Study Series in John's Gospel

The Witness of Jesus’ Testimony at the Feast of Tabernacles (I)

Study Series: The Gospel of John

Larger Context: Jesus’ Self-Disclosure in Word and Deed (1:19-10:42)

This Study: The Witness of Jesus’ Testimony at the Feast of Tabernacles (7:1-8:59) (Part One)

Murray McLellan

The Witness of Jesus’ Testimony
at the Feast of Tabernacles (7:1-8:59)

The Heart of Unbelief (7:1-14)

In this section we will see the desperate hardness and unbelief of man. Not only did His own people, the Jews, seek to kill Him, but “even His brothers did not believe in Him.” Oh “unless”… 6:44 and 6:65! Man is in absolute need of sovereign grace and God is a God of sovereign grace!

Sometimes saints feel like it is their fault that their family members or loved ones are unconverted. Here we see that even Jesus’ own brothers did not believe in Him. What a sympathetic High Priest we have! He not only understands us and feels with us, but He can help!

In this gospel, John gives compelling reasons why Jesus is precious, in the hope that believers will move from a lukewarm to a white-hot love for Jesus, and that unbelievers will be persuaded that Jesus is true and valuable and put their trust in Him. The only way we have of knowing Jesus is by reading the Bible. The Spirit uses the Word to draw us. May God be pleased to use Jesus’ testimony at the Feast of Tabernacles to reveal the incredible wonder and joy of belief in Christ and the deception and horror of unbelief.

V. 1-5 After these things Jesus walked in Galilee; for He did not want to walk in Judea, because the Jews sought to kill Him. Now the Jews’ Feast of Tabernacles was at hand. His brothers therefore said to Him, “Depart from here and go into Judea, that Your disciples also may see the works that You are doing. For no one does anything in secret while he himself seeks to be known openly. If You do these things, show Yourself to the world.” For even His brothers did not believe in Him.

It should not escape our notice that John once again lays out a feast as setting for the upcoming events. (i.e. John 6:4) The Feast of Tabernacles, a feast of great rejoicing, was one of three feasts where all the Jewish men would travel to Jerusalem (Deut. 16:16). This particular feast was connected with the ingathering of the harvest (not of the grain but of grapes and olives). It was a seven day feast, followed by a special feast on the eighth day. Families lived in booths for the week (Lev. 23:33-44). The feast was known for its water-drawing and lamp-lighting rites (see John 7:37-38 and 8:12). The ceremony of the outpouring of water, drawn from the Siloam, commemorated the refreshing stream that had gushed forth from the rock at Meribah (Ex. 17:1-7), and anticipated the blessings for both Israel and the world. Isaiah 12 was sung by the people.

There was a torch parade and the illumination of a grand candelabra in the inner court reminding of the pillar of fire (Num. 14:14). Since this feast would be sometime during September or October on our calendar, we are now about six months after the feeding of the 5000.

The 7th month of the Jewish calendar was quite remarkable for the ordinances which the law of Moses required. On the first day was the Feast of Trumpets. On the tenth day was the day of Atonement. On the fifteenth day began the seven day Feast of Tabernacles. In addition, the Jubilee, held every fifty years, was celebrated in the 7th month, just before the Feast of Tabernacles.

Since the law required the presence of all the men in Jerusalem, Jesus’ brothers try to get Jesus to go to Jerusalem, where the crowds would be, and display Himself through the miraculous works He had been doing. Like many people, His brothers are excited that Jesus can do such wonders as heal the sick, turn water into wine, and feed 5000 people. They want Him to get on with the business of showing Himself to the world. In one sense Jesus’ brothers have a lot of confidence in Him. They really believe He can do miracles. Yet, we are told a strange thing by John. He tells us that the reason His brothers urged Jesus to an open display to the world was because they did not believe in Him. It appears very clear throughout the Gospel of John, that you can believe Jesus is a great miracle worker and yet still lack the faith Jesus wanted.

This same kind of “believing-unbelief” is seen in other places in John’s Gospel (i.e. 2:23-25; 6:15; 8:31-47). Evidently something essential to faith was missing in this “belief” because Jesus would have nothing to do with it. It is not enough to believe Jesus was the Messiah with great power. To believe in Him is to receive Him for all that He is.

Thus, in unbelief, Jesus’ brothers see the Feast of Tabernacles as a great opportunity for Jesus to demonstrate His miraculous powers and win a big following.

V. 6 – 9 Then Jesus said to them, “My time has not yet come, but your time is always ready. The world cannot hate you, but it hates Me because I testify of it that its works are evil. You go up to this feast. I am not yet going up to this feast, for My time has not yet fully come.” When He had said these things to them, He remained in Galilee.

Jesus has no intention to use His miraculous power to make Himself popular. He has no intention to fill churches with enthusiastic unchanged people like His brothers. He tells people that their works are evil and so rather than becoming popular with the people, He gets crucified.

Jesus’ brothers can go up to Jerusalem any time they like, but Jesus is under special constraint. They are of the world, and thus the world does not hate them (see John 15:19). The world hates to have its evil exposed and to be convicted of its sin. They, being of the world, cared nothing for God’s agenda (like Ahab in 1 Kings 22:8). They see a show of power as a means to attain fame and glory. They see no place for suffering and a cross.

V. 10 – 14 But when His brothers had gone up, then He also went up to the feast, not openly, but as it were in secret. Then the Jews sought Him at the feast, and said, “Where is He?” And there was much complaining among the people concerning Him. Some said, “He is good”; others said, “No, on the contrary, He deceives the people.” However, no one spoke openly of Him for fear of the Jews. Now about the middle of the feast Jesus went up into the temple and taught.

When Jesus finally goes up to Jerusalem in the middle of the feast, He goes privately. And instead of dazzling miracles, He goes into the temple and begins to teach. In His teaching He reveals to His brothers and to us, what it is to receive Christ for who He really is. There are many opinions about Christ. What matters, however, is what is true.

Jesus’ Authoritative Teaching (7:15-24)

V. 15 And the Jews marveled, saying, “How does this Man know letters, having never studied?”

It seems that the amazement of the Jews is not one of appreciative amazement at Jesus’ insight. From the context it would appear that it is either more of a scoffing shock at Jesus’ presumption for taking the role of an authoritative rabbi when He has not received the “proper training”; or else an amazement that someone who had not studied in one of the great rabbinical centers of learning could have such a command of the Scriptures. There was a similar response later to Jesus’ followers in Acts 4:13.

V. 16 Jesus answered them and said, “My doctrine is not Mine, but His who sent Me.

Jesus answers their question by stating that His teaching is not based upon tradition or his own opinion and judgment. He is a mouthpiece of the One who sent Him; namely God.

V. 17 “If anyone wants to do His will, he shall know concerning the doctrine, whether it is from God or whether I speak on My own authority.

Jesus then states that before one can really know that Jesus’ teaching is truly from God, he must truly be desirous of doing God’s will. Unless a person really wants his whole life to be shaped by the will of God, he will not recognize Jesus for who He is in truth. Thus, we see that it is not evidence that men need, but rather, they need a new heart!

The real reason behind people not receiving Jesus’ words, is not that they lack sufficient evidence, but that their wills (their hearts) are against God. The root of the problem is moral, not intellectual. The greatest obstacle to recognizing the truth of Christ is deep rebellion against the authority of God.

There is a parallel phrase used in John 8:44 – just from the opposite perspective. In John 8:44, Jesus is answering the question He states in the previous verse, where He asks why they cannot hear His word. They most certainly can hear Him with their physical ears. They cannot “hear” because their heart desire is to do the will of their father, the devil.

So, if our will is truly to know and want to do the will of God, we will know this is the Word of the true and living God. It is not apologetics that makes the difference, it is a new heart. Something has to happen deep at the root of our will to remove the rebellion against God that we all have by nature (Rom. 8:7-8); 1 Cor. 2:14; Matt. 16:17). A rebellious will produces a blind eye toward the truth. Do you really want the truth? If anyone is to be led unto truth, he must be fundamentally committed to doing God’s will. He must truly be open to whatever God speaks (Acts 17:11-12). This one will be brought into knowledge.

18 “He who speaks from himself seeks his own glory; but He who seeks the glory of the One who sent Him is true, and no unrighteousness is in Him.

Jesus lays out the criteria for knowing one who is true. He seeks the glory of the One who sent Him. His life is devoted to enjoying and magnifying the glory of God, not in his own private glory.

This is what Jesus’ brothers should have seen in His miraculous works; not the mere display of power, but the all-consuming love to God which emptied Jesus of the typical human craving for the praise, acclaim, and approval of men. Jesus rejects pragmatism (v. 3-8) in favor of His Father’s agenda.

The Jewish religious leaders were always seeking to promote their own glory (i.e. Matt. 27:18). Their religion was false pretense. Jesus sought His Father’s glory!

This is the unrighteousness of fleshly men. They rebel against the will of God in not desiring and seeking God’s glory as the quest and passion of our lives. (See John 5:41-44). You cannot receive and believe the truth, if your will is bent on relishing the glory that comes from men and not the glory that comes from God. We will never recognize the truth of Jesus until our will is to do God’s will, namely, to love the glory of God above our own.

John Piper once said in a sermon:

“If you wanted to develop a love for the glory of classical music, you would study it and spend time talking with people who love it, and you would listen and listen and listen.

If you wanted to develop a love for the glory of the sky, you would get a telescope and you would read astronomy and you would spend time with people who love the stars and night by night you would gaze and gaze and gaze.

And if you want to love the glory of God above all other glories, then you will study God and spend time with lovers of God and listen to God and look at God and gaze and gaze and gaze at the revelation of the glory of God” – in particular, in the face of Jesus Christ.

V. 19 “Did not Moses give you the law, yet none of you keeps the law? Why do you seek to kill Me?”

Now Jesus exposes their hypocrisy.

Mere possession of the law cannot guarantee sanctification. They boasted in being Moses’ disciples (John 9:28). Yet, they did not heed Moses, whom they honored with their lips (John 5:44-47). Moses wrote about and honored Christ. Their hatred of Jesus and their desire to kill Him, showed their opposition to the law which stated, “Thou shalt not murder.” The law would have been read in their hearing during the feast of Tabernacles (Deut. 31:10-12; Neh. 8:13-18). They wanted honor for themselves. They wanted their own agenda. They were not truly seeking God and His truth.

V. 20 The people answered and said, “You have a demon. Who is seeking to kill You?”

They call Him insane. They do not know that the leaders are already plotting to kill Him, and by the end of this discourse (v. 30), they do try to kill Him. Men do not know their own hearts and corruption (Jer. 17:9). Jesus’ testimony is true and His testimony of man is accurate. God knows us. He is too loving to say anything needlessly severe. He has no motive to misrepresent us. His testimony concerning man is abundant and clear. Man is a sinner. God’s testimony is that “there is none righteous, no, not one” (Rom. 3:10). “There is none that does good, no, not one” (Rom. 3:12). Men do not love God, but rather are “haters of God” (Rom. 1:30). Men are not just a little sinful, but are wholly “dead in trespasses and sins” (Eph. 2:1), and are therefore justly under wrath (Eph. 2:3). This is a divine verdict, not a human one. It is God, not man, who condemns, and God is not a man that He should lie. If God says something is so, then it is so. We need to receive it as true and respond accordingly.

Is it not wonderful that when we truly feel our sinfulness and understand our just condemnation, we can see the perfect fitness and suitableness of Jesus as the Savior? His atonement is sufficient for our guilt. The more we grasp the depth of our sinfulness and our deserved damnation, the more will the lofty height of grace in the cross of Christ be recognized and appreciated. Indeed Christ is precious to the redeemed.

Study God on the cross and you will behold a glorious sight. Gaze upon Him and behold His glory. In Him is life. Look to Him and live. Behold the love of God to sinners in the giving of Himself for those who cared nothing for Him. See His wisdom that conceived of such a plan to forgive and receive sinners in holiness. Recognize His power, when in weakness and death, He conquered the world’s greatest enemies – sin, Satan, death, and hell. Does not God show forth His worthiness and honor in the salvation of His people? Happy saint of God, Christ has paid your debt, opened your prison, broken your chains, and set you free from sin’s condemnation and death’s penalty! Is it not fitting that even now sweet refrains of praise roll off our tongues for Him who loved us and gave Himself for us, that we might be forever with the Lord?

Has God granted you faith to behold the excellence of Christ? Faith beholds the matchless, priceless Son of God. His beauty outshines all other beings. “Faith sees majesty in His lowliness, dignity in His condescension, honor in His humiliation, beauty in His tears, transcendent, surpassing glory in His cross! ‘I see Him,’ exclaims the believer, ‘to be exactly the Christ I need- His fulness meets my emptiness- His blood cleanses my guilt- His grace subdues my sin- His patience bears with my infirmities- His gentleness succours my weakness- His love quickens my obedience- His sympathy soothes my sorrows- His beauty charms my eye. He is just the Savior, just the Christ I need, and no words can describe His preciousness to my soul!’” (Octavius Winslow) Beloved, is not Christ crucified and risen as Lord, enough to cast away every fear; to annihilate every doubt, and to fill you with peace and joy in believing? What shouts of praise to Jesus should burst from every lip as each believer contemplates the sacrifice that has secured his eternal salvation!

V. 21-23 Jesus answered and said to them, “I did one work, and you all marvel. Moses therefore gave you circumcision (not that it is from Moses, but from the fathers), and you circumcise a man on the Sabbath. If a man receives circumcision on the Sabbath, so that the law of Moses should not be broken, are you angry with Me because I made a man completely well on the Sabbath?”

This one work would be a reference to the healing of the man at the pool (John 5:8-18). One work evoked astonishment; not the astonishment that leads to praise. They were astonished that someone would actually work a healing and then tell another to carry his mat on the Sabbath Day, and thus, openly defy the accepted norms for Sabbath keeping. Man is ever ready to bind legalistic rules on other men’s consciences. Yes, they will use the Bible, but it will be to bind very tight laws and rules, beyond the intended meaning of a passage (Mark 2:22).

It was this one deed, performed on the Sabbath that brought about the plotting on His life. Their anger was roused against His healing of the man on the Sabbath. Jesus uses the example of circumcision to teach them truth. If ceremonial cleansing of one “member” of the body is permitted, then what about the actual healing of the entire body? Jesus did not “wound” his body, but made him completely well.

Jesus made the man “completely well on the Sabbath.” When I ponder this in light of the true Sabbath rest in Christ, I am moved to great rejoicing! We were as those pictured in Isaiah 1. “The whole head is sick, and the whole heart faints. From the sole of the foot even to the head, there is no soundness in it, but wounds and bruises and putrefying sores; they have not been closed or bound up, or soothed with ointment.” And then Jesus passed by! When no eye pitied us, to have compassion on us – we were as one cursed from our birth and cast out into the open field to struggle and perish in our own blood – Jesus passed by. When Jesus saw us lying there, and knew that we already had been in that condition a long time, He said to us, “Do you want to be made well?”

O sinner, wretched and cursed, do you want to be made well?
It is Jesus who asks.
I cannot help you, but this One who asks is not a mere man.
It is the Lord.

O believer, do you remember what Jesus said?
Jesus said, “Live!”
He said, “Live! Rise, take up your bed and walk!”
It was a great day of Sabbath rest when we were healed and found rest for our souls in Christ.

As Lazarus was dead in the tomb– an abomination to the living – so were we dead in our trespasses and sins (John 11:1-44; Eph. 2:1-7). And then as He had purposed, in His own time and for God’s glory to be seen, Jesus came near and called us by name to come forth.

How is it Lazarus heard His voice and obeyed, coming out of the tomb?

A dead man cannot hear. He must have been given life. So was it true of you, dear believer. God granted you life that you could hear the voice of the Good Shepherd. What grace! Glory be the God who saves for His own name’s sake! Are you not glad that when Jesus went to the tomb, He did not say, “Lazarus, I have deal for you. If you take the first step, then I’ll grant you life.”? Salvation is of the Lord! Don’t point a sinner away from Christ and Christ’s power to himself and his own ability and say, “Now it’s up to you.” I’m glad that is not true. We do not tell sinners that their only hope is in themselves. We want them thrown to the ground in utter hopelessness and tell them, “Your only hope is the grace and power of God. You’d better call on Him!” Jesus, the powerful Lord of glory, is able to save to the uttermost those who come to God through Him.

V. 24 “Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment.”

Jesus calls them to stop being rash in judgments which are in accordance with appearances. Some worthless and filthy things can be painted and coated and look bright. A nugget of gold can be covered with dirt and look worthless. May the Lord deliver us from rash judgments. Had they judged righteously, they would know that Jesus is not a Sabbath breaker, but the One who fulfills both Sabbath and circumcision! (See also Isa. 11:3-4). They rejected this “cornerstone” upon which God would build His holy temple (see Isa. 28:26 with context of 28:16-17, and similar incident in Acts 4:8-12)!

Who is Jesus Christ? (7:25-36)

V. 25-27 Now some of them from Jerusalem said, “Is this not He whom they seek to kill?

But look! He speaks boldly, and they say nothing to Him. Do the rulers know indeed that this is truly the Christ? However, we know where this Man is from; but when the Christ comes, no one knows where He is from.”

At this point it seems that the crowd is beginning to connect Jesus with the one who healed the man at the pool some months earlier. They give some consideration to Jesus being the promised Christ. However, they quickly dismiss the idea. They keep defending their denial. Men never seem to lack reasons to confirm their will. In this case, they have a wrong presupposition that no one will know where the Messiah is from. They seem to have a belief that he would just miraculously appear on the scene. That mistake led to a wholesale rejection. How many make mistakes regarding truth because they start with their presuppositions, and they do not actually evaluate whether their foundational beliefs are actually true according to the Word of God.

The crowd also thought that they knew where Jesus was from – Galilee. It was a well-known prophecy that the Messiah would come from Bethlehem (Micah 5:2). They come to a quick rejection without truly searching out the facts. Many shut their eyes to the plainest facts and will not honestly search for, nor submit to the truth. Remember the saying, “None are so blind as those who will not see.”

V. 28 Then Jesus cried out, as He taught in the temple, saying, “You both know Me, and you know where I am from; and I have not come of Myself, but He who sent Me is true, whom you do not know.

They do not know God. How can they? They miss the very Divine self-disclosure in the incarnate Word before them.

V. 29 But I know Him, for I am from Him, and He sent Me.”

Jesus knows God as no one else! “He sent Me.” Jesus is the Sent One – the Messiah; the Prophet greater than Moses, whom the Father had always promised to send. Jesus is saying:

  • I am the seed of the woman sent to bruise the serpent’s head.
  • I am the Lamb of God sent to take away the sin of the world.
  • I am the logos – the Word sent forth to “exegete” the Father.
  • I am the giver of living water, sent that thirsty sinners might be satisfied.
  • I am the Bread of life, sent that men may eat and live forever!
  • I proclaim Myself the “Sent One” – the very Christ of God!

V. 30 Therefore they sought to take Him; but no one laid a hand on Him, because His hour had not yet come.

Here we see the ruling hand of a sovereign God! God rules over all His enemies. In this circumstance, as in every situation, they had no power, except what God permitted them to do. Later we will see His capture was purposed, voluntary, and controlled. It was all by permission of the Most High God, and according to the eternal counsel of the Triune God. Remember this in time of need! We live in a world where God overrules all times and events, and where nothing can happen but by God’s permission. The very hairs of our heads are all numbered. You can say to every opposing person or circumstance: “You could have no power against me, except it were given to you from above” (John 19:10- 11). Our times are in God’s hand (Ps. 31:15). That hand guides and governs all things here below and makes no mistakes!

V. 31-32 And many of the people believed in Him, and said, “When the Christ comes, will He do more signs than these which this Man has done?” The Pharisees heard the crowd murmuring these things concerning Him, and the Pharisees and the chief priests sent officers to take Him.

There can be a general belief that Jesus is the Messiah. Yet that is not the same as being born from above. There always seem to be people ready to oppose the truth. They come alongside those “awakened” and keep them from entering into the kingdom (Matt. 23:13). Woe to those who take on such a role.

While the officers are seeking an appropriate time to make their move and arrest Jesus with as little commotion as possible, John unfolds what Jesus is doing and saying in the next few verses.

V. 33-34 Then Jesus said to them, “I shall be with you a little while longer, and then I go to Him who sent Me. You will seek Me and not find Me, and where I am you cannot come.”

Once again Jesus makes reference to the Father’s foreordained schedule. The cross – His death – is not the end for Jesus, but the return to the glory He had with the Father before the world began (John 17:5).

Oh, what a miserable end – to be told you cannot come to where Jesus is going (see Matt. 7:23; Rev. 21:27, 22:14-15). Hell is a truth known too late for many. But for His own, Jesus said, “Where I am going you cannot follow Me now, but you shall follow Me afterward” (John 13:36).

It is a strange statement to say, “where I am you cannot come.” Jesus does not say, “where I am going” here. I think this is because of who Jesus is. Jesus is even then in heaven! (See also John 3:13).

V. 35-36 Then the Jews said among themselves, “Where does He intend to go that we shall not find Him? Does He intend to go to the Dispersion among the Greeks and teach the Greeks? What is this thing that He said, `You will seek Me and not find Me, and where I am you cannot come’?”

Once again Jesus’ words are misunderstood. What irony – for indeed Jesus will teach the Gentiles! In fact, this book has been used to teach many Gentiles their need of a great and powerful Savior. John’s writing reveals to the world that Jesus has come in the flesh to powerfully redeem sinners. He is the Lamb that takes away the sin of the world!

The Promise of the Spirit (7:37-39)

V. 37-39 On the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out, saying, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.” But this He spoke concerning the Spirit, whom those believing in Him would receive; for the Holy Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.

The water metaphor that Jesus uses is most appropriate for people whose minds would be fresh with the image of the water-pouring rite performed during the feast. The other immediate contextual connection is the just mentioned departure of Jesus to a place where His opponents cannot come. However when He ascends on high as Lord, after His death, He will send the Spirit!

(a) The Setting – “On the last day, that great day of the feast…”

I believe that the fact that this was the last day of the feast, adds special force to Jesus’ words, if it was immediately after the ceremonies themselves ceased. The rites may stop, but His claim is continuously valid! On the seven days of the feast, a golden flagon was filled with water from the pool of Siloam and carried in a procession led by the High Priest back to the temple. As the procession approached the watergate, three blasts from the sopar – a trumpet associated with joyful occasions – were sounded. While the pilgrims watched, the priests proceeded around the altar with the flagon, with the temple choir singing the Hallel (Psalm 113- 118).

When the choir reached Psalm 118, every male pilgrim shook willow and myrtle branches tied with a palm in their right hand, while his left hand raised a piece of citrus fruit as a sign of the in-gathered harvest. Then all cried, “Give thanks to the Lord,” three times. Wine and the water from the pool were poured into their respective silver bowls and then poured out before the Lord. (1 Samuel 7:6 may provide the roots of the water rite.) Connected with these rituals, to the Jew, was the Lord’s provision of water in the desert, and to the Lord’s pouring out the Spirit in the last days. This pouring at the Feast of Tabernacles symbolically would refer to the messianic age in which a stream from the sacred rock would flow over the whole earth! (Zech. 13:1 – 14:21).

(b) The Cry – “Jesus stood and cried out, saying…”

In the midst of the temple, Jesus stands and cries out to weary pilgrims.

(c) The Need – “If anyone thirsts…”

Thirst is a painful sensation. Ponder the stories of those who have been lost in a desert or adrift at sea, without access to water. Remember the words of the rich man in Luke 16:24 when he “cried and said, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame’”? There is nothing so terrible and hard to bear as thirst. And if bodily thirst is painful and deadly, how much more is thirst of the soul; with nowhere to turn for relief – that spiritual thirst that realizes you are dying daily, and has a clear view of your own guilt and wickedness. Oh, the thirst for pardon, forgiveness, and peace with God, that comes with the craving of an awakened and troubled conscience; desirous of rest. This is the thirst of the 3000 Jews hearing Peter at Pentecost (Acts 2:37). This is the thirst of the Philippian jailer (Acts 16:30).

The first step toward heaven is to be thoroughly convinced that we deserve hell (contrast with Rev. 3:17); that sense of sin that so alarms a man that makes him realize his own case is desperate. If you saw God as He is in truth, you would not flatter yourself with your abilities and good wishes. You would see your inability to save yourself and that there is no fitness in you, but for eternal damnation. Once you recognize the true state of your being, as a lost, damned creature with hell gaping ready to receive you if God would but cut the thread of your life, then the Lord’s call of mercy will be a sweet, sweet sound in your ear. If you so thirst, listen to the call of Jesus.

(d) The Remedy – “let him come to Me and drink.”

This is what Jesus recommends! This alone is how a man can have peace with God. Such a marvelous remedy! Such a simple remedy for ignorant sinners who need simple. It is not some great thing to do – just come to Him. He will do it all. Jesus will provide all you need. You need an answer for all your sin. You need a right standing with God. Commit your soul to Him.

Christ is the fountain of living water which God has graciously provided for thirsting souls. For relief you must come to Christ Himself – not His church, or His ordinances. Christ alone can take the burden from you and set you free. There is no other remedy than this, and all the wisdom of the world cannot find a flaw in it or devise a better plan. David, crushed by the guilt of adultery and the murder of a righteous man, drank of this fountain by faith and was relieved. He believed in a Shepherd greater than himself. He repented and believed in the supreme King and received a full supply of pardon and mercy and grace.

Let me note one more thing. You must actually come and drink. It is not enough to profess or wish or talk or intend or hope. Come to King Jesus and like the Queen of Sheba at Solomon’s court, you will soon say, “The half was not told me” (1 Kings 10:7).

(e) The Promise – “ ‘He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’ But this He spoke concerning the Spirit, whom those believing in Him would receive…”

He who comes to Christ by faith shall receive an abundant supply of everything he can desire for the relief of his own soul. The Spirit shall convey to him such an abiding sense of pardon, peace, and hope that his inward man will be like a well spring never dry. If you come to Christ, you will not only receive an abundant supply of everything you need for your own soul, but you shall also, through the Spirit, spill out and become a source of blessing to the soul of others.

This cry of Christ to the thirsty calls to mind Isaiah 51:5 which says, “Listen to Me, you who follow after righteousness, you who seek the Lord; look to the rock from which you were hewn …” 1 Cor. 10:4 makes it clear that the rock in the wilderness that was struck and gushed forth with a river of water to sustain the lives of the thirsting nation, was but a picture of the ultimate spiritual Rock – Jesus Christ. Exodus 17 truly provides for us a stirring picture. First with the rock struck, and the provision of water that the people would not perish. Then, even Moses needed the “support” of a rock, but victory was granted when the deliverer stretched out his hands – with a man on each side!

This cry of Christ to the thirsty also calls to mind the passage in Isaiah 12, which follows contextually the statement that the messiah would not judge according to appearance, but He would judge righteous judgment (Isa. 11:1-5). In Isaiah 12, the call goes out to the remnant of God’s people. “And in that day you will say: ‘O Lord, I will praise You; though You were angry with me, Your anger is turned away, and You comfort me. Behold, God is my salvation, I will trust and not be afraid; for YAH, the Lord, is my strength and song; He also has become my salvation.’ Therefore with joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation. … Cry out and shout, O inhabitants of Zion, for great is the Holy One of Israel in your midst!” (Isa. 12:1-3,6)

You will notice the joy of having God’s anger turned away. Up to that point, there was only judgment where the prophet proclaimed over and over … “For all this His anger is not turned away, but His hand is stretched out still” (Isa. 5:25; 9:12, 17, 21; 10:4). There is only one place where God’s anger is turned away! There is but one source of comfort. Draw water from the wells of salvation! He, the Lord, has become my salvation! Jesus announces in a loud cry that He can provide these waters!

If you thirst, heed Jesus’ invitation without delay. Don’t wait to see what anyone else will do. The nail-scarred hand of the living Redeemer is now held out from heaven, but will one day be withdrawn. The fountain is now open, but soon will be closed forever. If anyone thirsts, let him come and drink without delay. Even though you are a great sinner and perhaps have resisted many such warnings and calls to salvation in the past, now is the day of salvation. Come to Christ. Do not say that you don’t know how to come, or that you don’t know what it is to believe, that you must have more light. Will a tired man say that he is too tired to lay down? Will a man clinging to a ledge say he is too weary to let go? Let go. Surrender and fall into the everlasting arms of mercy and love. The door is not yet shut. The fountain is not yet closed. Those outstretched arms yet beckon you to come. No one ever came to the Fountain and found it dry, or went away unsatisfied. Christ is breath-taking in all His splendor. He is a banquet of grace in the wilderness.

(f) The Reference – “as the Scripture has said, ‘out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’ But this He spoke concerning the Spirit, whom those believing in Him would receive…”

“The Lord will guide you continually, and satisfy your soul in drought, and strengthen your bones; you shall be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail.” (Isa. 58:11)

“For I will pour water on him who is thirsty, and floods on the dry ground; I will pour My Spirit on your descendants, and My blessing on your offspring; they will spring up among the grass like willows by the watercourses.” (Isa. 44:3-4)

There is also another great connection in the book of Nehemiah. Nehemiah chapter 8 sets the context as the Feast of Tabernacles. Following the reading and teaching from the Law, they give an extended prayer of praise and confession. Within this prayer, Neh. 9:15, and 19- 20, clearly the water from the rock episodes are connected to the “bread from heaven.” These events are also connected with the giving of God’s law, His Word, and His Spirit. For Nehemiah, the Spirit is connected with the giving of God’s revelation – His instruction. These same links are present in John’s Gospel.

(See also the New Covenant promise in Isa. 43:19-21 and its close connection to Isa. 44:3-8. Verse 8 speaks of there being no other Rock – which was the source of the water in the wilderness! That Rock was struck once. After that it was to be spoken to [Num. 20:8].)

(g) The Giving of the Spirit – “for the Holy Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.”

In what sense was the Holy Spirit not given? At first glance, we can get mistakenly get the impression that the Holy Spirit was not involved at all in the Old Testament era. Similar problems can occur in the reading of passages like John 1:17 in an “absolute” manner. John 1:17 is not saying that there was no grace or truth in the Old Testament era, but there is a fullness that was not before experienced. Likewise, in some sense the Holy Spirit was going to do something in the New Covenant era that He did not do in the Old Testament era. The New Testament era would be an age of belief – the age of the Spirit (Ezek. 36:24-28; Jer. 31:31-34; Joel 2:28-32). The Spirit would bring about a new covenant people who would all be forgiven and transformed believers. There were transformed believers in the Old Testament era, but these were the minority – a remnant – within the larger unbelieving community of old covenant people. That truly was an age of unbelief. The spiritual kingdom and the building of the new household of God – the new temple – could not take place until the “Cornerstone” was laid.

Once Jesus was established as King, the Spirit was sent to bring about a knowledge of truth, not available in the Old Testament. This revelation we have in the New Testament Scriptures (Eph. 3:1-7; John 14:25-26, 15:26, 16:7-15). The Spirit also gifts all believers for the building up the family of believers into a spiritual house (1 Peter 2:4-5, 1 Cor. 12:7-11). This giving of spiritual gifts did not take place until after Pentecost (Eph. 4:7-13). The Old Testament provided a physical picture of this in Exodus 31:1-11 and 35:30-35. The Spirit of God also came to motivate and empower believers to take the gospel to the world, for the building of a spiritual temple made up of living stones collected from every tribe and tongue and people and nation (Acts 1:8, Rev. 5:9-10).

The Response From the Crowd (7:40-53)

V. 40-42 Therefore many from the crowd, when they heard this saying, said, “Truly this is the Prophet.” Others said, “This is the Christ.” But some said, “Will the Christ come out of Galilee? Has not the Scripture said that the Christ comes from the seed of David and from the town of Bethlehem, where David was?”

Jesus’ cry certainly seemed to get their attention. When Jesus fed the crowds in the wilderness, as mentioned in the previous chapter, some immediately thought He must be the prophet like Moses predicted in Deut. 18:15-18 (see John 6:14). Now again, with the mention of living water, at the feast which remembered the water brought forth from the rock, some are prompted to think of Moses’ predicted Prophet. Others considered the possibility of Jesus being the promised Messiah. It seems they separated the Prophet and the Messiah as two individuals. However, in Jesus, the Davidic Messiah and the Prophet like Moses are both fulfilled. The expectation of many was a temporal Redeemer. The Old Testament language is one of physical and natural expressions (i.e. Psalm 14:7; Isa. 61:1). However, they find their fulfillment in Christ in a far more glorious spiritual reality than had ever entered into the heart of man (see 1 Cor. 2:6-10).

Others totally rejected Jesus as the Christ because He was a Galilean. The great irony here is that indeed their proclamation does establish Jesus as the Christ, for the readers of John’s gospel know that Jesus is the Seed of David and He did sprout forth in Bethlehem. Many from this crowd were familiar with the content of Scripture, yet the eyes of their own understanding were not enlightened. Their Messiah stood before them, but they did not receive Him. People can know the Bible well, quote texts appropriately and reason about the things of Christianity, and yet remain dead in trespasses and sins. A new heart is the gift of God!

V. 43 So there was a division among the people because of Him.

Jesus brings about division (Luke 12:51). As long as human nature is corrupt, Christ will be a cause of division and difference among men (2 Cor. 2:16).

It is an interesting, yet sad note, that we have no record of the crowd going to Jesus with their concerns. In their own wisdom and knowledge, they discussed things amongst themselves. However, we do not read of them going to Jesus, and humbly saying, “We believe you are the Messiah, but we do not know how to reconcile the passage about coming from Bethlehem in our minds” etc. There is still a tendency in men today to talk about another and even vilify a man, instead of simply going to the man himself to get things cleared up, if at all possible. It seems far too often, men would rather “roast” an absent “opponent”. It is definitely easier to win a debate when your opponent is absent and cannot respond for himself. We’ll see this true of the chief priests and Pharisees in the next few verses.

44 –46 Now some of them wanted to take Him, but no one laid hands on Him. Then the officers came to the chief priests and Pharisees, who said to them, “Why have you not brought Him?” The officers answered, “No man ever spoke like this Man!”

Again, we see His hour had not yet come.

The officer’s answer is striking in light of the fact that they were prejudiced against Him. Was it Jesus’ emphasis on grace as opposed to works that struck them? Jesus spoke words of grace and truth. Perhaps they, too, had Jesus’ words pierce to their deepest needs and emptiness.

V. 47 – 53 Then the Pharisees answered them, “Are you also deceived? Have any of the rulers or the Pharisees believed in Him? But this crowd that does not know the law is accursed.” Nicodemus (he who came to Jesus by night, being one of them) said to them, “Does our law judge a man before it hears him and knows what he is doing?” They answered and said to him, “Are you also from Galilee? Search and look, for no prophet has arisen out of Galilee.” And everyone went to his own house.

The first response of the Pharisees is a common one made by prejudiced men in any age. They will not recognize the possibility of those without “papers” actually learning and grasping more truth than one recognized as “great and learned.” When people cannot answer clear teaching, they will often resort to the weapons of the Pharisees. They do not deal with the objective facts, but rather seek their refuge in some great teacher, or the “majority” (which often means the majority of people in their own circle). [i.e. ‘Why should I believe you when Dr. so and so believes something different?’] You will always find “great scholars” on almost every side of a debate. These Pharisees do not seem to be leaders with “shepherd hearts.” They have no genuine love for those they are supposed to serve. From high upon their pedestal, they pontificate as if they have attained.

One man directs these religious leaders to the Scriptures. This same Nicodemus, who some eighteen months earlier had come to our Lord at night as an ignorant inquirer, now speaks as a teacher of the law. It seems he most certainly does have some knowledge of the Scripture. He wisely appealed to the law of Moses which they all professed to honor. The Pharisees, despite their bragging and self-assertion and condemnation of the common people, show their own evil in ignoring the law. For all their “knowledge,” they do not make any application into their own lives and practice. They are not doers of the Word.

It is clear that the law, as pointed out by Nicodemus who exhorted them to obey the law, would have them talk to Jesus in sincerity. This they were unwilling to do. They had no desire to examine themselves nor their beliefs. The Pharisees have set themselves up as judges and they make judgments in accordance with themselves. Their own mind becomes the standard. Thus, their presuppositions go unchecked. Their assumption was that Jesus was born in Galilee. Thus, what they saw as a fact was indeed incorrect, and therefore they reached a wrong conclusion.

Nicodemus’ attempt at reasoning with these men with the Scripture, is met with scorn and contempt. Thus, they deflect things away from the real issue, which is their own disobedience. They will not admit their sin and wrong. The charge that they were breaking the law was unanswerable. However, rather than acknowledge it in humble repentance, they get mad and deflect things on another. Then they withdraw to avoid the light that shines forth from the Scriptures. Again, we note that the Pharisees are not alone in this tactic which reveals the corrupt heart of pride in sinful man. Their bitterness stems from their pride.

God Himself had testified, “This is My Beloved Son. Hear Him!” Yet, they continue to discuss amongst themselves and reach conclusions apart from righteous judgment. Oh, let us take this lesson to heart. Let us be genuine and humble enough to test all our judgments by the clear testimony of Scripture within its redemptive, historical context. Let us who have received such grace, have no pretenses about having attained, and be ever ready to be corrected from the Word by a brother, for the sake of the glory of God’s name.

~ Murray

About Murray McLellan
Murray is the lead church planter and Bible teacher at Grace Fellowship Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada. He and his wife Cheryl have labored in the Gospel for many years despite the many discouragements along the way. Our brother is associated with “InDepth Studies”, the Acts 29 network of church planters, and more recently the uniquely Canadian C2C church planting network. In new covenant circles Murray is a long time contributor to new covenant thought and discussion.
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