Muslim/Christian Dialogue: My Recent Contribution



How the disciples understood the term, and how Jesus deepened their understanding


Philip E. Friesen

Presentation at the Islamic Center, Fridley, MN on Sept. 7, 2014 at 2:00 P.M. by

Representative evidence from the synoptic gospels-            (The synoptics use the term 24 times.)

Matthew 16:13-17 13 Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” 14 And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” 15 He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” 16 Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” 17 And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.

  • A son inherits the authority of his father. The Messiah, or Christ, was expected to come with     the authority of God to save Israel from its sins and defend against Israel’s enemies. This is the sense of sonship Peter had in mind.
  • Flesh and blood, i. e. mere human intuition or ingenuity would never arrive at the conclusion Peter proposed. As time went on, Jesus further deepened the disciples’ understanding of what this really meant for Jesus, as John shows in the following pericope.

Evidence from John 10 as to how Jesus thought about this-

John was the disciple most intimate with Jesus in friendship. Of the four gospel writers, John provides the most detailed descriptions of Jesus’ conversations with his disciples and his encounters with those who opposed him.

John 10:1-6: “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door but climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber. But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. To him the gatekeeper opens. The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers.” This figure of speech Jesus used with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them.

  • Questions raised: Who is the shepherd? Who are his sheep? Who are the thieves and bandits? Who are the strangers?


John 10:7-11  So Jesus again said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture. 10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. 11 I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.

  • Here Jesus hints at his upcoming crucifixion.
  • Legitimate access to the sheepfold is through the gate. Jesus said, “I am the gate.”
  • Thieves and robbers would have been the current religious leaders who opposed Jesus.


John 10:12-16  Here the metaphors change and become more specific as to who the strangers (thieves and bandits) might be from a first century Jewish citizen’s point of view.

12 He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. 13 He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. 14 I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.

  • Hired men: The temple authorities appointed by the emperor who served principally for financial gain and status and/or the local tax collectors who served the Roman government for the opportunity to fleece the local people.
  • Wolves: The Roman government and its occupying army.
  • Second hint of Jesus upcoming crucifixion; first hint of a larger agenda than just saving Israel.
  • John 10:17-21  17 For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. 18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.”
  • Third hint of his upcoming crucifixion  emphasizing it to be a completely voluntary act.

19 There was again a division among the Jews because of these words. 20 Many of them said, “He has a demon, and is insane; why listen to him?” 21 Others said, “These are not the words of one who is oppressed by a demon. Can a demon open the eyes of the blind?”

John 10:22-39 22 At that time the Feast of Dedication took place at Jerusalem. It was winter, 23 and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the colonnade of Solomon. 24 So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.” 25 Jesus answered them, “I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name bear witness about me, 26 but you do not believe because you are not among my sheep. 27 My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to me,[a] is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. 30 I and the Father are one.”

  • This points directly to Jesus Divine nature. Not a messenger with authority only to speak, but the son who exercises authority to decide and direct policy in his father’s name.

31 The Jews picked up stones again to stone him. 32 Jesus answered them, “I have shown you many good works from the Father; for which of them are you going to stone me?” 33 The Jews answered him, “It is not for a good work that we are going to stone you but for blasphemy, because you, being a man, make yourself God.” 34 Jesus answered them, “Is it not written in your Law, ‘I said, you are gods’?[1] 35 If he called them gods to whom the word of God came—and Scripture cannot be broken— 36 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’? 37 If I am not doing the works of my Father, then do not believe me; 38 but if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me and I am in the Father.” 39 Again they sought to arrest him, but he escaped from their hands.

  • The works that demonstrate Deity would be forgiving sins, giving life, and claiming authority over the law by persistently healing on the Sabbath.


In reference to his unique relationship with the Father

John 17:20-22 20 “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, 21 that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, 23 I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.


Theological Implications

The internal functioning of Deity is a plurality of persons united in mind, heart, will, and work as perfectly one. Jesus prayer is that all humanity become mutually one just as he is one with the Father so that there will be not only one true God, but one true humanity as well—all united by love for the Son who is one with the Father. Here is Jesus’ large agenda of one flock and one shepherd from John 10:16.

Humans cannot reach up to God in his transcendence, but God has reached down to humanity in the humility of the Incarnation so that we can, each of us, become intimate with God. God did not have sex with Mary to produce a child, but rather God became the child inside Mary. Jesus said, “What is impossible with man (to do or even imagine) is possible with God.”[2]


[1] Psalm 58:1-2


[2] Matthew 19:26, Mark 10:27, Luke 18:27.

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