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Jesus Faces Increasing Threats to His Life
Jesus delays going to Judea
John Chapter 7, verses 1-5
After this, Jesus went around in Galilee, purposely staying away from Judea because the Jews there were waiting to take his life. But when the Jewish Feast of Tabernacles was near, Jesus’ brothers said to him, “You ought to leave here and go to Judea, so that your disciples may see the miracles you do. No one who wants to become a public figure acts in secret. Since you are doing these things, show yourself to the world.” For even his own brothers did not believe in him.
For more than half a year Jesus stayed in Galilee. It wasn’t safe to go to Judea because hostile Jews there were seeking to kill him. They had wanted to kill Jesus when he healed the the Sabbath (5:18), and they still hated him enough to want him dead. But Jesus’ time to die had not yet come.
The Feast of Tabernacles drew near. This was a harvest festival, celebrated between mid-September and mid-October, that commemorated God’s guidance of Israel in the wilderness. This feast, along with the Passover and Pentecost, brought thousands of Jews to Jerusalem for the celebration. Once there, Jews lived in temporary booths (tabernacles) for a week to reenact the conditions of the wilderness journey (Leviticus 23:40-43), while also enjoying the harvest festival.
Jesus gave no indication that he and his disciples would go to Jerusalem for the festival. But his brothers (see 2:12) seized the opportunity to cajole him about it. Perhaps their words betrayed a hint of scorn or ridicule because they did not believe in him then. And Jesus’ staying in the remote places of Galilee didn’t convince them either. A real leader, they reasoned, would take center stage and show all his followers his works. He would go to Judea, where the people would be gathering. He would show himself to the world. He would gain a following by a show of power.
Whether Jesus’ brothers’ words were spoken in scorn or well intended but misguided is difficult to determine exactly. Either way, they seemed to be thinking of Jesus in the same way as many of the other Jews, namely, only as an earthly leader. They failed to listen to Jesus’ words, through which he would rule in their hearts. Jesus’ kingdom wasn’t, and still isn’t, of this world.
John Chapter 7, verses 6-9
Therefore Jesus told them, “The right time for me has not yet come; for you any time is right. The world cannot hate you, but it hates me because I testify that what it does is evil. You go to the Feast. I am not yet going up to this Feast, because for me the right time has not yet come.” Having said this, he stayed in Galilee.
God’s plan of salvation was on a timetable. Jesus came into the world when the time was right (Galatians 4:4), changed water to wine when the time was right (John 2:4), and waited to go to Jerusalem until the time was right. He followed the Father’s will to the minute.
His brothers, naturally, were on no such timetable. Nor did they have to worry about the unbelieving world hating them, because they had done nothing to aggravate the world. In contrast, the world hated Jesus because he testified that the works of the world were wicked. The Jewish religious leaders, in particular, represented the world’s view.
The world hasn’t changed in that regard over the years. It still hates those who stand up for what’s truly right and godly. It hates those who condemn abortion, euthanasia, heresy. We should expect nothing less. If the world hated Jesus, it will hate those who follow him.
Jesus sent his brothers on to the festival. But he stayed in Galilee because that time wasn’t right for him.
John Chapter 7, verses 10-13
However, after his brothers had left for the Feast, he went also, not publicly, but in secret. Now at the Feast the Jews were watching for him and asking, “Where is that man?”
Among the crowds there was widespread whispering about him. Some said, “He is a good man.”
Others replied, “No, he deceives the people.” But no one would say anything publicly about him for fear of the Jews.
Jesus’ time came after his brothers left, so he also went to the festival. It wasn’t time for him to appear in the public eye, however, so he kept himself hidden from the crowds, contrary to what his brothers urged, and didn’t appear at the beginning of the festivities.
Jesus knew that the hostile Jews, the leaders of the people, were on the lookout for him. The crowds were buzzing about Jesus, some calling him a good man, some disagreeing. None spoke openly because they feared the Jewish leaders, whose hostility to Jesus was general knowledge.
Jesus confounds the unbelieving Jews with his teaching
John Chapter 7, verses 14-15
Not until halfway through the Feast did Jesus go up to the temple courts and begin to teach. The Jews were amazed and asked, “How did this man get such learning without having studied?”
The festival was already half over before the time came for Jesus to appear. He came then, however, not to do wonderful works, but to teach. People learn of Jesus through his words. The Jews marveled when they heard him because he spoke like a man of letters although he’d had no formal training.
Their amazement set the stage for his message to them.
John Chapter 7, verses 16-19
Jesus answered, “My teaching is not my own. It comes from him who sent me. 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. He who speaks on his own does so to gain honor for himself, but he who works for the honor of the one who sent him is a man of truth; there is nothing false about him. Has not Moses given you the law? Yet not one of you keeps the law. Why are you trying to kill me?”
When Jesus was 12 years old, he amazed the teachers in the temple courts with “his understanding and his answers” (Luke 2:47). Now, some 20 years later, he did the same to the Jewish leaders. But if they had known and believed that Jesus was divine and his teachings were from the Father who sent him, they wouldn’t have been so mystified.
Jesus claimed nothing of his own. He wasn’t self-taught or educated in schools. Everything he taught and did came from his Father in heaven. Anyone who chooses to do God’s will soon finds out that Jesus’ teachings come from God. Choosing to do God’s will means believing in Jesus (6:29,40).
All truth comes from God and, by working to honor God, Jesus shared his truth. No one would ever find anything false in Jesus.
These unbelieving Jews were fine ones to question Jesus’ teachings. Had they not accepted Moses’ Law as coming from God? Did they not fault Jesus at an earlier time for healing on the Sabbath? Yet they did not keep the law as God would have it. Instead, they rejected God’s direct teaching and gospel in Christ and despised Christ so much they wanted to kill him. Their desire to kill was not in keepingwith Moses’ Law.
“Why do you want that?” asked Jesus.
John Chapter 7, verse 20
“You are demon-possessed,” the crowd answered. “Who is trying to kill you?”
Jesus knew everything those Jews planned against him. The Jews knew he was right. The crowd, meanwhile, who came from outlying areas and did not know Jesus’ intent, thought Jesus was talking crazy talk. They accused him of having a demon who was giving him strange ideas.
John Chapter 7, verses 21-24
Jesus said to them, “I did one miracle, and you are all astonished. Yet, because Moses gave you circumcision (though actually it did not come from Moses, but from the patriarchs), you circumcise a child on the Sabbath. Now if a child can be circumcised on the Sabbath so that the law of Moses may not be broken, why are you angry with me for healing the whole man on the Sabbath? Stop judging by mere appearances, and make a right judgment.”
Jesus spoke of his healing the invalid at the pool of Bethesda, which he did on the Sabbath the last time he was in Judea. That healing had influenced the Jews’ plans to murder him (5:9,10,16 18). Everyone had marveled at the miracle. But the hostile Jews used the occasion and a twisted understanding of the Sabbath law to attack Jesus.
They learned from their own revered Moses exactly how twisted their thinking was. The Jews religiously observed God’s command to circumcise their children on the eighth day after birth. The custom began with Abraham (Genesis 17:9-14) and was included in the Law of Moses (Leviticus 12:3). Even if the eighth day fell on the Sabbath, the Jews circumcised their children.
How then, Jesus reasoned, could they be angry with him “for healing the whole man on the Sabbath?” Jesus had healed the man’s lameness and called him to repentance (5:14). Surely that was as important as circumcision! But the Jews had judged him superficially, only by what appeared to them as a Sabbath violation. They did not weigh the justice of the situation. They followed the letter of the law but not the spirit. They acted in hate instead of love.
John Chapter 7, verses 25-27
At that point some of the people of Jerusalem began to ask, “Isn’t this the man they are trying to kill? Here he is, speaking publicly, and they are not saying a word to him. Have the authorities really concluded that he is the Christ? But we know where this man is from; when the Christ comes, no one will know where he is from.”
Some of the people of Jerusalem who knew of the rulers’ intent to kill Jesus began to take notice. Jesus was talking openly, but his enemies didn’t say a word to him. their evil plans? Surely the rulers hadn’t concluded that Jesus was the Christ after all? The rulers had their chance, they thought. Why did they back off?
For the moment, the idea that Jesus was the promised Christ (Messiah) played through their imaginations. But they dismissed it in the same moment, and they gave a reason. Some Jews held to the tradition that the Messiah would come suddenly and no one would know where he came from. They, however, knew that Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee. In their minds, then, that disqualified him as Messiah.
John Chapter 7, verses 28-29
Then Jesus, still teaching in the temple courts, cried out, “Yes, you know me, and you know where I am from. I am not here on my own, but he who sent me is true. You do not know him, but I know him because I am from him and he sent me.”
Jesus knew what they were saying about him, and while he was teaching in the temple, he cried out in reply. Yes, they knew him and where he came from. Or so they thought. They knew their geography but not their theology. They knew from where Jesus came but not from whom. If they had, they wouldn’t have opposed him. He had told them before that he came from the Father. He told them again here: “I am not here on my own, but he who sent me is true.”
The real reason they did not accept Jesus as the Christ was that they did not know the Father who sent him. They did not know the true God, or they would have believed in Jesus, the Son of God. Jesus knew the Father because he came from his presence and the Father sent him.
John Chapter 7, verses 30-32
At this they tried to seize him, but no one laid a hand on him, because his time had not yet come. Still, many in the crowd put their faith in him. They said, “When the Christ comes, will he do more miraculous signs than this man?”
The Pharisees heard the crowd whispering such things about him. Then the chief priests and the Pharisees sent temple guards to arrest him.
The unbelieving Jews did not want to hear Jesus identify himself with the heavenly Father, so they tried to capture him. God’s plan for Jesus was mapped out to the smallest detail, however. God would let nothing happen to him before the appointed time. So no one was able to lay a hand on Jesus.
Many from the crowd believed in Jesus, however, because he did miraculous signs such as they would expect of the Christ. They could not ignore or deny what they had seen and heard.
When the Pharisees heard the crowd talking that way, they stepped up their efforts to capture Jesus. The chief priests and the Pharisees sent the temple guards to arrest him.
John Chapter 7, verses 33-36
Jesus said, “I am with you for only a short time, and then I go to the one who sent me. You will look for me, but you will not find me; and where I am, you cannot come.”
The Jews said to one another, “Where does this man intend to go that we cannot find him? Will he go where our people live scattered among the Greeks, and teach the Greeks? What did he mean when he said, ‘You will look for me, but you will not find me,’ and ‘Where I am, you cannot come’?”
With the Jewish leaders set to arrest him, Jesus spoke as if he had a foolproof plan to run away and hide. After a short time with them, he said, he would return to the one who sent him. They would seek him but wouldn’t find him because they could not go where he was. Jesus was speaking of his death and his return to his Father in heaven, and no unbeliever is able to go there. Unbelievers remain forever separated from God and his Son.
Predictably, the unbelieving Jews did not see the spiritual dimension of Jesus’ words. They thought only of earthly places and wondered where Jesus could possibly go that they could not find him. They wondered if he planned to go from Judea and teach Jews scattered among the Greeks far away, outside Palestine. But they could find him there and could go there as easily as he. His words baffled them, and they did not follow through with the arrest plans.
John Chapter 7, verses 37-39
On the last and greatest day of the Feast, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.” By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive. Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified.
All the threats and attempts to seize Jesus did not deter him from telling his life-giving message. On the last day of the festival, he stood up and cried out loudly so all would listen to him and hear his teaching.
He applied the same image he had used to lead the Samaritan woman to faith at Jacob’s well (4:14): “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink.” The Scriptures had predicted this truth (Isaiah 58:11; Zechariah 14:8). Those who come to Jesus and drink are those who believe in him, as his next words revealed. And everyone who believes not only has received life-giving water, but “streams of living water will flow from within him.”
God’s Holy Spirit leads thirsty souls to Jesus. He works the faith that drinks the refreshment Jesus offers. The Spirit enters the heart of a believer, and the believer calls others to learn of Jesus.
When Jesus finished his work of salvation and entered into his glory, God’s Holy Spirit was poured out upon the believers in special measure. This happened on Pentecost when the Spirit turned loose the streams of water from the disciples, and the water of life has flowed through believers to countless thirsting souls in every age since.
John Chapter 7, verses 40-44
On hearing his words, some of the people said, “Surely this man is the Prophet.”
Others said, “He is the Christ.”
Still others asked, “How can the Christ come from Galilee? Does not the Scripture say that the Christ will come from David’s family and from Bethlehem, the town where David lived?” Thus the people were divided because of Jesus. Some wanted to seize him, but no one laid a hand on him.
Those who heard Jesus speak were moved by his words. The crowd came alive with questions. Some said, “In truth this man is the Prophet” (see Deuteronomy 18:15). Others said, “He is the Christ,” and still others declared: “He can’t be the Christ. He comes from Galilee. According to the Scriptures, the Messiah will be of the seed of David and must come from Bethlehem.” They interpreted Scripture correctly, but they didn’t understand.
Jesus’ words had divided the people. Some wanted to seize him, but, as before, no one touched him.
Jesus has a similar effect on people today. We hear the same claims and see the same reactions:
“He’s the Prophet.” A number of non-Christian religions such as Judaism and Islam will go that far.
“He’s the Christ.” Always some will truly believe.
“He can’t be the Christ, can he?” The agnostics look for reasons not to believe.
“Seize him!” The atheists and their kind want to silence the Word of Christ, but they will not succeed.
John Chapter 7, verses 45-49
Finally the temple guards went back to the chief priests and Pharisees, who asked them, “Why didn’t you bring him in?”
“No one ever spoke the way this man does,” the guards declared.
“You mean he has deceived you also?” the Pharisees retorted. “Has any of the rulers or of the Pharisees believed in him? No! But this mob that knows nothing of the law—there is a curse on them.”
With the return of the temple guards, we learn exactly why they had failed to arrest Jesus as they were ordered. When the chief priests and Pharisees asked why they didn’t bring him in, they responded simply yet profoundly, “No one ever spoke the way this man does.”
As we have seen before in John’s gospel, everything revolves around the words of Jesus. Jesus’ words are unique. They bring salvation. They will not be silenced. The guards were so in awe of Jesus’ words they couldn’t bring themselves to seize him.
Jesus’ words never have been matched by any other. And they continue to amaze people everywhere. They have reached our hearts so that we believe in Jesus. He has spoken as only the Son of God can.
The Pharisees could hardly believe what they were hearing from the guards. “Have you also been led astray?” they asked.
It never occurred to them that Jesus’ words should have such an effect. They were too caught up in their own importance. “You don’t see any of the rulers or the Pharisees believing in him, do you?” they continued, as if that should settle the matter.
They taught God’s law. The people who were influenced by Jesus’ words didn’t know the law and were accursed, they insisted. So those who will not believe will summarily dismiss Jesus and his teachings.
John Chapter 7, verses 50-52
Nicodemus, who had gone to Jesus earlier and who was one of their own number, asked, “Does our law condemn anyone without first hearing him to find out what he is doing?”
They replied, “Are you from Galilee, too? Look into it, and
you will find that a prophet does not come out of Galilee.”
Not all the Pharisees were ready to write off Jesus so quickly. Nicodemus, who previously had come to Jesus alone by night (3:1-21), spoke up. He appealed to the Pharisees’ own law (Deuteronomy 1:16) and to fair play. “Does our law condemn a man without giving him a hearing first?” he asked. His faith in Jesus had not grown to the point that he could bring himself to break away from the other Pharisees, but he opposed the obvious injustice.
It didn’t matter. Their minds were made up, and they didn’t want to hear about fairness. They couldn’t answer Nicodemus’ challenge, so they turned on him.
“Are you from Galilee?” they sneered. They had long since decided that nothing good could come from Galilee, especially a prophet. How ironic! In many ways, Nicodemus was becoming more like the Galilean and less like them. However, they were wrong about Galilee. Jonah came from there (2 Kings 14:25) and perhaps other prophets did too. Besides, no Word of God prevented prophets from coming out of Galilee.
John Chapter 7, verse 53
Then each went to his own home.