Feast of Tabernacles: Jesus as the Perfect Servant vs. Worldly Glory
John 6 vs. John 7. In John 6 we had the Son of Man as the life of the world in two aspects; His incarnation and His atoning death. Now in John 7 we get the truths connected with His going back to the Father (ascension), and His promised sending of the Holy Ghost.
- Setting: The Natural Heart of Unbelief and Worldly Wisdom (7:1-13)
- The Lord’s Heart of Obedience vs. the Jews’ Heart of Murder (7:14-24)
- Dubious or Obvious? The Identity of Jesus as the Christ (7:25-31)
- The Lord’s Promised Return to the Father (7:32-36)
- The Lord’s Promise of the Holy Spirit (7:37-43)
- A Great Struggle Among the Sanhedrin (7:32-36)
Setting: The Natural Heart of Unbelief and Worldly Wisdom (7:1-13)
The State of the Nation (vv.1-2)
¶ And after these things Jesus walked in Galilee, for he would not walk in Judaea, because the Jews sought to kill him. v.1 We are now entering the last six months of the Lord’s life. The term “Jewry” refers to Judea, the south end of the land of Palestine. This verse shows the Lord’s reticence to go into the south. He would go to Jerusalem in obedience to the scripture that “Three times in the year all thy males shall appear before the Lord” (Ex. 23:17). But Jesus would not spend a great deal of time there. He would only go just prior to the feasts (v.10) because it was not His Father’s will that He would be connected with religious hypocrisy. Not that the Lord was afraid of the Jews who “sought to kill him”, but that He was “unwilling”, and remained subject to His Father’s will.
2 Now the tabernacles, the feast of the Jews, was near. v.2 The feast of “the tabernacles” speaks of rest and glory after judgment. It is prophetic of the rest and glory that Israel will enjoy in the Millennium under the reign of the Messiah (read Lev. 23:33-43). The feast was celebrated after the harvest and the vintage were brought in, when Israel would commemorate their wilderness journey before entering Canaan. The fulfillment of this type will be the millennium, when the harvest and vintage judgments have been accomplished by Christ. Israel will have been restored in their land, and they will find rest in the glorious reign of Messiah. Here in John 7, the Jews were striving for human glory with unjudged hearts. The Lord Jesus addresses that spirit of worldliness, and in doing so reveals (1) His own spirit of patient obedience, (2) the glory that He would receive, and (3) the consequent blessing of the Spirit. The Feast of Pentecost is carefully kept out of sight in John because it falls within the province of Paul (rather than of John) to unfold the truth of the Church.
The Jews’ feasts. The Feasts of Jehovah (Lev. 23) were being kept in the time of our Lord as religious festivals. Writing the gospel from the Christian perspective in the late first century (after the destruction of Jerusalem), John gives these feasts the title of “the Jews’ feasts” in his gospel. However, the feasts are used as the occasions for the lord’s teaching. The Feast of the Passover is closely connected with the truth of John 6 and the Feast of Tabernacles with John 7.
The Unbelief of the Lord’s Brethren: Their Worldly Advice (vv.3-5)
3 His brethren therefore said to him, Remove hence and go into Judaea, that thy disciples also may see thy works which thou doest; v.3 Those here called “his brethren” were the Lord’s biological half-brothers. They got a moment alone with the Lord and took the opportunity to “help” Him. He had been spending most of His time in Galilee, in small fishing villages. The Lord’s brethren felt that the Feast of Tabernacles was the ideal time for a display of His “superpowers”. This would line up with the nationalistic feeling among the Jews as that time. The worldly advice of His brethren was allowed to set up the teaching this chapter, which reveals the spirit of this world.
4 for no one does anything in secret and himself seeks to be known in public. If thou doest these things, manifest thyself to the world: v.4 The were behaving like publicists for a celebrity… so base, and fleshly! They didn’t understand why the Lord was doing miraculous works in a lowly, quiet way. They said “there is no man that doeth any thing in secret”… except one, Jesus. He was the perfect, dependent man (v.6). All other men seek their own glory. “Seeking to be known” is the idea of a popularity contest (v.18). Christ would not take the kingdom on this principle (see Matt. 4:5-7; 6:1-6).
5 for neither did his brethren believe on him. v.5 Here we get the reason His brethren were looking for an outward display… they didn’t really believe on Him. His natural brethren did not come to faith in Christ until shortly after the cross (1 Cor. 15:7, Acts 1:14). We learn in the Psalms that the reproach Jesus suffered from His natural family caused Him deep sorrow; “I am become a stranger unto my brethren, and an alien unto my mother’s children” (Psa. 69:8). Later on, two of these brothers would go on to write inspired epistles; i.e. James and Jude.
The Spirit of the World (vv.6-9)
6 Jesus therefore says to them, My time is not yet come, but your time is always ready. v.6 He was the only man who had the right to receive glory, but He would not take glory because it was not the Father’s time. The time of His manifestation to the world in Millennial kingdom glory as Son of man had not come yet. What about us, who have no glory? Why should we seek glory in this world while our Master patiently waits His Father’s time? (Jer. 45:5). “Your time is alway ready”… the wisdom of this world is to get glory for myself, right now. It is always time for the men of the world to seek the things of the world.
7 The world cannot hate you, but me it hates, because I bear witness concerning it that its works are evil. v.7 These words are painful, but necessary. Jesus’ natural brethren were still part of this world, governed by worldly thought. The world cannot hate those who have a worldly spirit (John 15:19). But Jesus, by His life and testimony, condemned the world and its works. This was sorrowful for Him (Psa. 69:8).
8 Ye, go ye up to this feast. I go not up to this feast, for “my” time is not yet fulfilled. 9 Having said these things to them he abode in Galilee. vv.8-9 The Lord had to go up to the feast to be obedient to the scripture, but not in the way the Jews, not His natural brethren would go. The Jews would go seeking human glory without the judgment of evil. Jesus was waiting for what He called “My time”; the time when He would take the kingdom, after having gone to the cross to put away sin, and God having made all His enemies as a footstool under His feet. The order must be, first “the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow” (1 Pet. 1:11).
The Opinions and Fear of Man (vv.10-13)
10 But when his brethren had gone up, then he himself also went up to the feast, not openly, but as in secret. v.10 The Lord went up “in secret”. He was content to be hidden from the eyes of man for a time; a type of the present time when the Son is ascended and hidden from view, and as Christians our life is hid there with Him “in God” (Col. 3:3).
11 The Jews therefore sought him at the feast, and said, Where is he? v.11 The Lord is hidden from those who have not faith. The general stir was because of the Lord’s previous visit to Jerusalem (for the feast of the Passover, John 5:1), when He healed the infirm man on the Sabbath day. He references this fact in v.21. They considered that Sabbath day healing to be a crime.
12 And there was much murmuring concerning him among the crowds. Some said, He is a good man; others said, No; but he deceives the crowd. v.12 His absence gave rise to questions and whispers about Him among the crowds. The response was mixed. (1) “He is a good man” – some spoke patronizingly of Jesus, not believing on Him, but recognizing that He was a good man. This falls far short of the truth of Jesus’ Person. (2) “He deceiveth the people” – others spoke about Him with dislike and contempt. We hear these same opinions today while Christ is hidden from the eyes of men.
13 However, no one spoke openly concerning him on account of their fear of the Jews. v.13 The Jews were treating the Lord as an outlaw because of His miracle at His previous visit in John 5. Anyone who openly spoke of Him would meet with the wrath of these religious leaders.
The Lord’s Heart of Obedience vs. the Jews’ Heart of Murder (7:14-24)
The importance of having a right attitude. In this next section we learn some very important truths. One is that a person’s attitude is the single greatest factor in their sense of clarity about spiritual things. A spirit of sincerity and subjection to the will of God will result in a clear understanding of His revelation (v.17). On the other hand, a spirit of self-glorification will yield at first cloudiness as to the revelation of God, and finally, murderous feelings toward the one who bears that testimony. There are two groups who need to be carefully distinguished: (1) “the Jews” which refers to those residing in Judea, probably including the leaders, and (2) “the crowds”. The leaders had already made up their minds… and wanted Jesus dead. The crowds were divided in their opinions (v.12), and for the most part were merely curious. But, even those who thought Jesus was a “good man” couldn’t see the obvious truth of who He was (the subject of vv.25-31). It not clear to them because they didn’t have a “desire to practice his will” (v.17).
A New Order of Teaching; Submission vs. Self-glorification (vv.14-18)
¶ 14 But when it was now the middle of the feast, Jesus went up into the temple and taught. v.14 When Jesus did go up to the feast, He went into the temple – the epicenter of the Jews’ religion – and began to teach. What an experience it would been to hear the Author of the scriptures teach from it! The Lord Jesus was the Word become flesh, and He could have leaned on that for this teaching. But we find the Lord learned the scriptures as a man, storing them in his heart (Psa. 119:11) much like you and I, perhaps as he read them week by week (Luke 4:16). This is why Luke 2:52 speaks of the Lord as growing in understanding. It doesn’t take away from His Divine omniscience.
15 The Jews therefore wondered, saying, How knows this man letters, having never learned? v.15 The Jews could not comprehend this order of teaching that came from one who was never educated at their feet. They felt that they were “the people” and that knowledge would perish with them (Job 12:2). They thought of Jesus as merely a carpenter. How blind they were to the truth of His Person!
16 Jesus therefore answered them and said, My doctrine is not mine, but that of him that has sent me. v.16 He gives the secret of what made His teaching different from the rabbis’ teaching. Not only was His doctrine not from man, but it was not His own in the sense of independence. He perfectly delivered the teaching His Father had given Him. It isn’t so much His divinity that is emphasized, but His faithfulness as “the Apostle” or “Sent One” (Heb. 3:1) to accomplish the Father’s will. The Jews professed to know God, but they really didn’t.
17 If any one desire to practise his will, he shall know concerning the doctrine, whether it is of God, or that I speak from myself. v.17 The principle of the Lord’s ministry is required for all who will recognize its source. The Jews refused to believe that the Lord’s doctrine was from God because they did not have a predisposition to obey God’s will. Ministry that comes from a heart that is perfectly subject to God will glorify God, and not glorify self. What a comfort to know that God guides and teaches those who desire to practice His will! Read John 18:37.
18 He that speaks from himself seeks his own glory; but he that seeks the glory of him that has sent him, he is true, and unrighteousness is not in him. v.18 Self is what blinds the human race. Men seeking their own glory can only speak what comes from themselves. Christ, as the perfect dependent Man, only sought the Father’s glory. This singleness of eye made the Lord Jesus perfectly trustworthy (reverently speaking), because there was no partiality (see John 5:30; 41). “The same is true” (consistent with the mind of God) “and no unrighteousness” (inconsistency in character or word) “is in Him.”
Corruption in Judgment: A Result of Self-glorification (vv.19-24)
19 Has not Moses given you the law, and no one of you practises the law? Why do ye seek to kill me? v.19 The Lord Jesus perfectly discerned the leaders’ intention to murder Him. They had settled on this course of action earlier (John 5:16; 18). The proof that none of them were seeking the Father’s glory is that they were disobedient to the law of Moses (which was only a limited revelation of God’s mind) in their plan to commit murder. The law said, “thou shalt not kill” (Ex. 20:13). It took the coming of Jesus to fully manifest their murderous hearts.
20 The crowd answered and said, Thou hast a demon: who seeks to kill thee? v.20 “The crowd” (commoners) were not aware of how far hatred had pushed their leaders, and had no suspicion that Pharisees and chief priests were bent on killing Jesus. The Lord identified those who were ambivalent toward Him with those who plotted to kill Him. They replied with rash irreverence, and in doing so revealed the truth of His words.
21 Jesus answered and said to them, I have done one work, and ye all wonder. v.21 Notice that He doesn’t react with rashness to their insult. Instead He draws attention to their incredulity of His “one work” – the healing of the infirm man on the Sabbath day (John 5:1-16). This was a shock to them – “ye all wonder” – because they had not brought God into their thoughts.
22 Therefore Moses gave you circumcision (not that it is of Moses, but of the fathers), and ye circumcise a man on sabbath. 23 If a man receives circumcision on sabbath, that the law of Moses may not be violated, are ye angry with me because I have made a man entirely sound on sabbath? vv.22-23 In these verses we have an example showing the hypocrisy of the Jew’s false judgment about the John 5 healing. It was a common occurrence to circumcise a male child on the eighth day, and they would make no exception if the eighth day fell on a Sabbath day. Why did they allow for this practice? They honored the law of Moses, although actually circumcision was given as a sign earlier than Moses; first to Abraham (Gen. 17:9-12), then Isaac, etc., “the fathers”. They recognized that the rite of circumcision must be kept, even though it required physical work in the surgery. But when Christ, in pure grace, healed on the Sabbath day, an act which did not require actual physical work, they were angry to the point of plotting His death! How could the Jews possibly justify their objection to this miracle?
24 Judge not according to sight, but judge righteous judgment. v.24 He had exposed how unrighteous and superficial their judgments were by their practices in regard to circumcision. Why was their judgement so untrustworthy? See v.18, they were not seeking the Father’s glory. The first verb “judge” is a general exhortation to not focus on the external. The second “judge” is a specific exhortation to change their judgment in this matter.
Dubious or Obvious? The Identity of Jesus as the Christ (7:25-31)
Questions as to the Identity of Jesus (vv.25-27)
25 Some therefore of those of Jerusalem said, Is not this he whom they seek to kill? v.25 This is a different class than what has been before us so far; not the crowd of visitors, nor the religious leaders, but residents of Jerusalem. They were not the ones plotting His death, but they were aware of it (c.p. v.20). They could see by the character of the Lord, and His words (v.21) that this was Jesus.
26 and behold, he speaks openly, and they say nothing to him. Have the rulers then indeed recognised that this is the Christ? v.26 The fact that the rulers has not arrested Jesus might have made the citizens wonder if the rulers had changed their minds about Him, having realized that He was the Messiah, and for this reason were fearful to carry out their murderous intentions. But they were really only indulging in irony.
27 But as to this man we know whence he is. Now as to the Christ, when he comes, no one knows whence he is. v.27 These Jerusalem residents weren’t convinced that Jesus was the Messiah. They were stumbled by imagining they knew His human origin. They had a very mystical (and false) notion that Messiah would appear from no known source… like a superstar. But their own scriptures spoke of His coming from Bethlehem and being born of a virgin in the royal line of David (Micah 5:2; Isa. 7:14; 2 Sam. 7:12-26). This is an example of judging “according to sight” (v.24). The nation of Israel will one day confess that they misjudged their Messiah, but they will not do that until they finally turn to the Lord (Isa. 53:2).
Jesus States His Obvious Identity & Their Ignorance (vv.28-29)
28 Jesus therefore cried out in the temple, teaching and saying, Ye both know me and ye know whence I am; and I am not come of myself, but he that sent me is true, whom ye do not know. v.28 The Lord replies, showing that in a sense they knew Him and knew He had come from God, but they did not know Him in a personal way. Their conscience knew Him and testified to them of who He was, but their will rejected Him. It is possible that “Ye both know me and know whence I am” could be that the Jews knew He was from Nazareth and that He was the son of Mary and Joseph. I’m not exactly sure which is the correct thought. They did not know that:
- He was not come “of himself” or for His own purposes, seeking His own glory. He had been sent by the Father, and had come to glorify Him!
- The One that had sent the Son is true (consistent). That is, God will always be God, His purpose stands, in spite of man and Satan’s efforts.
Sadly, they did not know the Father, and it was because they had rejected the Son! “Ye neither know me, nor my Father: if ye had known me, ye should have known my Father also” (John 8:19; see 14:7). They claimed to know God, but in reality their hearts were a million miles away. You cannot know the Father apart from the Son. That is the central message of John’s gospel. Read more…
29 I know him, because I am from him, and “he” has sent me. v.29 The Son alone knew the Father, and two things bore witness that the Son was qualified to speak of the Father: (1) “I am from him” – the Son’s Divinity, and (2) “He has sent Me” – His mission as a Perfect Servant to make the Father known.
The Response of the Jerusalem Residents (v.30)
30 They sought therefore to take him; and no one laid his hand upon him, because his hour had not yet come. v.30 These are the Jerusalem residents, who had not been part of the plot (vv.25-26), but upon hearing His testimony manifest the same murderous heart as their rulers. But they can’t touch Him until the hour of suffering had come (see note on the various “hours” in John’s Gospel).
The Response of the Crowds (v.31)
31 But many of the crowd believed on him, and said, Will the Christ, when he comes, do more signs than those which this man has done? v.31 Many of the crowd had realized that Jesus had all the qualifications of the Messiah, although this truth did not enter their consciences. But this pushed the rulers over the edge, and into action (v.32).
The Lord’s Promised Return to the Father (7:32-36)
The Response of the Rulers (v.32)
32 The Pharisees heard the crowd murmuring these things concerning him, and the Pharisees and the chief priests sent officers that they might take him. v.32 The rulers had already plotted to kill Jesus (John 5), but then decided to hang back until the fall, waiting to see if their political base would be affected by Him. But once they saw that the crowd, from all over Israel, knew that Jesus had proven himself outwardly by signs, they felt sufficiently threatened, and therefore made a move against Him. (Note that v.30 is a different move than v.32.)
The Lord’s Promised Ascension (vv.33-34)
33 Jesus therefore said, Yet a little while I am with you, and I go to him that has sent me. v.33 The Lord told the rulers that all their efforts to apprehend Him would be useless until the appointed time. There was no need for them to rush, He would be gone from this world soon enough, back to His Father.
34 Ye shall seek me and shall not find me, and where I am ye cannot come. v.34 “Ye shall seek me”– Israel today seeks their Messiah, but not with the eyes of faith. They are blind to the fact that He is at the right hand of God (Rom. 11:25. 2 Cor. 3:14). The world is completely ignorant of the Father. Not only is unbelief unable to enter the presence of God, but it would not want to be there, because “every one that does evil hates the light, and does not come to the light that his works may not be shewn as they are” (John 3:20).
The Blindness of Unbelief (vv.35-36)
35 The Jews therefore said to one another, Where is he about to go that we shall not find him? Is he about to go to the dispersion among the Greeks, and teach the Greeks? v.35 The human mind of unbelief can rise no higher than this earth (see John 6:62). They can think of nothing else than Jesus going to a different earthly location, perhaps to preach to the Gentiles. Preaching to the Gentiles was a distasteful business for the Jew; but even this they felt was beyond His reach. Wow. The irony of this is that Christ was exalted to His Father’s right hand, crowned with glory and honor (Heb. 2:9), and from that place He has done the very thing they despised! “Be it known therefore unto you, that the salvation of God is sent unto the Gentiles, and that they will hear it” (Acts 28:25-28). Christ “came and preached peace to you which were afar off…” (Eph. 2:17). The term “the dispersion” refers to the Hellenistic Jews as representative of Gentiles in general.
36 What word is this which he said, Ye shall seek me and shall not find me; and where I am ye cannot come? v.36 While the blessing of God showers down on the Gentiles during the administration of the mystery, Christ is lost to the unbelieving Jew who cannot find Him, because He is in heaven and they have nothing but an earthly mind.
The Lord’s Promise of the Holy Spirit (7:37-43)
The river of living water. There are seven figures of the Spirit of God used in John’s gospel. The wind mysteriously quickens (John 3). The springing fountain shoots upward in the power of worship as a result of communion (John 4). But rivers of living water flow outward by the Holy Ghost in power of testimony to the world (John 7), bringing refreshment to this parched world, which knows nothing of honesty, righteousness, kindness, or grace. While the King was rejected and was going to return to the Father, the blessing of the Spirit (promised in the Old Testament) would not have to wait until the Millennium… as soon as Jesus was glorified, the Spirit would be sent. It would not be “poured out on all flesh” like in the Millennium (Joel 2:28), but rather it would indwell believers permanently! Yet the “rivers” of blessing would not be material as they will be in the Millennium. Rather they are spiritual, bringing a message of life and peace. “As the scripture hath said” does not refer to the quotation of a written statement in the Old Testament, but rather the general testimony of Old Testament scriptures; for instance, Ezek. 47:1-9 speaks of a river of waters of life. Where does this refreshment issue from? “Out of his belly” – from inside the believer! The Spirit takes residence in our bodies, and gives us the privilege of being channels of its blessing! The Israelites drank of water from the smitten Rock; and afterwards the Rock was to be spoken to for water abundantly. But no Israelite, not even a Moses or an Aaron, could be a channel of living water, as every believer is now!
The Promise of the Spirit Consequent on His Glorification (vv.37-39)
¶ 37 In the last, the great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried saying, If any one thirst, let him come to me and drink. v.37 This “last day, the great day of the feast” would have been the eighth day of the Feast of Tabernacles, which was the longest feast of the Jews. On the eighth day, the gladness of Israel should have reached its zenith. Jesus waits until the last day, so they could have the opportunity to taste everything that natural religion can offer without Christ, before he offers Himself as the answer for man’s satisfaction. The offer was to “any one” – Jew or Gentile can take advantage. The “eighth day” often marks a new beginning in the ways of God. Here it pictures the introduction of Christianity. In Acts the disciples met together to break bread on the first day of the week, or the eighth day. What Jesus offered was a new beginning, not a renovation of failed Judaism. For those who believe in Jesus, “if any man be in Christ, there is a new creation” (2 Cor. 5:17).
The Water Libation. As part of the Feast of Tabernacles, a daily ceremony was carried out called the rite of the water libation. On the first day of the feast, the priests went down to the pool of Siloam and brought up water to the Temple. Each day the priests carried the water in procession around the altar to the blowing of trumpets. The great Hallel (Psalms 113-118) was recited, and the water was poured out as a way of asking God to pour out his blessing of rain upon the earth. But on “the last day, the great day of the feast”, the priests circled the altar seven times and then poured out the water amidst great religious and national excitement. Think of how the Jewish heart would swell to see those great gushes of water, and to anticipate the Millennial blessing of Israel! But then, the excitement would wind down, and reality would set in. That water could never satisfy or bring true refreshment. At this time that “Jesus stood and cried saying, If any one thirst, let him come to me and drink.” Here was the One who could truly satisfy.
38 He that believes on me, as the scripture has said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water. v.38 “Out of his belly”, from the inmost affections (not intellect) of the believer flows out streams of refreshment to this parched world, which knows nothing of honesty, righteousness, kindness, or grace. Long before the Millennial day (pictured by the Feast of Tabernacles) comes, the Spirit would begin to flow out with blessing to this world… not yet in a material way, but in a spiritual way.
39 But this he said concerning the Spirit, which they that believed on him were about to receive; for the Spirit was not yet, because Jesus had not yet been glorified. v.39 He explains that the blessings He was speaking of were connected with a “new day”, a change in dispensations. This new order would have two characteristic features:
- A Man in the Glory – a glorified Man is the object of men’s faith. Compare with John 4 where Son of God is the giver (His Deity emphasized);
- The Holy Ghost sent down – to testify of Jesus’ glorification. This is a strange wording; “the Spirit was not yet“. It isn’t a question of the Spirit’s existence, but of His presence here on earth (see Acts 19:2).
Another Division Among the Crowd (vv.40-43)
40 Some out of the crowd therefore, having heard this word, said, This is truly the prophet. 41 Others said, This is the Christ. Others said, Does then the Christ come out of Galilee? vv.40-41 As we can see from John 1, the Jews made a distinction between the coming Prophet and the coming Messiah. This distinction was prevalent, but unfounded. It appeared to end in futile discussion; but it revealed the presence of a deep rift, or division. Christ is both Prophet and King. Some would go so far as to call Him “the Prophet”, others even to call Him “the Christ”. Others sought arguments to evade His being called the Christ, because He had recently come from Nazareth in Galilee.
42 Has not the scripture said that the Christ comes of the seed of David, and from the village of Bethlehem, where David was? v.42 Many of the crowd, being from all parts of Israel, were ignorant of the events surrounding our Lord’s birth, the timing of the census, etc. (Luke 2), and did not care to enquire as to where He had been born. Certainly scripture had spoken of His coming from Bethlehem (Micah 5:2), and of the seed of David… but without faith, a lack of knowing the facts is a barrier impossible for unbelief to cross. Being the despised Prophet of Galilee did not prevent Him from being the Messiah from Bethlehem!
43 There was a division therefore in the crowd on account of him. v.43 The Lord is the constant point of division. “Think ye that I have come to give peace in the earth? Nay, I say to you, but rather division” (Luke 12:51). We read of three divisions (“schisma”) in John; (1) John 7:43 is a division over His Person; (2) John 9:16 is a division over His works; and (3) John 10:19 is a division over His sayings.
A Great Struggle Among the Sanhedrin (7:32-36)
The Officers Unable to Arrest Him (vv.44-46)
44 But some of them desired to take him, but no one laid hands upon him. v.44 Some of the (Jewish) officers who had been sent to arrest Him were still among the crowd. They wanted to arrest Him, but did not because they were powerless before God’s time.
45 The officers therefore came to the chief priests and Pharisees, and they said to them, Why have ye not brought him? v.45 The chief priests and Pharisees demanded a reason for the failure of the officers, even though they could have done no better themselves. This demand originated out of their own frustration, but God was going to twist even this question to hinder their purpose.
46 The officers answered, Never man spoke thus, as this man speaks. v.46 It was the consciences of these ones – not as deadened as the rulers’ – which involuntarily drew out before the rulers a confession of the power with which Jesus spoke. They did not understand what He said, but felt that His words placed Him in a different category altogether from mere men.
The Conceit of the Pharisees Exposed (vv.47-49)
47 The Pharisees therefore answered them, Are ye also deceived? v.47 The Pharisees considered the crowd (visiting for the feast) to be deceived. They became afraid that now even their own officers weren’t with them.
48 Has any one of the rulers believed on him, or of the Pharisees? v.48 They challenged the officers to name one Pharisee or ruler that had believed on Jesus; the lack of which they felt should have been proof enough that Jesus was not to be trusted. They were soured that the people were not following their queue. But this shows the depth of their sin. Many Jews would not receive Christ simply because their leaders didn’t. The Pharisees knew exactly what they were doing. In this way, the Pharisees “shut up the kingdom of heaven against men” (Matt. 23:13).
49 But this crowd, which does not know the law, are accursed. v.49 So these false shepherds just cursed the sheep, showing their contempt for the mass of their countrymen. But the law had not cursed those who did not know it: it cursed those who did not keep it (Gal. 3:10).
Nicodemus draws out a Deeper Insubjection to Scripture (vv.50-52)
50 Nicodemus says to them (being one of themselves), v.50 God brings forward an unexpected though feeble witness from among themselves… not only a Pharisee, but a ruler also (see v.48). And Nicodemus wasn’t just anyone, he was “one of them” and recall, “the teacher” of Israel”.
51 Does our law judge a man before it have first heard from himself, and know what he does? v.51 God had already begun a work in Israel, quickening some, and drawing them to Himself. Nicodemus thought he could stick up for the Lord while walking “in the counsel of the ungodly” (Psa. 1:1). Nevertheless, it was an act of faith, and he realized that the Pharisees were willing to break the law to justify their schemes.
52 They answered and said to him, Art thou also of Galilee? Search and look, that no prophet arises out of Galilee. v.52 They immediately shut Nicodemus down, using a childish insult. If they had really known their Bibles (by “searching” and “looking”), they would have found at least two prophets from Galilee, if not three (yet Christ was actually born in Bethlehem, though raised in Galilee):
- By comparing 2 Kings 14:25 and Josh. 19:13, you find that Jonah was from Gath-hepher Galilee (see Kelly on the minor prophets).
- By reading Nah. 1:1, you find that Nahum was from Elkosh or Capernaum!
- Even Elijah, living in Gilead, was from Tishbeth (likely in the region of Galilee).
Religious man is always the same. They plod forward in willing ignorance of the truth about Jesus, triumphant in their assertion of the supreme place of human cleverness and knowledge. Don’t we see the same thing today among the religious elite of Christendom? In the case of the Jews, they denied the living Word, in the case of Christians, the danger is to deny the written word. The modern phrase is, “All scholars are agreed…” agreed in denying or even ridiculing the Word of God. But all scholars are NOT agreed, the spirit raises up a witness to the truth. Kelly said: “Indeed, it is the fatality of tradition-mongers to be always astray, whether in Judaism or in Christendom. Scripture alone is reliable; and those who profess to be ruled by Scripture as interpreted by tradition will be found, like all who serve two masters, to hold to tradition and its uncertainty, and to despise Scripture in spite of its Divine authority, with a blindness to their own state.”
The Sad Conclusion (v.53)
53 And every one went to his home. v.53 They all went to the comfort of their own homes, but none thought of giving Jesus a place to lay His head (John 8:1). If you turn to the Psalms, you can hear how this made Him feel; “I am become like the pelican of the wilderness, I am as an owl in desolate places; I watch, and am like a sparrow alone upon the housetop” (Psa. 102:6-7).