22 At that time the Feast of Dedication took place at Jerusalem. It was winter, 23 and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the colonnade of Solomon.
It is clear that the feast of Hanukkah is in view here. Hanukkah means dedication; harkening back to the story of the cleansing of the Temple and its consequent rededication after the Maccabean upraising. Hannukah was also known as the festival of lights and in the winter when the night starts very early, the Temple shone with unimaginable brightness and beauty. Herod the Great designed the Temple to elevate his own status by making the Jerusalem’s Temple the most impressive religious edifice in the Roman Empire. So it is in this stunning structure of the Roman world that this conversation takes place.
NOTE: The new class that will be offered starting February, 2014 is now renamed for clarity “The Jewish Background of New Testament” (click HERE). This free discussion group (Jewish Studies for Christians) will remain open to all and will be tuition free. Please, take time to invite others to it!
24 So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.”
This text is one of the most often quoted and misinterpreted texts in John’s Gospel. Here we see the Jerusalemite authorities approach Jesus and phrase their question directly. The way we have been accustomed to reading and interpreting this encounter is as follows. Pay especial attention to the point of emphasis: “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah (Christ), tell us PLAINLY.” However, I think this reading is incorrect and the emphasis needs to be placed on another part of the sentence. It should rather read: “How long will keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah (Christ), tell US plainly.”
You see there was nothing unclear about Jesus’ ministry and teachings as he traveled in Jewish Galilee and in the Israelite Samaria performing signs and making incredible claims. He did not come through the official approved channels. Therefore, the Hoi Ioudaioi said to him. “Do the right thing. Don’t be a loner. Submit your candidacy for Messiahship to us. We will then decide what to do about it. Don’t do it all by yourself.”
25 Jesus answered them, “I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name bear witness about me, 26 but you do not believe because you are not among my sheep. 27 My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand.
Jesus, as he did earlier, refused to submit to the authority of the Hoi Ioudaioi. Jesus maintained that their authority was inferior to that of His Father. His Father had already approved Jesus’ mission to Israel, therefore, their approval was wholly unnecessary. The reason they did not believe his words is simply because his voice was foreign to them. Because they did not really know the Father, they did not know the son. Probably, in vs. 27-29 we again have an indication that the Hoi Ioudaioi were divided amongst themselves. It is possible that Jesus was again speaking to a mixed gathering of his opponents and followers among the Hoi Ioudaioi.
30 I and the Father are one.” 31 The Jews picked up stones again to stone him. 32 Jesus answered them, “I have shown you many good works from the Father; for which of them are you going to stone me?” 33 The Jews answered him, “It is not for a good work that we are going to stone you but for blasphemy, because you, being a man, make yourself God.”
We have seen in the previous sections of this commentary that that in various Jewish traditions from the time of Jesus there was an understanding that God could appear in the form of a man and that the Logos of God could indeed be manifested. There were many Jewish traditions that expected this kind of manifestation. The response of the Hoi Ioudaioi is, however, simply a rejection that Jesus was the fulfillment of such traditions and expectations. It is therefore logical that if someone thinks Jesus is merely human, his claims of divinity (in this case oneness with his Father) could be considered extreme, dangerous and, in that context, worthy of disciplinary action (even death).
34 Jesus answered them, “Is it not written in your Law, ‘I said, you are gods’? 35 If he called them gods to whom the word of God came—and Scripture cannot be broken – 36 do you say of him whom the Father consecrated and sent into the world, ‘You are blaspheming,’ because I said, ‘I am the Son of God’? 37 If I am not doing the works of my Father, then do not believe me; 38 but if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me and I am in the Father.”
This text has been one of the texts that no one has been able to adequately explain. To my mind, the best explanation is as follows. The Hoi Ioudaoi basically said to Jesus: “You cannot call God your Father the way you do, claiming that in a very special way you are His Divine Son. We are all his children. Unique sonship of God exists, but only for the crowned King of Israel. You are not him. So, you not only say you are a special son of God while not being a king, but from everything else you have said, we’ve come to the unavoidable conclusion that you are also claiming to be divine. This kind of thing cannot be tolerated. It has to be purged at all costs.”
Jesus’ argument, as best I understand it, is as follows: “In one of the Psalms (Ps.82) there is a phrase that addresses the civil magistrate (people endowed by God with limited authority to carry out their civil duties) as God (Elohim) it can be also translated as plural gods instead. So God saw fit to use the word that describes himself (Elohim) to also describe a limited authority given to mere people who were in ruling governmental positions. The big difference between them and Jesus is this – they had the word of God come to them and He was the word of God. So the logic is as follows. If the people in government can be called God or gods, then someone with far greater/limitless authority (Jesus) can surely be called the Son of God. If the former is true, this certainly should be true of the latter.
39 Again they sought to arrest him, but he escaped from their hands. 40 He went away again across the Jordan to the place where John had been baptizing at first, and there he remained. 41 And many came to him. And they said, “John did no sign, but everything that John said about this man was true.” 42 And many believed in him there.
Then many from Jewish Galilee came to Jesus. They said that when John ministered, his ministry was not accompanied by attestations of his divine appointment (miraculous signs), but his words were absolutely true. We read about it in John 1:32-34: “And John bore witness: ‘I saw the Spirit descend from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. I myself did not know him, but he who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ And I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God.’”
Jewish Galilee received Jesus once again. By their witness they confirmed the witness of John the Baptist who was fully persuaded that Jesus was in fact the Son of God.