The Sovereign Shepherd (John 10:19-42)
A few years ago, a story was being circulated, in jest, that Evel Knievel had been killed as he tried to jump the “Nixon credibility gap.” One might think old Evel and his bike could find an even greater challenge today, as “credibility gaps” abound in Washington D.C. and elsewhere in government! The simple fact is that there is often a significant gap between our words and our deeds. The size of the gap is determined by how great a hypocrite we are. Hypocrisy, as I define it at least, is an inconsistency between our words and our deeds, between our profession and our practice.
During my study of this text I have become increasingly aware of the emphasis on the relationship between words and deeds. Throughout the Gospels, we see very little relationship between the words of the Jews who oppose Jesus—and their deeds. They profess one thing and practice another. Hypocrisy has various forms. In its simple form, I say one thing, and I do another. A more terrible form of hypocrisy is when I instruct others to live one way, while I live the very way that I have forbidden to others. Perhaps the worst hypocrisy of all is when I condemn someone for wrong-doing, and yet practice the very thing I have condemned. We see all these forms of hypocrisy in the Bible:
14 What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but does not have works? Can this kind of faith save him? 15 If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacks daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, keep warm and eat well,” but you do not give them what the body needs, what good is it? 17 So also faith, if it does not have works, is dead being by itself (James 2:14-17).
1 Then Jesus said to the crowds and his disciples, 2 “The experts in the law and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat. 3 Therefore, pay attention to what they tell you and do it. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they teach” (Matthew 23:1-3).
17 But if you call yourself a Jew and rely on the law and boast of your relationship to God 18 and know his will and approve the superior things because you receive instruction from the law, 19 and if you are convinced that you yourself are a guide to the blind, a light to those who are in darkness, 20 an educator of the senseless, a teacher of little children, because you have in the law the essential features of knowledge and of the truth— 21 therefore you who teach someone else, do you not teach yourself? You who preach against stealing, do you steal? 22 You who say not to commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? 23 You who boast in the law dishonor God by transgressing the law. 24 For just as it is written, “the name of God is being blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you” (Romans 2:17-24).
The Gospel of John is written in a way that links the declarations of Jesus to His deeds. John does this to show that Jesus’ words must be taken seriously, because of the works that accompany them.
30 Now Jesus performed many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples that are not recorded in this book. 31 But these are recorded so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name (John 20:30-31).
So it is in John’s Gospel that Jesus is continually performing some miraculous deed, which validates a declaration He has made, or will make shortly. These “signs” that our Lord performs demonstrate that He is who He claims to be. The One who claims to be the “Bread of Life” (6:35) is the same One who feeds the 5,000 (John 6:1-14). The last words Jesus speaks before giving the man born blind his sight are: “While I am in the world, I am the light of the world” (John 9:5). While many of the Jews object to the teaching of our Lord, accusing Him of being demon possessed, many others protest, “These are not the words of someone possessed by a demon. A demon cannot cause the blind to see, can it?” (John 10:21). They take Jesus’ words seriously because of His works. In our text, Jesus claims to be “the resurrection and the life,” assuring His listeners that anyone who believes in Him will live, even though he dies (11:25). This is just shortly before He calls Lazarus out of the tomb, where he has been for four days!
After Jesus feeds the crowd of 5,000 men, the people respond: “This is certainly the Prophet who is to come into the world”(John 6:14).
When Nicodemus came to Jesus by night, he acknowledged that Jesus had “come from God,” based upon the deeds He had done: “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the miraculous signs that you do unless God is with him” (John 3:2).
In our text, the Apostle John continues to employ the imagery of sheep and shepherding, but he does so with an emphasis on the relationship between words and deeds. Hypocrisy is not just the sin of the Pharisees. If you and I were honest, we would admit that we are all hypocrites, and in a big way! This text has a great deal to say to us about Jesus, about words and deeds, and about hypocrisy. Let us listen and learn what the Spirit of God has to say to us through His inspired Word. Let us resolve ahead of time, that by God’s grace, we will do what this text teaches us we should do, and that our deeds will conform to His words, as well as our own.
19 Again there came about a sharp division among the Jewish authorities because of these words. 20 Many of them were saying, “He is possessed by a demon and has lost his mind. Why do you listen to him?” 21 Others said, “These are not the words of someone possessed by a demon. A demon cannot cause the blind to see, can it?”
Jesus has just spoken some very strong words. He has claimed to be Messiah, the “Good Shepherd” who was spoken of by the Old Testament prophets. At the same time, He has indicted the Jewish religious leaders for being the wicked shepherds depicted and denounced by the Old Testament prophets. Jesus is the “Good Shepherd,” as opposed to the religious leaders who are evil shepherds. His words can hardly be taken lightly. It is no wonder that those hearing these words react strongly, some in opposition to Jesus, and others in support of Him. This is not an entirely new thing. Throughout the Gospel of John, men strongly differ as to who Jesus is (see John 6:52; 7:43; 9:16). Those opposed to Jesus are becoming more and more intense in their opposition. They have already purposed to put Him to death (see 5:18; 7:1, 19-20, 25; 8:37, 40).
When they hear Jesus speak of Himself as the “Good Shepherd,” those who are not “His sheep” immediately brush His words aside as the ravings of a mad man, a man possessed by a demon. A good number of other folks see and hear the same things, but they simply cannot agree that the words Jesus speaks are the ravings of a man who is demon possessed. They rightly reason that Jesus’ words must be judged in the light of His works. A demon possessed man would not speak and act as Jesus does. He would most certainly not give sight to one who was born blind. This miracle of the healing of the man born blind is very much in the minds of those inclined to take Jesus seriously. This sign gives credibility to His words. They undoubtedly have seen many men who were demon possessed, but none of these spoke or acted as Jesus does. And so, once again, the Jews are divided among themselves. Those opposed to Jesus must once again gather their wits about them and seek to find some way to do away with Him.
John’s description of this mixed reaction is added evidence that Jesus is who He claims to be. This mixed response to our Lord’s words is exactly what Jesus said it would be. His sheep hear His voice and follow Him; those who are not His sheep do not “hear” Him. This is the reason for the mixed reaction to His words. His sheep hear His voice, and they recognize in Jesus’ words and deeds the voice of the Good Shepherd. The rest, who are not His sheep, do not hear His voice, and they are quick to reject Him as their shepherd.
Same Song, Second Verse
22 Then came the feast of the Dedication in Jerusalem. It was winter, 23 and Jesus was walking in the temple in Solomon’s Portico. 24 The Jewish religious leaders surrounded him and said, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.” 25 Jesus replied, “I told you and you do not believe. The deeds I do in my Father’s name testify about me. 26 But you refuse to believe because you are not my sheep. 27 My sheep listen to my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they will never perish; no one will snatch them from my hand. 29 My Father who has given them to me is greater than all, and no one can snatch them from my Father’s hand. 30 The Father and I are one.”
John continues to employ the imagery of the Good Shepherd in verses 22-30. It is certainly in keeping with the teaching of our Lord in verses 1-21. While the subject is the same as before, the occasion for the teaching of verses 22 and following is different. It is now winter in Jerusalem, and the occasion is the Feast of Dedication.187 John is careful to tell us that Jesus was in Jerusalem because this was not one of Israel’s great feasts, which all were required to attend and observe in Jerusalem. It could have been celebrated elsewhere, but Jesus came to Jerusalem.
It is right around Christmas time for us when Jesus returns once again to Jerusalem. He is in the temple, walking under the cover provided by Solomon’s Portico.188 Things quickly turn ugly. The Jews surround189 Jesus in a hostile manner,190 demanding that He give them a direct answer as to whether or not He claims to be Israel’s Messiah. They are obviously aggravated, because they feel He has been evasive.
There is a sense in which they are correct. Our Lord did make some very clear statements concerning His identity to the woman at the well (John 4:25-26) and to the man born blind (John 9:35-37). But Jesus avoids making direct statements publicly, knowing that such a statement would likely lead to an immediate attempt to stone or crucify Him. At the time of our Lord’s “trial” before the Jewish religious leaders, a similar demand is made by the high priest. Our Lord’s direct response is viewed as proof of His “guilt”:
62 So the high priest stood up and said to him, “Do you have no answer? What is this that they are testifying against you?” 63 But Jesus remained silent. The high priest said to him, “I charge you under oath by the living God, tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God.” 64 Jesus said to him, “You have said it yourself. But I tell you, from now on you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven.” 65 Then the high priest tore his clothes and said, “He has blasphemed! Why do we still need witnesses? Now you have heard the blasphemy! 66 What is your verdict?” They answered, “He is guilty and deserves death” (Matthew 26:62-66).
There is yet another reason why our Lord hesitates to make any direct statements, and this reason is for the benefit of His disciples:
13 When Jesus came to the area of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” 14 They answered, “Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” 15 He said to them, “And who do you say that I am?” 16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” 17 And Jesus answered him, “You are blessed, Simon son of Jonah, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but my Father in heaven!” (Matthew 16:13-17, emphasis mine.)
Our Lord wanted men to believe in Him because the evidence was compelling, and because God had revealed this to them. The great confession of Peter is the result of his seeing many signs, of his repeated hearing of our Lord’s claims, and of the Father enlightening him so that he finally grasped their implications.
Jesus does not admit to concealing His identity, however, nor should He. The problem is not that Jesus has withheld information from them which they needed in order to come to a decision about His identity. Over and over again, He has made statements which make it clear that He is claiming to be the Messiah. Setting aside the public declarations of John the Baptist concerning our Lord’s identity, think of some of the claims Jesus has already made in the Gospel of John:
At the temple, Jesus said, “Take these things away from here! Do not make my Father’s house a marketplace!” (John 2:16).
His miracles were a public declaration of His identity: “Now while Jesus was in Jerusalem at the feast of the Passover, many people believed in his name because they saw the miraculous signs he was doing” (John 2:23).
Jesus claimed to be God: “So Jesus told them, ‘My Father is working until now, and I too am working.’ For this reason the Jewish authorities were trying even harder to kill him, because not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was also calling God his own Father, thus making himself equal with God” (John 5:17-18).
Jesus claims to be the One who will raise the dead, and then judge them:
20 “For the Father loves the Son and shows him everything he does, and greater deeds than these he will show him, so that you may be amazed. 21 For just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whomever he wishes. 22 Furthermore, the Father does not judge anyone, but has assigned all judgment to the Son, 23 so that all people may honor the Son just as they honor the Father. The one who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him. 24 I tell you the solemn truth, the one who hears my message and believes the one who sent me has eternal life, and will not be condemned, but has crossed over from death to life. 25 I tell you the solemn truth, a time is coming and is now here when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and the ones who hear will live. 26 For just as the Father has life in himself, thus he has granted the Son to have life in himself; 27 and he granted the Son authority to execute judgment because he is the Son of Man. 28 Do not be amazed at this, because a time is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice 29 and will come out—the ones who have done what is good to the resurrection resulting in life, and the ones who have done what is evil to the resurrection resulting in condemnation. 30 I can do nothing on my own initiative. Just as I hear, I judge; and my judgment is just because I do not seek my own will, but the will of the one who sent me” (John 5:20-30).
Jesus claims to have come down from heaven, and to be the only source of eternal life:
37 “Everyone whom the Father gives me will come to me, and the one who comes to me I will never send away. 38 For I have come down from heaven not to do my own will but the will of the one who sent me. 39 Now this is the will of the one who sent me: that I should not lose one person of every one he has given me, but raise them all up at the last day. 40 For this is the will of my Father: that every one who looks on the Son and believes in him will have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day” (John 6:37-40).
Jesus claims to be the “I am,” who existed even before Abraham: “Jesus said to them, ‘I tell you the solemn truth, before Abraham came into existence, I am!’” (John 8:58).
I believe it is safe to say that our Lord has been more than clear in His claims to be Messiah. He was certainly clear enough for those who were His sheep, who sincerely desired to hear the truth about Him. Jesus therefore gets right to the heart of their unbelief. It is not that they lack sufficient evidence to come to a conclusion as to His identity. It is not due to His failure to speak out clearly enough about Himself. Their rejection of Him as the Messiah is due to their stubborn refusal to believe His words and His works: “Jesus replied, ‘I told you and you do not believe. The deeds I do in my Father’s name testify about me’” (verse 25, emphasis mine).
They do not believe His words nor His works, for this simple reason: “You refuse to believe because you are not of my sheep” (verse 26).
His opponents are not “His sheep,” and this is why they do not believe His words or His works. Instead, they have set themselves against the Good Shepherd. Jesus now contrasts His sheep with these other “sheep,” who are not a part of His flock. His sheep hear His voice. They recognize that Jesus is the Son of God, their Messiah, and they accept His words as being the very words of God. Not only do His sheep know Him as their Shepherd, He knows them as His sheep. The Good Shepherd knows intimately those sheep who belong to Him. He knows their weaknesses and their strengths, their tendencies and their temptations. The result is that when He, the Shepherd, speaks, His own sheep know and follow Him (verse 27).
These are the more immediate results. The long-term results are also incredible. The Great Shepherd gives eternal life to His sheep. They not only enter into the abundant life, they do so permanently, irreversibly:
28 I give them eternal life, and they will never perish; no one will snatch them from my hand. 29 My Father who has given them to me is greater than all, and no one can snatch them from my Father’s hand. 30 The Father and I are one.
His sheep will never perish. No one will ever snatch them from His hand. If this is not enough security for the sheep, there is even more. His sheep are His because His Father has given them to Him. His Father has purposed not only to give these sheep to the Son, but to see to it that they remain His sheep. Since no one is greater than His Father, no one is able to snatch these sheep from His Father’s hand.
You may remember the slogan the Allstate Insurance Company promoted (and to my knowledge still uses): “You’re in good hands with Allstate.” John tells us that our Lord’s sheep could not be in better hands—the hand of the Son and the hand of the Father. No one could be more secure than one of His sheep.
Here John emphasizes the relationship between our Lord’s sheep, the Good Shepherd, and God the Father. He makes it very clear that the salvation and (eternal) security of the sheep are not the result of our sheepish efforts, but rather the sovereign will and working of God.191 It is the Father who chose us for salvation and gave us to the Son. It is the Father who purposed to save us through the sacrifice of His Son. It is the sovereignty of God which assures our salvation. No one overrules His will. No one overpowers Him. No one nullifies what He has achieved. No one takes away those He has purchased. Why is the subject of the sovereignty of God such a sensitive matter to some, and even viewed as offensive, when it is the sovereignty of God which is the basis for our salvation and our security? These strong words concerning His sovereignty and our security are not my words, these are John’s words, and ultimately God’s words.
A Strong Reaction to Strong Words
31 The Jewish authorities picked up rocks again to stone him to death. 32 Jesus said to them, “I have shown you many good deeds from the Father. For which one of them are you going to stone me?” 33 The Jewish authorities replied, “We are not going to stone you for a good deed but for blasphemy, because you, a man, are claiming to be God.”
It is really quite amazing to see how hard some people work to avoid the clear meaning of our Lord’s words in verses 25-30. Some Christians strive to show that John is not emphasizing the sovereignty of God here in relation to the salvation and security of God’s elect. The enemies of our Lord have no such difficulty understanding what He means. Their difficulty is in accepting it. They correctly understand Him to be claiming to be God. But their system of religion makes salvation man’s work, the reward for human effort in law-keeping. To speak of salvation as something that is in God’s hands, completely the work of His grace, is a great blow to their pride. The words of our Lord are not received as the voice of the Good Shepherd, but as the blasphemous claims of an impostor and a fraud. And so they begin to collect rocks192 to stone Him.
As they begin to gather their collection of rocks, Jesus questions them concerning the legitimacy of stoning Him. Just which one of His works is so evil that it is worthy of the death penalty? Does Jesus deserve to be on “death row” because of His deeds? Which ones? Their (paraphrased) answer to His question is very enlightening: “Oh, it is not for your works that we are going to stone you, but for your words.” Now it is true that a man could be stoned for blasphemy, and this is a matter of one’s words. Jesus is not denying that He claims to be God. Jesus is seeking to show His adversaries that His works give substance to His words. He claims to be God while doing the deeds of God. Giving sight to a man born blind is something no one has ever witnessed before. It is one of the works which Messiah was prophesied to perform:
16 Now Jesus came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day, as he customarily did. He stood up to read, 17 and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written, 18 “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and regaining of sight to the blind, to set free those who are oppressed, 19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
20 Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fixed on him, 21 and he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:16-21, where Jesus cites from Isaiah 61:1-2; see also Matthew 11:1-6).
The response of the Jews to our Lord’s challenge is amazing. In effect, they are saying, “Oh, we don’t look at your words in relation to your works; we view them separately.” Only those who are great hypocrites find this feat easy to accomplish. Their words and their works are not related (Matthew 23:1-3), and so they do not care that Jesus’ words and works are completely consistent. They are not about to be confused with the facts when their minds are already made up. They conclude (wrongly, of course) that Jesus is merely a man, and thus His claim to be God must be blasphemy. In their minds, He deserves to die.
A Tough Question, and an Even More Troubling Point
34 Jesus answered, “Is it not written in your law, ‘I said, you are gods’? 35 If those people to whom the word of God came were called ‘gods’ (and the scripture cannot be broken), 36 do you say about the one whom the Father set apart and sent into the world, ‘You are blaspheming,’ because I said, ‘I am the Son of God’? 37 If I do not perform the deeds of my Father, do not believe me. 38 But if I do them, even if you do not believe me, believe the deeds, so that you may come to know and understand that I am in the Father and the Father is in me.”
These verses are interesting indeed. Some think that our Lord’s response here is a kind of clever trick. They think that by His quotation and question Jesus stumps His accusers, and thereby “takes the wind out of their sails.” It may look similar to an incident recorded in the Gospel of Luke:
27 Now some Sadducees came to him (who contend there is no resurrection). 28 They asked him a question: “Teacher, Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies leaving a wife but no children, that man must marry the widow and father children for his brother. 29 Now there were seven brothers. The first married a woman and died without children. 30 The second 31 and then the third married her, and likewise all seven died, leaving no children. 32 Afterward the woman died too. 33 In the resurrection, therefore, whose wife will the woman be? For the seven had all married her.” 34 So Jesus said to them, “The people of this age marry and are given in marriage. 35 But those who are regarded as worthy to share in that age and in the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage. 36 In fact, they can no longer die, because they are equal to angels and are sons of God, since they are sons of the resurrection. 37 But that the dead are raised—even Moses revealed this in the passage about the bush, where he calls the Lord ‘the God of Abraham and the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.’ 38 Now he is not God of the dead, but of the living; for all live before him.” 39 Then some of the experts in the law answered, “Teacher, you have spoken well!” 40 For they no longer dared to ask him any question. 41 But he said to them, “How can they say that the Christ is David’s son? 42 For David himself says in the book of Psalms, ‘The Lord said to my Lord, Sit at my right hand, 43 until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.’ 44 David thus calls him Lord; so how is he his son?” (Luke 20:27-44)
In the past, I would have agreed with those who see this as cleverly “outwitting” His opponents. They put a trick question to Him, thinking it will make Him look bad. As it turns out, Jesus answers in a way that makes His adversaries look bad, and then He asks them a question, which they cannot answer. This He does, and it not only temporarily silences His enemies, it makes them look stupid, and so they become even more intent on killing Him. But I think Jesus has more in mind than simply making His enemies look stupid. I believe that in Luke 20 and in our text, Jesus is pressing His enemies to consider the implications of an Old Testament text. How can David call his “son” his “Lord”? If they believe in Jesus, they will know the answer (or will know it before long, after His death, burial, and resurrection).
The same is true for our Lord’s reference to Psalm 82. Let’s take a look at the entire psalm:
A Psalm of Asaph.
God stands in the congregation of the mighty [Hebrew, el = God]; He judges among the gods [Hebrew, elohim, gods, rulers]. 2 How long will you judge unjustly, And show partiality to the wicked? Selah
3 Defend the poor and fatherless; Do justice to the afflicted and needy. 4 Deliver the poor and needy; Free them from the hand of the wicked. 5 They do not know, nor do they understand; They walk about in darkness; All the foundations of the earth are unstable. 6 I said, “You are gods [Hebrew, elohim], And all of you are children of the Most High. 7 But you shall die like men, And fall like one of the princes.” 8 Arise, O God, judge the earth; For You shall inherit all nations (Psalm 82:1-8, NKJV).
If our Lord’s response to the Jews is only a trick question, it would be a shrewd move on His part, but it is much, much more. His adversaries want to stone Him for blasphemy, because He claims to be God. Jesus does not deny His claim to deity. He points back to Psalm 82 where, under inspiration, Asaph writes of Israel’s rulers as though they were gods. If the Old Testament Scriptures (which “cannot be broken”) speak of mere men as “gods,” then why are the Jews seeking to kill Jesus for claiming to be “God”? Have His works not surpassed the works of those who were called “gods” in Psalm 82?
In what sense can mere men be called “gods”? This is not as amazing as it may originally seem. Leaders certainly do function (or at least should function) as “gods” in a certain, qualified, sense. When God created Adam and Eve, He created them in His image. They were to reflect God’s image by “ruling” over creation (Genesis 1:26). The leaders of Israel were to act in God’s behalf as they led the nation:
So he [Aaron] shall be your spokesman to the people. And he himself shall be as a mouth for you, and you [Moses] shall be to him as God [Hebrew, elohim] (Exodus 4:16, NKJV, emphasis mine).
So the LORD said to Moses: “See, I have made you as God [Hebrew, elohim] to Pharaoh, and Aaron your brother shall be your prophet” (Exodus 7:1, NKJV, emphasis mine).
“Then his master shall bring him to the judges [Hebrew, elohim]. He shall also bring him to the door, or to the doorpost, and his master shall pierce his ear with an awl; and he shall serve him forever (Exodus 21:6, NKJV, emphasis mine).
“If the thief is not found, then the master of the house shall be brought to the judges [Hebrew, elohim] to see whether he has put his hand into his neighbor’s goods” (Exodus 22:8, NKJV, emphasis mine).
The principle on which the term “god” is used in reference to men is this: Men are “gods” (in a certain limited sense) when they act as leaders, in God’s behalf. Moses was “god” to Pharaoh when he spoke to Pharaoh on God’s behalf. And since he was, in a sense, “god” to Pharaoh, Aaron was a prophet to him (Exodus 4:16; 7:1). Judges were “gods” in that they judged Israel on God’s behalf. So far as the people of Israel were concerned, they were to submit themselves to God’s leaders (the “gods” referred to above) as unto the Lord. This submission to leaders “as unto the Lord” can be seen elsewhere in the Bible:
1 Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except by God’s appointment, and the authorities that exist have been instituted by God. 2 So the person who resists such authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will incur judgment 3 (for rulers cause no fear for good conduct but for bad). Do you desire not to fear authority? Do good and you will receive its commendation, 4 for it is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be in fear; for it does not bear the sword in vain. It is God’s servant to administer retribution on the wrongdoer (Romans 13:1-4).
22 Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord, 23 because the husband is the head of the wife as also Christ is the head of the church—he himself being the savior of the body (Ephesians 5:22-23).
5 Slaves, obey your human masters with fear and trembling, in the sincerity of your heart as to Christ, 6 not like those who do their work only when someone is watching—as people-pleasers—but as servants of Christ doing the will of God from the heart. 7 Obey with enthusiasm, as though serving the Lord and not people (Ephesians 6:5-7).
22 Slaves, obey your earthly masters in every respect; not only when they are watching—like those who are strictly people-pleasers—but with a sincere heart, fearing the Lord. 23 Whatever you are doing, work at it with enthusiasm, as to the Lord and not for people, 24 because you know that you will receive your inheritance from the Lord as the reward. Serve the Lord Christ (Colossians 3:22-24).
In our text, Jesus is employing what is known as a “much more” argument. If mere men who are in positions of leadership can in some sense be called “gods” in their relationship to those they lead, then “much more” can Jesus Christ, the very Son of God, God incarnate, be called “God.” Jesus is not acting wrongly, nor is He guilty (as accused) of blasphemy.
But there is more—much more—to be understood by the reference Jesus has made to Psalm 82. I believe Jesus is calling attention to the fact that the entire Psalm points to Him as the Messiah, validating His claim to be Messiah. The reason the Jews are so intent on killing Jesus is not only because He claims to be God, but because He also claims to be the Good Shepherd. And in claiming to be the “Good Shepherd,” it is clear by inference that the Jewish leaders are “thieves and robbers,” the false shepherds who have been condemned by God in texts like Ezekiel 34. These are the evil shepherds whom our Lord has described in contrast to Himself in our text. So, too, wicked shepherds are condemned in Psalm 82. Let’s take a quick look at this psalm, noting how direct its application is to our Lord.
In verse 1, Asaph describes God as standing in the midst of Israel’s rulers (elohim, “gods”), judging them. They are on trial for misusing their positions of leadership and authority. Instead of defending the poor and the fatherless, they oppress the weak, judging unjustly. God instructs them to care for the afflicted and the needy, and to deliver them from the hand of the wicked. He says that they are walking in darkness. Could we not call them “blind leaders of the blind” as Jesus does (Matthew 15:14)? Has John not already told us that Jesus came as the “light of the world” (1:4-5; 8:12; 9:5), and that the “darkness” did not master Him (1:5)? Are the crimes of Israel’s judges in Psalm 82 not the same as those depicted in “shepherd terms” in Ezekiel 34? Jesus is calling attention to the very text which speaks of Him as the Messiah and at the same time indicts His Jewish adversaries as “gods,” who are soon to be judged by the sovereign Shepherd. These “gods” are mere men, and not God, and because of their sin, they will die like mere mortals (lest they may have forgotten this).
The psalm ends: “Arise, O God, judge the earth; For You shall inherit all nations.”
Can they not see what both our Lord and this psalm are saying? This psalm is not just a text Jesus has chosen to stump His adversaries. It is not a cute trick, which shames those who would pose trick questions to Messiah. He is the fulfillment of this psalm, as they are. They are the “gods” whom God is coming to judge. They are the “gods” who will die like men; He is the God who will die to save His sheep, only to rise again from the dead. This text says it all, but they cannot see it, for they are blind, while He is the light of the world. They cannot hear, for He is not their shepherd.
Jesus urges them to stand back for just a moment and reconsider His claims, in the light of His works. If they are unwilling to accept His claims to be the Messiah, let them set aside His words for the moment and consider just His works alone. Do His deeds not speak loudly enough for them to hear? If they can believe Him for no other reason, let them believe in Him only on account of His works, as others have done (see 2:23-25). Let them grasp that Jesus and the Father are one, that He is in the Father, as the Father is in Him (verse 38).
A Strategic Retreat
39 Then they attempted again to seize him, but he escaped their clutches. 40 Jesus went back to the Jordan River again to the place where John had been baptizing at an earlier time, and he stayed there. 41 Many came to him and began to say, “John performed no miraculous sign, but everything John said about this man was true!” 42 And many believed in Jesus there.
This is more than enough. These Jewish leaders can stand no more. They seek to lay hold of Him, but once again He eludes their grasp. I love the words of verse 39. In the translator’s notes of the NET Bible we read, “he departed out of their hand.” Is this not ironic? Jesus has twice claimed that as the Good Shepherd He not only saves His sheep, but safely keeps them in His “hand,” as the Father does likewise (verses 28-30). While His sheep cannot be snatched from His hand, He once again escapes their “hand.” I think it is clear that John is contrasting our Lord’s power as God with the power of the “gods,” Israel’s leaders, Israel’s false shepherds.
It is not yet His appointed time to die for His sheep, and so Jesus retreats to the more desolate and distant places along the Jordan river, which John the Baptist used to frequent in his ministry. We do not know exactly where this was, and likely, our Lord’s enemies do not know either. That is the point of His retreat. While our Lord’s enemies do not come to Him there, many others find Him in this place. It would seem that Jesus performed a number of miracles there from the words of those who compare His ministry with that of John: “John performed no miraculous sign, but everything John said about this man was true!”
These words are recorded by John here for a reason that is very much related to the point of this passage. I have suggested that while the theme of shepherding is prominent, so is the relationship between our Lord’s words and His works. We are informed here that John the Baptist did not perform any miraculous sign. If John, our author, was indeed one of John’s disciples (as suggested earlier—see 1:35-37), then he most certainly would be aware of this from personal experience. My point is this: Many of the Jews believed that John the Baptist was a true prophet (see Matthew 21:26). They believed his words, even though he did not perform any miraculous works. And yet the Jews in Jerusalem (especially the religious leaders) will not believe Jesus’ words, even though He does many miraculous works. What a contrast John draws between these “Jordan River” Jews and the sophisticated Jews of Jerusalem. In contrast to our Lord’s rejection in Jerusalem, many are believing in Him who come to Him at the Jordan river.
One further comment seems fitting here. If you will recall, early in this chapter Jesus spoke of Himself as the true Shepherd, and figuratively spoke of John the Baptist (as I understand our Lord’s words) as the doorkeeper. Is it not fitting for John to close this section on the Good Shepherd by linking, once again, the ministry of our Lord with that of John the Baptist? Those who believed John’s message (apart from any miraculous signs) also believed in Jesus (with His miraculous works). I do not think that the miracles were necessary, because His sheep would have heard His voice without them. But the presence of these miracles, in contrast to John’s lack of any signs, further testifies to the truth John the Baptist himself stressed—that Jesus is the One far superior to him, the One who came down from the Father in Heaven.
And so we see that those who are His sheep have more than enough reason to believe, and that those who are not will never have enough evidence to believe. The difference all boils down to those who are His sheep, and those who are not. John’s ministry lives on (verses 41 and 42), even though he did not (see also Acts 19:1-7). John was a “good shepherd” who fulfilled his leadership role by pointing people to the “Good Shepherd.”
I have already attempted to make some applications as we have worked through the text, but allow me to conclude by pointing out some avenues for further investigation, meditation, and application.
First, this text strongly teaches the sovereignty of God, especially as it relates to the salvation and the security of His sheep. Those who resist such teaching should consider the fact that the doctrine of God’s sovereignty is not a flattering one. Is this not the principle reason we are inclined to reject it? The doctrine of God’s sovereignty glorifies God, and not men. It stresses His work, and not our works. It is this very teaching that the Jewish opponents of our Lord react to so strongly. Does this not serve to warn those who would seek to reject this teaching today, here in our text? This does not mean that the Bible ignores human responsibility, but it does mean that our salvation and our security are in His hands, and not ours. For that we should rejoice, not resist.
Second, this text reminds us of the necessary link between what we say and what we do, between our profession and our practice. Jesus constantly challenges His adversaries to consider the relationship between His words and His works. He also rebukes the Pharisees for their lack of consistency in these matters. Let us take heed. Let us be sure that what we say we believe is also what we behave.
Third, this text says much about leaders and leadership. It reminds us that leaders have been given their place of authority to carry out their roles as God’s agents. It certainly indicates to us that those of us under such divinely ordained authority should submit to it, as to the Lord. But in addition, the message is loud and clear that those leaders who fail to fulfill their mission as “good” shepherds will some day stand before the Great Shepherd and give account for their deeds. In this day when leaders seem to be getting away with murder, let us never forget this truth.
A friend of mine told me of an experience he had recently. Before he retired he was an executive in a large corporation. He had been active in many church and Christian ministries, but he had never been involved in anything social, such as protesting before an abortion clinic. One day, he decided that this was something he needed to do. He was arrested. When he stood before the judge, he was forbidden to speak from or about the Bible. He found it almost impossible to believe how little he could do in his own defense. But when it was all over, this man stood before the judge and said something like this: “Your honor, there will come a day when you will stand before the Great Judge, and you will give account for what you have done here today.” Those words, my friend, should be sobering to all of us who have some leadership role to play. Every “shepherd” will someday stand before the Great Shepherd and give account to Him. Oh, that we shall stand before Him as His sheep, as those whom He has saved, as those whom He keeps safely in His hand, as those who know His voice and follow Him. I pray that you can say, with me, “The Lord is my Shepherd. I shall not want.”
187 “This feast of dedication, celebrated for eight days about the middle of our December, was instituted by Judas Maccabeus B.C. 164 in commemoration of the cleansing of the temple from the defilements of pagan worship by Antiochus Epiphanes (1Macc. 4:59). The word enkainia (en kaino", new) occurs here only in the N.T. It was not one of the great feasts and could be observed elsewhere without coming to Jerusalem. Jesus had apparently spent the time between tabernacles and dedication in Judea (Lu 10:1–13:21).” A. T. Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament.
188 “A covered colonnade or portico in which people could walk in all weather. See Ac 3:11; 5:12 for this porch. This particular part of Solomon’s temple was left uninjured by the Babylonians and survived apparently till the destruction of the temple by Titus A.D. 70 (Josephus, Ant. XX. 9,7). When John wrote, it was, of course, gone.” A. T. Robertson.
189 We see this word employed in Acts 14:20, where Paul’s companions circle around his apparently lifeless body, after he had been stoned and left for dead at Lystra. Here, this “surrounding” was friendly, but in many other instances it is hostile (see Psalm 22:16; 88:17; 109:3, where the same Greek term is employed in the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament).
191 Morris puts it this way: “It is one of the precious things about the Christian faith that our continuance in eternal life depends not on our feeble hold on Christ, but on His firm grip on us.” Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1971) p. 521.
192 Morris writes, “‘Took up’ is ebastasan, ‘carried.’ There would be no stones in Solomon’s colonnade, and they would have to bring them there.” Morris, p. 524, fn. 81. A. T. Robertson writes in Word Pictures in the New Testament, “Perhaps here ebastasan means ‘they fetched stones from a distance.’” I have to chuckle as I read this and try to imagine what this scene would have been like. As Morris points out, they could not take up rocks and begin to throw them at Jesus because they were in the temple area. They would have to go outside and gather rocks, so that they could stone Him. This took time and effort, and we know from the text that they sought to stone Him several times. But every time they had a sizeable pile accumulated, Jesus would in some way elude their grasp, so their efforts were in vain. I can imagine that the temple custodian, whoever he might be, would have gotten tired of cleaning up the rock piles after these zealous Jews.