John 10 finds Jesus and his disciples back in Jerusalem for the Feast of Dedication, which is for Chanukah, celebrated in the winter around Christmas time. Understanding this feast is important to appreciate everything the Good Shepherd means. Chanukah is a celebration of the miracle of lights that happened with the cleansing and re-dedication of the Temple by Judas Maccabeus in December 165 B.C.
The story of Chanukah begins with the reign of Alexander the Great, the beginning of Greek rule over Israel. While the Israelites were allowed to maintain their Temple worship (which is a fascinating miracle provided by God through the prophecies of Daniel) the Greeks were intent on all their subjects becoming Greek in thought and deed. Hellenization meant adopting the language, the customs and the dress of the Greeks; the customs included much of their religious practices in violation of God’s Laws.
Over 100 years after Alexander the Great, Antiochus IV was the ruler of the Greek Empire. He began to oppress the Jews severely, he installed Temple priests who were not in the lineage of Aaron, false shepherds that were Hellenized and leading Israel away from God. Finally, Antiochus required a sacrifice of pigs on God’s holy altar desecrating the Temple, which was the final abomination. The leaders of Israel put aside their internal quarreling to successfully revolt against the Greek government and the Hellenization movement.
First they threw out the corrupt priests and rulers, and then set about cleansing and rededicating the Temple. There was very little oil left that was pure, not defied by the false priests to keep the Lampstand burning in the Temple. The oil in the Temple was to burn continuously, every day and night; there was only enough oil to burn for one night. Miraculously, the little oil continued to burn for eight days, long enough to make and purify new oil for the Temple.
It was the ancestors of the Pharisees, who join in this revolution to rid Israel of the Greeks and to purify and rededicate the Temple; this was very much on their minds as they encounter Jesus. The Bible reading for Chanukah is Ezekiel 34, where God condemns the false shepherds of Israel that were leading their flock astray. “You eat the fat, you clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the choice animals, but you do not feed the sheep!” After God denounces the false shepherds, He promises to provide the true Shepherd, the Messiah, who will care for His sheep.
Jesus says, “I AM the Good Shepherd; the good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep (11). He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. (4) I AM the Gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. He will come in and go out, and find pasture (9). I AM the Good Shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me – just as the Father knows me and I know the Father – and I lay down my life for the sheep (14). No one takes my life (it) from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from the Father (18).”
The Jews were very familiar with the concept that God was the Shepherd of Israel from the prophet Isaiah. “Like a shepherd he tends his flock; he gathers up the lambs with his arm; he carries them close to his heart; he leads the ewes along.” But still they refuse to believe Jesus; they demand that He “tell us plainly if you are the Christ (Messiah)”. Jesus responds with more explanations about his sheep; Jesus’ sheep listen to him, he knows them and they follow him. Jesus gives them eternal life, they will never perish and no one will snatch them from his hand. Finally ending with another clear statement; “I and the Father are one”.
Once again the Jews pick up rocks to stone Jesus to death, but this time Jesus confronts them directly. “I have shown you many good deeds from the Father. For which one of them are you going to stone me?” Jesus counters their charge of blasphemy by quoting Psalm 82 a clear indictment of them. They are the “gods” that “will die like mere men; you will fall like every other ruler” Jesus is the Good Shepherd, the Jewish leaders are the “thieves and robbers”, the false and wicked shepherds of Ezekiel 34.
Jesus leaves Jerusalem again, this time he goes into the desert where his ministry began and where John the Baptist ministered. He stayed away from Jerusalem, but many people traveled out into the desert to see and hear Jesus and many believed in Jesus.
Jesus said to her, “I AM the Resurrection and the Life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies;” John 11:25