If we accept the timeline John’s Gospel seems to provide for each of these events, and the times of teaching Jesus gives, then the following story appears to begin about two and a half months after Jesus had restored the blind beggar’s eyesight.
It was now the Feast of Dedication, what is called Hanukkah today. Celebrated in the winter, it commemorated an event that had taken place about a hundred and fifty years before Jesus’ day, in the time of the Seleucid Empire, when Antiochus IV was emperor—called Antiochos ho Epiphanes in Greek, “God Manifest.”
Ferocious, Barbarous Persecution
(Trigger alert: the following is hard to read. If you need to skip this part, look for the phrase “safe to read” a few paragraphs down.) Around 167 B.C. Antiochus outlawed Jewish religious rites and traditions and decreed the worship of Zeus in an attempt to gain full control of Judea. He desecrated the temple by sacrificing a pig to Zeus on the altar of God, destroyed Jerusalem, slaughtered forty thousand Judeans and sold another forty thousand more into slavery.
Antiochus began a severe persecution of those who held to the Jewish faith, making it a crime to own a copy of the Torah, or to circumcise baby boys. Mothers who were caught with circumcised infants were crucified with their baby hanging around their necks. Many more were tortured and killed in unspeakable ways in an attempt to force Judeans to renounce Almighty God, and their adherence to God’s Law.
(Safe to read) This brought about the revolt of Judas Maccabeus and his sons, who drove out the occupying army, purified the temple and rededicated it to the Lord. A miracle recorded much later told of the wicks of the menorah miraculously burning for eight days, even though there was only enough sacred oil for one day’s lighting. The far greater miracle was the founding of the Hasmonean dynasty, which lasted from 167 to 37 B.C., during which, for a brief span of 47 years, Judea became a completely independent kingdom.
Was Jesus another Judas Maccabee?
It was in this revolutionary spirit that the Pharisees, teachers of the law and other religious authorities—whom John called Jews—surrounded Jesus and demanded to know flat out if he was the Messiah.
Then the Judeans surrounded Jesus and said to him, “Until how long are our spirits [to be] in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us openly with confidence!”Pharisees to Jesus, John 10:24
Why do I say “in this revolutionary spirit”?
Because Messiah held a significant and specific meaning: Liberator. This anointed one, whether king or high priest, would liberate a group of people. The Judeans were looking for a liberator like Judas Maccabeus to free them from the grip of Rome. During the time of the Hasmonean dynasty, the old traditions and law had been reinstated, the Pharisee sect had begun, and the influence of Hellenism had been reduced.
Judas Maccabeus had been a kind of messiah.
But the prophesied Messiah would be even greater.
- He would be a human leader.
- Physically descended from the Davidic line so that God’s prophecy would remain intact concerning an everlasting line of kings from David’s dynasty.
- He would bring all the tribes of Israel back together in a united kingdom.
- Rebuild the temple in Jerusalem.
- Bring in the reign of God in God’s glorious kingdom.
- Institute global peace and prosperity.
- All nations would bow to Jerusalem, earth’s capital city.
A Loaded Question!
Imagine everyone standing there on one toe, eyes riveted on Jesus, collective breath held, the moment arrested in mid-step. How would Jesus answer?
Jesus answered them, “I told you all and you all do not believe—the works that I carry out in the name of my Father, these testify concerning me.”Jesus to the Pharisees, John 10:25
So far, through these chapters of John, Jesus had several times taught very plainly about who he is, Son of God, come to give eternal life to all who would believe in him.
He is the Messiah.
All the miracles Jesus had performed gave testimony to this, miracles that brought abundant joy, restoration, that infused with shalom—peace, wholeness, communion.
But the liberator they were looking for was the judgment messiah, even though Jesus had specifically said he had not come to bring judgement, he had come to bring salvation.
Those in the Pharisee sect were the most equipped to recognize Messiah when he came. They had devoted their lives to God’s word, to the worship of God and faithful observance of every nuance of God’s law.
So why did they not get it?
Barriers to Belief
- They chose to ignore the evidence.
Instead of being convinced and convicted by Jesus’ miracles and his teaching, they refused to acknowledge it.
Instead, the Pharisees expected, and taught the people to look for, a military leader to liberate them from Rome. They also expected to remain in power as the favored of God, God’s representatives and spokesmen with ultimate religious authority over all Israel.
What Jesus presented threatened all that, so they refused to accept him on his terms.
- They chose to misinterpret the evidence.
Remember how the Pharisees had tried to change the formerly blind man’s story? They insisted he recant because no truly godly person would so egregiously transgress God’s Sabbath laws. (Which were actually their own interpretation and oral laws concerning the Sabbath).
Any other interpretation would do so long as it didn’t indicate Jesus was from God.
- They had already made up their minds about Jesus.
How often do you and I ask God a question when we have already made up our minds about the answer? Then the arguing begins, and the negotiating, and pushing the boundaries.
Jesus explained the core reason why they did not believe
But rather, you all do not believe because you are not of my sheepfold.Jesus, John 10:26
What could that mean?
Well, that is actually the fourth point.
- They did not want to believe.
Ever since Genesis 3, every person who has ever lived (except, of course, Jesus) has been born into a kind of slavery, enslaved people born to the merciless master called corruption and death.
Yet, according to the apostle Paul (Romans 3), left to themselves, no person would choose faith—and more importantly, allegiance—to God. It seems like that would make no sense! Even after the disaster outlined in Genesis 3, people still have a free will and are able to choose what they want.
People just do not want God.
They say it is a form of an insanity, to do the same thing over and over again, yet expect a different result. But that is what human beings have been doing from the beginning of human history, according to Paul. People have been trying to make a go of it apart from God.
The problem is, according to Paul, that people have no innate desire for God. According to this line of thinking, people are so inured to God they are unable to respond by faith to the preaching of the gospel unless God is first at work in them to give them the ability to respond.
The “want to,” as it were.
It seems like there would be no way out of this, does it not? And a hard teaching indeed, for how could we be held responsible for something we apparently have no power over? Well, stay tuned. Let’s see where Jesus goes with this.
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