John (Part 36): Hanakkuh (ch 10)
John 10:22 shifts the time. For the last several chapters, John had recorded events and conversations that took place around the time of the Festival of Tabernacles, which occurred in the Hebrew month Tishri (the September-October timeframe for us). Now he tells us that this next scene took place during the Feast of Dedication. This feast is an 8-day celebration in the month of Kislev (our November-December time period). John doesn’t throw in a lot of extraneous information for no reason. The deliberate statement that this feast was taking place has meaning. But to understand the connection well, we need to understand the history of how this feast came about. This is not one of the seven major feasts outlined by Moses in Numbers and Deuteronomy. Those feasts, remember, were the spring feasts of Passover, Unleavened Bread, and First Fruits; the Feast of Pentecost fifty days after First Fruits; and the fall feasts of Trumpets, Atonement, and Tabernacles. Two other feasts are mentioned in the Bible. The Feast of Purim is mentioned in Esther. It occurs in the month of Adar (Feb-Mar). The Feast of Dedication is mentioned here in John 10, but only hinted at in the Old Testament. The prophecy of Daniel speaks of events that led to celebrating the feast, but since those actual events occurred during the intertestamental period, they are not recorded exactly as they occurred anywhere in the Bible. The events are, however, recorded in the Apocryphal book I Maccabees.
In Alexander the Great’s brief life, he conquered lands from Macedonia all the way to India where he died. This newly created empire was divided by four generals/leaders into four regions. I am, of course, oversimplifying. It took a couple of decades for the dust to settle somewhat into the four regions of Greece/Macedonia, Thrace/Asia, Syria and lands to the east, and Egypt/Palestine/Cypress. Seleucus came to rule Syria and the lands eastward that made up the old Babylonian empire. Ptolemy ruled Egypt, Palestine, and Cypress. Of course, over the next 100 years, each empire division sought to expand somewhat, and so battles, intrigue, and diplomacy were constantly banded about, and all with the addition of Rome as an up-and-coming power.
But one thing should be kept firmly in mind through this. Alexander was noted for not only conquering lands, but marking them with Greek culture as he conquered. These four regions of the empire also were led by Greeks. Thus, it is not Persian against Egyptian or Greek against Parthian. These all were Greek leaders, ruling over lands that were being Hellenized—turned toward Greek culture. And Palestine was in the center of it all. This cultural change affected the Jews. Many Jews welcomed it. Many others opposed it. Therefore, it was not merely other nations oppressing the Jews during this time, but the Jews themselves had civil unrest about their changing culture (and, therefore necessarily, changing religious activities).
Around the time of moving into the 2nd century BC, a Seleucid king, Antiochus came to power. He was the third of that name and also came to be known as Antiochus the Great. He attempted to expand his empire and captured from Egypt the land of Palestine. Antiochus the Great also attempted westward expansion into Asia (modern-day Turkey). However, he was stopped by the Romans. As part of the settlement agreement that he would not again attempt to invade westward, Antiochus III sent one of his sons (also named Antiochus) to live in captivity in Rome. Of course, he was not thrown in a dungeon or something like that. He lived simply under house or city arrest as an insurance policy against war.
When Antiochus the Great died, another son, Seleucus IV, became the ruler of the Seleucid empire. Therefore, the hostage Antiochus was exchanged for one of Seleucus IV’s young sons. Seleucus IV was assassinated by a would-be usurper, but Antiochus defeated the usurper and took control becoming Antiochus IV, also known as Epiphanes. At about this time in Palestine, the high priest passed away and one of his sons, Onias III, became high priest. Onias III was not for Hellenization and also favored Egyptian rule over Seleucid rule. His brother, Jason, however, was a Hellenist and bribed Antiochus Epiphanes to replace Onias with him as high priest. Antiochus, seeing the advantages of (1) a Hellenizer in control (having the Greek name Jason was an indication that Jason favored the Greeks) and (2) the bribe itself, did replace Onias III with his brother Jason. Jason continued to Hellenize Jerusalem. He even built a gymnasium there at which Jewish athletes participated, as all athletes did, in the nude, which was a huge affront to the orthodox Jews. Yet even Jason wasn’t Hellenist enough for some. Menelaus, another Jew with a Greek name, petitioned Antiochus to give him the high priesthood, offering greater loyalty and an even greater bribe than had Jason. Antiochus, therefore, made the change, ignoring the fact that Menelaus was not of the Aaronic line and therefore had not the right to the high priesthood.
Upon growing tensions with Egypt, Antiochus set out in a preemptive strike, fighting his way all the way to Alexandria before being thwarted. Not wanting to alarm Rome, Antiochus withdrew leaving Ptolemy VI still in charge as a puppet king. As Antiochus headed back home, at Menelaus’ urging, he plundered the temple in Jerusalem to resupply his dried up war coffers.
Egypt again was threatening, and Antiochus again went on the attack. This time, however, before he got to Alexandria, he was met by a Roman ambassador who told him that unless he withdrew from Egypt, he would find himself in a state of war with Rome. Frustrated, Antiochus agreed to withdraw.
While Antiochus was in Egypt, a false rumor reached Jerusalem that Antiochus had been killed. Jason, the ousted high priest, seized the opportunity to overthrow Menelaus and take back the high priesthood. When Antiochus marched back through Palestine on his way home, he discovered what Jason had done. Already angered because of Rome’s interference, he was now doubly angry, seeing Jason’s action as rebellion by the Jews. He sacked Jerusalem, burning the city and almost demolishing the temple.
Antiochus decided to outlaw Jewish religious practices. When the orthodox Jews refused, he sent an army to again sack Jerusalem, killing hundreds and setting up worship of Zeus in the temple. Pigs, anathema to the Jews, were brought in and sacrificed on the altar that had been dedicated to God’s offerings. (It was not that Antiochus simply wanted to be particularly offensive to the Jews; pigs were commonly offered in sacrifice to Zeus.) Of course, the orthodox Jews were horrified, but the superior force of the Syrian army left them with no recourse.
Antiochus, busy with attacks from the east, left his soldiers to enforce the Greek religious practices in Palestine. The soldiers would go throughout the land, setting up altars and forcing priests in each city to perform sacrifices to the Greek gods. At one city northwest of Jerusalem called Modin, the soldiers told an old priest named Mattathias to sacrifice to Zeus. The priest refused. Another priest said he would do it but Mattathias, enraged by his willingness, killed the priest while his five sons killed the Syrian soldiers. Mattathias led his sons and a large following into the mountains from where they began guerilla warfare against the Syrians. Thus began the Maccabean revolt.
Mattathias, being old, lived less than a year into the revolt. One of his sons, Judas, who was showing himself a brilliant war strategist, took over as leader of the revolt. After a couple years of battles, Antiochus’s second in command, Lysias, led an army (according to I Maccabees) of 60,000 soldiers and 5,000 cavalry against Judas and his about 3,000 rebels. Judas and his men routed the army, killing about 5,000 and causing them to withdraw. Judas used that opportunity to reclaim Jerusalem.
Judas had priests purify the temple area. But fearing that the thoughts of pigs being sacrificed on the altar would forever be held in the Jews minds as they sacrificed to God, Judas had the altar dismantled and stored in a cave (until a prophet could one day come and tell them what to do with the stones). Then they followed the OT instructions in building a new altar out of unhewn stones. It was this altar then on 25 Kislev that was dedicated. Judas declared an 8-day feast for this dedication.
I Maccabees does not record how this feast became known as the Feast of Lights. The oldest record of the tradition does not appear until about AD 800-900. It is said that when Judas was putting things to order in the temple, they found some oil in a sealed container (1 day’s worth) dedicated for use in the seven-candled menorah. They used this oil to light the candles. However, the menorah was supposed to be kept lit perpetually in the Holy Place. They had no more sanctified oil, and it would take eight days to process more. The miracle of Hanukkah was that the one-day supply of oil continued to burn for eight days until they could process and sanctify new oil for use in the lamp.
That is a brief background to the Feast of Dedication. The point of John mentioning it here in chapter 10 is that he is showing Jesus to be the true temple of God—the true place in which God meets with humankind. Notice that the next verse—verse 23—mentions that he is walking in Solomon’s Colonnade (or Portico). This was an area within the temple complex but outside the temple proper to the east. A portico is simply a roof structure held up by a series of columns. Its purpose was to shield those who gathered there from the weather—sun and heat in the summer, cold wind in the winter. John mentions it is winter in verse 22, so perhaps Jesus was walking in the portico because it was a bit warmer there.
It is not certain why this area is called Solomon’s Portico. Some have suggested that the area of temple wall here included part of Solomon’s original temple from before the Babylonian destruction. However, it may be that this special roof was built over the spot where Solomon had sacrificed in dedicating the original temple. In I Kings 8:62-64, we read of Solomon offering sacrifices for the temple dedication. His sacrifice included 22,000 cattle and 120,000 sheep. Verse 64 says, “On the same day, the king consecrated the middle of the courtyard that was in front of the Lord’s temple because that was where he offered the burnt offering, the grain offering, and the fat of the fellowship offerings since the bronze altar before the Lord was too small to accommodate the burnt offerings, the grain offerings, and the fat of the fellowship offerings.
Now, as we put all this background information together, we find John painting a picture of Jesus as the temple from both the place of the original temple dedication (Solomon’s Portico) and the time of the second temple rededication (Feast of Dedication). And this new and final temple—Jesus—appears in winter and is surrounded by enemies, possibly an allusion to the destruction of the physical temple in AD 70, which we read of in the other Gospels as being surrounded by armies (Luke 21:20) and escape from was prayed not to be in winter (Matthew 24:20) (And, by the way, God answered those prayers. The temple was destroyed in AD 70 on Av 9, which is in the July-August timeframe of our calendar.)
The Feast of Dedication was a time of much national pride. After all, Judas, as a messiah figure, comes in to overthrow foreign domination of the Jews. This is what the Jews were looking forward to in regard to Rome. Therefore, their question in 10:24 is quite appropriate being on their minds.
They ask for Jesus to say plainly whether he is the Messiah. Jesus had said in 9:35-37 that he was the Son of Man—a direct Daniel 7 reference that all the Jews knew to be Messiah. Jesus had told them through John chapters 7 and 8 that he was from God, which again pointed to the Messiah who was to be appointed and sent by God. Jesus even argued that the Scriptures testified of him in John 5:39. Besides that, Jesus performed works that could come only from God (John 9:32-33). So why were they so confused and still asking? They are asking because they are trying to weigh the seeming good words and works of Jesus with their understanding of what the Messiah should be like. When they looked up Messiah in their Hebrew dictionary, they saw a picture of Judas Maccabeus next to the entry. And Jesus didn’t look like Judas Maccabeus.
They were so set on the Messiah being a military, nationalistic leader that they still puzzled over why people considered Jesus the Messiah. His words and works were nothing like a military leader’s. But Jesus invited them to reexamine what he had said and what he had done. Calling upon the imagery earlier in the chapter, he told them they didn’t believe because they were not his sheep. John mixes shepherd and temple image intentionally to highlight the difference between the physical side of the Abrahamic covenant and the spiritual side. Jesus is the true fulfillment of the physical side, making him the means by which the spiritual side is fulfilled.
As Jesus highlights the fact that they are not his sheep, he says in verse 29, “My Father, who has given them [his sheep] to Me, is greater than all.” This sounds particularly Calvinistic. It mirrors the language of John 6:37, where Jesus said, “Everyone the Father gives Me will come to Me.” But just as there, to interpret this Calvinistically, we have to divorce it from its context. The thrust of verse 27 was that the sheep followed because they knew him. The focus of the statement would seem disingenuous if it was the Father who made the sheep follow. The statement is highlighting the cognitive understanding of the sheep. Again, Jesus’ point in saying that the Father gave them to him is the movement from children of Adam to children of Jesus. They used to not belong to him. But based on God’s revelation to them through Jesus, they see, understand, and assent. They follow. And in following God gives them the new life of belonging to Christ.
Jesus ends this explanation by stating, “The Father and I are one” (10:30). Is this a claim or a revelation of Trinitarian unity? Is he by this stating that he is God? I don’t think so. The Jews certainly thought so, and they said so in verse 33. But the Jews had been wrong about what Jesus said in almost every instance in John prior to this, and so what the Jews think is certainly no proof of Jesus’ intent.
What we should do is compare the same phrases Jesus used here in other passages. In this passage, Jesus says, “The Father and I are one,” and “the Father is in Me, and I in the Father” (10:38). In both cases, the Jews want to stone Jesus, leading us to understand that in both cases they believe Jesus is claiming to be God. But both these phrases are also used by Jesus in his prayer in John 17. There Jesus prays, “May they all be one as You, Father, are in Me and I am in You. May they also be one in Us so the world may believe you sent Me” (17:21). Surely Jesus is not praying that we become part of the Godhead in chapter 17. And if that is not what he means in 17, it can’t then be what he means in chapter 10.
Jesus is speaking to purpose. God is truth, goodness, and beauty. Jesus, in his humanity, is the perfect image bearer, reflecting in heart, attitude, and actions that truth, goodness, and beauty of God. That oneness of desire and purpose is what he refers to, then, in saying he and the Father are one.