Easter 4 • John 10:22–30 • April 17, 2016
By Joel C. Elowsky
Our text follows on the popular Good Shepherd text, which speaks of the Son and the Father’s care for their sheep. No one can snatch them out of their hands. This care extends even to the point of laying down one’s life for the sake of the sheep (Jn 10:17–18). This comforting word is followed by dissension among the Jewish leaders as to whether Jesus is possessed by a demon or not—a seeming non sequitur, except that they no doubt know he is claiming the Old Testament mantle of shepherd over Israel, and this is what the Antimessiah/Antichrist would do, placing himself in opposition to God (Dn 7:25; 9:27; 11:36; Is 14:13ff; Ez 28:2,14; 1 Mc 14:14), which is what they believed Jesus was doing. And so, the question arises as to how much longer he will keep them in the dark about whether or not he is the Christ (Jn 10:24). The confrontation culminates in Jesus’s claim that he and the Father are one, which the Jews interpret as the ultimate blasphemy in “making himself God” (Jn 10:33). Thus, they pick up stones to stone him (Jn 10:31).
John paints a fascinating backdrop for this scene, the annual Feast of Dedication instituted by Judas Maccabeus. The dedication of the temple and the cleansing of the temple by the priests were both commemorated in this festival. This feast took place in winter, perhaps descriptive of the chilly reception Christ was receiving at the hands of the unbelieving Jewish leadership, as well as their dead faith in not recognizing him as the Messiah. As Augustine notes, “It was winter, and they were chilled because they were slow to approach the divine fire. For to approach is to believe: the one who believes approaches; the one who denies, moves away. . . . They had become icy cold to the sweetness of loving him, and they burned with the desire of doing him an injury.”¹
Against this backdrop, the pericope focuses on the election of all who are sheep in God’s flock. The Father has given the flock to his Son who himself calls his flock into existence as his sheep hear his voice. The flock is guarded, then, by both Father and Son—a formidable force against any who would try to steal away the flock from either the Son or the Father. They are one, not just in solidarity with one another, but also in essence, in the mystery of the Trinity—an even stronger bond. Both the words one and are in John 10:30 should be noted for their significance regarding the Son’s relationship to the Father. Augustine tells us: one delivers you from Arius (i.e., subordinationism); are delivers you from Sabellius (i.e., modalism²). The oneness of the distinct persons is a core truth of the Christian faith that assures our salvation is secure. This is the One who has chosen us.
The benefit of this election by our Trinitarian God is nothing short of eternal life. The whole point of Jesus’s mini-discourse here is that our faith is guarded by no one less than the eternal Godhead, Father, Son, and also the Spirit (the shy one of the Trinity who is not mentioned here, but is behind the scenes throughout the gospel). One’s preaching on election need not get into the mystery of why some are called and others not. Not only is such a discussion unhelpful; it is unbiblical. The focus should be on the fact that we are called and kept in the one true faith by the true Shepherd who lays down his life for his sheep. He knows us and has called us by name.
¹ Augustine, “Tract on John 48.3” in Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, ed. Joel Elowsky NT Vol. 4a (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2007), 355–56.
² See Augustine, “Tract on John 36.9.”