Dear Church Family,
In the sermon this last Sunday from John 10:22-42, we found Jesus’ hearers charging Him with blasphemy and intending to stone Him because He made Himself out to be God (John 10:33). Jesus’ response to the charge of blasphemy is multifaceted, but one part of His response is to appeal to the Scriptures:
34 Jesus answered them, “Has it not been written in your Law, ‘I SAID, YOU ARE GODS’? 35 “If he called them gods, to whom the word of God came (and the Scripture cannot be broken), 36 do you say of Him, whom the Father sanctified and sent into the world, ‘You are blaspheming,’ because I said, ‘I am the Son of God ‘? (John 10:34-36)
Jesus appeals to Psalm 82, where God judges the unjust rulers and magistrates who do not care for the weak and the fatherless, the afflicted and destitute, the needy and the oppressed. And, in the course of that Psalm, these earthly rulers and magistrates are called ‘gods’ because God has given them authority. Now, we have to be careful to take note and be clear about what Jesus isn’t saying and what He is saying. Jesus is not equating Himself with earthly rulers, He is arguing from the lesser to the greater. Leon Morris writes:
…his argument is not ‘Psalm 82 speaks of men as gods; therefore I in common with other men may use the term of myself,’ but rather, ‘If in any sense the Psalm may apply this term to men, then much more may it be applied to him whom the Father sanctified and sent into the world.’ Jesus is not classing himself among men…He separates and distinguishes himself from men. His argument is of the ‘How much more – ‘ variety.
Some Lessons Learned
There are many things that we may learn from Jesus’ appeal to the Scriptures to defend Himself against the charge of blasphemy. Here are three that I, personally, think deserve special note.
(1) The meaning of words in their context
For one thing, we learn that context is key to interpreting the Bible. I was teaching a Sunday school lesson one time and in the midst of it, someone referenced a hermeneutical principle which they called “the law of first mention.” As someone who’s studied and is very interested in hermeneutics, I asked them after the class what they meant by “the law of first mention” because I had never heard of it.
Well, the next week, this person brought a Kay Arthur book that he had been reading which defined this hermeneutical principle this way, “When a significant word is mentioned for the first time in the Word of God the principles connected with that word at the appoint hold true throughout the rest of Scripture. This is what is called the principle of first mention.”
In other words, the idea is that the meaning and definition of a word is “locked in” according to how it is first used in the Bible. In the rest of the Bible, that word is always used – and always means – what it means according to its first use.
Let me put this as simply as I can: That’s a bunch of bologna, and no theologian or exegete of Scripture worth his or her salt uses that principle. It’s important that we affirm that words do have specific meanings (words can’t just mean anything we want them to mean), but those meanings are influenced and informed by the context. The word “god” or “gods” in Psalm 82 where earthly rulers are called “gods” is not used in the same way, nor does it have the same meaning at it does in John 10 where Jesus claims to be “the Son of God.”
(2) A warning for earthly rulers
Judges, rulers, magistrates, kings, mayors, governors, and all earthly authorities ought to tremble with the fear of God as they make decisions and seek to mete out justice. This lesson doesn’t have so much to do with what Jesus says in John 10, as it does with what He, through Asaph, says in Psalm 82 (yes, you read that correctly, because Jesus is the eternal Son of God, we can rightly refer to Him as the author of all of Scripture).
Even as Psalm 82 refers to earthly rulers as ‘gods,’ it also declares that the one true God – the God of creation – will judge them: “God takes His stand in His own congregation; He judges in the midst of rulers [literally, ‘gods’ (elohim)]” (Psalm 82:1). Commenting on Psalm 82:1, Charles Spurgeon writes:
Judges shall be judged, and to justices justice shall be meted out. Our village squires and country magistrates would do well to remember this. Some of them had need go to school to Asaph till they have mastered this Psalm. Their harsh decisions and strange judgments are made in the presence of him who will surely visit them for every unseemly act, for he has no respond unto the person of any, and is the champion of the poor and needy. A higher authority will criticize the decision of the petty sessions, and even the judgments of our most impartial judges will be revised by the High Court of heaven…They are gods to other men, but he is God to them.
Spiderman had it right: with great power comes great responsibility, but it also comes with great judgment! Earthly governing authorities must remember – and be reminded – that they do not stand as a law unto themselves; “there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God” (Romans 13:1).
(3) A warning for the subjects of earthly rulers
All people – and especially believers – ought to tremble with the fear of God as they learn to submit, obey, and honor those earthly authorities which God has appointed over them. All vocations may be said to be callings from God, but not all vocations are the same – not all have the same God-given authority. Just as the call to gospel ministry carries a unique authority, responsibility, and judgment (2 Timothy 2:2; Hebrews 13:17; James 3:1), the call to earthly governance carries a unique authority, responsibility, and judgment (1 Peter 2:13-14; Romans 13:1-7; Psalm 82). Consider the words of John Calvin from his commentary on John 10:35:
For Christ means that they were authorized by an undoubted command of God. Hence we infer that empires did not spring up at random, nor by the mistakes of men, but that they were appointed by the will of God, because he wishes that political order should exist among men, and that we should be governed by usages and laws. For this reason Paul says that all who resist the power are rebels against God, because there is no power but what is ordained by God, (Rom. 13:1-2). It will, perhaps, be objected that other callings also are from God, and are approved by him, and yet that we do not, on that account, call farmers, or cowherds, or cobblers, gods. I reply, this is not a general declaration, that all who have been called by God in any particular way of living are called gods; but Christ speaks of kings, whom God has raised to a more elevated station, that they may rule and govern. In short, let us know that magistrates are called gods, because God has given them authority.
Every one of us is a subject of an earthly authority – an earthly authority which has been ordained by God. Christians especially, who have the Word of God, must remember – and be reminded – of this truth. To hear how some Christians speak about those whom God has appointed over them in the civil realm, or to see how they deride them in social media, you would think that the Bible commands Christians to mock, ridicule, and dishonor earthly authorities!
Nothing could be further from the truth, however. God’s word continually exhorts believers to submit to earthly authorities (Romans 13:1-5; Titus 3:1; 1 Peter 2:13-14), give them what is due: taxes, custom, fear, honor (Romans 13:7), and to pray for them (1 Timothy 2:1-2). This does not mean that we must blindly follow and agree with every decision and ruling of earthly authorities, or that we must remain silent in the face of injustice and unrighteousness. But we would do well to remember that “it is the duty of people to pray for magistrates, to honour their persons, to pay them tribute or other dues, to obey their lawful commands, and to be subject to their authority, for conscience sake. Infidelity, or difference in religion, doth not make void the magistrates’ just and legal authority, nor free the people from their due obedience to them…” (WCF 23:4).
The Lord be with you!
- Pastor Peter M. Dietsch