John (Part 23): Revelation of Messiah - Origin continued (ch 7)
Before we get into the action of chapter 7, we should note the structure of this whole Jesus-as-Light section. It is neatly divided into two main sections, the first discussing identification of the Messiah and the second discussing the Mission of the Messiah. Of course, each subject is necessarily involved in the other: mission is the reason why we call him Messiah (anointed one), and the revelation of the Messiah is part of the mission. And so, each idea (Messiah and mission) is highlighted in an illustration within the other’s section. Thus, the structure looks like this:
7:1-52 Messiah – Jesus from his Father God
7:53 – 8:11 Illustration – Revelation of Mission
8:12-29 Messiah – Jesus to his Father God
8:30-59 Mission – People from their Father the Devil
9:1-41 Illustration – Revelation of Messiah
10:1-21 Mission – People to their New Father God
The festival began, and the Jews were looking for Jesus (v.11). Notice it says “Jews.” This is set in contrast to the crowds of the next verse. John normally calls the leaders—especially those who were antagonistic to Jesus—“Jews,” and he does so in this section consistently. The crowds too were looking for Jesus who had gained quite a reputation, most likely from the miracles he performed. But no one was talking publicly—meaning, no one was pushing for a grass roots campaign to make him king. The Sanhedrin had given no official word on him. If the leaders should publicly condemn him, outspoken supporters could be in trouble. And, conversely, if the Sanhedrin should endorse him, outspoken opposers would be shamed and no longer trusted. It was better not to announce a dogmatic opinion yet.
Halfway through the eight-day festival, Jesus suddenly appeared “in their midst” and sat down in the temple to teach. This could have been in Solomon’s Portico along the southern wall of the large courtyard of the Gentiles or, in what appears as a favorite area of Jesus, on the steps leading up to the Nicanor Gate that separated the Court of Women from the Court of the Jews and Court of the Priests. As he was teaching, John says some Pharisees among the crowd were amazed (v.15), wondering how he knew the Scriptures since he hadn’t been trained. This was not simple admiration. The scribes and Pharisees were very jealous of their positions as men schooled in the law and the ones people came to for advice or interpretation on Scripture. That someone was teaching Scripture who had not been brought up under their auspices and in their tradition was an affront. Their amazement was shock at what they considered to be audacious insolence on Jesus’ part. And so their comment was not a muttering among themselves. Rather, they were trying to break up the crowd. “Don’t listen to him,” they were calling out. “He’s merely giving you some uneducated opinion. He hasn’t been trained by US!”
The reply, then, that Jesus gave in verses 16 through 19 is directed toward these Jews who made this comment. Jesus began by defending his teaching as not being simply a personal opinion but the very message of God. Then he stated that those who wanted to follow God would understand that his message was from God. This provides a connection to the work of the Holy Spirit. The consideration of Jesus’ teaching was not merely of external evidence and intellectual deduction. The Holy Spirit works with the word of God to reveal to hearts. Those that truly desire to follow God, Jesus says in verse 17, embrace this revelation in understanding. That’s faith. More precisely, the process is faith electionism—the revelation-response interaction between God and his image bearers intended to engender relationship.
Verse 18 gives a good discussion of this image bearer relationship. We, humankind, were created for relationship—specifically to reflect (image) the truth, goodness, and beauty of God. To ignore that—God’s TGB—and speak merely on your own, Jesus says in the first part of verse 18, is seeking your own glory. Rather (18b), seeking God’s glory (reflecting his TGB) is the sign of the true image bearer. This is the one in whom there is no unrighteousness (18c). Remembering that righteousness means faithfulness to the covenant, we see that Jesus speaks of reflecting the TGB of God as righteousness—covenant faithfulness.
Jesus then goes on the attack by drawing a distinction between what he is doing and what the Jews were doing. They declared over and over that they followed Moses—understood and lived by the Law of God delivered by Moses. This Law was given to show ways to reflect the TGB of God. But nobody kept the Law. All these Jewish leaders failed at various points, and that was why Paul said it was a schoolmaster or guardian to direct attention to the need of a Rescuer—because we couldn’t do it ourselves. Therefore, these Jews themselves had failed to properly reflect God’s TGB. Jesus, however, did perfectly reflect God’s TGB. Noting this contrast, and the success (righteousness) of Jesus in the very thing both were trying to do, Jesus asked in surprise, “Why do you want to kill Me?” (7:19). In other words, “If I reflect God and you do not (although you say you want to), why would you seek to end my life—the very life that actually succeeds at what you say is praiseworthy?” It simply proved that the Jews were not truly wanting to reflect God, but were interested only in their own glory—exactly what they had falsely accused Jesus of doing.
Remember, this explanation by Jesus was directed to the Jews—the leaders who were telling the people not to listen to Jesus. So the people are onlookers to this discussion between Jesus and the leaders. When Jesus asked, “Why do you want to kill me?” the Jews knew what he meant, but the crowd was unaware that the leaders sought opportunity to put him to death. So it is the crowd, at this point, that interjected in verse 20, “You have a demon! (in other words, “You’re crazy!”) Who wants to kill you?” But Jesus did not respond to them. He continued to address the Jewish leaders in verses 21-24.
In this reply, Jesus began by saying that he did one work and they were all amazed. To what does he refer? We learn a couple of statements later in verse 23 that he is talking about a man he made well on the Sabbath. When did this happen? Did he not just arrive from Galilee to start teaching? The last mention of Jesus making someone well on a Sabbath was back in chapter 5 before the whole feeding of the 5000 episode in chapter 6. Surely Jesus had performed other miraculous healings. Why did Jesus presume that they would remember this one incident from…who knows how long ago?
It may be very likely that that healing episode was not so long ago. Remember that John is not concerned with chronology as he writes his Gospel. He is placing incidents in a pattern thematically. It may very well be that the chapter 5 healing occurred only the day before this chapter 7 confrontation with the leaders. Consider the following:
1. John doesn’t explain who the healed man is. He assumes his readers will connect the comment with the last person written about who was healed on the Sabbath.
2. Jesus doesn’t explain who the healed man is. He assumes the Jews know who he was talking about, indicating that it had happened recently.
3. Chapter 5 began telling us that “a Jewish festival” was taking place. Although unnamed there, it could be this same Jewish festival taking place as Jesus is talking in chapter 7.
4. The discussion in chapter 5 concerned Jesus doing/saying what the Father did/said and about the Sabbath law. The discussion in chapter 7 is pretty much the same—teaching that he comes from the Father and discussion of the Sabbath law.
5. We learned in 5:18 that because of the healing, the Jews wanted to kill him even more, indicating they already wanted to kill him. In chapter 7, we learned at the beginning that the Jews already wanted to kill him and through the course of chapter 7 we learn they want to kill him even more.
6. The series of verses in chapter 5, from 11 through 15, shows the interest of the Jews in finding Jesus so as to deal with him concerning his Sabbath healing. And in 7:11, we also find the Jews looking for Jesus.
So it seems apparent that the incidents are connected.
The amazement that Jesus mentions of the Jews in verse 21 is the same shock in considering Jesus act audacious as it was in verse 15. But Jesus defends his “work” on the Sabbath by searching out the deeper motive.
He brings up a dilemma often confronting the Jews regarding circumcision. According to the Law, delivered by Moses, circumcision must be performed on the 8th day. Well, what happens when that 8th day falls on a Sabbath? Do they perform the “work” of circumcision, violating the Sabbath law, or do they hold to the Sabbath, violating the circumcision law? The matter had been settled in practice centuries earlier. They kept to the 8th day requirement. The reason for this was that circumcision—the seal to God’s promised deliverance from the brokenness of sin—was of greater value in the covenant than was keeping a particular Sabbath. Jesus therefore insists his action was along the same line. Healing pointed to God’s promised deliverance from the brokenness of sin in an even greater way. Thus, it should take precedence over the Sabbath rule. And here Jesus emphasizes part of what it means to have the law written on our hearts (Jer 31:33). We are to judge based on pursuit of covenant (relationship with God) rather than simply by surface reading of a rule (legalism).
In verses 25 through 36 the focus changes from the Messiah’s coming up in their midst to a heightened awareness that the Messiah comes from God. Again we hear the crowd speaking (as we heard their murmuring in verse 20. We must keep the action of the scene firmly in mind. Jesus had initially been teaching. The Jews interject to tell the crowd not to listen to Jesus because he is uneducated, giving only his opinion. Jesus directs his reply to those Jews while the crowd listens in. These Jews constantly preach of their desire to follow God, Jesus asks why they want to kill him who is the only one actually following God (actually righteous—faithful to the covenant). The crowd listening in, and not understanding the Jews’ evil intent, wonders who is trying to kill him. Jesus, ignoring the crowd, continues to answer the Jews.
But as Jesus continues to answer the Jews, surely the crowd is still disturbed by his question of why the leaders want to kill him. It is probable that as they still turn to each other questioningly, Jesus’ disciples confirm to the people around them that these leaders do actually have this murderous intent (all while Jesus is responding to the Jews). In verse 25, then, John shifts focus from Jesus’ answer to the Jews to the discussion going on amid the crowd. The crowd’s response is disbelief in what the disciples are confirming. They ask in disbelieving tone, “This man (Jesus) here is the one they want to kill? This man sitting here in the temple—the place where, if the leaders wanted, they could drag him off to be stoned any time they want? If so, why don’t they? If they want to kill him, why is he still here freely speaking? [Then in sarcasm…] Perhaps the reason the leaders don’t arrest him is that they now think this man actually is the Messiah! [But immediately explaining why that can’t be, they continue] But, of course not, because whwen the Mesiah comes nobody will know from where he comes.”
Jesus, finished replying to the Jews, then turns to the crowd in verses 28 and 29 and agrees with them in one sense that they know where he is from, but in another sense they don’t. He argues that he is from God. Further he tells them that since he comes from God, he knows God—knowing him in the sense that he has perfect covenant relationship with him. These people do not. They do not have right covenant relationship with God, and therefore they don’t know him. This is Jesus’ mission—to bring them to God.
Meanwhile, the Jews are frustrated by Jesus. He still has favor with the crowds, and so they decide to arrest him. But then Jesus speaks, cryptically to them, but actually in explanation of his rejection and hiddenness to come. He says in verses 33-34 that he is going away and they can’t follow him. They wonder about that, but he means that he, through death, will return to the Father accomplishing his mission. They, rejecting Jesus, will not be able to join him in relationship with the Father because of their rejection.
Verses 37 through 39 contain plenty of drama. The last day of the feast comes. The priests stand before the crowds, pouring the water and wine on the altar, symbolizing the satisfying care that God provided through his presence in the 40-year journey to the Promised Land. As they do so, Jesus (probably from his normal vantage point at the Nicanor Gate, cries out, “If anyone is thirsty, he should come to Me and drink!” Although he is not quoting one exact passage of Scripture, he summarizes several (e.g., Isaiah 48:16b; 49:10) that foretell of the streams of living water that will satisfy believers through the Spirit as they are joined with God through the work of the Messiah.