Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Love On John's Terms (part 23)

As Jesus speaks in a way in which He appears to present Himself as the Messiah that came to do the will of His Father, He said “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10b).  When Jesus speaks of this giving of life in abundance, is that gift to be thought of as being directed to Israel?  Naturally, that answer is yes.  However, the giving of life abundant cannot be disconnected from the statements about the stealing, killing, and destroying that had been employed by the thieves and robbers that had come before Him (and after Him, as was likely to have been quite well known to John’s audience). 

It must be understood that Jesus is also offering that gift of life abundant to the Gentiles that were then in possession of the land---the gift of the blessings of the covenant God of Israel---in His establishment of the kingdom of God.  This would have been contrary to a good portion of the then-current ways of thinking by a large percentage of the populace.  Quite a significant number of the people wanted their Messiah to steal from and kill and destroy the oppressors (those would not necessarily have been considered stealing, but liberation), but Jesus intended the opposite, desiring to establish the kingdom through acts that were the extension of the love of the Creator for His world.  Yes, Jesus intended that the hated Romans and all Gentile nations were to have the blessings of abundant life as well.  This was a component of the love of the Creator God that was first referenced in the third chapter (3:16), put into action for the world.      

Making what would then seem to be a point about the nature of His kingdom and His role as Israel’s Messiah, Jesus adds to this and says “I am the good shepherd” (10:11a).  This use of “good shepherd,” owing to its usage in the Hebrew Scriptures (the book of Zechariah most especially), as well as being something of a reference to Moses (the prophet that was to come into the world and Isreal’s great shepherd), was another way of speaking about the Messiah.  In this capacity Jesus says “The good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep” (10:11b).  In its utterance (and quite obviously in retrospect), this was designed to begin preparing the covenant people for the fact that their Messiah was going to be killed at the hands of the very ones that so many of the people thought He would forcefully overthrow, which also answered the criticisms of those that stood opposed to the ongoing Jesus movement post-crucifixion and Resurrection, who would have pointed to the fact that Jesus had been crucified by the Romans and therefore could not possibly have been the Messiah. 

It had always been the case that when a potential messiah arose to do battle against the enemies of the Creator God’s people, the evidence that the person in question was obviously not the messiah was his eventual death at the hands of those same enemies.  Execution or death at arms was the clear signal of another failed messiah, but this was not going be the case for Jesus.  This pattern of potential revolution leading to death and destruction had been repeated numerous times both before and after Jesus, so these words of Jesus not only take on a prophetic role when directed to His hearers, but also an apologetic role when constructed in this way for the community as they learned to tell the story of Jesus.   

Elaborating on this thought, Jesus presents a short analogy in reference to would-be messiahs that had risen before Him (thieves and robbers), saying “He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them.  He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep” (10:12-13).  How many men before Him had risen up to lead the people in revolution?  How many, when the pressure came and death threatened, ran away, leaving those whom he had previously led to suffer gruesome deaths?  

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