25 Some of the people of Jerusalem therefore said, “Is not this the man whom they seek to kill? 26 And here he is, speaking openly, and they say nothing to him! Can it be that the authorities really know that this is the Christ? 27 But we know where this man comes from, and when the Christ appears, no one will know where he comes from.” 28 So Jesus proclaimed, as he taught in the temple, “You know me, and you know where I come from. But I have not come of my own accord. He who sent me is true, and him you do not know. 29 I know him, for I come from him, and he sent me.” 30 So they were seeking to arrest him, but no one laid a hand on him, because his hour had not yet come. 31 Yet many of the people believed in him. They said, “When the Christ appears, will he do more signs than this man has done?”
32 The Pharisees heard the crowd muttering these things about him, and the chief priests and Pharisees sent officers to arrest him. 33 Jesus then said, “I will be with you a little longer, and then I am going to him who sent me. 34 You will seek me and you will not find me. Where I am you cannot come.” 35 The Jews said to one another, “Where does this man intend to go that we will not find him? Does he intend to go to the Dispersion among the Greeks and teach the Greeks? 36 What does he mean by saying, ‘You will seek me and you will not find me,’ and, ‘Where I am you cannot come’?”
The events of John 7:25-36 still take place in the wake of Jesus’ teaching in the Temple during the Feast of Booths (7:14-15). Because of the clarity, simplicity, and authority with which Jesus taught, the Jerusalem crowds and Jewish leaders were wondering aloud what to do with Him. That’s the heart of this passage—more of the hearers of Jesus’ teaching wondering, “Who is this man? Can He really be the Christ?”
If that sounds familiar, it definitely should. Throughout his Gospel, John has presented a steady stream of stories of real-life people, from all walks of life (Jew and gentile, rich and poor, educated and uneducated, religious leaders and government leaders, the influential and the commoner, individuals and crowds, the sick and the healthy), who had an encounter with Jesus, and were left trying to figure out what to do with it; what to do with Him.
John retold story after story like that because, as you probably remember, his main aim in his Gospel is to convince his readers that Jesus is the Christ, that we might believe in Jesus and have life (20:31). A key for us to grasp, then, is that John didn’t record just any encounters with Jesus. He purposefully focused on those which he believed (under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit) best showed the Christness of Jesus.
In other words, remember Grace, John was not primarily writing a historical account of Jesus’ life (like Luke was). He was writing an account of the events in Jesus life that absolutely required a response. And for that reason, to bring it full circle, John records (in our passage for today) yet another example of people encountering Jesus acting in a way that could not be ignored.
To that end, there are two main sections in our passage, and within them, two main groups deciding what to do with Jesus. The first is vs.25-31. In it we find a group of Jerusalemites wondering whether or not Jesus could be the Christ. They debate among themselves and seem to change their answer several times in these few verses. And the second main section is vs.32-36. There we find another group of Jewish religious leaders (the Pharisees), having already made up their mind about Jesus, trying to figure out how to shut Him up. What’s remarkable is that in the midst of both sections, in the midst of the musings of both the crowds and leaders, Jesus chimed in and bluntly addressed their misunderstandings. Neither the crowds nor the leaders seemed to appreciate what Jesus said to them and so most of both groups were left in their state of confusion.
In all of this, Grace Church, the two main—even if familiar—things for us to grasp from this passage are that (1) Jesus is the Christ and (2) having encountered Him we must either accept or reject Him as the Christ.
Our passage records real, historical events. But insodoing, it also provides us with an enacted prophecy. That is, practically, it gives us a living picture of what it looks like to be confronted with the person and message of Jesus, and to have to decide what to do with Him; whether to receive Him on His terms and pay the accompanying cost, or to turn away from Him and go our own way, trusting in our own sense of things, and banking our eternal lives on our own merit. In other words, in a very real sense, this passage is like a mirror for all of us to look into as we consider our response to Jesus. Will we respond as the crowds and leaders did? Or will we respond in genuine faith? If that sounds serious, it is. Let’s pray.
THE CROWDS – IS THIS THE CHRIST?
As I’ve mentioned many times already during our time in John’s Gospel, everyone who encountered Jesus had to figure out what to do with Him. As Jesus taught or performed some sign, it always seemed to far exceeded the expectations of whoever was near. There was something different about Him, but what exactly that was very few people could say for sure.
In our passage for this morning, we get to look in as two familiar groups debated this question among themselves—the Jewish crowds (“the people of Jerusalem”) and the Jewish leaders (the Pharisees”). The crowds wondered if He was indeed the Christ and the leaders wondered how they could silence Him. Let’s first consider the crowds and the three answers they came up with concerning whether or not Jesus was the Christ.
Both the main question of the crowds and their first answer are found in vs.25-26. As the crowds gathered in Jerusalem during the Feast of Booths, Jesus was the talk of the town. Word spread that He’d come to the feast and was teaching in the Temple. Word also spread that Jesus was teaching in a way that amazed His hearers and baffled the Sadducees.
25 Some of the people of Jerusalem therefore said, “Is not this the man whom they [the religious leaders] seek to kill? 26 And here he is, speaking openly, and they say nothing to him!
Jesus had everyone on edge. No one knew what to do with Him. The crowds wondered, “Our leaders want to kill Him, but at the same time they’re allowing Him to teach in the most public and significant place possible, during one of the three most important feasts we have. Why would they allow Him to get up front and go on like that if they weren’t afraid of Him? If any of us tried that, we’d be censured and removed immediately; and probably worse. Jesus’ boldness and the leaders’ cowardice make us wonder, “26 Can it be that the authorities really know that this is the Christ?”
The question forced upon the crowds (by Jesus’ teaching and courage, and the leaders’ cowardly response) was: Can it be that this is the Christ? Is He the one we’ve been waiting for? And the answer they gave here was, “Maybe?!”. He could be? He might be?
The heart of this answer seems to be rooted in the fact that nothing about Jesus, His teaching, His actions, or the response He got from others made sense according to any categories they had. They just didn’t have a place to put this man, so they reasoned, “Maybe He’s the Christ?”.
Maybe Not (27-29)
In the next few verses, however, their answer changed a bit. They seemed to move from “Maybe” to “Maybe not”.
27 But we know where this man comes from, and when the Christ appears, no one will know where he comes from.”
The prevailing notion among the Jewish people, for reasons that certainly make some sense, was that the Christ, when He came, would come in an entirely unmistakable way. This seems to come from a misreading of a couple of OT texts which were subsequently canonized in public opinion. It was false, obviously, but the crowds believed it nonetheless. And so, consequently, they believed that having to wonder whether or not a person was the Christ, was a good indication that he wasn’t.
In addition, the things they thought they knew about Jesus (where He was from and who His parents were), didn’t mesh with what they thought they knew about the Christ promises of the OT.
Therefore, since they thought they knew Jesus’ unimpressive hometown, family, and background, and because He hadn’t already provided the kind of decisive military victory they expected, the crowds were skeptical.
So was Jesus the Christ? Maybe not, the crowds thought. He didn’t come in the manner He was “supposed” to come in. And He didn’t come from where He was “supposed” to come from. Whatever else there is in Him that points to Him being the Christ, those things seem to shut the door on that possibility, so “maybe not”.
Apparently having heard the murmuring, or perhaps from supernaturally knowing their hearts, Jesus addressed the faulty thinking of the crowds.
28 So Jesus proclaimed, as he taught in the temple, “You know me, and you know where I come from. But I have not come of my own accord. He who sent me is true, and him you do not know. 29 I know him, for I come from him, and he sent me.”
Jesus basically told the crowds they were wrong on just about every level. “Whatever prophesies you think you understand, you clearly don’t, since I am the Christ. You think you know that my father is Joseph, but you are mistaken. My Father is the God of heaven and earth. You think you know where I’m from, but you don’t. You think I am from Nazareth, but you are wrong about that. I was born in Bethlehem (according to the Christ-prophecy of Micah 5:2). More significantly still, however, I am from the Father’s side before all time. My true home is heaven. And most significantly of all, you are wrong about the one thing you think you know with absolute certainty, that you know God.” If anything, they knew God, they believed. They were the offspring of Abraham, the chosen people of God. But Jesus drew an absolute, unmistakable, undeniable line in the sand: You either accept me as the Christ or you do not know God, for God is the one who sent Me.
The question was, “Can it be that this is the Christ?”. And the second answer the crowds gave was
“Maybe not”. And to that Jesus replied, “You think I might not be the Christ, but that’s really because you do not know me or my Father who sent me.”
What ominous words those are. Belief, Grace Church, even entirely sincere belief, even entirely zealous belief, even to-the-core-of my being belief, in something other than God as He really is, is entirely useless. Learn from the crowds to check not only the sincerity of your belief, but the object of it as well.
All of that led to the religious leaders attempting to arrest Jesus. Look at v.30.
30 So they were seeking to arrest him, but no one laid a hand on him, because his hour had not yet come.
Whether the “they” in v.30 refers to some in the crowds or to the religious leaders/officers of v.32 is not certain. Either way, the main point is that there was an attempt to arrest Jesus and it was unsuccessful.
What’s more, the text tells us the reason it was unsuccessful: Because, as we’ve seen before, “his hour had not yet come.” The Father simply would not allow Jesus to be captured (or crucified) before the fullness of time. The passage doesn’t tell us what exactly prevented them from doing so in the earthly realm, only that their plans were thwarted by the perfect, uninterruptable, heavenly plans of God. Let us marvel, once again, at the mighty hand of God, Grace Church. Truly, He holds kings and nations in the palm of His hand (Proverbs 21:1)!
And this act of divine sovereignty, the God-appointed inability of those in power to arrest Jesus, led the crowd to rethink their answer yet again. Whether they recognized the hand of God in it or were simply baffled by the entirely inexplicable response of the authorities, the crowd changed their answer from maybe, to maybe not, to probably. That’s the essence of v.31.
31 Yet many of the people believed in him. They said, “When the Christ appears, will he do more signs than this man has done?”
Here they reasoned that whatever else we think of Jesus, it’s almost impossible to imagine someone coming along who could say and do greater things than Him. If He’s not the Christ, then we simply cannot fathom what the Christ will be like. Is He the Christ? Probably?
The scales seem to be tipping for some within the crowd, but this just doesn’t sound like the genuine, God-given, spiritual-eyes opened, faith God uses as a conduit for saving grace. The text explicitly says that “many of the people believed in Him,” but there’s also an undeniable hint of doubt in their belief in Jesus as the Christ. When it comes to faith in Jesus as Savior, probably-level belief isn’t sufficient.
It is important, then, to settle on a straight-forward understanding of genuine, saving faith. Consider this historically rooted answer to that crucial question (Ligonier).
When the Protestant Reformers considered the question of saving faith, they found in Scripture three aspects that are essential for true faith. The first of these is Noticias, which is the intellectual content of what we believe. Saving faith is faith in the person and work of Christ, so we must know something about Jesus and what He has done if we are to have actual faith in Him. …
The second component of saving faith is assensus, or belief that the content of the Christian gospel is true. It is possible to know something and not believe it is true…But as the Christian faith is dependent on the historical reality of things such as the resurrection of Jesus (1 Cor. 15:17), we must not only know that Christianity proclaims the content of Christ’s historical resurrection, but we must also believe that the resurrection happened (Rom. 10:9).
Finally, saving faith includes fiducia, which is placing trust in the One revealed in the content that is believed to be true. Knowing what God has revealed and believing it to be true is a good thing… [However,] we also need to place our trust in Christ personally to save us…We must place our lives in His hands, pledging ourselves to follow Him no matter the cost.
Perhaps some from the crowd truly believed (had saving faith) in Jesus. But saving faith is absolutely not “maybe-faith,” “maybe not-faith,” or even “probably-faith.” It is a graciously given, emphatic “Yes, with all my mind and heart-faith.” Having that kind of faith does not mean we will never have questions or doubts about certain aspects of the Christian life, but it does mean that when it comes to the central question of Jesus as the Christ, God has granted us genuine trust and belief.
And that leads us to the second section and the second group who was trying to decide what to do with Jesus.
THE PHARISEES – HOW DO WE SILENCE HIM?
The crowds wondered if Jesus was the Christ. The second group, the Pharisees, had already concluded that He wasn’t. Therefore, their “what to do with Jesus” question was a bit different. Rather than trying to figure out His nature, they were trying to figure out how to silence Him from continuing to speak His “lies”.
In this instance, the impetus for their response seems to be controlling the crowd. Like all leaders who fear man more than God, their biggest concern was with losing the support of the crowds; not leading them well or honoring God.
32 The Pharisees heard the crowd muttering these things about him, and the chief priests and Pharisees sent officers to arrest him.
Having Jesus as a significant topic of public discussion was one level of undesirable for the religious leaders. Having Jesus being discussed as the Christ was entirely different and unacceptable level of undesirable. In fact, it was so undesirable that two otherwise warring groups, the Pharisees (explicitly named) and the Sadducees (chief priests and officers), came together in an attempt to shut Jesus down! It’s hard to overstate how significant this is. Seen in proper context, it’s even more shocking than us imagining the Republicans and Democrats coming together against a common enemy today. It was also a foreshadowing of what Jesus knew was fast approaching.
Knowing that His time was just months away,
33 Jesus then said, “I will be with you a little longer, and then I am going to him who sent me.
While no one seemed to understand what Jesus meant by this (which we see in vs.35-36), they must have thought of Jesus leaving as a good thing, “That’s great. Then we won’t have to deal with You any longer.” Far from a good thing, however, it would mark the end of the most significant blessing the world has known.
34 You will seek me and you will not find me. Where I am you cannot come.”
There is both a literal and a spiritual sense in which Jesus’ words were true. Jesus was going to the cross for the sins of the world and then to the right hand of God in His glorified, resurrected body. Literally, no one, not even His closest disciples were able to join Him there. Only Jesus alone could serve as a sufficient, sacrifice for sin. Likewise, the right hand of God is reserved for the Son of God alone. What’s more, once He ascended, no one on earth would be able to find Him. The empty tomb would remain a mystery for many.
Spiritually, horrifically, many of those who were persecuting Jesus, would never be able to find or join Jesus in the Father’s presence and pleasure. That is, those who persevered in their unbelief would remain condemned by God for their sin. They would only know God’s everlasting torment. Spiritually, they could not come with Jesus to heaven in their unbelief.
And so it is for us, Grace. God is patient. That’s the only reason we don’t go straight to hell. But God’s patience will eventually run out. At some point, at a time unknown to us, we will die and our chance to find Jesus and go with Him to where He is will run out. Today is the day of salvation. Turn to Him today and call those around you to do the same. He will receive you and forgive you and set His love upon you if you will surrender yourself in faith.
Still confused, however,
35 The Jews said to one another, “Where does this man intend to go that we will not find him? Does he intend to go to the Dispersion among the Greeks and teach the Greeks? 36 What does he mean by saying, ‘You will seek me and you will not find me,’ and, ‘Where I am you cannot come’?”
Thinking only literally, and poorly at that, they just couldn’t imagine anything other than Jesus trying to slip away from them before they could get their hands on Him. Oh, the devastating effect of sin and spiritual blindness!
What we have in this passage is a Man marked for death, yet unafraid, encountering a group of men who have the authority to kill, but are terrified. The crowds were amazed by this incongruity—the fearlessness of Jesus (the condemned) and the cowardice of the Pharisees (the condemners).
Jesus is the Christ and, therefore, it is right to trust in Him as such. Many among the crowds and religious leaders refused to do so and therein remained condemned and unable to follow Jesus into the Father’s blessing. For all who did (and do yet today), they would know persecution and difficulty, even as Jesus did. A life lived by faith in Jesus Christ, therefore, means living a life of courage, fearing not he who can destroy the body, but only He who can destroy body and soul in hell. And that kind of courage comes from the perfect love of God for us and in us.
For those who are not yet trusting in Jesus, seek the love of God in Jesus. And for those who are trusting in Jesus and longing for the courage live entirely in light of that, seek the love of God in Jesus (1 John 4:17-18). It is the love of God that frees us from fear and fixes our eyes on Jesus Christ, the greatest treasure. It is in that love alone that we will be able to say that to live is Christ and to die is gain! It is in the love of God that we will be able to break from the unbelief and unbelieving unbelief of those in this passage and receive Jesus as the Christ, following Him wherever He leads and whatever it costs, straight into the Father’s everlasting joy.