“The works that I do in my Father’s name bear witness about me” (John 10:25).
John 1-12, the so-called “Book of Signs,” provides the Fourth Evangelist’s testimony regarding Jesus’ public ministry. According to John, the marvelous words and deeds that Jesus speaks and performs during his public ministry reveal the truth about his person. John 10:25 summarizes the revelatory logic at work in these chapters: “The works that I do in my Father’s name bear witness about me.” The works that Jesus performs bear witness about who he is.
The logic of revelation summarized in John 10:25 presupposes a specific concept of action, and an epistemological corollary, which I have summarized elsewhere. That concept of action is that certain kinds of agents produce certain kinds of effects. Fig trees produce figs. Grapevines produce grapes. And so forth (James 3:12). The epistemological corollary that follows from this concept of action is that “each tree is known by its fruit” (Luke 6:44). Certain kinds of effects reveal the presence of certain kinds of causes. Thus Jesus’ works, the wonderful life-giving signs that he performs, bear witness to who he is.
John’s claim that Jesus’ wonderful works are revelatory of Jesus’ identity is not a claim that their meaning is transparent. Indeed, even the most sympathetic observers of Jesus’ public ministry have a hard time grasping the significance of his transcendent identity merely by observing his transcendent actions. The riddle of Jesus’ identity is reflected in the questions his observers ask, “When the Christ appears, will he do more signs than this man has done?” (Jn 7:31), and in the (from a Johannine perspective) less than fully informed declarations they make, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him” (Jn 3:2).
In John 10, Jesus’ opponents press him at this very point, demanding that Jesus resolve the riddle of his identity by telling them “plainly” whether he is “the Christ” (Jn 10:24; cf. 16:25: where revelation via “figures of speech” is contrasted with revelation that is “plain”). And though Jesus’ reply doesn’t evoke the response from Jesus’ opponents that John envisions for his ideal readers (but cf. Jn 10:42), Jesus’ answer is plain. The works that Jesus performs in his Father’s name manifest the truth about his filial identity: “I am the Son of God” (Jn 10:25, 36).
By this point in the Gospel, John has made it clear to his readers that Jesus is no mere earthly offspring of the heavenly Father (cf. Jn 1:12; 3:3, 5, 12). He is the heavenly Son of his heavenly Father (Jn 10:23, 27): the only-begotten Son of God who is above all because he was before all, who in the beginning was with God, who in the beginning was God (Jn 1:1, 14-15, 18, 30; 3:16, 31). John 10 confirms the transcendent nature of Jesus’ filial identity in the strongest way imaginable for a Jewish audience. Jesus is no mere teacher sent from God. Jesus is “one” with his Father, who is “greater than all” (Jn 10:29-30). The Father is “in” him and he is “in” the Father (Jn 10:38).
In clarifying what his works bear witness regarding who he is (i.e., that he is the Father’s divine Son), Jesus again evokes the charge of “blasphemy” from his opponents: “you, being a man, make yourself God” (Jn 10:33; cf. 5:18). Jesus responds by making a lesser-to-greater argument from Psalm 82:6:
Jesus answered them, “Is it not written in your Law, ‘I said, you are gods’? If he called them gods to whom the word of God came–and Scripture cannot be broken–do you say of him whom the Father consecrated and sent into the world, ‘You are blaspheming,’ because I said, ‘I am the Son of God’?'”Jn 10:34-36
Jesus’ reply to their charge does not mitigate his claim to deity, as commentators sometimes suggest. To the contrary. His lesser-to-greater argument reconfigures the statement lodged in his opponents’ claim. If those who are recipients of the “coming” of God’s word may be called “gods,” then how much more so should the Word himself, who comes into the world from the Father, be called “God”? Jesus is not a man who is making himself God. He is the divine Word who has come into the world by making himself man (Jn 1:14). This, Jesus “plainly” insists, is the witness that his works bear regarding his identity (Jn 10:37-38).
What does the preceding teach us about the nature of revelation, to be more specific, about the nature of trinitarian revelation?
First, it teaches us that, because Jesus’ works bear a natural relation to Jesus’ person, observing the divine nature of Jesus’ works should lead us to conclude something regarding the divine nature of his person. “Each tree is known by its fruit” (Luke 6:44). For this reason, John regards Jesus’ original opponents as culpable for their unbelief (3:19-20), even as he regards them as objects of divine hardening (Jn 10:26; 12:37-40).
Second, the transcendent nature of Jesus’ self-revelation coupled with the limitations of Jesus’ original audience, both the sympathetic and the unsympathetic, means that the full significance of Jesus’ works for understanding Jesus’ person can only be appreciated when Jesus himself reveals the meaning of his works by means of his words. If we are to fully appreciate the nature of Jesus’ divine sonship, as John’s Gospel aims for us to do (Jn 20:31), then Jesus himself must tell us “plainly” that he is the Son of God who is one with God (Jn 10:30, 36), as he does in John 10.
Third, and finally, if we are to fully appreciate the nature of Jesus’ divine sonship, then we must also attend to the way Jesus tells us “plainly” about his identity. The plainness of Jesus’ self-revelation in John’s Gospel is not the kind of plainness that we might find (or hope to find!) in a textbook of theology. In John’s Gospel, Jesus teaches us regarding the nature of heavenly things–in this case, the heavenly nature of his sonship–by speaking in terms of earthly things. He takes up language designed for speaking about things that are low and applies that language, with transformative significance, to things that are high. Jesus turns the water of our mundane language into the wine of trinitarian revelation.
Jesus exemplifies this modus loquendi in John 10 in the lesser-to-greater argument he makes from Psalm 82:6. If earthly recipients of the word can be called “gods,” how much more so can the eternal Word be called “God”? John 10, however, is not exceptional in this regard. This is the consistent mode of revelation that Jesus exhibits throughout John’s Gospel, which suggests an important hermeneutical implication: If we are not attentive to this mode of revelation, then we will fail to grasp the identity of the one who reveals himself, not only by the works he performs, but, more fully and supremely, by the words he speaks about himself by humbling himself to speak in our humble language. Here, in the Word made humble, in the Word made flesh, the relationship between the subject of revelation and the mode of revelation is a relationship of identity. For this reason, the self-revelation of the Trinity can only be received by receiving it in this scandalous form, as a word of the cross.