This past week I received a very angry e-mail response from a Jewish woman who had just read my exposition of the Book of Esther, which is published on the Internet. She was most distressed that I did not portray Esther as the great and godly woman of faith that many Jews (and Christians) suppose her to be. Her e-mail was angry and rude (it ends, “so long heathen!!!!”), but worst of all, it was blasphemous against our Lord Jesus Christ. I won’t repeat what she said about Jesus Christ or about the New Testament Scriptures. I believe this woman’s e-mail was providential, in that it has enhanced my own personal study of the Gospel of John. First, her anger toward our Lord helped me to recognize the same hatred and anger toward Jesus on the part of some of the Jews depicted in our text in John chapter 7.
It also caused me to rethink my way through the argument of John’s Gospel as his apologetic as a Jew—to the Jews. The woman who responded with such intensity to my sermons on Esther is convinced that there is no relation between the Old Testament and the New, nor between the Old Testament prophecies concerning Israel’s Messiah and the coming of our Lord Jesus as described in the Gospels. I think she is exactly the kind of person John hoped would read his Gospel. In the first chapter of John’s Gospel, he introduces Jesus as “the Word,” the One whose origin is not to be traced to a manger in Bethlehem, but One who is Himself the origin, the Creator of this world. Through Him, the world was spoken into existence. In the course of time, “the Word” became flesh and dwelt among us. Jesus was born of a woman, fully God as much as He was fully man. If Jesus is the “Creator” in John chapter 1, and in chapter 2 (when He turns the water into wine), He is also the “Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (1:29, 36), and the greater “temple” (2:13-22). He is foreshadowed by the bronze serpent, lifted up by Moses in the wilderness (3:14-15), and the One who is greater than Jacob, offering men and women “living water” (4:10-14). In fact, He is the ladder Jacob saw in his vision on his way from Beersheba to Haran (Genesis 28:10-17; John 1:51). He is the Messiah (4:21-26), the healer of the sick on the Sabbath, who claims the right to do so because He is God (5:1-18). Jesus is the “true bread” from heaven (6:22-71), who gives eternal life to men (much better than the manna that God gave Israel in the wilderness). He is the One who is greater than Moses (1:17; 5:43-47; 6:30-33; 9:27-33). John is telling his Jewish readers that Jesus is the fulfillment of everything in the Old Testament which looks forward to the coming of Messiah.
John would have us know that Jesus is the culmination and fulfillment of all the Jews eagerly awaited, based upon the Old Testament. One must either accept the witness of the Old Testament, of John, of the Father, and of those whose lives Jesus touched, or one must reject Him as a fraud and a deceiver. This is precisely what men and women will do in our text, and as we see throughout the Bible. This Gospel, and the truths set down in our text, are those which we must either accept or reject. Those who accept John’s account will trust in Jesus as the Messiah. Those who reject John’s words will reject Jesus, to their own eternal doom. The truths we find in our text are those to which we must respond, and our response will determine our eternal destiny. Let us listen well to what our Lord Jesus Christ claims.
Chapter 7 is a rather clear turning point in John’s Gospel. In the first four chapters of John, there is very little opposition to our Lord and His teaching. In chapter 5, Jesus is accused and opposed by the Jewish religious leaders in Jerusalem, as a result of His healing of the paralytic on the Sabbath. In chapter 6, John records a large-scale departure on the part of would-be disciples of our Lord. This takes place after the feeding of the 5,000 and our Lord’s teaching on the “bread of life.” In chapter 7, we come to a point in John’s Gospel when the opposition to our Lord becomes more intense and more broad-based. Up till now, John has not allowed the opponents of our Lord to “have the floor” to articulate their point of view and carry on a debate with Jesus.52 Previously, John focused on our Lord’s response to His opponents, without fully conveying their arguments. Now, they have their chance, and so does our Lord, not only to refute the error of His opponents, but also to introduce some very important new subject matter:
From now to the end of the public ministry John depicts a steadily deepening hostility. In this chapter and the next John has a good deal to tell us about the arguments used by the enemies of Jesus. This may well be his way of saying that the objections raised to Jesus’ messianic claims all had their answers.53
But though danger was in the air Jesus continued on His appointed path. He went up to the feast in due course, and there He gave the teaching that was appropriate to the occasion. The great advance was in His teaching on the Spirit. Some aspects of this have occupied us before, but on this occasion Jesus brings out the point that when the Spirit is within a man He overflows in abounding life. The Spirit-filled man cannot but be a blessing to other people.54
The events of chapter 7 take place in the context of the Feast of Tabernacles in Jerusalem. It would be good for us to understand the meaning and significance of this feast, and some of the elements of the ceremony. William Hendriksen summarizes these things for us very well:
On this feast see Lev. 23:33-44 and Numbers 29. It was celebrated from the fifteenth to the twenty-first or twenty-second day of the seventh month, which approximates our October. It was a feast of thanksgiving for the vintage. But besides being a harvest-festival it was also a joyful commemoration of the divine guidance granted to the Atonement, the idea of joy after redemption was naturally very prominent. In a decreased daily scale a special sacrifice of seventy bullocks was made. The temple-trumpets were blown on each day. There was the ceremony of the outpouring of water, drawn from Siloam, in commemoration of the refreshing stream which had come forth miraculously out of the rock at Meribah (Ex. 17:1-7), and in anticipation of blessings both for Israel and for the world. There was the illumination of the inner court of the temple, where the light of the grand candelabra reminded one of the pillar of fire by night which had served as a guide through the desert (Num. 14:14). There was a torch-parade. And above all, everywhere in and around Jerusalem, in the street, the square, and even on the roofs of the houses booths were erected. These leafy dwellings provided shelter for the pilgrims who came from every direction to attend this feast. But most of all they too were reminders of the wilderness-life of the ancestors (Lev. 23:43).55
1 After this Jesus was traveling around in Galilee. He did not want to go around in Judea because the Jewish authorities wanted to kill him. 2 Now the Jewish feast of Tabernacles was near. 3 So Jesus’ brothers advised [said to] him, “Leave here and go to Judea so your disciples may see your miracles that you are performing. 4 For no one who seeks to make a reputation for himself does anything in secret. If you are doing these things, show yourself to the world.” 5 (For not even his own brothers believed in him.) 6 So Jesus replied, “My time has not yet arrived, but you are ready at any opportunity. 7 The world cannot hate you, but it hates me, because I am testifying about it that its deeds are evil. 8 You go up to the feast yourselves. I am not going up to this feast yet,56 because my time has not yet fully arrived.” 9 When he had said this, he remained in Galilee. 10 But when his brothers had gone up to the feast, then Jesus himself also went up, not openly but in secret. 11 So the Jewish authorities were looking for him at the feast, asking, “Where is he?” 12 There was a lot of grumbling [mumbling, murmuring] about him among the crowds. Some were saying, “He is a good man,” but others, “He deceives the common people.” 13 However, no one spoke openly about him for fear of the Jewish authorities.
In one short sentence, John deals with six months of our Lord’s ministry: “After this Jesus was traveling around in Galilee. He did not want to go around in Judea because the Jewish authorities wanted to kill him” (verse 1).
The events which occurred during the period April-October of the year 29 A.D. are by John summarized in one verse: ‘And after these things Jesus was going to Galilee, for he did not wish to go about in Judea because the Jews were seeking to kill him’ (7:1). In Matthew, Mark, and Luke we have the detailed account of the happenings which belong to this half year of Christ’s ministry. We may call it the Retirement Ministry; see Mark, Chapters 7-9. John says that during these months Jesus was going about in Galilee. This is in harmony with the account as given in the Synoptics, which indicates that the Lord went from Capernaum in Galilee to the border of Tyre and Sidon, traversing a large section of Galilee; then departing from Galilee in crossing over to Decapolis; went back again to Galilee (Dalmanutha); left it again for the region of Cesarea Philippi; and finally, covering another large stretch of Galilean territory, went on his way back to Capernaum. Here and there, however, it is not immediately clear whether these various journeys are described in chronological order (cf. e.g., Mk. 8:1: ‘in those days’). A glance at the map would seem to indicate that they are. What characterizes the period is that to a large extent Jesus withdrew himself (hence, Retirement Ministry) from the Capernaum multitudes, to be with his disciples.57
John is very selective in his material, as he tells us in 20:30-31. After the feeding of the 5,000 and the desertion of many of His “disciples,” Jesus continued to go about Galilee, carrying on His itinerate preaching ministry58 It was not yet time to make a bold entrance at Jerusalem. It was not wise to be traveling about Judea, for the Jews were intent on arresting Jesus and putting Him to death. Our Lord spent this six-month time focusing much more on His disciples, while He maintained a low profile in Galilee.
And so with a sweep of the pen, John leaps six months in time, taking us to the time of the Feast of Tabernacles. I must preface my comments here by calling your attention to John’s seemingly parenthetical words in verse 5: “(For not even his own brothers believed in him.).”
What our Lord’s brothers59 said to Him was rooted in unbelief and rejection—not in faith. For this reason, I have chosen to set aside the rendering (“advised”) of the NET Bible and revert to a much more basic rendering (“said to”) of the original text. I do not believe our Lord’s brothers are giving Him a piece of good advice. To sum up the essence of their words to Jesus irreverently (as unbelieving brothers would be inclined to do), “Put up or shut up!” I think our Lord’s brothers were embarrassed by Jesus and fed up with His ministry. I am tempted to believe that these brothers were aware that the Jews in Judea were seeking to kill Jesus. They urged Him to leave Galilee, the place of safety (and also the place where they lived), and to go to Jerusalem, the place of greatest danger. One finds the brothers’ words similar to those we see in the Gospel of Luke: At that time, some Pharisees came up and said to Jesus, “Get away from here, because Herod wants to kill you” (Luke 13:31).
These words spoken by the Pharisees are not words that are sincerely spoken, with our Lord’s best interest in view. They are words intended to scare Jesus off, to be rid of Him. I am inclined to view the words of our Lord’s brothers as being similar to those of the Pharisees. At best, these brothers are saying, “If you are really determined to go ahead with this thing, then get on with it. Go up to Jerusalem and see if you can convince anyone that you are Messiah by performing miracles, if indeed you can perform them.” Cynicism seems to virtually ooze from their words. At worst, they are encouraging Jesus to pursue His ambitions in a way that they are certain will result in His arrest, and perhaps even His death.
Our Lord’s response suggests that Jesus finds nothing meritorious in the words of His brothers. It was not “yet” His time; their “time” was any time. The world cannot hate them, but it does hate Him. This is not the same as saying, “The world does not hate you, but it does hate Me.” The world cannot hate them for the same reason that it does hate Jesus. They are a part of the world. They hate Jesus as the world hates Him. They and the world hate Jesus because He exposes their sin (verse 7). Let the brothers go on to Jerusalem without Him. It is not yet His time to go up to the feast, because His time has not yet fully arrived.
Just what “time” is it that has not yet fully arrived? It is my opinion that Jesus means that it is not “yet” His “time” to make His triumphal entry into Jerusalem, where He will momentarily be welcomed as the Messiah, and soon thereafter rejected as the “King of the Jews.” Jesus will go up to Jerusalem, but it will not be to make His bid for acceptance. Jesus will go up to Jerusalem to make yet another public announcement that He is the Messiah, not with a view to acceptance, but with a view to rejection. Jesus will go up to Jerusalem to pave the way for His final visit to Jerusalem, not many months away, when He will be crucified on a cross at Calvary.
Let me pause for a moment to reflect on what we have just read and on its application to us. Jesus knows what it means to be rejected by His family. I believe this was prophesied:
7 Because for Your sake I have borne reproach; Shame has covered my face. 8 I have become a stranger to my brothers, And an alien to my mother’s children; 9 Because zeal for Your house has eaten me up, And the reproaches of those who reproach You have fallen on me (Psalm 69:7-9, NKJV, emphasis mine).60
In addition, Jesus spoke of the way He would divide families, and thus He required that men love Him more than their families:
21 “Brother will hand over brother to death, and a father his child. Children will rise against parents and have them put to death. 22 And you will be hated by all on account of my name. But the one who endures to the end will be saved” (Matthew 10:21-22).
34 “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace but a sword. 35 For I have come to set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law, 36 and a man’s enemies will be the members of his household. 37 Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. 38 And whoever does not take up his cross and follow me, is not worthy of me. 39 Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for me will find it” (Matthew 10:34-39, emphasis mine).
Our Lord sets down the more general principle in the Gospel of John:
18 “If the world hates you, be aware that it hated me first. 19 If you belonged to the world, the world would love its own. But because you do not belong to the world, but I chose you out of the world, for this reason the world hates you. 20 Remember what I told you, ‘A slave is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they obeyed my word, they will obey yours” (John 15:18-20).
Let those who would follow our Lord take note that when we follow Christ, men will respond to us as they have to Him. Jesus was rejected by His family; we should expect that this may be our experience as well. If we would be disciples of Jesus Christ, we must love Him above family and, if need be, we must choose Him and renounce family.
After Jesus’ brothers depart for Jerusalem, Jesus goes up as well. He does not do so as His brothers challenge Him to do—to make a very public display of His “powers” in the hope of gaining a following. Instead, Jesus goes up to Jerusalem “in secret” (verse 10). I understand that this is just the opposite of what our Lord’s brothers urge Him to do. It probably means traveling by less-used roads and staying off the roads and out of sight when others are traveling. Jesus probably journeys without His disciples, at night. All of this enables Him to keep a “low profile,” avoid undue attention, and thus not reveal His presence until well into the feast, when it will be difficult to arrest Him.
John now turns our attention to the mood of the people who are in Jerusalem at the time. The Jews are all on the lookout for Jesus, as they are expecting Him to appear for the feast. There is considerable conversation concerning Jesus by those in the crowd. The Jewish authorities apparently forbid anyone to talk about Jesus, but this only keeps their conversations down to a “low roar,” as we would say. John describes these conversations about Jesus as mumbling or murmuring.61 John is not saying that all the people are complaining about Jesus, but rather that they are speaking about Jesus in hushed tones, out of fear of the Jewish leaders.
My daughter Amy has a dog named “Honey Bear.” Honey Bear is one of those “barkless” dogs. When someone comes to the door, Honey Bear greets them with a low, mumbling noise. Honey Bear is not necessarily unhappy, nor uttering a threat; she is simply conveying her desire for attention and affection in a way that does not include barking. Even our granddaughter, Taylor, recognizes this. When she comes to our house and sees Honey Bear, Taylor says, “Honey Bear, mmmmmmmmm .…” She knows mumbling when she hears it.
I am a former school teacher, and I began my teaching career teaching the sixth grade. If I had to step outside the classroom to talk with a parent or another teacher, I would instruct the class not to talk. Every teacher knows this is next to impossible, humanly speaking. One expects to hear a low, rumbling sound, knowing that those who talk do so in hushed tones. This is the way the people in Jerusalem talk with one another about Jesus, speaking in hushed tones so that the Jewish leaders will not hear them, or perhaps more accurately, so if they do hear them talking, they will not be able to hear what is being discussed.
There is not a clear consensus about who the people think Jesus is. Some speak well of Him, referring to Him as a good man. After all, healing the sick and showing compassion to those in need is good. But others strongly disagree. To them, Jesus is not a good man at all, but a cunning deceiver, who has taken advantage of the mindless masses, the common people. They feel that these poor, simple, gullible folks are being taken in by our Lord’s actions and words. Those who reject Jesus think themselves too smart to be taken in by Him. There is, then, a great diversity of opinion as to who Jesus is.
14 When the feast was half over, Jesus went up to the temple and began to teach. 15 Then the Jewish authorities were amazed and said, “How does this man know so much when he has never had formal instruction?” 16 So Jesus replied, “My teaching is not from me, but from the one who sent me. 17 If anyone wants to do God’s will, he will know about my teaching, whether it is from God or whether I speak from my own authority. 18 The person who speaks on his own authority desires to receive honor for himself; the one who desires the honor of the one who sent him is a man of integrity, and there is no unrighteousness in him. 19 Hasn’t Moses given you the law? Yet no one of you keeps the law! Why do you want to kill me?” 20 The crowd answered, “You’re possessed by a demon! Who is trying to kill you?” 21 Jesus replied, “I performed one miracle and you are all amazed. 22 However, because Moses gave you the practice of circumcision (not that it came from Moses, but from the forefathers), you circumcise a male child on the Sabbath. 23 But if a male child is circumcised on the Sabbath so that the law of Moses is not broken, why are you angry with me because I made a man completely well on the Sabbath? 24 Do not judge according to external appearance, but judge with proper judgment.” 25 Then some of the residents of Jerusalem began to say, “Isn’t this the man they are trying to kill? 26 Yet here he is, speaking publicly, and they are saying nothing to him. Do the rulers really know that this man is the Christ? 27 But we know where this man comes from. Whenever the Christ comes, no one will know where he comes from.” 28 Then Jesus, while teaching in the temple courts, cried out, “You both know me and know where I come from! And I have not come on my own initiative, but the one who sent me is true. You do not know him, 29 but I know him, because I have come from him and he sent me.” 30 So then they tried to seize Jesus, but no one laid a hand on him, because his time had not yet come. 31 Yet many of the crowd believed in him and said, “Whenever the Christ comes, he won’t perform more miraculous signs than this man did, will he?”
Midway through the feast, Jesus suddenly appears in the temple, teaching publicly. This is a bold and courageous move. Jesus knows the Jews are seeking to kill Him. For the past six months, He has kept away from Judea to avoid arrest, or worse. And now, suddenly, Jesus appears in Jerusalem, boldly teaching in the temple! It is incredible. The Jews are amazed, not only at His courage but at His content (verse 15). They have to admit that He is good, really good. They unwittingly praise Him by saying, “How does this man know so much when he has never had formal instruction?” (verse 15). They cannot understand how One who has not been educated by them has such a keen understanding of the Scriptures. They stand in awe of the One whom they choose to reject as their Messiah. We are reminded of the words of the Jews regarding Peter and John in the Book of Acts:
13 When they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and discovered that they were uneducated and ordinary men, they were amazed and recognized these men had been with Jesus. 14 And because they saw the man who had been healed standing with them, they had nothing to say against this (Acts 4:13-14).
Our Lord answers their question: His teaching is not His own. His teaching is that which He learned from His Father, the One who sent Him. If anyone truly wants to know and to do God’s will, He will recognize the words of Jesus as the words of the Father. When a person seeks to advance himself, to “feather his own nest” as we might say, he uses his words to manipulate and even to deceive others. He has ulterior motives, and these affect everything he says. Politicians and campaign rhetoric come to mind here, as an example of what Jesus is saying.
The person who is committed to honor the one who sent him is concerned only with accurately communicating what he has been sent to say. He does not use his words to gain a personal following, but rather to urge men to follow the one he serves. He has no need to deceive, and thus he speaks with integrity. His speech is righteous. Jesus speaks here of Himself and of His integrity as He speaks for the Father. Moses gave them the law, and they all failed to keep that law. Why then are they seeking to kill Jesus as a law-breaker, when they break the law themselves?
In verse 20, John records the response of those “pilgrims” in the crowd who have come to Jerusalem from some distant place. They are not aware of all that has taken place with Jesus in Jerusalem beforehand. They certainly are not aware of the plot to kill Jesus (as the residents of Jerusalem are—see verse 25). These pilgrims take Jesus to be some kind of nut, someone who is mentally disturbed, paranoid that everyone is trying to kill him. They accuse Jesus of being demon possessed. They challenge Jesus as to who is trying to kill him.
Jesus responds by calling attention to His healing of the paralytic, as recorded in chapter 5. Do these folks wish to know who wants to kill Him? He will tell them. It is the Jewish religious leaders in Jerusalem, as a result of His healing the paralytic—and claiming to do so as God:
16 Now because Jesus was doing these things on the Sabbath, the Jewish authorities began persecuting him. 17 So Jesus told them, “My Father is working until now, and I too am working.” 18 For this reason the Jewish authorities were trying even harder to kill him, because not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was also calling God his own Father, thus making himself equal with God (John 5:16-18).
Jesus has performed this miracle, and the Jewish leaders are ready to kill Him for doing so. Their actions are completely inconsistent and blatantly hypocritical. Do they accuse Jesus of breaking the Sabbath by healing the paralytic? The law requires that every Jewish male child should be circumcised on the eighth day (Genesis 17:12; see Luke 1:59; 2:21-24). If the eighth day happens to fall on a Sabbath, the Jews would circumcise the male child, even though “work” is forbidden on that day. Doing so, they break one law (the law of the Sabbath) so as to avoid breaking another (the law of circumcision). If they can justify themselves for making one member of the child’s body “right” before God on the Sabbath, why do the Jewish leaders condemn Jesus for making a man’s entire body well on the Sabbath? There is, indeed, a double standard. Judgment should be made on the basis of substance and not merely on appearances.
The pilgrims believe Jesus is out of His mind to think someone is trying to kill Him. The old-timers of Jerusalem know better. Almost in answer to the response of the pilgrims to Jesus, the citizens of Jerusalem respond to the teaching of our Lord in the temple very differently. “Isn’t this the one whom the Jewish leaders are seeking to kill? What is He doing here, teaching publicly in the temple? Why is He still alive? How can it be that the One marked for death has not had a hand laid on Him?” There is only one possible explanation so far as these folks are concerned: the Jewish leaders must have changed their minds about Jesus. Have these Jewish leaders really come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah? Is this why Jesus is able to appear publicly, without anyone opposing Him? But how can this be? How can Jesus possibly be the Messiah, when they know who He is and where He comes from? They believe no one will know where the Messiah is from. How then can their leaders ever conclude that Jesus is the Messiah?62
As usual, Jesus knows what they are thinking and what they are murmuring—and so He answers their objection. This He does publicly, in the midst of His teaching in the temple courts. Dramatically, Jesus cries out loudly, so that all will hear: “You both know me and know where I come from!” They know who He is. They know our Lord’s family, including the names of His brothers (Matthew 13:55). They know where He is from (Nazareth, in Galilee), though they seem not to know that He was born in Bethlehem. Jesus does not come motivated by self-interest, but rather in obedience to the will of the One who sent Him. The Father is true, yet these Jews are “false” in that they do not really know Him. Jesus is also true, and He does know the Father who sent Him, because He came from Him. Jesus is both divine and human. He has both heavenly and earthly origins.
These words are yet another clear indication from our Lord that He is claiming to be equal with God, to be God. If one refuses to accept His words, then one must reject Jesus as a blasphemer, worthy of death. The Jews try to get their hands on Jesus. If they had done so, they almost certainly would stone Him there on the spot. As it is, they are not able to lay a hand on Him. We don’t know what keeps them from achieving their goal, but God sees to it that Jesus is untouched. In spite of the zeal of those who wish to kill Jesus, there are also those who are drawn to Jesus by the very same words. They ask a most pertinent question: “Just what more does anyone expect Jesus to do, if He is the Messiah?” What else can Jesus do, beyond what He has already done? To these folks, it is not logical to reject the claims of Jesus. It flies in the face of all the evidence.
32 The Pharisees heard the crowd murmuring these things about Jesus, so the chief priests and the Pharisees sent officers to arrest him. 33 Then Jesus said, “I will be with you for only a little while longer, and then I am going to the one who sent me. 34 You will look for me but will not find me, and where I am you cannot come.” 35 Then the Jews who were hostile to Jesus said to one another, “Where is he going to go that we cannot find him? He is not going to go to the Jewish people dispersed among the Greeks and teach the Greeks, is he? 36 What did he mean by saying, ‘You will look for me but will not find me, and where I am you cannot come’?” 37 On the last day of the feast, the greatest day, Jesus stood up and shouted out, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me, and 38 let the one who believes in me drink. Just as the scripture says, ‘From within him will flow rivers of living water.’” 39 (Now he said this about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were going to receive; for the Spirit had not yet been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.) 40 When they heard these words, some of the crowd began to say, “This is really the Prophet!” 41 Others said, “This is the Christ!” But still others said, “No, for the Christ doesn’t come from Galilee, does he? 42 Don’t the scriptures say that the Christ is a descendant of David and comes from Bethlehem, the village where David lived?” 43 So there was a division in the crowd because of Jesus. 44 Some of them were wanting to seize him, but no one laid a hand on him. 45 Then the officers returned to the chief priests and Pharisees, who said to them, “Why didn’t you bring him back with you?” 46 The officers replied, “No one ever spoke like this man!” 47 Then the Pharisees answered, “You haven’t been deceived too, have you? 48 None of the rulers or the Pharisees have believed in him, have they? 49 But this rabble who do not know the law are accursed!” 50 Nicodemus, who had gone to Jesus before and who was one of the rulers, said, 51 “Our law doesn’t condemn a man unless it first hears from him and learns what he is doing, does it?” 52 They replied, “You aren’t from Galilee too, are you? Investigate carefully and you will see that no prophet comes from Galilee!”
We know from John’s earlier words that the Jewish religious leaders are determined to do away with Jesus (see John 5:18; 7:1). Up to this point, however, it has not been the religious leaders who have sought to kill Jesus. Those in the crowd who are citizens of Jerusalem seem to be those who attempt to lay hands on Jesus when He claims to be the One sent from the Father in heaven, but they are unable to seize Him (7:28-30). It seems that the Jewish religious leaders find it unwise to openly oppose Jesus. It becomes apparent that He is the subject of conversation among the crowds, in spite of their threats. They have to take the offensive and have Jesus arrested. They can delay no longer. Things are getting completely out of hand. And so the temple police are instructed to go and arrest Jesus, and then bring Him to them. It is time to get this over with. He must die, now! Verses 33-44 describe what is taking place with the crowd as the temple police make their way to arrest Jesus.
Jesus speaks to the crowd, indicating to them that He knows the time of His death is near. He chooses His words very carefully, so that His meaning is not immediately apparent, but also so that His disciples will recall what He has said after His death and resurrection. He is soon to go away. He will be with the Jews no longer. He is returning to the One who sent Him. When He is gone, they will look for Him, but they will not find Him. Where He goes, they cannot come.
We know, of course, that Jesus is speaking of His sacrificial death, burial, resurrection, and ascension into heaven. The Jews have no clue what He means. The crowd begins to discuss with one another just what these last words of Jesus mean. Where can Jesus possibly be going that they cannot go as well? Can He mean that He is about to go to those in the dispersion, those Jews scattered abroad? Surely not! What can Jesus mean when He says they will look for Him but not find Him? Where is He claiming to go that they cannot come? The crowd is buzzing with questions. The more Jesus teaches, the more confused some people are.
Then comes “the last day of the feast,” the time when the most people will likely gather at the temple, the climax and emotional high point of the week. Jesus stands up in the temple and cries out once again, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink. Just as the scripture says, ‘From within him will flow rivers of living water’” (verses 37b-38). There is considerable discussion as to just which Scripture our Lord is referring and to the precise meaning of His words. The commentaries spend considerable time here, and I would suggest that you consult them if you want to delve into the details.63 I must warn you that they too will refuse to answer all the technical and interpretive questions dogmatically. I will endeavor to stay with the most simple interpretation of these words, and in the light of what the Scriptures say, as opposed to other Jewish sources. It should be evident that if the commentators have trouble with these words of our Lord, those who hear them as Jesus speaks them have no idea at all what He means by them. Only after the cross and Pentecost does our Lord’s meaning become clear to the apostles.
Hendriksen makes a very interesting point about our Lord’s invitation, which bears repeating:
What is more important to remember in connection with the events of this day … is the fact that the Lord, far from turning himself away from the multitudes, many of whom in one way or another had rejected him, extended his gracious invitation: ‘If any one thirsts, let him come to me and drink.’64
Jesus has been rejected and condemned by the Jewish religious leaders in Jerusalem (chapter 5), abandoned by the multitude in Galilee (chapter 6), and now the crowd in Jerusalem seeks to lay hands on Him (7:30), not to mention the religious leaders (7:32). In spite of this large-scale rejection, Jesus still offers to those who will hear and receive it the gift of eternal life. What a Savior!
It may well be that the words of our Lord should be understood in relation to the celebration of the Feast of Tabernacles as it took place in Jesus’ day. Morris makes a fairly strong case for this.65 Although this may be true, only those privy to the Jewish practice of celebrating the Feast of Tabernacles at that time would be able to see the connection. I am therefore inclined to see the connection as more directly related to the biblical and historical account of Israel’s journey through the wilderness. Morris also suggests that this could be the primary reference to our Lord’s words and deeds.66
Following the flow of John’s argument, I understand the meaning of our Lord’s words in this way. John has consistently presented Jesus as the antitype of Old Testament prophetic types. John would say that Jesus is the “true” reality, the “true” culmination of the Old Testament institutions, objects, ceremonies, and events which foreshadowed Christ. Paul likewise sees our Lord as the substance of these Old Testament “shadows”: “Therefore, do not let anyone judge you with respect to food or drink, or in the matter of a feast, new moon, or Sabbath days that are only the shadow of the things to come, but the reality is Christ.”
In chapter 6, Jesus presented Himself as the “true bread” from heaven. While God once provided physical bread for Israel in the wilderness, He now offers “true bread from heaven,” which is His only provision for eternal life. Jesus is that bread from heaven. In chapter 7, Jesus presents Himself at the Feast of Tabernacles as the “rock” of Moses’ day, which, when smitten, produced life-giving water.67 Did Israel celebrate God’s provision and protection during Israel’s journeys in the wilderness at the Feast of Tabernacles? Did God provide not only manna (chapter 6), but water from the rock? Jesus is that rock. Jesus is the source of the water of life. All who would come to Him in faith are welcomed to partake of Him. The result is not only that they will have life, but that they will, through the Spirit, become a source of life and blessing to others (“From within him will flow rivers of living water”). This will happen after the atoning work of Christ is accomplished on the cross of Calvary, after our Lord’s resurrection and ascension to the Father, and after the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.68
When Jesus speaks these words, some are convinced that He is “the Prophet” (like Moses) of Deuteronomy 18:15. Others disagree, believing He is the Christ, the Messiah. (Obviously, they do not understand that “the Prophet” and “the Christ” are one and the same person.) Still others maintain their opposition to Jesus, pointing to what they believe are His earthly origins. Their problem with Jesus is that He comes from the wrong place—Galilee.69 They are convinced that the Christ cannot come from Galilee. They call to mind the prophecy of Micah 5:2, where the Messiah is said to come from Bethlehem in Judah, from the “city of David.” The result is that the crowd is divided over whom they believe Jesus is. Some of those in the crowd are determined to seize Jesus, but no one is able to lay their hands on Him (verse 44).
How I would love to see how God foiled and frustrated the efforts of these men to capture and to kill Jesus. Surely it would be amusing to watch. We are not told how God could keep a crowd from capturing One who is in their midst, but we are told how it comes about that the temple police, sent out earlier to arrest Jesus by the religious leaders of Jerusalem, come back empty-handed. John takes us to the place where the religious leaders are convened and describes the return of the temple police. The chief priests and Pharisees immediately insist on an explanation for why Jesus is not in their custody. They meekly reply, “We’ve never heard anyone who spoke as this man has.”
Can’t you just see it in your mind’s eye? These fellows march dutifully to the temple, where they know Jesus can be found. They begin to press their way through the crowd so they can arrest Jesus and deliver Him to those who have dispatched them. As they work their way through the crowd, they cannot help but overhear Jesus as He speaks. In my mind’s eye, I can see one of the officers stop for a moment, so as not to miss what Jesus is about to say next. Turning to his colleagues, he sternly insists that they hush—they are making so much noise he can’t hear Jesus speak. Eventually, all of the police are standing in the crowd, transfixed by His every word. Jesus finishes teaching for the day and leaves, as do the crowds. Then, and only then, do the soldiers remember what they came to do. They are not going to go after Jesus and arrest Him! And so they return to the chief priests and Pharisees to get the scorching they expect.
John tells us very little about these matters, but something like this must have happened. They do come back empty-handed, and their only excuse is that they have never heard anyone speak as Jesus did. Some are not moved at all by His words. Others come to view Him as the Prophet; others as the Messiah. The temple police do not say who they think Jesus is, but they know they have never before seen or heard anyone like Him.
The temple police are not disappointed; they do receive a scorching from the Jewish religious leaders who are frustrated, angry, and amazed. How can these fellows be so gullible? “You have not been deceived also, have you?” Whoever speaks for these religious leaders speaks for the entire group, and his words must send chills up the spines of the temple police … and Nicodemus! “Do you see even one of us—your religious leaders, the most knowledgeable experts on the Old Testament—believing in Jesus? It is only these stupid commoners—worthless and cursed people that they are, who do not know the Scriptures as we do—who follow him. How can you be so stupid? No one with a head on his shoulders believes in Jesus—isn’t that right?”
It seems as though whoever is speaking turns to his colleagues and then looks Nicodemus right in the eye. Does he sense that Nicodemus has been taken in by Jesus? Does he know of the secret interview Nicodemus had with Jesus? Can he discern a change in this teacher’s message? Nicodemus feels the need to respond. All he needs to say are two words—“I do.” Here is his opportunity to declare his faith in Jesus, but he keeps quiet. Instead, he takes the more politically correct stance—he questions the process by which Jesus was judged a wrongdoer. “We haven’t really carried out due process, have we? After all, the law requires that a man not be condemned without giving him a fair trial, and the chance to speak in his own defense.” Nicodemus is right, of course, but it is the cowardly thing to do. He does not acknowledge his faith in Jesus, or at least his considerations that Jesus might be the Messiah.
Now it is Nicodemus who is in for a scorching. Even though half-hearted and evasive, Nicodemus has not taken a firm stand with the others. He has at least expressed doubts and concerns about their condemnation of Jesus and their determination to kill him. And so his colleagues turn on him. “What? Are you saying that you are from Galilee too, that you are as stupid and gullible as that rabble?” And then come the most amazing words, “Investigate carefully and you will see that no prophet comes from Galilee” (verse 52). The great Greek scholar, A.T. Robertson, comments: “As a matter of fact, Jonah, Hosea, Nahum, possibly also Elijah, Elisha, and Amos were from Galilee.”70
I am amazed at the arrogance of the religious leaders and at their disdain for the common people. No one from Galilee, in their opinion, can be respected or admired. Simply coming from Galilee is enough to disqualify Jesus, or anyone else. Those whom these leaders are to serve they despise as accursed. What a contrast to the Suffering Servant, who came to give His life as a ransom for many. It is not Jesus who should be condemned, but these “shepherds.” Is this not exactly what the prophets has rebuked Israel’s leaders for in the past?
1 “Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of My pasture!” says the LORD. 2 Therefore thus says the LORD God of Israel against the shepherds who feed My people: “You have scattered My flock, driven them away, and not attended to them. Behold, I will attend to you for the evil of your doings,” says the LORD. 3 “But I will gather the remnant of My flock out of all countries where I have driven them, and bring them back to their folds; and they shall be fruitful and increase. 4 I will set up shepherds over them who will feed them; and they shall fear no more, nor be dismayed, nor shall they be lacking,” says the LORD. 5 “Behold, the days are coming,” says the LORD, “That I will raise to David a Branch of righteousness; A King shall reign and prosper, And execute judgment and righteousness in the earth. 6 In His days Judah will be saved, And Israel will dwell safely; Now this is His name by which He will be called: THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS” (Jeremiah 23:1-6; see also Isaiah 56:6-12).
The amazing thing is that those who consider themselves such experts, who perceive themselves as being so knowledgeable, are those guilty of the most foolish errors in matters of fact. It is as though they have sworn out an arrest warrant for Jesus’ arrest, misspelled His name, and made an error concerning His address. Is it not possible to discern where Jesus actually was born? Can this fact not be discerned? And yet these leaders are willing to assume that His place of birth was in Galilee, rather than in Bethlehem of Judah. And they are wrong. They rebuke Nicodemus by making an unsupported and erroneous generalization—that no prophet comes from Galilee. How stupid we are when we are willfully wrong! The facts are there before us, and we deny or distort them to justify our own sinful ways.
There is, in our text, the overwhelming “cloud” of our Lord’s impending death. The chapter starts by John telling us that Jesus avoids Judea, knowing the Jews there are intent on killing Him. And yet our Lord’s own brothers urge Him to go there. Jesus, who has been keeping a low profile in Galilee, finally makes His way to Jerusalem and boldly takes His stand in the temple, where He “cried out” before all. What courage! Jesus challenges the crowd as to why they seek to kill Him (verse 19), and the pilgrims from afar accuse Him of being demon possessed (verse 20). The people of Jerusalem know better and are amazed that Jesus is there in their midst, alive and publicly teaching (verses 25-26). It is not long before the Jewish religious leaders send the temple police to arrest Jesus, so they can do away with Him. But while these men are making their way to arrest Jesus, the crowd seeks to kill Jesus on their own, and fails. And then, of course, the temple police return empty-handed. There is no way that Jesus will be captured or killed, until it is His time, until it is God’s time.
The opposition has finally been given the opportunity by John to express their deepest concerns, their strongest arguments against Jesus. Our Lord’s words prove them wrong and convince some—without so much as a miracle being performed on this visit to Jerusalem—that He is indeed the Messiah. And the leaders of the Jews are exposed as arrogant, bigoted, and ill-informed as to the facts.
One thing about our text strikes me as never before. I am amazed at how early in John’s Gospel, how intense, and how widespread the opposition is to Jesus. Somewhere in the past I have picked up the idea that our Lord’s rejection and death was the desire and the work of a handful of people. I remember being told by someone that the crowds really were inclined to believe in Jesus, as can be seen by His reception at His triumphal entry, some six months later than the events of our text. The way that the religious leaders were able to put Jesus to death was that they held a secret trial at night, and then proceeded to bring about His conviction before the masses could mobilize or resist.
John’s Gospel forces me to rethink this whole matter and to reject such a view as incorrect. Our Lord’s rejection is wide-spread and intense. It is not just the religious leaders who reject Jesus and condemn Him to death. Already by John chapter 5 the religious leaders have committed themselves to killing Jesus, but in chapter 6 many of those who were our Lord’s “disciples” abandon Him when He clarifies what His mission is. By the time we come to chapter 7, the rejection of our Lord is very widespread. His brothers urge Jesus to publicly make Himself known in Jerusalem, the place where many are already determined to kill Him. The pilgrims in Jerusalem write Jesus off as a demon-possessed mental case. The crowd seeks to kill Jesus, even while the temple police are on their way to arrest Him and hand Him over to the religious authorities. Our Lord’s rejection is widespread, intense, and very apparent, and all this by chapter 7 of John’s Gospel.
As I have studied this text, I have been struck with the fact that all the crucial elements are now in place for our Lord’s final visit to Jerusalem a few months later, when He will be rejected, arrested, and put to death on the cross of Calvary. Jesus has gone up to Jerusalem, but not in the way His brothers expected. They urge Him to go and make His bid for a following. Jesus goes there to seal His doom, to set in motion the events which take Him to the cross. His family—at least his brothers—will not support Him, will not protest His arrest or execution. They are among the majority who do not believe in Jesus as the Messiah. The Galilean crowds desert Jesus as well (chapter 6). The pilgrims who come from afar write Jesus off as a demon-possessed mental case. The citizens of Jerusalem not only reject Him, they even try to seize Him. The religious leaders are also seeking the arrest and death of our Lord, and there is virtually no one to oppose them. Those among the crowd who do believe in Jesus are afraid to even mention His name, for fear of the Jews. And even a man as respected and powerful as Nicodemus is afraid to speak up in our Lord’s defense, at least as one of His followers. It is only a matter of time. All of the elements are in place. Jesus has made all the necessary preparations for His own death.
It is Jesus who is sovereign in the salvation of men. He is not a victim, but a Volunteer and a Victor. He is in control of His own destiny. His life will not be taken from Him; He will lay it down, just as He will take it up again. He will not be instructed or misled by His family. He will not be silenced by the Jews. He will not stay away from Jerusalem, even though those who will kill Him lay in wait for Him there. He will not die before His time.
As I come to the conclusion to this lesson, my thoughts return to the angry e-mail I received this week. It was written by a person who claimed to be a “Jew in pursuit of truth.” This individual would not consider the evidence which the Apostle John—a devout Jew—presented. She would not consider that Jesus, also a Jew, claimed to be the Messiah, and fulfilled every Old Testament prototype and prophecy pertaining to Messiah and Israel’s hope. She is right about one thing, however. She does not take the claims of Jesus lightly.
I am amazed at how casual people are today about Jesus. They politely speak of Him and think fondly of Him at special times like Christmas and Easter. They casually brush aside His claims, as though they are not worth getting excited or upset about. But the simple fact is this: either Jesus is correct in what He says, or He is a deceiver, worthy of death. If Jesus is the Son of God, as He clearly claims, then He speaks for God, as He also speaks as God. According to Him we are sinners, deserving of God’s eternal wrath, and our only hope is by faith in His sacrifice on the cross of Calvary. If He is the Son of God, we must fall before Him as our Savior and Lord. If we do not do so now, we will fall before Him as the Savior we rejected when He comes again, but not as our Savior:
6 Who though he existed in the form of God did not regard equality with God as something to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself by taking on the form of a slave, by looking like other men, and by sharing in human nature. 8 He humbled himself, by becoming obedient to the point of death —even death on a cross. 9 As a result God exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow —in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue should confess to the glory of God the Father that Jesus Christ is Lord (Philippians 2:6-11).
And if Jesus is not who He claims to be, then we should just as passionately reject Him as a fraud and a deceiver. In this sense, the Jews of Jesus’ day—as wrong as they are—are right in taking His claims seriously. We should do the same. Let me ask you, then, “Who is Jesus?” Is He the Son of God, who came to give His life as a ransom for many by dying on the cross of Calvary for your sins? Or is He a fraud and a deceiver, who deserved to die for His own sins? These are the only two options. Which have you chosen? Your decision, by our Lord’s words, determines your eternal destiny.
1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 The Word was with God in the beginning. 3 All things were created by him, and apart from him not one thing was created that has been created. 4 In him was life, and the life was the light of mankind. 5 And the light shines on in the darkness, but the darkness has not mastered it (John 1:1-5).
10 He was in the world, and the world was created by him, but the world did not recognize him. 11 He came to what was his own, but his own people did not receive him. 12 But to all who have received him—those who believe in his name—he has given the right to become God’s children 13 —children not born by human parents or by human desire or a husband’s decision, but by God (John 1:10-13).
15 John testified about him and cried out, “This one was the one about whom I said, ‘He who comes after me is greater than I am, because he existed before me.’” 16 For we have all received from his fullness one gracious gift after another. 17 For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came about through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has ever seen God. The only One, himself God, who is in the presence of the Father, has made God known (John 1:15-18).
29 On the next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! 30 This is the one about whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who is greater than I am, because he existed before me.’ 31 I did not recognize him, but I came baptizing with water so that he could be revealed to Israel” (John 1:29-31).
47 Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him and exclaimed, “Look, a true Israelite in whom there is no deceit!” 48 Nathanael asked him, “How do you know me?” Jesus replied, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.” 49 Nathanael answered him, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the King of Israel!” 50 Jesus said to him, “Because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree, do you believe? You will see greater things than these.” 51 He continued, “I tell all of you the solemn truth: you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man” (John 1:47-51).
14 He found in the temple courts people selling oxen and sheep and doves, and the money changers sitting at tables. 15 So he made a whip of cords and drove them all out of the temple courts, with the sheep and the oxen. He scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. 16 To those who sold the doves he said, “Take these things away from here! Do not make my Father’s house a marketplace.” 17 His disciples remembered that it was written, “Passion for your house will devour me.” 18 So then the Jewish leaders responded, “What sign can you show us, since you are doing these things?” 19 Jesus replied, “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up again.” 20 Then the Jewish leaders said to him, “This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and are you going to raise it up in three days?” 21 But Jesus was speaking about the temple of his body. 22 So after he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed the scripture and the saying that Jesus had spoken (John 2:14-22).
13 No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven—the Son of Man. 14 Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.” 16 For this is the way God loved the world: he gave his one and only Son that everyone who believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world should be saved through him. 18 The one who believes in him is not condemned. The one who does not believe has been condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the one and only Son of God (John 3:13-18).
31 The one who comes from above is superior to all. The one who is from the earth belongs to the earth and speaks about earthly things. The one who comes from heaven is superior to all. 32 He testifies about what he has seen and heard, but no one accepts his testimony. 33 The one who has accepted his testimony has confirmed clearly that God is truthful. 34 For the one whom God has sent speaks the words of God, for he does not give the Spirit sparingly. 35 The Father loves the Son and has placed all things under his authority. 36 The one who believes in the Son has eternal life. The one who rejects the Son will not see life, but God’s wrath remains on him (John 3:31-36).
10 Jesus answered her, “If you had known the gift of God and who it is who said to you ‘Give me some water to drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” 11 “Sir,” the woman said to him, “you have no bucket and the well is deep; where then do you get this living water? 12 Surely you’re not greater than our father Jacob, are you? For he gave us this well and drank from it himself, along with his sons and his livestock.” 13 Jesus replied, “Everyone who drinks some of this water will be thirsty again. 14 But whoever drinks some of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again, but the water that I will give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up to eternal life.” 15 The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I will not be thirsty or have to come here to draw water.” 16 He said to her, “Go call your husband and come back here.” 17 The woman replied, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “Right you are when you said, ‘I have no husband,’ 18 for you have had five husbands and the man you have now is not your husband. This you said truthfully!” 19 The woman said to him, “Sir, I see that you are a prophet. 20 Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, and you people say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.” 21 Jesus said to her, “Believe me, woman, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. 22 You people worship what you do not know. We worship what we know, because salvation is from the Jews. 23 But a time is coming—and now is here—when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such people to be his worshipers. 24 God is spirit, and the people who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” 25 The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming (the one called Christ). Whenever he comes, he will tell us everything.” 26 Jesus said to her, “I, the one speaking to you, am he” (John 4:10-26).
16 Now because Jesus was doing these things on the Sabbath, the Jewish authorities began persecuting him. 17 So Jesus told them, “My Father is working until now, and I too am working.” 18 For this reason the Jewish authorities were trying even harder to kill him, because not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was also calling God his own Father, thus making himself equal with God. 19 So Jesus answered them, “I tell you the solemn truth, the Son can do nothing on his own initiative, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, the Son does likewise. 20 For the Father loves the Son and shows him everything he does, and greater deeds than these he will show him, so that you may be amazed. 21 For just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whomever he wishes. 22 Furthermore, the Father does not judge anyone, but has assigned all judgment to the Son, 23 so that all people may honor the Son just as they honor the Father. The one who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him. 24 I tell you the solemn truth, the one who hears my message and believes the one who sent me has eternal life, and will not be condemned, but has crossed over from death to life. 25 I tell you the solemn truth, a time is coming and is now here when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and the ones who hear will live. 26 For just as the Father has life in himself, thus he has granted the Son to have life in himself; 27 and he granted the Son authority to execute judgment because he is the Son of Man. 28 Do not be amazed at this, because a time is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice 29 and will come out—the ones who have done what is good to the resurrection resulting in life, and the ones who have done what is evil to the resurrection resulting in condemnation (John 5:16-29).
37 “And the Father who sent me has himself testified about me. You people have never heard his voice nor seen his form at any time, 38 nor do you have his word residing in you, because you do not believe the one whom he sent. 39 You study the scriptures thoroughly because you think in them you possess eternal life, and it is these same scriptures that testify about me; 40 but you are not willing to come to me so that you may have life” (John 5:37-40).
28 So then they said to him, “What must we do to accomplish the deeds God requires?” 29 Jesus replied, “This is the deed God requires: to believe in the one whom he sent” (John 6:28-29).
35 Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. The one who comes to me will never go hungry, and the one who believes in me will never be thirsty. 36 But I told you that you have seen me and still do not believe. 37 Everyone whom the Father gives me will come to me, and the one who comes to me I will never send away. 38 For I have come down from heaven not to do my own will but the will of the one who sent me. 39 Now this is the will of the one who sent me: that I should not lose one person of every one he has given me, but raise them all up at the last day. 40 For this is the will of my Father: that every one who looks on the Son and believes in him will have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day” (John 6:35-40).
47 “I tell you the solemn truth, the one who believes has eternal life. 48 I am the bread of life. 49 Your ancestors ate the manna in the desert, and they died. 50 This is the bread that has come down from heaven, so that a person may eat from it and not die. 51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats from this bread he will live forever. The bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” 52 Then the Jews who were hostile to Jesus began to argue with one another, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat!” 53 Jesus said to them, “I tell you the solemn truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in yourselves. 54 The one who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. 55 For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. 56 The one who eats my flesh and drinks my blood resides in me, and I in him. 57 Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so the one who consumes me will live because of me. 58 This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like your ancestors ate and died. The one who eats this bread will live forever” (John 6:47-58).
14 When the feast was half over, Jesus went up to the temple and began to teach. 15 Then the Jewish authorities were amazed and said, “How does this man know so much when he has never had formal instruction?” 16 So Jesus replied, “My teaching is not from me, but from the one who sent me. 17 If anyone wants to do God’s will, he will know about my teaching, whether it is from God or whether I speak from my own authority” (John 7:14-17).
28 Then Jesus, while teaching in the temple courts, cried out, “You both know me and know where I come from! And I have not come on my own initiative, but the one who sent me is true. You do not know him, 29 but I know him, because I have come from him and he sent me” (John 7:28-29).
32 The Pharisees heard the crowd murmuring these things about Jesus, so the chief priests and the Pharisees sent officers to arrest him. 33 Then Jesus said, “I will be with you for only a little while longer, and then I am going to the one who sent me. 34 You will look for me but will not find me, and where I am you cannot come.” … 37 On the last day of the feast, the greatest day, Jesus stood up and shouted out, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me, and 38 let the one who believes in me drink. Just as the scripture says, ‘From within him will flow rivers of living water’” (John 7:32-34, 37-38).
You decide. Who is Jesus Christ? Is He a deceiver, or the promised Messiah, God’s only provision for your salvation?
52 I do not mean to say that there was no debate between Jesus and His adversaries before this. What I am saying is that John has not previously recorded a full account of their objections and arguments. In John 3, Nicodemus has his questions and concerns, but John limits his account of what Nicodemus says to Jesus. His words of response to our Lord get fewer and shorter as the conversation plays out. In chapter 5, the Jews in Jerusalem take on Jesus for “breaking the Sabbath,” but John does not give a full account of their arguments. All that changes at chapter 7, when John spells out the Jewish objections fully. John now gives the reader a much more thorough version of the opposition’s “best shot” at Jesus. Both their words and our Lord’s responses demonstrate just how shoddy their thinking and objections were.
53 At this point, Leon Morris footnotes with a comment by Dodd: “C. H. Dodd points out that in chs. 7, 8, there is a strongly polemical tone, with the enemies of Jesus having more to say than at any other place in the four Gospels. This is doubtless, as he says, in order to bring out the constant pressure of the opposition that Jesus met (note the repeated statements that Jesus’ life was in danger, 7:1, 13, 19, 25, 30, 32, 44; 8:37, 49, 59). It should also be noted that ‘The evangelist has brought together here most of what he has to say in reply to Jewish objections against the messianic claims made for Jesus’ (IFG, p. 346). Messiahship is central for John. This section of his Gospel is one in which he shows that objections to the messiahship of Jesus can all be met.” Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1971), p. 392, fn. 1, citing C. H. Dodd, The Interpretation of the Fourth Gospel (Cambridge, 1953), p. 346.
Morris adds, “The Feast of Tabernacles was a feast of thanksgiving primarily for the blessings of God in the harvest, but it was also observed with special reference to the blessings received during the wilderness wanderings, the time when God was pleased to manifest Himself in the tabernacle. It may be this which gives significance to John’s recording of the happenings in this chapter. Neither in the tabernacle in the wilderness, nor in the temple which replaced it, was God fully manifested. The final and … perfect manifestation of God was in Jesus, whose ministry would result in God’s dwelling neither in a tent nor in a temple, but in men’s hearts by His Spirit.” Leon Morris, pp. 392-393.
In a footnote, Morris adds, “This was not ‘a’ feast. It was ‘the’ feast. Tabernacles was the great feast held when the harvest was finally gathered in (Exod. 23:16 calls it ‘the feast of ingathering, at the end of the year, when thou gatherest in thy labors out of the field’; see also Lev. 23:33ff., 39ff.; Deut. 16:13ff.). There are references to the feast as lasting for seven days (e.g. Lev. 23:34), and also to the eighth day (as Lev. 23:36), from which the conclusion is drawn that an original feast of seven days had been extended by one day. Together with the note of thanksgiving for harvest the feast commemorated the goodness of God to His people during the wilderness wanderings.” Morris, p. 394, fn. 5, in part.
56 There is a textual problem here, and so there is also much discussion by the scholars. If the word in question is “not” (as most scholars seem inclined to believe—see Morris, p. 399, fn. 20), then we do appear to have a problem of consistency. Why would Jesus tell His brothers He is not going up to Jerusalem, only to go a little later? If the Greek term rendered “not yet” is present in the original text then no problem exists. He is not saying that He isn’t going to Jerusalem, only that He isn’t going yet, i.e. with them. There are a number of possible solutions to this problem, and so I simply refer the reader to the commentaries. As for me, I am inclined to embrace the “not yet” reading of the Greek text. If the term “not yet” is not in the original text, then Jesus seems to be telling His brothers that He is not going up to the Feast in Jerusalem in the way they have challenged Him to do, namely publicly, to attract a larger following. The text is very clear and emphatic in contrasting the motive and means the brothers indicate as opposed to the actual motive and means of our Lord.
58 “So forbidding was their attitude (‘sought’ does not denote a solitary action; the tense is continuous, ‘they kept on seeking’) that Jesus withdrew from Judea altogether. He ‘walked’ in Galilee. The verb expresses the itinerant ministry of a Rabbi moving among the people with his disciples. ‘Would not’ signifies that He set His will against walking in Judea.” Morris, p. 394.
62 “According to the present chapter of John’s Gospel there were two opinions among the Jews regarding the origin of the expected Messiah: a. according to some, no one would know where he came from (7:27); b. according to others, he would be born in Bethlehem (7:41, 42; cf. Matt. 2:3-5).
“The first of these two ideas—that Messiah would appear very suddenly, as if from nowhere—seems to have been a piece of popular theology, probably based upon inferences from certain passages in the Apocrypha (although we do not find it clearly stated in any of those books). The second idea (as the given references indicate) was correct, and was the official position of the Sanhedrin. On either score, however, since everybody ‘knew’ where Jesus came from, namely, from Nazareth in Galilee, he could not be the true Messiah!” Hendriksen, vol. 2, pp. 15-16.
A. T. Robertson writes, “This is a piece of popular theology. ‘Three things come wholly unexpected—Messiah, a godsend, and a scorpion’ (Sanhedrin 97a). The rulers knew the birthplace to be Bethlehem (7:42; Mt 2:5f.), but some even expected the Messiah to drop suddenly from the skies as Satan proposed to Jesus to fall down from the pinnacle of the temple. The Jews generally expected a sudden emergence of the Messiah from concealment with an anointing by Elijah… (Apoc. of Bar. XXIX. 3; 2Esdr. 7:28; 13:32; Justin Martyr, Tryph. 110).” A. T. Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament, vol.5, en loc.
63 I would suggest Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1971), pp. 419-428; William Hendriksen, Exposition of the Gospel According to John, 2 vols. (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1953-1954), vol. 2, pp. 21-27; and, D. A. Carson, The Gospel According to John (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1991), pp. 321-329, in that order.
65 “The principal features of the observance, in addition to the erection of the leafy bowers in which the people camped out and the offering of the sacrifices, appear to have been these. The people carried with them bunches of leaves, called lulabs. There was apparently a disagreement between the Sadducees and the Pharisees over the correct interpretation of Lev. 23:40, ‘And ye shall take you on the first day the fruit of goodly trees, branches of palm-trees, and boughs of thick trees, and willows of the brook …’ The former took the words to refer to the material out of which the booths for the observance of the feat were to be constructed, while the latter held them to mean that the worshippers were actually to carry branches of the trees named as they entered the temple. The Pharisaic interpretation prevailed among the people, and accordingly each worshipper, as he marched in procession, would carry a lulab in his right hand and a citron in his left. The lulab symbolized the stages of the wilderness journey (marked by different kinds of vegetation), and the fruit of the goodly land that God had given His people. As certain Psalms were recited the worshippers shook their lulabs. The rejoicing was marked further by the flute-playing and dancing that went on for most of the feast and by bringing in young willow branches and arranging them round the altar (Sukk. 4:5). The tops thus were bent over the altar forming a leafy canopy for it. The reciting of the words, ‘Save now, we beseech thee, O Jehovah: O Jehovah, we beseech thee, send now prosperity’ (Ps. 118:25), is probably to be understood as a prayer for rain and fruitful season. On each of the seven days of the feast a priest drew water from the pool of Siloam in a golden flagon and brought it in procession to the temple with the joyful sounding of the trumpet. There the water was poured into a bowl beside the altar from which a tube took it to the base of the altar. Simultaneously wine was poured through a similar bowl on the other side of the altar. These symbolic ceremonies were acted … thanksgivings for God’s mercies in giving water in past days (probably looking right back to the smiting of the rock in the wilderness and then on to the giving of rain in recent years. … It is also significant that the words of Isaiah are associated with these ceremonies, ‘with joy shall ye draw water out of the wells of salvation’ (Isa.12:3). The Jerusalem Talmud connects the ceremonies and this scripture with the Holy Spirit: ‘Why is the name of it called, The drawing out of water? Because of the pouring out of the Holy Spirit, according to what is said: “With joy shall ye draw water out of the wells of salvation.”’
“Jesus’ words are to be understood against this background. Up till now nothing has been recorded of His teaching at this feast, for all His words in this chapter hitherto have been replies to the accusations of His foes. But now, at the culmination of the greatest feast of the Jewish year, He unfolds its significance in terms of the life that He came to bring. He takes the water symbolism of the feast and presses it into service as He speaks of the living water that He will bestow. The people are thinking of rain, and of their bodily need. He turns their attention to the deep need of the soul, and to the way He would supply it. In chapter 4 we have had references to the living water, but here only is the explanation given of its significance in terms of the Holy Spirit.” Morris, pp. 420-421.
66 “At the same time His primary reference may be not to the temple rite, but to the supply of water from the rock in the wilderness. The water supplied the physical needs of the Israelites, whereas no one drank from the water poured out of the golden ewer.” Morris, p. 422.
In an excellent footnote, Morris adds: “Godet favors this view and he points out that it accords with the symbolism of this Gospel in terms of Old Testament figures: ‘In chap. ii. He had presented Himself as the true temple, in chap. iii., as the true brazen serpent, in chap. vi., as the bread from heaven, the true manna; in chap. vii., He is the true rock; in chap. viii., He will be the true luminous cloud, and so on, until chap. xix. where He will finally realize the type of the Paschal lamb.’” Morris, p. 422, fn. 75.
67 We must recall the words of Paul here, as recorded in 1 Corinthians 10: “1 For I do not want you to be ignorant, brothers and sisters, that our fathers were all under the cloud and all passed through the sea, 2 and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, 3 and all ate the same spiritual food, 4 and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they were all drinking from the spiritual rock that followed them, and the rock was Christ” (1 Corinthians 10:1-4, emphasis mine).
68 After a lengthy discussion of all the issues related to this text, Morris sums up what he understands the meaning of our text to be: “The meaning of our passage then, in accordance with such Old Testament prophecies appears to be that when any man comes to believe in Jesus the scriptures referring to the activity of the Holy Spirit are fulfilled. On the day of Pentecost Peter claimed the fulfilment of the prophecy of Joel (Acts 2:16ff.). It is something like that we should understand here.” Morris, p. 424.
69 Notice how frequently the subject of Jesus’ origins arises. The Apostle John, John the Baptist, and Jesus have all maintained that He came from above. Many who will not and who cannot believe in Jesus insist that He came from Galilee. How easy it would have been to learn that Jesus was born in Bethlehem, as the prophet Micah had foretold, but these folks had already made up their minds. They would not be confused—or corrected—by the facts.