(please forgive the audio – I’ve clearly got a cold here!)
7:40 When they heard these words, some of the people said, “This really is the Prophet.”
This is telling – its very similar to verse 31 and it reminds us that these folks were looking for a “prophet” that would be greater than Moses (Deut. 18:15-18). If you recall, people reacted in a similar way in 6:14 when He had just fed the 5000:
When the people saw the sign that he had done, they said, “This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world!”
Now they were reacting not to His miracles but to His words.
7:41-42 Others said, “This is the Christ.” But some said, “Is the Christ to come from Galilee? Has not the Scripture said that the Christ comes from the offspring of David, and comes from Bethlehem, the village where David was?”
There are a few interesting things to note here. First we see that some people think that He is the Christ – the Messiah who would deliver them from bondage. Others were saying that He was “the Prophet” — remember that there was a general consensus at the time that these would be two separate people.
The second thing that sticks out like a sore thumb here is that these people knew their Bibles! They are thinking of Micah 4:2:
But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days.
Earlier some of the people were confused as to whether or not they would even be able to know where the Christ came from (cf. 7:27), but here we see people hat were more studied than others. So we see a diversity here in the learning among the people, and a disagreement as to the nature and origin of Jesus (which makes sense since we have a real melting pot of people in town for the feast). As Sproul says, “These people had no idea that Jesus had been born in Bethlehem; all they knew was that He had come to them from Galilee.”
The last thing, and perhaps the most obvious thing here is that they didn’t know that Jesus was born in Bethlehem. Imagine if they would have known…He doesn’t inform them of this for a reason I believe until after His ascension. When people like Luke go back and thoroughly document the narrative of Jesus’ life. All of this happened in the providence of God so that in all things His timing would be worked out. The same timing we see here in the birth and life of Christ was also instrumental in bringing Saul to the Lord at the right time, and Saul was aware of this – not only did he call himself one “untimely born” (tongue in cheek), but he recognized that the gospel revelation also happened according to God’s timing as we see in Ephesians 3:
Of this gospel I was made a minister according to the gift of God’s grace, which was given me by the working of his power.  To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ,  and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things,  so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.  This was according to the eternal purpose that he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord,  in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through our faith in him.  So I ask you not to lose heart over what I am suffering for you, which is your glory. (Ephesians 3:7-13)
7:43-44 So there was a division among the people over him.  Some of them wanted to arrest him, but no one laid hands on him.
Division — note the way some reacted in wanting to arrest him. Why? Was it because He was offending them? Surely not all of them could have been so scrupulous (as we have already learned) as to claim that they were defenders of the faith! So I have to guess that some of them were offended personally and not simply for their religious presuppositions.
And again, no one lays their hands on Christ for the reason we’ve talked about before, namely that Jesus said that He would lay down His body on His own initiative and in His own timing:
No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father. (John 10:18)
7:45-46 The officers then came to the chief priests and Pharisees, who said to them, “Why did you not bring him?”  The officers answered, “No one ever spoke like this man!”
No One Ever Spoke Like This Man
Now John brings us back to the scene at the Sanhedrin Council where the temple police squad has just returned back empty handed. Did they return because Jesus evaded them? Did they fail to bring in Jesus because He knew the Judean countryside better than anyone and hid away in a secret cave? Or perhaps He evaded them by supernaturally disappearing?
None of these things happened, neither were they the reason that these temple guards came back empty handed. We’re told why they were unsuccessful in their mission though in verse 46 when we hear the excuse the guards give for not bringing Jesus in for questioning and jail. They say, “No one ever spoke like this man!” Quite literally, ‘No man (anthropos, “human being”) ever spoke as he does’ (Carson).
Wow. So it wasn’t through some magical, supernatural, or extraordinary evasion that Jesus avoided arrest at this time. It was due to the power of His words. These temple guards were likely men who were learned. They came from the tribe of Levi. They hung around the temple complex all day long, and they likely would have had a life full of “hearing.” They would have heard Gamaliel, they would have heard Anas, and Caiaphas, and the other high priests. They knew what fancy words sounded like. But this was something different altogether. These weren’t fancy words. This wasn’t empty rhetoric. This was the very Word of God incarnate: this was truth!
As Ryle comments, “…they probably meant that He spake with a dignified tone of authority, as a messenger from heaven, to which they were entirely unaccustomed.” Surely Ryle hits the mark here! These men were Levites and had heard many powerful men as I mentioned above. Surely they would not have been easily impressed.
Our Responsibility to Proclaim the Truth
We are called to proclaim this same truth – not in words of splendor, but in grace and the power of the Holy Spirit. Listen to what Paul has to say about this in 1 Corinthians:
For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.”
Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.
For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”
And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God. (1 Corinthians 1:18-2:5)
And yet these officers didn’t seem to repent of their ways and devote themselves to Christ. Why? Well that is the question that Calvin addresses:
Let us, therefore, learn that the doctrine of Christ possesses such power as even to terrify the wicked; but as this tends to their destruction, let us take care that we be softened, instead of being broken. Even in the present day, we see many persons who too much resemble those officers, who are reluctantly drawn into admiration of the doctrine of the Gospel, and yet are so far from yielding to Christ, that they still remain in the enemy’s camp.
7:47-49 The Pharisees answered them, “Have you also been deceived?  Have any of the authorities or the Pharisees believed in him?  But this crowd that does not know the law is accursed.”
What a significant arrogance that these lofty minded Pharisees had about themselves! First the criticize the temple guards for their lack of discernment, and then they state that the crowd is ignorant and “accursed.” All the while they are indicting themselves – for their lack of love shows their lack of knowledge of even the law (Lev. 19:18 for one).
But even more than that, they indict themselves by criticizing the crowd for their ignorance, for they are supposed to be the teachers of Israel! If the people are ignorant of the law, whose fault is that? I have to believe that they would at least share in the responsibility for a supposedly ignorant populace.
At the same time, its important that these men, while acting in arrogance, were perhaps right to be cautious of the ignorance and passions of the masses. For God had set men of authority over the masses in order to keep order – this is from the law as Calvin points out (Deut. 17:8). But where these men went wrong, is that they thought they were above even God Himself:
“But they err in this respect, that, while they claim for themselves the highest authority, they are unwilling to submit to God….All the authority that is possessed by pastors, therefore, is subject to the word of God, that all may be kept in their own rank, from the greatest to the smallest, and that God alone may be exalted.” (John Calvin)
7:50-52 Nicodemus, who had gone to him before, and who was one of them, said to them,  “Does our law judge a man without first giving him a hearing and learning what he does?”  They replied, “Are you from Galilee too? Search and see that no prophet arises from Galilee.”
They Will Hate You
Nicodemus is basically calling these fellow leaders to account, and to follow their own principles and law. As Sproul puts it, “Nicodemus argued that if the Pharisees wanted to use the law to judge Jesus, they ought to follow the law in doing so.”
Then we see the reaction of the Pharisees to his words – clearly a demeaning reaction, and one that was uncalled for considering that who they were addressing. Nicodemus, who was apparently a big deal teacher in Israel during this time, was probably not deserving of this kind of treatment. But soon he would learn that all the followers of Christ will endure persecution as Christ Himself had foretold (Luke 21). Here’s what Christ said of this:
Then he said to them, “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom.  There will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and pestilences. And there will be terrors and great signs from heaven.  But before all this they will lay their hands on you and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors for my name’s sake.  This will be your opportunity to bear witness.  Settle it therefore in your minds not to meditate beforehand how to answer,  for I will give you a mouth and wisdom, which none of your adversaries will be able to withstand or contradict.  You will be delivered up even by parents and brothers and relatives and friends, and some of you they will put to death.  You will be hated by all for my name’s sake.  But not a hair of your head will perish.  By your endurance you will gain your lives. (Luke 21:10-19 ESV)
In chapter three we read of Nicodemus that he was “a ruler of the Jews” and Jesus calls him a “teacher of Israel.” He was on the Sanhedrin Council, and as such deserved to be heard out in this matter. But all men will be treated with scorn for following Jesus. The world is not our ally or friend – they will hate us because they hated Him first (John 15:18).
There is an important lesson for us here. Often times we forget that our citizenship is in heaven. We have a duel citizenship, so to speak. But we are not to love the world, because we are not of the world. We deceive ourselves into thinking that loving the world is okay. We live lives that are totally and completely oriented around what others think of us, instead of standing for what Christ would think of us.
We brag about “personal” relationships with Jesus, all the while acting as if He’s not standing in the midst of us hearing and seeing every word and deed we do.
At the same time we might honor Him transcendent and holy, while completely disregarding His anger at our sin – we feel as though He’ll love us so unconditionally that we can get away with anything! We fool ourselves into thinking that our words have no bite. That our deeds have no consequences! And our testimony is defiled while Christ stands HERE in this very room and is spat upon time and time again. We are shallow creatures like the men of old who were led up from Egypt by the mighty hand of God only to doubt Him when it came to conquering Canaan. We see the miracle of regeneration in our lives and the lives around us. We experience the amazing power of God to heal our sick and unite the lost with their loved ones. And still we won’t stick up for Jesus! Instead we offer half-hearted defenses – as that of Nicodemus here who Calvin calls “neutral” in this depiction. Perhaps he was neutral because he had not yet been made alive to Christ…but WE are not neutral! No indeed, we are children of God, and soldiers in His army. Are we then to love our Lord and obey Him, or are we to love our own self and the world and deny our Savior?
Hear what John says later in one of his epistles:
Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.  For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world.  And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever. (1 John 2:15-17)
Today I hope that we take a lesson from Nicodemus and examine ourselves and see if we are really found to be without a love for the world.
The Most Arrogant Men in History
When the Pharisees suggest that he go and “search and see that no prophet arises from Galilee” they are essentially saying that he needs to go study his Scripture some more. They’re saying that Nicodemus doesn’t even know his Bible. Sproul says:
“I do not believe there has ever been a more arrogant bunch in all of history than the Pharisees.”
And Ryle adds:
“These verse show us, for one thing, how useless is knowledge in religion, if it is not accompanied by grace in the heart.”
But in their haste to put him down they actually reveal their own ignorance! For Scripture says quite plainly what and where Jesus will be and where He will come from. MacArthur comments on the put-down in this way:
Then they (the Sanhedrin) mockingly invited him to “search, and see that no prophet arises out of Galilee” conveniently overlooking the fact that Jonah (who was from a city near Nazareth in the tribal region of Zebulun; 2 Kings 14:25; cf. Josh 19:10) was from Galilee. (Some scholars believe that Nahum and Hosea, and possibly other prophets, may also have been from Galilee.) They implied that he was ignorant of the most basic theological truths. But the statement actually exposed their own lack of knowledge since some prophets had come from Galilee and Jesus was originally from Bethlehem.
Even a respected member of the council caught a major amount of heat for even suggesting that the council follow standard protocol and give Jesus a hearing first before condemning him.
The fact that the council members were so violently opposed to even following standard procedure (which their legalistic minds usually adored) shows us that they were willing to do anything to kill Jesus. They wanted this man gone. I wonder if today we still have the courage to stand for Christ in the heat of death – much less an uncomfortable moment with our unbelieving friends.
- We hear the words of God incarnate in the words here in John. Will you surrender to them? Or will you be like the temple guards and be deeply affected but keep and stirred, all the while resisting the Holy Spirit and “kicking against the goads”?
- If you sit here today listening to what I have to say, and are, in fact, a Christian, will you closely examine yourself to root out any love of the world?
- Will you ask yourself this question: Is Jesus not eminently worthy of my honor and love? Will I not adore Him above all other things? And if this is so, will I be ashamed to give a defense of my faith, or make a half-hearted defense as an unbeliever with a conscience like Nicodemus?