Who IS This Guy?
Please read John 7:25-36 in your Bible. I used the NLT toc prepare these remarks.
In 1971 Stanford University professor Dr. Phillip G. Zambardo organized an experiment in role-playing where a group of 24 young men, selected out of a group of 75 applicants, were sent to “prison.” The participants were randomly assigned a role of either “guard” or “prisoner.” For a couple of weeks, they tried to recreate life in an actual prison.
The aim of the Stanford Prison Experiment was to study how behavior was determined by roles. To their surprise, they found that even though they knew it was not real, the “guards” acted abusively toward the “prisoners.” In fact, the situation became so bad they had to end the experiment prematurely.
This is how Dr. Zambardo summed up the experiment on the website devoted to this experiment: “WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOU PUT GOOD PEOPLE IN AN EVIL PLACE? DOES HUMANITY WIN OVER EVIL, OR DOES EVIL TRIUMPH? THESE ARE SOME OF THE QUESTIONS WE POSED IN THIS DRAMATIC SIMULATION OF PRISON LIFE CONDUCTED IN 1971 AT STANFORD UNIVERSITY. How we went about testing these questions and what we found may astound you. Our planned two-week investigation into the psychology of prison life had to be ended after only six days because of what the situation was doing to the college students who participated. In only a few days, our guards became sadistic and our prisoners became depressed and showed signs of extreme stress.”
This experiment has been the subject of a great deal of discussion since it was conducted fifty years ago. For our purposes, it illustrates a fundamental flaw in human nature: we are determined to be divided from one another. We have an instinct for defining ourselves as being different from others. It is this sinful and selfish attitude that lies at the heart of the divisions we’re experiencing right now in politics, culture, and religion.
CONTEXT = John 7 is all about the divided opinions people had about Jesus. Some held their opinions so dear they were willing to kill over them. Jesus did not create these divisions; He faithfully told the truth and the people picked sides in their reactions to the truth.
Popular opinion was divided on Jesus; it still is.
1. Opinions against Jesus as the Messiah: “The Messiah will come out of nowhere.” (25-30)
There was some confusion about the “official position” on Jesus. (25-26) The text specifically identifies the “anti-Jesus” people as residents of Jerusalem. (25) This distinguishes them from the JEWISH LEADERS (Pharisees, Sadducees, scribes, teachers of the Law, etc.) and from the pilgrims who were in town for the FESTIVAL (31).
These Jerusalemites were aware of the religious leaders’ desire to kill Jesus. The fact they hadn’t even arrested Him yet caused them to wonder if they’d changed their minds. (26)
Even though they’d had the Scriptures for centuries, they still misunderstood the Messiah. (27) They believed the Messiah would suddenly appear on the scene. Since they knew Jesus was from Nazareth in Galilee, they thought this was convincing evidence against Jesus being the Messiah.
Where did they get this notion? It was based, in part, on a misinterpretation of Malachi 3:1, which predicted the LORD would SUDDENLY appear in His temple. But they also knew the Old Testament predicted the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem (Matthew 2:5), so this attitude makes no sense at all.
Somehow Jesus knew about the discussion they were having and answered this objection as He taught in the temple. (28-29) HE CALLED OUT = Jesus completely cast aside the cloak of secrecy and drew attention to His teaching.
Jesus acknowledged they knew Him and where He was from, but He said they knew neither Him nor the Father. In this instance, He was using irony: “You think you know all about me, but you don’t. You think I came from Nazareth, but I came from heaven.”
What was important was not where He came from, but who sent Him - God the Father. The residents of Jerusalem did not know God and that’s why they were casting doubts on Jesus being the Messiah.
God’s mercy is implied in v. 29 = God sent His Son to the Jews first. Though He knew they reject His Son, God sent Jesus to them anyway. The word translated as SENT in v. 28 is different from the one used in v. 29. In v. 29 the word apostello means “sent with full authority.” In this sense, Jesus is the Father’s ambassador to a world that is like a hostile foreign nation.
The LEADERS made their position clear by trying to ARREST Jesus, but God kept them from succeeding. (30) You can understand how the religious leaders took offense at Jesus’ saying they didn’t know God. In their pride, they believed they had God entirely figured out. Their response was to arrest Jesus and then carry out their plan to kill Him.
However, as Jesus observed in 7:6+8, this was not the right TIME for Him to be killed. For that reason, God allowed NO ONE to lay a hand on Jesus.
2. Opinions in favor of Jesus as the Messiah: “He has done a lot of miraculous signs.” (31-36)
Some of the people understood Jesus’ miracles to be evidence of His identity. (31) These people are identified as MANY AMONG THE CROWDS, not as residents of Jerusalem. They knew the Scriptures predicted the Messiah would do miracles to prove His divine identity. In John’s gospel, it is considered better to believe on the basis of the miracles than to fail to believe at all (10:37-38; 20:29). Based on this verse we can say they believed Jesus was the Messiah. Since expectations for the Messiah differed so much, it’s impossible to say precisely what that meant.
News of this discussion prompted the LEADING PRIESTS to make an arrest attempt, but Jesus’ response confounded them. (32-36) As we saw in v. 13, people were afraid of the wrath of the LEADERS and that’s why they only dared to whisper what they thought about Jesus. (32)
In spite of their caution, these whispers were heard and they alarmed the PHARISEES and the LEADING PRIESTS so much they made their own attempt to silence Jesus by arresting Him. (32) Historically, the Pharisees and the leading priests did not get along well. Their hatred of Jesus was so deep, they set aside their rivalry to cooperate on His arrest.
Jesus did not try to escape the TEMPLE GUARDS but told them something that both thwarted His arrest and befuddled the JEWISH LEADERS. (33-34) He told them He would soon return to the ONE who had sent Him. When that happened, they would search for Him but be unable to find Him. This would be true because Jesus would return to heaven, to the presence of God the Father.
With the benefit of historical hindsight, we know Jesus here referred to His return to heaven (His Ascension) with a figure of speech. The JEWISH LEADERS, however, took Him literally and speculated among themselves where in the world Jesus might go where they could not find Him. (35-36) They asked, “IS HE LEAVING THE COUNTRY AND GOING TO THE JEWS IN OTHER LANDS?” The Jews who settled in places other than Judea were called the “Diaspora.” Over several centuries, business and politics scattered them across the Roman empire. To live someplace other than Judea would’ve been a bad thing in the eyes of the residents of Jerusalem and the religious leaders: these Jerusalemites could be a pretty smug bunch. With their fellow Jews living all across the Roman Empire, they just couldn’t imagine a place where Jesus could go where they couldn’t find Him. To further blackguard Jesus, they speculated He’d do something really despicable like teaching Gentiles.
Popular opinion was divided on Jesus; it still is.
One measure of a person’s spiritual maturity is the ratio of how much time and energy you devote to defining who you are NOT versus who you ARE. And how readily you become angry with people who are not like you.
For instance, if a stranger came up to you and with some anger in his voice said, “I’m not a Democrat!” what have you learned about him? Nothing positive. All the information he provided in that terse statement is negative. Anything else is guesswork or argument from silence.
It is easier but immature to define your personality by what you are not, what you are against. That is an angry, adversarial way. A person defined by what they are not is a bully, always spoiling for a fight.
As always, Jesus is our example of spiritual maturity. We want to aspire to be like Him. Observing how Jesus handled these differences of opinion both over Him and with Him gives us direction in how we can be more mature. That is a key learning that makes John 7 more important than I had ever considered it before.
Jesus’ reaction to all this was to be positive and devoted to the truth. He didn’t allow Himself to be drawn into quarrels, He didn’t give in to pettiness or anger. He understood Himself to be God’s Son. He was on a mission and had a message which did not allow Him to be sidetracked over lesser matters.
With that example before us, let me suggest to you the most Christian response to the culture wars is to not join in the battle. Choose to not identify with either side, but instead unfailingly choose to identify with Jesus. Become a maturing person who identifies positively as a follower of Jesus and is unflinchingly devoted to the truth. Everyone who agrees to that truth is a welcome partner in discussing the issues of the day. In every other case, we remain at a respectful distance and refuse to engage.
Part of the peace Jesus experienced and the peace He offers us comes from not being everybody’s adversary. How did Jesus endure the beatings, the insults, the vicious death of the cross? He stayed on the message and focused on the mission which required loving even the people who divided themselves from Him. You and I must do the same.
One-Volume Illustrated Edition, Zondervan Bible Commentary, John, David J. Ellis.
The Bible Knowledge Key Word Study, The Gospels, John, W. Hall Harris.
One Perfect Life, John MacArthur.
The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Vol. 9, John, Merrill C. Tenney.