14-15 With the Feast already half over, Jesus showed up in the Temple, teaching. The Jews were impressed, but puzzled: “How does he know so much without being schooled?”
In the first verses of the text, Jesus is again embroiled in conflict with people as he ministers, and conflict propels his ministry forward. The Johannine writer clues us into a number of religious, political, and social contexts that can illumine our understanding of this text.
1. First, John says the Feast was “already half over.” The feast in question is the Feast of Booths or Tabernacles. It was celebrated immediately after the autumn harvest. The celebration lasted for eight days and required that those Jews who could make the journey to Jerusalem to offer sacrifices. During this period, the people left their homes and lived in booths made from the branches of trees. This was to remember the wilderness wanderings after the exodus from Egypt when the people lived in booths. A regular practice of the festival was that of drawing water from the Pool of Siloam, and pouring it upon the altar until it overflowed. This had a twofold purpose. Looking back, it was to remind the people how God caused water to flow from the rock at Meribah in the wilderness; but looking ahead, it was to inspire the people to anticipate future blessings for Israel and for the world. This is appropriate with regard to Jesus because the Johannine writer wants us to understand that He is the salvation of the world.
2. Second, Jesus interacts with “the Jews,” a term that occurs at least seventy times within this gospel. John uses this word inconsistently to mean the general Judean populace, Jews with whom Jesus interacts, and religious authorities. However, when Jesus debates with “the Jews,” he does not include himself, John the Baptist, or his disciples in this designation. Therefore, it seems John is indicating “the Jews” are the religious authorities who are based in Jerusalem, run the temple, and benefit from the current religious and political structures. These religious elites are the Pharisees, Sadducees, Chief Priests. The Pharisees were concerned with upholding their version of the Law. Sadducees and Chief Priests were closely aligned with the Roman Empire and they managed the revenues that common Jews poured into Temple, particularly the Temple Tax which, in part, fueled the Roman Empire. Each of these groups is openly hostile to Jesus.
3. Third, as Jesus teaches, he both impresses and irritates the representatives of Jewish orthodoxy. How does he know so much without being formally trained? The main issue is where Jesus gets his authority to teach. Because the religious leaders do not like that Jesus is drawing large crowds, has a mastery of the Scriptures, and is publicly challenging their teaching, they question his credentials. The religious elites question where Jesus went to school, and whether his training stands up to their “ivy league” education.
16-19 Jesus said, “I didn’t make this up. What I teach comes from the One who sent Me. Anyone who wants to do His will can test this teaching and know whether it’s from God or whether I’m making it up. A person making things up tries to make himself look good. But someone trying to honor the one who sent him sticks to the facts and doesn’t tamper with reality. It was Moses, wasn’t it, who gave you God’s Law? But none of you are living it. So why are you trying to kill Me?”
Jesus responds to their question by pointing to the God who commissioned his ministry. He is not inventing this teaching, or trying to make himself look good by pontificating in front of the crowd (as the Pharisees tend to do.) Rather, he asserts that he has come from God, and his teaching honors God. Anyone listening who authentically wants to do the will of God, will recognize that Jesus speaks the truth. Essentially, those who listen are faced with wrestling with the reality of Jesus’ identity. At its core, this is a question of Christology: Is Jesus the Christ? John is setting the listener/reader up to make a choice. They must decide if Jesus is who he says he is. Jesus says has been sent by God, is commissioned by God, and seeks God’s glory. If this is the case, they must choose to believe Jesus is the Christ. Contemporary Christians are also called to make this choice. We must hear the teachings of Jesus, and make the determination for ourselves that Jesus is who he says he is. Finally, to cap of his comments, Jesus says Moses gave the people God’s law, and they do not even follow that Mosaic law code. So why are they trying to kill him over violating a law code they do not even keep?
20 The crowd said, “You’re crazy! Who’s trying to kill you? You’re demon-possessed.”
This one verse reveals how the Johannine writer is distinguishing between the different factions who are listening to Jesus. Here John employs the term crowd and not “the Jews.” This indicates there are different groups and agendas at work to resist Jesus. On one level, the crowd questions the truthfulness of Jesus' teaching and his authority to do so. When they call him demon-possessed, they are rejecting him and his teaching. The Gospel of John only uses the word demon when someone challenges Jesus’ teaching or behavior (John 8:48-49, 52; 10:20-21).
However, on another level, there are religious authorities who are seeking to kill Jesus. But the regular folk—the average “Joes” and “Janes”—are oblivious to their nefarious plans. The ruling religious elites do not want their political power threatened by Jesus’ resistance. They have been coopted by the Roman Empire to maintain the status quo. This is an important point for contemporary Christians to consider. We must always be discerning and mindful of the various political, social, economic, and religious agendas that are unfolding in our daily lives. We must vigorously guard against the lack of political and social awareness.
21-24 Jesus said, “I did one miraculous thing a few months ago, and you’re still standing around getting all upset, wondering what I’m up to. Moses prescribed circumcision—originally it came not from Moses but from his ancestors—and so you circumcise a man, dealing with one part of his body, even if it’s the Sabbath. You do this in order to preserve one item in the Law of Moses. So why are you upset with me because I made a man’s whole body well on the Sabbath? Don’t be hypercritical; use your head—and heart!—to discern what is right, to test what is authentically right.”
In the final verses of the lesson, Jesus reminds these people of how angry they became when he healed a paralytic on the Sabbath (John 5). Then he reminds them of their hypocrisy regarding Sabbath observance. The points that Jesus makes are significant. First, They preferred ritual over relationship. It’s not that the ritual has no place, but ritual must serve as evidence of our relationship with God, not a substitute of our relationship with God. Church attendance, Bible study, benevolence, and other discipleship acts should be an outgrowth of our relationship with God, not a substitute for a relationship with God.
Second, Jesus points out that they valued rules over righteousness. They used their rules and traditions to suit their own needs. Though no work was to be done on the Sabbath, if the day of circumcision happened to be a Sabbath, the circumcision was not withheld, but was carried out. And Jesus says in that case, they were breaking one law to adhere to another. Jesus healed on the Sabbath to accomplish redemption and shalom that the Sabbath Law sought to bring about.
Finally, Jesus challenges the crowd to judge his actions justly—to carefully examine what he does as opposed to hypocritically upholding the rules over concern for one who is suffering. For contemporary Christians, John 7 teaches us that our lives should not be about keeping the rules for the sake of rules. Our lives should first and foremost be about pleasing God. Only two rules are crucial for this—loving God completely and loving others selflessly.