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Bible Commentaries

Expositor's Bible Commentary
John 10

 

 

Other Authors
Verses 1-18

Chapter 21

JESUS THE GOOD SHEPHERD.

“Verily, verily, I say unto you, he that entereth not by the door into the fold of the sheep, but climbeth up some other way, the same is a thief and a robber. But he that entereth in by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. To him the porter openeth; and the sheep hear his voice: and he calleth his own sheep by name, and leadeth them out. When he hath put forth all his own, he goeth before them, and the sheep follow him: for they know his voice. And a stranger will they not follow, but will flee from him: for they know not the voice of strangers. This parable spake Jesus unto them; but they understood not what things they were which He spake unto them. Jesus therefore said unto them again, Verily, verily, I say unto you, I am the door of the sheep. All that came before me are thieves and robbers: but the sheep did not hear them. I am the door: by Me if any man enter in, he shall be saved, and shall go in and go out, and shall find pasture. The thief cometh not, but that he may steal, and kill, and destroy: I came that they may have life, and may have it abundantly. I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd layeth down His life for the sheep. He that is a hireling, and not a shepherd, whose own the sheep are not, beholdeth the wolf coming, and leaveth the sheep, and fleeth, and the wolf snatcheth them, and scattereth them: he fleeth because he is a hireling, and careth not for the sheep. I am the good shepherd; and I know Mine own, and Mine own know Me, even as the Father knoweth Me, and I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep. And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear My voice; and they shall become one flock, one shepherd. Therefore doth the Father love Me, because I lay down My life, that I may take it again. No one taketh it away from Me, but I lay it down of Myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This commandment received I from My Father.”- John 10:1-18.

This paragraph continues the conversation which arose out of the healing of the blind man. Jesus has pointed out to the Pharisees that they are affected with a more deplorable blindness than the born-blind beggar; He now proceeds to contrast their harsh treatment of the healed man with His own care of him, and uses this contrast as evidence of the illegitimacy of their usurpation of authority and the legitimacy of His own claim. It has been related (John 9:34) that the Jews had excommunicated the blind man because he had presumed to think for himself, and acknowledge as the Christ One regarding whom they had quietly enacted (John 9:22) that if any one acknowledged Him he should be banished from the synagogue. Very naturally the poor man would feel that this was a heavy price to pay for his eyesight. Brought up as he had been to consider the ecclesiastical authorities of Jerusalem as representing the Divine voice, he would feel that this excommunication cut him off from fellowship with all good men, and from the sources of a hopeful and godly life. Therefore, in pity for this poor sheep, and in indignation at those who thus assumed authority, Jesus explicitly declares, “I am the door.” Not through the word of men who tyrannize over the flock to serve their own ends are you either admitted to or debarred from the real sources of spiritual life and fellowship with the true and good. Through Me only can you find access to permanent security and the free enjoyment of all spiritual nutriment; “By Me if any man enter in he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture.”

The primary object, then, of this allegorical passage is to impart to those who believe in Jesus the truest independence of spirit. This our Lord accomplishes by explicitly claiming for Himself the sole right of admission or rejection from the true fold of God’s people. He comes into direct collision with the ecclesiastical authorities, denying that they are the true spiritual guides of the people, and presenting Himself as the supreme authority in matters spiritual. This uncompromising assertion of His own authority He makes in parabolic language; but that no one may misapprehend His meaning He Himself appends the interpretation. And in this interpretation it will be observed that, while the great ideas are explained and applied, there is no attempt to make these ideas square with the figure in every particular. In the figure, for example, the Door and the Shepherd are necessarily distinct; but our Lord does not on that account scruple to apply both figures to Himself. The rigidly logical explanation is thrown to the winds to make way for the substantial teaching.

I. First, then, Jesus here claims to be the sole means of access to security and life eternal. “I am the door: by Me if any man enter in, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture,” Prompted by consideration for the feelings of the blind man, this expression would by him be interpreted as meaning, These arrogant Pharisees, then, can after all do me no injury; they can neither exclude nor admit; but only this Person, who has shown Himself so compassionate, so courageous, so ready to be my champion and my friend. He is the door. And this simple and memorable claim has remained through all the Christian centuries the bulwark against ecclesiastical tyranny, not indeed preventing injustice and outrage, but entirely robbing excommunication of its sting in the conscience that is right with its Lord. Outcast from the fellowship and privileges of so-called Churches of Christ many have been, who had yet the assurance in their own heart that by their attachment to Him they had entered into a more lasting fellowship and unspeakably higher privileges.

By this claim to be the Door, Jesus claims to be the Founder of the one permanent society of men. Through Him alone have men access to a position of security to association with all that is worthiest among men, to a never-failing life and a boundless freedom. He did not use His words at random, and this at least is contained in them. He gathers men round His Person, and assures us that He holds the key to life; that if He admits us, words of exclusion pronounced by others are but idle breath; that if He excludes us, the approval and applause of a world will not waft us in. No claim could possibly be greater.

II. Jesus also claims to be the Good Shepherd, and sets Himself in contrast to hirelings and robbers. This claim He proves in five particulars: He uses a legitimate mode of access to the sheep; His object is the welfare of the sheep; His Spirit is self-devoted; He knows and is known by His sheep; and all He does the Father has given Him commandment to do.

1. First, then, Jesus proves His claim to be the Good Shepherd by using the legitimate means of access to the sheep. He enters by the door. The general description of the relation between sheep and shepherd was drawn from what might be seen any morning in Palestine. At night the sheep are driven into a fold, that is, a walled enclosure, such as may be seen on our own sheep farms, only with higher walls for protection, and with a strongly-barred door in place of a hurdle or light gate. Here the sheep rest all night, guarded by a watchman or porter. In the morning the shepherds come, and at the recognised signal or knock are admitted by the porter, and each man calls his own sheep. The sheep, knowing his voice, follow him, and if any are lazy, or stubborn, or stupid, he goes in and drives them out, with a gentle, kindly compulsion, A stranger’s voice they do not recognise, and do not heed. Besides, not only do they disregard a stranger’s voice, but the porter also would do so, so that no robber thinks of appealing to the porter, but climbs the wall and lays hold of the sheep he wants.

Here, then, we have a picture of the legitimate and illegitimate modes of finding access to men and of gaining power over them. The legitimate leader of men comes by the door and invites: the illegitimate gets in anyhow and compels. The true shepherd is distinguished from the robber by both the action of the porter and the action of the sheep. But who is the porter who gives Christ access to the fold? Possibly, as some have suggested, the mind of Christ’s contemporaries would revert to John the Baptist. The claim of Jesus to deal with men as their spiritual protector and leader had been legitimated by John, and no other pretended Messiah had been. And certainly, if any individual is indicated by the porter, it must be John the Baptist. But probably the figure includes all that introduces Jesus to men, His own life, His miracles, His loving words, providential circumstances. At all events, He makes His appeal openly, and has the requisite pass-word. There is nothing of the thief or the robber about His approach-nothing underhand and stealthy, nothing audaciously violent. On the other hand, “All that ever came before Me are thieves and robbers.” The contemporary authorities in Jerusalem had come “before” Jesus, in so far as they had prepossessed the minds of the people against Him, and forcibly kept the sheep from Him. Their prior claims were the great obstacle to His being admitted. They held the fold against Him. It must have been plain to the people who heard His words that their own ecclesiastical authorities were meant. And this is not contradicted by the added clause, “but the sheep did not hear them.” For these usurping leaders did not find the ear of the people, although they terrified them into obedience.

2. The Good Shepherd is identified and distinguished from the hireling by His object and His spirit of devotion-for these two characteristics may best be considered together (John 10:10-13). The hireling takes up this business of shepherding for his own sake, and just as he might take to keeping swine, or watching vineyards, or making bricks. It is not the work nor the sheep he has any interest in, but the pay. It is for himself he does what he does. His object is to make gain for himself, and his spirit is therefore a spirit of self-regard. Necessarily he flees from danger, having more regard for himself than for the sheep. The object of the good shepherd, on the contrary, is to find for the sheep a more abundant life. It is regard for them that draws him to the work. Consequently, as all love is self-devoting, so the regard of the shepherd for the sheep prompts him to devote himself, and, at the risk or expense of his own life, to save them from danger.

This differentiation of the hireling and the good shepherd was, in the first instance, exemplified in the different conduct of the authorities and Jesus towards the blind man. The authorities having fallen into the idea which commonly ensnares ecclesiastical magnates, that the people existed for them, not they for the people, persecuted him because he had followed his conscience: Jesus, by interposing in his favour, risked His own life. This collision with the Pharisees materially contributed to their determination to put Him to death.

Probably our Lord intended that a larger meaning should be found in His words. To all His sheep He acts the part of a good shepherd by interposing, at the sacrifice of Himself, between them and all that threatens (John 10:17-18). His death was voluntary, not necessitated either by the machinations of men or by His being human. His life was His own, to use as He saw best; and when He laid it down He did so freely. It was not that He succumbed to the wolf, to any power stronger than His own will and His own discernment of what was right. We may resign ourselves to death or choose it; but even though we did not, we could not escape it. Christ could. He “laid down” His life; and He did so, moreover, that He might “take it again.” His sheep were not to be left defenceless, shepherdless: on the contrary, He died that He might free them from all danger and become to them an ever-living, omnipresent Shepherd. In these words the figure is lost in the reality.

In the words themselves, indeed, there is no direct suggestion that the penalty of sin is that which chiefly threatens Christ’s sheep, but Christ could hardly use the words, and His people can hardly read them, without having this idea suggested. It was by interposing between us and sin that our Shepherd was slain. At first sight, indeed, we seem to be exposed to the very danger that slew the Shepherd: the wolf seems to be alive even after slaying Him. In spite of His death, we also die. What then is the danger from which He by His death has saved us?

The danger which threatened us was not bodily death, for from that we are not delivered. But it was something with which the death of the body is intimately connected. Bodily death is as it were the symptom, but not the disease itself. It is that which reveals the presence of the pestilence, but is not itself the real danger. It is like the plague-spot that causes the beholder to shudder, though the spot itself is only slightly painful. Now a skilful physician does not treat symptoms, does not apply his skill to allay superficial distresses, but endeavours to remove the radical disease. If the eye becomes bloodshot he does not treat the eye, but the general system. If an eruption comes out on the skin, he does not treat the skin, but alters the condition of the blood; and it is a small matter whether the symptom goes on to its natural issue, if thereby the eradication of the disease is rather helped than hindered. So it is with death: it is not our danger; no man can suppose that the mere transference from this state to another is injurious; only, death is in our case the symptom of a deep disease, of a real, fatal ailment of soul. We know death not as a mere transference from one world to another, but as our transference from probation to judgment, which sin makes us dread; and also as a transference which in form forcibly exhibits the weakness, the imperfection, the shame of our present state. Thus death connects itself with sin, which our conscience tells us is the great root of all our present misery. It is to us the symptom of the punishment of sin, but the punishment itself is not the death of the body but of the soul; the separation of the soul from all good, from all hope,-in a word, from God. This is the real danger from which Christ delivers us. If this be removed, it is immaterial whether bodily death remain or not; or rather, bodily death is used to help out our complete deliverance, as a symptom of the disease sometimes promotes the cure. Christ has tasted death for every man, and out of each man’s cup has sucked the poison, so that now, as we in turn drink it, it is but a sleeping draught. There was a chemistry in His love and perfect obedience which drew the poison to His lips; and absorbing into His own system all the virulence of it, by the immortal vigour of His own constitution, He overcame its effects, and rose again triumphing over its lethargic potency.

It was not mere bodily death, then, which our Lord endured. That was not the wolf which the Good Shepherd saved us from. It was death with the sting of sin in it. It is this fact which shows us, from one point of view, the place of Christ’s death in the work of atonement Death sets the seal on a man’s spiritual condition. It utters the final word: He that is holy, let him be holy still; he that is filthy, let him be filthy still. The biblical view of death is that it marks the transition from a state of probation to a state of retribution. “It is appointed unto men once to die, and after death the judgment.” There is no coming back again to make another preparation for judgment. We cannot have two lives, one after the flesh, and another after the spirit, but one life, one death, one judgment. Bodily death therefore thus becomes not only the evidence of spiritual death, but its seal. But this, falling upon Christ, fell harmless. Separation from God must be separation of the will, separation accomplished by the soul’s self. In Christ there was no such separation. Sinners abide in death, because not only are they judicially separated, but they are in will and disposition separate. Plunge iron and wood into water: the one sinks, the other rises immediately, cannot be kept under, has a native buoyancy of its own that brings it to the surface, immerse it as often as we please. And Christ is as the wood cut by the prophet, that not only floats itself, but brings to the surface the heaviest weight.

3. It is the mutual recognition of sheep and shepherd which decisively exhibits the difference between the true shepherd and the robber. The timid animals that start and flee at the sound of a stranger’s voice suffer their own shepherd to come among them and handle them. As the ownership of a dog is easily determined by his conduct towards two claimants, at one of whom he growls and round the other of whom he joyously barks and jumps; so you can tell who is the shepherd and who is the stranger by the different way in which a sheep behaves in the presence of each. If a shepherd’s claim were doubtful, it might be settled either by his familiarity with its marks and ways, or by its familiarity with him, its sufferance of his hand, its answer to his voice. Christ stakes His claim on a similar mutual recognition. If the soul does not respond to His call and follow Him, he will admit that His claim is ill-founded. He may require to enter the fold, to rouse the slumbering by a tap of His staff, to lift the sickly, to use a measure of severity with the dull and slow; but ultimately and mainly He bases His claim to be the true Leader and Lord of men simply on His power to attract them to Him. If there is not that in Him which causes us to mark Him off from all other persons, and makes us expect different things from Him, and causes us to trust ourselves with Him, then He does not expect that any other force will draw us to acknowledge Him.

The application of this to the attitude the blind man had assumed towards the Pharisees and towards Jesus was sufficiently obvious. He had disowned the Pharisees; he had acknowledged Jesus. It was plain therefore that Jesus was the Shepherd, and it was also plain that the Pharisees were not among Christ’s sheep; they might be in the fold, but as they did not recognise and follow Christ they showed that they did not belong to His flock. And Christ trusts still to His own attractiveness and fitness to our needs. It is very remarkable how insufficient an account of their own conversion highly educated persons can give. Professor Clifford’s favourite pupil was, like himself, an atheist; but racked by distress on account of Clifford’s death, and being obliged to pass through other circumstances fitted to disclose the weakness of human nature, this pupil became an ardent Christian. One reads the record of this conversion expecting to find the reasoning power of the mathematician adding something to the demonstration of God’s personality, or building a sure foundation for Christian faith. There is nothing of the kind. The experience of life gave new meaning to Christ’s offer and to His revelation-that was all. So too in criticizing Renan’s “Life of Christ,” a French critic more profound than himself says: “The characteristic thing in this analysis of Christianity is that sin does not appear in it at all. Now if there is anything which explains the success of the Good News among men, it is that it offered deliverance from sin-salvation. It certainly would have been more appropriate to explain a religion religiously, and not to evade the very core of the subject. This ‘Christ in white marble’ is not He who made the strength of the martyrs.” All this just means that if men have no sense of need they will not own Christ; and that if Christ’s own presence and words do not draw them, they are not to be drawn. Of course much may be done in the way of presenting Christ to men, but beyond the simple exhibition of His person by word or in conduct not much can be done. It is a mystery, often oppressive, that men seem quite unattracted and unmoved by the Figure that so transcends all others, and gives a heart to the world. But Christ is known by His own.

This great fact of the mutual recognition of Christ and His people has an application not only to the first acceptance of Christ by the soul, but also to the Christian experience throughout. A mutual recognition and deep-lying affinity not only at first forms but for ever renews and maintains the bond between Christ and the Christian. He knows His sheep and is known by them. Often they do not know themselves;(35) but the Shepherd knows them. Many of us are frequently brought into doubt of our interest in Christ, but the foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal, “The Lord knoweth them that are His.” We go astray, and get so torn with thorns, so fouled with mire, that few can tell to what fold we belong-our owner’s marks are obliterated; but the Good Shepherd in telling His sheep has missed us, and come after us, and recognises and claims us even in our pitiable state. Who could tell to whom we belong when we lie absolutely content with the poisonous pasture of this world’s vanities and rank gains; when the soul is stained with impurity, torn with passion, and has every mark that distinguishes Christ’s people obscured? Is it surprising we should begin then ourselves to doubt whether we belong to the true fold or whether there is any true fold? Shameful are the places where Christ has found us, among prayerless days, unrestrained indulgences, with hardened heart and cynical thoughts, far from any purpose of good; and still again and again His presence has met us, His voice recalled us, His nearness awakened once more in us the consciousness that with Him we have after all a deeper sympathy than with any besides.

The whole experience of Christ as our Shepherd gives Him an increasing knowledge of us. The shepherd is the first to see the lamb at its birth, and not one day goes by but he visits it. So needful and merciful a work is it that it has no Sabbath, but as on the day of rest the shepherd feeds his own children so he cares for the lambs of his flock, sees that no harm is befalling them, remembers their dependence on him, observes their growth, removes what hinders it, hangs over the pale of the fold, watching with a pleased and fond observance their ways, their beauty, their comfort. And thus he becomes intimately acquainted with his sheep. So Christ becomes increasingly acquainted with us. We have thought much of Him; we have again and again pondered His life, His death, His words. We have endeavoured to understand what He requires of us, and day by day He has somehow been in our thoughts. Not less but far more constantly have we been in His thoughts, not a day has passed without His recurrence to this subject. He has looked upon and considered us, has marked the working of our minds, the forming of our purposes. He knows our habits by watching against them; our propensities by turning us from them. We are not left alone with our awful secret of sin: there is another who comprehends our danger, and is bent upon securing us against it.

Slowly but surely does Christ thus win the confidence of the soul; doing for it a thousand kind offices that are not recognised, patiently waiting for the recognition and love which He knows must at last be given; quietly making Himself indispensable to the soul ere ever it discerns what it is that is bringing to it so new a buoyancy and hope. Slowly but surely grows in every Christian a reciprocal knowledge of Christ. More and more clearly does His Person stand out as the one on whom our expectation must rest. With Him we are brought into connection by every sin of ours, and by every hope. Is it not He before whom and about whom our hearts thrill and tremble time after time with a depth and awe of emotion which nothing else excites? Is it not to Him we owe it that this day we live in peace, knowing that our God is a loving Father? Is it not still His grace we must learn more deeply, His patient righteous way we must more exactly fall in with, if we are to forget our loved sin in the love of God, ourselves in the Eternal One? What is growth in grace but the laying bare of the sinner’s heart to Christ, fold after fold being removed, till the very core of our being opens to Him and accepts Him, and the reciprocal laying bare of the heart of Christ toward the sinner?

For this growth in mutual understanding must advance till that perfect sympathy is attained which Christ indicates in the words: “I know My sheep and am known of Mine, as the Father knoweth Me and I know the Father.” The mutual understanding between the Eternal Father and the Son is the only parallel to the mutual understanding of Christ and His people. In the loving union of husband and wife we see how intimate is the understanding, how the one is dissatisfied if any anxiety is not uttered and shared, how there can be no secret on either side. We see how a slight movement, a look, betrays intention more than many words of a stranger could reveal it; we see what confidence in one another is established, how the one is not satisfied until his thought is ratified by the other, his opinion reflected and better judged in the other, his emotion partaken of and again expressed by the other. But even this, though suggestive, is but a suggestion of the mutual intelligence subsisting between the Father and the Son, the absolute confidence in one another, the perfect harmony in purpose and feeling, the delight in knowing and being known. Into this perfect harmony of feeling and of purpose with the Supreme does Christ introduce His people. Gradually their thoughts are disengaged from what is trivial, and expand to take in the designs of the Eternal Mind. Gradually their tastes and affections are loosened from lower attachments, and are wrought to a perfect sympathy with what is holy and abiding.


Verses 22-42

Chapter 22

JESUS, SON OF GOD.

“And it was the feast of the dedication at Jerusalem: it was winter; and Jesus was walking in the temple in Solomon’s porch. The Jews therefore came round about Him, and said unto Him, How long dost Thou hold us in suspense? If Thou art the Christ, tell us plainly. Jesus answered them, I told you, and ye believe not: the works that I do in My Father’s name, these bear witness of Me. But ye believe not, because ye are not of My sheep. My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me: and I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, and no one shall snatch them out of My hand. My Father, which hath given them unto 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. The Jews took up stones again to stone Him. Jesus answered them, Many good works have I showed you from the Father; for which of those works do ye stone Me? The Jews answered Him, For a good work we stone Thee not, but for blasphemy; and because that Thou, being a man, makest Thyself God. Jesus answered them, Is it not written in your law, I said, Ye are gods? If He called them gods, unto whom the word of God came (and the Scripture cannot be broken), say ye of Him, whom the Father sanctified and sent into the world, Thou blasphemest; because I said, I am the Son of God? If I do not the works of My Father, believe Me not. But if I do them, though ye believe not Me, believe the works: that ye may know and understand that the Father is in Me, and I in the Father. They sought again to take Him: and He went forth out of their hand. And He went away again beyond Jordan into the place where John was at the first baptizing; and there He abode. And many came unto Him; and they said, John indeed did no sign: but all things whatsoever John spake of this man were true. And many believed on Him there.”- John 10:22-42.

After our Lord’s visit to Jerusalem at the Feast of Tabernacles, and owing to His collision with the authorities in regard to the blind man whom He healed, He seems to have retired from the metropolis for some weeks, until the Feast of the Dedication. This Feast had been instituted by the Maccabees to celebrate the Purification of the Temple after its profanation by Antiochus Epiphanes. It began about the 20th December, and lasted eight days. As it was winter, possibly raining, and certainly cold, Jesus walked about in Solomon’s Porch, where at all events He was under cover and had some shelter. Here the Jews gradually gathered, until at length He found Himself ringed round by hostile questioners, who bluntly, almost threateningly asked Him, “How long dost Thou make us to doubt? If Thou be the Christ, tell us plainly,” a question which shows that, although they inferred from the assertions He had made regarding Himself that He claimed to be the Messiah, He had not directly and explicitly proclaimed Himself in terms no one could misunderstand.

At first sight their request seems fair and reasonable. In fact it is neither. The mere affirmation that He was the Christ would not have helped those whom His works and words had only prejudiced against Him. As He at once explained to them, He had made the affirmation in the only way possible, and their unbelief arose not from any want of explicitness on His part, but because they were not of His sheep (John 10:26). “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me.” Here, as elsewhere, He points in confirmation of His claim to the works His Father had given Him to do, and to the response His manifestation awakened in those who were hungering for truth and for God. Those who were given to Him by the Father, who were taught and led by God, acknowledged Him, and to such He imparted all those eternal and supreme blessings He was commissioned to bestow upon men.

But in describing the safety of those who believe in Him, Jesus uses an expression which gives umbrage to those who hear it-“I and the Father are one.” Those who trust themselves to Christ shall not be plucked out of His hand: they are eternally secure. The guarantee of this is, that those who thus trust in Him are given to Him by the Father for this very purpose of safe-keeping: the Father Himself therefore watches over and protects them. “No man is able to pluck them out of My Father’s hand. I and My Father are one.” In this matter Christ acts merely as the Father’s agent. The Pharisees might excommunicate the blind man and threaten him with penalties present and to come, but he is absolutely beyond their reach. Their threats are the pattering of hail on a bomb-proof shelter. The man is in Christ’s keeping, and thereby is in God’s keeping.

But this assertion the Jews at once construed into blasphemy, and took up stones to stone Him. With marvellous calmness Jesus arrests their murderous intention with the quiet question: “Many good works have I showed you from My Father; for which of these do you stone Me? You question whether I am the Father’s Agent: does not the benignity of the works I have done prove Me such? Do not My works evince the indwelling power of the Father?” The Jews reply, and from their point of view quite reasonably: “For a good work we stone Thee not; but because Thou, being a man, makest Thyself God.” How far they were justified in this charge we must inquire.

In this conversation two points are of the utmost significance.

1. The comparative equanimity with which they consider the claim of Jesus to be the Messiah is changed into fury when they imagine that He claims also equality with God. Their first appeal, “If Thou be the Christ, tell us plainly,” is calm; and His answer, though it distinctly involved an affirmation that He was the Christ, was received without any violent demonstration of rage or of excitement. But their attitude towards Him changes in a moment and their calmness gives place to uncontrollable indignation as soon as it appears that He believes Himself to be one with the Father. They themselves would not have dreamed of putting such a question to Him: the idea of any man being equal with God was too abhorrent to the rigid monotheism of the Jewish mind. And when it dawned upon them that this was what Jesus claimed, they could do nothing but stop their ears and lift stones to end such blasphemy. No incident could more distinctly prove that the claim to be the Messiah was in their judgment one thing, the claim to be Divine another thing.

2. The contrast our Lord draws between Himself and those who had in Scripture been called “gods” is significant. It is the eighty-second Psalm He cites; and in it the judges of Israel are rebuked for abusing their office. It is of these unjust judges the psalm represents God as saying, “I have said, Ye are gods, and all of you are children of the Most High. But ye shall die like men, and fall like one of the princes.” To these judges this word of God, “Ye are gods,” had come at their consecration to their office. Having been occupied with other work they were now set apart to represent to men the authority and justice of God. But, argues our Lord, if men were called gods, to whom God’s word came,-and they are so called in Scripture, which cannot be broken,-appointing them to their office, may He not rightly be called Son of God who is Himself sent to men; whose original and sole destiny it was to come into the world to represent the Father? The words are overweighted with manifold contrast. The judges were persons “to whom” the word of God came, as from without; Jesus was a person Himself “sent into the world” from God, therefore surely more akin to God than they were. The judges represented God by virtue of a commission received in the course of their career-the word of God came to them: Jesus, on the other hand, represented God because “sanctified,” that is, set apart or consecrated for this purpose before He came into the world, and therefore obviously occupying a higher and more important position than they. But, especially, the judges were appointed to discharge one limited and temporary function, for the discharge of which it was sufficient that they should know the law of God; whereas it was “the Father,” the God of universal relation and love, who consecrated Jesus and sent Him into the world, meaning now to reveal to men what lies deepest in His nature, His love, His fatherhood. The idea of the purpose for which Christ was sent into the world is indicated in the emphatic use of “the Father.” He was sent to do the works of the Father (John 10:37); to manifest to men the benignity, tenderness, compassion of the Father; to encourage them to believe that the Father, the Source of all life, was in their midst accessible to them. If Jesus failed to reveal the Father, He had no claim to make. “If I do not the works of My Father, believe Me not.” But if He did such works as declared the Father to be in their midst, then, as bearing the Father in Him and doing the Father’s will, He might well be called “the Son of God.” “Though ye believe not Me, believe the works; that ye may know, and believe, that the Father is in Me, and I in Him.”

There can be no question, then, of the conclusiveness with which our Lord rebutted the charge of blasphemy. By a single sentence He put them in the position of presumptuously contradicting their own Scriptures. But weightier questions remain behind. Did Jesus merely seek to parry their thrust, or did He mean positively to affirm that He was God? His words do not carry a direct and explicit affirmation of His Divinity. Indeed, to a hearer His comparison of Himself with the judges would necessarily rather tend to veil the full meaning of His previous claims to pre-existence and superhuman dignity. On reflection, no doubt the hearers might see that a claim to Divinity was implied in His words; but even in the saying which first gave them offence, “I and the Father are one,” it is rather what is implied than what is expressed that carries with it such a claim. For Calvin is unquestionably right in maintaining that these words were not intended to affirm identity of substance with the Father.(36) An ambassador whose actions or claims were contested might very naturally say, “I and my Sovereign are One”; not meaning thereby to claim royal dignity, but meaning to assert that what he did, his Sovereign did; that his signature carried his Sovereign’s guarantee, and that his pledges would be fulfilled by the entire resources of his Sovereign. And as God’s delegate, as the great Messianic Viceroy among men, it was no doubt this that our Lord wished in the first place to affirm, that He was the representative of God, doing His will, and backed by all His authority. “See the Father in Me,” was His constant demand. All His self-assertion and self-revelation were meant to reveal the Father.

But although He does not directly and explicitly say, “I am God”; although He does not even use such language of Himself as John uses, when he says, “The Word was God”; yet is not His Divine nature a reasonable inference from such affirmations as that which we are here considering? Some interpreters very decidedly maintain that when Christ says, “I and the Father are one,” He means one in power. They affirm that this assertion is made to prove that none of His sheep will be plucked out of His hand, and that this is secured because His Father is “greater than all,” and He and His Father are one. Accordingly they hold that neither the old orthodox interpretation nor the Arian is correct: not the orthodox, because not unity of essence but unity of power is meant; not the Arian, because something more is meant than moral harmony. This, however, is difficult to maintain, and it is safer to abide by Calvin’s interpretation, and believe that what Jesus means is that what He does will be confirmed by the Father. It is the Father’s power He introduces as the final guarantee, not His own power.

Still, although the very terms He here uses may not even by implication affirm His Divinity, it remains to be asked whether there are not parts of Christ’s work as God’s commissioner on earth which could be accomplished by no one who was not Himself Divine. An ambassador may recommend his offers and guarantees by affirming that his power and that of his Sovereign are one, but in many cases he must have actual power on the spot. If a commissioner is sent to reduce a mutinous army or a large warlike tribe in rebellion, or to define a frontier in the face of an armed claimant, he must in such cases be no mere lay-figure, whose uniform tells what country he belongs to, but he must be a man of audacity and resource, able to act for himself without telegraphing for orders, and he must be backed by sufficient military force on the spot. It comes therefore to be a question whether the work on which Christ was sent was a work which could be accomplished by a man however fully equipped? Jesus though nothing more than human might have said, if commissioned by God to say so, “The promises I make, God will perform. The guarantees I give, God will respect.” But is it possible that a man, however holy, however wise, however fully possessed by the Holy Spirit, could reveal the Father to men and adequately represent God? Could He influence, guide, and uplift individuals? Could He give life to men, could He assume the function of judging, could He bear the responsibility of being sole mediator between God and men? Must we not believe that for the work Christ came to do it was needful that He should be truly Divine?

While therefore it is quite true that Christ here rebuts the charge of blasphemy in His usual manner, not by directly affirming His Divine nature, but only by declaring that His office as God’s representative gave Him as just a claim to the Divine name as the judges had, this circumstance cannot lead us to doubt the Divine nature of Christ, or prompt us to suppose He Himself was shy in affirming it, because the question is at once suggested whether the office He assumed is not one which only a Divine Person could undertake. It need not stumble our faith, if we find that not only in this passage but everywhere Jesus refrains from explicitly saying: “I am God.” Not even among His Apostles, who were so much in need of instruction, does He definitely announce His Divinity. This is consistent with His entire method of teaching. He was not aggressive nor impatient. He sowed the seed, and knew that in time the blade would appear. He trusted more to the faith which slowly grew with the growth of the believer’s mind than to the immediate acceptance of verbal assertions. He allowed men gradually to find their own way to the right conclusions, guiding them, furnishing them with sufficient evidence, but always allowing the evidence to do its work, and not breaking in upon the natural process by His authoritative utterances. But when, as in Thomas’s case, it did dawn on the mind of any that this Person was God manifest in the flesh, He accepted the tribute paid. The acceptance of such a tribute proves Him Divine. No good man, whatever his function or commission on earth, could allow another to address him, as Thomas addressed Jesus, “My Lord and my God.”

In the paragraph we are considering a very needful reminder is given us that the Jews of our Lord’s time used the terms “God” and “Son of God” in a loose and inexact manner. Where the sense was not likely to be misunderstood, they did not scruple to apply these terms to officials and dignitaries. The angels they called sons of God; their own judges they called by the same name. The whole people considered collectively was called “God’s son.” And in the 2nd Psalm, speaking of the Messianic King, God says, “Thou art My Son: this day have I begotten Thee.” It was therefore natural that the Jews should think of the Messiah not as properly Divine, but merely as being of such surpassing dignity as to be worthily though loosely called “Son of God.” No doubt there are passages in the Old Testament which intimate with sufficient clearness that the Messiah would be truly Divine: “Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever;” “Unto us a Child is born ... and His name shall be called the Mighty God;” “Behold the days come that I will raise unto David a righteous Branch, and this is the name whereby He shall be called, Jehovah our Righteousness.” But though these passages seem decisive to us, looking on the fulfilment of them in Christ, we must consider that the Jewish Bible did not lie on every table for consultation as our Bibles do, and also that it was easy for the Jews to put a figurative sense on all such passages.

In a word, it was a Messiah the Jews looked for, not the Son of God. They looked for one with Divine powers, the delegate of God, sent to accomplish His will and to establish His kingdom, the representative among them of the Divine presence; but they did not look for a real dwelling of a Divine Person among them. It is quite certain that the Jews of the second century thought it silly of the Christians to hold that the Christ pre-existed from eternity as God, and condescended to be born as man. “No Jew would allow,” says a writer of that time, “that any prophet ever said that a Son of God would come; but what the Jews do say is that the Christ of God will come.”

This circumstance, that the Jews did not expect the Messiah to be a Divine Person, throws light upon certain passages in the Gospels. When, for example, our Lord put the question, “What think ye of Christ? Whose Son is He?” The Pharisees promptly answer, “He is the Son of David.” And, that they had no thought of ascribing to the Messiah a properly Divine origin, is shown by their inability to answer the further question, “How then does David call Him Lord?”-a question presenting no difficulty at all to any one who believed that the Messiah was to be Divine as well as human.(37)

So, too, if the Jews had expected the Messiah to be a Divine person, the ascription of Messianic dignity to one who was not the Messiah was blasphemy, being equivalent to ascribing Divinity to one who was not Divine. But in no case in which Jesus was acknowledged as the Messiah were those who so acknowledged Him proceeded against as blasphemous. The blind men who appealed to Him as the Son of David were told to be quiet; the crowd who hailed His entrance to Jerusalem scandalized the Pharisees but were not proceeded against. And even the blind beggar who owned Him was excommunicated by a special act passed for the emergency, which proves that the standing statute against blasphemy could not in such a case be enforced.

Again, this fact, that the Jews did not expect the Messiah to be strictly Divine, sheds light on the real ground of accusation against Jesus. So long as it was supposed that He merely claimed to be the promised Christ, and used the title “Son of God” as equivalent to a Messianic title, many of the people admitted His claim and were prepared to own Him. But when the Pharisees began to apprehend that He claimed to be the Son of God in a higher sense, they accused Him of blasphemy, and on this charge He was condemned. The account of His trial as given by Luke is most significant. He was tried in two courts, and in each upon two charges. When brought before the Sanhedrim He was first asked, “Art Thou the Christ?” a question which, as He at once pointed out, was useless; because He had taught quite openly, and there were hundreds who could testify to the claims He had put forward. He merely says that they themselves will one day own His claim. “Hereafter shall the Son of Man sit on the right hand of the power of God.” This suggests to them that His claim was to something more than they ordinarily considered to be involved in the claim to Messiahship, and at once they pass to their second question, “Art Thou then the Son of God?” And on His refusing to disown this title, the High Priest rends His clothes, and Jesus is there and then convicted of blasphemy.

The different significance of the two claims is brought out more distinctly in the trial before Pilate. At first Pilate treats Him as an amiable enthusiast who fancies Himself a King and supposes He has been sent into the world to lead men to the truth. And accordingly after examining Him he presents Him to the people as an innocent person, and makes light of their charge that He claims to be King of the Jews. On this the Jews with one voice cry out, “We have a law, and by our law He ought to die, because He made Himself the Son of God.” The effect of this charge upon Pilate is immediate and remarkable: “When Pilate heard that saying he was the more afraid, and went again into the judgment hall, and saith unto Jesus, Whence art Thou?” But Jesus gave him no answer.

It is plain then that it was for blasphemy Christ was condemned; and not simply because He claimed to be the Messiah. But if this is so, then how can we evade the conclusion that He was in very truth a Divine person? The Jews charged Him with making Himself equal with God; and, if He was not equal with God, they were quite right in putting Him to death. Their law was express, that no matter what signs and wonders a man performed, if he used these to draw them from the worship of the true God he was to be put to death. They crucified Jesus on the ground that He was a blasphemer, and against this sentence He made no appeal. He showed no horror at the accusation, as any good man must have shown. He accepted the doom, and on the Cross prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” That which they considered an act of piety was in truth the most frightful of crimes. But if He was not Divine, it was no crime at all, but a just punishment.

But no doubt that which lodges in the heart of each of us the conviction that Christ is Divine is the general aspect of His life, and the attitude He assumes towards men and towards God. We may not be able to understand in what sense there are Three Persons in the Godhead, and may be disposed with Calvin to wish that theological terms and distinctions had never become necessary.(38) We may be unable to understand how if Christ were a complete Person before the Incarnation, the humanity He assumed could also be complete and similar to our own. But notwithstanding such difficulties, which are the necessary result of our inability to comprehend the Divine nature, we are convinced, when we follow Christ through His life and listen to His own assertions, that there is in Him something unique and unapproached among men, that while He is one of us He yet looks at us also from the outside, from above. We feel that He is Master of all, that nothing in nature or in life can defeat Him; that while dwelling in time, He is also in Eternity, seeing before and after. The most stupendous claims He makes seem somehow justified; assertions which in other lips would be blasphemous are felt to be just and natural in His. It is felt that somehow, even if we cannot say how, God is in Him.

 


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Bibliography Information
Nicoll, William R. "Commentary on John 10:4". "Expositor's Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/teb/john-10.html.

Lectionary Calendar
Wednesday, October 23rd, 2019
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29
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