Controversy at the Feast of Booths
The People’s Thoughts About Jesus (John 7:11-13)
John records for us the mood of the people in Jerusalem in a series of overheard comments. People were looking for Jesus, having heard of him, and asking others if they had seen this Jesus. John says it was “the Jews” who sought Jesus and by this phrase John generally means the rulers of the Jews (John 7:13). John generally refer to the common people as “the people” or “the multitude.”
There was no one set thought about Jesus. Some saw Jesus as a good man, but others thought he was a dangerous man who was leading people astray. Yet, despite all the talk, the subject of Jesus was not discussed openly because the people feared the rulers and their reaction.
Jesus’ Teaching in the Temple (John 7:14-31)
About midway through the eight day feast, Jesus entered the temple and began to teach. It is likely that this fulfilled Malachi 3:1, “"Behold, I send My messenger, and he will prepare the way before Me. And the Lord, whom you seek, will suddenly come to His temple, even the Messenger of the covenant, in whom you delight. Behold, He is coming," says the LORD of hosts.”
Though the leaders of the Jews had heard of Jesus, few probably took the time to investigate him. Hearing him speak amazed them. Here was a man who did not go through the formal education system of the Jews, yet he spoke as a learned man. Such attitudes remain with us when people think that the only effective preacher is one who has been educated in approved schools. As Jesus points out, the power of the teaching comes from the source of the material, not from the teacher himself.
A person’s attitude toward obeying God affects whether he recognizes the truth when he hears it. A person wanting to obey God would see that Jesus is simply teaching the word of God and not some doctrine that he created on his own. People who make up religious doctrine are seeking personal glory. But when a person only seeks the glory of God, then his teaching with conform to God’s will and be true. And he will not be unrighteous.
Abruptly, Jesus turns the conversation and demonstrates who is seeking to obey God and who is not. He points out that these leaders of the Jews were seeking to kill him (John 5:18; 7:1,11) in violation of the very law they profess to keep. This strikes the crowd listening to the conversation as a statement of a mad man. They don’t see anyone trying to kill Jesus, so why is he making such an accusation? By this we see that the common people did not realize what their leaders were thinking.
Jesus proves his contention by reminding them of an event that happened about a year and half prior. He did a miraculous healing on a Sabbath day (John 5:8-9). Everyone knew that no work was done on the Sabbath, but even so commands of God were still kept, whether it was the Sabbath or not. When a child is eight days old, he is circumcised, whether the eighth day happened to fall on a Sabbath or not (Leviticus 12:3). And that command to circumcise did not even originate with Moses like the command to keep the Sabbath did. The command to circumcise was an older command coming from the days of Abraham (Genesis 17:10). Still, people were angry that Jesus had healed a man on the Sabbath, even though the power to heal is obviously from God. Their ability to judge was flawed, Jesus said, because they were only looking at the surface of the matter.
The reminder of what happened in the healing of the man by the pool of Bethesda cause some people to recall that the Jewish leaders were seeking to kill Jesus and that these leaders had been seeking Jesus. Yet here they were with Jesus in front of them and they are not doing a thing. Perhaps, they thought, the leaders didn’t realize that Jesus was the Christ. Perhaps they had changed their mind concerning Jesus.
Yet there remained doubts concerning Jesus. Though people knew that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem, there appeared to be a popular theory that he would disappear and come from an unknown background, perhaps based on Isaiah 53:8. But they knew where Jesus was from, so how could he be the Messiah? The flaw, of course, is their assumption that the Messiah’s background would be completely unknown. Even if he was hidden away, he still would come from somewhere. Thus in a strange way, the people were closer to the truth than they knew.
Jesus answered the people stating that they did know where he was from, but they also knew that Jesus wasn’t here to accomplish his own desires. He was sent to accomplish things and it is the one who sent Jesus whom the people did not know. It was God whom Jesus was talking about and the people understood this. So though they understood in one sense where Jesus came from, Jesus is pointing out that in another sense, they didn’t know because they did not understand God. However, Jesus did understand God because he came from God, being sent by God. Thus, Jesus is claiming to come from heaven at God’s direction.
The people were angered that Jesus claimed they didn’t know God and that he had greater knowledge of God than they did. But worse, Jesus again is hinting that he is divine having come to them from heaven. They sought to take him, but since it wasn’t yet the proper time, they were hindered from laying hands on him.
Though many doubted, John tells us there were many who believed that Jesus was the Messiah. They looked at the evidence of his work and realized that if the Messiah was someone else, he could do more miracles than Jesus.
Jesus Announces He is Leaving (John 7:32-36)
Seeing the crowd divided concerning Jesus, the leaders of the Jews decided this would be a good time to arrest Jesus. Many would support their action because of their anger at what Jesus said; and it would need to be done soon before those persuaded to believe Jesus became firm in their belief and it spread to others.
Knowing the leader’s plans, Jesus tells the people that he would not remain with them for long. Soon there will come a time when they would want to find him and he will not be found. By this he is referring to his death which would take place in about six months.
The leading Jews were confused by this claim of going where they could not find him. The implication that Jesus would be returning to God and that they could not follow him there was so foreign to their thinking that they assumed it had to be something else. They figured they could hunt him down no matter where he went, less he left the land of Israel so far and hid among the Gentiles. Thus they assumed that he was planning to go and teach the Gentiles.
Teaching on the Last Day of the Feast (John 7:37-39)
On the last day of the feast, when the crowds would be heavy for the Sabbath observances, Jesus stood up and stated that the thirsty should come to him. By believing on him living water would flow from the heart of the believer.
Many commentators mention that later Jews recorded that on each day of the Feast of the Tabernacles, the Jews would bring water from the pool of Siloam and pour it at the foot of the altar while the congregation sang from Isaiah 12:3. Whether this practice was done in Jesus’ day is unknown. However, it would explain the abruptness of Jesus pronouncement.
John explains that Jesus was referring to the Holy Spirit, who was not yet given because Jesus had not yet been resurrected. The statement alludes back to several passages: Psalm 36:8-9; Isaiah 44:3; 55:1; 58:11; and Zechariah 14:8.
Reaction to Jesus (John 7:40-52)
John records for us the mixed reaction of the crowd to Jesus. Some thought that Jesus was the Prophet mentioned by Moses (Deuteronomy 18:15, 18). Others decided that Jesus must be the Christ, but other objected asking how the Christ could come from Galilee. After all, the Scriptures state that the Christ would come from Bethlehem.
Some wanted to take Jesus to the authorities, but no one did. The rulers had sent out men to arrest Jesus, but they came back empty handed (John 7:32). When the rulers demanded to know why, the officers could only say that Jesus spoke like no other man. They had been sent to arrest a false teacher and a man causing trouble among the people, but the man they found did not match the description so they returned without him.
This did not sit well with the rulers. They accused the officers of being deceived by Jesus. To “prove” how ignorant the officers were, the rulers said “None of us believe him.” But this wasn’t true (John 3:2). And as for Jesus’ popularity among the rabble, why they are ignorant of the law and don’t understand what they are supporting. How often we find people who disagree convinced that they know better than everyone else.
But Nicodemus spoke up as a voice for reason. He pointed out that it is not proper to draw conclusion before hearing the case against a man (Deuteronomy 1:17; 19:15; Proverbs 18:13). Though we know Nicodemus was sympathetic toward Jesus, his statement was justly neutral.
Still, Nicodemus words draw a strong reaction, and in that reaction we see how unjustly biased the rulers were against Jesus. Even a neutral statement is seen as support for Jesus. They accuse Nicodemus of being from Galilee and thus biased toward people of that area. Didn’t Nicodemus know that no prophet comes from Galilee? But once again, their statement demonstrates their ignorance of the law. Jonah was from this region (II Kings 14:25), as was Elisha (I Kings 17:1) and Nahum (Nahum 1:1). And there are hints that a message from God would come from this region (Isaiah 9:1-2). It is clear that truth did not matter to these people.