Last week we had a very interesting discussion on the Jews’ understanding of the coming of the Messiah.
• His coming would not be plainly obvious.
• Their traditions taught that discernment would be needed to identify him.
• This discernment would be done in (2) ways:
o (1) Measuring Jesus against their understandings of the attributes of the Messiah
o (2) Receiving a special “help” and “spiritual discernment” from God
Today we continue that lesson but, instead of the crowds’ perspective, we will explore the guards and the Pharisees’ point of view (and how Nicodemus fits in).
• We are jumping around a bit, and so won’t deal with Jesus’ words in verses 33-39 until next week.
1) THE GUARDS – GOD’S WORD BRINGS CONFUSION?
John 7:32 (ESV) — 32 The Pharisees heard the crowd muttering these things about him, and the chief priests and Pharisees sent officers to arrest him. John 7:45–52 (ESV) — 45 The officers then came to the chief priests and Pharisees, who said to them, “Why did you not bring him?” 46 The officers answered, “No one ever spoke like this man!”
Who are the guards?
• “These guards were chosen from the Levites. They were religiously trained and therefore not merely ‘brutal thugs.’ In the fulfillment of their duties they would have heard many teachers in the temple courts…” – A. Kostenberger.
No doubt most of the teaching they heard recently must have involved Jesus.
• How He was from the lowly town of Nazareth.
• How He was a demon possessed, Sabbath breaking charlatan.
• It seems likely that on their way to arrest Jesus, if in agreement with the Pharisees, they would have been fairly confident they had Jesus all figured out.
• At the very least, He flagrantly broke the Sabbath Laws and deserved punishment.
However, upon arriving to arrest Jesus, they were confronted with a man unlike any other they had ever heard – and they had heard many a rabbi.
• When confronted with the truth of God’s words as spoken by Jesus, the things they thought they knew about Jesus became a little less clear.
• We know this to be true because they returned to the Pharisees empty handed.
• They were deeply impressed and surprised at what they heard.
o Mark 1:22 (ESV) — 22 And they were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one who had authority, and not as the scribes [similar response from others].
• So much so that they disobeyed the orders from the Pharisees to arrest Him.
It seems that the truth of God’s word spoken through Jesus challenged and unraveled their ideas of who Jesus was.
• Jesus’ words demonstrated what real authority was, as opposed to that of the Pharisees.
• Jesus’ words unmasked unbelief for what it really was – an illusion of clarity; of having Jesus all figured out.
• And so in this sense, God’s word can bring confusion to the “Worldly Jesus”.
• When light shines in the darkness things are seen much differently.
• John 1:5 (NASB95) — 5 The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.
The guards actions also help fill in some of the blanks from last week’s lesson.
• The crowd inferred that because the Pharisees hadn’t yet arrested Jesus that perhaps Jesus was the Christ.
• The speculation was that the Pharisees must have decided amongst themselves that Jesus was the Christ and so left Him alone.
• However, we see here both that they did seek to arrest Him and why the arrest failed.
One wonders if this is an example of the Father providing a little of the “help” and spiritual discernment we discussed last week to the guards (like Cyrus in the OT – softened his heart).
• The result being the Father’s will for Christ’s timeline was not thwarted by the Pharisees.
• If so, this is a great example of the sovereignty of God.
2) THE PHARISEES – THE IRONY OF A HARD HEART
47 The Pharisees answered them, “Have you also been deceived? 48 Have any of the authorities or the Pharisees believed in him? 49 But this crowd that does not know the law is accursed.”
The Pharisees were full of many things, but right judgment of Jesus was not one of them.
• They had already sized up Jesus and denounced Him as law-breaking, demon-possessed, charlatan.
• For one to think anything else was a slight to them and to the Law of God
o The law they had made in their own image.
• “In their minds, only those who were gullible, uneducated, and simple-minded could be deceived by Jesus’ claims. Such people were accursed, according to the Pharisaic perspective, for their ignorance of God’s law” – John MacArthur.
D.A. Carson says that the Pharisee’s jab at the crowd in our text is an allusion to “the people of the land” insult often used by rabbi’s to describe the commoner.
• “The people of the land” do not know the law, are impious and are “indistinguishable from an animal”.
• The Pharisees imply that the guards, being Levites, should have known better than to be deceived by Jesus.
• They are no better off than the “people of the land”.
The Pharisee’s criticism is ironic because Jesus described unbelievers a few verses earlier as essentially people who
• (1) Don’t know the law
• (2) Are impious because their wills are not in submission to God
• Or as Kostenberger puts it, “How ironic that only the masses who are said to be scripturally illiterate have a clue regarding Jesus’ actual identity, while those who boast of their scriptural expertise are ignorant of who Jesus truly is”.
The irony continues because the Pharisees, who saw the crowd’s problem as ignorance/stupidity, could not “brain power” their way to a correct discernment of Jesus’ identity either.
• This of course is because, as we learned last week, spiritual discernment and not just knowledge of the Law is foundational to recognizing Jesus as the Messiah.
3) NICODEMUS – RIGHT HEART & RIGHT JUDGMENT
50 Nicodemus, who had gone to him before, and who was one of them, said to them, 51 “Does our law judge a man without first giving him a hearing and learning what he does?” 52 They replied, “Are you from Galilee too? Search and see that no prophet arises from Galilee.”
Whether or not Nicodemus was saved and/or defending Jesus’ at this point is debatable.
• Some argue that – “He appears in the narrative scene more to demonstrate the Pharisees’ intransigence than to mark a stage in his own spiritual development” – Michaels.
• Others suggest that Nicodemus’ was simply trying to maintain the integrity of the process.
• But, D.A. Carson admits that if one argues that Nicodemus’ purpose here is just to be the “Robert’s Rules of Order Police” [my words] “There is no explicit Old Testament text that makes the point Nicodemus raises” – D.A. Carson.
BTW – John 12:42 (ESV) — 42 Nevertheless, many even of the authorities believed in him, but for fear of the Pharisees they did not confess it, so that they would not be put out of the synagogue;
• Perhaps Nicodemus was one of these authorities even in John 7.
Regardless of one’s view of Nicodemus:
• Given the overall context of right judgment
• Given Jesus’ discussion on the law and submission of the will
• I can’t help but observe that Nicodemus is representative of some powerful symbolism.
He symbolically represents the kind of heart that can discern with right judgment who Jesus is – The Father’s Jesus.
• This is no doubt due to the thrust of the teaching of Jesus when He encountered Nicodemus in John 3.
• When one thinks of Nicodemus, one thinks of what? The born again heart.
• It is only the born again heart that can have a right judgment about Jesus (a Reformed perspective).
As symbolically representative of a born again heart, Nicodemus states exactly what we discussed last week.
• A sizing up of Jesus must be done.
• But as Jesus taught, it must be done correctly.
• This makes a beautiful bookend with Jesus’ teaching earlier in the chapter.
• JESUS – John 7:24 Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment.”
• NICO – John 7:51 “Does our law judge a man without first giving him a hearing and learning what he does?”
Unfortunately, this is something that the Pharisees are incapable of doing.
• In fact the Pharisees ironically make the same mistake as the “people of the land” and suggest that a prophet will not come from Galilee.
• However, contrary to their confident assertions, “prophets had indeed come out of Galilee in the past, including Jonah (2 Kings 14:25) and possibly Elijah (1 Kings 17:1) and Nahum (Nah. 1:1)” – A. Kostenberger.
So in our last two lessons we have seen the judgments made about Jesus by the crowds, the guards and the Pharisees.
• Interestingly, the judgments have had similarities and significant differences.
o “You have a demon!” – vs. 20
o “Can it be…this is the Christ” – vs. 26
o “we know where this man comes from” – vs. 27
o Will the Christ “do more signs than this man has done?” – vs. 30
o “really is the Prophet” – vs. 40
o “This is the Christ” – vs. 41
o “Is the Christ to come from Galilee?” – vs. 41
o “No one ever spoke like this man!” – vs. 46
o “no prophet arises for Galilee” – vs. 52
Some of the views are more sympathetic and some are outright hostile.
• But intellectual assent without submission of the will is no better than outright rejection.
• Remember, Jesus has taught (John 3) that there are only 2 “whoevers” when it comes to Him.
o (1) Born again/love the light
o (2) Remain under God’s wrath/love the darkness.
• But it appears from our text today, that the 2 “whoevers” can have different shades.
• In other words, the World’s Jesus can sometimes look authentic.
Lesson for Us:
• We must be diligent to worship Christ as Scripture reveals Him to be not as we want Him to be.
• We must humbly seek after the Father’s Jesus and discard any elements (any shades) of the World’s Jesus that we have imported into our Christology.
• And to identify those “shades” we must know Scripture as God has revealed it.
• We must not make it into our own image as the Pharisees did.