John 7:1-52 The Messiah

John's Gospel Commentary by Robert Brow ( 2000

In this chapter John describes some of the difficulties people had in believing that Jesus was the Messiah. And he begins by reminding us that even Jesus's brothers were not convinced till after the resurrection.

John makes clear that the root of unbelief is not logical but volitional. Logic only works within a system of explanation. What moves a person from faith in one way of salvation (e.g. legalism and salvation by good works) to another (in our case faith in Jesus as Messiah) is not intellectual proof but heart longing. The implication for Christian theology is that unbelief is an unwillingness to welcome the love of the Father, the purpose of the Messiah's kingdom, and the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.

7:1 In using the words "after this" (as in 3:22, 5:1, 6:1, see notes on 3:29, 35, 43, 2:1) John is not setting up a historical sequence. It is the literary equivalent of "on another occasion." The move to Galilee may be the same as in 4:1-3. Perhaps as a mark of respect John often uses the term "The Jews" (2:18-20, 5:10, 16, 18) as an alternative to specifying the scribes (theologians).

7:2 The Festival of Booths (also called the Feast Tabernacles, or the Feast of Ingathering) was early in October at the end of the wheat harvest (Exodus 23:16, 34:22). During a whole week people lived away from their homes in sukkoth (booths) made of "palm trees, leafy trees, willows of the brook." It was celebrated as a reminder of the Exodus wanderings (Leviticus 23:43). For many it was a joyous family camping occasion in Jerusalem.

7:3-5 Some think Mary remained a perpetual virgin, so they assume that Jesus' brothers in these verses (7:3, 5, 10) must be children of Joseph by a previous marriage, or cousins. Matthew and Mark certainly do not give this impression (Matthew 12:46). "Is not this the carpenter's son? Is not his mother called Mary? And are not his brothers James and Joseph and Simon and Judas? And are not all his sisters with us?" (Matthew 13:55-56, Mark 6:3).

James, the brother of the Lord (Galatians 1:19) came to prominence after the resurrection of Jesus (see 1 Corinthians 15:7). When Paul was converted he treated him with respect (Galatians 1:19, 2:9) though he did not agree with his Jewish legalism (Galatians 2:12). By the time of the Council of Jerusalem James had become the presiding elder of the mother church in Jerusalem (Acts 15:13, 21:18). And in church tradition he is listed as the first Bishop of Jerusalem.

But John informs us that during Jesus' ministry James and the other brothers of the Lord did not believe in him (John 7:5). Mark even writes that "When his family heard it, they went out to restrain him, for the people were saying, "He has gone out of his mind" (Mark 3:21). Jesus' brothers had come to faith by the time of the Ascension, and they attended the prayer group that gathered in the upper room (Acts 1:12-14). It is significant that many who had earlier opposed Jesus' teaching were later convinced by the preaching of the resurrection (Acts 2:41, 5:14, Acts 6:7). We should not write people off, but wait to see how the Messiah ends the story.

7:6-9 Time (the day, hour) and timing is very important to the Messiah (7:30), as it was in the Exodus (Genesis 15:16, Exodus 3:8) and the many Days of the Lord in the Old Testament (Isaiah 13:6, 9, Joel 2:31, Amos 5:18-20). Jesus began his ministry with the announcement "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near" (Mark 1:15, Galatians 4:4). He complained "Why do you not know how to interpret the present time? (Luke 12:56). So John includes the words "My time has not yet come" and "my time has not yet fully come" (v. 6 and 8, see 16:4, 25, Matthew 26:18).

7:10-13 Later Jesus did attend the Feast of Tabernacles "as it were in secret" (as opposed to what his brothers wanted, 7:3-4). And in few words John captures the undercurrent of discussion that went on and the fear of being victimized by the religious leaders (see 7:25-26, 40-44, see 9:22).

7:14-15 Ordinary people easily accepted Jesus as rabbi because of the power and authority of his teaching. The religious leaders wondered how he dared to do this without having studied, let alone graduated from one of their rabbinic seminaries.

7:16 Jesus' explanation is that he was the Son of God and he only taught what his Father had given him (see 5:17-19).

7:17-18 He then gives two reasons why they are unable to grasp his teaching. People who have already decided that they do not want to go God's way cannot receive what the Messiah says to them. And teachers whose one concern is their own glory (as opposed to God's glory) will not see the truth of Jesus' words. He had previously given another reason. Many study the written Word of God because they think it offers eternal life (which it does), but they refuse to come to Jesus the living Word of God (5:39-40).

7:19 The religious leaders accepted the law of Moses (the Torah), but as Jesus pointed out no one was able to live by what was written (let alone by the spirit of the law). Their intention to have Jesus killed was certainly a denial of their own Scriptures.

7:20-21 As is often the case, an unanswerable argument is answered ad hominem (argument by attacking the character of the person). They argue Jesus is demon possessed. In the Synoptic Gospels this kind of naming what is obviously good as satanic soon becomes the sin against the Holy Spirit (Matthew 12:24, 31-32, Mark 3:22, 29).

The "one work" that had astonished them was the healing of the paralyzed man by the Pool of Bethzatha on a sabbath day (5:2-5, 9-10), which occured during the same seven day period of the Feast of Tabernacles (5:1, compare 7:2, 14). This is another example of John not following a chronological order - the healing at the pool and the comments of this chapter are separated by the events of the feeding of the five thousand in Galilee (6:1-2).

7:22-23 The rite of circumcision (common to both Jews and Arabs) goes back to Abraham (Genesis 17:9-17, 26-27). Jesus said "Moses gave you circumcision" referring to the fact that it is recorded in the five books of Moses (Pentateuch). But to avoid confusion among non-Jews John adds a parenthesis that it originated with the patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac, & Jacob).

The religious leaders had complained that Jesus broke the law of Moses by healing the man at the Pool of Bethzatha on a sabbath day. Jesus' point is that little boys receive circumcision (a sign of God's covenant with the children of Abraham) on the eighth day, which often comes on the sabbath. So surely it is right to heal people on that day (as argued in Matthew 12:10-12, Luke 13:14-17). And he explained "The sabbath was made for humankind, not humankind for the sabbath" (Mark 2:27-28).

7:24 Legalists care only about the letter of the law, so they fail to make a "right judgment"in situations where insight and compassion is needed.

7:25-26 John again captures (as in 7:12-13, 40-44) the intense faith discussion going on among ordinary people. The question at issue was whether Jesus could be the Messiah.

7:27-29 They knew about Jesus and his family in Nazareth (see note on 7:3), but they assumed the Messiah would appear from nowhere. Jesus agreed that yes, they knew his human origin, but his eternal origin was from the Father (as he had explained in 5:17-20). And if they did not know God as Father, they would not be able to recognize the Father's Son.

7:30 This is one of the several occasions on which the authorities tried to arrest Jesus but were unable to do so (7:32, 45, see Matthew 21:46, Luke 4:29-30). They would only be able to do this when the Messiah set the time for his own arrest and crucifixion (see the note on time and timing in 7:6-9, see 7:33).

7:31-32 Again the intense discussion about faith in the Messiah continues among the ordinary people (as in 7:12-13, 25-26, 40-44).

7:33 As in the threefold predictions of his own crucifixion and resurrection (carefully recorded in the Synoptic Gospels, Matthew 16:21, 17:22-23, 20:18-19, Mark 8:31-33, 9:30-32, 10:32-34, Luke 9:23-27, 43-45, 18:31-34) Jesus has no doubt that after going through death he would be raised and would return to the Father.

7:34 -36 Here is John's memory of the intense search that the authorities would make for Jesus's body. But when he made the prediction they could only imagine him disappearing in the Jewish dispersion (diaspora).

7:37-38 During the Feast of Tabernacles (Festival of Booths, see note on 7:2) in Jesus' day the priests used to draw water from the Pool of Siloam, bring it to the temple, and poured it out while the choir sang "With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation" (Isaiah 12:3). This ritual celebrated the rock from which people drank during the Exodus (Numbers 20:2, 10-11). Jesus was obviously claiming to be the Rock from whom people could satisfy their spiritual thirst. As he had said to the woman of Samaria "The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life" (4:14).

7:39 John now adds a note "about the Spirit, which believers in him were to receive" (a future tense looking forward to Acts 2:4). But what does John mean by saying "as yet there was no Spirit." The Spirit was certainly active in the Old Testament period in the lives of individuals (Exodus 35:30-32, Judges 3:10, 6:34) for particular tasks and inspiring all the great prophets (2 Peter 1:21). Luke records the work of the Spirit in Mary (Luke 1:35), Elizabeth (Luke1:41), Zechariah (Luke 1:67), and Simeon (Luke 2:25-27).

But until the resurrection and ascension the Spirit was not poured out in the church (Acts 2:18, 33), which would include sons, daughters, old men, young men, slaves (Acts 2:17-18). Why did this have to wait till the death and resurrection of the Messiah?

In the Epistle to the Romans Paul explained that instead of focusing on our flesh (our instincts and natural human nature), we can set our mind on the Spirit (Romans 8:5-10). That vast release of spiritual life and power can take place in us as individuals. But when the Messiah allowed his flesh and human nature to be crucified he was acting for the whole of humanity. As Peter explained, Jesus "was put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the Spirit" (1 Peter 3:18). The results of his death, resurrection, ascension, and pouring out of the Spirit have their powerful effect through the church as it meets in many places all over the world.

That is why Paul wanted the Ephesians to understand "the immeasurable greatness of his power in us who believe. God put this power to work in the Messiah" (Ephesians 1:19-20). This is the power that works in members of the Messiah's church: "If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised the Messiah from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you" (Romans 8:11). The result is that the Messiah is "the head over all things for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all" (Ephesians 1:23). The crucifixion is therefore the key to a cosmic plan "to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross" (Colossians 1:20).

7:40-43 Again John pictures the faith discussion among the ordinary people (as in 7:12-13, 25-26, 31-32). This is a refrain that highlights what was involved in faith in the Messiah. For the fact that the Messiah would take birth in Bethlehem see the notes on 7:50-52.

7:45-46 As opposed to the "chief priests and Pharisees" the temple policemen, who were sent to arrest Jesus, were so impressed that they reported back (with faith) "Never has anyone spoken like this."

7:47-49 The Pharisees used the argument from authority. "Has anyone of the authorities or of the Pharisees believed in him." And they pronounced a curse on those who were beginning to believe.

7:50-52 A genuine faith exception was Nicodemus, the leading teacher of Israel (3:1-13). He asked the proper question. Shouldn't a person be given a hearing before being dismissed out of hand? But, instead of paying attention to what he was saying, they tried to smear him as a Galilean. And then they assumed that the Bible says that no prophet (let alone the Messiah) could ever come from Galilee (which was never written anywhere in their Scriptures)..

Though the family later moved to Nazareth (Matthew 2:21-23), Jesus' birth was recorded in the Bethlehem archives by Joseph (Luke 2:1-5), who was the undisputed heir to the line of David (see the genealogy of the Messiah in Matthew 1:1, 17-18, 2:2). This would have been common knowledge, and it could have been easily checked, but the religious leaders carefully ignored the fact. The easiest way to prove that Jesus could not be the Messiah was by showing that he was not from the line of David (see Matthew 2:3-6, based on the prophecy of Micah 5:2), but there is no hint that anyone was able to do this. The only reason for refusing to believe Jesus was the Messiah was a stubborn refusal to accept the love of God, the good news of the Gospel, and the transforming power of the Holy Spirit.

8:1-11    A Stoning