From the House of The Nazarene. This will be a very in-depth deep dive study of the Book of John.
We are continuing in our study of the Gospel of John after chapter nine and now we are looking at chapter ten and we want to pick up from the theme here that we have seen in John’s Gospel a number of festivals, sermons and controversies, especially since chapter five, where you had the festival imagery of the Sabbath and then also at the Passover at the tabernacles, and now it is at Chanukah. In Hebrew, the language from which the Jewish festival originates, the word for Hanukkah is not easily transliterated into English. This accounts for why there are so many spelling variants. But Hanukkah and Chanukah are the two versions that are most widely used and accepted. This is the only New Testament mention of this festival in the experience of the Jews, in the experience of Chanukah, which I will describe in just a moment, was related to the marvelous restoration of the temple and the festival of lights that is associated with it.
So, I will make a comment about that in just a moment but, really, I see this contrast that John is using, and he is using images of feasts and using images of festivals, and the contrast of what Jesus was doing and what the religious leaders were doing, to illustrate the identity of Christ. It is a way of revealing the identity of Jesus Christ. My own view of this, and there are some difficulties in the text, is chapter ten, verses 1 to 21 are either associated with the end of chapter nine or it is all a part of what takes place at Chanukah. My own belief, when it says, “at that time,” in verse 22, “the Feast of Dedication took place at Jerusalem,” it is referring back to this because there is a unity of material, especially with the shepherd and sheep imagery.
At the same time, we have this idea that there is a literary unity that really looks back to what took place in chapter nine. In any event, it all takes place around the month of December, as opposed to the autumn when the festival of tabernacles was taking place, in chapters seven through nine. Now it is a winter festival. The major idea I want to stress is that the coming of Christ once again divides the world because we see again that Jesus, in His coming, will divide people and He will divide them according to their response; whether they come to Him in belief or whether they choose to disbelieve Him and resist His word. If you go back to chapter three and verse 19, we see, “This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world and men loved the darkness more than the Light, for their deeds were evil. For everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But he who practices the truth comes to the Light, so that his deeds may be manifested as having been wrought in God.” Then if you look also to chapter nine verse five, Jesus said, “While I am in the world, I am the Light of the world.” So, there is this theme, this motif, of Jesus being the Light to which people must respond. We saw that also in chapter one, that “He is the Light and the Light shines in the darkness, but the darkness does not comprehend it,” and there will be those who receive it and those who will reject that Light. It all has to do, then, with their own disposition as to whether they are willing to come to Him on His own terms.
We now have this theme of Him calling Himself ‘the Good Shepherd’ and that He is also calling Himself the ‘door’. When we look at these two great ‘I am’ statements, we see Him as using this marvelous image of sheep and shepherds, which is a classic Hebrew idiom of leadership. It is an image in the Old Testament, really, of God, who shepherded over Israel. It is a portrait of leadership and a portrait of the way God led His people. In Isaiah 40:9-11, for example, it says, “See, the sovereign Lord comes with power…and He tends His flock like a shepherd. In His arms He will gather the lambs and carries them in His bosom; He gently leads those who have young.” To make this motif even more clear, remember how pharaoh’s army tried to get to the people of Israel and a pillar of fire stopped them? Well, God stopped them at the door, did He not? And again, the people of Israel went through the Red Sea and after they were through, God shut the door? Doesn’t the Bible say that on Noah’s Ark, God shut the door? Yes, it does! It is a beautiful image of intimacy, isn’t it? It is an image of the personal attention that God gives to His people. I find that to be very attractive. May I again say that it is rather unique? You only see this in the Judeo-Christian image of who God is. We do not see that elsewhere, God is One who cares for, and protects, and preserves, and pursues and, in fact, sacrifices for the good of His people. It is an image that is really unique to the Scriptures in this regard. Shepherding became a helpful image as well of spiritual and practical leadership and there were those who were good shepherds of the people of Israel, but there were also false shepherds who would come along.
In Ezekiel 34, which we will see in just a moment, really illustrates that very theme of false shepherds. Now, let’s go back for just a moment to the theme of the Festival of Dedication, and ‘dedication’ is what the word Chanukah really means. It means dedication. What is that referring to? It is referring to the dedication of the second temple. What had taken place, then, was when the temple was built, over time it was being used with fidelity but then the Greeks conquered, and since that time, in 332 BC, the influence of Alexander and his followers was Hellenistic. To Hellenize, a culture meant to bring them under the influence of Greek culture and Greek ideas and Greek thought and really Rome, who effectively conquered Greece ultimately was a Hellenistic culture as well, and as an extension so are we! Do we not teach Socrates, Aristotle, and philosophy, which started in Greece, along with Algebra and Trigonometry in colleges across America, I know I’ve taken them, hated Algebra loved Trig!
So, the Jews themselves were now struggling with their own identity because through this Hellenistic influence, which so pervaded that time, many Jews became Hellenistic Jews. There was a great contrast between those who succumbed to that and those which chose to be faithful to the tradition and the Scriptures and who refused to allow that image to take place. In fact, the Hasadeen were people who were in opposition to the Greeks and to that kind of culture. 1 Maccabees is a book of the Bible written in Hebrew by a Jewish author after the restoration of an independent Jewish kingdom by the Hasmonean dynasty, about the latter part of the 2nd century BC. In modern-day Judaism, the book is often of great historical interest but has no official religious status.
There were false priests who even came in for a period of time that were not part of the Aaronic priesthood, Jason for example, and others mentioned in 2nd Maccabees, where false priests were not even part of the Aaronic tradition. What would eventually take place, then, was the Seleucids, and particularly Antiochus Epiphanes, one of the really nasty ones, whose coming was predicted in Daniel, was a man who was involved in the desecration of the temple in the period around 170 BC. It wasn’t until around 165 BC, under the Maccabean revolt, and under Judas Maccabaeus, they finally were able to reclaim the temple and to cleanse it and purify it and sanctify it and to rededicate it to God. Now, the tradition is this: Judas Maccabaeus had only one day’s supply of oil, which God made to burn for eight days. And so, what you have then is that the Chanukah Menorah has eight candles symbolizing those eight days. Whereas, the temple candelabra, the lampstand, has seven candles.
The Chanukah Menorah celebrated those eight days and so you have a feast that relates to lights as well. Now, the theme that would take place, especially in regard to Chanukah, would be this idea of failed shepherds and false leaders and what have here is, how could they have allowed themselves to be so corrupted that they would lose their national identity and allow their temple to be desecrated? If you will turn with me to Ezekiel chapter 34 for just a moment you will see one of the texts that were actually read during this time. In the winter festival associated with Chanukah, this is one of the passages they would read. In verses, two through ten, “Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel. Prophesy and say to those shepherds, ‘Thus says the Lord God, woe, shepherds of Israel who have been feeding themselves. Should not the shepherds feed the flock? You eat the fat and clothe yourselves with the wool; you slaughter the fat sheep without feeding the flock.
Those who are sickly you have not strengthened, the diseased you have not healed, the broken you have not bound up, the scattered you have not brought back, nor have you sought for the lost; but with force and severity, you have dominated them. They were scattered for lack of a shepherd, and they became food for every beast of the field and were scattered. My flock wandered through all the mountains and on every high hill; My flock was scattered over all the surface of the earth and there was no one to search or seek for them. Therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the Lord: ‘As I live’, declares the Lord God, ‘surely because my flock has become a prey, My flock has become food for all the beasts of the field for lack of a shepherd, and My shepherds did not search for My flock, but rather the shepherds fed themselves and did not feed My flock’. Therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the Lord: Thus says the Lord God, ‘Behold, I am against the shepherds, and I will demand My sheep from them and make them cease from feeding sheep.
So the shepherds will not feed themselves anymore, but I will deliver My flock from their mouth, so that they will not be food for them’.” That is what they read during Chanukah. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that Jesus should use the metaphor of Him being the good shepherd. This is not accidental. Again and again, we see Jesus leveraging, and John emphasizing this, using the images of that time and the festivals and the feasts to really communicate the truth about His true identity and to reveal very progressively who He really is and in that progressive revelation, there would always be the response.
Some people would believe and others would reject.
So, you have this motif running throughout John’s Gospel. There is no accident about this. You see, a good shepherd would be involved with protecting the sheep and often the sheep would be near the desert and you don’t have to go very far east of Jerusalem and there you are in this desert area. In certain parts of the year, a great deal of foliage would come up but in other times the sheep would have to be led through dangerous places and there were all kinds of predators and all kinds of dangers that would abound. There would be a lack of food and water, unless they had a shepherd to guide and protect them and carry them along.
As you know, being called sheep is not exactly a compliment in Scripture. You know this, don’t you? They are really totally dependent creatures. They are cute little things but they really aren’t very bright. They constantly get themselves lost, they move away from the shepherd if they are not careful, they are vulnerable, they can’t defend themselves, they muddy-up their own water, and there is a wide variety of things that a shepherd has to do. In fact, it is no easy task to be a faithful shepherd. The shepherd had to do several things for the sheep. He not only had to feed them, he had to protect them and he also had to guide them.
These are wonderful images, really, of God and his relationship to us. He feeds us and protects us and guides us in our own journey on life. Like a good sheep, you need to learn to listen and discern the voice of the shepherd. The best thing you can do is practice and learn to listen to the true voice, because there is leadership that really be treacherous and there is a false leadership that can move us down the wrong paths and there are predators who abound and there are false shepherds who would try, for example, to not go through the gate but climb over the wall. Typically, in those areas, they would have a small stone wall and it would be about waist high and then you put some thorny bushes on top of that. This was designed to protect the sheep from the predators. There would be one gate only to allow you to come and go and there would be a doorkeeper, because often you would have more than one flock.
So, the doorkeeper would either cover that up with brambles or the doorkeeper himself would actually be right there in the door to protect the sheep from these predators and false shepherds. What would happen would be that when the doorkeeper recognized the true shepherd, he would allow him through and the true shepherd would then call his flock. What they would often do, and you can still see it to this day, the shepherds would sometimes have a short flute and they would play the same little tune again and again. Their own sheep will raise up their heads and will follow that sound. The interesting thing here is that they are not driven, they follow the shepherd.