THE VENGEANCE OF UNBELIEVING JEWS: STONES
Those who speak the Word of God in the midst of unbelieving Israel are always the object of persecution, and not seldom are they hypocritically and falsely adjudged and stoned. Thus it was with Moses and with all the true prophets and servants of the Lord. Herewith Jesus also is confronted as He vindicates His eternal Sonship over against the unbelieving Jews in Jerusalem. The cardinal question is: What say ye of the Christ, whose Son is He?
It is important for the correct understanding of the matter here to take notice of the meaning and implication of “stoning” in the Holy Bible. A perusal of both the Old and New Testament Scriptures shows that there is both a God-sanctioned use of stoning and a man initiated stoning. The former is the execution of divine justice upon blasphemers and covenant-breakers, while the latter is simply sinful human vengeance which would usurp to itself the place of the Judge of all the earth.
When “stoning” took place by the people themselves, contrary to the Word of God and not upon God’s expressed commandment, then it was tantamount to popular revolution and upheaval of the people against authority. It was taking the law into one’s own hand; it was a mere lynching party. Only when stoning was upon God’s command was it justifiable. Thus we have the either /or situation in all instances of stoning. It is either in the Name of God and having His sanction, or it is in the name of man and with God’s disapproval!
Instances of such human vengeance we have in the case of Israel well-nigh taking up stones to stone Moses at Rephidim when there is no water. (Exodus 17:4) Or we have the instance of stoning in the history of Ahab’s wife writing out the prescription for Naboth’s death, which was accordingly executed by her henchmen. (I Kings 21:10,13) Suchmust have been the general rule of unbelieving Israel according to the parable in Matthew 21:35: “And the husbandmen took his servants, and beat one, and killed another, and stoned another”. And the Lord upon pronouncing the tenfold woes upon unbelieving Israel, says: “Wherefore, behold, I send unto you prophets, and wise men, and scribes: and some of them ye shall kill and crucify; and some of them ye shall scourge in your synagogues.. . . .O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets and stonest them which are sent unto thee….”
However, there is also the legitimate and God ordained stoning in the Name of God. Those who broke God’s covenant and served other gods and attempted to lead Israel astray from God, the God of Israel, were commanded to be killed with stones and thus removed from out of Israel. Thus we read inDeuteronomy 13:10: “And, thou shalt stone him with stones that he die; because he hath sought to thrust thee away from the Lord thy God, which brought thee out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage.” See, furthermore, such passages as Deuteronomy 17:5, 2:21,24, and Joshua 7:25, in all of which we see the vengeance and holy wrath of God exhibited.
There is one point more which ought to be noticed in this connection. It is that stoning was God’s execution of His justice through the hands of men, of those who were of the party of the living God, who were consumed by the zeal of the Lord’s house and its purity of worship. And it is exactly here where we have the either/or situation which we signaled above; either this was done in the zeal of the Lord or it was the mere fire of hell in the hearts of those who did not know the Lord, yet purported to be defenders of the honor and majesty of God.
Now to the point at issue here in John 10:31-39.
Let us not forget that we may see here the Jews standing ready to throw the stones at Jesus. The first stone is about to be thrown. Jesus speaks. He asks a question, and it is a heart-searching one. He states a fact and asks a question about it, Says he: “Many good works have I shewed thee from my Father, for which of those works do ye stone me?”
The question is arresting. Jesus states here his entire case and defends it with one question. He speaks of his “works'”. The blind He had given sight, the lame He caused to walk and the blind to see, the lepers were cleansed by Him, and the demon-possessed He liberated, and the poor had the Gospel preached to them. These works were not isolated cases. They are many! And they are all good; they are beautiful and excellent in nature. They all refer to the breaking of the power of sin and death, and of wresting the children of God from the grip of Satan and all his hosts of hell. These were His works! They were good.
Furthermore, the Savior says that these works were of such a nature that they were “out of my Father”. From Him they had their origin and source. And they give a very distinct testimony to that effect. They testified that He was sent by the Father to perform His work on earth, that He had been sanctified and set aside by God for these works, and had been sent into the world for this very purpose. Such is Christ’s self attestation to all men, whether they are disobedient or whether they believe.
Now the searching question can be asked: for which of these works do ye stone me? Christ asks in effect for their “Bill of particulars”. His works were many, and they were good. Will they now single out one or more of these works which were reprehensible in that they did not have and did not bear the evidence that they were out of the heavenly Father? If there is even one of all these works which belies this boast, that they are works which are shown from the heavenly Father, these Jews have a case!
They side-step the question. Rather they will forget about these many works, and speak only of what He claims to be. They will pin-point their case on a statement. Now Jesus does not argue the context and the meaning of the statement! Nor does He deny that He ever made the statement attributed to Him. He says: I am the Son of God. He makes himself God, the great Shepherd of Israel in the flesh. And, in so doing, He is guilty of the sin of blasphemy. Thus it is alleged.
That is a serious, grievous and heavy charge. For blasphemy is a horrible offense against the majesty of God. (*) Calvin gives a brief definition when he says “that in which God is wounded and insulted in His majesty”. And he continues: “There are two kinds of blasphemy. The one is when God is despoiled of His due honor. The other when anything unworthy of or foreign is ascribed to Him” (Commentary, Gospel according to St. John) In this case they allege that Jesus, being but a mere man, is sacrilegious because he ascribes to himself what only belongs to God, His being, nature, attributes, and works.
They feign interest in the majesty of God!
But they will not listen to the evidence of the works of God in his Son. Jesus does not demur. He meets them head-on. They will measure His statement and words by the Law, the Holy Scriptures? Go to, then, ye who purport to know the Scriptures and to live by them as the end of all contradiction. He will lay them low with the sword of the Spirit. He quotes from Psalm 82. Says he: “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 hath sanctified, and sent into the world, Thou blaspemest; because I said, I am the Son of God?”
What is the force of this argument and refutation?
First of all, there is a difference in station and calling between these who were called “gods” and Him Whom the Father “sanctified and sent into the world”. Those were mere men, although they were judges of the earth. They shall “die like men and fall like one of the princes”. (Psalm 82:7) He is not like these, but was “sent into the world.” The argument is from the less eminent to the more eminent. He towers far above those to whom God speaks in the Psalm. Yet, these are called “gods,” rulers, kings and judges among men.
Secondly, there is the pre-eminence pointed out, that in the Psalm quoted the word mere came to these “gods’, while here is one who is “sanctified” and “sent into the world by the Father”. And when we take a closer look at this word that came to these “gods,” it was a word of reproof from the Lord who stands in the midst of the congregation to judge and reprove these “gods”, while here the works testify that they are direct works of the Father from heaven in the Son. Here is one who is far greater than all the prophets and all the judges of the earth.
Thirdly, and now we have the closing of the argument by Christ’s placing in the arch-stone. How can these the Jews in good propriety complain that Christ says, “I am the Son of God”, if such mere, sinful, transitory men are called “gods”. If the latter is not blasphemy and incongruous with God’s nature, why would the former be thus adjudged to be.
But Jesus presses the matter to the end. Although these Jews are evidently still standing with stones in their hands, he continues to speak to them, and He gives them two alternatives, two possibilities to consider from the evidence. They have not given him a “Bill of particulars” concerning any works which were weighed in the balance and found wanting. He has shut their mouth concerning the charge of blasphemy by quoting the Scriptures. But now He presents them with two alternatives. He tightens the thumb-screws on them.
The first alternative is that all His works taken as a whole and one class, which ever He did perform, are not works which He performs directly from God. If such should be the case, they must not believe Him that He is the Son of God. Then His claim is spurious and false. He is guilty of blasphemy.
The second alternative is that He does do the works of God. Then they do not simply need to believe it upon His word, but they surely must believe because of the implicit testimony of these works that they are from God.
Two alternatives. It is either/or. He is the Son of God, the great Shepherd of Israel, or He is not that One to come. He is either unworthy of faith or worthy. The evidence is in the works. They testify of Him!
*See Kittel’s “Theological Dictionary of the New Testament” translation by G. Bromiley, pages 621- 625. Suffer me to give just one instance from what is written under the term blasphemia, etc, particularly under “C. blasphemia the NT. 1. In the NT the concept of blasphemy is controlled throughout by the thought of violation of the power and majesty of God. Blasphemy may be directed immediately against God (Rev. 13:6; 16:11,21; AC. 6:11, against the name of God (R. 2:24, quoting Is. 52:5; I Tim. 6:l; Rev. 16:9, against the Word of God (Tt. 2:5), against Moses and God and therefore against the bearer of the revelation of the law AC. 6:11)” See further the article in Intern. Bible Encyclopedia by T. Rees, Vol. I.