New Testament Studies

Jesus the Messiah and Hanukkah: The Historical Background of John 10:22-42

Good stories have a moment of crisis when the anticipated hero appears on the scene to bring victory and resolution. In C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia, Narnia has been experiencing a hundred years of winter with the reign of the White Witch. Through the prophecies that have been orally passed down, the Narnians are expecting the coming of the four human kings and Aslan who will overthrow the White Witch and restore the kingdom. In the end, the human children nearly fail to defeat the Witch, but Aslan returns just in time to save them. In The Lord of the Rings, the true king of the city of men is in exile, and evil appears to have the upper hand. Towards the end of the trilogy comes the climactic moment when Aragorn, with the help of his friends, defeats the enemy and reclaims the throne.

Throughout OT history, Jews have been waiting for the arrival of their Messiah or Christ, the “Anointed One” of Yahweh who will restore Israel back to God. But even non-Jews, deep inside, long for an answer for problems that come from living in a fallen world. Every human being is looking for a messiah—a deliverer—to provide security and satisfaction in this life and even in the life to come. John 10:22-42 tells us that that Messiah has come, and his name is Jesus. In John 10, Jesus declares himself to be the Messianic hero that everyone—Jews and Gentiles alike—long for and expect. Jesus is the Messiah that we desperately need. John 10:22-42 answers three questions for us: (1) What kind of deliverance do people in general expect? (2) Who is Jesus? (3) How should we respond to Jesus?

Photo by Element5 Digital on Unsplash

What kind of Messiah do people expect (10:22-24)?

John tells us the setting of our passage—22 At that time the Feast of Dedication took place at Jerusalem. It was winter, 23 and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the colonnade of Solomon.” John arranges the Fourth Gospel according to various Jewish feasts or special days: the Passover in ch. 2, a certain Sabbath in ch. 5, another Passover in ch. 6, the Feast of Tabernacles (ch. 7-9), a final Passover in ch. 11-19, and the Feast of Dedication here in ch. 10. This “Feast of Dedication” is also called “Feast of Reconsecration,” “Feast of Lights,” or “Hanukkah” (or Chanukah).

Historical Background

This celebration is not mandated in Old Testament Scripture since it began during the Second Temple Period in Israel’s history. In 333 BCE, a young warrior, Alexander the Great, conquered the Persians and the known world, resulting in the beginning of the Grecian Empire. Not very long after, however, Alexander died at Babylon on June 323 BCE at the age of 32. With no heir or appointed successor, the Grecian Empire was divided among his generals. 1 Maccabees 1:8-9 described this time period:

Then his [Alexander’s] officers began to rule, each in his own place. They all put on crowns after his death, and so did their descendants after them for many years; and they caused many evils on the earth.

Seleucus I Nicator and his successors, ruling in Babylon, Persia, and Syria, desired to take over Egypt and Palestine, ruled by Ptolemy I Soter and his successors. Antiochus Epiphanes IV of the Seleucids defeated the Ptolemies of Egypt. Then he marched to Jerusalem, entered the sanctuary, stole the golden altar and lampstand, and stripped off the censers, curtains, and gold decorations on the front of the temple. Then he made an edict that all Israel adopt his religion, sacrifice to idols, and profane the Sabbath. He forbid burnt offerings in the sanctuary, but sacrificed swine instead. The temple in Jerusalem was even called “the temple of Olympian Zeus” (2 Mac. 6:2). Many in Israel adopted his religion, perhaps because the king decreed that those who did not obey the king’s command would die.

During this time, 2 Maccabees tells us, the leaders in Israel were corrupt. The high priest, Jason, became the high priest through corruption. He promised Antiochus 360 talents of silver and other means of revenue. He led Israel into a Hellenistic way of life, building a gymnasium, and made the people of Jerusalem citizens of Antioch (4:7-10). His brother, Menelaus, succeeded him as high priest, gained the favor of Antiochus, and deposed his brother Jason. He was accused of robbing the Temple and seizing the sacred vessels to pay the tribute he promised Antiochus. These high priests were from the tribe of Benjamin.

While Israel had fallen into sin, one family stood against Antiochus and his army—Mattathias and his sons from the tribe of Judah. They were joined by other mighty warriors of Israel (1 Mac. 2:42-43), and with guerilla warfare tactics, they ambushed Gentile armies and tore down their altars. When Mattathias died, his son Judas Maccabeus became their leader. He was a mighty warrior from his youth (2:66) and was described as “a lion in his deeds… roaring for prey” (3:4). Judas Maccabeus led the Israelite rebel army against Antiochus, defeated him, and restored the temple. He chose blameless priests to remove the defiled stones in the temple and brought new furniture into the temple. According to the Babylonian Talmud (b. Sabb. 21b), when it was time to light the menorah in the temple, there was only enough pure oil to burn the candle for one day. But miraculously, it burned for eight days, which was the time needed to prepare a fresh supply of oil. These eight days correspond to the eight days that Hanukkah is celebrated annually. When the restoration of the temple was completed, on the 25th day of Chislev, they offered a sacrifice on the altar.

At the very season and on the very day that the Gentiles had profaned it, it was dedicated with songs and harps and lutes and cymbals. All the people fell on their faces and worshiped and blessed Heaven, who had prospered them. So they celebrated the dedication of the altar for eight days, and joyfully offered burnt offerings; they offer a sacrifice of well-being and a thanksgiving offering…. Then Judas and his brothers and all the assembly of Israel determined that every year at that season the days of dedication of the altar should be observed with joy and gladness for eight days, beginning with the twenty-fifth day of the month of Chislev.

1 MaccabEes 4:54-56, 59

About 200 Years Later

Fast forward almost 200 years, during the time of Christ, and this eight-day feast has become an annual Jewish celebration. It is during this celebration that the people at Jerusalem rehearse the tragic events during the Second Temple Period. They recall the story of the miracle with the menorah. On certain reading cycles, they read through Ezekiel 34, a passage where Yahweh rebukes the shepherds in Israel who lead the sheep astray.[1] Ezekiel 34 also promises a coming Shepherd-King, a Messianic figure, who will deliver Israel with selfless leadership in the tradition of a Maccabean hero. So it is during this time that we read this inquiry in John 10:24, “So theJews gathered around him and said to him, ‘How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.’”

John, throughout the Fourth Gospel, records the reactions and responses of the crowd regarding the identity of Jesus as Christ. They have asked John the Baptist if he is the Christ (1:19-27; cf. 3:28). They asked questions among themselves regarding the identity of the Christ or the Messiah (7:26-27, 31, 40-42). John even records the Samaritan woman asking questions regarding the Christ (4:25, 29).

But what kind of Christ are the people expecting exactly? If in the forefront of their minds is a Judas Maccabeus figure, who delivered Israel from Antiochus, then the Christ that they are expecting is someone who will deliver them from the bondage of the Romans and set up the kingdom of Israel as the world power as it once was. But that is not exactly the kind of deliverance that Jesus offers. Like these Jews, many today seek for all kinds of deliverance. It can be relational—they want deliverance from a messy relationship or lack of relationship. It can be deliverance from a debilitating health issue. It can be financial deliverance. Working in a property management company, I have seen people seek for all kinds of financial help just so they can meet their needs and have roof over their head. Just like the Jews 2,000 years ago, we don’t see our deepest need, which would eventually take care of all our other peripheral needs. So how does Jesus respond to the question? This leads us to the second question of the text—who is Jesus?

Who is Jesus (10:25-39)?

Jesus affirms to the Jews his identity as the Messiah—“25 Jesus answered them, ‘I told you, and you do not believe…” Jesus then demonstrates his role as the Messiah which is reflected in three themes related to the Feast of Dedication. In at least three ways, Jesus will show how he is the Messianic figure pictured by Hanukkah, but he is also a greater Messiah than what the Feast of Dedication describes.

The Works of Jesus as Testimony

First, Jesus is the Messiah as testified by his works (10:25, 37-38). Jesus said, “25 …the works that I do in my Father’s name bear witness about me.” Later in vv. 37-38, he says, 37 If I am not doing the works of my Father, then do not believe me; 38 but if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me and I am in the Father.” Jesus claims his role as Messiah based on the works that he has done. These works are the “signs” that John has recorded in the Fourth Gospel. Interestingly, the predominant word that John uses to refer to Jesus’ miracles is not “miracle” (δυναμις, dunamis) or “wonders” (τέρας, teras), but “signs” (σημειον, semeion). The miracles of Jesus point to his role as Christ. John tells us at the end of his gospel the purpose for the signs that he recorded, “30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; 31 but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” The signs that Jesus has been demonstrating in the Gospel of John are greater than the miracle of the one day’s worth of oil lighting the menorah for eight days. Not only are Jesus’ miracles numerous, they are also seen by the people with their own eyes. Jesus turned water into wine to at a wedding feast, healed a blind man, and fed 5,000 people with five loaves and two fish. These works point to Jesus as the Christ.

The Role of Jesus as Good Shepherd

Secondly, Jesus is the Messiah, fulfilling his role as the Good Shepherd (10:26-29). Discussions vary in commentary literature regarding the discussion of Jesus as the Good Shepherd in 10:1-18 on whether it belongs to ch. 9 or to 10:22-42. Regardless of one’s view, it is clear that John connects the discussion of 10:1-18–about Jesus as the Good Shepherd—with 10:26-29 where Jesus refers to his sheep and his role as shepherd in 10:26-29.

But you do not believe because you are not among my sheep. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand.

John 10:26-39

With the backdrop of failed leadership and false shepherds in mind from Ezekiel 34 and the examples of Jason and Menelaus from 2 Maccabees 4-5, Jesus declares himself as the Good Shepherd—a Shepherd-King that is even greater than Judas Maccabeus. Jesus says, “11 I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” This self-sacrificing leadership of Jesus echoes the courage and valor of the “hammerer,” Judas Maccabeus, who himself gave his life, dying in battle, to set Israel free from the tyranny of the Seleucids (1 Mac. 9:14-21). This image of Jesus as a Maccabean figure is perhaps the motivation of John when he ends the Fourth Gospel this way: “25 Now there are also many other things that Jesus did. Were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.” Compare that ending with how the writer of 1 Maccabees ends the narration about Judas Maccabeus in 1 Mac. 9:22, “Now the rest of the acts of Judas, and his wars and the brave deeds that he did, and his greatness, have not been recorded, but they were very many.” The parallels are so striking that one may not doubt that John compares Jesus to the fallen Jewish hero from their recent history.

But unlike Judas Maccabeus, Jesus does not offer political reign; what Jesus gives by his own death is eternal life. Listen to Jesus’ words, “28 I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.” This is a promise greater than just overthrowing the Roman government. This is a promise greater than what people expect. The victory that Jesus offers extends beyond earthly life with a divine guarantee. No one can snatch the sheep out of the hands of the Good Shepherd. And Jesus adds, “29 My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand.

This is a wonderful and powerful truth! If you truly belong to Jesus, this should give you hope—a confident expectation—in your Good Shepherd. The connections are not lost on the religious leaders, but they deny that Jesus is the Christ because of their continued unbelief. Jesus rebukes them, “26 but you do not believe because you are not among my sheep. 27 My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.” Are you Jesus’ sheep? How do you know? Do you believe? Do you listen to the voice of Jesus? Do you follow him? If you say that you currently do not believe, will you be like the religious leaders that continue in their unbelief? The indicators are clear—Jesus is the long-awaited Messiah. Will you believe in him?

The Claim of Jesus as Consecrated Son of God

Lastly, Jesus is the Messiah, the consecrated Son of God (10:30-39). Jesus the Messiah claims to be God. Jesus says, 30 I and the Father are one.” After he said this, 31 The Jews picked up stones again to stone him. 32 Jesus answered them, ‘I have shown you many good works from the Father; for which of them are you going to stone me?’ 33 The Jews answered him, ‘It is not for a good work that we are going to stone you but for blasphemy, because you, being a man, make yourself God.’”

Jesus claimed not only that he is the Christ, but also that he is God. Since both Jesus and the Father are involved in the preservation of Jesus’s sheep, Jesus can say “30 I and the Father are one.” D.A. Carson observes that this task is a divine task, the saving and preserving of men and women for the kingdom.[2] Much controversy is found on whether that statement is a clear statement of deity. Could Jesus just be speaking about mere unity with the Father? It is important to take note that this is a statement within the context of the entire Fourth Gospel where John already explicitly portrays Jesus as divine. Also, the immediate context suggests that the Jews understood Jesus’ statement as an assertion of deity for they picked up stones to stone him for blasphemy. “33 The Jews answered him, ‘It is not for a good work that we are going to stone you but for blasphemy, because you, being a man, make yourself God.’” The Jews, however, misunderstood the nature of Jesus’ claim as God. Jesus was not claiming to be an additional or competing God. He is the eternal Word that was with God and was God (1:1), and he became flesh and dwelt among us (1:14). Jesus is not mere man, he is God who also became man. We have in this discussion some of the exegetical building blocks for the formation of the Christian doctrine of the Trinity. Jesus, then, appeals to Psalm 82:6, to demonstrate that God himself calls other non-gods to be “gods.” “34 Jesus answered them, “Is it not written in your Law, ‘I said, you are gods’? 35 If he called them gods to whom the word of God came– and Scripture cannot be broken— 36 do you say of him whom the Father consecrated and sent into the world, ‘You are blaspheming,’ because I said, ‘I am the Son of God’?” Psalm 82:6 says, “6 I said, ‘You are gods, sons of the Most High, all of you.’” The “gods” mentioned are references to either the judges, angels, or Israel at the giving of the law. Jesus’ point is simple: if human judges can be called “gods” in the Old Testament, then wouldn’t this designation be more appropriate for Jesus who is truly the Son of God?[3]

Notice how Jesus referred to himself in v. 36. He is the one whom the Father consecrated and sent into the world. What is the ancient name of the feast being celebrated in this passage? The “Feast of Dedication”— also known as the “Feast of Reconsecration”—commemorates the re-consecrating of the temple after Antiochus Epiphanes desecrated it. In the beginning of John, Jesus already referred to himself as the temple (2:19-21). Carson writes that

the really critical ‘sanctification’, the crucial act of setting something or someone aside for God’s exclusive use, was the setting aside of the pre-incarnate Son to the work of the mission on which he was even then engaged. In this way Jesus outstrips and fulfils this Feast as he has the others.

Carson, The Gospel According to John, 399

Jesus is sanctified by the Father and sent into the world, with the mission of delivering his people. This leads us to the third and final question—how should we respond to Jesus?

How should we respond to Jesus (10:40-42)?

One can observe three kinds of responses to Jesus in this passage. They are found at the beginning of the pericope, at the middle, and at the end.

Response #1: Confusion

First, some people were confused about who Jesus is (10:23-24). At the beginning of the pericope, we find people confused about the identity of Jesus. 24 So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.”

Perhaps this is you. You may be new to Christianity or you grew up in a Christian family, but you are confused about who Jesus is. Some view Jesus as merely a great teacher or a good prophet, but they deny Jesus’ claims about himself. Jesus claims to be the Christ—the Anointed One chosen by God to be the only Savior of the world. He also claims to be God—fully God, having the same essence as the Father, but distinct in person. He is also fully man. He is the eternal Word who became flesh. What do you believe about the identity of Jesus? You cannot be a follower of Jesus if you are confused about who he is. Do you know who Jesus is? Many say they believe in Jesus, but they believe in a Jesus that they created. They believe in a Jesus who is merely a man, merely a teacher, merely a small god, or merely a prophet. But if you say you believe in Jesus, you do not truly believe in Jesus unless you believe everything that he claims to be.

Response #2: Unbelief

Secondly, others hated Jesus in unbelief (10:25-26, 31, 39). At the end of Jesus’ conversation with the Jews, the hardness of their heart in unbelief prevailed. 39 Again they sought to arrest him, but he escaped from their hands.” Maybe you are not like the Jews who wrongfully view Jesus as a competing god. Maybe you are hostile against Jesus because he claims to be exclusively the only way to God. Jesus is the only way. This was one of the battle cries of the followers of Jesus who defended this truth—solus Christus—500 years ago.

Response #3: Faith

Lastly and positively, many believed in Jesus (10:40-42). This is how John ends this section,

“He went away again across the Jordan to the place where John had been baptizing at first, and there he remained. And many came to him. And they said, “John did no sign, but everything that John said about this man was true.” And many believed in him there.”

John 10:40-42

Conclusion

Many people today have their own “messiah” that they seek to rescue them and bail them out from the tragedies of life. Many trust in job security, friendship, relatives, family, their spouse, their bank accounts, their earthly possessions, their connections and influence, or their skills to be their messiah. Who or what is your messiah? Could any of these messiahs rescue you from your darkest times and give you your greatest need?

Jesus—and Jesus alone—is the Messiah that we desperately need. Would you believe—put your trust—in him and in him alone? How do you respond to Jesus? Do you hate Jesus because of his claims of exclusivity? Would you also reject him?


[1] See Aileen Guilding, The Fourth Gospel and Jewish Worship: A Study of the Relation of St. John’s Gospel to the Ancient Jewish Lectionary System (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1960), 131–132 and Gary M. Burge, John, NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000), 288.

[2] Ibid. D. A. Carson, The Gospel According to John, Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 1991), 395.

[3] Andreas J. Köstenberger, “John,” in Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2004), 315.** See also Allen P. Ross, A Commentary on the Psalms, vol. 2, Kregel Exegetical Library (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 2011), 730 and Andreas J. Köstenberger, “John,” in Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament, ed. G. K. Beale and D. A. Carson (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2007), 464–467.

**Pulled out by publisher. See here.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.