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SermonIndex.net : Christian Books : XXII. JESUS, SON OF GOD.

The Expositors Bible The Gospel Of St John Vol I by Marcus Dods

XXII. JESUS, SON OF GOD.

|And it was the feast of the dedication at Jerusalem: it was winter; and Jesus was walking in the temple in Solomon's porch. The Jews therefore came round about Him, and said unto Him, How long dost Thou hold us in suspense? If Thou art the Christ, tell us plainly. Jesus answered them, I told you, and ye believe not: the works that I do in My Father's name, these bear witness of Me. But ye believe not, because ye are not of My sheep. My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me: and I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, and no one shall snatch them out of My hand. My Father, which hath given them unto Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand. I and the Father are one. The Jews took up stones again to stone Him. Jesus answered them, Many good works have I showed you from the Father; for which of those works do ye stone Me? The Jews answered Him, For a good work we stone Thee not, but for blasphemy; and because that Thou, being a man, makest Thyself God. Jesus answered them, Is it not written in your law, I said, Ye are gods? If He called them gods, unto whom the word of God came (and the Scripture cannot be broken), say ye of Him, whom the Father sanctified and sent into the world, Thou blasphemest; because I said, I am the Son of God? If I do not the works of My Father, believe Me not. But if I do them, though ye believe not Me, believe the works: that ye may know and understand that the Father is in Me, and I in the Father. They sought again to take Him: and He went forth out of their hand. And He went away again beyond Jordan into the place where John was at the first baptizing; and there He abode. And many came unto Him; and they said, John indeed did no sign: but all things whatsoever John spake of this man were true. And many believed on Him there.| -- JOHN x.22-42.

After our Lord's visit to Jerusalem at the Feast of Tabernacles, and owing to His collision with the authorities in regard to the blind man whom He healed, He seems to have retired from the metropolis for some weeks, until the Feast of the Dedication. This Feast had been instituted by the Maccabees to celebrate the Purification of the Temple after its profanation by Antiochus Epiphanes. It began about the 20th December, and lasted eight days. As it was winter, possibly raining, and certainly cold, Jesus walked about in Solomon's Porch, where at all events He was under cover and had some shelter. Here the Jews gradually gathered, until at length He found Himself ringed round by hostile questioners, who bluntly, almost threateningly asked Him, |How long dost Thou make us to doubt? If Thou be the Christ, tell us plainly,| a question which shows that, although they inferred from the assertions He had made regarding Himself that He claimed to be the Messiah, He had not directly and explicitly proclaimed Himself in terms no one could misunderstand.

At first sight their request seems fair and reasonable. In fact it is neither. The mere affirmation that He was the Christ would not have helped those whom His works and words had only prejudiced against Him. As He at once explained to them, He had made the affirmation in the only way possible, and their unbelief arose not from any want of explicitness on His part, but because they were not of His sheep (ver.26). |My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me.| Here, as elsewhere, He points in confirmation of His claim to the works His Father had given Him to do, and to the response His manifestation awakened in those who were hungering for truth and for God. Those who were given to Him by the Father, who were taught and led by God, acknowledged Him, and to such He imparted all those eternal and supreme blessings He was commissioned to bestow upon men.

But in describing the safety of those who believe in Him, Jesus uses an expression which gives umbrage to those who hear it -- |I and the Father are one.| Those who trust themselves to Christ shall not be plucked out of His hand: they are eternally secure. The guarantee of this is, that those who thus trust in Him are given to Him by the Father for this very purpose of safe-keeping: the Father Himself therefore watches over and protects them. |No man is able to pluck them out of My Father's hand. I and My Father are one.| In this matter Christ acts merely as the Father's agent. The Pharisees might excommunicate the blind man and threaten him with penalties present and to come, but he is absolutely beyond their reach. Their threats are the pattering of hail on a bomb-proof shelter. The man is in Christ's keeping, and thereby is in God's keeping.

But this assertion the Jews at once construed into blasphemy, and took up stones to stone Him. With marvellous calmness Jesus arrests their murderous intention with the quiet question: |Many good works have I showed you from My Father; for which of these do you stone Me? You question whether I am the Father's Agent: does not the benignity of the works I have done prove Me such? Do not My works evince the indwelling power of the Father?| The Jews reply, and from their point of view quite reasonably: |For a good work we stone Thee not; but because Thou, being a man, makest Thyself God.| How far they were justified in this charge we must inquire.

In this conversation two points are of the utmost significance.

1. The comparative equanimity with which they consider the claim of Jesus to be the Messiah is changed into fury when they imagine that He claims also equality with God. Their first appeal, |If Thou be the Christ, tell us plainly,| is calm; and His answer, though it distinctly involved an affirmation that He was the Christ, was received without any violent demonstration of rage or of excitement. But their attitude towards Him changes in a moment and their calmness gives place to uncontrollable indignation as soon as it appears that He believes Himself to be one with the Father. They themselves would not have dreamed of putting such a question to Him: the idea of any man being equal with God was too abhorrent to the rigid monotheism of the Jewish mind. And when it dawned upon them that this was what Jesus claimed, they could do nothing but stop their ears and lift stones to end such blasphemy. No incident could more distinctly prove that the claim to be the Messiah was in their judgment one thing, the claim to be Divine another thing.

2. The contrast our Lord draws between Himself and those who had in Scripture been called |gods| is significant. It is the eighty-second Psalm He cites; and in it the judges of Israel are rebuked for abusing their office. It is of these unjust judges the psalm represents God as saying, |I have said, Ye are gods, and all of you are children of the Most High. But ye shall die like men, and fall like one of the princes.| To these judges this word of God, |Ye are gods,| had come at their consecration to their office. Having been occupied with other work they were now set apart to represent to men the authority and justice of God. But, argues our Lord, if men were called gods, to whom God's word came, -- and they are so called in Scripture, which cannot be broken, -- appointing them to their office, may He not rightly be called Son of God who is Himself sent to men; whose original and sole destiny it was to come into the world to represent the Father? The words are overweighted with manifold contrast. The judges were persons |to whom| the word of God came, as from without; Jesus was a person Himself |sent into the world| from God, therefore surely more akin to God than they were. The judges represented God by virtue of a commission received in the course of their career -- the word of God came to them: Jesus, on the other hand, represented God because |sanctified,| that is, set apart or consecrated for this purpose before He came into the world, and therefore obviously occupying a higher and more important position than they. But, especially, the judges were appointed to discharge one limited and temporary function, for the discharge of which it was sufficient that they should know the law of God; whereas it was |the Father,| the God of universal relation and love, who consecrated Jesus and sent Him into the world, meaning now to reveal to men what lies deepest in His nature, His love, His fatherhood. The idea of the purpose for which Christ was sent into the world is indicated in the emphatic use of |the Father.| He was sent to do the works of the Father (ver.37); to manifest to men the benignity, tenderness, compassion of the Father; to encourage them to believe that the Father, the Source of all life, was in their midst accessible to them. If Jesus failed to reveal the Father, He had no claim to make. |If I do not the works of My Father, believe Me not.| But if He did such works as declared the Father to be in their midst, then, as bearing the Father in Him and doing the Father's will, He might well be called |the Son of God.| |Though ye believe not Me, believe the works; that ye may know, and believe, that the Father is in Me, and I in Him.|

There can be no question, then, of the conclusiveness with which our Lord rebutted the charge of blasphemy. By a single sentence He put them in the position of presumptuously contradicting their own Scriptures. But weightier questions remain behind. Did Jesus merely seek to parry their thrust, or did He mean positively to affirm that He was God? His words do not carry a direct and explicit affirmation of His Divinity. Indeed, to a hearer His comparison of Himself with the judges would necessarily rather tend to veil the full meaning of His previous claims to pre-existence and superhuman dignity. On reflection, no doubt the hearers might see that a claim to Divinity was implied in His words; but even in the saying which first gave them offence, |I and the Father are one,| it is rather what is implied than what is expressed that carries with it such a claim. For Calvin is unquestionably right in maintaining that these words were not intended to affirm identity of substance with the Father. An ambassador whose actions or claims were contested might very naturally say, |I and my Sovereign are One|; not meaning thereby to claim royal dignity, but meaning to assert that what he did, his Sovereign did; that his signature carried his Sovereign's guarantee, and that his pledges would be fulfilled by the entire resources of his Sovereign. And as God's delegate, as the great Messianic Viceroy among men, it was no doubt this that our Lord wished in the first place to affirm, that He was the representative of God, doing His will, and backed by all His authority. |See the Father in Me,| was His constant demand. All His self-assertion and self-revelation were meant to reveal the Father.

But although He does not directly and explicitly say, |I am God|; although He does not even use such language of Himself as John uses, when he says, |The Word was God|; yet is not His Divine nature a reasonable inference from such affirmations as that which we are here considering? Some interpreters very decidedly maintain that when Christ says, |I and the Father are one,| He means one in power. They affirm that this assertion is made to prove that none of His sheep will be plucked out of His hand, and that this is secured because His Father is |greater than all,| and He and His Father are one. Accordingly they hold that neither the old orthodox interpretation nor the Arian is correct: not the orthodox, because not unity of essence but unity of power is meant; not the Arian, because something more is meant than moral harmony. This, however, is difficult to maintain, and it is safer to abide by Calvin's interpretation, and believe that what Jesus means is that what He does will be confirmed by the Father. It is the Father's power He introduces as the final guarantee, not His own power.

Still, although the very terms He here uses may not even by implication affirm His Divinity, it remains to be asked whether there are not parts of Christ's work as God's commissioner on earth which could be accomplished by no one who was not Himself Divine. An ambassador may recommend his offers and guarantees by affirming that his power and that of his Sovereign are one, but in many cases he must have actual power on the spot. If a commissioner is sent to reduce a mutinous army or a large warlike tribe in rebellion, or to define a frontier in the face of an armed claimant, he must in such cases be no mere lay-figure, whose uniform tells what country he belongs to, but he must be a man of audacity and resource, able to act for himself without telegraphing for orders, and he must be backed by sufficient military force on the spot. It comes therefore to be a question whether the work on which Christ was sent was a work which could be accomplished by a man however fully equipped? Jesus though nothing more than human might have said, if commissioned by God to say so, |The promises I make, God will perform. The guarantees I give, God will respect.| But is it possible that a man, however holy, however wise, however fully possessed by the Holy Spirit, could reveal the Father to men and adequately represent God? Could He influence, guide, and uplift individuals? Could He give life to men, could He assume the function of judging, could He bear the responsibility of being sole mediator between God and men? Must we not believe that for the work Christ came to do it was needful that He should be truly Divine?

While therefore it is quite true that Christ here rebuts the charge of blasphemy in His usual manner, not by directly affirming His Divine nature, but only by declaring that His office as God's representative gave Him as just a claim to the Divine name as the judges had, this circumstance cannot lead us to doubt the Divine nature of Christ, or prompt us to suppose He Himself was shy in affirming it, because the question is at once suggested whether the office He assumed is not one which only a Divine Person could undertake. It need not stumble our faith, if we find that not only in this passage but everywhere Jesus refrains from explicitly saying: |I am God.| Not even among His Apostles, who were so much in need of instruction, does He definitely announce His Divinity. This is consistent with His entire method of teaching. He was not aggressive nor impatient. He sowed the seed, and knew that in time the blade would appear. He trusted more to the faith which slowly grew with the growth of the believer's mind than to the immediate acceptance of verbal assertions. He allowed men gradually to find their own way to the right conclusions, guiding them, furnishing them with sufficient evidence, but always allowing the evidence to do its work, and not breaking in upon the natural process by His authoritative utterances. But when, as in Thomas's case, it did dawn on the mind of any that this Person was God manifest in the flesh, He accepted the tribute paid. The acceptance of such a tribute proves Him Divine. No good man, whatever his function or commission on earth, could allow another to address him, as Thomas addressed Jesus, |My Lord and my God.|

In the paragraph we are considering a very needful reminder is given us that the Jews of our Lord's time used the terms |God| and |Son of God| in a loose and inexact manner. Where the sense was not likely to be misunderstood, they did not scruple to apply these terms to officials and dignitaries. The angels they called sons of God; their own judges they called by the same name. The whole people considered collectively was called |God's son.| And in the 2nd Psalm, speaking of the Messianic King, God says, |Thou art My Son: this day have I begotten Thee.| It was therefore natural that the Jews should think of the Messiah not as properly Divine, but merely as being of such surpassing dignity as to be worthily though loosely called |Son of God.| No doubt there are passages in the Old Testament which intimate with sufficient clearness that the Messiah would be truly Divine: |Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever;| |Unto us a Child is born ... and His name shall be called the Mighty God;| |Behold the days come that I will raise unto David a righteous Branch, and this is the name whereby He shall be called, Jehovah our Righteousness.| But though these passages seem decisive to us, looking on the fulfilment of them in Christ, we must consider that the Jewish Bible did not lie on every table for consultation as our Bibles do, and also that it was easy for the Jews to put a figurative sense on all such passages.

In a word, it was a Messiah the Jews looked for, not the Son of God. They looked for one with Divine powers, the delegate of God, sent to accomplish His will and to establish His kingdom, the representative among them of the Divine presence; but they did not look for a real dwelling of a Divine Person among them. It is quite certain that the Jews of the second century thought it silly of the Christians to hold that the Christ pre-existed from eternity as God, and condescended to be born as man. |No Jew would allow,| says a writer of that time, |that any prophet ever said that a Son of God would come; but what the Jews do say is that the Christ of God will come.|

This circumstance, that the Jews did not expect the Messiah to be a Divine Person, throws light upon certain passages in the Gospels. When, for example, our Lord put the question, |What think ye of Christ? Whose Son is He?| The Pharisees promptly answer, |He is the Son of David.| And, that they had no thought of ascribing to the Messiah a properly Divine origin, is shown by their inability to answer the further question, |How then does David call Him Lord?| -- a question presenting no difficulty at all to any one who believed that the Messiah was to be Divine as well as human.

So, too, if the Jews had expected the Messiah to be a Divine person, the ascription of Messianic dignity to one who was not the Messiah was blasphemy, being equivalent to ascribing Divinity to one who was not Divine. But in no case in which Jesus was acknowledged as the Messiah were those who so acknowledged Him proceeded against as blasphemous. The blind men who appealed to Him as the Son of David were told to be quiet; the crowd who hailed His entrance to Jerusalem scandalized the Pharisees but were not proceeded against. And even the blind beggar who owned Him was excommunicated by a special act passed for the emergency, which proves that the standing statute against blasphemy could not in such a case be enforced.

Again, this fact, that the Jews did not expect the Messiah to be strictly Divine, sheds light on the real ground of accusation against Jesus. So long as it was supposed that He merely claimed to be the promised Christ, and used the title |Son of God| as equivalent to a Messianic title, many of the people admitted His claim and were prepared to own Him. But when the Pharisees began to apprehend that He claimed to be the Son of God in a higher sense, they accused Him of blasphemy, and on this charge He was condemned. The account of His trial as given by Luke is most significant. He was tried in two courts, and in each upon two charges. When brought before the Sanhedrim He was first asked, |Art Thou the Christ?| a question which, as He at once pointed out, was useless; because He had taught quite openly, and there were hundreds who could testify to the claims He had put forward. He merely says that they themselves will one day own His claim. |Hereafter shall the Son of Man sit on the right hand of the power of God.| This suggests to them that His claim was to something more than they ordinarily considered to be involved in the claim to Messiahship, and at once they pass to their second question, |Art Thou then the Son of God?| And on His refusing to disown this title, the High Priest rends His clothes, and Jesus is there and then convicted of blasphemy.

The different significance of the two claims is brought out more distinctly in the trial before Pilate. At first Pilate treats Him as an amiable enthusiast who fancies Himself a King and supposes He has been sent into the world to lead men to the truth. And accordingly after examining Him he presents Him to the people as an innocent person, and makes light of their charge that He claims to be King of the Jews. On this the Jews with one voice cry out, |We have a law, and by our law He ought to die, because He made Himself the Son of God.| The effect of this charge upon Pilate is immediate and remarkable: |When Pilate heard that saying he was the more afraid, and went again into the judgment hall, and saith unto Jesus, Whence art Thou?| But Jesus gave him no answer.

It is plain then that it was for blasphemy Christ was condemned; and not simply because He claimed to be the Messiah. But if this is so, then how can we evade the conclusion that He was in very truth a Divine person? The Jews charged Him with making Himself equal with God; and, if He was not equal with God, they were quite right in putting Him to death. Their law was express, that no matter what signs and wonders a man performed, if he used these to draw them from the worship of the true God he was to be put to death. They crucified Jesus on the ground that He was a blasphemer, and against this sentence He made no appeal. He showed no horror at the accusation, as any good man must have shown. He accepted the doom, and on the Cross prayed, |Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.| That which they considered an act of piety was in truth the most frightful of crimes. But if He was not Divine, it was no crime at all, but a just punishment.

But no doubt that which lodges in the heart of each of us the conviction that Christ is Divine is the general aspect of His life, and the attitude He assumes towards men and towards God. We may not be able to understand in what sense there are Three Persons in the Godhead, and may be disposed with Calvin to wish that theological terms and distinctions had never become necessary. We may be unable to understand how if Christ were a complete Person before the Incarnation, the humanity He assumed could also be complete and similar to our own. But notwithstanding such difficulties, which are the necessary result of our inability to comprehend the Divine nature, we are convinced, when we follow Christ through His life and listen to His own assertions, that there is in Him something unique and unapproached among men, that while He is one of us He yet looks at us also from the outside, from above. We feel that He is Master of all, that nothing in nature or in life can defeat Him; that while dwelling in time, He is also in Eternity, seeing before and after. The most stupendous claims He makes seem somehow justified; assertions which in other lips would be blasphemous are felt to be just and natural in His. It is felt that somehow, even if we cannot say how, God is in Him.

FOOTNOTES:

Calvin says: |The ancients misinterpreted this passage to prove that Christ is of one substance with the Father. For Christ is not here disputing regarding unity of substance, but regarding the harmony of will (consensu) which he has with the Father, maintaining that whatever He does will be confirmed by the Father's power.|

In this passage I borrow the convincing argument of Treffry in his too little read treatise On the Eternal Sonship. He says, p.89: |Had the Jews regarded the Messiah as a Divine person, the claims of Jesus to that character had been in all cases equivalent to the assertion of His Deity. But there is not upon record one example in which any considerable emotion was manifested against these claims; while, on the other hand, a palpable allusion to His higher nature never failed to be instantly and most indignantly resented. The conclusion is obvious.|

|Utinam quidem sepulta essent| (Instit., I., 13, 5).

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