Commentary on John 10:22-30
We continue the image of Jesus as the Shepherd. “It is winter” and the scene is Solomon’s portico on the east side of the Temple during the winter festival of Dedication or Hanukkah. This feast is the commemoration of the dedication of the temple by Judas Maccabeus in December 165 BC after it had been desecrated by the Syrian King Antiochus Epiphanes. It was the last great act of liberation which the Jews had experienced.
We are told that Jesus was walking in the temple area on the Portico of Solomon. This was a roofed-in structure not unlike the ‘stoa’ of the Greeks. It was commonly believed to date back to the time of Solomon (who built the original temple) but this was not the case.
Again Jesus is questioned very directly about his true identity. “If you really are the Messiah, tell us so in plain words.” The question indicates that they had understood the meaning behind many of the things he said and did. On the other hand, it was not a question that could simply be answered with a ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ because of the many divergent ideas and expectations concerning the Messiah which were current at the time. And certainly none of them corresponded to the kind of Messiah that Jesus would turn out to be.
Once again Jesus says that he has already told them but they refuse to believe. Previous statements made it clear that he spoke as one with a mission from God. Perhaps he had not explicitly said he was the Messiah (except to the Samaritan Woman) but it should have been clear either from his statements or from the evidence of his whole way of life, including the signs he had given – all clearly done in his Father’s name.
The works he has done are a consistent testimony of his true origins “but you refuse to believe because you are not my sheep”.
He then lists the characteristics of true sheep or followers:
- they hear my voice
- I know them
- they follow me.
And, as we have said elsewhere, to “hear” in the Gospel means:
- to listen
- to understand
- to assimilate fully into one’s own thinking
- to carry out what one hears.
To these disciples Jesus gives “eternal life”. The security of the sheep is in the power of the Shepherd and no one will snatch them from his hand. And that is because they have been given to him by the Father, whose power is greater than any enemy.
Finally, in a clear and unequivocal answer to their original challenge, he tells his questioners: “The Father and I are one.” The power that the Son has is the same as the Father’s. This is not an unequivocal statement of divinity but points in that direction. And Jesus’ listeners hear it in that way.
(Significantly the Greek actually says, “The Father and I are one [thing, neuter gender]” and not “one [person]“. The Father and Son, with the Holy Spirit, are one in essence or nature but distinct as Persons.)