Last week we heard the gossip from the crowds about Jesus. There were all kinds of speculation about him. Some of the comments were good, but many were critical. Who was right? This could only be solved by Jesus Himself.
Exposition of the Text
Verse 14 tells us that Jesus did indeed come to the feast. This seems to contradict what Jesus had said to his brothers. However if we take Jesus to mean that he would not go to the feast at this time, then his coming in the middle of the feast would indicate that He intended to come to the feast at the time of his Father's choosing and reveal Himself there by the means which the Father had appointed.
Jesus' brothers had told Him that He needed to come to the feast and prove Himself to the people there by doing miraculous works. Their reasoning had been that this would overcome the hostility of the Jews of Jerusalem and show that Jesus was indeed the Messiah. However, when Jesus comes to the feast, He reveals Himself to the Jewish people at the feast by teaching in the Temple rather than by doing signs and wonders. The mention of Jesus teaching the people publicly in John is rare, but the public teaching ministry of Jesus is common in the other gospels, The gospel of Mark seems to imply that Jesus placed more value on His teaching than miracles as a means of bringing people to faith. The time He spent in healing and casting out demons diverted energy and time from His teaching.
Jesus probably started by teaching His disciples. But as the Temple was a public place thronged by crowds all over the world who had come to the feast, it was not long before a large crowd assembled. I do not think they recognized that this was the Jesus who had been the talk of the town. Everyone was expressing one sort of opinion or another about Him. Like, most opinions, they are based on hearsay rather than direct contact. Hearsay is not a reliable source of information. In fact hearsay evidence is not allowed in court when it is based upon: “Mr. X told me that Mr. Y said such and such to Mr. Z. The court would demand to hear the testimony from either Mr. y or Mr. Z. As the Gospel of John uses the theme of witness extensively, it would only be valid to hear Jesus' teaching from His own mouth.
The crowd had been expecting Jesus the miracle worker use signs and wonders to authenticate Himself to the people that He was a prophet sent by God. Instead, He authenticates Himself to the people by means of His teaching. And the crowds who had overheard the teaching were being amazed by His teaching and gathered around to hear more. The crowd also attracted His enemies. John usually uses the label :the Jews: in a negative light as being the opponents of Jesus. They had dealt with Him before, so they recognized Him as being the one who had healed a lame man on the Sabbath. The result of that healing was that Jesus got into an extended dispute with them. It said the result of this healing was that the Jews looked for the opportunity to kill Him. We are constantly reminded of this in chapter seven.
The opponents of Jesus in the group were taken back at His teaching. For them the marvel wasn't so marvelous. I have to agree with Lenski that what the Jews in verse 15 are saying something to this effect: What right does this man have to teach in the Temple, seeing he hasn't been certified by the Rabbinic schools?” We can see from elsewhere in this passage that the Jews had done some research on Jesus and that they believed His father to be Joseph. They knew His mother was Mary of Nazareth. It seems that the opponents of Jesus worked methodically so that they could build a case against Him to have Him condemned. They had to take this approach because of Jesus' popularity. They though they knew all about Him.
The Jewish teachers used their educational pedigree to certify their teaching to the people. This process worked in a similar fashion to ordination. Candidates were evaluated by their Rabbi's. This process may have been a little less formal than our certification process in the church today. But the Jewish Rabbi's of the day authenticated their teaching by quoting what earlier Rabbis had said concerning the interpretation of Scripture. Being original was seen as proof that one's teaching was not authentic.
It seems that Jesus was not one to cite Jewish authorities. Instead, He cited Scripture directly and offered His own interpretation. At least this is what the opponents of Jesus thought. But there was something different about His teaching that was immediately evident. The Rabbis cited human authorities., but Jesus taught with authority. This was noticed by the crowds ad the end of the Sermon on the Mount, they took note that His teaching had authority and was not like the teaching of the Scribes.
Jesus answers His opponents in a way that only Jesus could do. He was not about to submit to the Rabbinic system of citing authorities and conform to their expectations. After all, Jesus as a member of the Trinity is the author of all Scripture. John mentions that Jesus was given a greater portion of the Spirit than the prophets of old. In fact it was without measure. Jesus could have rightly claimed Himself as the authority. But Jesus does not do this either. Under normal circumstances, one should be skeptical of new teaching. We have far too much novelty today. Scripture does warn us to test teachers and prophets to ensure that their message did indeed come from God. Jesus is the exception to the case because He is the Son of the Father.
So Jesus does affirm that in some sense, not theirs, that His opponents were right to be skeptical. False teaching and their teachers were to be condemned. But Jesus' teaching is not false. He tells the Jews that MY Teaching is not MY teaching at all. He is only teaching what the Father who had sent Him wanted to be taught. To contradict His teaching, therefore, was to contradict God's teaching. God's word is the final authority, and this is what Jesus taught. If any of them were really willing to seek and know God's will, they would recognize that He was speaking the truth. The fact that some were questioning this indicated that they were not really willing to do God's will at all. In other words, their teaching was entirely false.
By saying that He was only teaching the people what the Father had sent Him to teach, he was dismissing the opponents' arguments. He did not come to seek His own glory. Rather. He had come to seek the glory of the one who had sent Him. Therefore, the witness He bore was true testimony indeed and worthy of belief. There was not one false statement in what He had taught.
Jesus in verse 19 turns the tables on His adversaries and switches from defendant to prosecutor. He knew they claimed to be the authoritative teachers of the Law of Moses. Now Jesus shows how inconsistent their claim is. He tells them that not one of them actually was doing the Law. All of them had broken it. And this was not in a general sense, The very fact they were seeking to kill Him was proof of fact. Jesus taught that if they were really interested in Moses, they would have come to Jesus because Moses spoke about Him. He could have accused them of all the minor or even major infractions of the Law that they had individually or corporately committed. All He mentions, however, was this ongoing prosecution of a capital case against Jesus.
It says that the crowds immediately shot back that Jesus was possessed by a demon. Surely no one was trying to kill Him. They treated Him as if He were one of our modern conspiracy theorists. We must remember that it was the crowd, a mixed group of people and not just the opponents who said this. For some of them, it seemed impossible that anyone would want to kill someone who could teach like Jesus did. So they thought He was unbalanced. This is not the only time He was accused of being possessed. John mentions it on several occasions as do the other gospels. It is further highlighted in that healing demon possessed people is not mentioned in the Gospel of John. Apart from Jesus, the only one who is possessed is Judas. In Jesus; case, the claim of being possessed is blasphemous. And in Judas' case, it wasn't just being possessed by a demon. John tells us that Satan himself entered Judas.
Jesus strongly refutes the claim that He is possessed. He points out that ever since He had healed the lame man on the Sabbath that His opponents were possessed with the idea to kill Him. They were so possessed that they did not even evaluate the rationale for the action. Legalism is a kind of blinding possession in its own right. He pointed out to His opponents that if this was Sabbath breaking, then their circumcising a man on the Sabbath was even more breaking the Law of Moses concerning the Sabbath. The Jews had discussed much about whether one could do good works on the Sabbath and how it could be done without breaking the Sabbath. A tractate in their commentary on the Sabbath in the Mishna has a convoluted argument on how a man in his house could give food to a beggar outside without either of them breaking the Sabbath. It seems almost comical to read.
Jesus had given a man rest from this 38 year affliction on the Sabbath. He had made a man perfectly whole. The Jews mutilated a man by circumcision on the Sabbath, an act which inflicts pain and discomfort. In it they were rightly claiming to keep the Law which commanded circumcision of the eighth day. If one were circumcised on the Sabbath, then that boy was also born on the Sabbath as well. I wonder if the boy's mother was cited for laboring on the Sabbath! This showed that if one were to interpret the Law in the way the Pharisees did, one could not keep one part of the law without breaking another. But Jesus uses the precedent that as circumcision was instituted earlier than the Law of Moses. Because of this, its observance trumped the Sabbath.
Jesus challenged everyone there to think and weigh the evidence He has just presented them. If one were to fairly do so, they could not come to any other conclusion than what Jesus did in healing that man was indeed keeping the Law.
One of the things we can learn from this passage is not to base our knowledge of Jesus on hearsay. Hearsay is the mother of heresy. There are teachers everywhere who make claims that need to be tested. Jesus invites us to think and search the truth of the Scripture for one’s self. The people of Berea in the Book of Acts were commended in that they searched the Scriptures to see if what Paul was preaching was so. Jesus in a way commended the Jews in John 5 because they were searching the Scripture. Where they failed is that they failed to take notice that the Scripture testified directly about Jesus.
To know what Scripture says is a good start, but it is far better to know what they mean. It is dangerous to be bound by one’s own conclusions. Rather, we need to prayerfully consider them and ask the Holy Spirit for the meaning. When one is born again into the Christian faith, he or she also receives the Spirit who leads the believer into all truth. Also, the believer is inspired to do God’s will. It is God’s will that we should know the truth that will set us free.
We should strive to avoid is legalism, as it blinds us to the truth. This has been the downfall of many. It has caused great division and pain in the church. The legalist places himself/herself above the Scripture. In a way it should be the Scripture that interprets us. It is Scripture alone, the very words of God that should be our authority, whose interpreter is the Holy Spirit. It is not the word alone nor the Spirit alone. Too often in the Christian world, we are as guilty of citing authorities and seeking to be an authority as the Jews were. We look too much to who has authorized whom to be a preacher or teacher and not enough to whether the message they bring comes from God. And how can we know unless we are students of the word in touch with the author of the word?