John 10:27-38 (RSV)
“My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me; and I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish, and no one shall 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. I and the Father are one.”
The Jews took up stones again to stone him. Jesus answered them, “I have shown you many good works from the Father; for which of these do you stone me?” The Jews answered him, “It is not for a good work that we stone you but for blasphemy; because you, being a man, make yourself God.” Jesus answered them, “Is it not written in your law, ‘I said, you are gods’? If he called them gods to whom the word of God came (and scripture cannot be broken), 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’?If I am not doing the works of my Father, then do not believe me; 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.”
This sermon takes place following Jesus’ healing the man who was blind from birth (John 9:1-41) and the discussion during the Feast of Purification (John 10:22-42).
“My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me; and I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish, and no one shall snatch them out of my hand.”
Christ had previously told the Jews, You are not of my sheep (verse 26), but He now encourages them to become His sheep. He describes the reward His followers will receive: I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish.1
“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. I and the Father are one.”
They shall never perish means, “No man is able to snatch them out of my hand. My hand and My Father’s hand are one and the same, for I and My Father are one” in authority and in power, of which the hand is a symbol.
And so, “I and the Father are one in nature, in essence, and in power.” When the Jews understood from this that Christ considered Himself to be the Son of God and in one essence with God, they prepared to stone Him.
It should be noted perhaps that in the Greek text behind I and the Father are one, the word “one” is given in the neuter gender (ἕν) and not the masculine (εἷς) – signifying that Christ is speaking of unity of essence, not merely of power and will.
One might ask, “How can the Lord say, no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand, when we see that many have perished? The answer is that non one can pluck a believer from the hand of the Father, but there are many who can use evil influence to deceive. No one can snatch a believer from God by brute force, but every day we are tripped up by deception. Bede writes:
Wicked persecutors strove to snatch Christ’s holy confessors from His hand when torturing them to deny the faith in order to estrange their souls from Christ. If they died victorious, then they cast their lifeless bodies into water to be dissolved or into the fire to be burned, in order to take from Christ, so to speak, the possibility of raising them up. But no one will snatch them out of His hand.2
And again, how can the Lord say that My sheep … follow me … and shall never perish, when we know that Judas perished? He perished because He chose not to follow the Lord and remain His sheep until the end. When the Lord says, They shall never perish, He is speaking of those who are intent on following Him as His sheep. But if a sheep wanders off from the flock and does not follow the shepherd, it is lost at once and will indeed perish.
The Manichees – a 2nd century heretical sect – believed that good and evil exist as permanent conditions of our nature. But this is not true. Judas, for example, at first was holy, and one of God’s sheep. He fell away by his own choice. Good and evil do not exist as permanent conditions, but are manifested when we exercise our free will.
The Jews took up stones again to stone him. Jesus answered them, “I have shown you many good works from the Father; for which of these do you stone me?”
Jesus had just stated, “I and the Father are one in authority and power.” The Jews regarded this as blasphemy – a man claiming to be equal to God – and prepared to stone Him.
The Lord rebukes the Jews, showing that their rage is senseless. He reminds them of the miracles He had performed: I have shown you many good works from the Father; for which of these do you stone me?
The Jews answered him, “It is not for a good work that we stone you but for blasphemy; because you, being a man, make yourself God.”
They answer, for blasphemy, because you … make yourself God.
Jesus answered them, “Is it not written in your law, ‘I said, you are gods’? If he called them gods to whom the word of God came (and scripture cannot be broken), 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’?”
Jesus does not deny that He is God, equal to the Father; rather, He confirms His divinity by referring to the law (Christ considers the Psalms of David and all Scripture to be law).
“If you approve men who have been deified by grace and are called gods (Psalm 82:6), why do you condemn Me, Who am God by nature, the One whom the father has consecrated (or sanctified; Greek ἁγιάζω – hagiazō, “make holy”), meaning set apart to be slain for the world? Whatever God has set apart is holy. Because the Father has sanctified Me and set Me apart for the salvation of the world, I am not to be simply equated with the men whom Scripture called “gods”. I am true God. A man who has been made Godlike by grace cannot save; God alone can save. Now they are called gods, to whom the Word of God came, but the name Word of God refers to Me. I dwelt in those called gods and graciously adopted them as sons; therefore I am justly called God, more than any of them. I am God by nature, and I bestow divinity upon others.”
This refutes those who reject the divinity of Christ – Arians and Nestorians in antiquity, sects like the Jehovah’s Witnesses today. Christ is the Son of God, not a creature, and is God by essence and nature. Being the Word of God by nature, He is not made divine by grace but bestows divinity upon men. Christ clearly distinguishes Himself from men who have been made Godlike by grace. He explains that He is the author of their theosis (i.e. becoming god-like), since He is the Word of God dwelling in them.
To whom the Word of God came means those with whom Christ was present and in whom He dwelt. “How do I blaspheme by calling Myself the Son of God? I indeed bear flesh and am of the seed of David, but you cannot understand this mystery.” Carnal human nature would have remained forever incapable of conversing and communing with God had not the Word conversed with men through the veil of the flesh.
“If I am not doing the works of my Father, then do not believe me;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.”
The Lord is saying here, “Do you wish to understand My equality with the Father? You cannot fathom this equality in essence because it is impossible to know the essence of God. But the exact identity of Our works proves that Our power is identical and demonstrates My divinity. From this, know and believe that I am what the Father is. I have the same essence as the Father while remaining the Son; I differ from Him only in hypostasis (i.e. “person”). Likewise, the Father ever remains the Father and differs from Me only in hypostasis. He is identical to Me in essence and nature. Though we differ in hypostasis, Our hypostases are undivided and inseparable: the Father and the Son united without confusion.”
It is not so with men. A human father exists separately form his son, although they are one in nature. But the divine hypostases are intermingled without confusion. We speak of “three men”, for every human person is a separate entity. But the Holy Trinity is one God, not three, because of the unconfused interpenetration of the three hypostases without confusion, and their unity of counsel and will.
The 19th century Russian monk, Theophan the Recluse comments here:
The works of the Lord were obvious to all, and He could point to them openly. They are the healing of various diseases, the driving out of demons, power over nature, knowledge of the thoughts of the heart, prophesying of the future, power in one’s word, and dominion over souls. All of these clearly proved that Jesus Christ was from God, and that His word was the truth. Other works were added to these for us: His glorious death, Resurrection and Ascension, the descent of the Holy Spirit, the foundation of the Church, the marvelous spiritual gifts in believers, the triumph over pagans, and the grace-filled power which to this day has not ceased to act in the Church of God. All of these are the works of the Lord. To any unbeliever one can say: If you do not believe the word, believe these works, which loudly witness to the Divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ; and having come to belief, accept His entire truth. But how did those Jews answer the Lord at that time? They sought again to take Him (John 10:39). What do today’s unbelievers do? They sit and weave lie onto lie, not in order to “take” the Lord – for that is not according to their strength – but to “take” those who are simple in faith and cannot unravel their sly weavings.3
1 Unless otherwise noted, explanations are taken from The Explanation of the Holy Gospel According to John of Theophylact of Ohrid; translated from the Greek by Christopher Stade (Chrysostom Press, 2007).
2 Homilies on the Gospels
3 Thoughts for Each Day of the Year, translated from the Russian, St. Herman of Alaska Press, 2010, pp.108-9