John 7: Jesus at the Feast of Booths, Can This Be the Christ?, Officers Sent to Arrest Jesus, Rivers of Living Water, Division Among the People
This chapter starts with mention that Jesus is sticking to Galilee at this time, rather than Judea, because the Jews are seeking to kill him. (See a description of the kingdom of Herod the Great for reference, including a map.)
Jesus’ brothers come to him to suggest that he go back and do his works in public:
So his brothers said to him, “Leave here and go to Judea, that your disciples also may see the works you are doing. For no one works in secret if he seeks to be known openly. If you do these things, show yourself to the world.” For not even his brothers believed in him. (verses 3–5)
In other words, his brothers were being sarcastic. “If you’re such a hotshot, why aren’t you doing it in public?”
His reply is interesting (see below for why I think so):
Jesus said to them, “My time has not yet come, but your time is always here. The world cannot hate you, but it hates me because I testify about it that its works are evil. You go up to the feast. I am not going up to this feast, for my time has not yet fully come.” (verses 6–8)
Despite Jesus’ reasons to his brothers why he shouldn’t go to Judea, he ends up going anyway. He just waits until after his brothers have gone and then goes in secret. When he gets there he finds that a lot of people are talking about him, with some saying he’s a good man and others saying that he’s leading people astray—but they’re all doing it quietly because nobody wants to be found talking about him too openly.
Regardless of Jesus going to Judea in secret, he ends up going to the temple and teaching anyway:
About the middle of the feast Jesus went up into the temple and began teaching. The Jews therefore marveled, saying, “How is it that this man has learning, when he has never studied?” So Jesus answered them, “My teaching is not mine, but his who sent me. If anyone’s will is to do God’s will, he will know whether the teaching is from God or whether I am speaking on my own authority. The one who speaks on his own authority seeks his own glory; but the one who seeks the glory of him who sent him is true, and in him there is no falsehood. Has not Moses given you the law? Yet none of you keeps the law. Why do you seek to kill me?” The crowd answered, “You have a demon! Who is seeking to kill you?” Jesus answered them, “I did one work, and you all marvel at it. Moses gave you circumcision (not that it is from Moses, but from the fathers), and you circumcise a man on the Sabbath. If on the Sabbath a man receives circumcision, so that the law of Moses may not be broken, are you angry with me because on the Sabbath I made a man’s whole body well? Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment.” (verses 14–24)
After hearing Jesus’ preaching, the people start to debate about him again, though more openly this time. They’re pretty sure this is the man the religious leaders are seeking to kill, yet he’s here in public, openly preaching, and he’s not being seized, so… maybe the authorities have decided that he really is the Christ? But no, others say, he can’t be, because we know where he came from but nobody will know where the Christ came from!
Jesus hears them, and tells them that yes, they know where he comes from—which is generous of him, since there is some confusion regarding the whole Bethlehem and Galilee thing (which we’ll come to in a bit)—but regardless of where he’s from, he did not come of his own accord. And the one who sent him is true, but the people Jesus is talking to don’t know Him—but Jesus does, because Jesus comes from Him, and He sent Jesus.
This means that Jesus is once again claiming equality with God, and so the crowd (or at least some members of the crowd) seek to arrest him, but since his hour hasn’t yet come nobody lays a hand on him. (In other words, we should read this as divine intervention.) But despite the apparent blasphemy, others are definitely listening to Jesus’ words:
Yet many of the people believed in him. They said, “When the Christ appears, will he do more signs than this man has done?” (verse 31)
Which, let’s be honest, is a valid question!
But this kind of talk doesn’t sit well with the Pharisees.
The Pharisees heard the crowd muttering these things about him, and the chief priests and Pharisees sent officers to arrest him. Jesus then said, “I will be with you a little longer, and then I am going to him who sent me. You will seek me and you will not find me. Where I am you cannot come.” The Jews said to one another, “Where does this man intend to go that we will not find him? Does he intend to go to the Dispersion among the Greeks and teach the Greeks? What does he mean by saying, ‘You will seek me and you will not find me,’ and, ‘Where I am you cannot come’?” (verses 32–36)
But Jesus hasn’t even gotten to the heart of his message, yet. He does so on the last day of the feast:
On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’” Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified. (verses 37–39)
If the crowd was divided before, their reaction to this teaching solidifies the divisions: some are saying that Jesus really is the Prophet or the Christ, but others are doubling down on their problems with Jesus’ origins: he’s from Galilee (which is incorrect, Jesus just spends a lot of time there), whereas the Scriptures say that the Christ will come from Bethlehem (which is where Jesus was born, so they’re kind of right on this point, they just don’t know it).
Still the religious leaders want to arrest him, and even send some officers to nab him, but nobody lays a hand on him. But when those officers return empty handed, it leads to more infighting within the ranks of the religious leaders:
The officers then came to the chief priests and Pharisees, who said to them, “Why did you not bring him?” The officers answered, “No one ever spoke like this man!” The Pharisees answered them, “Have you also been deceived? Have any of the authorities or the Pharisees believed in him? But this crowd that does not know the law is accursed.” Nicodemus, who had gone to him before, and who was one of them, said to them, “Does our law judge a man without first giving him a hearing and learning what he does?” They replied, “Are you from Galilee too? Search and see that no prophet arises from Galilee.” (verses 45–52)
This passage contains a lot of theological teaching from Jesus, much of which people simply don’t hear because they’d rather focus on where he’s from than what he says.
The world hates me, but it cannot hate you
Jesus’ response to his brothers, when they sarcastically suggest that he do his works in public, is interesting:
“The world cannot hate you, but it hates me because I testify about it that its works are evil.” (verse 7)
The second part makes perfect sense: Jesus testifies to the world that the world is going to hate him because he’s saying that the world’s works are evil. But the first part is more interesting: he doesn’t tell his brothers that the world doesn’t hate them, or won’t hate them, he tells them that the world can’t hate them. This is Jesus’ point about “a house divided” again: his brothers are part of the world, so of course the world can’t hate them.
When it comes to Jesus, it’s either/or: you follow Him and the world hates you, or you don’t follow Him and the world doesn’t hate you. There’s no in-between. To put it plainly: you’re either a Christian (with all that entails) or you’re not.
In secret, or not in secret?
I’m not sure why Jesus goes to Judea in secret, but then ends up “outing” himself in the temple and going public. I think I get why he tells his brothers that he’s not going and then goes in secret; he simply wanted to go in secret and didn’t want his brothers to know. But then I’m not sure why he speaks publicly in the temple. My guess is that he had intended to go in secret, and then changed his mind.
Jesus’ teaching to the Jews in the temple
A couple of points come out in Jesus’ message in the temple. Here are some snippets, with my thoughts.
The Jews therefore marveled, saying, “How is it that this man has learning, when he has never studied?” So Jesus answered them, “My teaching is not mine, but his who sent me."
This isn’t the only time people have wondered aloud about how Jesus is able to teach like this, even though he lacks the formal training that the religious leaders would have had. Where did he learn all this stuff? (And, in other passages, why does he teach with such authority?) His answer is simple: God sent me, and the teaching is from Him.
“If anyone’s will is to do God’s will, he will know whether the teaching is from God or whether I am speaking on my own authority. The one who speaks on his own authority seeks his own glory; but the one who seeks the glory of him who sent him is true, and in him there is no falsehood.”
I see this as a bit of a dig at the religious leaders: Jesus makes a direct correlation between “people who are willing to do God’s will” and “teaching that is from God.” By inference, those whose teaching doesn’t align with Jesus’ are not willing to do God’s will—an assertion I’m sure the religious leaders of the day would have challenged!
But Jesus also ties being willing to do God’s will and seeking God’s glory. Anyone who took issues with Jesus’ teachings yet tried to assert that they were willing to do God’s will would also have to answer for whether they were seeking His Glory.
“Has not Moses given you the law? Yet none of you keeps the law. Why do you seek to kill me?”
This seems like a non sequitur, but it’s not. One of the main reasons the religious leaders are seeking to kill Jesus right now is that he was healing people on the Sabbath; what Jesus is saying here is that even though the Jews in general and the religious leaders in particular don’t keep the law—nobody does; not perfectly—they are seeking to put him to death for something that’s not even against the Law. It’s against some of their specific rules, but not against the Law, as handed down by God.
The crowd answered, “You have a demon! Who is seeking to kill you?”
I honestly don’t know if the crowd is playing dumb at this point or if they’re truly ignorant of the religious leaders’ plans to put Jesus to death. I lean toward the latter, however.
Jesus answered them, “I did one work, and you all marvel at it. Moses gave you circumcision (not that it is from Moses, but from the fathers), and you circumcise a man on the Sabbath. If on the Sabbath a man receives circumcision, so that the law of Moses may not be broken, are you angry with me because on the Sabbath I made a man’s whole body well? Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment.”
Jesus comes back to the reason the religious leaders want to put him to death: he healed on the Sabbath. Jesus will sometimes debate the minutiae of legal points, but here he’s looking at it from a larger perspective: getting too bogged down into nitty-gritty details can sometimes lead us to miss the forest for the trees. What’s more important? That Jesus didn’t align with a specific custom the religious leaders had recently created, or that Jesus made a man’s whole body well? The religious leaders should have judged him “with right judgement.” They should have paused to think about what is more important, instead of being bogged down in legalism.
Nobody will know where the Christ comes from
As mentioned, some of the people in the crowd are saying that Jesus can’t be the Christ1, because they know where Jesus comes from but nobody will know where the Christ comes from. I think is just plain wrong. Elsewhere in the Gospels people talk about the fact that the Messiah will come from Bethlehem, and there’s a basis for that in the Old Testament Scriptures.
When some of these people say that no one will know where the Christ comes from, it sounds to me like a kind of superstition that’s just grown up around the Scriptures, embellishing them to make a good story. That being said, the ESV Study Notes indicate that even some rabbis taught that the Messiah would be “wholly unknown,” so it’s not just the lay people—but it kind of feels like the same form of embellishment, even though it’s coming from the leaders.
When the Christ appears, will he do more signs than this man has done?
When the crowd asks this question of Jesus, it’s one of the rare occurrences in the Gospels of the people getting it exactly right. Spiritually, logically, everything is coming together in their minds, in this moment.
There’s a reason Jesus’ miracles are called signs in John’s Gospel; that’s what they are. Jesus isn’t performing miracles because he has all this power and it’s fun to use it, he’s performing miracles as a sign that he is who he claims to be. And in this instance, the crowd actually gets it: Look at everything he’s doing! What could the Christ possibly do that this man isn’t already doing? He’s proving himself exactly the way we’re expecting the Christ to!
Which, I think, means that they’re also getting it right spiritually: Again, the point of Jesus showing these signs is so that people would know he is who he claims to be, and the reason for that is that the people would listen to him. In this case, it sounds like the crowd is prepared to do just that—or at least some of them.
As for the others, it doesn’t feel to me like Jesus’ origins (Bethlehem vs. Galilee) are really the sticking point; it feels more like that’s an excuse for not listening to him, since they don’t like the message he’s preaching.
This behind the scenes look at the infighting amongst the chief priests and Pharisees is fascinating (and indicates that John must have interviewed someone who was there—maybe Nicodemus himself). But again, it’s clear that they’ve already made up their minds about Jesus, and aren’t brooking dissent.
First the officers come back empty handed, saying that nobody has ever spoken like Jesus has spoken—which, I’d point out, includes the religious leaders they’re currently talking to!—and they respond that if none of the authorities or Pharisees have believed in him then he must not be the real Messiah! (In their minds, that might actually be a pretty strong argument; who would be better prepared to identify the Messiah than the ones who know the Scriptures the best?) But then they take it even further, and become very dismissive of the “hoi polloi” who don’t know the Scriptures as well as they do: “But this crowd that does not know the law is accursed” (verse 49).
But then Nicodemus speaks up, perhaps making liars out of the ones who are claiming that none of the religious leaders believe in Jesus (though I’m not sure if Nicodemus is fully there), and suggests that maybe they should actually listen to Jesus before condemning him. But the rest of them just fall back onto sarcasm: if Nicodemus would bother to take the time to read the Scriptures, he’d see that prophets don’t come from Galilee. Which… kind of makes Nicodemus’ point, however, because if they did actually listen to Jesus, he would have told them that he’s not from Galilee, he was born in Bethlehem, where they’re expecting the Christ to be from.
But this isn’t a matter of people trying to honestly come to a conclusion about something, this is about people trying to shut down a conversation they’ve already decided on. And we have to wonder: when people reject Jesus today, how often are they simply doing the same thing: whatever arguments they might present—and let’s be clear, many arguments are valid, and should be addressed by Christians—whatever reasoning they have, they’re often just pretexts for a decision that has already been made.
Which, counterintuitively, should encourage Christians who are spreading the Gospel. Much of the time, when Jesus is rejected it’s not for logical reasons, despite what the person might say (and even think); it’s something deeper than that. So we might not be able to “logic” the person into becoming a Christian, but we also never know when something is going to trigger that deeper response, where logic will get out of the person’s way and allow them to believe.
I’m not saying Christianity isn’t logical. It is. The logical arguments that are raised, even the ones that I say are valid points to be addressed, do not negate Christianity, they prove it to be correct when followed honestly. But my point is that people will typically not be talked into Christianity based on that logic, they’ll be convinced by something deeper and then revisit the logic, and see where the fallacies were.
Maybe it’s worth calling out again that when we talk about “Jesus Christ,” “Jesus” is his name, but “Christ” is his title. Messiah is a Hebrew word (מָשִׁיחַ) which essentially means saviour, and Christ is the Greek translation of that same word (Χριστός). Until I understood this, some passages confused me greatly, because he’d be referred to variously as “Jesus Christ,” “Christ Jesus,” “Jesus who is Christ,” etc. etc. When you think that his first name is “Jesus” and his last name is “Christ” this is confusing, but when you realize that his name is “Jesus” and his title is “Christ” it makes a lot more sense. These Jews, including the religious leaders, were waiting for the Christ—also known as the Messiah—most of them simply didn’t believe that Jesus was the Christ. ↩︎
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