John 10:22-42 (winter AD 29)
Many people say that Jesus never claimed to be God. Islamic doctrine states it. Muslims respect Jesus as a great prophet, the way Christians might respect Elijah – a man who did great things and never suggested he was more than a man.
This is one of many passages showing that to be nonsense.
Ironically, it starts with a group of Jews asking Jesus to be clear about his claims. Was he claiming to be God or wasn’t he?
Consider Jesus’ options in replying to that comment. If Jesus knew that he was not God, he would have immediately said that he was not God. After all, the very idea – for a Jew – that he might be claiming to be God was more or less the worst thing he could do. There is no greater sin that trying to take the place of God, never mind literally pretending to be him.
Instead, Jesus pointed out to them that his was not a ministry you could dismiss with, ‘Talk is cheap’. Imagine if Jesus’ had made repetition of “I am God” the centrepiece of his work. It would have been performance art for the masses at worst, and just like the prophets at best – proving that he was empowered by God by saying nothing about who he really was.
If you want someone to behave – for a moment – in a certain way, or to momentarily believe something, hammering a simple and clear message is often the way to go. In the UK, the Conservative party won a landslide victory in the December 2019 election with the message ‘Get Brexit done’. The Labour party continued with their years-old, ‘For the many, not the few’ slogan, which (regardless of preference) seemed too vague and devoid of real meaning for most people.
That momentary opinion – putting an ‘X’ next to the Conservative candidate on your ballot paper, was not for most people a gut-deep belief in Conservatism. Catchy tag-lines won’t do that for you. Gut-deep belief rises up from a person’s own sense that something is right, and important, and is the product of time and thought, not three weeks of marketing.
Jesus had no interest in winning election, or in attracting drive-thru disciples – there for an easy meal before moving quickly on. He drove away the miracle tourists through giving them doses of heavy and difficult teaching – he was talking to those who were serious, not those who were there to be entertained. He wanted people to be redeemed, to KNOW who he was and enter into a relationship with him, his Father and Holy Spirit. He needed to show them, not tell them who he was. Allow them to see it and come to the conclusion themselves. Thus his direct claims were few and far between.
Here, Jesus points to the evidence, rather than repeating a verbal claim. And people understood perfectly that Jesus words, “I did tell you but you do not believe”, did NOT mean, ‘I did tell you I wasn’t’, especially as “but you do not believe” would have been a nonsensical follow up to a claim to NOT be God.
Everybody there knew that Jesus was claiming to be God, by pointing to the evidence of his works. He followed that up with the audacious, and blasphemous-coming-from-anyone-else, “I and the Father are one” (v.30).
And when they picked up stones to kill him with, Jesus – if he wasn’t claiming to God – would have said, ‘No, you misunderstand me, I’m not God’. Instead, he pointed them AGAIN to the evidence.
Jesus claimed to be God. Many times and very clearly, including in this passage. But because he was God on earth, and not a politician, he did it primarily through evidence rather than cheap slogans. He backed up the evidence with verbal confirmation when it was necessary. And he gave people time, another chance, to believe in him – even those who were in the middle of trying to kill him, he urged to “believe the works, that you may know and understand” (v.38). The immense patience of our Saviour, to offer that, even then. Their reply was to try – again – to kill him.
The Saviour knew he was God, proved he was God, and claimed to be God. In that order. All while showing compassion and giving invitations to those wanting to kill him for blasphemy.
Jesus invites and commands us, too, to acknowledge who he is, and respond.
It’s a response that begins with repentance and continues with a relationship for and of a lifetime.