Teaching on the Gospel of John by Rev. Dr. Nadine Burton

“The Messiah Can’t Be from Galilee!”

John Chapter Seven

The context is the Festival of Booths. Also called the “festival of ingathering,” it commemorates the time before the Israelites settled in the promised land, as they looked forward to the beginning of fall rains, necessary for the agricultural year.[i] It is appropriate to note that the term brothers, in verse three, is a generic term that includes sisters. What is important is that neither Jesus’ brother nor sisters believed in his ministry. They challenged him to go to Judea so that his works could be made public. Jesus told them to go, as his time had not yet come. According to Boring and Craddock, “The hour when God acts for human salvation is decided by God alone…Jesus is not the victim of the power of others, but the victorious one who goes to the cross on his own initiative and at a time he alone (representing God) decides.”[ii] 

While he did not want his popularity known, Jesus eventually attended the festival. During the festival, he began teaching. The Jews questioned, “how could he teach the things that he taught since he has never been trained?” Jesus responds that those who are in the will of God will be taught – those who do the will of God will be taught the things of God. Jesus went on to explain his authority, not seeking his own glory, and reminding them that they were given the law of Moses, that none of them obeyed. Jesus questioned their reasoning that if a man is healed on the Sabbath, why would they be angry at him for healing (on the Sabbath)? “The Jews would often circumcise a baby on the eighth day, outside of the seven-day requirement after birth, if the Sabbath fell on the eighth day, giving precedence to the circumcision. The Johannine Jesus argues that the healing of a whole person on the Sabbath should override keeping the Sabbath law.”[iii]

For six days during the festival, water was carried into the temple. The pouring of water was thought to have physical and spiritual significance. On the seventh day, no water was carried. This was when Jesus began to teach on the “rivers of living water,” a reference to the Holy Spirit.[iv] The writer points out that the Spirit was not yet given. “For as yet there was no spirit, because Jesus was not yet glorified.” The Spirit is given to all believers, not just preachers, or apostles, and is at the heart of understanding who Jesus is. “Thus, the people in the story are incapable of understanding what is going on in their presence, but the post Easter believer reading the story is addressed by its true meaning.”[v]

The leaders and the crowds had varying opinions on Jesus’ teaching, identity, and actions. There was no consensus on his Messiahship. They did not understand his words, “because they did know the one who sent him.” Some were ready to arrest him for his teaching, however, the writer kept indicating that “his time had not yet come” (see first paragraph). They did not understand that when his time came, he would leave them, and go to a place where they could not find him. People believed what they wanted to believe about Jesus. 

The authorities and leaders (Pharisees, Jews, priests, and rulers) had the power to arrest Jesus. While there were mixed opinions, the Pharisees were always negative toward Jesus. The leaders listened to the crowds muttering things about Jesus and decided to arrest him. The police were afraid to arrest him because they had not heard anyone speak like this. The Jews spoke of a future prophecy when they questioned, “Does he intend to go to the dispersion among the Greeks and teach? For Jesus’ ministry would eventually reach the gentile nation.

It is questionable whether verses 53-8:11 were a later insertion into this text.[vi] Whether added or not, it is worth mentioning that Nicodemus inserts his opinion in the last part of this pericope. You remember Nicodemus, the teacher who came to Jesus by night in chapter three, admonishing Jesus as a teacher who came from God, but revealed his own confusion regarding salvation as a Jewish teacher, when Jesus told him, “You must be born again.” He suggested that their law should judge Jesus through a hearing, based on what he was doing. “They replied, “Surely you are not also from Galilee, are you? Search, and you will see that no prophet is to arise from Galilee.”

Were the leaders threatened by Jesus’ presence, his teaching, or that the Messiah could come from Galilee? Were they threatened by his authority to speak the truth that they could not understand or accept? Their humanity and reasoning could not get past Jesus proclaiming himself as God’s son from Galilee, someone (in their opinion) who was not taught the law of Moses. Yet, according to the Johannine writer, Jesus was the one that they were looking for.

[i] Boring and Craddock, pg. 312

[ii] Boring and Craddock, pg. 314.

[iii] Ibid.

[iv] The Kings James Study Bible, Reference, pg. 1621.

[v] Boring and Craddock, pg. 314.

[vi] Ibid.