This chapter records a number of different attitudes towards Jesus:

  1. The teasing contempt of his brothers, 1-5
  2. The hatred of the Pharisees and chief priests
  3. The arrogant contempt of the Jews, v15, 47-49
  4. The fascinated debate of the crowd, vv11f, 43

Then, a number of verdicts are possible:

  1. He is a good man, v12
  2. He is a prophet, v40
  3. He is a deluded madman, v20
  4. He is the Christ

The Feast of Tabernacles

7:1 After this Jesus traveled throughout Galilee. He stayed out of Judea because the Jewish leaders wanted to kill him.

The Jewish leaders – Lit. ‘the Jews’.  On the many occasions when John refers to ‘the Jews’ he is indeed referring to the Jewish religious leaders, based in Jerusalem.  And references to Jews in Galilee are neutral.  The acceptance of Jesus and his ministry in Galilee is attested in Jn 7:50-52 (“Are you from Galilee too?”), Mt 26:71 (“You are one of them”), Mk 14:70 (“You are one of them, for you are a Galilean”).

7:2 Now the Jewish feast of Tabernacles was near. 7:3 So Jesus’ brothers advised him, “Leave here and go to Judea so your disciples may see your miracles that you are performing. 7:4 For no one who seeks to make a reputation for himself does anything in secret. If you are doing these things, show yourself to the world.” 7:5 (For not even his own brothers believed in him.)

Jesus’ brothers – Sons of Joseph and Mary, all younger than Jesus himself (so Carson, Milne).  See Bible Study Notes on John 12:2.

As v5 will make clear, this advice was flippant and insincere. ‘It was really a reaction of half-amused and teasing contempt. They did not really believe in him; they were really egging him on, as you might egg on a precocious boy. We still meet that attitude of tolerant contempt to Christianity. George Bernanos in The Diary of a Country Priest tells how the country priest used sometimes to be invited to dinner at the big aristocratic house of his parish. The owner would encourage him to speak and argue before his guests, but he did it with that half-amused, half-contemptuous tolerance with which he might encourage a child to show off or a dog to display his tricks. There are still people who forget that Christian faith is a matter of life and death.’ (DSB)

So also Klink: ‘The more traditional interpretation of the brotherly exchange assumes a positive challenge to Jesus. But the narrator’s comment, as readers of the Gospel have come to expect, must be understood as penetrating into the “unseen” context, giving insight into their response to Jesus. The unbelief of the brothers is not due merely to a misunderstanding (i.e., a partial faith). Rather, they are dead wrong, and damagingly so, as Jesus will shortly declare by word and deed.’

7:6 So Jesus replied, “My time has not yet arrived, but you are ready at any opportunity! 7:7 The world cannot hate you, but it hates me, because I am testifying about it that its deeds are evil. 7:8 You go up to the feast yourselves. I am not going up to this feast because my time has not yet fully arrived.” 7:9 When he had said this, he remained in Galilee.

“My time has not yet arrived” – This is not John’s usual word for Christ’s ‘hour’.

“I am not going up to this Feast” – Some manuscripts include ‘not yet’ (οὔπω).  This would appear to put this verse in direct contradiction to v10, which informs us the Jesus did indeed go to the Feast.  Whether or not οὔπω is authentic, the continuous tense of the saying (“I am not going”), together with the explanation (Jesus will go when the Father instructs him), clearly imply ‘not yet’.  See the discussion by Carson, and this post by Bill Mounce.

7:10 But when his brothers had gone up to the feast, then Jesus himself also went up, not openly but in secret. 7:11 So the Jewish leaders were looking for him at the feast, asking, “Where is he?” 7:12 There was a lot of grumbling about him among the crowds. Some were saying, “He is a good man,” but others, “He deceives the common people.” 7:13 However, no one spoke openly about him for fear of the Jewish leaders.

What did Jesus look like? ‘Greco-Roman biographers often liked to describe their subjects’ appearances, flattering or not. That none of the Gospels does so suggests that Jesus’ appearance may have been average enough to allow him to pass unnoticed in a crowd: probably curly black hair, brown skin, perhaps a little over five feet in height-unlike the Aryan pictures of him that circulate in some Western churches. (The Shroud of Turin, which is purported to be Jesus’ burial cloth, makes him taller, in the epic Hebrew tradition-1 Sam 9:2. But its authority is disputed.) Although Diaspora Jewish men, like Greek and Roman men, were normally clean-shaven, coins portray Palestinian Jews in this period with full beards and hair down to their shoulders.’ (NTBC)

Whispering goggusmos, pronounced ‘gongusmos’: an onomatopoeic word which imitates the sound it describes – a dull murmuring, a discontented undertone. The crowd were afraid to talk to loud, because they were afraid. ‘It is the word used for the grumbling of the children of Israel in the wilderness when they complained against Moses. They muttered the complaints they were afraid to utter out loud. Fear can keep a man from making a clarion call of his faith and can turn it into an indistinct mutter. The Christian should never be afraid to tell the world in ringing tones that he believes in Christ.’ (DSB)

See v 43. In the attitude of the crowds, there is both value and danger (DSB). ‘The value is that nothing helps us clarify our own opinions like pitting them against someone else’s. Mind sharpens mind as iron sharpens iron. The danger is that religion can so very easily come to be regarded as a matter for argument and debate and discussion, a series of fascinating questions, about which a man may talk for a lifetime-and do nothing. There is all the difference in the world between being an argumentative amateur theologian, willing to talk until the stars go out, and a truly religious person, who has passed from talking about Christ to knowing him.’

“He deceives the people” – This was ‘a serious charge, applied to those who led other Jews to idolatry or apostasy. Deuteronomy 13 prescribes death as the penalty, and some rabbis even felt that such persons should be given no chance to repent, lest they be able to secure forgiveness though their followers had perished. Some Jewish sources as early as the second century charged Jesus with this crime.’ (NTBC)

The Jewish leaders 

Teaching in the Temple

7:14 When the feast was half over, Jesus went up to the temple courts and began to teach. 7:15 Then the Jewish leaders were astonished and said, “How does this man know so much when he has never had formal instruction?”

Some scholars think that Jn 7:15-24, with its reference to healing (vv23) has been displaced, and should follow Jn 5:47.

“How did this man get such learning without having studied?” – ‘Most children in the Greco-Roman world could not afford even a primary education. But Palestinian Jewish children, except perhaps from the poorest homes (which a carpenter’s family was not), would learn how to read and recite the Bible, whether or not they could write. The issue here is not that Jesus is illiterate (he is not), but that he has never formally studied Scripture with an advanced teacher, yet he expounds as well as any of the scholars without citing earlier scholars’ opinions.’ (NTBC)

See also Jn 7:47-49. Here is the attitude of academic snobbery, and a similar accusation was made against Peter and John, Acts 4:13. ‘Jesus had been to no rabbinic school. It was the practice that only the disciple of an accredited teacher was entitled to expound scripture, and to talk about the law. No Rabbi ever made a statement on his own authority. He always began: “There is a teaching that…” He then went on to cite quotations and authorities for every statement he made. And here was this Galilean carpenter, a man with no training whatever, daring to quote and to expound Moses to them.’ (DSB)

‘Of the matter of our Lord’s public speaking, we may form some conception from the discourses which are recorded in the four gospels.  Their leading features are plain and unmistakable.  The world has never seen anything like them since the gift of speech was given to man.  They often contain deep truths which we have no line to fathom.  But they often contain simple”] things which even a child can understand.  They are bold and outspoken in denouncing national and ecclesiastical sins, and yet they are wise and discreet in never giving needless offence.  They are faithful and direct in their warnings, and yet loving and tender in their invitations.  For a combination of power and simplicity, of courage and prudence, of faithfulness and tenderness, we may all say, “No one ever spoke like this man!”’ (Ryle)

7:16 So Jesus replied, “My teaching is not from me, but from the one who sent me. 7:17 If anyone wants to do God’s will, he will know about my teaching, whether it is from God or whether I speak from my own authority.

There is possibly an allusion here to Deut 18:18.

‘Jesus could very well have walked straight into a trap here. He might have said: “I need no teacher; I am self-taught; I got my teaching and my wisdom from no one but myself.” But, instead, he said in effect: “You ask who was my teacher? You ask what authority I produce for my exposition of scripture? My authority is God” Jesus claimed to be God-taught. It is in fact a claim he makes again and again. “I have not spoken on my own authority. The Father who sent me has himself given me commandment what to say and what to speak.” (Jn 12:49) “The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority”.’ (Jn 14:10) (DSB)

‘Only the man who does God’s will can truly understand his teaching. That is not a theological but a universal truth. We learn by doing. A doctor might learn the technique of surgery from textbooks. He might know the theory of every possible operation. But that would not make him a surgeon; he has to learn by doing. A man might learn the way in which an automobile engine works; in theory he might be able to carry out every possible repair and adjustment; but that would not make him an engineer; he has to learn by doing. It is the same with the Christian life. If we wait until we have understood everything, we will never start at all. But if we begin by doing God’s will as we know it, God’s truth will become clearer and clearer to us. We learn by doing. If a man says: “I cannot be a Christian because there is so much of Christian doctrine that I do not understand, and I must wait until I understand it all,” the answer is: “You never will understand it all; but if you start trying to live the Christian life, you will understand more and more of it as the days go on.” In Christianity, as in all other things, the way to learn is to do.’ (DSB)

‘The point is not that a seeker must attain a certain God-approved level of ethical achievement before venturing an assessment as to whether or not Jesus’ teaching comes from God, but that a seeker must be fundamentally committed to doing God’s will. This is a faith commitment. God then fills the seeker’s horizon. God’s will is not simply to be thought about and assessed, as if God is the object we may politely examine, dissect and discuss, picking and choosing what we like of him. The faith commitment envisaged here, this moral choice, is properly basic, and renders impossible any attitude that sets us up as judges of God’s ways. This means that the truth is self-authenticating – not with vicious circularity, as if it has no meshing-points with the external, examinable world (Does not Jesus himself invite us to believe on the evidence of the sings, 10:38?), but in the sense that finite and fallen human beings cannot set themselves up on some sure ground outside the truth and thus gain the vantage from which they may assess it. Divine revelation can only be assessed, as it were, from the inside. From that perspective the person who chooses to do God’s will discovers that Jesus’ teaching articulates it, that Jesus does not speak on his own but as the Word of God.’ (Carson)

‘Observe here, First, What the question is, concerning the doctrine of Christ, whether it be of God or no; whether the gospel be a divine revelation or an imposture. Christ himself was willing to have his doctrine enquired into, whether it were of God or no, much more should his ministers; and we are concerned to examine what grounds we go upon, for, if we be deceived, we are miserably deceived. Secondly, who are likely to succeed in this search: those that do the will of God, at least are desirous to do it. Now see,

1. Who they are that will do the will of God. They are such as are impartial in their enquiries concerning the will of God, and are not biassed by any lust or interest, and such as are resolved by the grace of God, when they find out what the will of God is, to conform to it. They are such as have an honest principle of regard to God, and are truly desirous to glorify and please him.

2. Whence it is that such a one shall know of the truth of Christ’s doctrine. (1.) Christ has promised to give knowledge to such; he hath said, he shall know, and he can give an understanding. Those who improve the light they have, and carefully live up to it, shall be secured by divine grace from destructive mistakes. (2.) They are disposed and prepared to receive that knowledge. He that is inclined to submit to the rules of the divine law is disposed to admit the rays of divine light. To him that has shall be given; those have a good understanding that do his commandments, Ps 111:10. Those who resemble God are most likely to understand him.’ (MHC)

‘The true notion of holy evangelical truths will not live, at least not flourish, where they are divided from a holy conversation. As we learn all to practise, so we learn much be practice…And herein alone can we come unto the assurance, that what we know and learn is indeed the truth. So our Saviour tells us, that “if any man do the will of God, he shall know of the doctrine whether it be of God”…And (Jn 7:17) hereby will they be led continually into farther degrees of knowledge. For the mind of man is capable of receiving continual supplies in the increase of light and knowledge whilst it is in this world, if so be they are improved unto their proper end in obedience unto God. But without this the mind will be quickly stuffed with notions, so that no streams can descend into it from the fountain of truth.’ (Owen)

7:18 The person who speaks on his own authority desires to receive honor for himself; the one who desires the honor of the one who sent him is a man of integrity, and there is no unrighteousness in him. 7:19 Hasn’t Moses given you the law? Yet not one of you keeps the law! Why do you want to kill me?”
7:20 The crowd answered, “You’re possessed by a demon! Who is trying to kill you?” 7:21 Jesus replied, “I performed one miracle and you are all amazed. 7:22 However, because Moses gave you the practice of circumcision (not that it came from Moses, but from the forefathers), you circumcise a male child on the Sabbath. 7:23 But if a male child is circumcised on the Sabbath so that the law of Moses is not broken, why are you angry with me because I made a man completely well on the Sabbath? 7:24 Do not judge according to external appearance, but judge with proper judgment.”

‘Demoniacs were often thought to act insanely; in this case the crowd thinks Jesus is paranoid.’ (NTBC)

“Moses gave you the practice of circumcision (not that it came from Moses, but from the forefathers” – Far from setting aside the OT law, Jesus affirms it, insisting only that its word are spirit are correctly adhered to.  So much for those teachers (ancient and modern) who seek to drive a wedge between Jesus and his Bible.

Healing the whole man – ‘Jesus asks the crowd to reason consistently (sound and fair judgment was paramount in Jewish teaching): why is it wrong for him to heal supernaturally on the sabbath, when circumcision (which wounds) is permitted on the sabbath? A later first-century rabbi argued similarly: If circumcising on the eighth day takes precedence over the sabbath (and it does), saving a whole life also does (as was commonly agreed). Some practices at the festivals (such as killing the Passover lamb and waving the palm branch, at the Feast of Tabernacles) likewise took precedence over the sabbath.’ (NTBC)

Morris quotes the Rabbinic saying, ‘If circumcision, which attaches to one only of the two hundred and forty-eight members of the human body, suspends the Sabbath, how much more shall (the saving of) the whole body suspend the Sabbath?’

Commenting on the use of words for ‘healing’ in the NT, ‘Health is thought of in terms of wholeness, well-being, soundness, life, strength and salvation…What modern man confines to the body, the Bible extends to the whole of man’s being and relationships. It is only when man’s being is whole and his relationships right that he can be truly described as healthy.’ (John Wilkinson) This ‘holistic’ view is, however, rather stretching the meaning of the present verse. The meaning of this verse would seem to be, “If it is acceptable for a righteous act performed on just one part of the body to take place on the Sabbath, why is it not acceptable to you for a righteous act which involves the whole person to be performed on that day?” (He had been an invalid for 38 years, Jn 5:5) Thus, the contrast is not between physical healing and holistic healing, but between healing of one part of the body and the whole of the body.

“Judge with proper judgement”

‘In an age when Mt 7:1 (“Do not judge, or you too will be judged”) has displaced Jn 3:16 as the only verse in the Bible the man in the street is likely to know, it is perhaps worth adding that Mt 7:1 forbids judgementalism, not moral discernment. By contrast, Jn 7:24 demands moral and theological discernment in the context of obedient faith (Jn 7:17), while excoriating self-righteous legalism and offering no sanction for censorious heresy-hunting.’ (Carson)

Questions About Jesus’ Identity

7:25 Then some of the residents of Jerusalem began to say, “Isn’t this the man they are trying to kill? 7:26 Yet here he is, speaking publicly, and they are saying nothing to him. Do the rulers really know that this man is the Christ? 7:27 But we know where this man comes from. Whenever the Christ comes, no one will know where he comes from.”

Lincoln pinpoints a link with the previous section: ‘The forensic motifs introduced earlier in the chapter are developed, as Jesus’ exhortation to judge not by appearances but with right judgement (v. 24) is played out through the divided opinions, through the charges brought against messianic claims made on Jesus’ behalf, and particularly through the portrayal of the Pharisees and religious leaders, who claim to be able to judge because of their knowledge of the law but are shown to be incompetent and unjust judges.’

Some of the residents of Jerusalem – To be distinguished from the members of the Sanhedrin (v15), and the crowd (mainly pilgrims, v20).  They know something of the plot to arrest Jesus, as their comments here recorded show.

“Isn’t this the man they are trying to kill?” – Their surprise is due in part to the very public nature of Jesus’ accusations (vv19-24), and in part to the fact that he is (for the time being) being allowed to do so with impunity.

Note the attempted logic:

  1. Nobody knows where the Christ comes from.
  2. We know where Jesus of Nazareth came from.
  3. Conclusion: Jesus cannot be the Messiah.

“Do the rulers really know that this man is the Christ?” – Does the fact that they are taking no action against him mean that they have concluded that he really is the Christ?

“We know where this man comes from” – The assumption that Jesus comes from Nazareth ‘is of course another instance of the celebrated “Johannine irony”: the Jerusalemites are not as informed of Jesus’ true origins as they think.’ (Carson)

Ryle comments concerning the belief that Jesus came from Nazareth: ‘This, we must remember, was the universal belief of all the Jews. When our Lord rode into Jerusalem, just before his crucifixion, the multitude said, “This is Jesus, the prophet of Nazareth of Galilee.” (Matt. 21:11.) When an inscription was put over His head on the cross, in the letters of the three languages, it was, “Jesus of Nazareth the king of the Jews.” (John 19:19. See also Matt. 13:55; Mark 6:3; Luke 4:22.) Yet we know all this time that the Jews were mistaken, and that our Lord was in reality born at Bethlehem, according to prophecy. (Micah 5:2.) We can hardly doubt that the Jews might have found out this, if they had taken the pains to inquire narrowly into the early history of our Lord’s life. In a nation so strict about pedigrees and birthplaces, such a thing could not be hid. But it seems as if they would not take the pains to inquire, and satisfied themselves with the common story of His origin, as it gave them an additional excuse for not receiving Him as the Messiah.’

“Whenever the Christ comes, no one will know where he comes from” – The statement that ‘no-one will know’ where the Christ is from appears to be in conflict with Mic 5:2/Mt 2:5. where the religious leaders in Jerusalem state that the Christ was to be born ‘in Bethlehem in Judea’.  But it might have been suggested by Dan 9:25 and Mal 3:1.  As noted, Jesus was commonly thought to come from Nazareth, the place of his upbringing (Jn 1:45; 18:5, 7; 19:19).  Of course, neither group is speaking by divine inspiration.  Nevertheless, an explanation is called for.  It is probable that each group of people (separated in time by about 30 years, be it noted) is speaking from a different ‘school’ of expectation.  In fact, even within the present passage an alternative ‘school of thought’ is represented, which knows that the Christ will come from Bethlehem (v42).

Michaels states: ‘The narrator wants to underscore the confusing diversity of Jewish messianic expectations, while at the same time affirming that Jesus (in his own way) fulfills all these varied expectations.’

According to Kruse, a Jewish belief at the time was the no-one (not even the Messiah himself) would know his identity until his anointing by Elijah.

7:28 Then Jesus, while teaching in the temple courts, cried out, “You both know me and know where I come from! And I have not come on my own initiative, but the one who sent me is true. You do not know him, 7:29 but I know him, because I have come from him and he sent me.”

Jesus…cried out – indicating the solemnity and significance of his utterance (cf. Jn 1:15–16; 7:37;12:44).  ‘Jesus is giving the greatest publicity to this piece of teaching.’ (Morris)

So much for the common supposition that the Messiah’s coming would be secret!

“You both know me and know where I come from!”

How are we to understand this saying?
Ryle marshals opinion up to his own time:-

(a) the Lord is speaking interrogatively: Grotius, Lampe, Doddridge, Bloomfield, Tittman, and A. Clarke.  The sense would be “So you know me, do you?”.  Among modern commentators, Bruner supports this interpretation.

(b) he is speaking ironically: Calvin, Ecolampadius, Beza, Flacius, Gualter, Rolluck, Toletus, Glassius, Olshausen, Tholuck, Stier, and Webster.  The sense would then be the opposite of what is actually said.

(c) he is speaking affirmatively: Chrysostom, Cocceius, Jansenius, Diodati, Bengel, Henry, Burkitt, Hengstenberg, Alford, Wordsworth, and Burgon (and also Ryle himself).  In this case, Jesus is agreeing that they are in a certain sense correct.  They know something of his human background and upbringing, but nothing of his divine origin.  This is probably the majority view among modern commentators.

This is not, of course, a huge difference between these three interpretations.

“You do not know him” – ‘Had they known God their would have recognised him whom God sent’ (Morris).  See also Jn 8:19,35.

‘What is striking is the radical claim that the opposition do not know the one who sent Jesus (cf. also Jn 8:19, 55). It is not simply that common knowledge of God can be assumed and that the dispute is about Jesus’ relationship to this God. Rather Jesus’ relationship to God is such that not to know him is to show that one also does not know God. For the Fourth Gospel Jesus has become the decisive criterion for knowledge of the true God. What is required is to share in Jesus’ knowledge (‘I know him’) and this, according to the prologue, is what Jesus’ mission is about; as ‘the only God, who rests in the lap of the Father, he has made him known’ (Jn 1:18).’ (Lincoln)

“But I know him” – Outrageous claim, when coupled with Jesus’ comment that they do not know him!  Cf. Jn 4:18.

“He who sent me” – and commissioned and authorized me.  They think they know where he has come from (Nazareth).  In fact, he has come from the Father.

Bruner cites Dodd, who sees here the ‘irony characteristic of this gospel, a hint … to the reader that His true origin is even more mysterious and august than that of the hidden Messiah of Jewish expectation; He comes, not from Rome or the north, or from any unknown place of concealment, but direct from God Himself.’

“The one who sent me is true” – True, in the sense of genuine or real, as in true light (Jn 1:9), true worshippers (Jn 4:23), true bread (Jn 6:32), true vine (Jn 15:1) and the true God (Jn 17:3). (Kruse)

7:30 So then they tried to seize Jesus, but no one laid a hand on him, because his time had not yet come. 7:31 Yet many of the crowd believed in him and said, “Whenever the Christ comes, he won’t perform more miraculous signs than this man did, will he?”

No one laid a hand on him, because his time had not yet come – The second such declaration (cf. Jn 2:4; 7:30; 8:20; 12:23, 27; 13:1; 16:32; 17:1).

‘Some kind of divine timetable seems to be in play, and Jesus’ sense of a sovereign plan gives him a certain poise.’ (Bruner)

Jesus was, indeed, immortal till his work was done’.  But his awareness of this did not lead to him taking rash risks, v1.

‘The ‘hour’ is an important concept in this Gospel. In the early part of the Gospel things move towards the ‘hour’, which is the hour of Jesus’ passion, death and his subsequent exaltation. No machinations of Jesus’ opponents could bring his ministry to a premature end; he would not surrender himself to their hands until his ‘hour’ had come.’ (Kruse).  See also Psa 31:15.

‘Immortal till the work is done’

As Ryle remarks, we see in this verse ‘the overruling hand of God over all his enemies’:-

‘The servants of Christ in every age should treasure up the doctrine before us, and remember it in time of need. It is “full of sweet, pleasant, and unspeakable comfort to godly persons.” Let such never forget that they live in a world where God overrules all times and events, and where nothing can happen but by God’s permission. The very hairs of their heads are all numbered. Sorrow and sickness, and poverty, and persecution, can never touch them, unless God sees fit. They may boldly say to every cross,—“Thou couldst have no power against me, except it were given thee from above.” Then let them work on confidently. They are immortal, till their work is done. Let them suffer patiently, if needs be that they suffer. Their “times are in God’s hand.” (Ps 31:15.) That hand guides and governs all things here below, and makes no mistakes.’

Many in the crowd put their faith in him – Presumably, a different group than those referred to in v27.

This chapter records many different attitudes and responses to Jesus. Happily, some believed, even though we cannot be sure of the depth or permanence of their belief.  As Morris comments, ‘The reason for their faith was not a profound one…But throughout this Gospel it is better to believe on the basis of miracles than not to believe at all.  So there is no condemnation of this faith as inadequate.’

Carson comments that these two verses, taken together, typify the division that takes place when God’s revelation in Christ confronts human beings (see also Jn 1:11–12; 3:18–21).

“Whenever the Christ comes, he won’t perform more miraculous signs than this man did, will he?” – Ryle paraphrases: “What greater evidence could any one give that He is the Christ, than this man has given? He could not work greater miracles, even if He worked more numerous ones. What then are we waiting for? Why should we not acknowledge this man as the Christ?”

7:32 The Pharisees heard the crowd murmuring these things about Jesus, so the chief priests and the Pharisees sent officers to arrest him. 7:33 Then Jesus said, “I will be with you for only a little while longer, and then I am going to the one who sent me. 7:34 You will look for me but will not find me, and where I am you cannot come.”

The chief priests and the Pharisees – ‘did not hate him for the same reason, because in point of fact they hated each other. The Pharisees hated him because he drove through their petty rules and regulations. If he was right, they were wrong; and they loved their own little system more than they loved God. The Sadducees were a political party. They did not observe the Pharisaic rules and regulations. Nearly all the priests were Sadducees. They collaborated with their Roman masters, and they had a very comfortable and even luxurious time. They did not want a Messiah; for when he came their political set-up would disintegrate and their comfort would be gone. They hated Jesus because he interfered with the vested interests which were dearer to them than God.’ (DSB)

Although, strictly speaking, there was only one ‘chief priest’, others who had previously held the role (but had been deposed by the Romans) still retained much of their previous authority.  Moreover, the title appears to have been extended to others from the various high-priestly families. (Morris)

According to Lincoln, ‘the prominence of the Pharisees in the hostile alliance described in John may well reflect their role after 70 CE and in the opposition to Johannine Christians.’  We are not persuaded by such historical revisionism.

Murmering he is not muttered complaint, but merely speaking in lowered voices.

Officers – These ‘temple guards’ ‘would be Levites who functioned as temple police to ensure good order in the temple precincts, but under the command of the chief priests they could operate in a wider sphere as well (cf. Jn 18:3, 12).’ (Kruse)  They will be mentioned again in v45.

There are been previous attempts to arrest (and kill) Jesus (Jn 5:18; 7:1, 19, 20, 25, 30).

Then Jesus said – better, ‘therefore Jesus said’ (Kruse).  It was the approach of the temple guards that prompted Jesus to say these things.

“I will be with you for only a little while longer, and then I am going to the one who sent me” – Here, ‘Jesus is expressing his unconcern at the plot.  His life (and his death) are determined by the Father, not the Pharisees…The thought is that of the accomplishment of his mission, with a hint also that his proper and natural abode is not here.’ (Morris)

“You will look for me but will not find me, and where I am you cannot come” – Jesus speaks of his coming death and exaltation.  While others are debating Jesus’ origins, he is asserting his destiny.  And they cannot pursue him there.

If they cannot follow where Jesus goes, then now is their opportunity, the moment of choice.

For Ryle, this saying weighs strongly against the doctrine of universalism: ‘This is one of those expressions which show the impossibility of unconverted and unbelieving men going to heaven. It is a place where they “cannot come.” Their own nature unfits them for it. They would not be happy if they were there. Without new hearts, without the Holy Ghost, without the blood of Christ they could not enjoy heaven. The favourite notion of some modern theologians, that all mankind are finally to go to heaven, cannot possibly be reconciled with this expression. Men may please themselves with thinking it is kind and loving and liberal and large-hearted to teach and believe that all men and women of all sorts will finally be found in heaven. One word of our Lord Jesus Christ’s overturns the whole theory.—Heaven is a place, He says to the wicked, where “ye cannot come.”’

Too late!

Luther (cited by Bruner) said of Jesus words, “You will look for me but will not find me”: ‘These are horrible words. I do not like to read them. But we have no alternative; these words must be proclaimed. When the Gospel vanishes, then the light, the proper understanding and knowledge of faith in Christ also disappears.’

Ryle, similarly, warns that ‘there is such a thing as finding out truth too late. There may be convictions of sin, discoveries of our own folly, desires after peace, anxieties about heaven, fears of hell,—but all too late. The teaching of Scripture on this point is clear and express. It is written in Proverbs,—“Then shall they call upon me, but I will not answer; they shall seek me early, but they shall not find me.” (Prov. 1:28.) It is written of the foolish virgins in the parable, that when they found the door shut, they knocked in vain, saying, “Lord, Lord, open to us.” (Matt. 25:11.) Awful as it may seem, it is possible, by continually resisting light and warnings, to sin away our own souls. It sounds terrible, but it is true.

‘Let us take heed to ourselves lest we sin after the example of the unbelieving Jews, and never seek the Lord Jesus as a Saviour till it is too late. The door of mercy is still open. The throne of grace is still waiting for us. Let us give diligence to make sure our interest in Christ, while it is called to-day. Better never have been born than hear the Son of God say at last, “Where I am thither ye cannot come.”’

Now or never

‘Jesus did not come to give the world another interesting option for consideration. He came claiming ultimacy. His purpose is to move all who hear him to decide to place their trust in him, to be baptized, and to join his Church of Word, Fellowship, Eucharist, and Prayer (as in Acts 2:42, where Luke summarizes the basic apostolic convictions).’ (Bruner)

7:35 Then the Jewish leaders said to one another, “Where is he going to go that we cannot find him? He is not going to go to the Jewish people dispersed among the Greeks and teach the Greeks, is he? 7:36 What did he mean by saying, ‘You will look for me but will not find me, and where I am you cannot come’?”

“Where is he going?” – ‘They no more understand where he is going than where he came from.’ (Michaels)

“I go to the one who sent me” – A reference to his ascension.

Note the crass literalism of the Pharisees. The reference is to the Jews of the dispersion. ‘The question which they asked was whether he would leave an ungrateful country, and go into those distant nations and teach them.’ (Barnes)

The idea that he might be intending to go to the Jewish people dispersed among the Greeks and teach the Greeks implies that they thought that he would go to the Jewish synagogues, and make them his base for a mission to ‘the Greeks’ (i.e the Gentiles).  That notion is dismissed as fantastical.  But, of course, it became precisely the strategy of the first apostles, as Acts records.

‘It is remark able that Jesus returned no answer to these inquiries. He rather chose to turn off their minds from a speculation about the place to which he was going, to the great affairs of their own personal salvation.’ (Barnes)

Note the irony: ‘The crowd wondered if Jesus was going to leave Judea and Galilee, join the Diaspora and then teach the Greeks/Gentiles. If he did so he would be beyond the reach of his Jerusalem opponents. This was not Jesus’ intention, but readers of the Gospel would know that after his return to the Father Jesus would send his Spirit to the disciples and then indeed his message would be heard in the Diaspora and by the Greeks/Gentiles.’ (Kruse)

Michaels agrees that ‘there is a touch of irony in the remark about teaching the Greeks, for the narrator and his readers know that Jesus’ departure (i.e., his death and resurrection) will indeed spread his teaching throughout the Greek-speaking world.’

Beasley-Murray, similarly: ‘To the enemies of Jesus it sounded an absurd notion to think of Jesus embarking on a mission to the Greeks, but it happened! And it had marvelous success among peoples of many nations! Most astonishingly of all, it came to pass through the Jewish authorities achieving their aim and putting him to death!’

“What did he mean by saying, ‘You will look for me but will not find me, and where I am you cannot come’?” – For once, Jesus’ words are repeated verbatim.  They both puzzled his hearers, and made them feel uneasy.  What could he mean?  Was he mocking them?  Was there some truer or deeper meaning that eluded them?

Teaching About the Spirit

7:37 On the last day of the feast, the greatest day, Jesus stood up and shouted out, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me, and 7:38 let the one who believes in me drink. Just as the scripture says, ‘From within him will flow rivers of living water.’ ” 7:39 (Now he said this about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were going to receive, for the Spirit had not yet been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.)

The last and greatest day of the Feast – this was either the seventh or the eighth day of the Feast of Tabernacles.

Some, such as Kruse, think that the seventh, and climactic, day is meant.  ‘On this day the priests processed around the altar with the water drawn from the Pool of Siloam not just once but seven times, and on the following day the water drawing and the dancing in the light of the menorahs did not take place. The seventh day would therefore be the most dramatic occasion for Jesus’ announcements about water and light.’ (Lincoln)

Others, such as Lincoln (notwithstanding his comment noted above) think that the eighth day is meant.  This fits in well with the author’s description of it as ‘the last day’.  Lincoln says: ‘The last day is most naturally taken as the final, eighth day, which was a sabbath, and ‘great’ fits best both the depiction of this eighth day in Lev. 23:36 as a holy convocation and solemn assembly and the narrator’s own later designation in Jn 19:31 of the sabbath of the Passover as a great day, that is, one of special solemnity. It would be no less dramatic for Jesus, after the specific rituals had all been carried out, to announce in the midst of the final great sabbath convocation that the festival’s symbols find their true significance in him.’

The Feast of Tabernacles was the most popular in the Jewish calendar.  It was part thanksgiving for the recent harvest, part prayer for future rain.

Either way, the rite of water-drawing – performed on each of the seven days of the feast – is assumed.  Beasley-Murray describes this rite in some detail:-

‘At the break of day priests proceeded from the temple to the pool of Siloam. There they filled a golden pitcher with water and bore it back to the temple. On approaching the watergate on the south side of the inner court the shophar (trumpet) was sounded three times—joyous blasts which were explicitly related to Isa 12:3, “With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.” The priests bearing the water then processed around the altar, watched by the pilgrims, while the temple choir sang the Hallel (i.e., Pss 113–18). When the opening words of Psalm 118 were reached, “Give thanks to the Lord,” every man and boy shook the lulab (a bunch of willow and myrtle tied with palm) with his right hand and held aloft citrus fruit in his left hand (a sign of the harvest gathered in), and the cry “Give thanks to the Lord” was repeated three times. The same thing happened at the cry “O Lord save us!” of Ps 118:25. Since all this took place at the time of the daily offering, the water was offered to God in connection with the daily drink-offering (of wine). A chosen priest mounted the altar on which stood two silver bowls, one for the reception of the drink-offering and the other for the water. When the priest had poured the wine and the water into their respective bowls, they were then poured out as offerings to God.’

‘There could be no confusion regarding his claim; at that moment Jesus was eclipsing what God had previously ordained as appropriate worship and religion. At that moment, God was fulfilling with the reality to which the ceremony was only able to point. When Jesus stood up to speak at the pinnacle of the ceremony, the God and promises of the Old Testament coalesced in his person and work.’ (Klink)

‘The controversies are laid aside for a moment as Jesus opens his heart in this impassioned appeal. It is deeply moving to visualize the Saviour standing in the temple among the crowds of pilgrims, probably in the proximity of the altar where the water from the Pool of Siloam was poured each morning, calling on all who would to come to him and to receive the life-giving blessing of the Spirit.’ (Milne)

‘I doubt not he read their hearts. He saw them going away with aching consciences and unsatisfied minds, having got nothing from their blind teachers the Pharisees and Sadducees, and carrying away nothing but a barren recollection of pompous forms. He saw and pitied them and cried aloud, like a herald, ‘If any man thirst, let him come unto me and drink.” (Ryle, Holiness)

Jesus stood up and shouted out – This implies that he stood in a prominent position, so that he could be seen and heard by many.

As Lincoln remarks, ‘precisely what Jesus is presented as saying about the water symbolism is one of the most disputed syntactical and exegetical issues in the whole Gospel.’  There are three principle questions: (a) how are Jesus’ words to be punctuated? (b) do the streams of living water flow from Christ or from the believers (or from both)? (c) what Scripture or Scriptures lie behind v38b?

“If anyone is thirsty” – There is an allusion here to a ritual, connected with the need for rain during the following year, that took place on the last day of the Feast of the Tabernacles.

‘If bodily thirst is painful, how much more painful is thirst of soul? Physical suffering is not the worst part of eternal punishment. It is a light thing, even in this world, compared to the suffering of the mind and inward man. To see the value of our souls and find out they are in danger of eternal ruin; to feel the burden of unforgiven sin and not to know where to turn for relief; to have a conscience sick and ill at ease and to be ignorant of the remedy; to discover that we are dying, dying daily, and yet unprepared to meet God; to have some clear view of our own guilt and wickedness, and yet to be in utter darkness about absolution; this is the highest degree of pain-the pain which drinks up soul and spirit and pierces joints and marrow! And this no doubt is the thirst of which our Lord is speaking. It is thirst after pardon, forgiveness, absolution and peace with God. It is the craving of a really awakened conscience, wanting satisfaction and not knowing where to find it, walking through dry places, and unable to get rest.’ (Ryle, Holiness)

A lack of spiritual appetite

‘Nothing proves so conclusively the fallen nature of man as the general, common want of spiritual appetite! For money, for power, for pleasure, for rank, for honour, for distinction-for all these the vast majority are now intensely thirsting. To lead forlorn hopes, to dig for gold, to storm a breach, to try to hew a way through thick-ribbed ice to the North Pole, for all these objects there is no lack of adventurers and volunteers. Fierce and unceasing is the competition for these corruptible crowns! But few indeed, by comparison, are those who thirst after eternal life. No wonder that the natural man is called in Scripture ‘dead’, and ‘sleeping’, and ‘blind’, and ‘deaf’. No wonder that he is said to need a second birth and a new creation. There is no surer symptom of mortification in the body than the loss of all feeling. There is no more painful sign of an unhealthy state of soul than an utter absence of spiritual thirst. Woe to that man of whom the Saviour can say, ‘Thou knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked’.’ (Rev 3:17) (Ryle, Holiness)

“Let him come to me” – Outrageous!  What other holy man could, with integrity, issue such an invitation?  ‘No prophet or apostle ever took on himself to use such language as this. ‘Come with us,’ said Moses to Hobab; (Nu 10:29) ‘Come to the waters,’ says Isaiah; (Isa 55:1) ‘Behold the Lamb,’ says John the Baptist; (Jn 1:29) ‘Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ,’ says St. Paul. (Ac 16:31) But no one except Jesus of Nazareth ever said, ‘Come to me.’ That fact is very significant. He that said, ‘Come to me,’ knew and felt when he said it that he was the eternal Son of God, the promised Messiah, the Saviour of the world.’ (Ryle, Holiness)

‘Let him not go to the ceremonial law, which would neither pacify the conscience nor purify it, and therefore could not make the comers thereunto perfect, Heb 10:1. Nor let him go to the heathen philosophy, which does but beguile men, lead them into a wood, and leave them there; but let him go to Christ, admit his doctrine, submit to his discipline, believe in him; come to him as the fountain of living waters, the giver of all comfort.’ (MHC)

Bruner cites Dodd, who notes that for John the Feast of Tabernacles ‘is the occasion when Jesus manifests Himself as Messiah in Jerusalem.… [indeed] messianic categories are transcended when Jesus offers Himself as the source of living water, and as the light of the world, and finally pronounces the egō eimi [“I Am”] which affirms the mystery of His own eternal being, in unity with the Father. This threefold manifestation [of water, Jn 7:37–39; of light, Jn 8:12; and of I Am, Jn 8:21–30 and 8:58] corresponds with the affirmations of the Prologue, which present the Logos as the bearer of life and light, and as being both theos [God, Jn 1:1c] and pros ton theon [with God, Jn 1:1b], or eis ton kolpon tou patros [in the bosom of the Father, Jn 1:18].’

‘On the last day of the Feast of Tabernacles there was a water ritual, and this clearly formed the background to the saying of Jesus about the Spirit. The ritual was connected with the need for rain during the following year. When Jesus said ‘If anyone is thirsty’ (37), he may have been thinking of Isa 55:1, but it is more likely he was offering a better alternative to the water ritual. The idea of thirst is given a spiritual sense, as so often in his teaching.’ (NBC)

‘Experiencing the blessings of the kingdom is like drinking new wine, for which the Jews were reluctant to abandon the old ways. (Lk 5:39) It was in this respect that Jesus appealed to the spiritually thirsty to come to him and drink.’ (Jn 4:9-14; 7:37-39; Rev 21:6) (DBI)

‘How ironic that his unrecognized voice was a disturbing presence in the festivities that had for so long been celebrated to welcome his presence!’ (DBI)

Neither the number of our sins, nor the seriousness of them, nor the length of time spent sinning, provide any exception to this invitation.

Klink notes: ‘The location of the Spirit is not in the temple and mediated by priests but is in the very being of the Christian. Even more, this experience of the Spirit is not celebrated once a year at a special feast but daily in the life of the believer. And finally, the source of the Spirit is not the joyous feast of a glorious holiday but comes by means of the suffering and death of Christ on the cross. Ironically, the Spirit is our receipt that Christ has died in our stead and that we have been given new life in him.’

We must note the differing responses to this gracious invitation: ‘The people were divided: some defended him and some wanted to arrest him. Is he a “good man” or “a deceiver?” (Jn 7:12) Is he “the Christ?” (Jn 7:31) Is he the promised “Prophet?” (Jn 7:40 Deut 18:15) If only they had honestly examined the evidence, they would have discovered that, indeed, he was the Christ, the Son of God.’ (Wiersbe)

‘What an offer! The deepest cravings of the human spirit are here, as in the Old Testament, expressed by the figure of “thirst,” and the external satisfaction of them by “drinking.” To the woman of Samaria he had said almost the same thing, and in the same terms. (Jn 4:13-14) But what to her was simply affirmed as a fact is here turned into a worldwide proclamation; and whereas there, the gift by him of the living water is the most prominent idea-in contrast with her hesitation to give him the perishable water of Jacob’s well-here the prominence is given to himself as the Well-spring of all satisfaction. He had in Galilee invited all the WEARY AND HEAVY-LADEN of the human family to come under his wing and they should find REST, (Mt 11:28) which is just the same deep want, and the same profound relief of it, under another and equally grateful figure. He had in the synagogue of Capernaum (John 6), announced himself, in every variety of form, as “the BREAD of Life,” and as both able and authorized to appease the “HUNGER,” and quench the “THIRST,” of all that apply to him. There is, and there can be, nothing beyond that here. But what was on all those occasions uttered in private, or addressed to a provincial audience, is here sounded forth in the streets of the great religious metropolis, and in language of surpassing majesty, simplicity, and grace. It is just Yahweh’s ancient proclamation now sounding forth through human flesh, “Ho, EVERY ONE THAT THIRSTETH, COME YE TO THE WATERS, AND HE THAT HATH NO MONEY!” (Isa 55:1) In this light, we have but two alternatives; either to say with Caiaphas of him that uttered such words, “He is guilty of death,” or, falling down before him, to exclaim with Thomas, “MY LORD AND MY GOD!”‘ (JFB)

‘Patience had her perfect work in the Lord Jesus, and until the last day of the feast he pleaded with the Jews, even as on this last day of the year he pleads with us, and waits to be gracious to us. Admirable indeed is the longsuffering of the Saviour in bearing with some of us year after year, notwithstanding our provocations, rebellions, and resistance of his Holy Spirit. Wonder of wonders that we are still in the land of mercy!

Pity expressed herself most plainly, for Jesus cried, which implies not only the loudness of his voice, but the tenderness of his tones. He entreats us to be reconciled. “We pray you,” says the Apostle, “as though God did beseech you by us.” What earnest, pathetic terms are these! How deep must be the love which makes the Lord weep over sinners, and like a mother woo his children to his bosom! Surely at the call of such a cry our willing hearts will come.

Provision is made most plenteously; all is provided that man can need to quench his soul’s thirst. To his conscience the atonement brings peace; to his understanding the gospel brings the richest instruction; to his heart the person of Jesus is the noblest object of affection; to the whole man the truth as it is in Jesus supplies the purest nutriment. Thirst is terrible, but Jesus can remove it. Though the soul were utterly famished, Jesus could restore it.

Proclamation is made most freely, that every thirsty one is welcome. No other distinction is made but that of thirst. Whether it be the thirst of avarice, ambition, pleasure, knowledge, or rest, he who suffers from it is invited. The thirst may be bad in itself, and be no sign of grace, but rather a mark of inordinate sin longing to be gratified with deeper draughts of lust; but it is not goodness in the creature which brings him the invitation, the Lord Jesus sends it freely, and without respect of persons.

Personality is declared most fully. The sinner must come to Jesus, not to works, ordinances, or doctrines, but to a personal Redeemer, who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree. The bleeding, dying, rising Saviour, is the only star of hope to a sinner. Oh for grace to come now and drink, ere the sun sets upon the year’s last day! (Spurgeon)

A need, a remedy, and a promise

1. A need – If anyone is thirsty.

All kinds of need: oxygen, pleasure, achievement, adventure, excitement; for meaning, purpose, a sense of belonging, peace of mind and peace with God.

What it is to have a need and not realise it.

This is the simplest of conditions.  As Bruner says, ‘not “if anyone is qualified or surrendered enough or deeply committed or entirely yielded.” All one need be is needy.’

To hunger and thirst after something better is the first step to finding it, Mt 5:6.

2. A remedy – Come to me and drink.

If your thirst is not satisfied, you will die.  Note the importance of water in such a hot and arid climate.  According to Wright, a visitor to the region might be urged to drink as much as a pint of water each hour.

“Come to me” – bold statement! Not to a set of ideas, but to a person.

3. A promise – Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within.

The promise is to ‘whoever’. Think of the different people and their reactions in this passage: Jesus’ brothers (sceptical), the crowds (excitable), the Pharisees (proud), the chief priests (jealous), Nicodemus (sympathetic), the Jews who believed in him.

This is explained as referring to the Holy Spirit.

Rivers of living water
From whom do the streams flow?

(a) from the one who believes?

According to Bruner, this interpretation has been favoured particularly in the Eastern church.  ‘The Eastern rejection of the West’s added filioque clause to the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed that now said the Spirit proceeds “from the Father and the Son [filioque],” probably contributed to the East’s wanting the Spirit to come flowing from believers, rather than from the Son, as Brown…has explained.’

Bruner says that this interpretation is favoured by Origen, Athanasius, Cyril of Jerusalem, Basil, Chrysostom, ‘and, surprisingly, the two main ancient Western interpreters of John, Jerome and Augustine’, Henry, Surenhus and von Hofmann, Meyer, Abbott, Bernard, Schlatter, Lindars, Barrett, and Ridderbos.  We may add Ryle’s name to this list.

(b) from Jesus?

Bearing in mind the lack of punctuation in the original, a possible translation would be: “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me; and let whoever believes in me drink. As the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.” The ‘streams of living water’ would then flow from Christ, rather than from the believer. This makes excellent sense, especially in the light of the teaching of v39, which relates the gift of the Spirit to the work of Christ.

Because the water of verse 38 flows to and not from the believer, (Jn 7:39) 7:37-38 may be punctuated to read: “If anyone thirsts, let this one come to me; and let whoever believes in me drink. As the Scripture says….” (The original manuscripts had no punctuation.) Verse 38 may thus declare that Jesus fulfills the Scriptures read at the feast, as the foundation stone of a new temple, the source of the water of life (cf. Jn 19:34; Rev 22:1).’ (NTBC)

‘The question arises whether this is a reference to either Christ or the believer. Since the living water is identified with the Spirit, in what sense can it be said that a believer communicates the Spirit? This can hardly be the meaning, and it is best to understand it to mean that Christ communicates the Spirit, a thought underlined by the latter part of v 39.’ (NBC)

According to Bruner, this interpretation is favoured by Justin, Irenaeus, Hippolytus, Tertullian, Cyprian, Bauer, Lagrange, Hoskyns, Dodd, Bultmann, Schnackenburg, Brown, Carson, Schnelle, Moloney, Thyen, Wilckens, and Keener.  To this list we may add the names of Beasley-Murray and Lincoln.

(c) from both the believer and from Christ?

Hendriksen gives the following as the general sense of this passage: ‘Not only do those who drink from the Fountain, Christ, receive lasting satisfaction for themselves – everlasting life, salvation full and free, but in addition, life in a bounteous manner communicates itself to others. The blessed one becomes, by God’s sovereign grace, a channel of abundant blessings to others. The church proclaims the message of salvation to the world, so that the elect from every clime and nation are gathered in.’

Bruner: ‘This “person” is probably both the giving Christ and the receiving Christian, each of whom overflows with resources to the surrounding needy. The Samaritan Woman was promised that if she just “asked,” she would not only receive “living water” from Jesus (4:10) but that she would herself be transformed into “a fountain, gushing up into deep, lasting Life” for Jesus and others (4:14), as she then, in fact, became for her city (4:29–39). In chapter 4 it is both Jesus and the Samaritan Woman who overflow with living water; here in chapter 7 it is again both Jesus and the thirsty drinkers who become rivers of living water. Both are true. Trusters both get and give “overflow.”’

Bruner says that this interpretation is favoured by Luther, Bengel, Westcott, Temple, Hoskyns [but see (b) above], and Barrett, as well as by Bruner himself.

It is also favoured by Ryle.  Concerning the abundance believers find in Christ, he says: ‘They would say, if their evidence could be collected, that when they came to Christ by faith, they found in Him more than they expected. They have tasted peace, and hope, and comfort, since they first believed, which, with all their doubts and fears, they would not exchange for anything in this world. They have found grace according to their need, and strength according to their days. In themselves and their own hearts they have often been disappointed; but they have never been disappointed in Christ.’

And concerning the fountains of blessing that believers are to others, Ryle writes: ‘Some do good while they live, by their tongues; like the Apostles and first preachers of the Gospel. Some do good when they are dying; like Stephen and the penitent thief, and our own martyred Reformers at the stake. Some do good long after they are dead, by their writings; like Baxter and Bunyan and M’Cheyne. But in one way or another, probably, almost all believers will be found to have been fountains of blessings. By word or by deed, by precept or by example, directly or indirectly, they are always leaving their marks on others. They know it not now; but they will find at last that it is true.’

“As the Scripture has said” – ‘not so much to any particular passage as to the general strain of Messianic prophecy, as Isa 58:11; Joe 3:18; Zec 14:8; Eze 47:1-12; in most of which passages the idea is that of waters issuing from beneath the Temple, to which our Lord compares himself and those who believe in him.’ (JFB)

Beasley-Murray suggests that our Lord may be alluding to the scriptures read during the feast.

‘The public reading of Scripture at this feast included the one passage in the Prophets that emphasized this feast, Zechariah 14, which was interpreted in conjunction with Ezekiel 47. Together these texts taught that rivers of living water would flow forth from the temple (in Jewish teaching, at the very center of the earth, from the foundation stone of the temple), bringing life to all the earth. The water-drawing ceremony (Jn 7:37) (originally meant to secure rain) pointed toward this hope.’ (IVP Bible Background Commentary)

“Rivers of living water” – As an Hebraism, flowing water is referred to as ‘living water’, because still in motion.  But here the sense includes that of water that is ‘alive’, and gives ‘life’.

‘The reception of the Holy Spirit is clearly the special reception that was going to come after Jesus had been glorified at the Father’s right hand and happened on the Day of Pentecost as described in Acts 2. Two times in Jeremiah Yahweh is metaphorically identified as “the spring of living water.” (Jer 2:13 17:13) In both instances Israel is rebuked for having forsaken the Lord for other cisterns that could in no way satisfy their “thirst.”‘ (EDBT)

Water is an apt symbol of the Holy Spirit, because of its characteristics of cleansing, reviving, satisfying, fertilising, freeness, and abundance.

‘In Jn 4:10, 13–14 Jesus offered living water to a Samaritan woman; now here a similar offer is extended to his own people.’ (Kruse)

‘Ridderbos, 275–76, offers a wise caution to a too exuberant interpretation of the gift of the Spirit: “The abundance of the gifts of the Spirit … does not mean that the believer will be transferred from a struggling faith to a purely triumphant faith but that the believer will become a participant, by the Spirit, in the glorification of Christ,” a glorification, we recall, that entails a Cross.’ (Bruner)

We might ask why, in the light of this promise, so few Christians seem filled with the Holy Spirit.  Charles Erdman may have put his finger on part of the answer, when he declared: ‘I am now convinced that those Christians are most filled with the Holy Spirit who are least conscious of it. All they know is that they want to serve Jesus Christ, and they feel that they are “unprofitable servants.”‘ (cited by Bruner)

Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified – He was ‘glorified’ in his death, resurrection, and ascension.

Bruner quotes Chrysostom: ‘since we were enemies, and sinners, and … since a gift is usually bestowed, not on those who inspire dislike, but on friends and those who meet with approval, it was necessary for a sacrifice to be offered first on our behalf, and for man’s unfavorable status to be destroyed and for us to become friends of God, and then to receive the gift.’

Bruner also cites Hoskyns, who noticed that the ‘word ‘glorify’ [in John’s Gospel] denotes especially the death, the resurrection and the return of Jesus to the Father, and in the Gospel each stage of this glorification is marked by the gift of the Spirit to one or more of the disciples, [at] the death (Jn 19:34), [at] the resurrection (Jn 20:22), [and at] the return to the Father (Jn 14:26; 16:7; cf. 6:62–63).’

Beasley-Murray: ‘the Evangelist’s comment assumes the basic doctrine that the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of the kingdom of God, and that while Jesus was the instrument of the kingdom through his whole ministry, the crucial event whereby the saving sovereignty came among men was the crucifixion-resurrection of Jesus. The kingdom having come, the Spirit was sent by the exalted Lord (20:22), and so the Spirit’s ministry in the world is especially directed to that of communicating the life of the kingdom of God to humankind (see John 3:3, 5, 6, 8). It is this all-important work of the Spirit in the world that prompted the Evangelist’s observation, “The Spirit was not yet, because Jesus was not yet glorified” ‘

‘The Spirit of God was from eternity, for in the beginning he moved upon the face of the waters. He was in the Old-Testament prophets and saints, and Zacharias and Elisabeth were both filled with the Holy Ghost. This therefore must be understood of the eminent, plentiful, and general effusion of the Spirit which was promised, Joe 2:28, and accomplished, Acts 2:1, etc. The Holy Ghost was not yet given in that visible manner that was intended. if we compare the clear knowledge and strong grace of the disciples of Christ themselves, after the day of Pentecost, with their darkness and weakness before, we shall understand in what sense the Holy Ghost was not yet given; the earnests and first-fruits of the Spirit were given, but the full harvest was not yet come. That which is most properly called the dispensation of the Spirit did not yet commence. The Holy Ghost was not yet given in such rivers of living water as should issue forth to water the whole earth, even the Gentile world, not in the gifts of tongues, to which perhaps this promise principally refers.’ (MHC)

Ryle: ‘This sentence means that the Holy Ghost was not yet poured on believers in all His fulness, because our Lord had not yet finished His work by dying, rising again, and ascending into heaven for us. It was not till He was “glorified” by going up into heaven and taking His seat at the right hand of God, that the Holy Ghost was sent down in full influence on the Church. Then was fulfilled Psalm 68:18,—“Thou hast ascended on high, thou hast led captivity captive: thou hast received gifts for man: yea, for the rebellious also, that the Lord God might dwell among them.”—Before our Lord died and rose again and ascended, the Holy Ghost was, and had been from all eternity, one with the Father and the Son, a distinct Person, of equal power and authority, very and eternal God. But He had not revealed Himself so fully to those whose hearts He dwelt in as He did after the ascension; and He had not come down in person on the Gentile world, or sent forth the Gospel to all mankind with rivers of blessing, as He did when Paul and Barnabas were “sent forth by the Holy Ghost.” (Acts 13:4.) In a word, the dispensation of the Spirit had not yet begun.’

Ryle adds: ‘This cannot of course mean that the Holy Ghost did not exist, and was in no sense present with believers in the Old Testament dispensation. On the contrary, the Spirit strove with the men of Noah’s day,—David spake by the Holy Ghost,—Isaiah spake of the Holy Spirit,—and John the Baptist, now dead, was filled with the Holy Ghost from his mother’s womb. (Gen. 6:3; Mark 12:36; Isa. 63:10, 11; Luke 1:15.)’

‘John 7:39 and 14:17 make plain that the full future outpouring of the Spirit is not yet present even with Jesus but awaits his glorification. Then his followers will be emboldened to testify even under hostile circumstances.’ (Mt 10:19-20) (EDBT)

‘It is promised to all that believe on Christ that they shall receive the Holy Ghost. Some received his miraculous gifts; (Mk 16:17,18) all receive his sanctifying graces. The gift of the Holy Ghost is one of the great blessings promised in the new covenant, (Ac 2:39) and, if promised, no doubt performed to all that have an interest in that covenant.’ (MHC)

Ryle note in these verses ‘what a striking example they supply to preachers, ministers, and teachers of religion. Let such learn from their Master to offer Christ boldly, freely, fully, broadly, unconditionally, to all thirsting souls. The Gospel is too often spoiled in the presentation of it. Some fence it round with conditions, and keep sinners at a distance. Others direct sinners wrongly, and send them to something else beside or instead of Christ. He only copies his Lord who says, “If any one feels his sins, let him come at once, straight, direct, not merely to church, or to the sacrament, or to repentance, or to prayer, but to Christ Himself.”’

Differing Opinions About Jesus

7:40 When they heard these words, some of the crowd began to say, “This really is the Prophet!” 7:41 Others said, “This is the Christ!” But still others said, “No, for the Christ doesn’t come from Galilee, does he? 7:42 Don’t the scriptures say that the Christ is a descendant of David and comes from Bethlehem, the village where David lived?” 7:43 So there was a division in the crowd because of Jesus. 7:44 Some of them were wanting to seize him, but no one laid a hand on him.

A variety of opinions about Jesus are canvassed in this paragraph: (a) he is ‘the Prophet’; (b) he is ‘the Christ’; (c) he is from Galilee (and therefore can’t be the Christ); (d) he is some kind of criminal (and therefore to be seized).

“Surely this man is the Prophet” – ‘The OT prophet was one who proclaimed the word of God and was called by God to warn, to encourage, to comfort and to teach. The prophet was responsible directly to God and did not receive authority from any human appointment. Jesus was popularly acclaimed as a prophet by his contemporaries (Lk 24:19; Jn 4:19; 6:17; 7:40; 9:17) and seemed to regard himself as a prophet, (Lk 4:24; Mk 6:4; Mt 13:57) though he was, like John, “more than a prophet”.’ (Mt 12:38-41; Lk 11:29-32) (DBI)

Verdicts on Jesus

‘In this chapter there is a whole series of verdicts on Jesus.

(i) There is the verdict that he was a good man. (Jn 7:12) That verdict is true, but it is not the whole truth. It was Napoleon who made the famous remark: “I know men, and Jesus Christ is more than a man.” Jesus was indeed truly man; but in him was the mind of God. When he speaks it is not one man speaking to another; if that were so we might argue about his commands. When he speaks it is God speaking to men; and Christianity means not arguing about his commands, but accepting them.

(ii) There is the verdict that he was a prophet. (Jn 7:40) That too is true. The prophet is the forth-teller of the will of God, the man who has lived so close to God that he knows his mind and purposes. That is true of Jesus; but there is this difference. The prophet says: “Thus saith the Lord.” His authority is borrowed and delegated. His message is not his own. Jesus says: “I say unto you.” He has the right to speak, not with a delegated authority, but with his own.

(iii) There is the verdict that he was a deluded madman. (Jn 7:20) It is true that either Jesus is the only completely sane person in the world or he was mad. He chose a Cross when he might have had power. He was the Suffering Servant when he might have been the conquering king. He washed the feet of his disciples when he might have had men kneeling at his own feet. He came to serve when he could have subjected the world to servitude. It is not common sense that the words of Jesus give us, but uncommon sense. He turned the world’s standards upside down, because into a mad world he brought the supreme sanity of God.

(iv) There is the verdict that he was a seducer. The Jewish authorities saw in him one who was leading men away from true religion. He was accused of every crime against religion in the calendar-of being a Sabbath-breaker, of being a drunkard and a glutton, of having the most disreputable friends, of destroying orthodox religion. It is quite clear that, if we prefer our idea of religion to his, he will certainly appear a seducer-and it is one of the hardest things in the world for any man to do to admit that he is wrong.

(v) There is the verdict that he was a man of courage. (Jn 7:26) No one could ever doubt his sheer courage. He had the moral courage to defy convention and be different. He had the physical courage that could bear the most terrible pain. He had the courage to go on when his family abandoned him, and his friends forsook him, and one of his own circle betrayed him. Here we see him courageously entering Jerusalem when to enter it was to enter the lions’ den. He “feared God so much that he never feared the face of any man.”

(vi) There is the verdict that he had a most dynamic personality. (Jn 7:46) The verdict of the officers who were sent to arrest him and came back empty-handed was that never had any man spoken like this. Julian Duguid tells how he once voyaged on the same Atlantic liner as Sir Wilfred Grenfell, and he says that when Grenfell came into a room you could tell it even if you had your back to him, for a wave of vitality emanated from him. When we think of how this Galilaean carpenter faced the highest in the land and dominated them until it was they who were on trial and not he, we are bound to admit that he was at least one of the supreme personalities in history. The picture of a gentle, anaemic Jesus will not do. From him flowed a power that sent those despatched to arrest him back in empty-handed bewilderment.

(vii) There is the verdict that he was the Christ, the Anointed one of God. Nothing less will do. It. is the plain fact that Jesus does not fit into any of the available human categories; only the category of the divine will do.’ (DSB)

“Does not the Scripture say that the Christ will come from David’s family?” – It does, indeed, Mic 5:1.  But, as Ryle points out, knowledge in religion is useless, if not accompanied by grace in the heart.  ‘Heart-knowledge, we must always remember, is the one thing needful. It is something which schools and universities cannot confer. It is the gift of God. To find out the plague of our own hearts and hate sin,—to become familiar with the throne of grace and the fountain of Christ’s blood,—to sit daily at the feet of Jesus, and humbly learn of Him,—this is the highest degree of knowledge to which mortal man can attain.’

“Bethlehem, the town where David lived” – Cf. 1 Sam 17:12,58.

Did John know about Jesus’ birthplace?

‘When Jn 7:42 is taken as indicating that the Fourth Evangelist knew nothing of Jesus’ birth in the city of David, the intentional ambiguity found throughout John’s Gospel is being misunderstood’ (DJG).  ‘If we infer from this passage that the fourth Evangelist either did not know or did not accept Jesus’ Davidic descent or nativity in Bethlehem, we expose our own failure to appreciate his delicate handling of this situation.’ (F.F. Bruce)

As Bruner remarks, John (in canonical balance with the other Evangelists) is more interested in Jesus’ heavenly origins than in his earthly origins, although he shows that he is aware of these through his ironic use of statements such as the present one.  In other words, John knows that Jesus is ‘from Bethlehem’, but he is, more importantly, ‘from God’.

Bruner cites Godet: ‘John often takes pleasure in reporting objections which, for his readers who are acquainted with the Gospel history, turn immediately into proofs”’.

And Bruner quotes Culpepper: ‘[B]ecause one of the author’s favorite devices is to allow Jesus’ opponents to speak the truth unawares, the balance is in favor of the assumption that the author and his intended readers knew the tradition of Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem.’

‘The irony was, of course, that Jesus was born in Bethlehem. His origins were not in Galilee as these people supposed. More important than this, of course, is that Jesus’ real origins were in heaven, from when he had been sent by the Father.’ (Kruse)

‘When John 7:42 is taken as indicating that the Fourth Evangelist knew nothing of Jesus’ birth in the city of David, the intentional ambiguity found throughout John’s Gospel is being misunderstood.’ (DJG, 2nd ed., art. ‘Archeology and Geography’)

For Bruner, Chrysostom captures well ‘the irony of the intertextual debaters’ “knowing” so much about Jesus’ origins at all: Only a little earlier in the chapter Jesus’ questioners had said with great assurance, “we know where this man is from; but when the Messiah comes, no one will know where he is from” (v. 27); but now they suddenly say with equal assurance, “The Messiah isn’t [like Jesus] coming from Galilee, is he?… the Messiah comes from Bethlehem” (vv. 41–42). Chrysostom cites their two very different positions: “ ‘The Christ will come from Bethlehem’ and ‘When the Christ comes, no one will know where he is from,’ ” and asks, “What is clearer than this inconsistency? For they were intent on one thing only: namely, [on] not believing in Him.”’

For other examples of Johanine irony, see Jn 7:35 11:48 13:38.

There was a division in the crowd because of Jesus – Cf. Lk 12:51.

Opinion may well have been divided in more ways than the three just mentioned.  So it is today.

Lack of Belief

7:45 Then the officers returned to the chief priests and Pharisees, who said to them, “Why didn’t you bring him back with you?” 7:46 The officers replied, “No one ever spoke like this man!” 7:47 Then the Pharisees answered, “You haven’t been deceived too, have you? 7:48 None of the rulers or the Pharisees have believed in him, have they? 7:49 But this rabble who do not know the law are accursed!”

“Why didn’t you bring him back with you?” – But these officers ‘were not brutal thugs, mercenaries trained to perform any barbarous act provided the pay was right. They were themselves drawn from the Levites; they were religiously trained, and could feel themselves torn apart at the deepest level of their being by the same deeds and words of Jesus that were tearing apart the population at large.’ (Carson)

“No one ever spoke like this man!” –  Cf. Mk. 1:22; 12:17, 32–34, 37.  Although we can only assume that there was something uniquely arresting about the manner of his speech, we are certain that this was true of its matter.

Concerning the content of Jesus’ discourses, Ryle comments:-

‘The world has never seen anything like them, since the gift of speech was given to man. They often contain deep truths, which we have no line to fathom. But they often contain simple things, which even a child can understand. They are bold and outspoken in denouncing national and ecclesiastical sins, and yet they are wise and discreet in never giving needless offence. They are faithful and direct in their warnings, and yet loving and tender, in their invitations. For a combination of power and simplicity, of courage and prudence, of faithfulness and tenderness, we may well say, “Never man spake like this Man!”’

It is possible to regard this simple confession as, like the statement of the crowd in v31, and the question of Nicodemus in v50f, a foil to the elaborate theologising of the authorities.  None may represent fully-fledged faith, but each may be regarded as faith in the making.  Such simplicity is encouraged by Jesus himself, in the invitation recorded in vv37ff.

According to Carson, ‘the witness of the guards was not borne of genuine faith, but John intends his readers to perceive that the guards spoke better than they knew. Literally rendered, their words mean, ‘No man (anthrōpos, “human being”) ever spoke as he does’—for John’s readers know, as the guards did not, that Jesus is not merely a human being, but the incarnate Word (Jn 1:14), the one whose every word and deed is the revelation of the Father (Jn 5:19–30; 8:28–29).’

Then the Pharisees answered – These verses well represent the typical attitude of the Pharisee. The Pharisee began from an excellent starting-point – the OT doctrine concerning the relationship between God and his people. The returning exiles, keen to be holy and distinctive, tended forget their call to be ‘a light to the nations’ and withdrew from the heathen altogether. And so Pharisaism was born. The very word means ‘separated ones’. They were the separatists, the exclusivists, of their day. They held themselves aloof from all contact which they thought might ‘defile’ them. They shunned contact not only with Gentiles and with hellenised Jews, but also with the ‘common people’ which in their ignorance were habitual law-breakers. They were thus disturbed at the early popularity of Jesus, whom the common people heard gladly, Jn 7:48-49; Lk 5:29-32.

We do well to note the misplaced appeal to authority here.  Just as the scepticism of the Pharisees was fueled by the disbelieve of their peers and rulers, so today people might seek to buttress their unbelief by appealing to the scepticism of those they consider to be ‘authorities’ (e.g. scientists and celebrities).

“You haven’t been deceived too, have you?” – As Carson says, the guards are not criticized on the grounds of not obeying orders, but on the grounds of their supposed gullibility, ‘as Levites who should follow the religious authorities, they have compromised their theological integrity and been seduced by a transparent imposter who could never manage to deceive the real thinkers.’

‘The irony cuts another way. It is a commonplace of the Christian gospel that not many wise and noble are chosen: God makes it a practice to go after the weak, the foolish, the ignorant, the despised (e.g. Mt. 11:25; Lk. 10:21; 1 Cor. 1:26–31). The religious authorities boast that they have not been duped; their very boasting is precisely what has duped them.’ (Carson)

“This rabble” – ‘The technical term used by the Pharisees…is “the people of the land”, a derogatory term for Jews who did not carefully observe the prescriptions of the law and the Pharisaic traditions. It was virtually impossible for the Pharisees to associate with the people of the land, because their ‘uncleanness’ was a threat to their ritual purity.’ (Kruse)

Lincoln: ‘This reflects a common Pharisaic attitude of despising ‘the peoples of the land’, who were not well trained in the law and less than meticulous in observing some of its instructions. For the Pharisees such people merited the law’s curse on those who failed to observe it (cf. Deut. 27:26). On their view, those who were so lax about the law’s requirements were clearly in no position to assess Jesus’ teaching properly. The obvious implication is that only they, the Pharisees and the chief priests, were competent to judge Jesus.’

‘Note, The cause of Christ has seldom had rulers and Pharisees on its side. It needs not secular supports, nor proposes secular advantages, and therefore neither courts nor is courted by the great men of this world.… If rulers and Pharisees do not believe in Christ, they that do believe in him will be the most singular, unfashionable, ungenteel people in the world, and quite out of the way of preferment; thus are people foolishly swayed by external motives in matters of eternal moment.’ (MHC)

As part of the answer to the question, Why or in what respects is the Gospel a mystery? Gurnall answers, ‘It is a mystery in regard of the sort of men to whom it is chiefly imparted-such as are, in reason, most unlikely to dive into any great mysteries; those who are despised by the wise world, and the great states of it, as poor and base. ‘Not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called: but God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty,’ 1 Cor 1:26,27. If we have a secret to reveal, we do not choose weak and shallow heads to impart it unto; but here is a mystery which babes understand and wise men are ignorant of: ‘I thank thee, O Father,…because thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes.’ The people who were so scorned by the proud Pharisees, as those who knew not the law, Jn 7:49, to them was the gospel revealed, while these doctors of the chair were left in ignorance. It is revealed to the poor many times, and hid from kings and princes. Christ passeth often by palaces to visit the poor cottage. Herod could get nothing from Christ-who out of curiosity so long desired to see him, Lk 23:8; whereas the poor woman of Samaria with a pitcher in her hand, Christ vouchsafeth her a sermon, and opens to her the saving truths of the gospel. Pilate missed of Christ on the bench, while the poor thief finds him, and heaven with him, on the cross. Devout women are passed by and left to perish with their blind zeal, while harlots and publicans are converted by him.’

7:50 Nicodemus, who had gone to Jesus before and who was one of the rulers, said, 7:51 “Our law doesn’t condemn a man unless it first hears from him and learns what he is doing, does it?” 7:52 They replied, “You aren’t from Galilee too, are you? Investigate carefully and you will see that no prophet comes from Galilee!”

Further irony: no sooner have the religious leaders claimed that none of their number has believed in Jesus (v27) than one of them stand up in his defence.  He, of course, was the one who came to Jesus by night, and addressed him as ‘a teacher sent from God’ (Jn 3).  It is quite possible that he was one of the many leaders (Jn 12:42) who believed in Jesus.  Certainly, he accompanied Joseph of Arimathea in requesting Jesus’ body after the crucifixion and in took it away to be buried (Jn 19:39).

So, we see Nicodemus

  1. in private approach (secretly, at night), Jn 3
  2. in public defence (publicly, in broad daylight)
  3. in active commitment (when others had fled), Jn 19:38-42

The reaction of Nicodemus here was to speak up for Jesus. He did not do so directly, but by way of raising of point of law that would be supportive of Jesus.  What opportunities do we have to speak a good word for Jesus Christ?

Faithful Nicodemus, like our Lord himself, does not set Scripture aside, but rather appeals to it.  The same attitude may be found in the Bereans, Acts 17:11.

‘In Deuteronomy 1:16–17; 17:2–5; 19:15–19 judges in Israel are commanded to investigate charges thoroughly before reaching a judgment. Charges were to be entertained only if supported by two or three witnesses. In the Mishnah there are more detailed instructions about the way hearings should be conducted, including the statement ‘Even if the accused said, “I have somewhat to argue in favour of my acquittal”, they listen to him, provided that there is aught of substance in his words’ (Sanhedrin 5:4). The irony of this whole affair was that the Pharisees and rulers who condemned the crowd because they did not know the law were themselves acting in contravention of the law and their own traditions in making such a hasty judgment about Jesus, as Nicodemus reminded them.’ (Kruse)

“You aren’t from Galilee too, are you?” – The Judaeans looked down on the Galileans.  Having no rational response to the point of law just raised, they resort to insult.

“Look into it, and you will find that a prophet does not come out of Galilee” – This is one of the first recorded salvos in a debate the raged ever since about whether, and how, the OT scriptures are fulfilled in Christ.

Once again, we have to say that they were not wrong to appeal to Scripture.  Their error was in not knowing Scripture well enough.  Such willing ignorance illustrates the saying: ‘I have made up my mind; please don’t confuse me with the facts.’

This statement is puzzling, since a number of OT prophets did come from Galilee (Kruse cites ‘Jonah, Hosea, Nahum, and perhaps Elijah, Elisha and Amos’).

One early manuscript refers to ‘the prophet’ (i.e. the one like Moses, Deut 18:15, rather than ‘a prophet’.  Ryle, and a few other commentators, think that is the meaning here.

Carson agrees that ‘the Old Testament does not tell us exactly where the eschatological prophet would be born.’  But ‘the officials of the Sanhedrin, reflecting the deep biases against Galilee entertained by Judeans, simply cannot believe that the prophet could come from such an area. But in reality, Jesus is not so much a son of Galilee as the authorities think. By voicing themselves so strongly, they succeed only in displaying their ignorance of his true origins.’ (Carson)

[John 7:53  Then each went to his own home.]