From the very beginning of his gospel, John confronts his readers with astounding claims about Jesus. He is the eternal Word who existed before creation and through whom all things were made. He is the Bread of Life who feeds thousands, the Light of the World who gives sight to the blind, the Good Shepherd who calls his sheep and gives them eternal life.
He has spoken repeatedly of the intimate relationship he has with his Father, the one who sent him into the world. And at last, faced with unbelieving opponents who demand to know if he is the Messiah, he says, “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30).
Much has been made of this verse over the centuries, particularly in defense of a trinitarian understanding of God. It would probably be too much to say that Jesus himself was, at that moment, trying to teach such a doctrine himself. Perhaps he meant something similar to the way Eugene Peterson renders the verse: “I and the Father are one heart and mind.” The Father and Son, in other words, act with seamless unity, with one shared purpose.
But there’s more to it than that.
In context, he’s been drawing the closest of parallels between himself and his Father. He gives his sheep eternal life, which only God can do. He states that no one can snatch the sheep from his hand (vs. 28), and in the very next verse says that the Father is the one who has given the sheep into his care, and no one can snatch them from the Father’s hand either (vs. 29). This is more than unity of purpose; this is the unity of identity.
And his opponents, of course, pick up the implication, for they also pick up stones to execute him on the spot for blasphemy (vs. 31).
Jesus’ statement, in fact, helps make sense of his claim to be the Good Shepherd. As we’ve seen, Ezekiel 34 speaks of both God and a Davidic king as the shepherd of God’s people. In Jesus, we have both. Though we may live as sheep in the midst of wolves, we have a Shepherd who cares for and protects us. To be in Jesus’ hand is to be in the Father’s hand, safe and secure.
It may not feel that way sometimes. The promise of eternal life is not a guarantee of an easy or comfortable life in the here and now. But we are allowed sneak peeks of the future, days in which love masters hate, righteousness overcomes unrighteousness, and hope triumphs over despair.
For when you have a Shepherd like Jesus, who is one with the Father, it’s okay to be a sheep.