A key element of our Sunday gospel passage is an indication of who is part of the flock of believers. The people know Jesus and they, like folks in every age, want straight answers:
24 So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, “How long are you going to keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.” 25 Jesus answered them, “I told you and you do not believe. The works I do in my Father’s name testify to me. 26 But you do not believe, because you are not among my sheep.” (John 10:24-26)
Literally, the question asked in v.24 is, “How long will you take away our life (psyche)?” O’Day  writes about this phrase:
Even though both the NIV and NRSV translate the phrase as “keep us in suspense,” there is little evidence of the idiom’s use with that meaning in other literature. In modern Greek, the idiom means, “How long will you continue to annoy us?” and there are ancient examples of that meaning of the idiom as well. Because the idiom is difficult to translate precisely, scholars are divided on whether the question expresses suspense and a genuine desire to have the issue resolved or irritation and hostility. Since the idiom follows on the heels of John 8-9, irritation seems more likely.
Throughout chapters 5-9 Jesus has been incurring the wrath of “the Jews.”
- They seek to kill him for making himself equal to God (5:18).
- They are looking for an opportunity to kill him (7:1).
- They attempt to stone him (8:59).
- They attempt to stone him again (10:31) because he blasphemes, making himself God.
It would seem that Jesus is more than just a mild irritant if they repeatedly want to kill him. And yet they want some resolution. They want to be told plainly.
This verse is the only place in the gospel where Jesus is asked directly if he is the Messiah (christos). Prior to this, Jesus has not claimed this title for himself, although others have given it to him.
- John the Baptist has claimed not to be the Messiah (1:20, 25; 3:28).
- Andrew tells Simon, “We have found the Messiah” (1:41)
- The Samaritan woman confesses that she knows the Messiah is coming and she tells the towns people about Jesus: “Could he possibly be the Messiah?” (4:29)
- The people of Jerusalem have a discussion about whether or not Jesus might be the Messiah (7:26, 27, 31, 41, 42). A main issue is whether or not the Messiah would come from Galilee.
- The blind man’s parents will not answer the authorities “because they were afraid of the Jews; for the Jews had already agreed that anyone who confessed Jesus to be the Messiah would be put out of the synagogue” (9:22).
Official Judaism seems to have already determined that Jesus must not be the Messiah and anyone believing otherwise would be punished. If Jesus had answered, “Yes, I am the Messiah,” my guess is that the questioners would not have believed him. They really didn’t want an answer to their question that was different from what they had already decided. Jesus was not the Messiah. But with a clear answer, formal charges of blasphemy could be referred based on Jesus’ own testimony.
Coming to believe and follow Jesus as Messiah is the very aim and intent of John’s gospel: “But these are written that you may (come to) believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through this belief you may have life in his name.” (John 20:31) The only question that lingers is: “Do you hear the voice of the shepherd and count yourself as one of the sheep?”
- Gail R. O’Day, John in the New Interpreter’s Bible, Volume 9, ed. Leander E. Keck (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1996) 675-77
- Brian Stoffregen, CrossMarks Christian Resources at www.crossmarks.com/brian/
- Scripture quotes from New American Bible by Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Inc., Washington, DC. © 1991, 1986, 1970 at http://wwwmigrate.usccb.org/bible/