal. It is an invasion of the world’s tightly guarded territory. It breaches the carefully constructed walls. There is no way for the world to remain the world and not resist the revelation of Christ. For, to receive the revelation of Christ would bring the project of Babel to an end.
Initially the reaction was to kill Christ. They did. However, that did not stop the revelation of Christ, for it persists through the power of the Gospel. The next attempt is to create a counterfeit, for the church to become a harlot, for the Gospel to be distorted into something else. From the beginning, this is the way the world attempts to inoculate itself from the power of the Gospel.
His Hour Has Not Yet Come
The people believe they are right. Not grasping the truth of who Jesus is, they see only the “Historical Jesus,” that is, they see only with the “eye of flesh.” Not only are His statements incredible, but they are offensive to every religious sensibility. Unless one sees, how can His words not be? Everything depends on whether we recognize what we hear, whether we see beyond the outward appearance.
Jesus explains and appeals, but they do not see. They attempt to seize Him but He escapes from their hands, for His hour had not yet come. That hour will come when He goes to the cross.