Interpretation 7

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  Copyright © 2001 Jeanie C. Crain
Last modified: March, 2002

John 7

Of all verses in John 7, the following stands out in context of the first six chapters and evolving revelation of Christ as God in the midst of us: If anyone chooses to do God's will, he will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own (v. 17). God's sovereignty, "my teaching comes from God," and human volition, "If anyone chooses to do God's will" unite. The Intervarsity Commentary moves readers away from emphasis upon the external, away from the human search for "signs":

Jesus does not point to confirmation from external sources. He points rather to the internal disposition of the individual, a heart that is God-centered. http://bible.gospelcom.net/

    How severely Jesus stands between and divides two ages reveals itself in John 7:

41 Others said, "This is the Christ." But some said, "Is the Christ to come from Galilee? 42 Has not the scripture said that the Christ is descended from David, and comes from Bethlehem, the village where David was?" 43 So there was a division among the people over him.

Is he Jesus of Galilee? Is he Christ, the anointed one, the Messiah? Is he descended from David?  Is the kingdom, indeed, to be established on earth?  One answers, of course,  both yes and no: Yes, he is Jesus of Galilee; no, he is not Jesus of Galilee, but much more; yes, he is Christ; no, he is not Christ but Jesus of Galilee; yes, he establishes his kingdom on earth; no, a spiritual kingdom is invisible. As always, paradox holds the irresistible inference in conflict with inescapable fact. People remain divided about the identity of Jesus, and  Jesus becomes himself the division between history and the evolving present but ever-future salvation and will of God.

    The reader should connect the events in John 7 with the theology embedded in Jesus as the water of life:

37 On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and proclaimed, "If any one thirst, let him come to me and drink.38 He who believes in me, as the scripture has said, `Out of his heart shall flow rivers of living water.'"

Already in John, several times, the metaphor of water has been used, identified by the Intervarsity Commentary:

This invitation to come and drink is the climax of a series of references to water in this Gospel: the water turned to wine (chap. 2), the water of the new birth (chap. 3), the living water (chap. 4), the cleansing water of Bethesda (chap. 5) and the calming of the waters (chap. 6). All of these have revealed Jesus as the agent of God who brings God's gracious offer of life. http://bible.gospelcom.net/

In the invitation proclaimed to all within the temple, and proclaimed over the ages, Jesus offers the evidence of Scriptures fulfilled, and himself as God:

In Jewish writings water is a very rich symbol (cf. Goppelt 1972:318-22). God himself can be called "the spring of living water" (Jer 2:13; 17:13). Other texts that use water imagery speak of Wisdom (Baruch 3:12; Sirach 15:3; 24:21, 25-27, 30-31), the law (Sifre on Deuteronomy 48) and, as here in John 7:39, the Holy Spirit (Genesis Rabbah 70:8; Targum of Isaiah 44:3). Jesus, in offering the Spirit (v. 39), is claiming to be able to satisfy people's thirst for God. The cries of the psalmists are answered. David prayed, "O God, you are my God, earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you, my body longs for you, in a dry and weary land where there is no water" (Ps 63:1). The sons of Korah sang, "As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God?" (Ps 42:1-2). Both of these psalms go on to speak of meeting God in the temple: David has seen God in the sanctuary (Ps 63:2), and the sons of Korah speak of "leading the procession to the house of God, with shouts of joy and thanksgiving among the festive throng" (Ps 42:4). When Jesus cries out at the end of the Feast of Tabernacles on this particular day, the worshipers meet God in his sanctuary--in the person of his Son. The longing for God is met with God's invitation to come and be satisfied. In Jesus, God's own desire for man is expressed and the desire of man for God is met. All that the temple represented is now found in Jesus. http://bible.gospelcom.net/

That  Revelation repeats the invitation of John 7.37  signals not only completed prophecy but an evolving present and ever-future salvation and will of God:

In offering them the Spirit he is claiming that the age to come has already arrived. Just as water flowed out from the Garden of Eden (Gen 2:10-14), so a river flows from the eschatological temple (Ezek 47). Ezekiel's vision has begun to be fulfilled in Jesus' offer in the temple, and it will come to completion in heaven in "the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb" (Rev 22:1). That heavenly water of life is already available through Jesus. His invitation at the Feast of Tabernacles is repeated in the invitation at the end of the book of Revelation: "Whoever is thirsty, let him come; and whoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life" (Rev 22:17). http://bible.gospelcom.net/

Ironically, the temple leaders continue to use evidence which will justify their conclusions and reveals the lack of sincerity in their spiritual search. Jesus' authority, he tells them, for the teaching derives directly from God:

"My teaching is not mine, but his who sent me;
17 if any man's will is to do his will, he shall know whether the teaching is from God or whether I am speaking on my own authority.

Rejecting this answer, the crowds and authorities allow the debate to become heated. The people wonder early if perhaps the religious leaders really know Jesus is Christ, remaining themselves somewhat skeptical because the Messiah is to have mysterious origin; a murmuring among the crowds grows:

25 Some of the people of Jerusalem therefore said, "Is not this the man whom they seek to kill?
26 And here he is, speaking openly, and they say nothing to him! Can it be that the authorities really know that this is the Christ? 27 Yet we know where this man comes from; and when the Christ appears, no one will know where he comes from."

The division among people, as always, expresses itself in belief and unbelief, belief that Jesus is who he says he is, the Son of God, or disbelief and argument that he is an imposter." Those who believe depend, not merely on the signs he has performed, but upon the cumulative effect of his works. For the Pharisees, the murmuring leads to an increased desire to have Jesus arrested (44). "31 Yet many of the people believed in him; they said, 'When the Christ appears, will he do more signs than this man has done?'"

Inevitably, John ends chapter seven with controversy still heated about the identity of Jesus:

44 Some of them wanted to arrest him, but no one laid hands on him.
45 The officers then went back to the chief priests and Pharisees, who said to them, "Why did you not bring him?"
46 The officers answered, "No man ever spoke like this man!"
47 The Pharisees answered them, "Are you led astray, you also?
48 Have any of the authorities or of the Pharisees believed in him?
49 But this crowd, who do not know the law, are accursed."
50 Nicodemus, who had gone to him before, and who was one of them, said to them,
51 "Does our law judge a man without first giving him a hearing and learning what he does?"
52 They replied, "Are you from Galilee too? Search and you will see that no prophet is to rise from Galilee."
53 They went each to his own house. 

    The very purpose of chapter  seven of John is revelation of the identity of Jesus, and the timing and metaphor both reinforce the meaning of this revelation for this people, and, indeed, all people:

This revelation takes place during the Feast of Tabernacles, a week-long feast in September or early October. This feast was given in thanksgiving for God's gracious provision for Israel, both in the past and in the present. God's graciousness in the present is seen in the harvest that has just occurred at this time of year (Deut 16:13-15). His past blessing is his provision during the wilderness wanderings (Lev 23:39-43). By recalling the wilderness pilgrimage while thanking God for the blessings of the land, participants realized their profound dependence upon God for provision. The feast's emphasis on God's provision fits perfectly with the teaching Jesus has just given, in which he revealed himself as the bread of life, and with the revelation in this chapter of himself as one who gives living water. He is the one who provides nourishment for eternal life even during the present time of our pilgrimage.

Largely, people react to the revelation from heaven by rejecting it. The low point of chapter six, as pointed out by the Intervarsity Commentaries, continues throughout chapters seven and eight, with seven focusing upon intense debate:

These chapters depict the sharp give and take of debate between Jesus and various people and provide a detailed picture of the confusion and controversy his revelation has aroused among the people. The people are confused, and the opponents' hostility now turns violent. There are eleven references to death threats and attempts to arrest Jesus (7:1, 13, 19, 25, 30, 32, 44; 8:20, 37, 40, 59). Thus, the low point reached at the end of chapter 6 gets even lower. The opponents' increased hostility leads Jesus to state clearly that they are alienated from God, and Jesus' clearest statement about their identity as people alienated from God is spoken at the same time that Jesus makes one of his clearest claims regarding his own relationship with God (8:31-59). In this way, the end of chapter 8 is the theological center of the controversy in this Gospel. It also marks a break between Jesus and the temple (8:59).

The religious elite know the full force of Jesus' identity revealed, if true; they themselves appeal to tradition and to Moses, but Moses, like Jesus in verse seventeen, speaks not on his own authority but that of God:

The rabbinic teachers trace their teaching back to Moses himself, so Jesus turns from defending himself to attacking their claim to Moses (cf. 5:45-47). The foundation on which they build is wrong. Moses indeed gave them the law (v. 19); Moses was a faithful teacher who passed on what he received from God, not caring for his own glory but for the glory of the one who sent him. The issue is not with Moses and the law, it is with the opponents who do not keep the law (v. 19).

Jesus' charge that his opponents are not keeping the law turns up the heat of the debate. They believe Jesus does not keep the law, and now he says the same of them. Jesus brings two pieces of evidence to show they fail to keep the law. The first piece of evidence is that they desire to kill him (Jn 5:18; 7:1). Jesus could be referring to a violation of the sixth commandment (Ex 20:13), but something much more profound is going on. If Jesus is a false prophet, he deserves to die according to the law (Deut 13:5). But Jesus is actually the one of whom Moses wrote in the law (Jn 1:45; 5:46). So their desire to put Jesus to death shows they violate their own law because the law itself witnesses to Jesus.

(Intervarsity Commentaries)

 Jesus in appealing to their "right judgment"  and not their own self-glorifications reveals their hypocrisy. Matthew Henry in his Commentary insists Jesus' reply is one of recrimination:

(1.) He argues against them by way of recrimination, convicting them of far worse practices, v. 19. How could they for shame censure him for a breach of the law of Moses, when they themselves were such notorious breakers of it? Did not Moses give you the law? And it was their privilege that they had the law, no nation had such a law; but it was their wickedness that none of them kept the law, that they rebelled against it, and lived contrary to it. Many that have the law given them, when they have it do not keep it. Their neglect of the law was universal: None of you keepeth it: neither those of them that were in posts of honour, who should have been most knowing, nor those who were in posts of subjection, who should have been most obedient. They boasted of the law, and pretended a zeal for it, and were enraged at Christ for seeming to transgress it, and yet none of them kept it... Why go ye about to kill me? Some take this as the evidence of their not keeping the law: "You keep not the law; if you did, you would understand yourselves better than to go about to kill me for doing a good work.’’ Those that support themselves and their interest by persecution and violence, whatever they pretend (though they may call themselves custodes utriusque tabulae—the guardians of both tables), are not keepers of the law of God. Chemnitius understands this as a reason why it was time to supersede the law of Moses by the gospel, because the law was found insufficient to restrain sin: "Moses gave you the law, but you do not keep it, nor are kept by it from the greatest wickedness; there is therefore need of a clearer light and better law to be brought in; why then do you aim to kill me for introducing it?’’
Henry, M. 1996, c1991. Matthew Henry's commentary on the whole Bible : Complete and unabridged in one volume (Jn 7:14). Hendrickson: Peabody

     Important, too, whatever the sequence of events in the book as a whole, John develops his theology carefully. Jesus has hesitated to go into Judea because the Jews are seeking to kill him (1).  Controversy about his identity causes his own brothers to assail him for his secrecy and to reveal to him openly that they do not believe he is who he says he is (5). Jesus responds that his time has not come (echoing the conversation with his mother at Cana) and that he understands that the world hates him. Nonetheless, after his brothers have already gone to Judea, Jesus himself goes privately. John tells us that the Jews were looking for Jesus (an editorial, or else Jesus has mingled unrecognized among the crowds and has overheard, or else knows, as he has always known--being God) much muttering about him with the argument being that he is either a good man or leading the people astray (12). He goes into the temple and teaches, and the Jews marvel: "15: The Jews marveled at it, saying, 'How is it that this man has learning, when he has never studied?'" Jesus' answers that he speaks not for himself but God (16). He goes on to say, "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." Thus, it is that Jesus can tell them to judge with right judgment. As already pointed out, Jesus shows them ironically that they quote the law and yet violate it themselves and, furthermore, seek to take his life for working good. Mere observance of ritual pales in the face of true healing, physically and spiritually:

Observe the comparison Christ here makes between their circumcising a child and his healing a man on the sabbath day. 1. Circumcision was but a ceremonial institution; it was of the fathers indeed, but not from the beginning; but what Christ did was a good work by the law of nature, a more excellent law than that which made circumcision a good work. 2. Circumcision was a bloody ordinance, and made sore; but what Christ did was healing, and made whole. The law works pain, and, if that work may be done on the sabbath day, much more a gospel work, which produces peace. 3. Especially considering that whereas, when they had circumcised a child, their care was only to heal up that part which was circumcised, which might be done and yet the child remain under other illnesses, Christ had made this man every whit whole, holon anthroµpon hygieµI have made the whole man healthful and sound. The whole body was healed, for the disease affected the whole body; and it was a perfect cure, such as left no relics of the disease behind; nay, Christ not only healed his body, but his soul too, by that admonition, Go, and sin no more, and so indeed made the whole man sound, for the soul is the man. Circumcision indeed was intended for the good of the soul, and to make the whole man as it should be; but they had perverted it, and turned it into a mere carnal ordinance; but Christ accompanied his outward cures with inward grace, and so made them sacramental, and healed the whole man.
Henry, M. 1996, c1991. Matthew Henry's commentary on the whole Bible : Complete and unabridged in one volume (Jn 7:14). Hendrickson: Peabody

John again links to the earlier episode of healing on the sabbath in chapter five: "21: Jesus answered them, 'I did one deed, and you all marvel at it.'"  The people are to lift their eyes from appearances to the real truth of spiritual healing. The Intervarsity Commentary argues precedence of good to circumcision and law:

They would not have viewed this as a breaking of the law since this order of precedence among the commands existed precisely in order to keep the law (cf. Carson 1991:315). Therefore Jesus says the "work" of circumcision is performed on the sabbath so that the law of Moses may not be broken (v. 23). Jesus questions them, saying, if this work is allowed in order to keep the law, why are you angry with me for healing the whole man on the Sabbath? (v. 23). In other words, he is also working with an order of precedence, and his activity on the sabbath should be viewed from this perspective rather than as a breaking of the law.

Jesus is using a "how much more" type of argument, which was popular in the ancient world, not least among the rabbis. Indeed, at the time John was writing, this very point was being argued by rabbis using the same type of argument. Rabbi Eliezer (c. A.D. 90) said, "If one supersedes the sabbath on account of one of his members [in circumcision], should he not supersede the sabbath for his whole body if in danger of death?" (t. shabbat 15:16; cf. b. Yoma 85b). So there is an order of precedence not only between commands in the law, but for the sake of saving a life. Jesus, however, goes even further and says not only does the saving of a life take precedence, but so does doing good (Mt 12:12 par. Mk 3:4 par. Lk 6:9; cf. Acts 10:38), which includes healing. This is an application of his principle that "the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath" (Mk 2:27). If this principle is accepted, then Jesus is not a lawbreaker.

Indeed, circumcision is a sign of the covenant, and the covenant itself is about doing good, about acting in keeping with God's own character of love and mercy. Jesus makes this connection when he says, literally, "Because of this Moses gave you circumcision" (v. 22). The "this" refers back to Jesus' deed of healing on the sabbath (v. 21). So Jesus' form of sabbath observance--healing and doing good--was the very purpose for which Moses gave them circumcision. "Jesus' attitude is not a sentimental liberalizing of a harsh and unpractical law . . . nor the masterful dealing of an opponent of the Law as such; it is rather the accomplishment of the redemptive purpose of God toward which the Law had pointed" (Barrett 1978:320-21). Thus it is not Jesus but his opponents who are going against Moses. They are breaking the law by their observance of the sabbath because their observance does not include doing good.

Thus, Jesus can conclude on the basis of revelation by works: 

28: So Jesus proclaimed, as he taught in the temple, "You know me, and you know where I come from? But I have not come of my own accord; he who sent me is true, and him you do not know.
29: I know him, for I come from him, and he sent me."

As  a result, many believe, but others seek to arrest him; John tells us, his hour had not yet come. Jesus apparently disappears into the crowds, leaving them muttering:

31: Yet many of the people believed in him; they said, "When the Christ appears, will he do more signs than this man has done?"
32: The Pharisees heard the crowd thus muttering about him, and the chief priests and Pharisees sent officers to arrest him.
33: Jesus then said, "I shall be with you a little longer, and then I go to him who sent me;
34: you will seek me and you will not find me; where I am you cannot come."
35: The Jews said to one another, "Where does this man intend to go that we shall not find him? Does he intend to go to the Dispersion among the Greeks and teach the Greeks?
36: What does he mean by saying, `You will seek me and you will not find me,' and, `Where I am you cannot come'?

The next section rounds out theology: the Bread of Life of chapter six becomes now living water. Jesus on the last day of the feast issues an invitation:

37: On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and proclaimed, "If any one thirst, let him come to me and drink.
38: He who believes in me, as the scripture has said, `Out of his heart shall flow rivers of living water.'"
39: Now this he said about the Spirit, which those who believed in him were to receive; for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.

The reader will notice that Jesus stood up to issue this invitation; once again, the crowds evoke the question of identity--whether he is the prophet, the Christ, whether Christ could come from Galilee when the scripture has said he is to be descended from David, and the division continues:

40: When they heard these words, some of the people said, "This is really the prophet."
41: Others said, "This is the Christ." But some said, "Is the Christ to come from Galilee?
42: Has not the scripture said that the Christ is descended from David, and comes from Bethlehem, the village where David was?"
43: So there was a division among the people over him.

The division leads to increased efforts on behalf of the religious elite to arrest him:

44: Some of them wanted to arrest him, but no one laid hands on him.
45: The officers then went back to the chief priests and Pharisees, who said to them, "Why did you not bring him?"
46: The officers answered, "No man ever spoke like this man!"
47: The Pharisees answered them, "Are you led astray, you also?
48: Have any of the authorities or of the Pharisees believed in him?
49: But this crowd, who do not know the law, are accursed."
50: Nicode'mus, who had gone to him before, and who was one of them, said to them,
51: "Does our law judge a man without first giving him a hearing and learning what he does?"
52: They replied, "Are you from Galilee too? Search and you will see that no prophet is to rise from Galilee."
53: They went each to his own house.

The common observer, as spoken in verse 46, comes away with one impression: “No man ever spoke like this man.” Nicodemus, who has early encountered Jesus and new birth comes to Jesus’ defense: 51 "Does our law judge a man without first giving him a hearing and learning what he does?" Learning what he does has been exactly the point of John: every act of Jesus has pointed to him as the Word, Logos, Bread, Light, Bridegroom, Anointed One, Messiah, Son of God/Son of man. sThe simple and logical conclusion  of some in the crowd is that “no prophet has ever risen from Galilee,” so they dismiss Jesus and go each to his own house. No prophet, indeed, for the age of prophecy has ended, fulfilled in the Messiah predicted.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The common observer comes away with one impression: “No man ever spoke like this man.” Nicodemus, who has early encountered Jesus and new birth now comes to Jesus’ defense: 51 "Does our law judge a man without first giving him a hearing and learning what he does?" Learning what he does has been exactly the point of John: every act of Jesus has pointed to him as the Word, Logos, Bread, Light, Bridegroom, Anointed One, Messiah, Son of God/Son of man. The simple and logical conclusion is that “no prophet has ever risen from Galilee,” and each went to his own house.  No prophet, indeed, for the age of prophecy has ended, fulfilled in the Messiah predicted.