“And from that time to the present we observe this festival, which we call the festival of Lights, giving this name to it, I think, from the fact that the right to worship appeared to us at a time when we hardly dared hope for it” Josephus, Antiquities 12.325, (a.d. 37–c.100)
John 10:22 orients us to the timeframe in which this encounter takes place, the time of the “Feast of the Dedication;” also known as Hanukkah or as the ancient historian Josephus calls it, “the festival of Lights.” Josephus’ words are incredibly important as they remind us of what Hanukkah celebrates, which is the victory of the Maccabean revolt in about 160 BC, occurring between the Old and New Testament. This was a time when pagan’s ruled over the Jews and in righteous anger the Jews rose up against the command to participate in idolatrous worship.
Hanukkah symbolizes hope and deliverance—that someday God will provide victory for the Jews such that no earthly power will reign over them. Remember also that Rome has complete sovereign control over the region and the Jewish expectation for the Messiah was to overthrow Rome and establish rule over the whole Earth (see Psalm 2 and others).
Thus, when the question comes, “If you are the Christ, tell us plainly?” The implication may be, if you are, then this is a great season to begin our preparation for war. What they wanted was the Deliverer from Isaiah 63—“I trampled nations in my anger, I made them drunk in my rage, I splashed their blood on the ground” (Is. 63:6). Instead, what they didn’t understand was that before 63 comes Isaiah 53—“Having suffered, he will reflect on his work, he will be satisfied when he understands what he has done. ‘My servant will acquit many, for he carried their sins’” (Is 53:11).
When Isaiah 63 takes place (and it will), the whole world will be judged in their sin. This was what they Jews were asking for in John 10:24, ignorant of the implications. What they missed was that the Messiah must first act as the Suffering Servant, because if judgement were to fall on the Earth at that time, no one would have their debt of sin cancelled.
Jesus’ response makes far more sense when you understand the context. The deliverance of Hanukkah was temporary. The deliverance that Jesus offers is complete (10:28). However, not all will understand or accept the work that Jesus has done or has yet still to do (10:25–27).
Today, we must remember that the judgement of Isaiah 63 will come at some point. Many parables of Jesus remind us to be on guard because no one knows the hour of the Lord’s return. Our hope in Christ is that all will be made right, sin will be eradicated, and our judgment will be received on the imputed righteousness of Christ Jesus our Lord. However, that judgment will not go so well for those apart from Christ. The question becomes, “Is there anybody in your life who is not ready to face judgment?”
By: Tyler Short