22At that time the festival of the Dedication took place in Jerusalem. It was winter, 23and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the portico of Solomon.
It was winter. It would not have been a Minnesota winter; it would have been a San Francisco one – that damp, penetrating chill. The note that he was in the portico suggests he was sheltered from the rain. It’s interesting to imagine Jesus under dripping, grey skies. We don’t think about the real texture of his life.
John puts him in the temple at the feast of the Dedication. We would recognize it as it Hanukah. It remembers when, after Antiochus Epiphanes IV desecrated the temple and the Maccabean revolt reclaimed the city and temple, they purified the temple. There was only enough oil to keep the lamps burning one day – and the process of preparing new oil took eight – but the lamps continued to burn for the eight days. The light never went out.
Maybe it’s the remembrance of Judas Maccabeus and the deliverance of the nation that leads the Judeans to press Jesus to declare himself openly as God’s anointed, God’s messiah. Were they hoping? Or were they already looking for evidence against him? Were they wanting to dispense with this voice that promised new wine and new birth? This voice that claimed to be the true shepherd unlike the thieves and bandits who bring death in their wake? And unlike the hired hands who save themselves and let the sheep be scattered?
The words are certainly pregnant with meaning for John’s congregation listening to them in the years after 70 AD – for this is precisely what happened in the War against Rome when hundreds of thousands perished and the temple was destroyed.
Jesus is perceptive enough, perfectly attuned to the Spirit of God, to know the dangerous path the country is following. He answers deftly. “My sheep recognize my voice.” It’s neither a “yes” nor a “no” because he is not, as he will tell Pilate, a king like the kings of this world. But what he does say is that he will not lose any of his sheep – unlike the shepherds who led the nation to ruin. The disaster they brought fell not just in Judea but throughout the region for, at the outbreak of the revolt, towns loyal to Rome rose up and murdered or drove out their Jews.
But the reign of God in Jesus gives life, the life that cannot be destroyed.
27 My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand.