It’s been three months since the events of verses 1-21; it’s now December, and the population is celebrating Hanukkah: the remembrance of the cleansing of the temple after its desecration 150 years earlier. At the time, Antiochus Ephiphanes was the perpetrator of sacrilege; now the Roman ruler Tiberius Caesar is the more immediate concern. Many people wanted Jesus to tell them clearly if he was the one who would overthrow Rome and restore Israel’s kingdom. They gathered around Jesus, most likely enclosing him in a ring of people, trying to force his hand.
So what’s the big deal? Why doesn’t Jesus just say, “Yeah, I’m the Messiah”? It’s because of what the word means to them: They want a warrior to over throw Rome. If he will just claim he is that warrior, the revolution will begin, Jesus will be hunted down by Jews and Romans alike: Jews for blasphemy, and Romans for treason. Jesus knew their minds too well to fall into their trap.
Jesus replies coyly: “I have told you, but you never believe what I say. The miracles I do are the proof. But I know you don’t believe any of it. My true followers know who I am, listen to what I say, and believe it. Those are the ones who have a place in heaven that cannot be taken away.”
Then, in the clearest statement of divinity Jesus ever made, he says distinctly: “I and God the Father are one.” His claim to be God was unmistakable. He echoes the basic confession of Judaism that God is one (Dt. 6.4), and claims to be one with the One. Not one person, but one in essence or nature. They are separate persons, but the same nature.
The Jews knew exactly what he was saying, and there was no question about it. They picked up rocks to stone him to death for overt blasphemy. Jesus was quick to insert, “I have done a lot of miracles by the power of God. For which of these are you stoning me?” They were back at him: “It’s not for your miracles, but because you claim to be God when you’re a man!”
Jesus answered them, “But your very law calls the judges of Israel “gods.” And if they can be called “gods,” how do I blaspheme in calling myself one with God, since the Father has obviously consecrated me and sent me on a special missions to the world? The word of God came to them, and they were called to judge God’s people. I come as the Word of God, and you accuse me of blasphemy. The critical point is: Am I doing the work of God? If I am, at least believe in the work I’m doing, and that it’s of God. And if you admit that, which you do, then you admit that the Father is in me. So why would you stone me?”
There was some kind of tussle, but Jesus escaped their grasp and left the area. The hostility against him was a growing danger. But many people came to him, convinced that he was a man of God. “And in that place many believed Jesus.” John’s point is clear: despite all the conflict, it was easy to see that he was who he said he was: God in the flesh.