[Table of Contents]
[Previous] [Next]
B. W. Johnson
The New Testament Commentary: Vol. III--John (1886)



      The discourse in the synagogue at Capernaum occurred, according to Andrews, in the spring of A. D. 29; the visit to Jerusalem at the feast of Tabernacles, took place in the early autumn of the same year. An interval of about six months lies between, concerning the history of which John is silent. In order that the reader may rightly locate the incidents of chapter VII., I will note the outlines of the Lord's ministry, as given by the other Evangelists, for this period. After the discourse at Capernaum, the Savior visited the coasts of Tyre and Sidon, the only time in his ministry when he passed beyond the boundaries of Israel to a Gentile country. Here he heals the daughter of the Syro-Phoenician woman, and returning to the region of Decapolis, heals one with an impediment in his speech, and afterwards feeds 4,000 persons. At Capernaum he comes in contact with the Pharisees; soon after crosses the sea, and at Bethsaida heals a blind man. From thence he goes, accompanied by his apostles, to the neighborhood of Cesarea Philippi, and there occurs the remarkable conversation in which Peter declares that "Jesus is the Christ the Son of the living God," and the Lord, after commending Peter and declaring that he shall be a stone or splinter of the Rock, affirms, "On this Rock," the great foundation truth Peter had uttered, "I will build my church, and the gates of the unseen world shall not prevail against it." They were then in the vicinity of "a high mountain apart," Mt. Hermon, the highest peak of Syria, and, ascending it, his heavenly glory broke through the bonds of humanity, and he was transfigured in the presence of his disciples. Following this remarkable event, henceforth teaching his approaching death at Jerusalem, after healing a lunatic child, paying the tribute money at Capernaum, and traversing Galilee, teaching his disciples, he sets out to Jerusalem to attend the feast of Tabernacles.

      Three times a year the whole adult population of Judea was required to assemble at Jerusalem to attend the great feasts. The finest seasons of the year, spring and autumn, were chosen for these gatherings of the people. Separated into the various tribes, these annual gatherings must have served to cement the bond of national unity and establish acquaintance and friendship. Another advantage was the opportunity of an interchange of sentiment on every subject of interest. Whatever was an engrossing topic was sure to be discussed in the great assemblages. Since the Savior had healed the paralytic at the pool of Bethesda, about eighteen months before, there is no account that he had visited Jerusalem, but the story of his wonderful teaching and works in Galilee was spread broadcast over the land, and at this gathering at the feast of Tabernacles the great question was whether he would come to the feast. Among the vast crowds a search was made to know whether he was not present, but when in the midst of the feast he suddenly appeared in the temple, not only the multitude, but the temple authorities, seem to have been startled. [116]

      The feast of Tabernacles was instituted to commemorate the time when the Israelites had dwelt in tents during their sojourn in the desert. To bring vividly to remembrance the forty years of tent life, the people were enjoined, during the seven days of the feast, to dwell in huts made of the branches of trees. The flat house-tops of the city were covered with these leafy bowers, which became the temporary home of the family; while the open places and surrounding hills were also occupied by the vast crowd of sojourners. The feast began on the fifteenth of the month of Tisri, which this year answered to October 11th, and continued eight days, seven of which were spent in the leafy huts. While it lasted the Jews gave themselves up to festivity and rejoicing. There is a proverb: "He who has not seen the rejoicing at the pouring out of the water of Siloam at the feast of Tabernacles has never seen rejoicing in his life." For the time, manner, and reason of this feast, see @Lev. chapter 23.

      It is a remarkable fact that after so long and systematic an absence from Jerusalem, as eighteen months prior to this feast, our Lord should attend every feast for the next six months, the last of his ministry, in their order.--Greswell.

      This feast was the last of the Jewish year, and in some respects it was its crown of glory. Its characteristic was joyousness--(1) For deliverance from Egypt; (2) For care in the wilderness--fit emblems these, in every Christian experience, for deliverance from the bitter bondage of sin, and for care in the heavenly ways.--Vincent.

      1. After these things. After the discourse in the synagogue at Capernaum. The report of "the Jews" to the authorities at Jerusalem had intensified the enmity that had been created when the man at the pool of Bethesda was healed, and the Savior refrained from rushing into danger until "his time" had nearly come. Six months passed, "after these things," before he went to the feast of Tabernacles, and during this time he traveled and taught in Galilee. The Jews sought to kill him. This illustrates the sense in which John uses the term "Jews." Christ's disciples and friends were all Jews by race, but when John wrote all disciples had merged their race distinctions into Christ and were Christians. "The Jews" were still a hostile people, and when the word is used without qualification it has this hostile sense.

      2. Now the Jews' feast of Tabernacles was at hand. It is spoken of as a feast that belonged to a stranger people. This feast stood pre-eminent among the Jewish festivals. Josephus says that it "was the holiest and greatest of their feasts." Occurring at the vintage season, after the crops were garnered, it was a season of thanksgiving. It fell from the 15th to the 22d days of the month Tisri, covering the last part of September and first of October, and was about six months after and before the passover. Its date, [117] therefore, shows us that six months of Christ's ministry had intervened between the discourse at Capernaum and this time. Matthew gives some the details of this interval in @chapters XII.-XVII., XXI.

      3. His brethren, therefore, said unto him. His brethren according to the flesh, whose names were James and Joses and Simon and Jude (@Matt. 13:55). For discussion of their relationship to him, see notes on John 2:12. The theory that they were his cousins, the sons of Alpheus and Mary, the sister of the mother of Christ, is disproved by this passage: "James, the son of Alpheus, and Jude the brother of James," were apostles and believers, but "these brethren" at this time were not believers and even seemed to be disposed to scoff. Depart hence and go into Judæa. A year had passed since the Savior had been at Jerusalem, and his brothers thought it inconsistent with his high claims that he should avoid the national center of religious culture and influence. That thy disciples also may see the works that thou doest. This language is partly ridicule and partly entreaty. His brothers were astonished and puzzled, but he was so different from their conception of the Christ that they refused to believe. They insist that he shall go to Judea and show what he can do.

      4. For no man doeth anything in secret. No prophet and inspired teacher. Such a teacher, they urge, seeks the multitudes and there, in the most public manner, exhibits his supernatural power. If thou do these things. If implies that they were doubters. The @next verse affirms that they were unbelievers. While the counsel of these brothers, from a worldly point of view, might seem wise, it is in another form the same counsel offered by the devil in the second temptation, and spurned by our Lord.

      5. For neither did his brethren believe in him. It shows the stress to which those who hold the tradition that the mother of our Lord always remained a virgin are put that they should insist on a theory that requires three out of four of these unbelievers to be apostles! A clear distinction is made here between "the brothers of him" (Greek) and his disciples. The distinction is still clearer in @Matt. 12:47. They afterwards became believers (@Acts 1:14).

      6. My time is not yet come. The time for the full manifestation of himself had not yet come. He had revealed himself gradually, step by step, until his apostles had recognized and declared him as the Christ, the Son of the living God (@John 6:69; Matt. 16:16). He had satisfied the woman of Sychar that he was the Christ, and had revealed himself in the synagogue at [118] Capernaum, as the Bread of life. Three of his apostles had been eye witnesses of his majesty on the Mount of Transfiguration, but the time for the grand final lesson of the cross, the tomb, the resurrection and the Ascension had not come. His presence in the church, in the hearts of believers, as a power has gone on increasingly ever since, but his full manifestation to the world does not take place until his second coming, when "every eye shall see him." His disciples had to be prepared for the manifestation of his divine Christhood to them; and the church and world has to be prepared for his coming. Your time is always ready. Those who have no set work are always ready, and the world is always ready for those who have no message to it. He who has a work must make ready for it. He who has a message for the world must educate it to receive his message.

      7. The world cannot hate you. In that case it would hate those who had its spirit and were of it. It will not hate itself. It only hates those who rebuke its sins and oppose its ways. Me it hateth because I testify . . . the works thereof are evil. It always hates those who expose and denounce its sins. Socrates had to drink hemlock because he rebuked the folly of the Athenians; Savonarola and Huss had to be burned because they exposed the corruptions of Rome; Isaiah, Jeremiah and John the Baptist all suffered because they denounced sin in high places; and when Jesus came exposing the corruptions of the priests, the hypocrisy of the Pharisees, the worldliness and debauchery of the Sadducees and Herodians, it was inevitable that he should be hated, persecuted and hunted to death. Still the world hates him. The hate of such men as Voltaire, Tom Paine and Ingersoll, and of their disciples, is due to the fact that Christ and his kingdom are a rebuke to, and condemnation of their lives.

      8, 9. Go ye . . . I go not up yet to this feast. A more literal translation is: "I am not now going to this feast." He does not use the future but the present tense. We cannot be certain whether he had yet determined to go at all. It would have defeated his purpose to have gone with those who were determined that he should make an exhibition of himself. Hence, after the departure of his brethren and the great caravan of Galilean pilgrims, he yet remained in Galilee.

      10. Then went he up also to the feast, not openly. After the departure of the multitude of Galileans he followed after, no doubt accompanied by his apostles, though we have no account of the journey, unless it be referred to in @Luke 9:51, 52. The journey was made quietly, not clandestinely, but [119] unostentatiously and in such a way as not to attract observation. As Meyer says: "Not in company of a caravan of pilgrims, or in any other way of outward observation, but so that the journey to the feast is represented as made in secrecy, and consequently quite differently from his last entry at the feast at the passover." He seems not to have reached Jerusalem until after the feast was in progress.

      11. Then the Jews sought him at the feast. His fame had become so great that his appearance at this feast was looked forward to with expectation, and the Jews were on the watch for him in order to observe his conduct and hear his words. These Jews probably sought him among the crowds who came from Galilee. They ask, as they seek: "Where is he?" or rather, "that man." Only one man could be meant, for all the land was busy with talk of the great Galilean teacher. The question was probably about half curiosity and half ill will.

      12. There was much murmuring among the people. Muttering and secret discussion. By the people are meant the multitudes. They must be kept in the mind as distinct from "the Jews." This chapter brings out a vivid picture of Jewish life and of the various elements that composed the nation. We have "the disciples" or personal followers and believers in Christ; "his brethren," who were brothers according to the flesh but were yet unbelievers; "the Jews," officials, or those under official influence, and arrayed in opposition to Christ; "the people," the vast body of the nation who were fined with marvel, were not yet convinced, but were discussing the claims of Jesus; "the Pharisees" (@verse 32) here named by John for the first time as opposed to the Lord; "the chief priests," the Sadducean hierarchy who hated him, not for religious reasons like the Pharisees, but because they were sensual, time-serving materiaIists; "the Pharisees and chief priests" (@verses 32 and 45), evidently the Sanhedrim; "Nicodemus" (@verse 50), a member of the Sanhedrim, but inclined favorably to Christ. The contact with all of these is personal and direct. He deceiveth the people. While some insisted that he was a good man, others urged that he was leading the people astray.

      13. No man spake openly. These discussions were private rather than public. The people all felt that "the Jews," the ruling powers, were intensely opposed to Christ, and they feared that open discussion would bring down evil upon themselves. Those who held both opinions "mistrusted the hierarchy; even those of hostile opinions were afraid, so long as the Sanhedrim had not given its official decision, that their verdict might be reversed. A true indication of an utterly Jesuitical domination of the people."--Meyer. [120]


      14. About the midst of the feast. About the middle. It lasted, altogether, eight days. This indicates the time, probably, when Jesus reached Jerusalem. Bengel calculates that on this year the middle of the feast would come on the Sabbath day; the temple would, therefore, be unusually crowded, and the day itself would suggest the remarks about the Sabbath which are found in @verses 22, 23. Went up into the temple and taught. He had come secretly and had refused to make a show of himself, but he did not hesitate to proclaim his doctrine in the most public manner. He seems to flash upon the Jewish multitude on this occasion with the suddenness of the lightning flash. How he came to Jerusalem, whether he dwelt in a leafy booth as others, whether his voice was heard in the Hallel, we are not told. All we know is that suddenly he presents himself in the temple, the very stronghold of his enemies.

      Eighteen months had passed since he was last in Jerusalem. Then, although the miracle at Bethesda had aroused a controversy and had called for teaching, he had not presented himself as the public teacher of Israel. Now, however, throwing off all concealment, and apparently passing from extreme caution to the very verge of daring, he plants himself in the temple and addresses the multitude in a capacity that was assumed only by the oldest and most renowned Rabbis of Israel. Olshausen, following Tholuck, thinks that the Savior on the Sabbath day, did not merely teach in the open court, but delivered a formal discourse in the synagogue which was situated in the court of the women. As the Lord appears suddenly in the temple, on this great festal occasion, as a public teacher, we are reminded of @Malachi 3:1.

      15. How knoweth this man letters? Jesus had never studied in the great Jewish schools of theology. In the preceding generation Hillel had presided over the school or university in which all who became doctors of the law were expected to take their course. At this time Gamaliel, a disciple of Hillel, had succeeded him in the supervision of this renowned school. Here "letters," the written law, and the unwritten interpretations and traditions, were made the subjects of study. No person was expected to become a rabbin, a public teacher of the synagogue or temple, until he had passed regularly through such a course. Yet Jesus, who had never learned of any of the doctors, never attended any of the rabbinical schools, now stood forth publicly in the temple as a teacher of religion. The Jews "marvelled" at this, but their question implies more. They question the right of one who had not a Doctor's diploma to appear thus as a public teacher.

      16. My doctrine is not mine. These words are an answer to the question of the Jews. The Rabbis were wont to proclaim of whom they "received" [121] their teaching. Jesus declares that his is not human learning, was not learned in any of the schools of men, but came from God.

      17. If any man will do his will he shall know the doctrine. Literally, "If any man wills to do his will," etc. A willing obedience to the will of God is essential to knowledge where Christ is a divine teacher. This does not promise that he who seeks to obey the will of God shall be able to solve every difficulty of theology, but it does promise that he will be able to know whether Christ taught divine truth and is therefore the Savior of mankind. In other words, the purpose to do God's will so clears the spiritual insight that the soul will be able to recognize the nature and mission of Christ. If this be true, unbelief originates in an indisposition to do the will of God. The honest soul, eager to do God's will, will recognize Christ as a divine teacher. I believe that the experience of humanity confirms this declaration. I have never heard of one who devoutly sought to know and do the will of God who remained in unbelief. As far as my observation has gone skeptics have been more anxious to follow their own will than the will of God. The antidote to unbelief is for the heart to say, not my will but thine be done. Indeed, the conscience is not right before God until there is a determination to do his will. Until that point is reached there is not "the good and honest heart" in which the seed of the word can germinate. In these words the Savior points out to the Jews the spiritual difficulty in the way of their understanding his claims. They were not willing, in spite of all their religious pretensions, to do the will of God.

      18. He that speaketh of himself seeketh his own glory. The true teacher of men does not preach himself. Christ came to speak of and exalt the Father. The true preacher hides his own personality behind Christ. The general truth is stated. Whenever a preacher is met who keeps himself prominently before his hearers he is not a true man; but when one forgets himself in the message of his Lord "the same is true." Egotism and the spirit of Christ are not in concord.

      19. Did not Moses give you the law? I take it that this remark is designed to convict the Jews of not "willing to do the will of God." The law of Moses was recognized by them as the will of God, yet they violated it. It commanded, "Thou shalt not kill," yet at that very time "the Jews" were plotting his death. [122]

      20. The people answered. This answer is not given by "the Jews," of whom the Savior's words were just spoken (see @verse 15), but by "the people," the great multitude of the nation who were yet undecided. There were people standing there, "people of Jerusalem" (@verse 25), who knew of the plot to assassinate him, but the great body of the people were probably ignorant of it and, therefore, spoke honestly. It seemed to them so abhorrent that there should be a purpose to murder him that they think that the error must have been impressed on his mind by demoniacal influence. They mean nearly what we would say if we were to say of one that he is under a delusion, or is "mad." Hast a devil. See note on Demons at the end of this chapter.

      21. I have done one work, and ye all marvel. Dropping the matter of their purpose to kill him, which time would reveal, the Lord cites them to the marvellous work, which had aroused the first purpose of "the Jews" to slay him. That work had taken place eighteen months before, on the occasion of his last visit to Jerusalem (see John Chap. V.). It had been performed on the Sabbath day, which had, probably, caused them to marvel more, than that a man bound for thirty-eight years should be made whole.

      22. Moses gave you circumcision. The rite of circumcision, given at first to Abraham, and therefore, "of the fathers," was a part of the Mosaic law. The child was to be circumcised on the eighth day and if this came on the Sabbath, the day was disregarded and the rite performed in order "that the law of Moses might not be broken."

      23. Are ye angry at me? The Rabbis said, "Circumcision drives away the Sabbath." It was, they held, "of the fathers," a patriarchal institution, and therefore, of older date than the Sabbath, which was of Moses; therefore, the Sabbath gave way before the duty of attending to circumcision on the eighth day. The law of mercy was older than either circumcision or the Sabbath; the Jews were, therefore, inconsistent in their indignation against him because he had performed an act of mercy, "made a man every whit whole, on the Sabbath day." Mercy was God's eternal law.

      24. Judge with righteous judgment. They judged by "appearances" when they condemned Christ for healing on the Sabbath, and forgot the eternal principles of righteousness. Sometimes one law is broken in order to obey [123] a higher law. They should always ask whether this was the case before they condemned, and then "judge with righteous judgment."

      25, 26. Then said some of them of Jerusalem. There were hundreds of thousands of strangers in the city who would know little of the purposes of "the Jews," but these residents of the city would be more likely to know. They therefore express surprise that he "whom they sought to kill" is speaking boldly. Do the rulers know indeed that this is the very Christ? They are bewildered. They do not either condemn or approve the purpose of the rulers, but they cannot understand why it is not carried out. Is it possible that the rulers have found out that this is the Christ? Does that explain their neglect to carry out their purpose?

      27. When Christ cometh, no man knoweth whence he is. There was an expectation, probably due to @Dan. 7:13, that the Messiah would suddenly appear in Jerusalem without any one knowing whence he came. These men, therefore, reason that this cannot be the Christ because they knew from whence he was. They knew that he came from Galilee and probably that his early home was at Nazareth, but were ignorant of the fact that Bethlehem was his birthplace. Nor did they know of his heavenly origin, so that it was literally true that the Christ was before them and no man knew whence he came. It might be well to add that the Jewish tradition held that Bethlehem would be the Messiah's birthplace, but he would be caught away by spirits and tempests and lie hidden until he should miraculously appear to enter upon his mission.

      28. Ye both know me and know whence I am. These words are directly suggested by their argument against his being the Christ. There is a certain irony in the answer, as though he should say: "You profess to know all about me, whence I came; yet if this were true you would believe, for I came not of myself, but was sent by one who is true; you do not even know who sent me." Whom ye know not. They knew not God. Had they known him, recognized his true character, they would have known Immanuel.

      29. I know him. His knowledge was not that of hearsay, but of experience, for he came from God. [124]

      30. Then they sought to take him. The charge that they were without the knowledge of God so angered them that they sought to lay hands on him. "They of Jerusalem" are referred to. It was the attempt of a mob. Because his hour was not yet come. They were in some way restrained, perhaps by awe, and no man could yet do him violence, for the set time had not come.

      31. And many of the people believed on him. Not "the Jews," or "they of Jerusalem," but the multitude. They were convinced that he was a teacher from God and were ready to follow him, though as yet not certain that he was the Christ. Hence they asked, "When Christ comes will he do more miracles than this man does?" It must be remembered that Jesus did not proclaim himself to be the Christ. He demonstrated it by his works. His apostles already knew who he was; the multitude had not yet learned.

      32. The Pharisees heard that the people. These active and watchful adversaries discovered that the people were being convinced and thought it time to act. The most powerful and most religious of the Jewish sects, they were the bitterest enemies of Christ. Great sticklers for ceremonials, worshiping the letter of the law while careless of its spirit, intensely Jewish and Mosaic, they were early alarmed by the teaching of Christ (@John 4:1), though this is the first place where we have the positive declaration of the enmity of the sect in the headquarters of ritualism. The Pharisees and chief priests. This phrase describes the Sanhedrim, composed of the chief priests who were Sadducees, and the leaders of the Pharisees. It is apparent that the Sanhedrim was quickly called together, it was announced that Jesus was in Jerusalem and teaching in the temple, also that the people were moved by his doctrine and ready to acknowledge him; it was therefore determined to send at once "the officers," temple guards always on service within the sacred precincts and composed of Levites, to arrest him.

      33, 34. Then Jesus said unto them. Now he gives another part of his discourse. His first words show that he is aware of the beginning of the end. He will not be arrested now for "yet a little while I am with you," but the triumph of his enemies will come shortly, for "I go to him who sent me," "and ye shall seek me and not find me." This is very plain to us in the light of [125] subsequent history, but it is not strange that his hearers on the other side of the cross, did not understand.

      35, 36. Then said the Jews. They could not comprehend. Did he mean that he was going also to the Jews dispersed among the Gentiles? Would he teach them and the Gentiles, as well as the Jews of Judea and the Galileans? Their perplexity was genuine, but as the Jews of Jerusalem looked with scorn on those dispersed abroad, the insinuation is designed for a taunt. The question indicates the scorn in which "the Jews" held all whose religious privileges were less than their own. There was only a less degree of contempt for foreign Jews and Galileans than for Gentiles. In @verse 52 the contempt of Galilee is indicated in the rebuke of Nicodemus. This contempt did not arise so much from pride of blood, as from pride of superior sanctity and religious learning. Jerusalem was then the great center of Rabbinical learning, while the outlying districts were regarded unlettered and scorned as the homes of ignorance. "If any one wishes to be rich, let him go north; if he wishes to be wise, let him come south," was a saying of the Rabbins. When Nathanael asked, "Can anything good come out of Nazareth?" he only spoke in the spirit of the times. Puffed up with the pride of Rabbinical learning, "the Jews" exhibited an offensive contempt for all who could not be measured by their standard.


      37. On the last day, that great day of the feast. Whether the great day, so emphatically mentioned, was the seventh, or the eighth day, is a point that has been much discussed and which cannot be certainly settled. There were seven active days of the feast and the eighth was a day of holy rest. It is probable that he to whom all the feasts of Israel pointed, chose this eighth day, the last day, for the proclamation of himself as the hope and joy of Israel. Seven days in tents commemorated the sojourn in the desert, but the eighth day, it is supposed, was devoted more especially to rejoicing and thanksgiving for the blessings of the year. It was a kind of "harvest home." If any man thirst, let him come unto me and drink. Every morning whilst the Israelites were gathered in the temple courts, one of the priests brought water drawn in a golden urn from the pool of Siloam, and amid the sounding of trumpets and other demonstrations of joy, [126] poured the water upon the altar. This rite is not mentioned in the Old Testament; but, as a commemoration of the miraculous supply of water from the rock of Horeb in the wilderness, it was in harmony with the spirit of the festival. The chanting of the great Hallel (@Ps. 113-118) celebrated the past, but the Talmud declares that the Jews connected with this ceremony the words of @Isaiah 12:3: "Therefore with joy shall ye draw water out of the wells of salvation," and saw in it a type of the effusion of the Holy Spirit. It is held that it is with reference to this pouring out of water, the Savior cried, "If any man thirst, let him come to me and drink." Alford holds that for seven days the water was poured every morning, but that on the eighth there was a blank, and that then he invited them to the living water which would really quench the thirst of the soul and not leave them unsatisfied.

      38. He that believeth on me, as the Scripture hath said. Notice that "believing" corresponds to "coming" in the @preceding verse, showing that faith is the means that brings us to Christ. The reference is not to any single passage, but to the spirit of the Scripture, notably such passages as @Isaiah 55:1; 58:11; Ps. 36:8, 9. Out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water. Below the spot on which Jesus stood while speaking in the temple courts, was a vast reservoir of water. It is probably to this subterranean supply Joel referred when he spoke of a fountain that "shall come forth from the house of the Lord," and to which Zechariah alluded when he said that "in that day living waters shall go out of Jerusalem." Christ now shows that the living waters shall go forth because every one who drinks shall himself become a fountain. It will be observed that the promise takes a wider sweep. He who drinks shall not only never thirst but becomes himself a running fountain, an unfailing supply of the waters of life. Meyer says: "The mutual and inspired intercourse of Christians from Pentecost downward, the speaking in psalms, and hymns, and spiritual songs, the mutual edification of Christian assemblies by means of inspired gifts, even to the speaking of tongues, the entire work of the apostles, and the early evangelists, furnish an abundant commentary on this text." Christ is the living water; he who believes upon Christ has Christ formed within him, and hence must become a fountain to dispense the living water wherever he goes.

      39. This spake he of the Spirit, which they that believe on him should receive. This declaration of John makes the @second chapter of Acts the best commentary on the @preceding verse. Luther says: "So St. Peter, by one sermon on the day of Pentecost, as by a rushing of water, delivered three thousand men from the devil's kingdom, washing them in an hour from sin, death and Satan." Because Jesus was not yet glorified. Let it be noted, 1. That the Holy Spirit was not given until after the death and ascension of Jesus. 2. The disciples of Christ did not become "fountains of living water" until the Holy Spirit was sent. This marks [127] Pentecost as the beginning of the preaching of the gospel authoritatively by his disciples. The sermon of Peter was the first sermon under the great Commission, the first declaration of the conditions of the gospel, the first preaching by men as "the Holy Spirit gave them utterance." It was only after Jesus was glorified that he could send the Holy Spirit, and on Pentecost it was declared, "He hath shed forth the things which you do see and hear."

      40. Of a truth this is the Prophet. There were conflicting views among those who listened to him. Some of these impressions are now given. Some said he was "the Prophet," spoken of in @Deut. 18:15, and referred to in @John 1:15. All agreed that a prophet was to come at the Messianic period, but some held that he was to be the Messiah himself, and others that he was to be the forerunner. Hence the deputation of the Sanhedrim put three questions to John: "Art thou Elias? Art thou that prophet? Art thou the Christ?"

      41. Others said, This is the Christ. Others asserted that he was the Christ. The opponents denied this and based their opposition, not upon his character, or his teaching, but upon the fact that he came from Galilee. Jesus, reared at Nazareth, coming to Jerusalem from Galilee, was supposed by the Jews to have been born there, and they were well aware of the fact that Christ was to be born at Bethlehem.

      42. Christ cometh of the seed of David, and from Bethlehem. Even the Talmud explains @Micah 5:2, as declaring that Bethlehem should be Christ's birthplace. The wise men who came to Jerusalem seeking the young Babe heard the same thing from the priests. Nor was anything more clearly predicted than that he should be of the seed of David. See on this @Isaiah 11:1; Jer. 23:5; Ps. 89:36.

      43. So there was a division among the people. The Greek word for division is schism, or implies a violent split. They were rent into two parties and there was fierce contention.

      44. Some of them would have taken him. In the heat and bitter animosity of the dispute some were eager to lay violent hands on him. For a year and a half the Jewish leaders had been looking for a pretext to seize him, and when he appeared at this feast they sought to carry out their purposes. Though officers were sent to apprehend him, and a mob was ready to seize him, yet "no man laid hands on him," "for his hour was not yet come." [128]

      45. Then came the officers to the chief priests and Pharisees. These were the temple police, Levites under the direction of the chief priests. In @verse 32 we are told that the chief priests, instigated by the Pharisees, had sent the officers to arrest him. This was the act of the Sanhedrim, and was the first official attempt to arrest him, the beginning of the course that resulted, six months later, in the final arrest, trial and crucifixion. These officers returned without the expected prisoner, and the reason was demanded by the Sanhedrim which was in session, apparently waiting for their return.

      46. Never man spake like this man. The only answer the officers could make to the demand why they had not carried out orders was, "Man never spake like this man." The multitude had not overawed them, but the words of Christ. There is no stronger testimony to the moral power of the presence of Christ than this confession of the rough temple police. "To listen to him was not only to be disarmed in every attempt against him, but it was even to be half converted from bitter enemies to awe-struck disciples."

      47, 48. Then answered the Pharisees. . . . . Have any of the rulers, etc.? The Pharisees, always the bitterest foes of Christ, charge the officers in language of scorn. Have any of the rulers believed? By rulers are meant the Sanhedrim. In the matter of deciding on the claims of the Messiah they hold that the judgment of the "rulers" must be decisive. They were not probably aware that Nicodemus was really in secret a believer, and that another "senator," Joseph, would reveal himself at the proper time. At this time the Pharisees controlled the Sanhedrim.

      49. This people . . . are accursed. Their argument was, "Not the Sanhedrim, not the powerful and religious Pharisees, but the rabble are the believers upon him. They are utterly ignorant of the law and are accursed. On account of their ignorance they are easily led astray."

      50. Nicodemus said. It was a "ruler" who now spoke. The impression made on Nicodemus in that night interview, long before, had been permanent.

      51. Doth our law judge any man before it hear him? There is a keen sarcasm in this question. Of course it did not, yet they who boasted of their knowledge of the [129] law, were breaking it in their blind rage. The answer of the Pharisees shows that the question of Nicodemus cut to the quick. Instead of a direct answer they reply with a sneer.

      52. Art thou also of Galilee? Are you a follower of the Galilean? Then they assert, "Out of Galilee hath arisen no prophet;" a false statement. Jonah was of Galilee (@2 Kings 14:25); Elijah probably so (@1 Kings 17:1), and Nahum, also (@Nahum 1:1). In their scorn of Galilee they held it impossible that a man of God could come out of that province. With such recrimination the session of the Sanhedrim broke up.


      1. If any man thirst. In those hot and arid regions there is no fiercer want than thirst and no greater blessing than the cool draught of water. The Savior knew that there was a thirst no earthly fountain could satisfy, a deep inward thirst that dries up the spirit. Such he bids to come and drink.

      2. A condition of coming to the living fountain is thirst. "Ho, everyone that thirsteth, come ye to the waters." "If any thirst, let him come." "Come ye that are weary and heavy laden." There must be a felt need of Christ, before anyone can come to him. If the world satisfies the soul it has no room for Christ.

      3. Those who drink must become flowing fountains. Moses struck the rock of Horeb and it flowed in a living stream. Christ strikes our barren hearts and lives and they flow forth in his love, a stream of life to others. Those who have eternal life must lead others to eternal life.

      4. There is no ignorance so deep as the ignorance that will not know; no blindness so incurable as the blindness that will not see. And the dogmatism of a narrow and stolid prejudice which believes itself to be theological learning is, of all others, the most ignorant and blind. Such was the spirit in which, ignoring the mild justice of Nicodemus, and the marvellous impression made by Jesus on their own officers, the majority of the Sanhedrim broke up, and went each to his own home.--Farrar.

      5. When the Interpreter had done, he takes them out into his garden again, and led them to a tree whose inside was all rotten and gone; and yet it grew and had leaves. Then said Mercy, "What means this?"--"This tree," said he, "whose outside is fair, and whose inside is rotten, is it to which many may be compared that are in the garden of God; who with their mouths speak high in behalf of God, but in deed will do nothing for him; whose leaves are fair, but their heart good for nothing but to be tinder for the devil's tinder-box."--Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress. [130]


      While John does not give a single account of the casting out of devils, or demons more correctly, he refers in no less than four places to demoniac possession. In @chapter 7:20, the multitude exclaim, "Thou hast a devil (demon): who goeth about to kill thee?" In @8:48, his enemies insult him by declaring: "Thou art a Samaritan and hast a devil." In @8:52, they exclaim: "Now we know thou hast a devil," and in @10:20, they say, "He hath a devil and is mad." In all these places the Greek term is demon (daimonion), not devil (diabolos). It is the same term that is constantly used by the other Evangelists when they speak of demoniac possession. The subject is one that requires, to a correct understanding, more than a brief note, and I will add the substance, condensed, of what has been said by Trench (Miracles), Alford and Smith (Dictionary of the Bible) upon the subject. There has been presented no less than three theories of demoniacal possession: 1. Strauss and his school hold that there was nothing of the kind and that all language that seems to imply it is to be spiritualized. The possession of devils is only a lively symbol of the prevalence and power of evil in the world, and the casting out of devils is a corresponding symbol of our Lord's conquest of evil by his spiritual power. This theory is a part of that mythical explanation of everything miraculous in the life of Christ of which Strauss is the expounder. It is a sufficient answer to say that it is utterly inconsistent with the plain, matter of fact narratives of the New Testament. 2. The second theory holds that our Lord found a general belief in demoniacal agency, which attributed to demons various diseases, including some forms of lunacy, and epilepsy, that he did not combat this belief, but healed the diseases by miraculous power, and that there is really no such thing as demoniacal possession. The principal argument advanced is that we are not able to discover demoniac possession now, and hence, we ought to conclude there never was anything of the kind. To this view I will let Alford answer: (1) The Gospel narratives are distinctly pledged to the historic truth of these occurrences. Either they are true, or the Gospels are false. The accounts are too explicit, the details are given too fully, and the recognition of the demons by the Savior is too clear to admit of doubt. (2) Not only are the "demons," "evil spirits," "unclean spirits" recognized by the writers of the Gospels, but by the Savior himself. He speaks of them, to them, and commands them. His recognition is such that he has given testimony to their reality. If they are unreal he did that which is wholly at variance with the Christian idea of truthfulness. (3) The possession by demons was more than bodily disease. It is distinguished from sickness, lunacy and palsy by all being mentioned together (@Matt. 4:24). It is shown not to be epilepsy by the spirits recognizing Jesus as the Son of God, pleading with him not to torment them before their time, speaking of their number, and passing from men into a herd of swine. It is shown to be a demoniac power by emphasis of the need of great spiritual power to control it (@Matt. 9:29). (4) As to the statement that there is no such thing now that cannot be proved. One of the miraculous gifts was "discerning of spirits," and it is possible if this gift was restored we would be able to explain many a mysterious case by reference to this cause. It is [131] known that insanity often cannot be traced to any physical cause and there are cases that can be explained most easily by reference to such a possession. We often, too, meet with cases where there seems, as in the possessed of the New Testament, to be a kind of a double will power, a feeble struggling against some force that sustains the man and leads him to a life that his other nature abhors. Perhaps, too, there may sometimes be something in the claims of writing and trance mediums, who insist that they are controlled by spirits. There are millions who believe in spiritualism, and it may not be entirely delusion. If there is any basis for their belief the whole system is ancient demonology in our age. Still it is not strange if demons should have less power now than 1800 years ago. Then was the "hour and power of darkness." The leaven of Christianity has been infusing itself through the world and has, no doubt, immensely limited the power of Satan.

      3. What is this possession? The demons are described as "evil spirits," "unclean spirits," "the powers of the air," etc. Satan, the same as Beelzebub, is spoken of as the "prince of demons." He, a fallen angel, drew after him "angels that kept not their first estate" and is the spiritual chief of a realm of wicked spirits. These, doing his bidding, when they find a human heart prepared for their reception, enter in, take possession, sway the will and control the actions of the unfortunate being. The possession sometimes manifests itself in physical, and sometimes also in mental infirmities, nor can we reject the existence of demons unless we deny the existence of the world of spirits altogether.

[NTC3 116-132]

[Table of Contents]
[Previous] [Next]
B. W. Johnson
The New Testament Commentary: Vol. III--John (1886)

Send Addenda, Corrigenda, and Sententiae to the editor

This document (last modifiedOctober 05, 1998) from Believerscafe.com
Home | Bible versions | Bible Dictionary | Christian Classics | Christian Articles | Daily Devotions

Sister Projects: Wikichristian | WikiMD

BelieversCafe is a large collection of christian articles with over 40,000 pages

Our sponsors:   sleep and weight loss center W8MD sleep and weight loss center