Read John 10:22–42.
When I was a kid, I was fascinated by UFOs. There’s something exhilarating about regular people from all walks of life and from every corner of the world testifying to strange lights in the sky that appear to defy everything we know about aviation. Add to that, the U. S. government’s constant stream of denials and lame explanations, and the whole subject became more tantalizing to my young mind.
Of course, in just about every sci-fi treatment of the subject, these unidentified aerial phenomena turned out to be alien spacecraft piloted by extra-terrestrials with nefarious aims. This steady stream of horror-tinged alien stories made the idea that there could be life on other planets a frightening one. That was okay, though, because the subject of UFOs was kept in the same file with Bigfoot and the Loch Ness Monster—fun to imagine but not to be taken too seriously.
And then something happened. In April of 2020, the Pentagon declassified and released three videos taken by Navy pilots that appear to show UFOs. Officials admitted that the crafts in the grainy films were indeed real and as yet unidentified. For those of us paying attention, this development changes how we should think about the subject. To be clear, no one is saying these UFOs are from an alien planet—no one can say exactly what they are—but there is something strange happening in our skies.
This same kind of paradigm shift should happen for many of us after reading Psalm 82. Most Christians I know, myself included, grew up in churches where the supernatural realm consisted of God, His angels, Satan, and demons. That’s it. The good guys are in white, and the bad guys are in black (or red with horns). But the supernatural world described in the Bible is much richer and diverse than that. Psalm 82:1 tells us, “God has taken his place in the divine council; in the midst of the gods he holds judgment” (ESV).* Did you catch that? Despite what we may have been told, the Bible confirms the existence of other gods besides the one true God, Yahweh.
These gods are not all-powerful like Yahweh. “Who among the gods is like you, Lord? Who is like you—majestic in holiness, awesome in glory, working wonders?… The Lord reigns for ever and ever.” (Exodus 15:11, 18). These other gods are lesser spiritual beings created by the one true God to be part of His family and His divine council. (See 1 Kings 22:1–28 for a rare look at the council in action). In Psalm 82, some of these gods are being judged for their rebellion. Rather than leading the nations of the earth to follow Yahweh as they were tasked, they have garnered worship for themselves and allowed the sinfulness of humanity to flourish unchecked.
Jesus talks about these gods, these “sons of the Most High” (Psalm 82:6), while defending Himself from the verbal attacks in Jerusalem. Once again, the religious leaders are ready to stone Him for the things He’s saying, specifically His claims to divinity. Pointing His critics to Psalm 82, Jesus tells them, “If he called them ‘gods,’ to whom the word of God came—and Scripture cannot be set aside—what about the one whom the Father set apart as his very own and sent into the world? Why then do you accuse me of blasphemy because I said, ‘I am God’s Son’?” (John 10:35–36).
No other son of God can claim to be one with the Father (v. 30). No other son was “with God in the beginning” (1:2), before all things were made. No other son can do the things Jesus does. No other son is Yahweh. That’s territory unique to Jesus alone, the “one and only Son” of the Father (3:16). But contrary to what some people think today, these other gods are neither imaginary nor harmless. Their rebellion, mentioned in Psalm 82, continues into the present as they await God’s promised judgment. They still do their best to lead the nations astray and demand worship, even as the gospel invades their geography and reclaims it for the kingdom of God.
John tells us this scene in the second half of John 10 takes place in winter, during “the Festival of Dedication” (John 10:22). That festival is Hannukah, which commemorates a moment in history when Yahweh pushed back the gods of the nations in spectacular fashion. The Seleucid ruler Antiochus IV Epiphanes invaded the holy land and conquered it. He even desecrated the temple in Jerusalem by sacrificing a pig to Zeus on the altar. This event was at least the initial fulfillment of Daniel’s “abomination that causes desolation” (Daniel 11:31). But God strengthened His people, and they drove out their pagan oppressors, cleansed the temple, and rededicated it to Yahweh.
From the ground, these years of battle must have seemed like a simple war between two nations, but in the heavenly realm, it was a battle between Yahweh and His rebellious sons. Jesus came, in part, to bring God’s promised judgment upon those disobedient gods. Through His death and resurrection, He opens the eyes of deceived people among the nations and provide a path out of slavery and into the freedom of His kingdom.
Jesus takes the opportunity of Hannukah to remind His contemporary critics that there is more going on than what they can see with their eyes. Though their own insecurities have taught them to be filled with doubt and scorn, they should be filled with hope. There are dark forces allied against them—and you and me—as God’s image-bearers, and yet God saw fit to send a Savior to set things right, once and for all.
The hope of the gospel is intimately personal. Jesus came to save you from your sins. He came to save me from mine. But the story of redemption is bigger than personal sins. It includes God’s triumph over every dark power and every spiritual force in rebellion against the goodness of the Lord. It will culminate with nothing short of the re-creation of the cosmos. Every evil thing, both natural and supernatural, will be dealt with, totally and finally, so that the peace and joy and love of God will fill the earth, just as God planned in the beginning.
* I’m deviating from my normal practice of using the NIV, in favor of the ESV, because the NIV translators made the regrettable decision to add quotation marks around the word gods. The Hebrew text contains no such punctuation, and there is no indication in the context that these gods should be considered anyone or anything else.