The Life of the Lord Jesus Christ

By Johann Peter Lange

Edited by Rev. Marcus Dods

VOLUME II - SECOND BOOK

THE HISTORICAL DELINEATION OF THE LIFE OF JESUS.

PART V.

THE TIME OF JESUS APPEARING AND DISAPPEARING AMID THE PERSECUTIONS OF HIS MORTAL ENEMIES.

 

SECTION XXXIV

Jesus in Jerusalem at the feast of dedication

(Joh 10:22-40)

Of further incidents belonging to Jesus’ journey to the feast the Evangelists afford us no information. John, however, transports us suddenly to Jerusalem in the very midst of the celebration of the Dedication festival; and discovers to us the Lord in the temple, in a situation in the highest degree deserving of our attention.

The EncŠnia1 was a feast which was celebrated by the Jews with great magnificence, in remembrance of the re-dedication of the temple which Judas MaccabŠus held, after that holy building had been freed from the idolatrous defilements to which it had been subjected under Antiochus Epiphanes. It began on the 25th day of Chisleu (on this year, according to Wieseler, 20th of December), and lasted eight days.

When John tells that ‘it was winter,’ and that the Lord ‘was walking in the temple, in Solomon’s cloister,’2 he surely does not mean thereby merely to give us a general notice of the time of year at which this occurred. Probably he points to a winterly state of the weather as occasioning the Lord to betake Himself to the shelter of this cloister. It might very easily be a consequence of this, that the order of the train which at this time commonly surrounded Him seems to have been broken in upon. At all events, He saw Himself suddenly surrounded by Jews, who enclosed Him in a circle, cutting Him off from His own disciples.3

And now followed one of the most mysterious discussions, one of the most exciting scenes, which we meet with in the Gospel histories;—a point of the history which surely is in general not estimated in its full significance. The Jews press in upon the Lord with eager impetuosity, asking Him, ‘How long dost Thou keep our minds in suspense? If Thou art the Christ, tell it out to us plainly.’

It is commonly assumed that this challenge was only a question dictated by artifice, and was merely put for the purpose of forcing from the Lord a declaration that He was the Messiah, and through this means destroying Him. This view we cannot but regard as false, and to refer it, as we have done similar explanations which we have had to deal with before, to a decided misunderstanding of the circumstances and the states of feeling at that time found among the Jews.4 Rather, we have, as we venture to think, already pointed out to the satisfaction of our readers the traces which evidence how gladly the Jews would have received Jesus, if He had chosen to set Himself forth, or even to resign Himself to them, as the Messiah of their conceptions.5 Here the ruling powers of the Jews in Jerusalem seem to be making their last attempt to discover whether from this man, marked as in any case He seemed to be by characteristics of great power, there might not be gained another phase of character and turn of mind than He had hitherto presented. The meaning of the festival might perhaps have especially disposed their minds to do this. For hardly could they then celebrate an EncŠnia without sighing in their secret hearts, and murmuring to one another, Would that a new Judas MaccabŠus [Hammerer] would arise, and hammer away upon the Romans, as that Hammerer drove the Syrians out of the country! And as often as they thought on the possibility even yet, that the mighty Jesus might undertake this part, their bitter distaste to the turn of His character could not fail for the moment to recede into the background. That this was the frame of mind in which they assailed Him appears also from the manner in which they expressed themselves, which shows how very much they suffered under the power which He exerted upon their minds, whilst yet they would not suffer their souls to be ‘carried away’ by Him, but rather wished to carry Him away in a direction of their own (ἕως ’πότε ’τὴν ψυχὴν ημῶν αἵρεις;). We further observe that for some while they accepted His answer, which they might at least have regarded as an affirmative declaration, without interrupting Him. It was only under His further explanation in what sense He allowed Himself to be their Christ, that their old exasperation broke out afresh.6

To such a categorical and distinct question put by the rulers of His people, Jesus could no longer refuse a distinct answer. He did not, however, reply in direct terms, I am the Christ! for that would have appeared as if He claimed to be the Christ in their sense of the term: He says instead, ‘I told you already, and ye believe not.’ Thereby He tells them that in reality He had long since set Himself forth as the Messiah, but as the Messiah in His sense, that is, in a sense in which they would not be willing to receive Him.

Nevertheless this declaration might have had the effect of calling forth on their part a very undesirable feeling of excitement, if He had then made a long pause. But He would not let it come to that, but forthwith proceeded more closely to define the meaning of His declaration. He gave them to understand that He should go on in the same course of thought and action as He had hitherto done. ‘The works’ (He said) ‘which I do in my Father’s name, these bear witness of Me; but yet ye believe not.’ They believe not His words; they believe not His works: in a twofold manner does their unbelief display itself. Therefore He is constrained now to declare to them, in spite of that urgency of theirs which seemed so friendly, ‘Ye are not of My sheep, as I said unto you.’ This He had said to them some two months previously at the feast of Tabernacles, not only when He delivered the parable of the good Shepherd, but also when He declared to them that His voice made no impression upon them because they were not Abraham’s children, but of their father the devil (Joh 8:37-44). In effect, hereby must He know men for His sheep, that they do not seek by false appeals to entice Him to their false ways, but that they know His voice as their Shepherd, and as such acknowledge it and yield it obedience. Between Him and His sheep (He says) there exists the liveliest mutual relation from beginning to end. ‘They hear My voice,’ thus it runs first; then, ‘and I know them:’ further, ‘they follow Me;’ and answering thereto, ‘I give unto them eternal life, and they shall never perish, and no man shall pluck them out of My hand.’

We might be disposed to ask, how Jesus could be led in the hearing of such false hearers to unfold these great promises belonging to His sheep. The explanation no doubt lies in the fact, that He is realizing the state of mind which is so strongly urging them to long after a political messiah.

They lived in perpetual anxiety for the continued existence of God’s people, subject as it was to the Romans. This anxiety expressed itself later in the Sanhedrim without disguise. It was feared that if the people believed in Jesus, the country and people (Joh 11:48-50) would fall completely under the power of the Romans; and therefore Caiaphas gave it as his opinion, that it was better that one man should perish than that the whole nation should perish. By this utterance he betrayed the existence of the sentiment above indicated, and that they feared that the very readiest way by which they could for ever lose their independence, was by surrendering themselves to the guidance of a messiah who would not be a messiah after their mind. They certainly afterwards gave themselves credit for betraying Jesus to the Romans on the ground of His saying that He was the Messiah; but the only real reason for their betraying Him was because He claimed to be the Messiah in a different sense from theirs. Let us now realize the anxious fear in which the Jews stood of the Roman power, and then the above-cited words of Jesus gain a more definite significance; especially the declaration, ‘My sheep shall never perish, and no one shall pluck them out of My hand.’

This declaration of Jesus, which in its highest sense holds good for all men and all times, was, under the circumstances which led to its being made, susceptible of a twofold application according as it was received. In the first place, the Jews might find therein the assurance, that against the hand of the Romans they might trust themselves with the people in the hands of Jesus. If they would commit themselves to Him, He would bring them under the protection of His Father, and would guarantee to them eternal life and eternal security. But in case they persisted in distrusting Him, and even sought in a spirit of hostility to tear the people from Him, then they were to know that they would never succeed in alienating His real flock among the people, or in plucking them from Him.

And now He proves to them that He is able to vouchsafe to His flock such protection. ‘My Father, who gave Me My sheep, is greater than all, and no one can pluck them out of My Father’s hand. But I and the Father are one.’ From His oneness with the Father follows the certainty that His sheep are as well sheltered in His hand as in the hand of His Father.

At this utterance of Jesus, ‘I and the Father are one,’ the patience of the bystanders gave way. For this is just the decisive hindrance which prevented the representatives of a Judaism which had been stunted from its just development and thus become spurious, from recognizing the spirit of that perfectly developed and transfigured Judaism which presented itself to them in the person of Christ. They are disposed to allow the existence only of those forms of spiritual approximation, in which Jehovah, as distinguished from man, comes near to His people through Moses and the prophets; and these they allow, only because they are transmitted to them in actual history: but they cannot admit of this fact of God becoming one with man, in the communication to him of the fulness of His Eternal Spirit and life, as this is exhibited in the person of the God-man. For that puts an end to all hierarchy, ancient or modern; since a hierarchy finds its proper existence only in the legal and typical mediatorship which obtains between a God who is above the world and man who is in the world. That Christ was speaking not merely of a oneness of will with the Father, but of a oneness of essential being, the theological mind may perceive from the mere consideration that the being of God is not apart from His will, but moves in one and the same living energy with it, and that even on the part of man the being is lost in the will in proportion as the will assumes the control of the life.7 In the case of Christ, we have before us a oneness of will with the Father which rests on just the very highest and most mysterious oneness of being possible. The meaning of His words is abundantly testified to by the excitement which they raised in His enemies.8 Their fury drove them beside themselves to such a degree, that they forthwith took up stones for the purpose of exercising upon Him the summary justice of Zelotism by stoning Him. Christ, however, endeavoured to bring them back to their self-recollection, by addressing to them the sharp inquiry, ‘Many good works have I shown you from My Father; for which of these works do ye stone Me?’ The calmness of this word could not fail in some degree to arrest the arm of His enemies. Its import is designed to evidence the truth of His declaration, that He was one with the Father; namely, because His works had in their own character proved themselves to be purely operations of Heaven, proceeding from the Father. The urgent particularity of His question, again, is designed to rescue them from their blind frenzy, and to bring them to inquire after the grounds of their course of proceeding. The question lastly rebukes them: they are marked out by it as being enemies of God. They, on the other hand, now affirm, ‘For a good work we stone Thee not, but for blasphemy, because Thou, being surely a man, makest Thyself God.’ But now again Jesus instantly shows them their error by means of the Old Testament. ‘Is it not written9 in your10 law’ (that is, in the law by which ye deem yourselves bound), ‘I have said, Ye are gods? If he calleth them gods to whom the word of God came,—and the Scripture cannot be set aside,—how can ye say to Him whom the Father hath sanctified and sent into the world, Thou blasphemest, because I said, I am God’s Son?’ The word which gives the name of gods to the lowest judges and prophets in Israel, in the well-understood sense of their being bearers and executors of individual utterances of God, whether judicial or prophetic,—this, as a word of Scripture, they are constrained to hold inviolable; while in His case, who is essentially God’s Consecrated One and God’s Messenger, the Mediator of His perfected revelation, to whom the Father has Himself given consecration and office in its very most essential form,—in His case, they will count it for blasphemy that He calls Himself the Son of God. They are ready to rail at the first ground-word, which is to develop into the Scripture of the New Testament, as blasphemy, while they pretend to regard the Old Testament wholly as the word of God. He then seeks yet further to gain them over by coming back again to the works of His ministry. He wishes them for a moment to look away altogether from Him personally. He makes them even then free to refuse Him their faith, if He does not appear authenticated by the Father. Let them fasten their eyes upon His works, and confess that they are works of the Father, miracles of the supremest power and mercy. But if they cannot but confess that, then let them see clearly that they are bound to give the Father the glory, bound to believe on the works which are from the Father, however much they may feel inclined to refuse faith to Him personally. If they do not choose to take the road which leads from faith in Him personally to the acknowledging of His operations, He yet is at liberty to demand this of them,—that they go the way leading from the recognition of His operations to faith in Him personally. It is in this sense, no doubt, that He summons them to ‘believe His works, that they may know and believe that the Father is in Him.’ Let them learn first to honour in His working the presence of the Father; let them first cease to go on ever more and more denying the deeds of the Father which in His works stand before their eyes, and thus denying the Father Himself; and then they shall also learn, in the centre of this radiant operation of the Father, to estimate Him, the Son in His personality,—learn to believe that He is in the Father, and the Father in Him. If they only come to know that, then they must needs become aware, to their horror, that in His word they are not assaulting some dark, doubtful thesis of the schools, but the richest demonstration of the presence and activity of the heavenly Father Himself.

This appeal of Jesus had completely unnerved their impulse to stone Him. Nevertheless they were not minded to give honour to the truth, nor yet to give up their design of now destroying Him. They therefore once more ‘sought to apprehend Him’ to bring Him before their courts. But it soon proved that the circle was broken which they had drawn around Him. He escaped from their hands. His day’s work was not yet closed. He knew that the Father had yet appointed Him a while to work, particularly in Perea. In this consciousness He moved away through the very midst of their plots and lyings-in-wait in perfect security, and presently after returned to Perea.

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Notes

Strauss (i. 681) asserts, that from ver. 25 Jesus, ‘through the turning word that the unbelievers who were questioning Him do not belong to His sheep,’ slips back again into the allegory of the Good Shepherd, which above had been done with and left, with in part a verbal repetition. He then goes on to observe, that this could not have taken place in the real life of Jesus, since Jesus had delivered that allegory three months previously, but that rather it was the writing Evangelist himself who was just now come from that allegory. Out of this is to be formed an indication that the discourses in John are ‘pretty free’ compositions. But the supposition is itself false on which this inference is grounded. Jesus does not slip back into an earlier discourse, but reverts to it with a distinct reminiscence of it. Under these circumstances He might very well cite a good piece of the allegory, without giving the ‘critic’ occasion to regard it as a slipping back into the former discourse. He does not do this at all: He simply here makes use of the image that He is the Good Shepherd in a parabolic discourse, which, notwithstanding its resemblance in particular points to portions of His former discourse, has nevertheless, viewed as a whole, a thoroughly original character, and stands in complete connection with His present situation. We grant that the genuineness of the clause, As I said unto you, in ver. 26, is not made out. But, however, even in the case of our leaving it out, there is no room for talking about an inorganic slipping back into bits of a former discourse in an appeal which is so full of vital reference to present circumstances. Comp. Ebrard, p. 349.

 

 

1) Τὰ, ἐγκαὶνια (τοῦ ἱεροῦ),  חֲנוּבָּה; ἡμέραι ἐγκαινισμοῦ τοῦ θυσιαστηρίου, or τὸ. φῶτα, Feast of Lights, on account of the illumination which formed a part of it. Cf. 1 Mace. iv.; 2 Mace. x.; Josephus, Antiq. xii. 7, 7. [Of this feast, Lightfoot, among other traditions, quotes the following:—ʻFrom the 25th Chisleu, there are eight days of the Enctenia, in which time it is not lawful either to fast or weep. For when the Greeks entered the temple, they defiled all the oil that was there. But when the kingdom of the Asmoneans had conquered them, they could not find but one single vial of oil, that had been laid up under the seal of the chief priest; nor was there enough in it but to light for one day. There was a great miracle; for they lighted up the lamps from that oil for eight days together: so that, the year after, they instituted the space of eight days for the solemnizing that feast.ʼ—ED.]

2) See LŘcke, p. 429. This cloister had its name from the circumstance that, according to the Jewish tradition, it was a relic of Solomon s temple, left standing when the Babylonians destroyed the rest of the sacred edifice. The opposite side to this cloister, which was the στοὰ ἀνατολικῄ was formed by the στοὰ βασιλική on the south side, which was a work of Herod.

3) Ἐκύκλωσαν αὐτόν. See Baumgarten-Crusius in loc.

4) Comp. Von Ammon, ii. p. 448. ʻVery gladly would they have buried in oblivion all past differences, and supported Him to their utmost power, if only He had now without reserve or qualification named Himself the politico-hierarchical Messiah which had been announced by the prophets, and was so earnestly hoped for by the people.ʼ

5) Cp. especially the history of the temptation.

6) Cp. Acts xxii. 22.

7) [Moses Stuart gives up this saying of our Lord s as proof of His unity of essence with the Father, and thinks it only means, I and My Father are united in counsel, design, and power (Letters on the Divinity of Christ, p. 88). Bengel, however (after Euthymiua as quoted by Alford), says, ʻUnum, non solum voluntatis consensu, sed imitate potentiŠ, adeoque naturŠ, nam Omuipotentia est attributum naturale. . . . Per sumus refutatur Sabellius: per unum Arius.ʼ—ED.]

8) [ʻEcce Judiei intellexerunt quod nou iiitelligunt Ariani.ʼ—Augustin, Tract, in Joan. 49, 8.—ED.]

9) Ps. Ixxxii. 6. Comp. Exod. iv. 16, xxi. 6, xxii. 8

10) We may certainly with Schweizer (Evang. d. Joh., p. 50) infer from this expression, that the Scripture did not to the Lord, who was speaking, reckon as externally imperative upon Himself. This appears also from the consideration, that He represents His life as the fulfilment of the Scriptures (of the Old Testament). Nothing, however, follows from this against the authority of the Scriptures in the Church; provided that we understand this authority to be qualified by the life of Christ, and as existing in harmony with the life of the Church.