There is a saying, when it comes to making a determination over whether or not someone will live or die, that we could be “playing God”. That means, of course, that we, as human beings, make determinations about whether someone else should go on living or will not.
This frequently comes up in the medical field, possibly related to abortions or to euthenasia, or in other ways as a doctor makes a determination related to a person’s life. Someone else might say that they are “playing God” by being the one who is saying that they can determine whether the person lives or dies.
But in John 10, Jesus says that he has the authority, not only to lay down his life, but whether or not to take it back:
The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.”John 10:17-18
Twice, Jesus says that he is able to both lay down his life as well as take it up again.
OK, so first of all, it seems that Jesus is “playing God” by saying that he has the authority to lay down his life. He said that he is the Good Shepherd and he has the authority to lay down his life for his sheep.
Jesus, of course, is referring to giving his life, sacrificing his life, for the sake of both the Israelites as well as the Gentiles. Previously, Jesus had said that he has sheep that are from “this pen”, meaning the Israelites, but also those that are “not from this pen”, meaning the Gentiles, and he would lay down his life for both of them. So Jesus is referring to the fact that he will be giving himself for these people as a sacrifice, a payment, for the sins of each of these people.
Now, we can follow the idea that someone would have the authority to lay down their life. Whether it would be in selfless sacrifice, such as a hero that gives themselves so that others can live, or it would be a completely selfish act of suicide, we can say that someone – anyone – would have the authority over their own lives to lay it down for another.
But Jesus didn’t just say that he had the authority to lay down his life for another. He said that he had the authority to take it back up again. Jesus is referring to his resurrection that was to come. He would be killed on the cross as a sacrifice for our sins, but Jesus also declares here that he has the authority to take it back up again. He has the ability, and the authority, to return back to life. Here, he declares it, and soon, he also does it.
Jesus has the ability and the authority to speak to life or death matters. Why? Because he isn’t just playing God. He is, in fact, God.