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Today’s post continues an examination of John 7, only three verses of which (37-39a) are included in the Lectionary.

This omission qualifies most of John 7 for my ongoing series Forbidden Bible Verses, essential for understanding Scripture.

Today’s reading is taken from the English Standard Version, with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

John 7:14-24

14About the middle of the feast Jesus went up into the temple and began teaching. 15The Jews therefore marveled, saying, “How is it that this man has learning, when he has never studied?” 16So 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. 18The 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?” 20The crowd answered, “You have a demon! Who is seeking to kill you?” 21Jesus 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. 23If 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.”

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In last week’s post, we read that Jesus rebuffed members of His family who wanted Him to go to Jerusalem for the Feast of Booths (Tabernacles) and show the people there His powerful works.  However, as we saw, these relatives did not really believe in Him and their motives were questionable.  Jesus instructed them to go on ahead.

He went to Jerusalem in the middle of the feast (verse 14). Why did he wait until then to go?  And how was it that He was able to teach in the temple, when He was such a target of the Jewish authorities?  Matthew Henry says, although we are not told why, it could be that, by then, people were settled in their respective tents and had more time for prayer and instruction.  He also might have gone when the high priests would have given up actively seeking His whereabouts.  He adds:

Surely it was to shame his persecutors, the chief priests and elders. (1.) By showing that, though they were very bitter against him, yet he did not fear them, nor their power. See Isa. 50:7, 8. (2.) By taking their work out of their hands. Their office was to teach the people in the temple, and particularly at the feast of tabernacles, Neh. 8:17, 18. But they either did not teach them at all or taught for doctrines the commandments of men, and therefore he goes up to the temple and teaches the people.

Jesus went to the temple to teach because it was part of His ministry.  John MacArthur says that He was allowed to do so because it was rabbinical custom to welcome noted scriptural teachers into the temple to preach. Yes, the high priests would have been part of the assembled crowd.

In verse 15, we find out that the crowd marvelled at Jesus’s ability to teach, although He had never formally studied Scripture.  This could work either in His favour — in making new disciples — or bringing out the elitists who could disparage his lack of theological qualifications.

Jesus responds to them — targetting the high priests — by saying that His teachings are not His own, but those of God the Father (verse 16).  He adds (verse 17) that those who truly believe in God will know that what Jesus says comes indeed from God and not His ‘own authority’.  A number of the Jewish leaders were twisting Scripture and adding ‘tradition’ to bend God’s law, as we saw in Mark 7.

This becomes clearer in verses 18 and 19, where Jesus indirectly accuses them of seeking their own prestige and speaking falsehood. He says that they have disregarded the law of Moses — which came from God — to the extent that they want to kill Him. The hierarchy were about status and power over the Jewish people, not about making them a truly godly people. Indeed, a number of Christian clergy have fallen into the same trap.  So, whilst some would read these verses as purely historical, I would add that we must watch for similar types in our own denominations and churches.  Included in that group are those who claim to receive divine revelations and messages.

To be able to discern these frauds, we must be like the Bereans in studying the Bible and evaluating what we hear to ensure that we listen only to what is of God and not of Man. We also need to pray and obey God’s commandments. Henry reminds Christians (emphases mine):

Those who improve the light they have, and carefully live up to it, shall be secured by divine grace from destructive mistakes … They are disposed and prepared to receive that knowledge. He that is inclined to submit to the rules of the divine law is disposed to admit the rays of divine light. To him that has shall be given; those have a good understanding that do his commandments, Ps. 111:10. Those who resemble God are most likely to understand him.

The reaction of the crowd (verse 20) is both curious and unsettling. They accuse Jesus of being paranoid: only someone with a ‘demon’ would accuse others of wanting to taking his life.  To put it bluntly, they are accusing Him of crazy talk.  Yet, Jesus was telling the truth and the high priests knew it.  Henry explains how this reaction might have come about:

This intimates, [1.] The good opinion they had of their rulers, who, they think, would never attempt so atrocious a thing as to kill him; no, such a veneration they had for their elders and chief priests that they would swear for them they would do no harm to an innocent man. Probably the rulers had their little emissaries among the people who suggested this to them; many deny that wickedness which at the same time they are contriving. [2.] The ill opinion they had of our Lord Jesus: “Thou hast a devil, thou art possessed with a lying spirit, and art a bad man for saying so;” so some: or rather, “Thou art melancholy, and art a weak man; thou frightenest thyself with causeless fears, as hypochondriacal people are apt to do.” Not only open frenzies, but silent melancholies, were then commonly imputed to the power of Satan. “Thou art crazed, has a distempered brain.” Let us not think it strange if the best of men are put under the worst of characters. To this vile calumny our Saviour returns no direct answer, but seems as if he took no notice of it.

Henry adds wise advice for Christians today:

Note, Those who would be like Christ must put up with affronts, and pass by the indignities and injuries done them; must not regard them, much less resent them, and least of all revenge them. I, as a deaf man, heard not. When Christ was reviled, he reviled not again …

In verse 21, Jesus moves on to the reason for their hate: the healing of the man at Bethesda in John 5. Jesus had healed a man on the Sabbath, a man who had never able to walk until then — not only physically but spiritually.  The outrage was palpable.

Jesus compares obligatory circumcision on the Sabbath to His healing at the pools of Bethesda (verses 22 and 23).  He asks them how they can truly object to His merciful restoration of a man’s physical and spiritual health.  Not only that, but recall that the Jewish leaders asked the healed man — who was taking his first steps in life — why he was carrying his bed on the Sabbath!  (It is against Jewish law to carry things or work on the Sabbath.)

Matthew Henry tells us that if a sick child underwent circumcision, the priests were concerned only for healing of the circumcision wound, ignoring the child’s illness.  Therefore, what Jesus is saying is that, instead of being concerned only about performing a circumcision and enabling the healing of the wound, He actually made a man whole in body and soul.  How could that possibly be a sin? Only a hypocrite would think so.

Henry cites Chemnitz on this point:

Chemnitius understands this as a reason why it was time to supersede the law of Moses by the gospel, because the law was found insufficient to restrain sin: “Moses gave you the law, but you do not keep it, nor are kept by it from the greatest wickedness; there is therefore need of a clearer light and better law to be brought in; why then do you aim to kill me for introducing it?”

Jesus concludes His remarks by telling the hierarchy to judge righteously, in truth (verse 24) — not with subjectivity or hypocrisy.  He also means for them — and us — not to judge by appearances.  Prestige and finery might well be false, whereas humility and honesty are true.  The priests had the power and prestige.  Jesus had the truth and the humility.  It is still an easy mistake to make!

Henry explains the Jewish mindset of the time:

The Jews expected the outward appearance of the Messiah to be pompous and magnificent, and attended with all the ceremonies of secular grandeur; and, judging of Christ by that rule, their judgment was from first to last a continual mistake, for the kingdom of Christ was not to be of this world, nor to come with observation. If a divine power accompanied him, and God bore him witness, and the scriptures were fulfilled in him, though his appearance was ever so mean, they ought to receive him, and to judge by faith, and not by the sight of the eye. See Isa. 11:3, and 1 Sa. 16:7. Christ and his doctrine and doings desire nothing but righteous judgment; if truth and justice may but pass the sentence, Christ and his cause will carry the day. We must not judge concerning any by their outward appearance, not by their titles, the figure they make in the world, and their fluttering show, but by their intrinsic worth, and the gifts and graces of God’s Spirit in them.

Well worth remembering today:

Put not your trust in princes, in a son of man, in whom there is no salvation.  (Psalm 146:3)

Next week: John 7:25-36

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