John 7: 25 – 44 Division over who Jesus is
Two things struck me as I read this passage. The first was that, once again, Jesus makes a very clear distinction between himself and God the Father. The other was that when Jesus spoke publicly, people responded in one of two ways: those who were open to the Spirit accepted that he was someone special sent from God; and those who were not open to the Spirit found excuses or worldly explanations to dismiss his message.
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 Messiah? But we know where this man is from: when the Messiah comes, no one will know where he is from.’
This is a typical legalistic argument. According to prophecy, they say, no one will know where the Messiah comes from; since they know where Jesus comes from, he can’t be the Messiah. In fact, of course, they don’t know where Jesus comes from, neither spiritually nor even his place of origin, for he was not born in Galilee. We always have to beware when applying worldly tests to spiritual matters.
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 authority, 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.’
The crowd had been speaking in worldly terms, but Jesus seizes their statement and turns it to spiritual matters. He affirms that he has been sent by God the Father. He also makes it clear that, deep down, the whole crowd knows that this is true.
This verse is another of those which makes the distinction between Jesus and God the Father. I’m going to have to park that knowledge for a while longer yet, as I don’t know how to handle it.
At this they tried to seize him, but no one laid a hand on him, because his hour had not yet come. Still, many in the crowd believed in him. They said, ‘When the Messiah comes, will he perform more signs than this man?’
This is a remarkable little passage. ‘No one laid a hand on him, because his hour had not yet come.’ In human terms I can imagine Jesus’ supporters in the crowd being sufficiently obstructive to make it hard for anyone to get close enough to seize him. But St John clearly thinks that it is part of a plan by God, a plan whose timing is critical. Does God have a plan for my life? Yes, I think he must have. I’d better listen a bit more carefully…
In the second part of the passage St John tells us that many people believed in Jesus because of the signs he performed. These were not people who benefited from the signs; they were those who saw that the signs pointed to a deeper spiritual truth to which they could respond with faith.
The Pharisees heard the crowd whispering such things about him. Then the chief priests and the Pharisees sent temple guards to arrest him.
St John raises the tempo. The temple guards have been sent to arrest Jesus. Arrest would be the start of a judicial process that could lead to Jesus’ death.
Jesus said, ‘I am with you for only a short time, and then I am going to the one who sent me. You will look for me, but you will not find me; and where I am, you cannot come.’
Jesus is aware that he is a marked man, and God gives him this prophesy to proclaim. From our position, with hindsight, we understand that it refers to Jesus’ crucifixion.
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”?’
The Jews try to understand this in human terms. They fail. God’s plan for Jesus is beyond human comprehension.
On the last and greatest day of the festival, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, ‘Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.’ 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.
This again is prophecy. St John explains it to us. Jesus is prophesying about the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.
On hearing his words, some of the people said, ‘Surely this man is the Prophet.’
Others said, ‘He is the Messiah.’
Now, here is an interesting light on how God’s plan for individuals can work. As a result of hearing prophecy, people came to believe in Jesus. They didn’t need to see the fulfilment of the prophecy, merely hearing it was enough to bring them to faith.
Still others asked, ‘How can the Messiah come from Galilee? Does not scripture say that the Messiah will come from David’s descendants 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.
This time, St John makes clear the flawed argument of those seeking excuses not to believe in Jesus. Those arguing against him assume that he comes from Galilee. He doesn’t. Luke 2: 4 – 7 tells us that he was born in Bethlehem because Joseph was of the house and line of David. What a parable that makes! As finite human beings we simply don’t have all the facts to judge God’s plans.
Don’t get me wrong, I certainly believe that we are called to use our intellect to understand the natural world and our place in it. But we have to be as open as possible to the prompting of the Holy Spirit. We have to be ready to admit it when we’ve misunderstood. We have to remember that, first and foremost, it’s God’s world.
Heavenly Father, thank you that you care how I spend my life. Thank you that you have a plan for me. Help me to understand better what you want me to do, and be obedient to you. In Jesus’ name, Amen.