As Jesus told a story about a Good Shepherd (see lessons 133 and 134), His listeners understood that He was talking about Himself. They also knew He was claiming to be the Messiah. He was claiming that He was able to give eternal life to His sheep, and His sheep were those who listened and believed.
The religious leaders probably understood that their accusations and rebellion against Him made them the thieves and robbers in the story…and that when Jesus called God His Father, He was claiming to be God Himself.
These were radical things to say in any time of history to any people. If they were true, then it was the most important Truth every spoken. If they were not true, then Jesus was either a horrific liar, or He was completely insane. Many in the crowds, the true sheep of God, did believe. They trusted that Jesus was exactly who He said He was. But others muttered and grumbled in sullen frustration. “‘He has a demon…He’s insane,’” they declared, “‘Why do you listen to Him?’”
Then others would argue, “‘These are not the sayings of someone who is demon-possessed. A demon cannot open the eyes of the blind, can he?’”
And so the national debate continued, dividing the people into camps. What were the people of God going to decide? Would they finally accept the magnificent gift that they had in the Son of God? Would they put an end to their sin of rebellion and doubt?
It was winter in Jerusalem, and it was the time of the Feast of Dedication. It was a huge festival that brought Jews from all over the nation to the Temple. Jesus was there, too, walking in the courtyard of the Temple named after the great King Solomon.
Imagine the massive Temple walls, thousands upon thousands of people arriving with their sacrifices and offerings, music playing, and all the high energy that comes with an important celebration. Imagine how the people stopped to listen to Jesus…watching to see what He would do next, waiting to see what the religious leaders would do in response.
Some of the Jewish leaders came up to Him with questions. “‘How long will you keep us in suspense’” they asked. “‘If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.’”
Jesus looked at them and said, “‘I did tell you, but you did not believe. The miracles I do in my Father’s name speak for me, but you do not believe because you are not my sheep.’”
Well, now, that right there was a very clear answer for them, wasn’t it? But they did not have ears to hear. Jesus went on: “‘My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow Me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of My hand.’”
Wow. Isn’t that wonderful? If you know the love of Jesus, it is permanent and everlasting. He knows you. His love for you will last longer than the earth or the stars! No one can take you out of His hand! Not even death!
The true reason the religious leaders hated Jesus was not because they thought He was spreading lies. They were jealous…it was simply and petty as that. They were afraid He would gain more and more power and take over the Temple worship. They knew that if He was in control of the Jewish religion, He would fire them! They were doing everything they could to protect themselves, and one way to do that was to try to stop the rest of the Jewish nation from following Him.
The Lord made it clear that they had no power to stop true believers from coming after Him. There was nothing they could do to take them away. Jesus went on, “‘My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all, no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. I and the Father are One.’”
When the Jews heard this, they knew that Jesus was claiming to be God. That was a blasphemy…and it was punishable by death. Finally, they had something they could charge Him with in court! Finally, they could put this brazen troublemaker to death. They began to pick up stones from the ground, ready to throw them at Jesus, right in the middle of the Temple courts. They were going to try to kill the Son of God in God’s own house!
Imagine the tension in the air. Imagine how you would feel if you were His disciple. Imagine what it would be like if you were one of the people He had healed. What if He had healed your child?
Jesus stood there, facing a crowd of raging men with all of His fierce righteousness and self-possession. Against this mob Jesus asked, “‘I have shown you many great miracles from the Father. For which of these do you stone Me?’”
“‘We are not stoning you for any of these,’ replied the Jews, ‘but for blasphemy, because you, a mere man, claim to be God.’”
It was true that in the high, pure, holy Law of God, claiming to be God was a terrible crime, punishable by death. And for any regular human, that was a righteous decree. It is a repulsive and ghastly thing for a person who had been given the priceless, amazing gift of life by God to turn around and claim to be God…the holy, mighty Lord of all. To claim to be God was not just about saying a name that is not your own. It was a claim of power and a right to be worshipped. Instead of pointing to the God who truly is worthy, who truly can help, it is selfishly demanding what is not your own and getting in the way of the good that God can do.
Imagine how normal, sinful men could use the claim of being God to abuse people and force their own selfish desires in the most wicked ways. How despicable to lie about something as sacred and wonderful as God Himself! How repulsive to use something as precious as a people’s trust and hope in God to use them and manipulate them! No wonder it was punishable by death!
But you see, it was only wrong to claim to be God if it was, in fact, a lie. For God to claim to be God was the truth! Jesus had given overwhelming proof that the power of God worked through Him. He had performed miracles that could only be done by God. And you’ll notice, when He pointed them out to the religious leaders, they didn’t deny them. That should have been enough proof. If He claimed to be God, then He was! But Jesus knew that these men were not interested in Truth. They were playing a game. So He gave them an answer worthy of their game:
“‘Is it not written in your Law, “I have said you are gods? If he called them ‘gods,’ to whom the words of God came-and the Scripture cannot be broken-what about the One whom the Father set apart as His very own and sent into the world? Why then do you accuse Me of blasphemy because I said, ‘I am God’s Son’? Do not believe Me unless I do what my Father does. But if I do it, even though you do not believe Me, believe the miracles, that you may know and understand that the Father is in Me, and I in the Father.’”
Once again, in the face of their murderous threats, Jesus tried to appeal to them…He tried to persuade. But it did not good. The only thing the infuriated leaders could hear was that Jesus had once again made Himself equal with God, and that was all they needed.
They surged forward, seething with rage, and tried to seize Jesus. They were going to arrest Him, but He escaped their grasp. John doesn’t tell us how or why. It just tells us that He did.
It had become clear that Jerusalem was no longer safe for Jesus. His enemies were sure to hunt Him down. Instead of giving Him a way to preach God’s Good News to the people of their nation, they drove Him away. Jesus and His disciples left Jerusalem and trekked down from the hill country. They journeyed down through the Valley of the Jordan and crossed the river to the other side.