In this passage, Jesus is still at the Feast of Tabernacles. At the beginning of chapter 7, his brothers has tried to get Him to come up to the feast to reveal Himself as Messiah as the Feast of Tabernacles was believed by the Jews to be the time in which the Messiah was to be revealed. But Jesus told them to go up to the feast without Him as it wasn’t the proper time for Him to go. In this, I feel Jesus was saying that the proper time in the Father’s eye to reveal the Messiah wasn’t the feast of Tabernacles, but Passover. Also, the Messiah would not be revealed as a conquering king but on a cross instead.
The Jewish leadership was plotting to arrest Jesus if He dared to show Himself, and so they were surprised when He did not come. Perhaps they felt a sense of relief that they had at least shut Him up. So they were caught by surprise when he not only showed up but taught boldly in the Temple. So they hurriedly put the plan to arrest Him into effect. They sent their own Levitical temple guard to seize Him.
Jesus became even more bold and interrupted the water pouring service by crying out and inviting all who were thirsty to come to Him. The water pouring represented the latter rains upon the harvest and remembered the water which came forth from the rock in the wilderness. But many others also felt that it referred to the Messiah.
Exposition of the Text
In this week’s text, the people react to Jesus’ teaching. The Greek word for “people” here is better translated “crowd” or, at least in the eyes of the Jewish leaders, “rabble.” They were divided about Jesus and His teaching. There was also some misunderstanding about whether there would be one messiah or two messiahs. This is also evidenced in the Dead Sea Scrolls. Some saw Jesus as the priestly law-giving Messiah like Moses, and others a warrior king like David who would overthrow the Roman oppressors. So the crowd was divided. And another group who knew of the prophesy of Micah 5:2-4 said that Jesus could be neither because the true Messiah would be a descendant of David and born in Bethlehem. The Gospel of John in several places reveals that the Jews thought they knew where Jesus came from and who His parents were. They were wrong on all counts. First of all, John emphasizes that Jesus first came from His Father in Heaven. And although John does not tell us about His earthly birth in Bethlehem, he certainly appears to be aware of it. It is typical of John to use irony throughout the Gospel. In it, he shows how dull human beings are to the works and words of God. Even the learned Nicodemus does not understand what being “born again” means. No one can truly know about the things of God apart from God’s revealing it to him/her. The fact that the crowd is divided about who Jesus is is proof of the futility of human knowledge. If one is to be saved, it must be the gracious gift of God. Human beings will never find the way to God. God must find them and lead them to Himself.. And this is why Jesus came.
Another irony is how the story of seizing Jesus changes here. After Jesus fed the 5,000, the people wanted to seize (“arrest”) Jesus and make Him king. Now it seems that they want to arrest Him and kill Him. But Jesus show that He is Sovereign in that everything that will occur to Jesus will occur by the Father’s timing and not theirs and in God’s way and place. They could not lay hands on Him because it simply wasn’t the right time. If it were up to them, they certainly would have. They had the officers to arrest Him already in place.
But instead of arresting Jesus, they returned to the Jewish leaders empty-handed. And the chief priests and Pharisees were indignant with the Temple servants for failing to to their duty. Here is yet another irony. The Pharisees and the chief priest hated each other. The
Pharisees accused the priests of being unfaithful to the law. The Sadducees accused the Pharisees with meddling with their business. And yet, they were in perfect agreement to get rid of Jesus.
The answer of the Temple servants only served to make them more angry. “No one has ever spoken like this man has” was their reply. As Levites, they were trained in at least the ceremonial aspects of the Law as well as much of the content of the first five books of the Bible. The leaders were astonished that in their opinion they were so easily duped. But it is ironic that these “duped servants” were hearing the Very One who had written the Law with His finger on the stone tablets given to Moses and yet the leaders who claimed that they were the true guardians and interpreters of the law were entirely unaware of who Jesus is. It was the chief priests and Pharisees who were truly duped by their own traditions.
Their reply “Has even a single one of the chief priests or Pharisees believed on Him?” also misses the mark and show how little they really knew. Unlike the rabble who had divided opinions about Him, the leaders claim solidarity. It is as if they said: “We are not idiots like the accursed rabble who are ignorant of the ways of God. We know the truth. Not a single one of us is deceived.” By saying this, they were also insulting the Temple servants, likening them to the rabble or “people of the land”. But both the crowd, divided as it was and the Levites who were sent to arrest Jesus knew more than they about Jesus.
The leaders must have been shaken when Nicodemus timidly spoke up. Nicodemus tried to act as a lawyer for the defense when he reminded them that their law forbid the condemning of someone without giving the accused the right to be heard. Nicodemus was in a sense telling the chief priests and Pharisees who had just finished cursing the common people for their ignorance of the law were also ignorant of the law. The curse they had just put on the rabble would fit them just as well.
The leaders did not try to defend themselves by using the Law but rather than engaging in an ad hominem attack against Nicodemus. This shows how desperate they were. They could not counter what Nicodemus’ statement, so they rather struck back against Nicodemus by suggesting that he was a Galilean just like Jesus. The leaders in Jerusalem held the people from Galilee in special contempt. It would be like some educated city folk from the northeast US calling someone from Tennessee a redneck. They told him to search the scriptures to see that no prophet comes from Galilee. However if these same leaders had bothered to look, they would have discovered that the prophets Nahun and Jonah both came from Galilee. That is often the trouble with people who label other people in anger. People who attack others’ character often show themselves to be the ones who are truly ignorant. The leaders of Israel show that they are far from the lights in Israel. In fact, they reveal themselves to be the most ignorant in all of Israel.
Application of the Text
One thing is for sure. Jesus is just as controversial today as He was then. There are all sorts of opinions going around. Some would say that Jesus was a good man, a prophet, or a good teacher. Note the past tense here as many of these people believe that Jesus did not rise from the dead. Other views are closer to the Scriptural revelation. Some mix fact and fiction about Jesus together. There is so many different views out there among the populace. So many are trying to understand what Jesus is all about.
Whereas the leaders of the Christian churches should be teaching the truth about Jesus from the Scripture, they are instead making the waters even more murky and unclear. There are many pastors and teachers in our seminaries who do not believe that the Bible is the authoritative word of God. They substitute their own rubbish for scriptural truth and delete anything they don’t agree with. In this they act just like the Jewish leaders. Instead of proclaiming the Lord Jesus Christ and warning people to repent and believe the gospel, they preach politics and the ideas of men and women. Instead of warning all of the dangers of dying without the Lord and of the reality of hell fire, they deny hell exists and cast doubts about heaven.
These educated fools believe that they know everything and that anyone who actually believes in the bible is an ignorant redneck or fundamentalist. These are the people whom Jude warns us of in his epistle. These false teachers are spots in out love feasts. The Bible calls them ungodly men who long ago have been consigned to the flames. Like the Jewish leaders congregated to arrest and do away with Jesus, these opposers of Jesus we face today are not as smart as they think. By their attacks, they prove that they don’t understand the message of the bible and are just as ignorant of the works and words of God as are they. In fact the religion they preach has little to do with the message the church has preached for the last 2000 years.
Another thing we can learn from the text is from Nicodemus himself. Nicodemus instead of making a bold statement of faith in Jesus himself tries to act as Jesus’ lawyer instead. A lawyer takes up the position of his client without making a direct identification with him/her. In other words, if a lawyer’s client gets convicted, the lawyer goes free because it is understood that the lawyer is just representing his clients views without actually agreeing with them.
All to often, we are just as timid and try to defend Jesus without identifying ourselves as His disciples. And what is the result of such a tactic. They will still call you an ignorant redneck. Such educated morons with all their degrees will chime: “Has a single scientist or scholar believed in Him?” Or worse yet, “Has any of the professors at our seminary believed on Him?” I might timidly answer such by saying “Can you condemn Christianity without first being academically honest enough to evaluate its claims?” I am sure I would be held in contempt for making such a statement by these academicians. “Away with this idiot fundamentalist” they would cry.
The lesson to be learned is that they will still castigate you if you timidly defend Jesus, so you might as well be bold in proclaiming Christ and remove all doubt. Why pay the price of being called an ignoramus without the assurance that only Jesus can give of eternal salvation? We must remember that Jesus needs no lawyer to defend Him. He just needs to be boldly proclaimed. Instead it is indeed us who need an advocate. We need Jesus to defend us. And this our Lord will do through the Holy Spirit.
But if you would insist on being a lawyer, remember that all attorneys take an oath to seek the truth. This is all too sadly forgotten by many in the legal profession. These people think that it is their duty to either secure a conviction or to get their client off the hook. The prosecutor is obliged to follow the laws in gathering and presenting evidence, and the defense attorney in making sure the evidence is valid and fair. The prosecutor is obligated in this search for truth to examine all the evidence including that which would show the innocence of the accused. The defense has a moral obligation to the public, of whom he/she is also a servant, to not let a guilty person go free on some technicality or through a wisely conducted case, especially if this person is a serial killer or rapist and the like. But we know that despite the best attempts to promote standards in our laws that there is a lot of graft and chicanery.
I am not here trying to deal with the problems with our legal profession. Instead, I am advocating that before you dismiss Jesus or His followers as imposters or idiots that you examine the merits of the claims. Christ is presented by the Bible as “the truth, the life, and the way.” This is a bold statement in a world system which says there is no such thing as absolute truth unless it be a statement like this. “Truth is, I stand to make a lot of money if I win this case.” I would ask you if it is wise to follow the teaching of the world which says we came from nothing, are nothing, and end up at nothing, and everything else in between is an accident. How could anyone bear to live believing that unless they can enjoy the misery their views inflict on others. What kind of “truth” is this?
Judge whether it is better to follow Jesus and to stand confidently upon His word or to build your philosophy upon the ever changing quicksand of the ideas of men?