The Righteousness and Brilliance of Jesus Christ
7:11-13 The Jews were looking for him at the feast, and saying, “Where is he?” And there was much muttering about him among the people. While some said, “He is a good man,” others said, “No, he is leading the people astray.”  Yet for fear of the Jews no one spoke openly of him.
There are two things we need to note about the Jewish leaders here. Two characteristics about their actions and the way the people perceived them.
1. First, they were conniving. They hoped that this popular feast would draw out Jesus so that they could catch Him and destroy Him.
2. Secondly, they were ruling by fear and not by love. The people were split on how to take this man from Nazareth. Was he a good man? Was he something more? But no matter their indecision about Jesus, they knew that whatever they thought it was best to keep it to themselves – not out of righteous fear of God, but of fear of man.
7:14-15 About the middle of the feast Jesus went up into the temple and began teaching.  The Jews therefore marveled, saying, “How is it that this man has learning, when he has never studied?”
It is evident here that Jesus had a supernatural knowledge. As one reads through the gospels this is evident. Many times the Bible will say that Jesus “knew their thoughts.” Here we see that this knowledge extended not only to “mind reading” (to put it crassly), but He had a superior mastery of the texts of Scripture. As Calvin says, “It was an astonishing proof of the power and grace of God, that Christ, who had not been taught by any master, was yet eminently distinguished by his knowledge of the Scriptures; and that he, who had never been a scholar, should be a most excellent teacher and instructor.”
In these days, it wasn’t unusual for a Jewish man to know how to read and write – even many women were trained in these basics. But here we aren’t talking about simply a learning that was common – Jesus had an uncommon understanding and grasp for the Scriptures. His knowledge was proving to be superior even to those who had access to the best schools and had spent years studying the Old Testament. This man (Jesus) had not formal teaching, except that which His parents had undoubtedly taught Him – at least that’s what these people thought…
7:16 So Jesus answered them, “My teaching is not mine, but his who sent me.
Here Christ reveals that His learning isn’t simply from a school or from His parents, but from a Higher Source. His learning came from God. For Jesus to be able to speak and teach the way He did without a formal education was indication enough for the people to ask questions – soon we’ll read that they asked the ultimate question, the question that His teaching and miracles ought to have led them to ask…
Before getting into the thrust of what Christ is saying, I think its worth while to address how He phrased this great truth. Augustine is brilliant in his exposition of this passage. He points out that some people thought there was a contradiction here because Christ is saying that “My teaching is not mine” – those in opposition say “how does it make sense for this to at one time be Christ’s and at the other time not be Christ’s? Augustine answers:
The subject of inquiry, then, is that which He says, “My, not mine” this appears to be contrary; how “my,” how “not mine”? If we carefully look at what the holy evangelist himself says in the beginning of his Gospel, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God;” thence hangs the solution of this question. What then is the doctrine of the Father, but the Father’s Word? Therefore, Christ Himself is the doctrine of the Father, if He is the Word of the Father. But since the Word cannot be of none, but of some one, He said both “His doctrine,” namely, Himself, and also, “not His own,” because He is the Word of the Father.
So Christ Himself is the doctrine, the very Word incarnate! So that all authority is vested in Him.
This leads us into what is the substance of what Christ is saying.
Christ’s authority comes directly from God. The Jews are wondering “who is your teacher?” They want to know where He got his education, and who has taught Him all of this. But Christ turns it on their heads. He says, in affect, that unlike them, He has got His teaching not from the Rabbis but from the Source! He’s heard it straight from the Father.
We might then ask why Christ, an uneducated man by human standards, came into the world in this way, and why God chose to go about displaying His gospel this way.
Calvin might have an idea…
For the reason why the Heavenly Father determined that his Son should go out of a mechanic’s workshop, rather than from the schools of the scribes, was, that the origin of the Gospel might be more manifest, that none might think that it had been fabricated on the earth, or imagine that any human being was the author of it. Thus also Christ chose ignorant and uneducated men to be his apostles, and permitted them to remain three years in gross ignorance, that, having instructed them in a single instant, he might bring them forward as new men, and even as angels who had just come down from heaven.
7:17 If anyone’s will is to do God’s will, he will know whether the teaching is from God or whether I am speaking on my own authority.
So this is what MacArthur calls “the test”, which is simply that if anyone truly wants to do the will of God, they will surely be able to know whether Christ’s teaching is from God. In the Greek the term actually says something to the effect of “if anyone wills to will” – that is, if we desire in our hearts to REALLY know what God’s will is, and truly desire to know if Jesus is who He says He is, then we won’t be disappointed. He will show Himself, and we will “know whether the teaching (of Jesus) is from God” or not.
The second part of Jesus’ exhortation addresses the question of authority, and elaborates on where His teaching derived (which I will get into more in the next verse). His teaching derived from God the Father – the very Creator of the entire universe. Therefore, He had authority to teach because He had been given all authority by the Father (Matthew 28:18), and because all authority comes from God (e.g. John 19:11), and because Jesus was/is God (John 1:1-18) He could speak of these things with credibility and believability.
Jesus didn’t come to seek glory – He laid all of that aside (Phil. 2) – and that yet another reason He points to the Father for all of His authority here. He’s not going to fall into this trap that the scribes lay for Him. He won’t simply say, “I’m just inventing this teaching up on my own.” He won’t seek His own glory during His ministry on earth.
7:18 The one who speaks on his own authority seeks his own glory; but the one who seeks the glory of him who sent him is true, and in him there is no falsehood.
Where Jesus Got His Authority
This is a different type of “test” – this one gives us an idea of what sort of “christ” would seek his own glory – a false one. A man claiming to be the Messiah and doing so purely based on his own inherent authority – with no authority from God – is a false Christ. In contrast, Christ is seeking the glory of “Him who sent Him” – the Father (the Father will then give Him back His glory upon arrival in heaven – John 17:5).
It isn’t as though Jesus isn’t claiming to have any authority, but it helping them understand that the authority vested in Himself comes directly from God the Father. He is saying that God’s authority is THE ultimate authority, and that if anyone comes with another word, we need to test it against the supreme Word of God. Consequently, as Augustine notes, who is the Word of God? Jesus Christ!
Another Biblical example of appealing to that ultimate authority comes to us in Jude 1:9 where we read that Michael the Archangel doesn’t claim to have authority in an of himself. It says, “But when the archangel Michael, contending with the devil, was disputing about the body of Moses, he did not presume to pronounce a blasphemous judgment, but said, ‘The Lord rebuke you.’” So if one of the greatest heavenly beings (Michael) in the created universe also defers all judgment and power and authority to the Lord, how much more ought we to do the same. We ought to recognize that there is no power either in heaven above or on the earth below that does not answer to the Lord God Almighty. This is properly what we mean when we refer to the kingship of Christ or the kingship of God.
Calvin says, “For every thing that displays the glory of God is holy and divine; but every thing that contributes to the ambition of men, and, by exalting them, obscures the glory of God, not only has no claim to be believed, but ought to be vehemently rejected.”
Testing the spirits
But how are we to know the difference? A.W. Pink says there’s a strong correlation here with 1 John 4:1-3 which says, “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already.”
Calvin also hits on this same theme and says, “Satan continually plots against us, and spreads his nets in every direction, that he may take us unawares by his delusions. Here Christ most excellently forewarns us to beware of exposing ourselves to any of his impostures, assuring us that if we are prepared to obey God, he will never fail to illuminate us by the light of his Spirit, so that we shall be able to distinguish between truth and falsehood.” He continues on later to say, “If we be entirely devoted to obedience to God, let us not doubt that He will give us the spirit of discernment, to be our continual director and guide.”
We very often refer to God’s sovereignty, when we probably should be using the word “providence” instead. He providentially has designed circumstances, people, world events because He is sovereign. And He is sovereign in that He reigns supreme over the universe. Sovereigns have thrones – and our God rules from a throne so glorious that none can approach for its brightness (1 Tim. 6:16).
Therefore, when we here a “word from the Lord” we ought to test whether it really is from the Lord. Jesus makes it perfectly clear that His words have authority in and of themselves and that all other words on earth by which men claim to have authority must be brought up against the test of His words, and His truth. Here He is claiming ABSOLUTE authority. All authority on earth has been vested in HIM. And, like causality, all authority flows from Him. That’s why I like John 19:11 so much. Jesus tells Pilate not to worry about his decision because he doesn’t have any authority that he didn’t get from God. Jesus basically stares Pilate down and says, in affect, ‘you can’t do anything that I don’t allow you to do. You asked if I’m a king? That’s right. I’m the supreme king of the universe and I personally fashioned you from dirt. I spoke everything into existence. I am the I AM. So any authority you fancy yourself having was derived from Me.’
7:19 Has not Moses given you the law? Yet none of you keeps the law. Why do you seek to kill me?”
The Purpose of the Law
Jesus has just laid out a test by which to measure a man’s authority, and now He reminds them of the test they would have been intimately familiar with, namely the law.
What is Jesus saying here? He says that they have the law but that none of them can keep the law…NONE of them. They ought to know this, but they didn’t. The Pharisees, the ruling class of the day, thought that they more than kept the law. They were the holy ones, the righteous ones. They went above and beyond what was required. And yet, Jesus says, “None of you keep the law.”
Calvin whets our palates with this fiery introduction to the passage:
But Christ connects here two clauses. In the former, he addresses the consciences of his enemies, and, since they proudly boasted of being defenders of the Law, he tears from them this mask; for he brings against them this reproach, that they allow themselves to violate the Law as often as they please, and, therefore, that they care nothing about the Law. Next, he comes to the question itself, as we shall afterwards see; so that the defense is satisfactory and complete in all its parts. Consequently, the amount of this clause is, that no zeal for the Law exists in its despisers. Hence Christ infers that something else has excited the Jews to so great rage, when they seek to put him to death. In this manner we ought to drag the wicked from their concealments, whenever they fight against God and sound doctrine, and pretend to do so from pious motives.
So these men, according to Calvin, were using the law as a mask to cover their sin. When, in fact, these scribes and priests misunderstood the whole point of the law. No man can keep the law! Paul explains the reason for the law in Galatians 3:24, “So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith.” The law was a “guardian” or “Schoolmaster” as some translations say.
How does the law lead us to Christ?
- First, it shows us that God is perfect and requires perfection (Lev. 11:44; 1 Pet. 1:16).
- Second, it shows us that we fall way short of that standard (Rom. 3:23-24), and that we need to repent and believe in the promises of God, namely that Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners (1 Tim. 1:15).
Tullian Tchividjian says this about the nature of the law and its interaction with the gospel:
The law of God shows us what God commands (which, of course, is good) but the law does not possess the power to enable us to do what it says. You could put it this way: the law guides but it does not give. The law shows us what a sanctified life looks like, but it does not have sanctifying power. It’s the gospel (what Jesus has done) that alone can give God-honoring animation to our obedience. The power to obey, in other words, comes from being moved and motivated by the completed work of Jesus for us. So, while the law directs us, only the gospel can drive us. (from the Foreward of ‘Give Them Grace’- Fitzpatrick/Thompson).
So the purpose of the law was to show us our sins, to show us God’s holiness and righteous standard, and to lead us to Christ.
The Bible tells us that the only way we can be saved is not by works or by keeping the law (Eph. 2:1-10), but by placing our faith and trust in Jesus Christ and His work on the cross (Rom. 5:8).
What Kind of Man is This?
In the second part of this verse Jesus says something without saying it. He says, “Why do you seek to kill me?” Immediately after saying that none of them can keep the law. So what is He saying by implication? That He’s the ONLY One whose ever kept the law! He’s claiming to be sinless!
I don’t know about you, but I don’t know anyone alive that has ever claimed to be perfect. In fact, it’s an axiom of sorts in our culture to say, “well, nobody’s perfect.” It’s a fact that we all accept – and rightfully so!
But here is a man who is on one hand preaching clear-headedly and brilliantly, while on the other hand claiming to have never sinned! So the people don’t know what to do with this. They say to themselves “well He can’t be crazy, because He’s making too much sense to be crazy.” But on the other hand they are saying, “there’s no way He can be saying that He’s perfect…can He?”
So these are the things that the Jews had to deal with, and consequently, these are the things we all have to deal with today. Everyone born into this world has to read this and decide whether Christ is a crazy man, a horrible liar and sinner, or Lord of the Universe. Because He doesn’t fit into any other category.
The Importance of Being Sinless: The Perfection of Christ
In the Bible, we find the importance of Jesus’ claim to being sinless. He was fully God and fully man, and even though He had been clothed in the flesh, He was not born of man, but of the Holy Spirit. Therefore He did not have the taint of what we call “original sin.”
Wayne Grudem helps us understand:
The key to understanding the duality of Christ’s human nature and His sinlessness is understanding that sin, as part of the human condition, is not the normal condition. God did not create us as sinners, but as a result of the fall, sin has marred our lives. Christ’s sinlessness is made clear in Scripture, from His 40 days in the desert, where Satan tempted Christ but failed to entice him in to sin, to the time of the beginning of His ministry where “the favor of God was upon Him” (Luke 2:40).
Throughout the Bible, the sinless nature of Christ is an important theme. In Hebrews 4:15 it says, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” And in Hebrews 7:26 it says, “For it was indeed fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, innocent, unstained, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens.”
Peter, who traveled with Jesus for three years and was a close observer of everything Jesus did and said, puts it this way, “He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth” (1 Peter 2:22).
The Perfect Sacrifice
So the Bible stresses Christ’s sinlessness for two reasons. First, because Christ’s atonement for us on the cross had to be perfect – He had to be sinless in order to be a perfect sacrifice. We recall the symbolism in the Jewish Passover feast and how the lamb whose blood was used to paint the lentels of the doors was a spotless lamb. A perfect sacrifice.
The Imputation of Christ’s Righteousness
The second reason Christ had to sinless was because He needed to be able to credit His righteousness to our account. Paul explains the vital importance of the sinlessness of Christ when he states, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21).
How have we become “the righteousness of God”? Because the perfect, sinless, righteousness of Jesus has been credited to our account. Jesus’ sinless life here on earth was the basis for His righteousness. That’s why He didn’t simply come down from heaven in full manhood and die the same day on the cross for our sins. For no man is righteous enough to stand in the presence of God. It is by Christ’s imputation of His righteousness that we are able to have fellowship and eternal life with God.
The moment we trust Christ for salvation, the instant we place our faith in Him, we gain the imputation of the righteousness of Christ. That is to say, that in the eyes of God, we are accounted righteous. Therefore, we can stand upon His righteousness and not our own (Eph. 2:1-10), for entrance into heaven. It also gives us comfort that because it is on Christ’s merit that we “earn” heaven – He earned it for us. If we had to earn it ourselves, we’d never earn it, we’d never get there.
Sproul says this in his commentary on 1 Peter 3:15-20:
For Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive by the Spirit, by whom also He went and preached to the spirits in prison, who formerly were disobedient, when once the Divine long-suffering waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight souls, were saved through water (vv. 18-20). Peter’s language brings to mind again the teaching of the Apostle Paul, who wrote that Christ took upon Himself the punishment due to us and bestows on those who believe the reward that accompanies His righteousness. Since God requires punishment for sin He receives satisfaction not fem us, the unjust, but from Christ, the just One so that God might be both “just and the justified” (Rom. 3:26).
God is just insofar as He does not wink at human sin. He is just because He requires the penalty for sin to fulfill all righteousness, which righteousness was accomplished by Christ Himself. It is through His righteousness that we are made just in the sight of God. The only ground for our justification, now and forever, is the imputation of the righteousness of Christ to all who believe. The righteousness by which we are justified is what Luther called a iustitia alien, an alien righteousness, a righteousness that, properly speaking, is not our own. It comes extra nos, from outside of us. It, properly speaking, belongs only to the One who is just, but it is precisely that foreign righteousness that God accounts to us when we put our trust in Jesus.
How does one respond to such amazing truth? It is in our nature to reject it and continue to strive on our own strength. My plea is that you give up, dear friend. Allow the glorious truth to overwhelm you, and realize that one man died so that all men anywhere from every tribe tongue and nation, from any background, from any country could live forever. That is why for centuries men and women from around the globe have said with the hymn writer, “I surrender all.”