John 7:14-24 About the middle of the feast Jesus went up into the temple and began teaching. 15 The Jews therefore marveled, saying, “How is it that this man has learning, when he has never studied?” 16 So Jesus answered them, “My teaching is not mine, but his who sent me. 17 If anyone’s will is to do God’s will, he will know whether the teaching is from God or whether I am speaking on my own authority. 18 The one who speaks on his own authority seeks his own glory; but the one who seeks the glory of him who sent him is true, and in him there is no falsehood. 19 Has not Moses given you the law? Yet none of you keeps the law. Why do you seek to kill me?” 20 The crowd answered, “You have a demon! Who is seeking to kill you?” 21 Jesus answered them, “I did one work, and you all marvel at it. 22 Moses gave you circumcision (not that it is from Moses, but from the fathers), and you circumcise a man on the Sabbath. 23 If on the Sabbath a man receives circumcision, so that the law of Moses may not be broken, are you angry with me because on the Sabbath I made a man’s whole body well? 24 Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment.”
In our passage for this morning, we see the now familiar reality that Jesus consistently taught with a kind of authority that He could only possess if He had been sent by God. Likewise, He made claims about Himself that could only be true if He had come from God. Consequently, the big question that confronted everyone who encountered Jesus was whether or not He was who He said He was. His claims were so big that no one could avoid that question. Those kinds of claims and that question are front and center in our passage.
While teaching in the temple during the Feast of Booths, everyone, including the Jewish leaders, noticed that Jesus taught with insight that seemed to go way beyond His level of education and training. The text says they “marveled” at His “learning”. And that, once again, begged the question of where His learning and authority came from. Was it truly from God or was it demonic?
When questioned in this regard, Jesus provided a series of contrasts between Him and His questioners to explain why they were unwilling—or perhaps unable—to receive Him and His teaching. The two main things for us to get from this passage are: (1) All that Jesus said and did was from the Father, and (2) All who truly seek God will receive Jesus and His teaching. And the main takeaway for us is give ourselves in increasing measure to allowing the words of Jesus to shape every aspect of our lives. To help you see all of that, we’ll look at the context of the scene, the confusion it caused, the claim Jesus made, and the contrasts Jesus provided.
THE CONTEXT (14)
The context of this passage, found in v.14, is pretty simple.
14 About the middle of the feast Jesus went up into the temple and began teaching.
There are four key components to this context: (1) Jesus was teaching, (2) in the Temple, (3) in the middle of the Feast of Booths, (4) after telling His brothers that He wasn’t going to go. Let’s briefly consider each of those.
The main thing that set everything in motion for this scene is the simple fact that Jesus taught publically. The text doesn’t tell us what Jesus taught, only that He “began teaching” and that whatever He taught caused His hearers to “marvel,” which caused a significant response in them, which gave Jesus the opportunity to teach even more.
In the Temple
The second significant aspect of the context is that Jesus taught in the Temple. This means He taught publically, He taught Jews, He taught formally, and He was invited to teach. That He taught publically was significant for a number of reasons, including the fact that when He was eventually arrested in private, He was able to say, “I have spoken openly to the world. I have always taught in synagogues and in the temple, where all Jews come together. I have said nothing in secret.” (John 18:20). Jesus didn’t teach as one who had anything to hide.
That Jesus taught the Jewish people was another way in which He functioned as the Christ. He was the one God promised to send. And this is especially important in John’s Gospel in that his aim was to help his readers “believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (20:31).
The formality of Jesus teaching in the Temple matters because these weren’t off the cuff remarks He was making. This wasn’t a private, informal conversation He was having with His disciples. He was speaking at a place He knew would put Him under a higher level of scrutiny. Every teacher understands this important distinction. It happens all the time that as I’m hanging out with someone they’ll ask some type of theological question. Of course I never intentionally mislead anyone, but my answers are necessarily more off the cuff and less precise. The level of precision and accountability goes up if we’re meeting for a pre-planned time of discipleship or counsel. And it goes up yet another level when I preach or teach in the worship service or a seminar. Jesus’ teaching was on another level still as it was during a time when every Jew was supposed to be in Jerusalem (more on that in the next point).
And the fact that Jesus taught in the temple means He was invited to teach. Despite looking for some time, I was not able to find a good deal of detail about who was allowed to teach in the temple and when. The one thing I did find, however, was that it required some level of invitation, or at least approval. It would have been a significant leader among the Sadducees (they oversaw the temple, as the Pharisees oversaw the synagogues) who authorized or invited Jesus to teach.
In the Middle of the Feast of Booths
The third contextual component is that Jesus not only (1) taught publically (2) in the Temple, but He did so (3) during one of the three most significant feasts of the Jews, the Feast of Booths (7:2). Again, this aspect of the context is important because it put all Jewish eyes and ears on Jesus. He wouldn’t be able to get out from under anything He said here (which, of course, He didn’t want to) as there were many, many witnesses. His teaching would be firmly fixed in the public record.
After Telling His Brothers He Wasn’t Going
Finally, and somewhat curiously, Jesus taught publically, in the temple, during the Feast of Booths, after telling His brothers, “You go up to the feast. I am not going up to this feast” (7:8). You may remember that Jesus also shared His reasoning with His brother, “For my time has not yet fully come.” His main point, again, was not that He wasn’t going to the feast, but that He wasn’t going as they wanted Him to—fully presenting Himself as the Christ. Teaching as He did was significant, but He did not yet reveal Himself as He would on Palm Sunday, just a few months later.
Again, in considering the context, we’re able to see that whatever Jesus said, He did so in a way that could not be missed. Indeed, it was not missed, as we’ll see in the next point—the confused response of those who heard.
THE CONFUSION (15)
The right response to any and all of Jesus’ teaching for all people is awe, wonder, worship, and obedience. Every time we encounter the words of Jesus, we ought to drop everything, ask the Spirit of God to give us ears to hear, lean way in, and fight to drive it all the way down from our head to our heart to our lives! Grace, it is right to marvel at every word uttered by Jesus, to feel conviction at our failure to fully appreciate it, and to seek to change or lives to match up with it. Would you take a moment to consider your own response to hearing the teaching of Jesus?
Wherever Jesus’ words are in conflict with ours, Jesus’ words need to win every time. Wherever Jesus’ speaks in ways that make us uncomfortable, we need to recalibrate our comfort every time. Wherever Jesus calls us to something that seems difficult or impossible, we need to change what we believe is possible every time. Wherever Jesus’ words make us mad, we need to ask for forgiveness and God’s help to repent every time. Wherever Jesus’ teaching is embarrassing, we need to examine the source of our identity every time. Wherever we’re reluctant to live entirely in light of Jesus’ teaching, we need to confess our idolatry every time. And wherever we find things more desirable or than Jesus’ teaching, we need to fight for an appetite change every time.
While Jesus isn’t with us to teach in the same way as He was in times like John recorded in our passage, He is with us (according to His own words) in an even better way in His Word and Spirit. What should have been true for those who heard Jesus’ temple teaching in John 7:14-24, should be true for you and me whenever we have our daily devotions and when we come to Berea and when we sit under the preaching of the Word.
And yet, as we all know, because of sin, what should be and what is are often out of sync. They are often out of sync for you and me, and they were out of sync for Jesus’ temple audience in this passage. While they did (rightly) marvel (wonder very greatly, greatly admire) in a certain sense at Jesus’ teaching, instead of it leading to repentance, praise, and obedience, it went into a different direction. For the Jews in our passage, their marveling stood in contrast with their expectations, which caused confusion in them. And in their confusion, instead of recalibrating their expectations, they recalibrated their marveling.
15 The Jews therefore marveled, saying, “How is it that this man has learning, when he has never studied?”
They had already decided that Jesus was trouble. They’d already decided that He was misrepresenting Himself and God. Therefore, they expected Jesus to teach in unconvincing, uninformed, and unscriptural ways. Thus, when He spoke with power and authority, they were confused. But rather than reconsider their notion of Him in light of the profound wisdom and insight with which He taught, they reframed what He taught to fit their misconception of Him. Like the disagreeable teenager or scorned spouse who is hardened to the point that they are entirely committed to the opposite of whatever they hear, the Jews were firmly entrenched in their lies.
Again, the Jews were confused because Jesus’ teaching unexpectedly came across as truly impressive even though they had already concluded that He wasn’t educated or trained enough to say such things. This was not unusual for Jesus. He often got this reaction (as would His disciples after receiving the Spirit).
A little later in chapter seven we’ll see another example of this when men were sent to arrest Jesus.
John 7:45-46 The officers then came to the chief priests and Pharisees, who said to them, “Why did you not bring him?” 46 The officers answered, “No one ever spoke like this man!”
In similar fashion Matthew reports on similar “marveling” responses to Jesus’ teaching.
Matthew 7:28-29 And when Jesus finished these sayings [in the Sermon on the Mount], the crowds were astonished at his teaching, 29 for he was teaching them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes.
Matthew 13:54 coming to his hometown [Jesus] taught them in their synagogue, so that they were astonished, and said, “Where did this man get this wisdom and these mighty works?
Matthew 22:22 When they [the Pharisees] heard it [Jesus’ teaching on giving to Cesar what is Cesar’s], they marveled. And they left [Jesus] and went away.
Matthew 22:33 And when the crowd heard it [Jesus’ silencing of the false teaching of the Sadducees], they were astonished at his teaching.
In addition, I found six examples in Mark (1:22, 1:27, 6:2, 11:18, 12:17, 15:5) and four more in Luke (4:22, 4:32, 4:36, 20:26) (and I’m sure I missed several). Again, it was a normal occurrence for Jesus to teach in a way that caused His hearers to marvel at its clarity, authority, power, and wisdom, even as it was normal for His hearers to leave confused by the gap between their expectation and the reality they’d just experienced.
The only question, once again, was whether confused people would reconfigure their expectations to match Jesus’ teaching or reconfigure Jesus’ teaching to match their expectations. And that leads to Jesus’ central claim.
THE CLAIM (16)
In response to their calling Him and His teaching into questions, Jesus upped the stakes even higher. Whatever He’d taught that led to the confused marveling of the Jews, Jesus took it to another level still by claiming that everything He’d said was not His teaching, but that of His Father.
16 So Jesus answered them, “My teaching is not mine, but his who sent me.
In essence, Jesus told the crowd if they had a problem with His teaching, their real problem was with the Father because it was the Father who sent Him to teach theses exact things. As we’ve seen several times in John’s Gospel, Jesus’ main claim was that He spoke nothing of His own will, but only that of the Father.
This shows up in many ways today too. All religions are not basically the same. There is no such thing as God-honoring generic belief in god. There is no God who is divorced from Jesus. To believe in God is to believe in Jesus. To receive God is to receive Jesus. And to reject Jesus is to reject God.
So, again, what were the Jews supposed to do with this claim? This is, once again, the great question of this passage, of Jesus’ entire ministry, and before us today. Was Jesus truly from God as He claimed, or was He demonic, as the Jews claimed (20)? Our answer to that question will affect every single area of our lives, even into eternity. We need to get this question right, Grace Church. To that end, graciously, throughout the rest of the passage, Jesus provided contrasting proof that He was from God and they were of the demons.
THE CONTRASTS (17-24)
As I just mentioned, confronted with the disbelief of the Jews, Jesus responded by claiming that His teaching was entirely from the Father (in v.16) and then (in vs.17-24) He began contrasting His godliness with the ungodliness of the Jews as proof that He was who He said He was and that their judgment was flawed. As I wrestled through how to best help you all see and apply the contrasts, I decided to frame Jesus’ words in the form of seven questions. I think that will makes His points clearest and the contrast between Him and the Jews sharpest.
Do You Truly Desire the Will of God? (17)
In v.17 Jesus said,
17 If anyone’s will is to do God’s will, he will know whether the teaching is from God or whether I am speaking on my own authority.
The question aimed at the Jews and embedded in those words is: Do you truly desire the will of God? Jesus did, of course, and so He did and said nothing outside of God’s will. The Jews did not and, therefore, could not recognize the will of God (spoken and modeled by Jesus) when they heard and saw it. The contrast between Jesus and the Jews is first seen in their conflicting wills. And the key here is in recognizing that all who will humble themselves before God will know that Jesus is the Christ.
Deuteronomy 4:29 But from there you will seek the LORD your God and you will find him, if you search after him with all your heart and with all your soul.
Jeremiah 29:13-14 You will seek me and find me. When you seek me with all your heart, 14 I will be found by you, declares the LORD…
Pride blinds, Jesus taught, but humility gives sight. Humble yourself and you will know that Jesus is the Christ.
Are You After Your Own Glory or God’s? (18)
We find the second contrast in v.18. Again, Jesus is speaking.
18 The one who speaks on his own authority seeks his own glory; but the one who seeks the glory of him who sent him is true, and in him there is no falsehood.
And the implied question Jesus posed to the Jews was: Are you after your own glory or Gods?
Jesus sought the glory of God (not His own), proving that He spoke in God’s authority and in truth. In contrast, the Jews sought their own glory and, therefore, spoke on their own authority and in lies.
Do You Keep the Law of Moses? (19)
Third, near and dear to the heart of every Jew was the keeping of the Mosaic law. In that regard, Jesus said,
19 Has not Moses given you the law?” Yet none of you keeps the law.
The question shaping this statement is: Do you keep the law of Moses; the one you speak so highly of and believe you are judging me based on?
The Jews rightly esteemed the law as good and as given by God. Their two main problems, however, were that (1) they misunderstood the law to bring salvation, rather than knowledge of sin and the need for salvation, and (2) they believed they kept the law in a way sufficient to save them.
The irony is that in every way Jesus perfectly kept the law of God as God intended it to be kept, but they condemned Him as having violated it; while in contrast, the Jews misunderstood the law so that they could not truly obey it, and, on top of that, they even violated their own misunderstanding of the law. We’ll see a specific example of this shortly.
The bottom line, Grace, is that none of us has or can perfectly keep the commands of God. We’ve all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. If your hope is in your obedience, you will remain lost. But Jesus came to provide a different path, the path of grace through faith for all who would humbly receive Him.
Do You Bring Life or Death? (19-20)
In the next exchange both Jesus and the Jews speak, and in that we find the fourth contrast.
Why do you seek to kill me?” 20 The crowd answered, “You have a demon! Who is seeking to kill you?”
The question Jesus put before the Jews is: Do you bring life or death? God brings life to all who receive Him. He is the Father of life, where the evil one is the father of death. Therefore, all who are truly of God will be life-givers and all who are of the devil will be death-givers.
Again, ironically, both Jesus and the Jews came to bring death. The contrast is in the fact that Jews came to bring Jesus’ death, while Jesus came to offer Himself to death. The Jews would end Jesus’ life, while Jesus would bring life through His death.
Are You Interested in Seeing Party Tricks or the Power and Presence of God? (21)
The fifth contrast and question are found in v.21.
21 Jesus answered them, “I did one work, and you all marvel at it.
Jesus’ question was: Are you more interested in seeing party tricks or the power and presence of God? Are you here to see magic or the Christ who came to bring everlasting life? Are you more moved by the signs of God or the Son of God?
Jesus did perform miraculous signs for the glory of God and to validate His ministry. Here He was certainly referring to (based on the next two verses) His healing of the man at the pool of Bethesda on the Sabbath (5:1-17). That intrigued the crowds and piqued the interest of the Jewish leaders, but in the end, they despised, disbelieved, and even condemned Him for it. At the same time, the Jewish leaders were largely impotent and dishonored God in their pride and unbelief. Jesus offered Himself to the world in love, but the world was more interested in seeing exciting things than they were in receiving Jesus as the word and salvation of God.
Is the Sabbath for Man or Man for the Sabbath? (22-23)
Within the law of Moses are rules concerning the circumcision and Sabbath. And within the NT we see that these two laws in particular get a lot of attention from the Jewish leaders. More often than not, though, they seem to get attention for wrong reasons; principally, that the leaders often lorded a misunderstood and misapplied version of them over the people. With that as a backdrop, we find the sixth contrast in Jesus words in vs.22-23.
22 Moses gave you circumcision (not that it is from Moses, but from the fathers), and you circumcise a man on the Sabbath. 23 If on the Sabbath a man receives circumcision, so that the law of Moses may not be broken, are you angry with me because on the Sabbath I made a man’s whole body well?
The question Jesus posed in order to provide contrast between Him and his critics was: Is the Sabbath for man or man for the Sabbath? Jesus’ answer was that the Sabbath was for man. It was given by God as a blessing for His people. But the answer of the Jews was the opposite. They’d made the Sabbath into a burden. Jesus, as with all of God’s commands, perfectly kept the Sabbath, but was accused of violating it by healing a man on it. In contrast, the Jewish leaders missed and violated the true meaning of the Sabbath, along with their own (misguided) rules on the Sabbath (by doing the work of circumcision on it).
In pointing out their disobedience and hypocrisy, Jesus was showing once again that He truly was speaking the truth from God, while those accusing Him of being misguided were speaking lies from Satan.
By What Standard Do You Judge? (24)
Finally, in v.24, Jesus highlighted the thing that was at the heart of their condemnation of Him in this passage.
24 Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment.”
The question was: By what standard do you judge the things you speak so forcefully about? What standard are you using to discern whether I speak on behalf of God or not? I am making significant claims to be sure, but by what standard are you evaluating them? How do you decide whether I am telling the truth or not?
Jesus always judges with right judgment (judgment based on a perfect understanding of a person’s heart). But in contrast, the Jewish leaders judge with wrong judgment (judgment based on an imperfect assessment of a person’s appearance). Jesus looks at the heart of a man (whether or not it is filled with love for God and neighbor) while His interlocutors look at the looks of a man (whether or not he meets their external expectations). It was because the leaders were judging by the wrong standard and with flawed insight that they got Jesus so tragically wrong.
May we avoid this same mistake, Grace?! May we make sure to evaluate every person, event, and claim (especially that and those of Jesus) by the right standard—that is, by the Word of God and in humble acknowledgment that our insight is always limited and often flawed.
In the end, the main point Jesus was making, was that despite the insistence of the Jews to the contrary, He was from God, taught the things of God, and lived entirely as God willed. He was with them and taught them, because God had sent Him to do just that. He was there to offer Himself as a ransom for their sins and as the means of reconciliation with God they so desperately needed and could not provide for themselves. Tragically, however, instead of receiving this gracious gift of God, the Jews believed themselves to be in the right and already right with God, and so they judged Jesus wrongly, lived hypocritically, and therein proved that they were not truly of God.
May we learn from their error, may God grant us the ability to see the same tendency in ourselves, and may we look, then, to Jesus as the Christ, the only Son of God, the Savior of the world, and the great longing of every heart? If we will, He will receive us, forgive us, sanctify, preserve, and glorify us when He comes again.