Since Eden, fallen humanity and Satan have been locked into a “long war against God.” The desire for self-rule and autonomy, over against submission to the revealed Word and will of God, predominates. The desire to be as gods, instead of listening to the true and loving words of the only true God, is thoroughly ingrained in every human and demonic soul. It is for that reason Paul notes as a mark of regeneration—and the new creation, the new order which is the vantage point of the believer and of which his regenerate spirit is the down payment—whether we evaluate Christ and others according to the Spirit, not the flesh (2 Cor. 5:16). On the new earth, we will see Jesus fully for who He is—as utterly lovely, glorious, precious, majestic, awesome, and matchless. We will see this to such a full extent that it will literally change our nature so that we reflect and express—as fully as finite creatures can—the very life, glory, and character of God Himself. It will change our nature so we are no longer susceptible to sin in any way; we will be “like Him” (1 John 3:2). The progressive transformation from glory to glory in this life (2 Cor. 3:18) will be forever complete. Bit it starts by seeing the true glory and majesty of Jesus, especially as revealed in His authoritative words. John 7:10-24 presents a real-time conflict between sinful people and the lordship of Christ, exercised through His spoken and written revelation. Will men go their “own way,” or will they believe the words from Heaven? Jesus calls them, and us, to a full yieldedness to Him, for our blessing.
A. The Path and Preaching of Jesus (vv. 10-14)
Because Jesus calls men to submit to the Word of God (He does this in marvelous fashion towards the end of this section when He charges the people with hypocrisy towards the Law), He humbly and graciously models it. Recall in verse 8 He had told His brothers He was not going up to the Feast of Tabernacles because it was not yet His time. (They had wanted Him to go to this biggest event of the Jewish calendar to work miracles and prove His Messiahship; Jesus refused and submitted to the Father’s timetable, for had He gone beforehand He would have been prematurely arrested and died outside the will of God.) Yet here, Jesus is depicted as going up, after He said it wasn’t His time? Was He lying? Is there some kind of mistake? No! The interpretation most honoring to the doctrine of verbal inspiration and inerrancy is also the simplest—and the one most in keeping with the context. Jesus restricted the free use of His divine attributes in His incarnation. He did not surrender them, but simply exercised them only at the Father’s direction. This is why He could learn things, and die, and yet know the hearts of all men and raise Himself from the dead. Here, the Father told Jesus it was time to go up to the feast. The One who calls us to submit to the words from Heaven does not make a move until the Father tells Him. Recall Jesus talked about His hour not fully coming (v. 8). Now, it is here. In John, the “hour” is the glorification of God and Christ through the death of Jesus for sinners. The hour begins now. The anger of the people is growing; they sense the fear of the Jewish leadership and choose to follow the attitudes of the leaders. They will try to kill Jesus twice (7:30; 8:59). Jesus knew had He gone up earlier, police and spies would have immediately caught Him, arrested Him, and killed Him. Going up now, after the feast had gotten well underway, was a wise use of means to accomplish the will of God.
The people were all astounded by Him. He was the center of attention. The verbs in verses 12 and 13 describing the people talking about Him are in the present tense. He was the talk of the feast, and people were divided over Him. This is interesting because of the little phrase in verse 13—talking about Him got you in trouble with the Sanhedrin! This indicates what a threat Jesus had become. To talk about Him was suspicious enough. You might be one of that rabble-rouser’s disciples, after all. The Jews felt keenly the steel grip of Rome around heir necks, and any squabbles or infighting among them would have been cause for swift increase of already volatile oppression. The Jewish leaders felt a twin struggle: On the one hand, Jesus was a threat to their man-made religion and power-hungry twisting of God’s Word. They were not unlike the Catholic leaders during the Middle Ages and Reformation, who saw in the Reformers a substantial threat to their craving for control. So the hated Him for reminding them of the authority of God. On the other hand, they felt deep fear, resentment, and anger towards Rome, and wanted to keep their Jewish nation under their purity-ensuring control. To curb the influence Jesus had meant crushing talk about Him. Chapter nine shows this wasn’t an idle threat.
Jesus, however, is bold. He loves the truth of God, for it is His truth, a manifestation of His Father’s glory and good plan for the world. He goes into the heart of the conflict and speaks the truth that will tear down the stronghold (cf. 2 Cor. 10:3-5). We do not know the message He preached, but whatever it was the Jewish leaders felt the need to “deprogram” the people.
B. The Rejection of Jesus by the Leadership and the People (vv. 15-20)
Jesus has not gone to any of the approved rabbinical schools, nor apprenticed under an honored rabbi. How then has He learned the OT so well? He must be speaking on His own authority (which, incidentally, He was; Matthew 7:29) and cannot be trusted. He is a fool in His handling of the Word. But Jesus responds that His words are from Heaven, not earth. Though Jesus is God and speaks authoritatively, as a man He speaks what He hears from the Father. God Himself teaches Him, not a rabbi. Jesus further highlights the inability of people understand Him unless they have been born of Heaven (v. 17). Why? Because no one is willing to do God’s will unless they are regenerate. We believe that we might understand. We cannot ask God why things are a certain way, or why His holy standard is what it is, and then decide to believe (as Rosaria Butterfield has said). Instead, we must choose to surrender ourselves to Him first, and then we will know the truth He has revealed. His motives were pure (v. 18). Here he makes an audacious claim to sinlessness. He implicitly claims to perfectly seek the glory of God, is sent from God, and “there is no unrighteousness in [Jesus]” (v. 18). Think this through. If He is a sinner, then He has just lied, which invalidates His claim. If He is so naïve and deceived as to think He is sinless and perfectly seeks the glory of the God who sent Him—when He in fact does not—then He is a fool. Imagine the blow these words were to the religious leaders—the godliest people of their day are implicitly unwilling to seek God wholeheartedly which is why they cannot understand Jesus, and He is more righteous and more devoted to His glory than they! They do not even follow the Law they profess to love (v. 19).
Proud people still hate Him today.
Following the example of the Sanhedrin, the people assert that Jesus’ claim to death attempts is demonic at worst and (implicitly) crazy at best (v. 20). Instead of taking Jesus’ Messianic claims and matching them to the prophecies, their unbelief is energized by fear and laziness.
C The Vindication of Jesus (vv. 21-24)
The word for “marvel” in verse 21 is very common in the NT. It is predominately used in the gospels of people in awe at Jesus’ wisdom and works, and occasionally of Jesus’ wonder at the responses of people to Him (both good and bad). Here, Jesus does not seem to be commending the wonder as a good thing. He seems to be saying they are astounded at His deed of healing the paralytic, as though it was unexpected or out of character—even contrary to His nature. The implication is this: Jesus is God, and the promised Messiah. He brings words from Heaven to reconcile fallen men to Himself. He is the promised king of Israel and the world and offers the promised Kingdom to Israel. His miracles are a preview of the wholeness and restoration His reign effects. God has broken into His world, and is acting decisively to reclaim it—and they’re shocked! They don’t understand! They act like this is unexpected and out of place. He then reiterates His discussion of the lesser to the greater, the weightier matters of the Law; which is more important—ceremonial observance, itself a work done on the Sabbath, or the physical restoration of a man to signify the presence of the promised Deliverer?
But note well: “For this reason” (v. 22). What was circumcision? It was a merciful, painful symbol of the covenant God made with the nation. It was God making a way of approaching Him. Most of all, it was a reminder of the need for deep, inner cleansing and the innate propensity of man towards rebellion. I believe Jesus is condemning the marveling of the Jewish people as a manifestation of unbelief, no different from the accusation of His demon possession. It is for that unbelief that God instituted the rite of circumcision, to remind men of their sinfulness and their need for divine mercy—the mercy Jesus offered. Moreover, they accept the symbol on the Sabbath (circumcision), but not the reality (the promised kingdom’s arrival symbolized in the paralytic’s healing). This selective and twisted approach to understanding divine revelation is why Jesus calls them to judge righteously (v. 24). Instead of relying on their flawed, fallible perspective, they must give themselves wholly to the worldview revealed in holy Scripture. Only then can they rightly understand God, themselves, and all things.
Men and women desperately need to hear from God to live properly before Him in His world. God became a man and wrote a Book that we might do so in this life and for all eternity. May He grant us the grace to listen faithfully to Him until we see Jesus Christ!