STUDY 11: JOHN 7 - PERCEPTIONS
© Rosemary Bardsley 2009
Jerusalem is crowded. From all over Judea and Galilee people have come to celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles, and as they mingle together in the streets, as they come together at the Temple to offer their sacrifices and observe the age-old rituals involved in this Feast, the crowds are buzzing with speculations about Jesus, perceptions about his possible identity and his future actions.
A. MIXED PERCEPTIONS ABOUT JESUS
A. 1 His brothers’ earthbound perception 7:1-9
At this stage Jesus’ brothers have no real understanding of who Jesus is and what his mission is:
- They suggest that he should go to Judea rather than stay in Galilee , because Judea is where everyone is. There his ‘disciples’ would see his miracles.
- They think that his goal is ‘to become a public figure’, and if that’s his goal, then he ought to be where the crowds are, and at this particular time they are in Jerusalem for the Feast of the Tabernacles.
- They judge that since he is doing miracles he should show himself to the world.
- John comments: ‘even his own brothers did not believe in him’.
In this comment about the unbelief of the brothers we see the difference between people believing that Jesus had miraculous abilities, and people believing in him. These brothers are completely earthbound in their perception of Jesus. They are seeing him only from a ‘flesh’ perspective. They do not have an inkling of the immense spiritual reality that is here before their eyes, that is here in this brother of theirs. They see him as someone trying to make a name for himself; they see nothing of the fact that he already possesses the Name that is above all names, the name to whom upon whom all flesh is dependent and to whom all flesh must bow.
A.2 Various speculations and perceptions about Jesus 7:11 -52
In this section of John 7 speculations and perceptions of the crowds are interspersed with responses Jesus made to those perceptions and questions. We will look first at what the crowds said.
- , by which we should probably understand the leaders of the Jews, as distinct from the crowds, ‘were watching for him and asking “Where is that man?” ‘  Note that in verse 1 John states that Jesus ‘purposely stayed away from Judea because there were waiting to take his life’. And the crowds did not say anything publicly about Jesus ‘for fear of ’ .
- were divided: some thought ‘he is a good man’ others that ‘he deceives the people’ .
- , when Jesus finally began teaching in the temple, were amazed, asking ‘How did this man get such learning without having studied?’
- when Jesus asked the Jews why they were trying to kill him, accused him of being ‘demon-possessed’, and seemed ignorant of the Jews’ intention to kill him . However wondered if Jesus was the man ‘they are trying to kill’ .
- wonder if ‘have concluded that he is the Christ’ but debate this conclusion because they all know where Jesus comes from, and no one will know where the Christ comes from [26-27].
- , [either the crowd or the Jews in the temple where he was teaching] tried to seize him .
- heard the speculations of the crowd, and along with the sent temple guards to arrest him .
- cannot understand his teaching [35,36].
- speculate that he is ‘the Prophet’, others that he is ‘the Christ’, and others that he can’t be the Christ because he comes from Galilee , not Bethlehem [40-43]. Still others wanted to seize him .
- were so impressed by his teaching that they didn’t arrest him [45-46].
- express the belief that Jesus deceives the people , and infer that none of them, or of , have believed in Jesus , and that Galilee is not the place to look for the prophet .
B. JESUS’ PERCEPTIONS
B.1 About time and prophetic fulfilment
As we have already seen in section E.2 of the previous study, Jesus was governed by the divine agenda. This had two impacts on his choices:  he was not swayed by the perceptions and expectations of others, and  he avoided situations which would jeopardize that agenda. In John 7 we find the following:
- He purposely stayed away from Judea because the Jews there were waiting to take his life .
- He does not yield to his brothers’ suggestion to go up to the Feast to show himself to the world because it is not the right time [6,8].
- He went secretly to the Feast, not publicly, and did not teach openly until halfway through the Feast [10,14].
- It was not possible for him to be seized because it was not yet the right time .
Just as he avoided those who wanted to make him king by force [ 6:15 ] because this was not the kind of Messiah he came to be, so he avoided arrest by those who wanted to kill him before the appointed time. The Feast of the Tabernacles was not the prophetic symbol of his death, and was therefore not the right time for his arrest and execution; that had to wait six more months until the Passover Feast. Then, and only then, did he allow his enemies to arrest him.
B.2 About his teaching
While the Jews are amazed at his teaching and wonder how on earth he has such understanding without ever have been to school, Jesus know exactly where his teaching comes from and what it does.
- His teaching exposes the evil of the world  and therefore evokes its hatred. [Note the similarity to John 3:19-21.]
- His teaching originates with God who sent him , which will be obvious to anyone who chooses to do God’s will. Leon Morris comments: ‘His hearers had raised the question of His competence as a teacher, He raises the question of their competence as hearers’ .
- The fact that he teaches in such a way as to gain honour, not for himself but for God, identifies him as a man of integrity .
B.3 About the Law 6:16-24
Here Jesus exposes and rebukes the Jews’ superficial approach to the Law and indicates that this lack of real commitment to the Law of Moses invalidates their opposition to him. They are judging him by appearances, not by justice and truth.
It is obvious to Jesus that the opposition of the Jews dates back to his healing of the crippled man on the Sabbath, way back in 5:1-18, and for this reason his teaching here focuses on the Sabbath, and the irony or lack of logic demonstrated in their practice and their accusations.
Leon Morris comments:
‘When the feast was at its height Jesus came out of His seclusion and taught in the temple. His opening address is a call to make serious judgements, and not simply snap decisions on the basis of surface appearance. He points out that if anyone is really in earnest he will know whether Jesus’ teaching is divine in origin or not. But in this situation the people are trying to kill him and thus break the very law they profess to uphold. Their consideration for the outward letter of the law (as shown in their concern for circumcision) contrasts sharply with their carelessness toward the deeper things to which the law points (as shown in their attitude toward Jesus’ healing on the Sabbath). Their values are wrong. They are superficial. They do not understand the meaning of the law they profess to honour, and therefore they do not recognize that the authority of Jesus is the very authority of God.’ p. 403f.
B.4 About his origin, life and destination
Although he was truly and fully human, Jesus was very much aware of the distinction between him and other humans.
- As we have already seen he knows that it is necessary for him to avoid any inappropriate acknowledgement and any premature arrest that would jeopardize the purpose of his incarnation.
- He is aware that the world hates him in a way that it can never hate its own – those whose origin is from the world .
- He affirms that he has been sent by God [16-18].
- Physically, they know where he is from , but they don’t know the one who sent him, so they don’t really know where he is from at a deeper level [28-29].
- His time with them is short; in a little while he will return to the one who sent him. But they, he knows, will not be able to find him or go with him [33-36]. Jesus here predicts his resurrection and ascension.
B.5 About human response
Jesus is acutely and accurately aware of human responses to himself and his teaching. For example:
- He knows their opposition to himself 
- He knows their alignment 
- He knows they don’t keep God’s law 
- He knows their emotions [21,23]
- He knows that they don’t know God 
- He knows the eternal destiny of those who do know and believe in him 
- He knows that those who come to him and believe in him will, once he is glorified, be indwelt by the life-giving Holy Spirit [37-39]
C. THE SIGINFICANCE OF THE FEAST
The Feast of the Tabernacles, while commemorating the historical experiences of the Israelites under the leadership of Moses [Leviticus 23:33 -36, 39-43; Deuteronomy 16:13 -17] was also a prophetic anticipation of the coming of the Messiah. On the great day of the Feast a water-pouring ritual occurred. This ritual was a symbolic, prophetic prayer for the coming of the Messiah who would be the source of God's blessings. It is in this setting of Messianic expectation that Jesus makes his declaration in John 7:37,38: ‘If a man is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.’ It is as if Jesus said: ‘You are, in this pouring out of water, anticipating and longing for the coming of God's Messiah and of all the blessings associated with him. You need pour this symbolic water no longer: I am the Messiah. Come to me, believe in me, for it is in me that your expectations are fulfilled and your prayers are answered. He who comes to me, he who believes in me, will receive all the promised blessings.’
A true reception of Jesus, a true belief in him, results in this: that the Holy Spirit of God comes to indwell that person. As indicated here in verse 39, this would happen to all who believed, but not until Christ was glorified. Jesus will have much more to say about this in Chapters 14 – 16.
On hearing Jesus' words in verse 38 some in the crowd were inclined to believe, some were sceptical, others antagonistic, but they all realised what it was that Jesus was claiming. So vehement are the Pharisees in their refusal to admit the possibility of Jesus' right to make this claim that they consider those who believe in Jesus to be under a curse [verse 49].
Another significance of the Feast, which we will see in the next study, is connected with the illumination of the temple during the feast. Here in John 7 Jesus’ coming and his mission is linked with the out-pouring of the water; in John 8 the illumination of the temple, and the extinguishing of that light at the end of the Feast, connects with the fact that he, Jesus, is the Light of the world.
Reflection: List the impact John 7 has had on your understanding of Jesus and his mission.