On the Gospel of John 7

John 7  •  19 min. read  •  grade level: 8
The fifth and sixth chapters, which we have just been through, contain the doctrine of the Person of Christ: the fifth chapter presents Him as the life-giving Son of God, the sixth chapter, as Son of man come down from heaven, dying for men, and thus an object of faith.
In the fourth chapter Jesus had left Judea, to go into Galilee: it was there that He stayed, and presented Himself to the people; He would not walk in Judea any more, for the Jews sought to kill Him. The occasion of this special hatred was His having healed the paralytic on the sabbath-day, and that He presented Himself as Son of God, making Himself equal with God. The first of these acts set aside the Jewish system-not only according to the law, but in that which was the seal of the covenant, and the sign of the part which the Jews had in the rest of God; the second was the introduction, in His Person, of an entirely new system: later on, the healing of the man born blind excited their anger, as we shall see, God willing A little remnant only attaches itself to Him, with a true, though ignorant, faith, receiving only that which was necessary to have salvation, namely, Christ and His words, as He presented Himself to them; but, I repeat, by a true faith given by God.
We find therefore now, in the seventh chapter, the Lord's refusal to present Himself to the world, His brethren's unbelief, and the declaration that the time was not come for Him to celebrate the feast of tabernacles. But this needs some development.
There were three great feasts of the Jews: every male who was a grown up man had to go to Jerusalem to celebrate them; these were, the Passover, Pentecost, and the Feast of Tabernacles. The antitype of the Passover is found in the cross; that of Pentecost, in the descent of the Holy Ghost; but the antitype of the Feast of Tabernacles is still wanting: no event answers to it. Nevertheless, the ordinances established for this feast throw light upon that which should be its antitype. The Feast of Tabernacles derives its name from the fact, that the Israelites, once entered into the land of Canaan, ought, according to the law, to live during eight days in huts, made of branches of trees, bearing witness thus that they had been pilgrims in the desert, but that God, in His faithfulness, had brought them into the promised land. Moreover, this feast was celebrated after the harvest, and after the vintage,, two events employed everywhere in Scripture as figures of the judgment: the harvest, of the judgment, which separates the good and the bad upon earth; the vintage, of the extent of vengeance on enemies, when Christ shall tread the wine-press. The fulfillment of this feast will take place when Israel shall no longer be dispersed, but shall enjoy the effect of the promises which God has made to them, after the judgment which will separate the tares from the good grain, and after that vengeance has been executed, the wine-press of God trodden, according to Isa. 63, by the Lord Himself
Now the time for these things was not yet come when Christ was upon the earth; it was needful for their accomplishment that He should be manifested in glory. To give life as Son of God He could; to suffer as Son of man, it was what He had before Him; but to show Himself to the world, to fulfill in power all the promises made to Israel, after having judged and destroyed His enemies; for that the moment was not yet come.
What He was going to do, but after His rejection and death down here, was, being glorified, to give His Spirit to believers (v. 37-39)• The bread come down from heaven He was; as to dying and shedding His blood, that was soon to happen to Him; but if it were a question of judging, of accomplishing the promises down here, and of showing Himself to the world, it could only take place later on, when He would take His great power, and act as a King. In the meantime, having ascended on high, He was going to give His Spirit, until He returned.
Such is the teaching of this chapter: we are going to consider some details of its contents. Times are of God, as well as facts. It was not then for Jesus the time to show Himself to the world, nor to observe the feast of Tabernacles. All times suit those who are of the world to profit by that which is worldly. They are of the world, and float with its current. The world does not hate them: there, where God's testimony is, is the object of its hatred. An upright mind may be struck by the testimony that God bears to the truth, but there is not in this, sufficient motive to break with those who desire opposition, and it is this that the intelligent leaders of evil always desire. Besides, in the world there are opinions for or against a thing, not a conviction of heart and conscience, and thus a need for oneself: it is there that the soul meets with God, and braves the world (chap. 6: 68).
The Lord does not go up to the feast, but when His brethren had gone up, then He also went up, and He taught in the temple (v. 9, 10).
Let us notice, in passing, that we must not confound the people and the Jews. The people were composed of Galileans and others, who had come to take part in the feast; the Jews were those of Jerusalem itself, or at least of its environs. Thus, in verse 20, the people did not know that they wanted to kill Jesus; those of Jerusalem, on the contrary, well knew what they were plotting there against Him (v. 25).
The Jews, accustomed to listen to the rabbis, were astonished that Jesus, an illiterate Man from their point of view, could teach as He did. His doctrine was of the Father, not human. The means of understanding it was a state of soul answering to such a mission; the desire to do the Father's will would recognize the word which came from Him (v. 14-17). The moral state of the soul, the single eye, is the means of receiving, of intelligently discerning, the doctrine that comes from the Father; the conscience is open, the heart quite ready to receive the truth. Many things in the teaching may go beyond the knowledge possessed by such a soul; but the teaching answers to its needs; it bears to it the impress of truth, of holiness; it suits God; there is not self-seeking; the good of souls is sought, the conscience is sounded, however dealing in grace. Now there is a conscience in all men; and here the desire to obey is supposed. Such a man discerns that which is of God, when God speaks. It is not reasoning which convinces the mind: reasoning never convinces the will; but the desire being there, it is God who adapts Himself in His teaching to the wants and to the heart of man. It is the truth here, the words of God Himself. But amongst the Jews, and in the mass of the people, all was in confusion. Without scruple as to circumcising, and thus as to violating the sabbath by working, the divine power which healed by a word exercised no influence over them, unless that of producing in them the desire to put to death Him who had given this proof of the goodness and of the power of God, whose rights were beyond even the sabbath. This confusion amongst the unbelievers is striking. Those who came from a distance jeered at the thought that some wished to kill Jesus: those of Jerusalem, who wished to kill Him, on account of the miracle He had done, were astonished that He spoke thus freely, and asked themselves if the rulers had then recognized Him as the true Christ; nevertheless, said they, " when Christ cometh, no one will know whence he is " (v. 27). Further, they wished to take Him; but, says the evangelist, no one laid hands upon Him, because His hour was not yet come. God's ways are sure.
Nevertheless many believed on Him (v. 31). The Pharisees heard the people murmuring these things of Him, and sent officers to take Him. These found Jesus occupied in teaching the crowd. There, too, was the same uncertainty: some said that He was the prophet, others that He was the Christ; but others objected that the Christ could not come from Galilee, but that He should come of the seed of David, and from the town of Bethlehem, without giving themselves the trouble to ascertain the fact. Some would have wished to take Him, but no one laid hands on Him, and the officers return under the influence of His words: " Never man spake like this man! " The Pharisees and rulers did not hesitate: they sought to put Him to death. They disperse, disgusted. This is the picture of the heart of man, in presence of the truth; the mind made up of the religious leaders, confusion and uncertainty in the mind of the masses, who waver between prejudices and the power of the word of God. Faith was neither in the one, nor in the other. As to Jesus, " his hour was not yet come "; His hour, remark, is the hour when He gave Himself on the cross for our offenses.
Let us now go back to the teaching of the Lord, and to His position relatively to the people, from whom He was in a certain sense already separated, by refusing to go up to the feast, whilst continuing to teach them in grace.
Some details of the Savior's teaching mark out His position, before He speaks of the promise of the Holy Ghost, and after the discussion which took place about the desire to kill Him, when they made the remark, that they knew not whence the Christ would come. Jesus formally declares that they knew whence He came, but that they did not know the Father who had sent Him (v. 28). Terrible accusation! The proof was there in their conscience: they would not have wished, as they did, to get rid of Him, if they had not had the, inward consciousness that He came from God. The proofs were there: the testimony in their conscience. The multitude (v. 25-27) seem to have had the same conviction in the main, although they excused themselves by the fact that they knew whence He came; to which the Lord replies, but in words the bearing of which went far beyond the application that the crowd, taught by tradition, could make of them to the Messiah's character. " Ye know me, and ye know whence I am." Terrible testimony, the truth of which we see in the words of Nicodemus that are related to us, and which, although they do not go so far, attest the conviction that the miracles of Jesus were producing in hearts. It was their will that opposed itself to this condition, and if Pilate was able to discern the surface of their motives (they had delivered Him up through envy), he was not able to understand a hatred against God which decided to kill Lazarus, rather than allow the people to believe the coming in grace of the God, who had so often wished to gather them under His wings. They were disputing confusedly about the Messiah, and their God was there in grace, the Son sent by the Father. Their leaders knew very well, at bottom, that He who was doing these miracles, did them not by human power; they might attribute them to Beelzebub, but certainly not to man. The character of the miracles of Jesus, and the power that was manifested in them, confirmed His words: these showed the source from which they came, and words and miracles showed who He was, and whence He came. But they had no knowledge of the Father, of Him from whom Jesus came; they were not of those who desired to do His will, and they sought to blind others. The ignorant people strove, in the confusion, with some passing convictions; their leaders resisted, with an intelligent conviction that He who came from God was there, but decided not to receive Him. All this is developed further on, and affirmed by the Lord Himself (chap. 15: 22-24).
It is important, painful though it be, to bring out dearly the state of this poor people, whether as to the leaders, or as to the mass: the mind of the former made up to reject Jesus; the moral, and, alas! willful, blindness of the multitude. Jesus had no longer any place amongst them as Messiah; He must take a place far otherwise important and excellent-that of Man at the right hand of God. Still, He was the Good Shepherd, and the porter opened to Him; and, accomplishing His will, He went through the dangers, and His sheep heard His voice. So it was at this moment; a great number, " many amongst the multitude," believed on Him, saying, " When Christ cometh, will He do more miracles than this man hath done? " (v. 31). Then the Pharisees send officers to seize Him, which becomes the occasion of a touching answer of Jesus, an answer which clearly sets forth the situation, " Yet a little while I am with you," says He, " and I go to him that sent me. Ye shall seek me, and shall not find me; and where I am ye cannot come." You have no need to be in a hurry to seek Me, to get rid of Me; you will have Me for a little time longer, and then all will be over; it will no longer be a question of the Messiah; you will seek Me then, but you will not find Me. I go unto My Father; there you have no access. All will be changed; it will be all over as to the Messiah; the Son, as Man, will go to sit at the Father's right hand-there you will not be able to come.
This was indeed where things were with regard to the Jews, and with regard to Jesus. The blindness of the Jews, and their religious pride, were as great as their hatred of the true God. They understood nothing of what the Savior said, only suggesting among themselves that perhaps He would go to the dispersed amongst the Gentiles, to teach the Gentiles. The position was clearly defined.
Now the Lord shows who should come to take His place, since the hour was not yet come for Him to celebrate the feast of Tabernacles, and to show Himself to the world. It was the great day of the feast, the last day, for the feast of Tabernacles had one day more than the two other great feasts, an eighth day, which was the great day of the feast. This day began a new week; the earthly testimony was complete, but with this eighth day we go beyond that which was complete down here. The two other feasts had their sabbath on the seventh day; this one had its great day, its solemn feast, afterward. I do not doubt but that this was, as a type, the beginning of the new week of God, that which is heavenly and eternal, as the resurrection of Jesus was the first day of the week. Now the Lord gives to that day its true significance. It was no longer a question of the effect of the Messiah's presence, but of Him who should be the representative of a glorified Savior, rejected in His humiliation. The manifestation of Jesus in glory down here could not take place now; but He could give to those who should believe upon Him, thus rejected upon earth, the earnest of the heavenly glory, and by this means a present joy which overflowed in blessing, as testimony of salvation and of the glory. On the great day of the feast, a day specially called " solemn," or " a day of obligation," in the Old Testament, Jesus stood there, and cried: " If any man thirst, let him come unto me and drink. He that believeth in me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water. But this spake he of the Spirit which they who believed on him should receive " (v. 37-39).
That is the great teaching of chapter 7: The Holy Ghost here below in believers, following upon the glorifying of Jesus as Man, instead of an earthly Messiah, according to the promises of God. Rejected as Messiah He takes His place as Man, according to the eternal counsels of God, in the heavenly glory, at God's right hand, and that according to the righteousness of God, who has glorified Him with Himself. After having established all God's glory at the cross, and taken this place in the glory as having accomplished redemption, He sent the Holy Ghost, witness of the glory into which He had entered, and of the redemption He had accomplished. To possess the Holy Ghost is the Christian position; not merely new desires, but the full answer of grace to these desires in the revelation of Christ glorified. We await participation in that glory, but we know that it is our portion, and the accomplishment of redemption gives us the right to be there. We wait for the return of Jesus to enter into it, that our body may be transformed into the likeness of His glorious body; and the love which has given us all this which has thought of giving it to us, is shed abroad in our hearts.
There are some details to be noticed here. The Lord invites those who thirst to come unto Him, and drink. This principle is to be found in John, although sovereign grace, which quickens, is very clearly and positively announced in chapter 5, as also the fact, that those alone whom the Father draws come in reality. In calling the reader's attention to this point, I would wish to bring out the important difference that there is, between the work which disposes the heart, and produces needs in the heart or in the conscience, or, as it always happens, at the same time, in one and the other, and the answer to these needs in the Person and work of the Lord Jesus. This desire can produce a true kind of piety, but never peace, nor a state of soul distinctly Christian; for this, the knowledge of the Person and of the work of Jesus, and the presence of the Holy Ghost, are necessary. One may feel that he has need of Him, and even love Him, but he is not yet, in the true sense, " of him." See the prodigal son, before and after he had met his father; and the poor woman that was a sinner. Everything belongs to such a soul, but it does not possess it. The prodigal had not yet the best robe, and the poor woman had not yet heard the voice of Jesus saying to her, Thy sins be forgiven thee, go in peace "; but she loved much. So, again, the thief on the cross shows a remarkable faith, but it is the answer of the Savior that gives him the certainty of his present happiness, founded on the work of Christ. I notice these cases, that the reader may distinguish between the word that attracts and awakens the conscience, and the answer, founded upon the work, which gives one to enjoy pardon and salvation.
It is well that we should also call attention to the three operations of the Spirit of God. In chapter 3 we are born of the Spirit; in chapter 4 it is a fountain springing up to everlasting life. Here the new man enters into the enjoyment of things not seen, of things heavenly and eternal; when they fill the heart-when the heart, drinking of that which is in Jesus, is satisfied, then these things overflow, and refresh thirsty souls; heavenly affections meet souls, showing what it is that revives a soul without God, which groans, without knowing, perhaps, what is wanting. The words of Jesus were truly some of those waters.
The people who were not armed with a breastplate of ill will, and determination already come to, felt this; and, without any miracle, under the influence of the words of Jesus, cried out, " Of a truth this is the prophet." Others said, thinking that Jesus was the Christ, " Shall Christ come out of Galilee? " But the reasoning of the human mind raises difficulties, and closes other hearts to the power of the word in His mouth. The people are divided, and the officers return, under the impression which the words of Jesus had produced, to throw into the same confusion the minds of those who, pretending to guide Israel, were the blindest of all. Nicodemus expresses a thought of equity according to their own law. They attack him, he also must be of Galilee. The theologians of the Sanhedrim show their contempt for those who, according to the prophets, were the sphere of the light which God sent in Israel, the poor of the flock; claiming for Jerusalem and for themselves the glory of all that God had given, they affirm that no prophet had arisen out of Galilee (v. 52). As a matter of fact it was false; and then, again, how had they treated the prophets, of whatever country they might have been? Where was the city who had slain the prophets, and was going to slay Him of whom all the prophets had spoken? Irritated at their powerlessness, being able to do nothing to hinder the testimony of Jesus, they disperse, and every one goes to his own house. His hour was not yet come.