Gospel of John 7:32-53
Last week we ended with the following: “When the Christ appears, will he do more signs than this man has done?” ESV We need to know this so we can begin properly with verse 32.
32 The Pharisees, alarmed at this seditious undertow going through the crowd, teamed up with the high priests and sent their police to arrest him. MSG
This reading places us in the second year of Jesus’ ministry, and he spent much of the first year in Galilee to avoid this kind of confrontation. One of the things we should know about Jesus by now is that he does only the will of God. This confrontation is not the final one, but God wants Jesus to give them a taste of the Truth before God gets him out of the jam and back to the relative safety of Galilee.
It is no accident that Jesus’ ministry came when Israel was divided into three main sections and ruled by three different people. Judea and Samaria were both ruled briefly by Archelaus until Rome dismissed him from both, but he was allowed to keep Idumaea. Rome was fond of Samaria because it separated Jewish Judea from Jewish Galilee. The overseer of all the region was the Governor of Syria; he supervised Pilate, Governor of Samaria and Judea. Herod Antipas ruled Galilee. There were some other family members with smaller holds.
All this is important to understand because it gave Jesus room to roam. No authority in Judea could go to Galilee to arrest Jesus (or anyone). Each ruler was jealous of the others and would likely arrest outsiders. Going into Samaria could get the authorities killed.
33 Jesus said, “I am with you for only a short time, and then I am going to the one who sent me. 34 You will look for me, but you will not find me; and where I am, you cannot come.” NIV
Theodore of Mopsuestia wrote about 400 CE. Why, he says, are you eager to arrest me, and why do you try to do something that is not in your power? Just wait a little bit, and I will give myself over to you. Indeed, after my death, I go to my Father, and by directing myself to him, I will certainly withdraw from you. And I will be exalted over you so that, even though you look for me, you may not find me. And even though you want to, you cannot come to where I am because I will be exalted over you in glory and honor. But the Jews did not understand a single word of this. And this is not surprising, because not even the disciples, as we have already demonstrated many times, could understand the words that were said at that time. At the end they learned these things from the facts. ACCS
IIt is easy to slide past this verse. Keep in mind that Jesus is speaking to authorities who have come to arrest him. Yet, he says, ‘you cannot find me.’ Imagine their confusion. ‘What do you mean we cannot find you; we are looking at you now.’
Jesus is not playing a game with them, and he is telling them what will happen now and next year. ‘When I go away, you cannot come with me because you do not believe me.’ The following two verses tell us how puzzled the authorities were.
35-36 The Jews put their heads together. “Where do you think he is going that we won’t be able to find him? Do you think he is about to travel to the Greek world to teach the Jews? What is he talking about, anyway: ‘You will look for me, but you won’t find me,’ and ‘Where I am, you can’t come’?” MSG
‘If he goes back to Galilee, we have spies there who follow him every day. Even if he goes to one of the caves used by outlaws and revolutionaries, we will follow. If he goes to the Greek Jews, that will get him out of our hair. We always knew he was a nut case—he is not making any sense.’
37 On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink.
We need to set the stage with this statement. Every day of the week-long festival, priests and Levites would draw water from the spring of Salome to the blowing of shofars by the Levites. As they progressed into the Temple, people followed along, singing in the joy of God’s mercy on His Chosen People. Once at the altar, the priests poured the water on the stones.
This ceremony commemorated the occasion in the desert when Moses struck a large rock and water poured out to keep the Hebrews alive. Here, Jesus is claiming to be greater than Moses. ‘Moses gave you physical water while I will give you the true—life eternal—living water of God.’
It also celebrates the role water plays in the daily rituals of cleansing and purifying the souls of the Hebrews. And it looks forward to the promise at the end times when a river will flow from Jerusalem to water the whole earth.
38 Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’” 39 Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified. ESV
These words of Jesus are rooted in Ezekiel 47:1-12, though living does appear there. Numbers 20:11 [Then Moses raised his arm and struck the rock twice with his staff. Water gushed out, and the community and their livestock drank.], Nehemiah 9:19-20 [20You gave your good Spirit to instruct them. You did not withhold your manna from their mouths, and you gave them water for their thirst.], Psalm 77:16,20, Isaiah 58:11b [You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail.], all add to Jesus’ meaning. Zechariah 14:8 gives us the most important term. On that day, living water will flow out from Jerusalem, half of it east to the Dead Sea and half of it west to the Mediterranean Sea, in summer and winter. NIV
The end of the Festival of Booths occurred on the eighth day. It was a short day because most of the pilgrims were packing up to start home in the afternoon. In the morning, the priests once again performed the water ritual.
Once the priests poured the last pail of water, Jesus most likely stood and told people not to worry. ‘You do not have to wait another year for the living water.’
You will notice that John uses water several times to represent who Jesus is. This message is not new; he says the same thing in John 4:10 during his conversation with the Samaritan woman at the well. And the underlying meaning is the same with each use. The living water is the Holy Spirit.
John is not saying there was no presence of the Holy Spirit until Pentecost. The OT refers to the Spirit many times, and Jews did believe the Spirit was all around them. The followers did not need the Spirit of God because they were walking with God in the flesh. Even after the resurrection, Jesus remained with them for some time.
40 On hearing his words, some of the people said, “Surely this man is the Prophet.” 41 Others said, “He is the Messiah.” Still others asked, “How can the Messiah come from Galilee? 42 Does not Scripture say that the Messiah will come from David’s descendants and from Bethlehem, the town where David lived?” 43 Thus the people were divided because of Jesus. 44 Some wanted to seize him, but no one laid a hand on him. NIV
The Prophet. Deuteronomy 18:15-19. 15 The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your fellow Israelites. You must listen to him. 16 For this is what you asked of the Lord your God at Horeb on the day of the assembly when you said, “Let us not hear the voice of the Lord our God nor see this great fire anymore, or we will die.” 17 The Lord said to me: “What they say is good. 18 I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their fellow Israelites, and I will put my words in his mouth. He will tell them everything I command him. NIV
Moses relayed God’s promise to the people of a new prophet. People in Jesus’ time did not generally believe that prophet to be the same as the, later, promised Messiah, and that is why some said one, others said the other.
The mention of Galilee is not necessarily a putdown, though the Judeans did consider them second class, but at least not Samaritan. It was more because they knew the prophecy placed the Messiah as a son of King David from Bethlehem. Today’s Jews are still expecting the Messiah to come in fulfillment of a list of promises that match some of the ones we Christians point to, but others that they say Jesus did not fulfill. Here is their current list:
- Rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem.
- Bring about the end of war so that everyone can live in peace.
- Unite all people regardless of differences like religion or culture.
- Bring a true awareness of God to all people.
- Signal the end of the world.
Rebuilding the Temple was not on the list in Jesus’ day but might have been by John’s writing. Obviously, war has not ceased, and people still cannot seem to agree on much of anything as then when they disagreed on who Jesus was. But the last two items we believe Jesus accomplished.
John did feel it was necessary to give us the nativity story because others had done that. But he does remind us that Jews expected Jesus to come from Bethlehem and that we should reread Matthew and Luke to see that he did come from there.
Modern critics like to attack verses like this to prove that Jesus was either a misguided man or never existed. On the one hand, they will say if he was really God—or the Son of God—why do we still have war and hatred? If he even lived, he appears to have done nothing. On the other hand, they label all John’s signs as fictional. It is called a circular argument. Jesus was not God, so all the writings about him are fake. Since the reports of Jesus are fake, he cannot be God.
45 Then the officers returned to the chief priests and Pharisees, who said to them, “Why didn’t you bring him back with you?” 46 The officers replied, “No one ever spoke like this man!” 47 Then the Pharisees answered, “You haven’t been deceived too, have you? 48 None of the members of the ruling council or the Pharisees have believed in him, have they? 49 But this rabble who do not know the law are accursed!” NET
Imagine the Chief of Police of a major American city sending six carloads of officers to arrest a suspected drug dealer and they come back saying, ‘he talks so good we just couldn’t arrest him.’
My guess is none of these Temple guards were allowed to go with the team that eventually arrested Jesus a year later.
The Pharisees may have hit on the right question, ‘You haven’t been deceived too?’ God has a history of blocking people’s minds—hardening their hearts—so God’s will can be done. Verse 49 gives us a peek into the minds of the religious leaders who consider commoners to be ‘rabble’ not worth listening to or caring about.
50-51 One of their number, Nicodemus (the one who had previously been to see Jesus), remarked to them, “But surely our Law does not condemn the accused without hearing what he has to say, and finding out what he has done?” 52 “Are you a Galilean, too?” they answered him. “Look where you will—you won’t find any prophet comes out of Galilee!” 53 So they broke up their meeting and went home. Phillips
Having met Nicodemus when he tried to talk with Jesus at night (chapter 3), we now see him offering some defense of Jesus, not too strong but enough to suggest that he might become a true believer. We will see him once again.
The leaders continue their superior attitude and dismiss Nicodemus’ comment.
Be Righteous and do Good