Jesus had been teaching, healing and performing miracles in Galilee and now He was returning to Jerusalem. He went for one of the feasts, probably one of the three that devout Jews went to Jerusalem to celebrate. Passover is usually called by name so this was either the feast of tabernacles or the feast of Pentecost. These festivals lasted one week. The sheep gate was a gate in the city wall near the temple. The sheep used for sacrifices were brought in through this gate. The pool of Bethesda was actually a double pool surrounded by colonnades on four sides with a fifth colonnade standing in a dividing wall that separated the two pools. This pool had become a healing sanctuary for crowds of sick people who believed miraculous cures were possible. There was a man who had been laying there for 38 years, waiting for a chance to be the first in the pool. There were no social programs to help this man and hygiene and mobility were impossible. He probably begged for a living from the people who came to use the pool. This seemed hopeless. Once again it was the sabbath and people were watching Jesus. It seems that once in a while the water in the pool bubbled up or was stirred up and that was when the healings took place. But this man had no one to help him get in the water. Jesus healed the man instantly, asking only for his obedience. As proof of his healing Jesus told him to pick up his mat and walk, but it was the sabbath and carrying ones mat was considered work. So, the healed man broke the tradition by obeying Jesus’ commands. When he was confronted by the religious authorities they demanded to know why he was carrying his mat. His explanation of, the man who healed him told him to do so, did not please the leaders. This story that began as a glorious miracle turned into a sabbath crime! Now they just needed to apprehend the perpetrator. The man didn’t know who had healed him but later Jesus encountered the man. He had been healed physically but he still needed to learn obedience from the Lord. However, this man’s next action might just indicate that he didn’t listen because he sought out the Jewish leaders to tell them it was Jesus who healed him. The leaders began to harass Jesus for breaking the sabbath rules.
Jesus responded to the leaders that His Father was always working so He did as well. It is interesting that although work was prohibited on the sabbath, even the rabbis agreed that God worked on the sabbath in giving life (births) and in taking life (deaths). The heart of Jesus’ defense was to compare Himself to God. The leaders rejected this claim of divine privilege. Jesus claimed that His work on the sabbath was the same as the Fathers work on the sabbath. In fact, Jesus claimed to be equal with God, doing the same things God does. But, Jesus submitted to God’s will, doing only what the Father willed. Most Jews firmly believed in resurrection but viewed it as something God alone could accomplish. Jesus claimed that He gives life. In addition to giving life, Jesus claimed the absolute authority to judge, which belongs to the Father alone. In the ancient world a person could send a representative to seal a contract or make an authoritative decision. Jesus claimed to be God’s representative, so obeying Him is the same as obeying God, and dishonoring Jesus is dishonoring God.
God’s law required more than one witness in a trial so Jesus acknowledged that His own testimony was admissible only when confirmed by other witnesses. Then He introduced a series of witnesses for His defense. The first witness for Jesus’ defense was God Himself. Jesus might have had in mind God’s voice at His baptism, or the presence of God that enabled Jesus to perform miracles. Jesus’ second witness was John the Baptist who pointed to the Messiah. The third witness was His teachings and miracles that were signs that unveiled His true identity and pointed to the Father who sent Him. Jesus’ fourth witness was the scriptures themselves. The Old Testament pointed to the Messiah, and Jesus fulfilled its prophecies. Jewish trials sought to discover the truth. Falsely accused defendants could not only prove their innocence but also prosecute their accusers, which Jesus did here. Jesus charged that the Jewish leaders did not have God’s love within them. And without God’s love, it was impossible for them to understand the things He was doing. The Jewish leaders pursued honor and prestige from each other. They loved religious life but they had forgotten to love God. This hypocrisy made them liable to judgement. Jesus’ fifth and final witness was Moses, the founding father of Judaism. John had already compared Jesus with Moses but the Jewish leaders were ignoring Moses’ clear words about the Messiah.
Each story in chapter 6 uses the setting of the Passover festival to communicate a deeper meaning. For instance, Jesus’ feeding of the 5,000 recalls the great Old Testament miracle of bread when Israel was in the wilderness. The rabbis of Jesus’ day expected the coming Messiah to rain down bread from heaven once again, and He did. Jesus wanted the disciples to feed the huge crowd that had followed them but Philip wondered aloud where they would ever find enough bread to feed all of these people. When the Israelites left Egypt following the first Passover and entered the desert, finding food and water was their first concern. Andrew, whom we see alone only a handful of times in scripture brought a small boy with his lunch to Jesus. There were five barley loaves and two fish. Barley was the grain of the poor. The loaves were similar to pita bread and the fish would have been salted. Together this “offering” would have made one meal. As long as the disciples had been with Jesus they still didn’t understand what she was capable of. What could they possibly do with this small boys lunch? Scripture tells us there were 5,000 men there but there were also large numbers of women and children, making the number of people fed quite remarkable. They ate all they wanted which echoed the manna miracle in the wilderness wandering. Moses had first supplied Israel with heavenly bread but Jesus was the new supplier. The crowd understood the miracle as the fulfillment of Old Testament promises. Because Jesus was so popular, the people were ready to force Him to be their king. To avoid this nonsense Jesus fled the crowd and commanded His disciples to go back across the lake.
The Sea of Galilee sits nearly 700 feet below sea level and it is surrounded partly by mountains. When the cold air came down off the mountains it acted as a funnel and caused severe storms to kick up in the sea. The disciples went ahead of Jesus back to Capernaum. But partway across the lake a storm kicked up. Not only were the disciples afraid of the storm but then they saw Jesus walking toward them on the water like a ghost. He was coming to help them…sort of like Moses leading the people through the Red Sea. Jesus first words were fear not, I am here. Jesus used God’s formal name here…I AM. Once Jesus got in the boat they reached their destination. This miracle pointed to the deity of Jesus. Only God could walk on water, calm the sea, and supernaturally transport the disciples to their destination. The crowd followed them to Capernaum. They had concluded that Jesus was a prophet and they wanted to take advantage of Him politically, but they failed to see the meaning of the miracle. Jesus’ most profound gift was not physical bread but eternal life which the Father authorized Him to give. Physical bread is perishable but the gift of Jesus, the bread of life, will last forever. This crowd demanded a miraculous sign to demonstrate Jesus’ status as the Messiah. Jews believed that when the Messiah appeared He would duplicate the great miracle of Moses. Manna would once again fall, and everyone would consider it a second exodus. Jesus corrected the people’s argument. God, not Moses fed Israel in the wilderness. The most important quest is to find and consume the true bread of God, who gives eternal life.
John tells us that the true bread of God is the one who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world. The people asked for this bread, paralleling the request from the Samaritan woman. Spiritual awakening begins with a request for God’s gift. Here we have the first of Jesus’ I AM statements. These statements depict who Jesus is. Jesus is the true manna that descended from God. He satisfies the spiritual hunger of those who believe in Him. God moves in people’s hearts bringing them to Jesus. When Jesus identified Himself as the true bread that came down from heaven the crowd faced a dilemma. This was the son of Joseph the carpenter…right? They stumbled because their familiarity with Jesus made His claims seem outlandish, and they began to complain. Rather than defending himself against their complaints, Jesus turns to the problem of their spiritual receptivity. Those who love the Father and listen to Him will also believe in Jesus. Jesus connected the manna of the exodus to Himself and then pointed out a major difference. The Israelites remained mortal and they all died whereas the bread from heaven provided eternal life. And then people got creeped out with eating the body and drinking the blood. The gift that brings life is now unveiled. On the cross Jesus offered His flesh for the life of the world. Jesus answered the question the people asked. His words hinted at the Lord’s Supper yet to come. Since flesh and blood are a Jewish idiom for the whole person Jesus might have been calling people to consume Him fully by completely believing in Him. Jesus’ language here shocked people. It was offensive and hard to understand. Just exactly how was this going to work. Jesus answer is in 6:63. The essence of Jesus’ gift is found in the Holy Spirit alone, not in human effort. Life and understanding come through the spirit alone. True life can only be found when the Holy Spirit infuses human life. And, only God’s light can penetrate the profound darkness of the world. This is where the rubber hit the road. Jesus’ teaching was challenging and people began to leave Him. Then Jesus asked the disciples if they were going to leave as well. Peter was the group spokesman. They are words that ring true for many of us when we face challenges and trials. They are words for us when we are discouraged and full of doubts. Where else would we turn? It is Jesus alone who has the words of eternal life. Chapter 6 once again demonstrates Jesus’ supernatural knowledge. Judas would work for evil and betray Jesus to the authorities.
The setting for chapter 7 is the feast of booths, and again Jesus used elements of the festival to reveal His true identity and to show that He had fulfilled the festivals essential meaning. This festival was a seven day festival in the autumn, six months after the celebration of the Passover. People lived in temporary shelters for the seven days as a reminder of the tents Israel used for 40 years in the wilderness. Jesus’ brothers reminded him of His religious obligation to celebrate the festival. Their words were cynical at this time because they didn’t believe in Him. Jesus told them it was not the right time for Him to go publicly to Jerusalem, but He went later, secretly. It seems that Jesus was the talk of the town and everyone was looking for Him. The challenge was that Jesus had not been taught by a local rabbi but instead by the heavenly Father. He didn’t have a school or rabbi to associate His name with. Those who truly want to do the will of God receive and accept Jesus and His teaching. Those who focus on the world are not receptive to Jesus. He told them that Moses gave them the law but no one obeys it. The Jewish leaders were proud of the law of Moses but they were trying to kill Jesus and in doing so they were breaking the law. The crowd believed Him to be demon possessed.
The law required that a male baby be circumcised on the 8th day even if it fell on the sabbath. Jesus argued as a rabbi would from the lesser to the greater, using circumcision as a precedent for healing on the sabbath, which is a religious work. Some of the crowd thought that since they could trace Jesus’ earthly origins He could not be the Messiah. They believed the Messiah would simply just appear. Jesus sidestepped the speculation about His earthly origins and focused on His heavenly origins. His astounding claim provoked the religious leaders to try to arrest Him for blasphemy, but his time had not yet come. Jesus was living and working under God’s sovereign plan and the ultimate earthly end to God’s plan was the cross on Golgotha. There are four arrest scenes in John 7:1-8:59 and each one of them stresses that it is Jesus who is in control, not the Jewish leaders. The people were convinced that Jesus was the one, asking the leaders how many more signs do you need to believe this Jesus is the long awaited Messiah.
Jesus announced His return to the One who sent Him, the Father in heaven. However, the Pharisees misunderstood thinking Jesus was leaving Judea to go among the Gentiles…whom the Pharisees would never visit. The leaders would not find Jesus after His ascension and He told them clearly that they could not go where He was going. The Pharisees were still living in the darkness of the world and could not enter heaven, so Jesus was beyond their reach there. It was the last day of the festival and Jesus stood and shouted to the crowd that anyone who was thirsty should come to Him. A water ceremony was held each day during the festival of booths, with prayers for God to send rain in the late autumn. The final day, called the great day, was the climax of the festival. On that day the ceremony was repeated seven times. Water was poured over the altar as the Levites sang Isaiah 12:3. Jesus cried that anyone who was thirsty should come to Him. Jesus fulfilled an essential element in the festival of the booths. He Himself is the source of living water, available to anyone who believes. The Spirit had not yet been given because Jesus had not entered into His glory. In Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection, His life and the Spirit were poured out.
But there were others who were different from the crowd who believed that the Messiah would appear mysteriously. They believed the prophecy that the Messiah would be from Bethlehem of Judea. However they stumbled over the fact that Jesus seemed to be from Nazareth in Galilee, where He grew up. The story concludes with the Jewish leaders frustrated and the world divided over Jesus. It is interesting that it was the guards, most likely uneducated men who were wise enough to put the pieces together and recognize that Jesus was different and was probably the Messiah. And finally we see Nicodemus speaking up. He believed that Jesus was the Messiah but he was also a part of the Sanhedrin and was fearful of what might happen to him if the leaders found out. He was in the process of coming to faith in Jesus. Nicodemus wondered aloud if it was legal to convict a man before he was given at least a hearing, showing the hatred the leaders felt about Jesus. They were willing to do whatever was necessary to eliminate Jesus, even if it meant breaking their own laws. Dripping with sarcasm, the leaders asked if Nicodemus was from Galilee as well. It was an insult to Nicodemus. And then they insinuated that Nicodemus didn’t know the scriptures well because everybody knew no prophet ever came from Galilee. But these leaders didn’t know that Jesus had been born in Bethlehem, or they didn’t recognize that. They were just as ignorant as they claimed Nicodemus to be.
In His Grip
Pastor Matt W