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Schaff's Popular Commentary on the New Testament Schaff's NT Commentary
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These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Schaff, Philip. "Commentary on John 7". "Schaff's Popular Commentary on the New Testament". https://www.studylight.org/
commentaries/ eng/ scn/ john-7.html. 1879-90.
Schaff, Philip. "Commentary on John 7". "Schaff's Popular Commentary on the New Testament". https://www.studylight.org/
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John 7:1. And after these things Jesus walked in Galilee: for he would not walk in Judea, because the Jews sought to kill him. The events of chap. 6 belonged to the period of the Passover; chap. 7 is occupied with the feast of Tabernacles. The interval covered by the brief description of this verse, therefore, is about six months. During that time Jesus ‘was walking in Galilee,’ for in Judea His enemies ‘were seeking to kill Him.’ As it is John himself who gives the notes of time from which we learn the length of this period, we have here another illustration of the selective principle on which his Gospel is composed. The ministry in Galilee is in the main passed over, partly, no doubt, because the Evangelist well knew that the types of Gospel teaching that were most widely current chiefly presented the Saviour’s work in Galilee: partly, because this work was less closely connected with his purpose to bring out with clearness the progress and development of the conflict between Jesus and the representatives of the Jewish people. The period before us receives a lengthened notice in two of the earlier Gospels. We may, with great probability, refer to it four chapters in Matthew ( 15 - 18 ), three in Mark ( 7 - 9 ), besides half of the ninth chapter in Luke. To it, therefore, belong our Lord’s visits to the borders of Tyre and Sidon, the miracles wrought for the Syrophoenician woman and for the deaf and dumb man in Decapolis, the feeding of the four thousand, Peter’s second confession followed by our lord’s announcement of His approaching sufferings and death, the Transfiguration, together with other miracles and discourses. The principal outward characteristics of this portion of our Lord’s public ministry are the wider range of His travels and the comparative privacy which He seems usually to have maintained: the progress in the training of the Twelve, which is most observable, we may also in great measure connect with the retirement thus sought by their Master.
The same line of thought as that which we have found in the two previous chapters is continued in that before us. He who is the Fulfiller of the Sabbath and of the Passover is the Fulfiller also of the great feast in which the festivals of the Jewish year culminated, that of Tabernacles. The first section of the chapter gives an account of the circumstances in which Jesus went up to this feast, the subordinate parts being ( 1 ) John 7:1-9, Jesus declines to go up to it at the request of His brethren, for He can act only at the suggestion of His heavenly Father’s will; ( 2 ) John 7:10-13, He goes up when He sees that the hour for doing so is come.
John 7:2. And the feast of the Jews, the feast of was at hand. This annual festival, the last of the three at which the men of Israel were required to present themselves before the Lord in Jerusalem, began on the 15 th of Tizri, that is, either late in September or early in October. It had a twofold significance, being at once a harvest festival and a historical memorial of the earliest days of the nation. At the ‘feast of Ingathering’ (Exodus 23:16) the people gave thanks for the harvest, now safely gathered in: the ‘feast of Tabernacles,’ during the seven days of which they dwelt in booths or huts, recalled the years which their fathers spent in the desert (Leviticus 23:39-43). The mode in which the feast was celebrated must be noticed in connection with later verses (see note on John 7:38): here we need only add that this festival, spoken of by Josephus as ‘the holiest and greatest’ of all, was a season of the most lively rejoicing (see Nehemiah 8:16-18), and was associated at once with the most precious recollections of the past and the most sacred hopes for the future of the nation. In particular, as we shall see more fully hereafter, the feast had come to be regarded as the type and emblem of the glory of the latter day, when the Spirit of God should be poured out like floods upon the ground (Isaiah 35:0). On the expression ‘feast of the Jews,’ see the notes on chap. John 2:13, John 6:4. To what extent the joyous and holy feast of the Lord could be perverted by the malice and hatred of ‘the Jews’ this chapter will clearly show.
John 7:3. His brethren therefore said unto him, Depart hence, and go into Judea, that thy disciples also may behold thy works that thou doest. His brothers, in thus urging Him to depart into Judea, have distinctly in mind (as appears from John 7:8) the approaching feast and the concourse of people which would soon be assembling in Jerusalem. It is important to keep this in mind ii we would understand the position occupied by the brothers of Jesus. They were not believers in Him (John 7:5), that is, they did not accept Him as the Messiah; in their own words they separated themselves from the number of His disciples (John 7:3); and as yet they were accounted by Him as belonging to ‘the world’ (John 7:7). On the other hand, there is no trace of disbelief or disparagement of His works; for the words, ‘Thy works that Thou doest,’ were not spoken in irony; and ‘if Thou doest’ (John 7:4) need not express the slightest doubt. To these ‘brethren,’ then, brought up in the prevalent Messianic belief, there appeared an inconsistency between the loftiness of His claims and the comparatively limited display of what He offered as His credentials; the reserve with which He manifested His powers went far with them towards destroying the impression made by His miracles. But one of the chief festivals was now at hand. Neither at the Passover of this year nor at the feast of Weeks (Pentecost) had He gone up to Jerusalem: why should He avoid publicity, and appear to shun that decisive testing of His claims which was possible in Jerusalem alone. By ‘Thy disciples,’ the brethren of Jesus do not simply mean ‘Thy disciples in Judea.’ In this case the word ‘there’ must have been inserted, as bearing the chief emphasis of the sentence. As we have just seen, the recent labours of Jesus in northern Galilee had been marked by privacy. For the most part the Twelve only had witnessed His works; at times some even of these had been excluded. At the feast the whole body of His disciples would be gathered together, and what might be done in Jerusalem would be conspicuous to all. On the ‘brothers’ of the Lord see the note on chap. John 2:12; after this paragraph (John 2:5; John 2:10), they are not mentioned again in this Gospel; in chap. John 20:17 the words have a different meaning.
John 7:4. For no one doeth any thing in secret, and himself seeketh to be in boldness. ‘To be in boldness’ may seem a singular expression; the Greek words, however, will not admit of the rendering ‘to be known openly;’ and it is clear that the form of the phrase is chosen so as to be in correspondence with what precedes, ‘doeth anything in secret.’ The Greek word rendered ‘boldness’ occurs nine times in I his Gospel, four times in John’s First Epistle, and eighteen times in the rest of the New Testament. In every case it denotes either boldness, as opposed to fear or caution (see John 7:13; John 7:26, John 11:54, John 18:20), or plainness of language as opposed to reserve (chap. John 10:24, John 11:14, John 16:25; John 16:29); here the meaning is ‘to take a bold position.’ Working miracles in secret and a bold claim of personal dignity and office are, in the view of these men, things incompatible with one another.
If thou doest these things, manifest thyself to the world. These words are very remarkable. The brothers would use them as meaning ‘to all men,’ i.e. ‘to all Israel’ gathered together at the feast (comp. chap. John 12:19); but we cannot doubt that the Evangelist sees here the language of unconscious prophecy, such as appears in many other places of this Gospel, and in one case at least (chap. John 11:51) is expressly noted by himself. The words are now uttered with a true instinct; they will be fulfilled in their widest sense.
John 7:5. For not even did his brethren believe in him. This verse seems to afford an unanswerable argument against those who hold that amongst these ‘brothers’ of our Lord were included two or three of the twelve apostles. How long this unbelief lasted we cannot tell: the words of Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:7, ‘Then He appeared to James,’ make it very probable that it was by our Lord’s resurrection from the dead that the brothers were led to a true belief in that Divine mission which, in spite of the earlier miracles they had witnessed, they had refused to accept.
John 7:6. Jesus therefore saith unto them, My time is not yet present, but your time is alway ready. The answer is remarkably akin to that addressed to His mother in chap. John 2:4. Very different, probably, were the mother and the brethren in their measure of faith and in the motive of their words; but in each case there betrayed itself a conviction that Jesus might be influenced by human counsel in the manifestations of Himself. Here as there His time was at hand, but not yet ‘present;’ and until the moment appointed by the Father He whose will is one with that of the Father can do nothing. Such limitation did not apply to His brethren; they were not separated from the ‘world,’ and with that world they might at any time associate.
John 7:7. The world cannot hate you; but me it hateth, because I bear witness concerning it, that its works are wicked. Jesus takes up the word which they had used; but in His mouth it has a depth of solemn meaning of which they knew nothing. With them the world was the whole body of Israelites, with whom lay the acceptance or rejection of His claims; with Him the world was a hostile power, to which indeed He will manifest Himself, but which He has come to subdue. Jesus and His brothers stand in opposite relations to the world, they at one with it, He the Reprover of its wicked works. This difference of relation makes necessary a difference of action: they cannot understand, much less can they guide, His course.
John 7:8. Go ye up unto the feast: I go not up yet unto this feast, because my time is not yet fulfilled. The words ‘not yet’ imply an intention of attending the festival, though as yet the appointed time had not come. The interval before it comes may be of the shortest, but the ‘not yet’ lasts till the ‘now’ comes, and then the obedience must be instant and complete. It is · well known that this verse furnished Porphyry, the assailant of Christianity in the third century, with one of his argument. In his Greek text of the Gospel the reading was, ‘I go not up unto’ (the word ‘yet’ being absent), and upon this Porphyry founded an accusation of fickleness and change of purpose.
John 7:9. And when he had said these things unto them he abode still in Galilee. How long, we are not informed. As, however, it would seem that His brothers were on the point of setting out for Jerusalem, to be present at the beginning of the festival, and as He Himself was teaching in the temple when the sacred week had half expired (John 7:14), the interval spent in Galilee can hardly have been more than two or three days.
John 7:10. And when his brethren had gone up unto the feast, then went he also up, not manifestly but as in secret. We must not sever ‘manifestly’ from ‘manifest thyself,’ in John 7:4. Had Jesus joined any festal band, it would have been impossible (without an express miracle) to restrain the impetuous zeal of Galilean pilgrims, of whom very many had witnessed His ‘signs’ and listened to His words. To have gone up publicly would have been to ‘manifest Himself to the world.’ At the next great feast, the Passover of the following year, He did enter the holy city in triumph, thus proclaimed King of Israel by the rejoicing multitudes. For this, however, the time was not yet come. It is very probable that this journey must be identified with that related in Luke 9:51 sqq. The privacy here spoken of has been thought inconsistent with Luke’s statement that Jesus at that time travelled through Samaria with His disciples, ‘sending messengers before him’ (Luke 9:52). But the divergence is only apparent. Jesus went up in secret, in that He avoided the train of Galilean pilgrims, who may have reached Jerusalem before He set out from Galilee; besides, it is probable that the route through Samaria, though not altogether avoided by the festal companies (as we know from Josephus), would be more rarely taken. The sending of messengers implies no publicity; for such a company as this, composed of Jesus and His disciples, such a precaution might well be essential.
John 7:11. The Jews therefore sought him at the feast, and said, Where is he? Their expectation that He would be present at this festival may have rested on no other ground than the national usage, to which Jesus had occasionally conformed even during His public ministry. Possibly His words (John 7:8) ‘I go not up yet ’ may have become known to the Galilean multitude, and hence to the Jews. John 7:1 and John 7:13 seem to leave very little doubt that the ‘seeking’ was of a hostile character. By ‘the Jews,’ the Evangelist still means the ruling class, those whom worldliness and self-seeking had long since turned into the declared enemies of Jesus.
John 7:12. And there was much murmuring among the multitudes concerning him. Some said, He is a good man: but others said, Hay, but he leadeth astray the multitude. From the ‘Jews’ the Evangelist turns to the ‘multitudes.’ Amongst these is eager discussion concerning Jesus; the speculation, the hesitation, the inquiry, were general, but all outward expression was suppressed. The use of the plural ‘multitudes’ seems to point to crowds rather than individuals as the disputants. The word ‘multitude,’ however, at the close of the verse is not without a contemptuous force, it is the common crowd that He leads astray: possibly the multitudes of Jerusalem may be the speakers.
John 7:13. Howbeit no man spake boldly concerning him, because of the fear of the Jews. Both sides, through their fear of the Jews, shrank from speaking out their thoughts. So complete was the ascendancy of these rulers over the people that no one ventured on any open discussion of the claims of Jesus. There was no doubt a belief that ‘the Jews’ were hostile to Him, but no public condemnation had been pronounced, possibly no decision had been arrived at: till the leaders spoke out the people could only mutter their opinions. Thus, then, the picture of what Jerusalem was at this moment is completed. Met together at the feast are Galileans, already half believers in Jesus, ready to be roused into enthusiastic activity by a display of His power; hostile Jews, the ecclesiastical authorities and those who shared their spirit, determined to crush out all inquiry as to His claims; and multitudes discussing these in secret, and revealing the utmost discordance of opinion. Everywhere we see movement, uncertainty, hope, or fear.
John 7:14. And when it was already the middle of the feast, Jesus went up into the temple-courts, and taught. It is evident that the Evangelist means to impress us with the suddenness of this appearance of Jesus in the temple-courts. The Lord suddenly comes to His temple, and, at this feast of peculiar joy and hope, He brings with Him a special message and promise of the new covenant (John 7:38; Malachi 3:1). His teaching during the latter half of the sacred week is to prepare for His words on the last day of the feast.
In this section Jesus appears at the feast to which He went up when His Father’s, and therefore His own, hour was come. The opportunity afforded by it of teaching is embraced, and we are presented with the teaching and its effect. In the successive discourses recorded, the same general line of thought is to be traced as in chaps, 5 and 6 . But a particular direction is given them by the circumstances amidst which they are spoken. Jesus comes again before us as the Fulfiller of the law, of the last and greatest of the annual feasts of Israel, that feast which, in the language of the prophets, shadowed forth the gift of the Spirit and the highest glory of Messianic times. The effect is, as usual, twofold: some are attracted, others are repelled. The subordinate parts are ( 1 ) John 7:14-24; ( 2 ) vers.; ( 3 ) John 7:32-36; ( 4 ) John 7:37-39; ( 5 ) John 7:40-44; ( 6 ) John 7:45-52.
John 7:15. The Jews therefore marvelled, saying, How knoweth this man letters, having never leaned? The marvelling on the part of the ‘Jews’ (see note on chap. John 5:20) is not an astonishment that compels further inquiry and leads towards belief. They are baffled, and forced to acknowledge against themselves what they would fain have denied. It was only after a long series of years spent in study that the Jewish scholar was permitted to become a teacher, and was solemnly ordained a member of the community of doctors of the law. Jesus, it was known, had not been taught in the rabbinical schools, nevertheless He was proving Himself, in such a manner that His enemies could not gainsay the fact, a skilled and powerful teacher. Jewish learning dealt chiefly with the letter of the written Word (especially the Law), and with the body of un written tradition. The words which crown our Lord’s teaching at this feast enter into the very heart and express the inmost spirit of the whole Old Testament revelation (John 7:38-39).
John 7:16. Jesus therefore answered them, and said. My teaching is not mine, but his that sent me. It was the practice of Jewish Rabbis to proclaim from whom they ‘received’ their teaching, and to quote the sayings of the wise men who preceded them. What they proclaimed of themselves the teaching of Jesus proclaims of itself to all worthy listeners. His teaching, though He had never ‘learned’ it in the sense in which they use the term, is yet not His own; neither in its substance nor in its authority must they count it His. As His works were those which the Father gave Him to accomplish (chap. John 5:36), so His words were the expression of the truth which He has heard from God (John 8:40), and the Father hath given Him commandment what He shall say (John 12:49). Hence His words are God’s words, and the teaching comes with the authority of God. Such teaching is self-evidential, where man really wishes to hear the voice of God: for
John 7:17. If any one will to do his will, he will perceive of the teaching, whether it is of God, or whether I speak from myself. Many a time did the Jews refuse to recognise the teaching of Jesus unless He could prove by a miracle that God was working with Him. Here He tells them that, had they the will to do God’s will, they would need no miracle in evidence that in His teaching they heard the words of God: as the child at once recognises his father’s voice, so would they, if living in harmony with God’s will and purpose, recognise in His voice the voice of God. Such recognition of the words of Jesus is the test, therefore, of a will bent on doing the will of God, and every such effort of will is consciously strengthened by His words; while, on the other hand, the heart which seeks its own glory and not the glory of God is repelled by them (chap. John 5:44). No words can more clearly show that the very end of the teaching of Jesus as set forth in this Gospel is not empty speculation but practical righteousness. It may be asked, Is our Lord merely stating a truth (‘he will perceive’), or is He also giving a promise (he shall perceive, shall come to know)? Both thoughts are implied. Jesus does not say that the clear conception comes at once, but come it will, come it shall. The last words must be carefully distinguished from those of chap. John 5:31, etc., ‘bearing witness concerning Myself.’ Here the word used refers to the origin, the source, of the speaking; and the meaning exactly agrees with chap. John 5:30, there ‘doing, here’ speaking, from or of Himself.
The words of John 7:17 are especially remarkable when we call to mind that they were addressed to persons all whose thoughts of revelation as a thing demonstrated to man were connected with tokens of the Divine presence appealing to the senses. What a new world did it open up to tell them that perception of the Divine origin of any teaching depends upon our seeing that it strengthens and perfects that moral nature which is within us the counterpart of the Divine nature!
John 7:18. He that speaketh from himself seeketh his own glory. If a man speaks from himself, giving out all that he says as coming from himself, it is clear that he is seeking the glory of no one but himself. If one who so acts is a messenger from another (and here the thought in the later words, ‘him that sent him,’ seems intended to apply to the whole verse), it is plain that his attitude is altogether false: he represents as ‘from himself’ that which really is ‘from him that sent him.
But he that seeketh the glory of him that sent him, the same is true, and there is no unrighteousness in him. From the maxim contained in the first clause of this verse it follows at once that whoever is not seeking his own glory does not speak from himself. But every word of Jesus shows that He seeks His Father’s glory: hence it cannot be that He is speaking from Himself. But as a messenger speaking from himself and aiming at his own glory is false to his position and work, so he that seeks the glory of the sender only is true to them, and there is no unrighteousness in him, his work and duty as messenger are fully accomplished. These last words, like the first clause of the verse, are perfectly general, though absolutely realised in Christ alone. By Him the condition is completely fulfilled: of Him the freedom from unrighteousness is absolutely true. This verse connects itself with what precedes and with what follows: ( 1 ) A will to do God’s will will lead to right judgment respecting Christ (John 7:17), because he who has such a will can discern the complete submission of Jesus to the will of God, His complete freedom from self-seeking (John 7:18); ( 2 ) Is it thus proved to every one who is seeking to do God’s will that Jesus is the real messenger of God, accurately teaching His will, then the accusation which is in the minds of His enemies (John 7:21-22), that He has contradicted God’s will in the matter of the Sabbath (chap. John 5:18), must fall to the ground of itself.
John 7:19. Did not Moses give you the law, and no one of you doeth the law? Why seek ye to kill me? There are two ways in which this verse may be taken, and between them it is not easy to decide. They turn on the interpretation of ‘no one of you doeth the law;’ for this may find its explanation either in the words that immediately follow or in John 7:21-25. It may be best to give the connection of thought according to each of these views. In both cases the ‘law’ chiefly denotes the Ten Commandments. (I) The accusation of the Jews against Jesus, of having transgressed God’s will, must fall to the ground (John 7:18), but not so His accusation against them. Moses, whom all accepted as God’s true messenger, gave them the law, which therefore expressed God’s will, and yet every one of them was breaking the law, for they were seeking to kill Jesus. They were therefore self-convicted by their own works of opposing the revealed will of God: no wonder therefore that they had rejected Jesus. In favour of this explanation we may say that the words are (John 7:15-16) addressed to ‘the Jews,’ whose murderous intention Jesus well knew not to have been inspired by true zeal for the law, that the words so understood aptly follow John 7:17-18, and that we thus secure for the solemn expression doeth the law ‘a natural and worthy sense. ( 2 ) The other explanation connects this verse less strictly with John 7:18. In Jesus, as a true messenger, there is no unrighteousness. What they have called unrighteousness is altogether righteous, nay, it is what they themselves habitually do, and rightly do. Moses gave them the law, the whole law, and yet there is no one of them that keeps the whole law. Every one of them (as the example afterwards given proves) sets aside one of two conflicting laws, breaks one commandment when there is no other way of keeping a higher command inviolate; and this is all that Jesus did in the act for which they seek to kill Him. This second explanation agrees well with what follows; and, although at first sight it seems almost too mild to be spoken to ‘the Jews,’ it has really great sharpness. It must have at once penetrated their hearts and thrown a light upon the guilt and folly of their conduct which they could only evade by again deliberately turning their eyes from the light. ‘No one of you doeth the law’ is also a very heavy charge. On the whole, the second interpretation seems preferable to the first.
John 7:20. The multitude answered, Thou hast a demon; who seeketh to kill thee? It is important to observe that this answer is returned by the multitude, not by those to whom John 7:19 is addressed, and the multitude is apparently in entire ignorance of the designs of ‘the Jews.’ That the people should have thought possession by a demon the only possible explanation of the presence of such a thought in the mind of Jesus places in boldest relief the guilt of ‘the Jews.’ To bring this out is probably the explanation of the insertion of a remark for which it is otherwise difficult to account.
John 7:21. Jesus answered and said unto them, did one work, and ye all marvel. This answer seems to have been addressed to the multitude, or rather to the whole body of those present including ‘the Jews,’ not to ‘the Jews’ alone (as is supposed by some who make John 7:20 a parenthesis): hence the calmness of the tone. ‘One work,’ viz. that recorded in chap. John 5:1-8, the miracle, with all its attendant circumstances. Many other miracles had Jesus wrought in Jerusalem (chap. John 2:25), but this one had caused all the amazement and repulsion of feeling of which He is here speaking.
John 7:22. For this cause hath Moses given you the circumcision (not that it is of Moses but of the fathers), and ye on the sabbath day circumcise a man. The very law was intended to teach them the fundamental principle upon which Jesus rested His defence, to look beyond the letter to the spirit, and to see that sometimes an ordinance is most honoured when its letter is broken. ‘For this cause ‘ to teach this lesson Moses, who gave the Ten Commandments (John 7:19), one of which enjoined the sabbath rest, took up into the law which he gave (see John 7:23, ‘the law of Moses’ ) the far earlier ordinance of circumcision, laying down or rather repeating the strict rule that the rite must be performed on the eighth day (Leviticus 12:3). When this eighth day fell on the sabbath, the Jews, however inconsistent the rite might seem with the rigid sabbath rest, yet, with a true instinct, never hesitated to circumcise a child. They felt that to receive the sign of God’s covenant, the token of consecration and of the removal of uncleanness (and may we add? the token of the promise which was before and above the law, Galatians 3:17), could never be really inconsistent with any command of God. In acting as they did, therefore, they proved that in this matter the lesson which the lawgiver designed to teach had been truly learned by them; yet it was a lesson essentially the same as that which the healing by Jesus on the sabbath day had taught. This passage is of great interest as showing that in many respects the law, even whilst seeming to deal in positive precepts only, was intended to become, and in some measure actually was, a discipline, preparing for the ‘dispensation of the Spirit.’
John 7:23. If a man receiveth circumcision on the sabbath day, that the law of Moses may not be broken, are ye angry with me, because I made a man every whit whole on the sabbath day? Their reverence for the law and their determination that it should not be broken led them to break the letter of the Fourth Commandment, or rather to do that which they would otherwise have thought inconsistent with its precept. How then can they be indignant at Jesus for the deed which He had done on the sabbath? He had performed a far more healing work than circumcision. He had given not merely a token of the removal of uncleanness, but complete freedom from the blight and woe which sin had brought (see chap. John 5:14) on the ‘whole man.’ It may be thought that in this last expression our Lord refers only to the cure of a disease by which the entire body had been prostrated; but the verse just quoted (chap. John 5:14), and the recollection of the figurative and spiritual application of the rite of circumcision with which the prophets had made the Jews familiar, warn us against limiting the miracle at the pool of Bethesda to the restoration of physical health.
John 7:24. Judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgment. Righteously had they judged in regard to themselves. So let them judge His work, and they will see that, where they had suspected only the presence of iniquity, there was the highest righteousness.
John 7:25. Some therefore of them of Jerusalem said, Is not this he whom they seek to kill? The speakers are a different class from those hitherto introduced, ‘they of Jerusalem:’ these seem to have more knowledge of the designs of ‘the Jews’ than was possessed by ‘the multitude’ (John 7:20).
John 7:26. And, lo, he speaketh boldly, and they say nothing unto him. Can it be that the rulers know that this is the Christ? No opinion as to these designs is expressed; there is neither sympathy nor blame; there is only bewilderment, occasioned by the inconsistency between the supposed wishes of the rulers and the boldness and freedom with which Jesus is allowed to speak. Can it be that there is some secret reason for this, that the rulers have really made a discovery, which they will not allow , that this is the Christ? The question is no sooner asked than it is answered by themselves:
John 7:27. Howbeit we know this man whence he is; but when the Christ cometh, no one perceiveth whence he is. In John 7:42 we read of the expectation that the Christ would come from Bethlehem (see also Matthew 2:5). But there is no inconsistency between this verse and that, for it seems to have been the belief of the Jews that the Redeemer would indeed first appear in Bethlehem ; but would then be snatched away and hidden, and finally would afterwards suddenly manifest Himself, from what place and at what time no one could tell. So Jesus warns His disciples that the cry will be heard, ‘Lo, here is the Christ; or, Lo, he is there’ (Mark 13:21).
John 7:28-29. Jesus therefore cried in the temple-courts teaching and saying. Knowing that such words were in the mouths of the people of Jerusalem, Jesus cried aloud in the hearing of all. The word ‘teaching’ may seem unnecessary: it appears to be added in order to link what is here said to the teaching of John 7:14; John 7:16: what He says is no chance utterance, but forms part of the teaching designed for this festival.
Ye Doth know me, and ye know whence I am. Jesus allows that they had a certain knowledge of Him, but He does this for the purpose of showing immediately thereafter that it was altogether inadequate and at fault. It was indeed important in one respect, for it involved the acknowledgment of His true humanity; but, denying all else, refusing to recognise Him in His higher aspect, scouting His claims to be the Sent of God, the expression of the eternal Father, it was really no more than an outward and carnal knowledge of Him. There seems to be a distinction between ‘whence I am ‘and’ whence I come’ (John 8:14). The latter includes more directly the idea of the Divine mission of Jesus.
And I have not come of myself, but he that sent me is true, whom ye know not. I know him, because I am from him, and he sent me. Words containing that true knowledge of Jesus which these men ‘of Jerusalem’ had not. It consists in recognising in Him the ‘Sent’ of Him who is ‘true,’ not merely veracious or faithful, but real, who is the ground and essence of all reality, the only living and true God. In this respect those to whom Jesus was now speaking did not know Him; they beheld the outward man; they did not behold the manifestation of the eternal God. This ignorance, too, arose from the fact that they did not know God Himself. They thought that they knew Him; but they did not, for they had not penetrated to the right conception of His spiritual, righteous nature, a nature corresponding only to eternal realities, to what is ‘true.’ Not knowing God, how could they know Jesus who ‘manifested’ the true God, who was ‘from’ the true God, and whom the true God ‘sent’? Had they known the One they would have recognised the Other (chap. John 5:37, John 8:19). The words of John 7:28-29 are thus words of sharp reproof.
John 7:30. They sought therefore to seize him. Jesus had not mentioned the name of God, but those with whom He spoke (familiar with modes of speech in which the Divine Name was left unspoken and replaced by a pronoun, as here, or by some attribute) did not miss His meaning. He had denied to them the knowledge of God, and at the same time had claimed for Himself the closest fellowship with Him, to be indeed the very expression of what He was.
And no man laid his hand on him, because his hour was not yet come. Their zeal and enmity were at once aroused; the ‘men of Jerusalem’ followed in the steps of ‘the Jews’ (John 7:1). Yet they could not touch Him, for it was not yet God’s time.
John 7:31. But of the multitude many believed in him , and said, When the Christ cometh, will he do more signs than these which this man hath done? The last verse showed how the hostility to Jesus was growing; this verse presents the brighter side. The division of the people goes on continually increasing: they who are of the light are attracted towards Jesus, they who are of darkness are repelled. The faith of these believers is real (‘they believed in Him’), though not so firm and sure as that which rests less on ‘signs’ than on His own word.
John 7:32. The Pharisees heard the multitude murmuring these things concerning him, and the chief priests and the Pharisees sent officers to seize him. To the various parties already mentioned in this chapter, the Jews (John 7:11; John 7:13; John 7:15), the multitudes (John 7:12), or the multitude (John 7:20; John 7:31), and them of Jerusalem (John 7:25), are here added the Pharisees and also the chief priests, now mentioned for the first time in this Gospel. In three earlier passages (chap. John 1:24; John 3:1, John 4:1) John has spoken of the Pharisees, and in the last of these only (chap. John 4:1) has there been any intimation of either secret or open hostility on the part of this sect toward our Lord. It is otherwise with the other Gospels. In the course of that Galilean ministry which is not distinctly recorded by John the Pharisees occupy a very distinct position as foes of Jesus. To the period between John’s last mention of the Pharisees and the present verse belong His controversies with them respecting fasting, His association with sinners (Matthew 9:0; Mark 2:0; Luke 5:0 compare Luke 7:49), the sabbath (Matthew 12:0; Mark 2:0; Luke 6:0), the tradition of the elders (Matthew 15:0; Mark 7:0), and the forgiveness of sins (Luke 5:0; Matthew 9:0; Mark 2:0 compare Luke 7:39). The Pharisees have attempted to persuade the multitude that He wrought His miracles through the prince of the devils (Matthew 9:0; Matthew 12:0; Mark 3:0). He has refused their request that they might see a sign from heaven (Matthew 16:0; Mark 8:0), and has warned the disciples against their teaching (Matt.; Mark 8:0) and their ‘righteousness’ (Matthew 5:20). In Matthew 12:14 we read that the Pharisees (Mark 3:6, the Pharisees and the Herodians) held a consultation how they might destroy Him. Up to this point, however, in the narrative of the Fourth Gospel it would seem most probable that, as a body, they had not assumed a position of distinct hostility to our Lord. It was not in Galilee, of which the earlier Gospels speak, but in Jerusalem, where were their chief members and influence, that an organized opposition could best be formed by them; and in many passages at all events we gather that those of their number who assailed Jesus were no more than emissaries sent down from the capital by the rulers. Things now take a different turn in John’s Gospel. The Pharisees come more prominently forward, act more as a party than as individuals, and begin to constitute a distinctly hostile power to Jesus. The events which had passed in Galilee, though not noted by John, may explain the change. The chief priests are, as has been said, first mentioned here by John. In the other Gospels also they are scarcely referred to up to this period of the history, for Matthew 16:21 (Mark 8:31; Luke 9:22) is a prophecy, and the only remaining passage in the first three Gospels is Matthew 2:4, where it is said that Herod convened ‘all the high priests and scribes of the people.’ It has been supposed that this expression denotes the Sanhedrin, but the great court of the nation did not include ‘all the scribes.’ With much more certainty may the words of Matthew 16:21, ‘the elders and the high priests and the scribes,’ be taken as an enumeration of the three elements of the supreme council. What is the exact meaning of chief priests or high priests, thus spoken of in the plural, it is perhaps impossible to say. The usual view is that the chiefs of the twenty-four classes of priests are intended; but there seems little or no evidence in support of this explanation. The only point on which we can speak with certainty is that the expression must include all living who had been high priests. In those unsettled times the tenure of office was occasionally very short, and always precarious. Annas the father-in-law of Caiaphas (chap. John 18:13) was deposed by the Roman Procurator about fourteen years before the time of which we now speak: within three or four years of his deposition as many as four were appointed to the high-priesthood, the last of whom, Caiaphas, retained office until A. D. 36 . At this time, therefore, besides the actual high priest, three or four may have been living who had once borne this name, and their former dignity would give them weight in a council which consisted of Jews alone. Whether prominent members of families to which present or former high priests belonged (compare Acts 4:6) were also included under this name, or whether it denoted other priests who stood high in influence as members of the Sanhedrin, is very doubtful. The multitude talked among themselves in the temple of the grounds of the faith in Jesus which was growing in their hearts. Their talk is secret (‘murmuring’), but not so secret that the Pharisees did not overhear their words. Convinced that the teaching which so powerfully impresses the people must be heard no longer, they seek therefore the aid of the chief priests, whose attendants are immediately dispatched with orders to seize Jesus.
John 7:33. Jesus therefore said, Yet a little while am I with you, and I go unto him that sent me. In the action now taken by His foes Jesus sees a token of the rapidity with which His hour is approaching. These words, which (John 7:35) were spoken in the presence of ‘the Jews,’ declare His perfect knowledge of their designs. But they are also words of judgment, taking from His enemies their last hope.
John 7:34. Ye shall seek me, and shall not find me. The frequent occurrence of the ‘seeking’ in this chapter suggests as the first meaning of these words, Ye will seek to lay hands on me, but shall not find me. That was the only ‘seeking’ of which the Jews wished to think. Rut the eye of Jesus rested on the calamities from which at a future time they would seek to be delivered by the Christ, but would seek in vain. His enemies have refused to recognise in His words the teaching of ‘Him that sent’ Him (John 7:16): when He has returned to His Father their eyes will be opened to their madness and folly.
And where I am, ye cannot come. Where I am, He says, not ‘where shall be: ‘here, as elsewhere, the simple expression of continuous existence is most befitting for Him who is one with the Father. Into that Fellowship, that Presence, no enemies of the Son shall come.
John 7:35. The Jews therefore said among themselves, Whither is this man about to go, that we not find him? Our Lord’s words were mysterious, but yet were so closely linked with His earlier teaching, as related in this very chapter, that their general meaning would be clear to every patient listener. John 7:16-17 were alone sufficient to show that ‘to Him that sent me’ could only mean ‘to God.’ But this impression ‘the Jews’ must at all hazards avert: chap. John 8:22 shows how eagerly they sought to blunt the edge of such words as Jesus has now spoken. There they suggest that only by seeking death can He escape their search: here that it is on exile amongst Gentiles that He has now resolved. His teaching has seemed to them a complete reversal of Jewish modes of thought. No learning of the schools prepared Him for His self-chosen office (John 7:15): He accuses all Israel of having broken the law of Moses (John 7:19): He sets at naught the most rigid rules of Sabbath observance: all things show that He has no sympathy with, no tolerance for, the most firmly established laws and usages of the Jewish people. And now He is going, not to return. Where?
Is he about to go to the Dispersion of the Greeks, and teach the Greeks? Can it be that He has cast off Jews altogether and is going to Gentiles? This is said in bitter scorn, but it may have been suggested by words of Jesus not expressly recorded. In answering His brethren just before the feast (John 7:7) He had spoken of ‘the world; ‘before the end of the same feast (John 8:12) He says, ‘ I am the light of the world.’ Even if we were not to accept the Jewish tradition which records that in the offering of the seventy bullocks at the feast of Tabernacles there was distinct reference to the (‘seventy’) nations of the Gentile world a tradition deeply interesting and probably true we can have no difficulty in supposing that in His teaching during the festival Jesus had repeatedly used words regarding ‘the world ’ which enemies might readily pervert. His interest, they say in effect, is not with Jews but with the ‘world: ’ is he leaving us? then surely He is going to the world, to the heathen whom He loves. The great difficulty of this verse is the use of such a phrase as ‘the Dispersion of the Greeks.’ An explanation is furnished by the thought already suggested, that the Jews, with irony and scorn, would show forth Jesus as reversing all their cherished instincts, beliefs, and usages. If a true Israelite must depart from the Holy Land, he resorts to the Dispersion of his brethren. Not so with this man: He too is departing from us, but it is a Dispersion of Gentiles, not of Israelites, that He will seek, it is Gentiles whom He will teach. As in the case of Caiaphas (chap. John 11:50-51), so here: words spoken in hate and scorn are an unconscious prophecy. He will teach and gather together the children of God that are scattered abroad, this is the very purpose of His coming. The book which is the companion to this Gospel, the Apocalypse, contains many examples of this new and (so to speak) converse application of familiar words. Thus in Revelation 1:7, we find mankind designated as ‘tribes of the earth.’ It is right to say that the explanation of ‘Dispersion of the Greeks’ which we have given is not that generally received. The common view is that the Jews represent Jesus as going to ‘the Dispersion amongst the Gentiles,’ and, from this as a point of departure (like the apostles of Jesus afterwards), becoming a teacher of the Gentiles. We can only briefly give our reasons for dissenting from this view. (1) The meaning can hardly be obtained without straining the original words. (2) As probably many of ‘the multitude’ themselves belonged to ‘the Dispersion,’ the added words ‘of the Greeks’ would be useless if intended as explanatory, insulting if used for depreciation. (3) The first clause becomes almost superfluous: why should they not say at once, Is He about to go amongst the Greeks? (4) The introduction of a ‘point of departure’ or connecting link is most unsuitable to the present state of feeling of our Lord’s enemies, ‘the Jews.’
John 7:36. What is this word which he spake, Ye shall seek me, and shall not find me: and where I am, ye cannot come? This verse contains little more than a repetition of the Saviour’s former statement, but is useful in reminding us that the Jews, whose bitter words we have just been considering, were themselves perplexed by what they heard. We must not suppose that they pondered and then rejected the teaching of Jesus: their enmity rendered impossible that patient thought which would have found the key to His mysterious language; they understood enough to have been attracted, had they only been willing listeners, by the light and the life of His words. Their ignorance resulted from the absence of the will to learn and do God’s will (John 7:17).
John 7:37. And in the last day, the great day, of the feast. The feast of Tabernacles properly so called continued seven days. During (a part of) each day all the men of Israel dwelt in booths made with boughs of palm, willow, pine, and other trees. Day by day burnt-offerings and other sacrifices were presented in unusual profusion. Every morning, whilst the Israelites assembled in the temple-courts, one of the priests brought water drawn in golden urn from the pool of Siloam, and amidst the sounding of trumpets and other demonstrations of joy poured the water upon the altar. This rite is not mentioned in the Old Testament; but, as a commemoration of the miraculous supply of water in the wilderness, it was altogether in harmony with the general spirit of the festival. The chanting of the great Hallel (Psalms 113-118) celebrated the past; but (as we learn from the Talmud) the Jews also connected with the ceremony the words of Isaiah (John 12:3), ‘Therefore with joy shall ye draw water out of the wells of salvation,’ and saw in it a type of the effusion of the Holy Spirit. On the evening of the first and (probably) of each following day the ‘rejoicing of the drawing of the water’ was celebrated in the court of the women, with dancing, singing, and music; and lamps raised on four immense candelabra placed in the middle of the same court illumined both the temple and the city. On the seventh day the ordinary ceremonies of the feast came to an end. There was added, however, an eighth day (Numbers 29:35), a day of holy convocation on which no work might be done. This day did not strictly belong to the feast, but was ‘a feast by itself,’ perhaps as closing (not only the feast of Tabernacles, but also) the whole series of festivals for the year: naturally, however, it became attached to the feast of Tabernacles in ordinary speech. Whether the ‘great day’ so emphatically mentioned here was this eighth day or the seventh day of the feast is a point which has been much discussed, and on which we cannot arrive at certainty. On the whole it is most probable that the eighth day is referred to, the day of holy rest in which the feasts seemed to reach their culmination, and which retained the sacred associations of the festival just past, though the marks of special rejoicing had come to an end. This last day He to whom all the festivals of Israel pointed chose for the proclamation which showed the joy and hope of the feast of Tabernacles fulfilled in Himself.
Jesus stood and cried, saying, If any one thirst, let him come unto me and drink. The words ‘stood and cried’ bring into relief the solemn earnestness of this declaration, which completed and perfected the teaching of Jesus at this feast. The occasion was given (if we are right in regarding the eighth as ‘the great day’), not by the ceremony observed, but by the blank left through the cessation of the familiar custom. The water had been poured upon the altar for seven days, reminding of past miracles of God’s mercy and promises of yet richer grace: hopes had been raised, but not yet satisfied. When the ceremonies had reached their close, Jesus ‘stood and cried’ to the multitudes that what they had hitherto looked for in vain they shall receive in Him. As in the synagogue of Nazareth He read from the book of Isaiah, and declared that the Scripture was that day fulfilled in their ears, so here He takes up familiar words of the same prophet (Isaiah 4:1), calling every one that thirsteth to come unto Him.
John 7:38. He that believeth in me, as the scripture said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water. The words of John 7:37 remind us of the people who drank of the spiritual rock that followed them (1 Corinthians 10:4), the miracle commemorated in the pouring of the water from Siloam; the last words (‘shall flow rivers’) resemble more the promise of Isaiah 12:3, amplified in all its parts. There is nothing incongruous in this union of promises: Isaiah 44:3 includes both, ‘I will pour water upon him that is thirsty and floods upon the dry ground.’ This is not the first time that we have found ‘coming to Jesus’ and ‘believing in Him’ thus brought together; see the note on chap. John 6:35. Out of the heart of him that thus cometh, thus believeth in Jesus, shall flow rivers of living water. Not only shall he receive what his thirst demands and be satisfied, but he himself shall become the source of a stream nay rivers of living waters. The water shall bring life to him: the water flowing out of his heart shall bring life wherever it comes. All this is the gift of Jesus, who is set forth as the One Source of the water of Life. But what is meant by ‘as the Scripture said’? Many passages of the Old Testament contain similar imagery, and some of these have been already quoted; but one only appears really to accord with the figure of this verse, viz. the vision of Ezekiel 47:0. The prophet saw a stream of living water issuing from the temple, and expanding into a river whose waters brought life wherever they flowed. The temple prefigured Christ (chap. John 2:21); the water of life is the gift of the Holy Ghost, pre-eminently Christ’s gift (chap. John 4:14). The Lord Himself received into the believer’s heart brings the gift of the living water; and from Him, thus abiding in the heart, flows the river of the water of life.
John 7:39. And this spake he concerning the Spirit, which they that believed in him were to receive: for the spirit was not yet given; because that Jesus was not yet glorified. To this authoritative explanation of the ‘living water’ we have more than once referred (see chap. John 4:10; John 4:14). The word is a promise still, speaking of a future not a present gift (‘were to receive’). The verse before us is one which it is impossible to express in English without a paraphrase. In the first clause we find ‘the Spirit,’ but in the second the article is absent, and the words literally mean ‘for spirit was not yet,’ the word ‘spirit’ meaning, not the Holy Spirit as a Person, but a bestowal or reception of His influence and power. Only when Jesus was glorified, that is, only when He had died, had risen, had ascended on high, had been invested with the glory which was His own at the right hand of the Father, would man receive that spiritual power which is the condition of all spiritual life. When Jesus Himself, the God-man, is perfected, then and not till then does He receive power to bestow the Holy Spirit on mankind. This mysterious subject mainly belongs, however, to later chapters of this Gospel (see especially chap. John 16:7).
Here our Lord’s revelation of Himself as the fulfilment of the Old Testament culminates. The feast of Tabernacles was the last great feast of the year. It was also the feast which raised sacred rejoicing to its highest point; which shadowed forth the full bestowal of Messianic blessings (comp. Zechariah 14:16); and which spoke most of the Holy Spirit, the supreme gift of Jesus to His people. With its fulfilment all the brightest anticipations of ancient prophecy are realised. The effect of this revelation of Jesus by Himself is now traced.
John 7:40. Some of the multitude therefore, when they heard these words, said, Of a truth this is the prophet. On ‘the prophet,’ and the distinction between this appellation and ‘the Christ,’ see the note on chap. John 1:21.
John 7:41-42. Others said, This is the Christ Some said, What, doth the Christ come out of Galilee? Hath not the scripture said. That the Christ cometh of the seed of David, and from Bethlehem, the village where David was? See Matthew 2:6. This explanation of the prophecy of Micah (chap. John 5:2) is found in the Targum, and seems to have been commonly received by the Jews.
John 7:43-44. There arose therefore a division among the multitude because of him. And some of them would have seized him; but no man laid hands on him. Compare John 7:30. Here, as there, the result of the division of opinion is a more eager attempt to apprehend Him about whom the dispute has arisen. The last words of John 7:30 may be again supplied in thought: ‘his hour was not yet come.’
John 7:45. The officers therefore came to the chief priests and Pharisees; and they said unto them, Why have ye not brought him? The sending of the officers is mentioned in John 7:32. From John 7:37 we may gather that they had been lingering near Him for a day or more: His last words seem to have deprived them of all power to lay hands on Him. There is a minute difference between the senders as described in John 7:32 (‘the chief priests and the Pharisees’ ) and here, where the second article is dropped. The slight change serves to emphasize the union of the two elements (so to speak) into one for the purpose in hand, but is not sufficient to suggest that here reference is made to the Sanhedrin as a body. It does not appear that there is formal action of the Sanhedrin earlier than the record in chap. John 11:47.
John 7:46. The officers answered, Never did a man so speak. A new testimony to Jesus, borne by men who, awed by the majesty of His words, instead of attempting a deed of violence, declare to their very masters that He is more than man.
John 7:50-51. Nicodemus saith unto them (he that came to him before, being one of them), Doth our law Judge a man, except it have first heard from himself and learned what he doeth? Twice already in this section have we read of the restraint placed on the enemies of Jesus. Those amongst the multitude who were ill affected towards Him were kept back from doing Him harm (John 7:44); the officers likewise were restrained (John 7:46); now the Sanhedrists themselves are to be foiled, and this through one of themselves. Nicodemus has so far overcome his fear that he defends Jesus against the glaring injustice of his fellow-rulers, undeterred by the expression of their scorn just uttered. He appeals to the law, all knowledge of which they have proudly arrogated to themselves, and shows that of this very law they are themselves transgressors.
John 7:52. They answered and said unto him, Art thou also of Galilee? Search and see that out of Galilee ariseth no prophet. No answer to the argument was possible: they can but turn on Nicodemus himself. They assume that no one but a Galilean can take the side of Jesus. The last words are difficult, because at least one of the ancient prophets (Jonah) was of Galilee. But the words do not seem to be intended to include all the past, so much as to express what Jews held to be, and to have long been, a stated rule of Divine Providence: in their scorn of Galilee, and their arrogant assumption of complete knowledge of ‘ the law,’ they regard it as impossible that out of that land any prophet should arise; least of all can it be the birthplace of the Messiah.
The almost unanimous voice of modem criticism pronounces the narrative before us to be no genuine part of the Gospel of John. The section is wanting in the oldest and most trustworthy MSS. of the Gospel, and in several of the most ancient versions. It is passed by without notice in the commentaries of some of the earliest and most critical fathers of the Church. It is marked by an unusually large number of various readings, a circumstance always highly suspicious. It is full of expressions not found elsewhere in the Fourth Gospel, some of the chief of which will be noticed in the comment. It interrupts the flow of the section where it occurs, John 8:12 connecting itself directly with that part of chap. 7 which closes with John 7:52. Finally, MSS. which contain the section introduce it at various places, some at the close of the Gospel; others after chap. John 7:36; while in a third class it has no place in John at all, but is read in the Gospel of Luke, at the close of chap. 21. These considerations are decisive; and the narrative must be set aside as no part of the work in which it occurs. How the section found its way into the place which it now occupies it is impossible to say. Various conjectures, more or less plausible, have been offered on the point, but all of them are destitute of proof. It does not follow, however, that the incident itself is not true. We know that an incident, very similar to this, probably indeed the same, was related in the early Apocryphal Gospel of the Hebrews; and this circumstance lends probability to the belief that the events actually happened. But the great argument in favour of the truth of the story is afforded by the character of the narrative itself. It bears t he almost unmistakeable impress of a wisdom which could not have originated with the men of our Lord’s time, and which (as is shown by the objections often made to it) the world even in our own time hardly comprehends. It may be noted in addition that the incident bears in its spirit a striking similarity to that recorded in Mark 12:13-17 (Matthew 22:15-22; Luke 20:20-26). Bishop Lightfoot adduces strong evidence to show that the story was one of the illustrative anecdotes of Papias ( Contemp. Review, vol. xxvi. p. 847). If so, it must have been in circulation from the very earliest times.