The great truth and privilege of unity appears prominently in the Gospel of John and in the Epistles of Paul; but it is viewed in a different way by these two eminent servants of the Lord, by each subordinately to the purpose which the inspiring Spirit of God had in the work given them respectively to do. In the writings of both, unity supposes and is based on the Lord's death, as in the gospel of grace and in the church of God. Without the accomplishment of redemption as well as the incarnation not one of these things could be. Every intelligent believer knows what a place the apostle of the Gentiles was led to assign to the work of the cross, whereby God was glorified, the door opened to Gentiles no less freely than to Jews, and the mystery of Christ and the church came into view. But it is no less plain in the Gospel of John, which only the present paper contemplates, though its main scope undoubtedly is to set forth Christ's personal glory, and the mission of the Holy Spirit to be here in His own on His departure to heaven.
Hence in John x. the Lord explains His giving His life, as the Good Shepherd, for the sheep, in contrast with both the thief and the hireling (vers. 10 -13). His laying down His life for the sheep He repeats in ver. 15 before He speaks of His other sheep, "not of this fold " (Judaism), but believers from among the Gentiles, whom also He must bring, as hearing His voice; "and there shall be one flock, one Shepherd " (ver. 16). Here is in this Gospel the first explicit announcement of unity for the flock answering to the one Shepherd. It is due to His glory and His love, to His person and His work. They are His own sheep. They hear His voice. To Him the porter opens, as He only is the Shepherd, Who calls them by name and leads them out. For He disowns the enclosure now condemned, that once had divine sanction; and when He put forth all His own, He goes before them, and the sheep follow Him. He is thus their way, protection, and warrant. A stranger they will not follow. It is not that they know every snare; but they know His voice (either in Himself or in whomsoever He speaks), not the voice of strangers. How simple and secure for him who hears!
Plain and all-important as this was, for it is the introduction of Christianity, it was a dark proverb when first spoken. "They understood not what things they were which he spoke to them." So it was when even before His Galilean ministry He spoke of raising up the temple of His body (ii. 19-22). This the resurrection cleared up much, the coming of the Spirit what remained. But He adds a new and deeper figure with the utmost solemnity; He was " the door," not of the fold, not of Israel, but "of the sheep." All that claimed them before He pronounces thieves and robbers. Are not all since yet more blasphemously guilty? How awful for either! For the Father has given all execution of judgment to the Son on Whose rights they encroach, Whose title they in effect deny, as those that honour Him honour the Father also. The sheep hear Him, not these pretenders; and He is the door, so that if anyone enter in (for it is sovereign grace), he shall be saved, and shall go in and shall go out, and shall find pasture. By Him (not the law) are salvation, liberty, and food. In contrast with the thief who comes to steal, kill, and destroy, Christ came that the sheep might have life, yea abundantly in Himself risen. What can hinder Him and His grace to His own?
Thus He presents Himself as the Good Shepherd, and His laying down His life for the sheep as its exercise and proof, in contrast with the hireling, whose own the sheep are not, seeing the wolf's approach, leaving the sheep, and fleeing; so that the wolf seizes and scatters them. Far from self He cares to the uttermost for the sheep, and repeats His gracious title (14), declaring their mutual knowledge according to the knowledge the Father had of Him and He of the Father, saying again, He lays down His life for the sheep. This introduces the Gentile sheep, who could not consistently with the divine ways be brought in, and form with the Jewish ones "one flock," till He died, rose, and ascended to heaven. Here however the Lord, though revealing and reiterating His devotedness in dying for His sheep, speaks with the authority of His person according to divine counsels. Nor is there a passage in scripture which more definitely claims the "one flock" for dependence on Himself, or which excludes more peremptorily the pretensions of men to appropriate this place of His, the only competent and worthy One, the centre of all.
Not for a moment is it overlooked that, in restoring Peter from his distressing fall, He made its completeness evident before chosen witnesses by charging him to feed His lambs, to shepherd or tend and feed the sheep. Nor again does one forget that the ascended Christ gave gifts to men, not apostles and prophets only as the foundation (Eph. ii. iv.), but evangelists, and shepherds and teachers, for the perfecting of the saints, &c. till we all arrive at the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God. But He has in no way abnegated His own relations because He gives and sustains subordinates, each in his place to serve and do His will as laid down in His word. Nor is any notion less worthy than to relegate the "one flock, one Shepherd" only to the future and heaven. It is here that we need to recognise both, as He recognises them. It is now that the enemy subtly and persistently and everywhere tempts the saints to give up the truth of the relationship as a present fact, and the responsibility it involves on us to walk faithfully in accordance. It is revealed to act on our faith and practice as we are on the earth. In heaven by-and-by there will be no question, for that which is perfect will have come.
In chap. xi.51, 52 is the next reference. Here it is the comment of the Holy Spirit on the words of Caiaphas to the Jewish council, not in parabolic form like our Lord's in chap. x., but in terms void of figure. " Now this he said not of himself, but being high priest that year, he prophesied that Jesus should die for the nation, and not for the nation only, but that he should also gather together in one the children of God that were scattered abroad."
More than one weighty truth denied in Christendom we find here unambiguously. To the cynical sentiment of the wicked high priest God gave a turn of incomparable grace. Its adoption in apostate unbelief by the Jews in the politic sense of Caiaphas was the ruin of their place and their nation by the Romans. By-and-by mercy will prevail according to the oath sworn to Abraham, glorying over judgment. Jesus died for the nation, not to gather it into the church as some vainly imagine, nor assuredly to make it an object of irreversible woe like the Babylon of the seven hills, but to save and bless Israel as such at the end and for ever, beyond all that was ever tasted at the beginning under David and Solomon. For He Who died for them will come and reign over them, an infinitely greater than either (to cite a few decisive proofs, Isa. iv. 2-6, ix. 7&8, xi.)
But He should die, said the Spirit, for another purpose wholly distinct, and about to receive its accomplishment in the very near future while He sits at God's right hand on high. True virtue of His death was then to be shown in the new and wondrous work of gathering together in one the scattered children of God. Till Jesus died and went to heaven and sent down the Holy Spirit, nothing of the kind was known or could exist. In Judaism as established of God provisionally (and He had no religious dealings of a public nature elsewhere), no such gathering was thought of. It was an elect nation responsible to be governed by His law; and they were bound to separation from all other nations. There He dwelt Who brought them forth from Egypt to this end, Jehovah their Lord.
Now that the Jews rejected Him Who was not Messiah only but God, His death (their awful sin) became in God's ways the basis of an entirely different and an incomparably " better thing," the gathering together in one of God's scattered children. It is the church undoubtedly, but not viewed as "one body" which was revealed elsewhere. It is family union, in the closest connexion with life eternal, the special truth prominent throughout the Gospel and the Epistles of John, the groundwork of communion with the Father and the Son, as we find explicitly there.
Severance between the Gentile believers and the Jewish was therein intolerable. Yet before the cross the barrier, it is notorious, subsisted as God's actual order; and Jesus while yet alive in flesh charged the twelve, saying, Go not into a way of the nations, enter not into any city of the Samaritans. Risen from the dead, He expressly bids them disciple all the nations. For the children of God were to be gathered in virtue of His death into one, they "one flock," as He "one Shepherd." Fleshly distinctions, and outward ordinances, vanished away before the infinite efficacy of that death which blotted out the sins of all believers in the gospel, and by the grace which united them.
John xv. is not here alleged; because in the teaching of the Vine and its branches the Lord does not set forth our oneness with Himself, but our need of dependence continual on Him in order to bear fruit. The necessity of communion with Him practically is the point, not the privilege of union.
But it is in chap. xvii. where this great truth of family union has its fullest expression. And no wonder; for it is the Son pouring out His heart's desires about His own to the Father before His departure. There are three occasions in our Lord's utterance where oneness is asked for His saints, and each of these has its own distinctive character.
First, in ver. 11 He says, "Holy Father, keep them in thy name which thou hast given me, that they may be one as we." It is for those who then surrounded Him (as is certain from vers. 12, &c.), about to preach, teach, and act with apostolic authority when, Himself gone on high, the new work of God had to see the light as the witness of Christ here below. He is not content with requesting that, as He was taking a new position as the glorified Man in heavenly glory, in virtue of His person and of His work (1-5), they might share it as far as could be, both before the Father (6-13) and before the world (14-21); He asks that in this they might be "one," further adding " even as we." This goes wonderfully far in His demand on the Father. And it was wonderfully answered in that unity of mind and purpose, of word and deed, of heart and service which characterised that holy band. Where and when was there anything to compare with it at any epoch before or since? It is the more striking in the twelve; for we heard of their marked differences, and their mutual jealousies, (alas! how like other saints and other servants of the Lord in all ages), which the presence of the Lord only checked but in no way excluded, as the Gospels faithfully tell us. See the same men when the Holy Spirit was given: how their words and ways by His power only evinced the activities and affections of the life they had in Christ! "Peter standing up with the eleven," they were now truly one. If the multitude of those that believed could be and is said to be of one heart and one soul, and earthly possessions only gave occasion for love, still more emphatically was it true of those "God set first in the church."
Secondly, in ver. 20, 21 the Lord makes request "not for these only, but also for those who believe on him (Christ) through their word." This enlarges the sphere, and embraces the mass of the saints following, who received the gospel in the love of the truth. Here therefore, anticipating the world-wide testimony and its rich results, He says "that they may all be one, as thou father [art] in me and I in thee, that they also may be one in us, that the world may believe that thou didst send me." It is not at all so simple and absolute as in the first case, where divine power wrought to secure an end so all-important. The vast range of their mission was an astonishing witness to the grace that operated in the face of every hindrance, but the effect of the power was attenuated ere long and never so complete. It is the unity of grace, of Christians in the Father and the Son (" one in us "), rising above obstacles within and without through the power of what was revealed and of Him Who made the blessing theirs: to the world, which had known them so different in every way and now beheld them " one," a testimony far mightier than miracles however striking and numerous. And so it runs, "that the world may believe that thou didst send me." For this was what sounded out in every place—that the Father sent the Son as Saviour of the world, themselves its living example in their measure, all prejudice notwithstanding.
Thirdly, " the glory which thou hast given me I have given them, that they may be one, even as we are one; I in them, and thou in me, that they may be perfected into one, that the world may know that thou didst send me, and lovedst them even as thou lovedst me." Here, though the Lord gave the title then, He looks on to the glory and the glory displayed to the world. It is oneness in that day, and is a character without alloy, quite answering to that of the new Jerusalem in Rev. xxi, where the world beholds the glory of the heavenly city, the Bride or Lambs wife; not the mutuality of grace as now, but the order of glory, Christ in the glorified saints, and the Father in Christ. Hence then only will they be “perfected into one;” and then only will the world “know” that the Father sent the Son. For how else could those who were once sinners be in heavenly glory but by His Son sent for their salvation? How else, that the Father loved them even as He loved the Son, but by their manifestation with Him in glory? It is now a question of the world's "believing;" in that day the world will "know," because it will see the glory in which Christ and the church will shine together.
The Bible Treasury, New Series 1 vol 1 page 341