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COMMENTARY ON THE GOSPEL OF JOHN

By Dr Peter Pett BA BD (Hons-London) DD

Chapter 7 Jesus, Under Constant Threat of Death, Proclaims That Rivers of Living Water Will Result From His Death.

In the previous chapter Jesus has proclaimed His coming death (6.51-58), being aware that the Judaisers were planning to kill Him (5.18). That was preparatory for what is now coming. For in this chapter it will be stressed that the threat of death was now hanging over Him continually. It is indeed a main theme of the first part of the chapter. Thus He is going forward from this point on ever aware of the cloud hanging over Him. But in the midst of it, at the Feast of Tabernacles in Jerusalem, He boldly defends Himself and follows it by proclaiming the coming of a great work of the Spirit of God which will flow out to the world. Indeed He declares that this work will actually result from His death and glorification. The chapter is also prominent in bringing out that His impact had been such that many were questioning whether He was the Messiah. Note that His defence of His ministry comes between two incidents in which His Messiahship is in question. The writer wants us to see Jesus’ defence of His ministry as closely connected with the general views that were being discussed around Him, reminding us of the fact that while He did not specifically claim it, He really was the Messiah.

Jesus In Danger (7.1-13).

It is now made clear that at this stage Jesus was under constant threat of death from the authorities in Judea and Jerusalem, so much so that He was unable to go there openly. It is, of course, true to say in their defence that His opponents did have a responsibility to root out false prophets and to ensure that rabblerousers did not cause trouble in Jerusalem and Judea by stirring up fanatical followers and bringing the wrath of the Romans on them. It was something that happened only too often in those turbulent times. And it was that that provided them with an excuse for their actions. They wanted public quiet at all costs. But their attitude was in fact totally unjustified in the case of Jesus, as will be made clear at His trial, and the real reason for their opposition is revealed to be because He was exposing their own teaching, and was proclaiming ideas which they saw as heresy (e.g. His declaration to men that ‘there sins were forgiven’ on His authority (Mark 2.1-11) and His claims to be more than just a prophet). Thus they were ready to seize Him if He showed His face in Judea and Jerusalem, something of which Jesus was well aware.

7.1 ‘And after these things Jesus walked in Galilee, for he would not walk in Judea because the Judaisers sought to kill him.’

‘After these things’. A loose connecting phrase indicating a change of narrative and having little other significance except to link with, and probably date it later than, the previous chapter.

His words to the Judaisers in chapter 6 had increased their determination to put Him to death. But they did not dare to touch Him in Galilee, where their influence was less, for He was too popular, and the result was that He was able to walk openly there. This very fact confirms that a wide Galilean ministry is assumed, but not touched on, in John’s Gospel.

So they decided that they would wait for Him to come to Judea. It would appear from this situation that the end of His ministry was now approaching demonstrating that John had mainly left the details of His earlier ministry to others. From now on there will be constant references to their planning of His death (see verses 19, 30, 32, 44; 8.59; 10.39; 11.8, 53).

7.2 ‘Now the Jew’s Feast of Tabernacles was at hand’.

The Feast of Tabernacles was the feast celebrating the end of the year’s harvests, and took place around September/October. It was one of the main feasts celebrated by the Jews, being one of the three that were commanded to be celebrated at their central Sanctuary (initially The Tabernacle, and then the Temple) from ancient times (Exodus 23.14-17). In Exodus 23.16 it is called the Feast of Ingathering, while in Leviticus 23.3 and Deuteronomy 16.13 it is called the Feast of Tabernacles (or Booths).

The other two main feasts were the Feast of Passover and Unleavened Bread (celebrated in March/April), and the Feast of Weeks, also called the Feast of Harvest and Pentecost, which was celebrated 50 days after Passover. The former celebrated the deliverance of Israel from Egypt, and was distinctive in that every household would sacrifice a lamb at the Temple, and partake of it in the place in which they were staying in Jerusalem, in memory of that deliverance, but it was almost certainly a feast before that for it was during this week that the reaping of the standing grain commenced (Deuteronomy 16.9) and a sheaf of the firstfruits was waved before the Lord (Leviticus 23.10-11). It was thus both a memorial of the deliverance from Egypt and an acknowledgement by the nation of their dependence on God for their harvest. It was accompanied by numerous sacrifices (e.g. Numbers 28.16-25).

From the day on which the firstfruits were offered in March/April, 49 days were counted (a week of weeks, hence the name the Feast of Weeks) during which the grain harvest would be gathered in (Deuteronomy 16.9-12). Then the Feast of Weeks (or Harvest) would be celebrated (May/June) and a cake of the firstfruits of the gathered harvest presented to God (Deuteronomy 16.10; Exodus 23.16; 34.22). This was later called the Feast of Pentecost.

Following this the grapevines would be pruned, the figs (summer fruit) gathered in, and this would be followed by the general ingathering of grapes, olives and citrus fruits. Finally around September/October the Feast of Tabernacles or Ingathering would celebrate the complete gathering in of the years harvest. It was a feast of thanksgiving for a good harvest (Deuteronomy 16.15), and was especially associated with fruitfulness, with the ‘fruit of goodly trees, branches of palm trees, boughs of leafy trees and willows of the brook’ (Leviticus 23.40).

During the feast the people would live in booths or ‘tents’, remembering how the people who had followed Moses out of Egypt had lived in tents in the wilderness, and a huge flaming lampstand would be set up in the Temple as a symbol of the pillar of fire that had gone before them then, and had protected them, and been their guide.

The feast, which was now approaching, was a joyful one (Deuteronomy 16.15), and had become especially associated with the expected coming age of plenty (Zechariah 14.16-19), so that at this time the minds of people would be directed towards thoughts of the coming age. The celebration of it was also looked on as a way of seeking to guarantee the pouring out of rain in the coming months (Zechariah 14.17). This was presumably why Jesus chose it for the purpose of proclaiming the coming ‘rain’ of the Holy Spirit.

7.3-5 ‘His brothers therefore said to him, “Leave here and go to Judea so that your disciples also may see the works that you are doing. For no man does anything in secret, and himself seeks to be known openly. If you do these things show yourself clearly to the world.” For even his brothers did not believe in him.’

It was to this feast then that Jesus was urged to go by His brothers (v.3-4). But their aim was the wrong one. They were seeking to help Him further His cause as the Messiah in the way in which they thought of it, and they wanted Him to perform signs and miracles so that He could become ‘known openly’, and encourage the stirring up of the many followers He had in Judea as a result of His earlier ministry there, presumably with a view to an uprising. As we have seen in the previous chapter many in Galilee would have been willing to follow Him (6.15). They had totally the wrong ideas about Him.

‘For no man does anything in secret and himself seeks to be known openly.’ They were constantly puzzled. They could not understand why Jesus would insist on details of His miracles not being voiced abroad, and had an annoying habit of telling people not to tell everyone what He had done for them. And this in spite of the fact that it was clear that He felt that He had a public ministry. So what was He waiting for? If He wanted to be famous let Him rather publicise what He was doing. How else could He expect to be accepted as the Messiah?

‘For even his brothers did not believe in him’, that is, they did not at this time understand and respond to the real truth about Him. They did not recognise His mission of mercy from God and His unique status. They shared the popular views about the coming Messiah. They did not have ‘saving faith’. This is one of those incidents which help to confirm the historicity of the Gospel. No one at a later date would have invented this about the brothers of Jesus who eventually became highly respected Christians. It is included because it happened.

7.6 ‘Jesus therefore says to them, ‘My time is not yet come, but your time is always ready.’

But what they failed to realise was that Jesus’ life was directed by God. ‘My time has not yet come’, He declared. Others were free to do what they liked, ‘your time is always here’, but not He. As He had said to His mother earlier (2.4), He must not be rushed into acting before the time. His times were in God’s hands. Jesus was still in firm control of His destiny. The word used here for ‘time’ is a different one than that used elsewhere in the Gospel. It is not referring to His time of destiny.

7.7 ‘The world cannot hate you, but it hates me because I declare that its works are evil’.

He points out to his brothers that they had given the world no reason for hating them, so that they had nothing to beware of and nothing to fear. No one wanted to arrest them. But it was different with Himself. While He had simply been doing good and healing He had been popular, but once He had begun to reveal men’s sinfulness and hypocrisy, especially that of the religious leaders, and once the common people had begun to respond to His teaching, the world had begun to hate Him. For one thing that the world cannot stand is to be shown up for what it really is. It does not like the light (3.17-21). This was especially true of those who had a high opinion of their own goodness, like the Jewish leaders and teachers. They wanted to be commended and praised, not shown up. But His words did show them up, which was the main reason why they hated Him and wanted to get rid of Him, something of which He was well aware. His brothers could go to the feast safely, but He knew the hatred that there was for Him and His teaching, and that He Himself must be more careful.

7.8-9 ‘You go up to the Feast. I am not going up to this feast, because my time is not yet fulfilled.’ And having said these things to them he remained dwelling in Galilee.’

So He told His brothers to go to the feast, while He remained in Galilee, awaiting God’s time. What He, of course, meant was that He was not going up ‘at present’ along with the party who are going from Galilee. He knew that He had to await His Father’s instructions.

Many good authorities have ‘I am not yet going’, and the ‘yet’ is certainly to be understood if not there (it is easy to see why it might have been written as a comment and then incorporated into the text). John is hardly likely to have depicted Jesus as deceiving his brothers, and it is clear that He was not yet sure as to what exactly He was going to do. What He therefore meant was that in view of the situation He was still awaiting word from His Father and would not act until then. Once, however, He received that word, He went.

‘My time is not yet fulfilled’. He was aware that danger awaited Him, and that His death would be sought. And He knew that it was not yet time for Him to die. He had a further ministry to be fulfilled which had not yet been fulfilled. So He must wait.

7.10 ‘But when his brothers were gone to the Feast, then he also went up, not publicly but as it were in secret.’

Once His brothers and the Galilean party had gone up to the feast, however, no doubt to be given the onceover by the Judaiser’s spies, Jesus followed quietly and without any fuss. He did not want to draw attention to Himself until He was ready. This suggests that He knew that the authorities would be watching the road for the arrival of His family and their fellow Nazarenes, expecting Him to be with them. No doubt He took a circuitous route so as to avoid their attention.

7.11 ‘The Judaisers therefore were looking for him at the feast, and saying, “Where is he?”.’

True to form the Judaisers had had their spies out. There was no doubt that they had been looking for Him and had evil intentions towards Him. This was common knowledge to many, for people were fearful of talking about Him openly ‘for fear of the Judaisers’ (v.13). And when it was seen that He was not with His brothers and His family the Judaisers were puzzled. This brings out the strength of the feeling against Him and their deliberate intent to deal with Him once and for all.

7.12-13 ‘And there was much murmuring among the crowds concerning him. Some said, “He is a good man”. Other said, “That is not so, but he leads the mass of people astray”. However no man spoke openly of him for fear of the Judaisers.’

Huge crowds would arrive in Jerusalem and its surrounding districts for the Feast of Tabernacles, which was a popular Feast. And there was constant discussion among them. It is clear that Jesus’ ministry had been going on for some considerable time, and indeed was approaching its end, and He was now well known everywhere. They dared not discuss Him publicly, but they did discuss Him in private and there were divided opinions about Him.

Some, on the basis of His works and teaching declared that He was a good man. Others, probably on the basis of what they had been told in the synagogues, declared that He led astray the people. Everyone was talking about Him. But both sides spoke in hushed tones. It was dangerous to be heard talking aloud about Jesus.

It is clear from this that the decision had been made by the religious authorities that He was a dangerous man, and unacceptable to them. Their agreed position was that He must be put out of the way. And to consort with Him, or even to approve of Him, risked punishment from the synagogue. He was a marked man.

Jesus Teaches Openly In The Temple And Pleads For Right Judgment (7.14-24).

But whilst Jesus was taking every precaution He knew that He could not allow His own safety to hinder the proclamation of His message, with the result that, once He was in Jerusalem He waited awhile to lull the authorities into inactivity, and then went openly to the Temple in order to teach the people. He knew that they would not dare to arrest Him whilst He was preaching in the Temple because he was popular with the masses who gathered there, especially the Galileans. And there He called on men to be righteous when making their judgments about Him, and about the things of God.

7.14 ‘But when it was now the middle of the Feast, Jesus went up into the Temple and taught.’

The Temple was the place where religious teachers would regularly go to pass on their teachings. They would sit to teach, and their disciples would gather round them while they sat and taught, whilst interested onlookers were welcome to listen and to ask questions (compare Luke 2.46).

So Jesus waited until half way through the week, and then Himself went up to the Temple to teach. Although He was aware of the constant threat against Him He knew that He must do the Father’s will and fulfil His destiny. It was an act that brought out His great courage.

7.15 ‘The Judaisers therefore marvelled saying, “How does this man know letters, having never learned?” ’

As they listened to Him even His enemies were impressed. They were amazed. They could not understand how He had such wide knowledge and understanding of the Scriptures when He had never been through the Rabbinical schools. His wide knowledge of the Scriptures and of current ideas about them impressed them and for a while held them back from acting against Him. Jesus thus taught many things of which we may well know nothing.

‘Know letters’ - to have the ability and training to be a teacher. ‘Never learned’ - had not been through the Rabbinical schools.

7.16-17 ‘Jesus therefore answered them and said, “My teaching is not mine, but His that sent me. If any man really wants to do His will, he will know of the teaching, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself”.’

Jesus answered their amazement and explained the source of His teaching. ‘My teaching is not mine, but His Who sent me. If any man’s will is to do His will, he will know whether the teaching is from God or whether I am speaking on my own authority’. He wanted them to know that it was God who had taught Him, with the result was that His teaching was such that those who really wanted to know and do God’s will would recognise it for what it was. If they were really of God therefore they would recognise that what He spoke was of God. He stressed that He did not speak on His own authority, but on God’s, and that His teaching was such that, to those who judged fairly, it revealed God’s truth. So if they wanted to understand Him and know the truth let them set their hearts right towards God, and then they would genuinely know the truth of what He was saying.

Knowing that the Scribes and Pharisees would never enunciate teaching without quoting the authority of earlier teachers, and that this was what the crowds would expected, Jesus therefore quoted His authority. It was God Who was His authority.

It is significant that while in John’s Gospel Jesus constantly spoke in such a way as to point to His teaching as evidence of His Sonship, comparatively little of that teaching has until now been given to us in the Gospel (apart from in chapter 5). It is quite clear therefore that John is expecting his readers to have read or heard that teaching elsewhere. He assumes a wide knowledge of it. And while it was, of course, true that there was the oral tradition, those who had known Jesus had almost all died out. Thus it can be assumed that the writer was depending on the other Gospels (which he would know about) and the tradition in the churches, as having given the details of Jesus’ teaching necessary to back up His claims. But in view of the fact that there is no evidence in the Gospel of words borrowed from the other Gospels it is doubtful whether he had copies of those Gospels available to him

‘Whether I speak of myself’. Whether the source of His ideas came just from His own head, or whether they came from God.

7.18 ‘He who speaks on his own authority seeks his own glory, but he who seeks the glory of him who sent him is true and in him there is no falsehood’.

He pointed out that the one whose authority we claim is the one whose glory we seek. Thus those who speak in their own name or the name of their group are seeking their own glory. But Jesus did not do this. He spoke only in the Father’s name. This made it clear that He was seeking the Father’s glory. Thus He could only speak what was true and abhor falsehood, otherwise the Father would be displeased.

Those who sought their own glory have already been shown to be the Judaisers (5.44). They had become so proud of their teaching and their body of knowledge that it had become more important to them than recognising the truth. They wanted people to look to them and their own brand of teaching, rather than thinking freely about the word of God. They saw themselves as the authorities and required all to submit to that authority. So what was once a genuine attempt to solve problems (their own body of teaching, ‘the traditions of the elders’) had become something to be protected and defended at all costs, resulting in much pedantry and hypocrisy (they strained out a gnat and swallowed a camel - Matthew 23.24).

Jesus on the other hand is saying that He is not seeking to defend anything. He is only seeking the glory of the One Who sent Him, and speaking directly from God. Thus what He is saying is true without any dissimulation or insincerity.

‘‘He who speaks on his own authority seeks his own glory.’ His point is that it is always dangerous to consider oneself an authority. Once a person is seen as an authority, and speaks as thus, he always has his own reputation and glory in mind. Everything he says is said with a view to maintaining the hard earned reputation of himself and of his group. And on top of this he is bound by the decisions of those of similar status so as to maintain the reputation of the whole. So when he speaks he has to do it in the light of the group wisdom and of previous decisions which are seen as binding. This is necessary in order to maintain his own status in the group, and to maintain the status of the group. Thus all the time he has an eye to his own glory. But such a position can only be the enemy of truth, for there is then no room for another viewpoint to step through.

Furthermore those who communicate the decisions of these great men are also bound by them to an even greater extent, for they receive their own reflected glory from them. Thus they know that if they were to take up another attitude or view, all their reputation for ‘learning’ would be lost. They would no longer be recognised as ‘sound teachers’. This was the case with the Judaisers. In order to maintain their own authority they taught by constantly referring to the decisions of their own Rabbis. And these Rabbis looked to the sayings of past Rabbis. They gloried in their own status, and would defend their authority to the last. Truth thus had to become secondary to maintaining the common tradition.

But Jesus pointed out that that was the problem. They had got themselves into the position whereby they even sometimes had to defend the indefensible so as to save their own honour and maintain their own glory, and at the same time had to refuse outside truth because it might undermine what they taught. They were bound by the decisions arising from their own corporate authority, and had to maintain them at all costs in order to be accepted as wise teachers. They were thus no longer truly free to think for themselves. Their minds had become rigid. They were caught up in the past. That is why they were unlikely to listen to Him. They were hidebound by tradition.

‘He who seeks the glory of him who sent him is true and in him there is no falsehood.’ On the other hand Jesus was bound by no such earthly authority. He sought only to bring glory to the Father Who had sent Him. Thus He concentrated on the truth of His teaching and avoided anything that may misrepresent Him and thus be false. His prime concern was to please God, and to reveal the truth about Him from the Scriptures and from His personal knowledge of Him, and all else was unimportant.

7.19 “Did not Moses give you the law? Yet not one of you keeps the law. Why do you seek to kill me?’

He points to Moses in order to reveal one of the cracks in their position. The Judaisers constantly proclaimed Moses as their chief authority, the one who showed them the will of God. Well and good. But let them consider what Moses had said. He had declared that it was wrong to kill innocent men. Yet they were seeking to kill Him. They were thus demonstrating that with all their pretence they rejected Moses’ authority, as shown by their behaviour in being ready to break his law by seeking His death. So they were not genuine in the claims that they made. They were seeking only to protect their own glory and to protect their own position. They were not really concerned to obey Moses.

7.20 ‘The crowds answered, ‘you have a demon. Who is seeking to kill you?’

This suggestion upset the people who were listening. They may well have been standing round in the Temple area, listening to various teachers. Note that it was ‘the people’ who said this, some of whom were not aware of the dark overtones that were in the air. They thought that He was exaggerating. But the Judaisers knew exactly what He meant. They were uncomfortably aware that He was right. ‘You have a demon’ was probably the equivalent of our use of ‘you’re mad’, not intended to be taken literally, but as a dismissive comment.

7.21 ‘Jesus answered and said to them, ‘I did one work and you all wonder at it’.

This looks back to the man at the pool who was healed on the Sabbath (5.2-9). This was the incident that above all had turned the Judaisers against Him. By it He was seen not only as a Sabbath-breaker but also as One Who had encouraged others to break the Sabbath. And to make matters worse, in His defence He had claimed God as His own Father.

‘You all wonder at it.’ This could refer to the Judaisers and mean that they constantly thought about it and considered its implications. Or it may have the crowd in mind, reminding them of the effect the wonder had had on them. The context on the whole suggests that the Judaisers are in mind.

7.22 “This is why I tell you that Moses has given you circumcision, not that it is of Moses but of the fathers, and on the Sabbath you circumcise a man. If a man receives circumcision on the Sabbath, so that the Law of Moses may not be broken, are you hotly angry with me because I made a man totally whole on the Sabbath day?”

‘This is why I tell you’ refers back to the previous verse. The literal Greek is ‘This is why Moses --’, but we must read in ‘I tell you’ in order to understand the sense.

He is informing them that He has told them that Moses gave them a law of circumcision, which involved breaking the Sabbath, in order to demonstrate that the Sabbath law should be interpreted to allow for activities related to God (such as healing and its consequences).

So Jesus is now challenging their view of the Sabbath. Moses gave them circumcision, He says, (although, He adds, it was in fact practised by the fathers long before Moses), and in order to keep the law of Moses they would circumcise a man on the Sabbath, because it had to be done on the eighth day. They thus saw circumcision as overriding the Sabbath. Was it then right to circumcise a man on the Sabbath, but wrong to make him whole?

In the Mishnah Shabbath 18.3; 19.1, 2 and Nedarim 3.11 all hold that the command to circumcise overrides the command to observe the Sabbath in order that the Law be kept. (The Mishnah was Jewish oral law gathered together by 200 AD by Rabbi Judah the Prince).

Again they were seen as not being honest with the law of Moses. It is clear that the arguments against Him had included that of healing a man on the Sabbath and His telling the man to take his mattress home. The Pharisees allowed minimum emergency assistance on the Sabbath in health matters in as far as it was necessary to save life, but what Jesus had done went beyond that in their eyes. He had made a man whole by the power of God and then told him to take home his invalid mattress. But, asks Jesus, was this really less important than the carrying out of circumcision?

They were in fact so tied down by their views on circumcision that they would probably have said, yes. This too was evidence of their blindness. But Jesus was saying that ceremonial rites can never be more important than mercy and compassion.

We note here that the basis of the argument demands an exact knowledge of Jewish Law. Once again we are in the atmosphere of Palestine.

7.24 ‘Do not judge by appearances, but judge righteous judgment’.

Jesus acknowledged their right to judge, but stressed that it was incumbent on them to ensure that their judgment was righteous, and not superficial. Those who claimed the right to judge had a special responsibility to ensure that they judged fairly. But they had overlooked the principles of compassion and mercy. As He says in Matthew 23.23, ‘You tithe (give a tenth to God of) even such trifles as mint and cummin, yet you have neglected the weightier matters of the law, justice and mercy and faith’.

Perhaps we could paraphrase this verse as, ‘Do not judge by what appears to you to be right, but by what is truly right’. Their judgment was superficial. They constantly failed to consider the deeper implications. He was now taking the battle to the enemy.

The Net Is Drawing Tighter - Questions Among The People (7.25-35).

It is quite clear that the impact of Jesus’ ministry has been such that everyone is talking about Him. The whole of Jerusalem is stirred He has become a prominent topic of conversation. His Name is on everyone’s lips whether in support or derogatory. And many are puzzled as to why if Jesus is a false prophet He has not been arrested. This led them to think that perhaps the leadership were in favour of His claims without being willing to give open support. They could not have been further from the truth. And that is why the religious leadership would now determine that it was time to act.

7.25-26 ‘Some therefore of those of Jerusalem said, “Is not this he whom they seek to put to death? And see, he speaks openly and they say nothing to him. Can it be that the Rulers indeed know that this is the Messiah?”.’

Some of the people of Jerusalem now asked questions among themselves. The threat to Jesus was drawing attention to Him. They were puzzled. They knew what was intended against Him and yet they could see that He was speaking openly, and that the authorities, who had not hidden their plans, were doing nothing. Why were they not arresting Him? (This again brings out the dishonesty of the Judaisers. If their cause had been righteous surely they would have acted openly and immediately).

Thus they could only come to one conclusion. ‘Can it be that in spite of their attitude the authorities recognise this man as the Messiah (the Christ)?’ The very reluctance of the authorities to act suggested to the people that the authorities recognised that He was someone special. It does not appear to have struck them that it was because of their fear of riots. They were probably not so aware as the leadership were of the volatility of the Galileans gathered in the city.

7.27 “However it is, we know from where this man comes. But when the Messiah comes, no one will know from where he comes.”

This, however, raised a further problem for them. There were differing views about the origin of the Messiah. Some said his origin would be unknown, others that he would be born in Bethlehem. These, being inhabitants of Jerusalem, were clearly of the former view (compare verse 42 for the other view). This view is mentioned in the Mishnah. In Sanhedrin 97a Rabbi Zera taught, "Three come unawares - Messiah, a found article, and a scorpion." To these people the Messiah would suddenly appear as from nowhere, having previously been unknown, and possibly not even knowing himself that he was the Messiah until God revealed it to him. He would be a mysterious figure ‘coming from nowhere’.

But in their eyes Jesus was the very opposite of that. They were fullycognisant of where Jesus came from. He came from Galilee. Thus to them He could not be the Messiah. He was not mysterious enough. Here were more people who had a body of tradition and were thus blinded by it.

7.28-29 ‘Jesus therefore cried in the Temple, teaching, and saying, “You both know me, and know from where I am. But I am not come of myself, and he who sent me is true, whom you do not know. I know him because I am from him and he sent me”.’

Jesus now took them up on their certainty about His origins. He declared that, although the people claimed to know His origin, and in a sense did know it, they did not really do so. They knew Him as a well known Galilean. Well and good. But what they were unaware of was that He had been sent by the Father, and He was One Whom they did not really know. That is why they knew nothing about Jesus’ divine origin. But had they known the Father truly they would have seen things very differently. However, as they did not truly know Him, how then could they expect to know where Jesus was from, for His Father would not have revealed it to them? Here was the crux of the problem. They thought that they knew God and His ways, but they did not. Thus they were not able to come to know the truth about His being sent by the Father. He on the other hand did know Him, because He had come from Him and had been sent by Him He thus knew His own origin.

He spoke these words openly to all the people, not just to the questioners, for the questions had been going the rounds. They may have thought that they knew His origin, He says, but they did not. For if they had known it they would have known that He had not come at His own devising. They would have known that He was sent by God.

‘The One who sent me is true and you do not know him. I know him, for I come from him and he sent me’. He has in truth come from One Who is true but Whom they actually do not know (even though they thought that they did), so in that case, how can they claim to know His origins? On the other hand He Himself knows Him for He has come from Him. The ‘I’ is stressed. ‘I know Him.’ His knowledge of the Father, He says, is unique.

Of course they would have claimed to know God, but Jesus was stressing that by failing to recognise the truth, they were in fact demonstrating that they were strangers to the One Who is true. For if they had really known the truth they would now recognise that He knew God and that God had sent Him. Then they would really have known where He came from and would have acknowledged Him. It is a reminder that genuine truth rings true in the hearts of good men who are in touch with God. This claim to unique and intimate knowledge of the Father is mentioned elsewhere in the Gospel in 1.18; 6.46; 8.25 and 17.25.

So the whole basis of His argument is that they have a settled body of teaching that they believe in, and that it is that very body of teaching that is keeping them from the truth. It is keeping them from knowing the Father, and from knowing Him.

7.30a ‘So they sought to arrest him.’

Again ‘they’ means the Judaisers and the authorities. Yet they were clearly having difficulty in arresting Him. But why? Elsewhere we are told it was because they were afraid of the people who saw Jesus as a prophet (Mark 12.12; Luke 20.19). In other words they would not do it openly but were striving to find some means to do it privately so that no one knew. Jesus would later accuse them of this when He said, ‘I was daily with you teaching in the Temple yet you did not arrest me’ (Matthew 26.55).

7.30b ‘But no man laid his hands on him because his hour was not yet come’.

Their fear and hesitancy was all part of God’s plan. His hour (the hour of His death) was not yet come. Until God was ready they would not be able to touch Him. God can work through human vacillation to bring about His purposes.

‘His hour was not yet come.’ Compare 8.20; 12.27; 13.1. The hour would gradually approach, and then finally came.

7.31 ‘Yet many of the crowds of people believed in him, and they said, ‘When the Messiah appears, will he perform more signs than those which this man has done?’

So the whole of Jerusalem seemed to be talking about Jesus, with many differing views being voiced. And many believed that He was the Messiah. These believed in Him as the Messiah because of the signs that they had witnessed, but they were not yet the kind of believers that Jesus was wanting. They were not committed to His teaching, only to a hope that He might be the long awaited Messiah. The writer wants his readers, however, to be aware of the numerous signs that Jesus has done, and of a general expectancy that He was the Messiah.

7.32 ‘The Pharisees heard the crowds murmuring these things about him, and the Chief Priests and the Pharisees sent officers to arrest him.’

This surge of support for Jesus clearly had the Pharisees worried, and they reported back to the authorities, with the result that ‘the chief priests and Pharisees sent officers to arrest him’. At last they had made up their minds that it was time to be bold. They felt that they dared not delay any longer. They were losing the confidence of the people.

The Chief Priests were the leading officials who controlled the activities of the Temple and were seen by the temporal powers as authorities over the people. They included the High Priest, the Captain of the Temple, the Temple Treasurer, the Temple Overseer, and the Directors of the daily and weekly courses of priests, and they controlled the Temple police.

The connection of the Chief Priests with the Pharisees is interesting as in the normal course of events they would have had as little to do with each other as possible. They were strange bedfellows. But in this case it was necessary for it was the Pharisees who had picked up on what the crowds were saying. However, as they had themselves no means of arresting Jesus in the Temple, they had to go to those who did have that power and seek their cooperation. Thus the two opposing parties (who were used to dealing with each other in the Sanhedrin) acted together in bringing about the sending of the Temple police. The writer clearly knew about the detail of Temple policing.

7.33 ‘Jesus therefore said, “Yet a little while I am with you, and I am going to him who sent me. You will seek me and you will not find me, and where I am you cannot come.” ’

Aware of the growing situation Jesus said to those who were around Him, which included a number of Judaisers, ‘I will be with you a short while. Then I will go to Him Who sent me’. Jesus knew now that His time was short. He was in no doubt about their intentions, and He was ready for it. But He knew that then He would return to His Father Who had sent Him.

‘You will look for me and will not find me, and where I am you cannot come’. Compare ‘They will seek me diligently, but they shall not find me, because they hated knowledge, and did not choose the fear of the Lord’ (Proverbs 1.28-29), spoken of the wisdom of God, and ‘they will go to and fro to seek the word of the Lord, but they will not find it’ (Amos 8.12) spoken of the word of God. There is here, for those who will hear, a reminder that He has brought the wisdom and word of God. But the main thought is twofold. Firstly that they would look for Him at the feast of the Passover and be unable to find Him because He would have gone to His death, whilst it would take time for the news of His death to spread around because it would have been done surreptitiously. Then they would not be able to follow Him where He was going because He was going to His Father. His disappearance would be a triumph and not a tragedy.

But the thought is also contained that, having rejected Jesus, they would continue looking for the Messiah, but would never find Him, for because of the hardness of their hearts He would have gone where they could not come. They would have lost their opportunity. And it was somewhere that they would never go unless they believed and were saved.

He was still trying to make them think about things, but all it did was puzzle them. They could not believe that such Scriptures applied to them.

7.35 ‘The Judaisers therefore said among themselves, “Where will this man go such that we will never find him? Will he go to the Dispersion among the Greeks, and teach the Greeks? What is this word that he said, ‘You will seek me and will not find me, and where I am you cannot come’?” ’

The Judaisers were quite upset and puzzled. ‘What on earth did He mean? Where could He go so they could not find Him?’ they asked themselves. ‘Was He going to the Dispersion (the Jews spread among the nations) among the Greeks to teach the Greeks? What did His words mean?’ This is probably not intended to be taken literally. It was a bout of sarcasm. No prospective Messiah would consider such an action. As has occurred throughout his Gospel John outlines questions to which his readers will know the correct answers.

Yet paradoxically the Judaisers were right. In the end that was where His message would find favour. The ‘Dispersion’ were the Jews and Proselytes (circumcised Gentile converts) who were scattered over the known world and lived outside Palestine. And many Gentiles had found the ethical teaching of these Jews attractive and had joined them as ‘God-fearers’, without being circumcised and becoming wholly Jews. It was among these especially that the Gospel would find a firm welcome.

The Rivers Of Living Water (7.37-44).

Meanwhile the Feast of Tabernacles was drawing to a close with its emphasis on harvest and the prayers for rain for the coming year. The people were totally dependent on that rain for survival, and during the seven days of this feast a ceremonial procession would gather water each day from the pool of Siloam and carry it to the Temple. There it was poured out before God at the time of the morning sacrifice while the people chanted the words of Isaiah 12.3 - ‘with joy you will draw water from the wells of deliverance’. It was their cry for rain in the coming season.

But it also looked forward to the great expected time of deliverance, that time when God would step in and deliver His people from their oppressors, the time when the land would flourish as it never had before, seeing rain in abundance (Isaiah 32.15) and great flowing rivers (Joel 3.18; Ezekiel 47.1-12; Zechariah 14.8), and when the pouring out of the Spirit would produce fruitfulness of another kind in the hearts of men (Isaiah 44.1-4; Joel 2.23-29). It was a time of high excitement. The people were ever filled with an expectancy that God would act. And what was happening about Jesus had added to that excitement.

The detailed celebration of the Feast was as follows. Early on each of the seven mornings of the feast the high priest would lead a procession from the Pool of Siloam to the temple. Another priest, again accompanied by crowds, would at the same time fill a golden ewer with water from the pool. He would then carry it through the Water Gate on the south side of the temple and into the temple courtyard. There he would ceremoniously pour the water into a silver basin on the west side of the brazen altar from which it would flow through a tube to the base of the altar.

Many Jews would accompany these priests. Some of them would drink from the pool while others would chant Isaiah 55.1 and 12.3: "Ho! Everyone who thirsts, come to the waters -- with joy draw water from the springs of salvation." This was such a happy occasion that the Mishnah stated, "He who has never seen the joy of the water-drawing has never in his life seen joy." (Sukkoth 5.1). The priest would then pour water into the basin at the time of the morning sacrifice. Another priest would also pour the daily drink offering of wine into another basin at the same time. Then they would pour the water and the wine out before the Lord.

The pouring out of water represented God's past provision of water in the wilderness and His provision of refreshment in the future times of the Messiah. The pouring out of wine symbolised God's bestowal of His Spirit in the days to come. Every male present would simultaneously shake his small bundle of willow and myrtle twigs (his lulab) with his right hand and hold a piece of citrus fruit aloft with his left hand. The twigs represented stages of the wilderness journey marked by different kinds of vegetation, and the citrus fruit symbolised the fruit of the Promised Land. Everyone would also cry, "Give thanks to the Lord!" three times. Worshippers in the temple courtyard would then sing the Hallel (Psalms 113-118). So by the end of the seven days excitement was at its peak, and all were thinking of the future work of God’s Spirit. This would be followed by the eighth day, possibly ‘the great day of the feast’.

Whether in fact the ‘great day of the feast, was the seventh day or the eighth day is disputed. The seventh day was a festal sabbath, and while during the first six days the priests walked once round the altar, on the seventh day they walked round it seven times. Thus it was seen as an important day. But the feast had come to be seen as one of eight days so that ‘the last day’ would naturally be interpreted as the eighth day.

7.37 ‘Now on the last day, the great day of the Feast, Jesus stood and cried saying, “If any man thirst let him come to me and drink”.’

‘On the last day, the great day.’ The feast came to its climax with a special Sabbath, which was the eighth day. And it was probably on this day, so that the people would take the message home with them still fresh from hearing it, that Jesus proclaimed these momentous words ‘with a loud voice’, that is as a proclamation.

‘If any man thirst let him come to me and drink.’ His words were like the cry of the water-seller in Isaiah 55.1. As with the water-seller He was not teaching but making a public announcement and offer. His actions would be especially noticeable because it was usual for a Jewish teacher to speak sitting down. This time, however, He stood. What He was saying was thus intended to be seen as a proclamation.

The people’s minds would be filled with the events of the week that had gone before and there would be a feeling of joy and well-being in their hearts. So His words would catch the mood of the moment and they would be open to hear. Perhaps Jesus was now about to reveal Himself by spectacular miracles as God’s Messiah.

In Isaiah the cry of the water-seller, “Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters, and he who has no money, come, buy and eat, yes, come and buy wine and milk, without money and without price”, was immediately followed by the promise of the renewal of the everlasting covenant (Isaiah 55.3). Jesus’ words were very similar and must have had Isaiah 55.1 in mind. He too was offering a new covenant. His offer, however, differed somewhat as He was able to offer what the water seller could not, living water through belief in Him.

7.37a-38 “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. He who believes on me, as the Scripture has said, out of his inner being will flow rivers of living water.”

At such a time, reference to flowing water would immediately bring to people’s minds the water poured out daily before God at the Temple, symbolising rain and fruitfulness, and the coming deliverance. Their minds were full of it. Thus the ‘birth from above, birth from water’ (John 3.6) is here seen in the spiritual rain which would feed the spiritual springs and provide plentiful water for the people to drink. It will result from response to His words. In the words of His previous preaching, ‘he who believes in Me will never thirst’ (John 6.35). And this would be associated in the minds of the people with the ‘drawing of water from the wells of deliverance’ (compare also John 4.13-14).

But now a new promise was added. ‘He who believes on me, as the Scripture has said, out of his inner being will flow rivers of living water.’ This went beyond what had been taught before. Now they were not only to receive life but were to expect to be purveyors of that life to the world. It was a promise that the great outpouring of the Spirit promised by the prophets was approaching, resulting in rivers of water for all. What John’s baptism pointed to was about to be fulfilled.

So now Jesus was promising something even greater than previously. Men had been told that they could be born from above, and drink of the water of life through putting their full trust in Jesus, but now was added the concept that they would then become the source of life to others. Water would flow out from them to others, just as in Ezekiel 47.1 onwards it was to flow from God’s Temple to the world (compare Joel 3.18). This is what was to come. Those who responded would become a new Temple and the source of life to the world.

The rebirth by the Spirit was unquestionably already taking place in men’s hearts, and they were even then drinking of the water of life as they responded to the words of Jesus. That is something that must not be forgotten. From the beginning God had worked through His Spirit. But now, He was saying, there is something even more wonderful yet to come, a pouring out of the Spirit which will make them life-giving fountains to the world.

7.39 ‘But this he said about the Spirit which those who believed in him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit was not, because Jesus was not yet glorified’ (the word ‘given’ is not in the Greek text).

To some extent we must distinguish v.37 from v.38. The promise in v.37 was available to the people as they listened, and as it had been to the Samaritans who believed (John 4). They could come and drink freely then. But the promise in v.38 awaited the death and resurrection of Jesus. Then would an overflowing stream of living water flow out from His people to the world. Men were already experiencing the work of the Spirit, but once the Spirit was ‘given’ then the comparative trickle would become a flood. The ‘not yet’ would become ‘now’. ‘The Spirit was not yet’ does not mean there has been no work of the Spirit at all. It means that the abundant outpouring promised by the prophets had not yet come.

It is significant that John here spoke in terms of ‘receiving the Spirit’ (‘the Spirit -- they -- would receive’) for this mirrors Jesus’ very words when He breathed on his disciples and said “receive the Holy Spirit” (John 20.22). To John that would be the prime fulfilment of His words, when the Apostles as the first-fruits became fountains of living water preparatory for their outreach to the world.

Whilst it was true that Pentecost had burst on the world with a loud noise revealing the giving of the Spirit to the many, John significantly looked back especially to that precious, quiet moment when he and his fellow-Apostles had received the Spirit at the word of Jesus. To him that was the beginning of the fulfilment of this promise. That was when the river had begun to flow.

It is not good interpretation to degrade that moment as being only ‘a symbolic act’, just to fit in with people’s theories. John could easily have mentioned Pentecost had he wished to do so. But John had no doubt that the moment when he received the Spirit as promised in John 7, and when the outflow to the world began, was in that Upper Room where they had first seen the risen Lord. Then especially the fulfilment of the special promises for the Apostles in John 14-16 took place. It is a reminder that the Spirit does not always come with a loud noise (compare the ‘still, small voice’ to Elijah (1 Kings 19.11-12), for the inner band received Him before Pentecost. They were the first fruits, Pentecost would be the wider blessing.

It is of further interest that the Jerusalem Talmud connects these ceremonies with the Holy Spirit, for it says, "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 you draw water out of the wells of salvation’.” So they should have known what Jesus meant.

7.40-41a ‘Some of the huge crowds therefore, when they heard these words, said, “This is certainly the Prophet”. Others said, “This is the Messiah”.’

His words stirred up the people, who were already in a high state of excitement because of the Feast. Therefore some said, ‘this is the anticipated Prophet’, others said, ‘this is the Messiah’. Expectancy was at this time high among the people of Palestine. As people will they dreamed of deliverance from what they saw as the Roman tyranny. And as a result of their past history and their belief that God was the God Who acted on their behalf, they awaited a great Prophet like Moses, or a great deliverer. Could this be the One they were waiting for?

7.41b-42 ‘But some said, “What? Does the Messiah come out of Galilee?” Has not the Scripture said that the Messiah comes of the seed of David, and from Bethlehem where David was?” ’

Others, however, cast a dampener on them and said, ‘will the Messiah come from Galilee?’ They knew that the Messiah was to be descended from King David and would thus come from Bethlehem, and they were aware that Jesus came from Galilee. (The passage is slightly ironic. Most readers would know that Jesus was born in Bethlehem). How carefully we should examine the facts before we make judgments.

7.43-44 ‘So there arose a division in the crowd because of him. And some of them would have taken him, but no man laid hands on him.’

And so there was division among them. Some wanted His arrest, others wanted to support Him. The city was divided. And this was demonstrated by the fact that even the officials present (see v.45) were impressed, and did not fulfil their duty (although this may well have also been due to the feeling that if they did so amongst such a divided and enthusiastic crowd, anything could happen).

The Chief Priests And Pharisees Dismiss Belief In Him As Ridiculous (7.45-52).

Sitting waiting in their quarters the leading religious authorities were seething. The last thing that they wanted was a popular uprising in support of Jesus, for it would both undermine their own status, and bring the wrath of Pilate on them. Thus when their officials returned without carrying out Jesus’ arrest they treated them with angry disdain. We note that the Chief Priests and the Pharisees were still together. Both wanted to see that their plan was successfully carried through. Such was their hatred and fear of Jesus that they were willing to put up with each other for a time.

7.45-46 ‘The officers therefore came to the Chief Priests and Pharisees, and they said to them, “Why did you not bring him?”. The officers answered, “Never did man speak in such a way”.’

The officials returned to the people who had sent them and informed them of what was happening. And when they were asked why they had not arrested Him they replied, ‘No man ever spoke like this man’ (v.46). They had been impressed by the words of Jesus, and they had also been impressed by the impact the words had made on the crowds. That they were partly thinking of the support Jesus had from the crowds as a result of such speaking comes out in the reply of the authorities. The officials were mixed in their feelings, but they had been sufficiently aware of the situation not to act prematurely.

7.47-49 ‘The Pharisees answered them, “Are you also led astray? Have any of the leading authorities believed in him, or the Pharisees? But this crowd who do not know the Law are accursed”.’

The Pharisees, of course, had not had to face the huge crowds and could therefore afford to be brave, and they responded with disdain. Could they really not see the truth about Jesus? The leading authorities included the Chief Priests, the more important Pharisees, and many aristocrats. The separate reference to the Pharisees occurred because the speakers were Pharisees and were appealing to their fellow-Pharisees. Their comment about the crowds not knowing the Law was typical of their arrogance. And some did look on the common people as accursed (Deuteronomy 28.15) in as far as they failed to keep to the Pharisaic traditions (‘the Law’ as interpreted by the Pharisees). They had, however, not been so brave when Jesus had earlier challenged them about their own failure with regard to the law of Moses (v.19).

The contempt shown here for the ordinary people was typical of a certain type of Pharisee. Indeed later Rabbinic tradition would state, "Six things are laid down about the people of the land (the ordinary people): entrust no testimony to them, take no testimony from them, trust them with no secret, do not appoint them guardians of an orphan, do not make them custodians of charitable funds, do not accompany them on a journey." It was not only Jesus that they held in contempt.

7.50-51 ‘Nicodemus, he who came to Him before, being one of them, says to them, “Does our law judge a man unless it first hear from himself and know what he does?”

Present among them was Nicodemus, who had previously consulted Jesus (John 3) and was a member of the Sanhedrin (the Jewish governing body). He was one of the group of Pharisees acting in the matter, and he tried to intervene. ‘Does our law judge a man without first giving him a hearing and learning what he does?’. What he said was in fact in strict accordance with the Law as found in Deuteronomy 1.16-17; 16.18-20; 27.19 with 13.14; 17.4; 19.18. Thus once again their failure to genuinely observe the Law is being emphasised. But as the next verse tells us Jesus was not being given justice because He was a Galilean. Prejudice overrode the truth.

Nicodemus’ question was asked in such a way (in the Greek) as to expect a negative reply, but he soon found that he was on the wrong track. These people of the Law were not willing to listen to the Law when it did not suit them.

7.52 ‘They answered and said to him, “Are you also from Galilee? Search and discover that no prophet arises from Galilee”.’

The reply tells us all we need to know about the genuineness of these particular Pharisees. What Nicodemus had suggested was basic justice and in accord with the law of Moses. But they dismissed it with the contempt of men who were not even prepared to consider the truth of Jesus’ claims. And they soon revealed one of the roots of their prejudice. ‘Are you also from Galilee? Search and you will see that no prophet is to arise in Galilee’. Why, who but a Galilean could suggest such a thing? Was Nicodemus then a Galilean?

In fact, of course, Jonah had been from Galilee but they were thinking rather of a future prophet. To them Galilee was now outside the pale. Galileans were only to be seen as second rate. Their antecedents were mixed, and they did not always follow Judean practises. By this these men overlooked Isaiah 9.1-6 to their cost.

Of course, if they had followed Nicodemus’ advice they would soon have discovered that Jesus was born in Bethlehem. But ignoring any such thing, their contempt for the Galileans showed the very nature of their attitudes. They were bigoted, arrogant and contemptible. They came under their own condemnation, ‘these who do not know the law are accursed’. It was clear that Jesus would not get a fair hearing from them.

The whole of this chapter demonstrates a typical Jewish background, and the incidents and questions are what might be expected among the Jerusalem crowds during one of the great feasts. The whole chapter wreaks of historicity.

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