In a famous section of Mere Christianity C. S. Lewis forces his readers to consider this option: “lunatic, liar, demon, or God.” Jesus himself prompted his contemporaries to consider those options. Chapter six ended with the dark prospect of one that followed him throughout his ministry, gained the trust of the other disciples , showing at last that he did not believe but was still under the bondage to Satan, had an evil heart of unbelief, and looked to his own personal interests. Chapter seven begins with the unbelief, and opposition, of those that opposed him from the beginning to the end and traces the heightening of their rage against Jesus. The one, Judas, ended in distress and suicide; the others ended in the thralls of arrogant opposition and hypocritical religiosity (Matthew 27:3-10).
I. Jesus encountered opposition from religious leaders and disbelief from His brothers (5).
A. Verse 1 – Throughout this chapter we see the systematic way in which the religious leaders try to stop the growing influence of Jesus. See this development in verses 1, 11, 13, 19, 30, 32, 44, 47-49. At least three things bothered them about Jesus. One, his popularity outstripped theirs. Two, they believed he was deceiving the people into a conclusion that he was Messiah, and he did not fit their assumptions. Three, they believed he was leading the people to disregard the Law because he challenged the validity of their traditions (19).
B. His brothers chided him to perform more signs to gain greater adherence from his disciples (3). Obviously, they believed that all this attention was ridiculous and represents the sinful sibling rivalry that was experienced by Joseph, but infinitely more incongruous than that Old Testament type. Joseph, sold by his brothers, became their deliverer, and Jesus treated with cynicism by his brothers, rejected by his people, forsaken by his disciples transformed all these events into the great redemptive event.
C. They tempted him with “public recognition” (4) –he already had faced this in Satan’s temptation that he cast himself from the temple.(Matthew 4:5-7). At least two of these brothers, James and Jude, came to see Jesus for who he was and found in him their Lord and Savior. James calls himself a “servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ,” and pointed to the transforming nature of the “faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of Glory” (James 1:1; 2:1). Jude called himself a “servant of Jesus Christ and a brother of James” and calls Jesus “Master and Lord,” and saw him as active in the redemption of Israel from Egypt, referred to the “mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life,” and saw him as the one through whom “glory, majesty, dominion, and authority” is attributed to God as Savior (Jude 1, 4, 5, 21, 25). These unbelievers, in due time, by the grace of Christ came to drop absolutely all cynicism toward him and see him as Christ, Savior and Lord.
II. The Delay of Jesus – Jesus did not go with his brothers because he wanted to avoid being brought to attention publicly if possible (9, 10).
A. Jesus must take care not to draw too much public attention, for his time has not yet come (6, 8, 30). Everyone was talking about him even in his absence (11-13), and when he took a public place, it was not until the middle of the feast.
1. Verse 6 – Jesus knew that he had an appointed time for his death and knew when it would be. It would not come until he had fulfilled all righteousness. For his brothers, however, as for the rest of the world, “your time is always here.” What does this mean? It could mean that in their knowledge of themselves, as contrasted to his of himself, they were susceptible to death and judgment at any time. Their present life was granted them only by the sovereign pleasure of God, would end in accordance with his will, and judgments always hung over their heads. It could also men in addition, that the present order of this world is one of evil (as he indicates in the next verse,) and so the opposition that they are showing him is in complete conformity to this present world order, “this present evil age” (Galatians 1:4), and thus it is always their time, as opposed to the demonstration of the righteousness of God that will be consummated as His time.
2. His purpose was not public recognition, but fulfillment of righteousness; Jesus renewed discussion of the true righteousness of the Law (7) as begun in chapter 5.
3. He blatantly and clearly states that the world hates him. Those around him might have thought that this was a self-centered consciousness and paranoid approach to his contemporaries. Jesus, however, as God in the flesh, knew fully that the results of original sin both for condemnation and corruption were active in every individual around him. They hated God’s Law, they did not want any restraints on their self-will; they have no fear of God before their eyes, their feet are swift to shed blood (which will result in aggressive, relentless, and vicious plotting for the spilling of his own blood). He is God in the flesh, the very one that they hate and whose Law they have violated and presently abhor. So did we all. This time of wrath and fallenness should prompt continual repentance and a sense of lament in those who realize that the world’s judgment hovers over this present order every moment.
4. Jesus draws attention to the fact that his teaching stirs up hatred because he testifies against the world’s evil deeds (cf. 3:19-21). The particular way in which Jesus testifies that the world’s deeds are evil is in his demonstration of its failure to grasp and abide by the spirituality of the Law (see below). The end of this chapter points out particularly egregious violations by enemies (49f).
B. There was a real possibility of the Jewish leaders trying to take him by force and kill him (1, 11, 30, 32, 44-5, 51). Though as a matter of decree and sovereign control of events, he would not be crucified until his “time” had come, Jesus, nevertheless, takes precautions; Joseph was instructed to do this when Herod sought Jesus’ life after his birth. When Paul learned that the Jews were plotting to kill him, he escaped from Damascus in a basket (Acts 9:25; 2 Corinthians 11:33).
III. The Delivery of Jesus
A. By “delivery,” I refer to his style and content of teaching. Jesus waited until the feast was half over and then made a very public manifestation of his presence and his person. in the Temple complex. He went there and began to teach in a public assembly.
B. Verse 15 – Jesus showed his knowledge of Scripture, probably dealing with issues of the Law and righteousness and the Messianic purpose in that context. His clarity, coherence, and utter confidence in the truth of what he taught brought the query of the source of his knowledge. Note the irony involved in their puzzlement: “How has this man become learned, having never been educated?”
C. Jesus pointed to the source—God the Father, who, in accordance with the eternal covenant, sent the Son—thus indicating that his knowledge was absolute and original, not derived from the necessity of surmising and comparing the teaching of one rabbi with another. Not only does Jesus identify the immediacy of his knowledge, but he again claims that the Father has sent him. When he said, “My teaching is not mine,” we are confronted with a particular aspect of the person of Christ. He refers to the necessity that neither the content nor the authority of his teaching arises from his human nature but from the Father.
D. Verse 17 – Lack of understanding comes from perversity of will, not lack of clarity of the text. Jesus points out that both Scripture and his authority derive from the same source and have the same purpose. The one that has been brought to a pure purpose to know the will of God will see that Jesus’ claims about his person and his work of redemption are precisely the things taught in Scripture. The Scripture is given that “we might understand the things freely given to us of God.” (1 Corinthians 2:12). The last part of this verse –“whether it is of God or whether I speak from myself”- reaffirms the dependence of his human nature on the unwavering presence of the Father through the Spirit (1 Timothy 3:16 – “vindicated by the Spirit” and Hebrews 9:14 “through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God”).
E. Jesus includes in his narrative the preeminence of the glory of God, righteousness [including his personal righteousness and absolute honesty], and the true meaning of the Law of Moses (18-24).
1. Because the will of the Father and the knowledge and activity of Jesus are precisely the same, Jesus claimed that there was “no falsehood, no deception, in him.” Jesus’ knowledge of the Father and his purpose to bring glory to the Father gave rise to his mission; he has no other purpose than to accomplish the task that will be the manifestation of God’s glory in both justice and mercy.
2. Though his hearers prided themselves on their knowledge of the Law of Moses, Jesus said that none of them kept that Law (19a). Paul dealt with the amazing misperception in his own life (Philippians 3:6, 9) and in the twisted understanding of the Jews to whom he preached (Romans 9:31, 32). Their desire to kill Jesus (19b; 5:18) showed that they had no real grasp of the meaning of the Law of Moses, and their querulous response showed that, not only did they not get the Law, but they did not know the blindness and corruption of their own hearts. They were lying to Jesus as he told them the truth, knowing what was in them (2:24, 25). They accuse Jesus of having a demon while they are in bondage to the god of this world.
3. Jesus goes back to the hostility toward him engendered by his healing a lame man on the Sabbath (John 5:1-9). That prompted an extended discourse on their misunderstanding of Scripture and the Law of Moses as a sure indicator that they had never heard the voice of God nor seen his form, and his word did not abide in them (John 5:37). Even so now, his teaching exposes their shallow grasp of the intent of the Law by manifesting more concern for ceremony than for the real needs of men. They would allow, rightly, circumcision on the Sabbath, but contended that healing on the Sabbath was unlawful. Ceremonies are positive institutions to be laid aside when the substance they typify has come. Loving one’s neighbor as oneself is at the heart of the moral Law in its social aspect and can never be minimized in favor of ceremonial Law. Jesus called for their rendering “right judgment” in this matter rather mere form, or external appearance.
F. The crowd recognizes the frustration and fear central to the Jewish leadership’s opposition to Jesus (25, 26). The crowd knew positively what the religious leaders had just denied by lying—“Is this not the man they are seeking to kill?”
1. On the one hand they saw clearly that the Pharisees and their puppets had become so intimidated and hostile that they wanted to dispose of him. This discourse of Jesus concerning his origin and his eventual return to the presence of the one who sent him (33) brings greater confusion, consternation, discussion, and hostile response.
2. On the other, they wondered if such concentration on Jesus and his teaching accompanied by his miracles meant that they had concluded that he was indeed the Messiah. He was now out in the open and they were not taking advantage of this exposure and apparent vulnerability to arrest him (26, 44).
3. Their discussion shows the great variety of responses to Jesus and the confusion brought on by his plainness of appearance and humbleness of origin combined with the power and clarity of his teaching and utter confidence in his knowledge of God.
G. My humble provenance (27), as it were so Jesus acknowledges, veils the true glory of my real nature: “I am from the Father” (28, 29, 33, 34); Jesus is from the Father not only in temporal mission [“sent me” 29b] but eternal generation [“I know Him, because I am from Him” (29a)]. It is fitting that the Son as the eternal expression of the Father’s delight in Himself should be sent by the Father on this mission of manifesting all the perfections of divine wisdom, power, justice, and mercy; commensurately, his eternal generation as the “express image of his being” and the radiance of his glory confirms that he alone is fit for such a task.
H. With all this talk and the crowd’s pointing out that the authorities seem to do nothing leads to the Pharisees’ attempt to arrest Jesus. They send soldiers to accomplish their plan of removing him before he gains even more influence (32). His response of leaving and going where they cannot find him (33, 34, 36), seemed to them to be a grand plan of escape and merely added to the confusion they had. The mystery of Jesus’ person, that he is both creator and creature, infinite and temporal, perfectly holy but progressing in righteousness, weak and tired but omnipotent, hungry but feeding five-thousand, thirsty but the provider of living water, from Bethlehem and Nazareth but from heaven, man but God is an awe-inspiring and eternally indecipherable mystery but necessary to believe and affirm with trust and joy, for only such a one can save. For the present moment, these hostile contemporaries had no idea what he was driving at in talking about his eventual ascension to the right hand of the Father where he would make constant intercession for the people that the Father had given him.
I. Verses 37-39 – By Him, The Spirit will come in fullness and power to mark out the people of God by evidence of true belief. Jesus brings in the theme of water again, (cf Is. 44:3, 4; 55:1;58:11; Rev 22:17). Jesus speaks here of the Spirit’s coming in the fulfillment of the New Covenant, marking out the people of God as a community not by circumcision but by the new birth, creating a community whose common trait is forgiveness of sins and the sanctifying operations of the Spirit. Israel was not that community, for they were marked off by ceremonies, particularly the ceremony of circumcision of males. The Spirit had not yet been given in that way, but he had been given to individuals among the remnant of Israel and even to those elect among other peoples. Both faith and faithfulness are the fruit of the Spirit’s operations, and these existed in those people of faith in Hebrews 11. The affections described there could not have existed without the operation of the Spirit of God. Noah’s “reverent fear” was a manifestation of the presence of the Spirit in his life; Abraham’s “looking forward to the city that has foundations” was evidence of the abiding presence of the Spirit; Moses’ “choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin” and his consideration of “ the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt” show the secret but continual presence of the Spirit’s gracious work. None of these affections or loyalties are possible to exist or be maintained apart from their being the constant production of the Holy Spirit. If they did not have the Spirit, they would have no principle in them that opposed the desires of the flesh, would be given over to them as are the reprobate, and would thus “not inherit the kingdom of God” (Galatians 5:17-21). Paul wrote, “Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him” (Romans 8:9). This does not refer to a superfluity of blessing, or the possession of a gift irrelevant to eternal life; it instead establishes a condition of moral necessity true of any believer in any age. After Christ’s ascension this gift of the Spirit marked the new community and people that believed in him with corporate holiness, personal holiness, and gifts for teaching and order (1 Corinthians 12:3-13).
IV. The Division and misunderstanding of the People (verses 40-52). – The theme of his public reputation has been present since the beginning of the chapter.
A. We see it before he spoke publicly (10-13).
1. The leaders are seeking him to kill him.
2. The crowds are agitated about him and deeply divided in their opinions, some saying he is a “good man” and others calling him a “deceiver.”
B. We find it again after the first speech (14) [“Now in the midst of the Feast”]
1. You have a demon (20).
2. Some imply he is the Christ (26, 31).
3. They misunderstand his claims about where he is from (35, 36).
C. On the Last day of the Feast
1. Some of the crowd call him the Prophet, others the Christ (40, 41).
2.Some are still confused about where he is from and where he is going and how he relates to the prophecies about the Messiah (35, 41, 42).
3. The officers are so impressed that they fail to arrest him.
4. The chief priests and Pharisees even divide with Nicodemus asking for justice (51).
A. Jesus’ own teaching 29, and personal claims prompted the leaders to hate him and to seek to seize and kill him (1, 11, 19, 25, 30, 32, 51).
B. Jesus is the embodiment of righteousness in his person, in his understanding of the Law, and in his personal obedience to it (7, 18, 19, 24).
C. Jesus knew that their hatred would result in his death, but not until his human righteousness was fulfilled and the time determined by the Father had come.
D. Jesus manifested a certainty about who he is, where he is from, what he is doing, and where he is going. This clarity and certainty stems from his relationship with God in the eternal bond of Father and Son. It is reinforced by his confidence that, in completion of the covenant arrangement that gives him these certainties, so will the Holy Spirit come in accord with that same covenant. The Spirit will effectually establish the redeemed community determined in its character and content by the eternal covenant of redemption formed in the eternal disposition of the triune God.