Summary: A perspective on John 10: 22-30. What did it mean for the Israelites to loose their Temple?
John 10: 22-30
Stone Becomes Flesh
We are told in our text that Jesus was present during the Feast of Dedication at Jerusalem. This is a relatively new festival added to the Jewish calendar. It celebrates the rededication of the Temple in 164 BC. The history of this festival is an important setting to our text. In 175 BC Antiochus IV ascended the throne in Syria. He became the regional power and overlord. He had plans to conquer Egypt and on his way he captured and ruled over Jerusalem for awhile.
Antiochus built a large sports stadium in Jerusalem. There all the people including the Jews participated and watched spectacular sporting events. He gradually removed the holy things of Israel from the Temple and filled it with images and ideas that were foreign to Israel. Eventually, he covered the altar of sacrifice to the God of Israel with an altar to a foreign god. He commanded the people to worship the Greek god, Zeus Olympios. Antiochus also began to call himself divine, the manifestation of god, that is, the son of god. All this was done so that the people should forget the Law of Moses, and to forget their God. In this way Antiochus would have truly conquered Israel and be free to rule over them as he pleased.
Opposition and persecution became widespread as a result to the demands of the Emperor. Death was a common result to the persecution received from the Emperor. Continued revolts against the forces of the Emperor were eventually successful and concluded by Judas Maccabeus in 164 BC. The first task that Judas attended to was the purification of the Temple. The Temple was rededicated on the 25th Kislev (December), 164 BC, three years after defilement. The feast of the Dedication was the yearly celebration of this event.
Through these brief historical notes, what did it mean for the Israelites to loose their Temple? To a few Israelites it meant a loss of personal income and status. To these few, the Temple provided a means of exploiting the poor and a seat of power over others. But to many Israelites the Temple meant God’s presence. It reminded them of the Exodus, and the wilderness wanderings. It reminded them of God’s gracious acts as He led them out of slavery in Egypt to the promised land flowing with milk and honey.
The Temple also reminded them of their continued failure to follow God. In their eagerness to go their own way and to follow after the temptations from others, they experienced pain, suffering, and death. God who is the Good Shepherd continues to restore his people to himself because of his love for them.
Most importantly, the Temple provided the means of reconciliation with God. With the Temple defiled by Antiochus how could the people make peace with their God? How could they come to terms with their guilt from sin? Where was their hope for peace in their life? Where was God?
It had happened before, people with self interest would come and defile the Temple leaving them without hope for salvation. They would snatch away the holy things in the Temple, snatch away their beliefs and values, snatch away their hope and peace, and snatch away the Temple itself as if God wasn’t there. Such destruction could only leave people to feel as if their own life had been snatched away form God.
The massive stone Temple over the centuries had shown to be fragile and inadequate to reassure people of God’s continued presence and ongoing care of His people. The recapture of the Temple and its rededication in 164 BC became a yearly celebration to mark God’s ongoing care of His people. The revolt and the following feast of the Dedication were merely human efforts to patch up and restore some form of confidence back to the people. Nonetheless, the Temple could not be disguised. It was merely a stone that could be snatched away leaving its worshippers doubting their God. It was inadequate.
Many people come to a place in their lives where things have changed. Even for our congregation, our parish we are at a place where everything we love could be snatched away from us. All the holy things and the building itself could be all snatched away from us during this time of change.
Pain and suffering can also come to us in our own personal life in many ways. For example, when relationships have fallen apart, sickness has taken hold of the body, unemployment or financial disaster strike, feelings of failure and inadequacy, and death of a loved one all make us feel as if live has been snatched away from us. Where then, can a person go to be reassured that all things will be made better? Where is the hope of ongoing care for all of us?