Who is this man? What is he teaching? There were dozens of questions in the minds of those present at the Feast of Tabernacles, the huge celebration for all Jews: sons and daughters, male and female servants that ran for an entire week. John points out the highlights in his narrative description of key events. In this third section of chapter 7, Jesus somehow hears dissension among the people and has to speak out loudly, cry out, and shout to get their attention. This isn’t the scene of someone hiding or trembling in fear of the authorities. Jesus is right there in front of them. The result: some believe while others firm up their disbelief. It’s interesting to see how people can watch the same event and walk away with completely divergent interpretations. Of course, this would never happen in our modern world, right?
In the last section, Jesus explained the origin of His authority and challenged the religious elite to use common sense with regard to the Sabbath. These were hard topics for this diverse crowd to understand. They couldn’t even agree on something we take for granted:
Have the authorities really concluded that he is the Messiah? But we know where this man is from; when the Messiah comes, no one will know where he is from.” John 7:26-27
Really? No one will know? There is confusion about their interpretation of the prophets versus where Jesus came from, that is, where He was born.
Then Jesus, still teaching in the temple courts, cried out, “Yes, you know me, and you know where I am from. I am not here on my own authority, but he who sent me is true. You do not know him, but I know him because I am from him and he sent me.” John 7:28-29
Jesus doesn’t give them the pleasure of answering their question in human terms. His answer was more profound: He came from heaven. Think about that for a moment.
The problem as Jesus explains it is that they don’t know the Father. This is a serious accusation, but one that makes complete sense from John’s perspective. They know the rules, the laws, the customs. They’re here celebrating the feast as is their custom. They wouldn’t miss an opportunity to check a box.
Jesus constantly points people back to the heart of the matter. He is not concerned with how many psalms we’ve memorized or if we can quote book, chapter, and verse. He was and is still most interested in changing hearts.
As with any large crowd, the people divide themselves into camps: some believed and some did not. Far worse, some tried to seize Jesus, but this was not the time or place for that event. John is keenly aware of how and when Jesus will be turned over to the authorities. His point here is that they intended to capture Jesus but somehow were unable to hold Him. The religious leaders sent in the temple guard, but even that was a futile effort.
Jesus said, “I am with you for only a short time, and then I am going to the one who sent me. You will look for me, but you will not find me; and where I am, you cannot come.” John 7:33-34
These are incredibly hard words: where I am, you cannot come. I can see Jesus looking directly into the eyes of those present and letting those words sink in. You cannot come because you do not know me. I’m confident that Jesus had many more words than the few that John captures here. He made the point perfectly clear to those present; He probably repeated the same statement in several ways to be sure they heard it correctly.
That’s why they had so many questions. Where is he going that we can’t find him? Is he going to hide among the Gentiles? The Greeks? They heard Jesus clearly, but they did not understand.
The crowds had two or three days of wondering about the message they heard. I’m sure there were lots of side discussions as they processed the message. Finally, as the festival draws to a close, Jesus pronounces that great news:
On the last and greatest day of the festival, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.” John 7:37-38
Note that Jesus points them back to Scripture that they had available to them. Their lack of understanding was within their ability to fix. They simply were misunderstood because they were being misled. This is critical to appreciate.
John helps us understand the significance of the statement.
By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive. Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified. John 7:39
As we’ve seen in this section before, some heard the message and believed while others heard the same message and wanted to kill Him. The latter group was likely stuck on Jesus’ birth certificate, His town of origin. They were so lost in their piety that they couldn’t hear the call to receive was from the Living Well.
John is giving us all we need to know to make the right decision. He walked with Jesus for years. He watched Jesus die from torture so brutal that we shudder to dwell on the event. John was just as confused as his brothers in ministry when he watched Jesus take His last breath, but he remembers the following week when they had breakfast on the beach! John saw it all!
Lord may we listen and learn from John’s testimony and reach out to find the living water that is poured out for each of us.