Perhaps as much as a year following the events of chapter six—“After this”—John introduces the third and final journey of Christ to the city of Jerusalem. He notes that the Lord initially stayed away from “Judea” since there were those who “were waiting to take his life.” This fact indicates that the opposition facing Christ at this time was growing ever more determined as He was “increasingly viewed within the matrix of messianic expectations” [Kostenberger, 72]. His reluctance to enter Judea, therefore, was not due to fear, but simply that the exact moment of His passion and atoning death, in precise agreement with the eternal plan of God, had not yet come. However, at the time of the “Jewish Feast of Tabernacles” (Leviticus 23:33-44), a feast of thanksgiving celebrating God’s guidance of the ancient Israelites in the wilderness, Christ’s own “brothers” encouraged Him to travel to Judea in order that His “disciples” might see the “miracles” He performed.
The “bothers” referred to by John were James, Joseph, Simon, and Judas (Jude). They were quite critical of Jesus and cast doubt about His identity and mission. Note that even though they saw His miracles, they “did not believe in Him” (v. 5) strongly encouraged Jesus to act in ways which would increase His visibility and popularity—“No one who wants to become a public figure acts in secret. . . . show yourself to the world” (v.4). Clearly, his brothers expected that if Jesus were truly Israel’s Messiah, He would manifest His power in a very public venue in order to maximize exposure. F. F. Bruce explains:
It seemed incredible to the brothers that any one who believed himself to be the Messiah should deliberately avoid publicity. No one who aims at being a public figure will remain in the obscurity of a regional backwater, as Jesus (to the brothers’ way of thinking) had now done for a year. He had certainly performed wonderful works in Galilee, but why not repeat them in Jerusalem, at the heart of the Jewish world. .
Note that following the resurrection the brothers adopted a completely different attitude about Jesus (Act 1:14).
When Jesus twice spoke of the “right time for me” (vv. 6, 8) He was implying that there was a “definite moment, determined from all eternity in the plan of God” for His crucifixion and subsequent exaltation [Hendriksen]. Here we see that Jesus, in direct contrast to the selfish and impulsive feelings of His own brothers, was patiently waiting until the proper time for His passion and death—the time when the Father’s will and timing would be perfectly accomplished.
Another factor in Christ’s unwillingness to go to Jerusalem is contained in the statement “The world cannot hate you, but it hates me because I testify that what it does is evil.” For John, the “world” is the atmosphere of evil men who are always standing in opposition to God and His kingdom. This “world,” in its fallen state before God, “hates” Jesus and those who, by faith, have become His followers. Given this reality, a premature unveiling of His identity in such a frenzied environment as existed at this time would certainly lead to a premature crucifixion. Thus, Jesus’ reply to their suggestion was appropriate—“You go up to the Feast. I am not yet going up to this Feast” (v. 8).
Later, however, “He . . . went also . . . in secret” to the Feast after His brothers had already departed for Jerusalem. That Christ traveled in “secret” and “not publicly” probably means that He journeyed at night along the back-roads up to Jerusalem. John tells us that the Jewish authorities “were watching” for Him all the while in order that they might at least arrest him. The specific charge that was leveled against Jesus was that He was a deceiver, or another one of the many Messianic pretenders who occasionally arrived on the scene. As a consequence of the presence of the Jewish authorities those who had believed in Jesus among the many worshippers were reluctant to “say anything publicly about him” (v. 13).
With the level of confusion about the identity and purposes of Jesus ever escalating, “some of the people of Jerusalem” began to wonder if the strange man teaching at the Feast was actually the man the Jews were “trying to kill” (v.25). Yet, since many in the crowd did seem to know “where this man [was] from,” He could not possibly be “the Christ” (vv. 26-27). As indicated above, this indicates the people’s adherence to the popular legend that Israel’s Messiah would suddenly arise from total obscurity [Merrill Tenney, EBC, 85]. To them, at least, the man in question was simply “Jesus of Nazareth.”
With Christ’s explicit words ringing in their ears, some in the temple crowd attempted to “seize him” (v.30). Yet, they were strangely inhibited since “his time had not yet come.” Though Jesus was surely surrounded by grave danger, His life really was not in jeopardy since it was not the will of God that He should die at this time.
In verse 31 John notes that “many in the crowd put their faith in him” following His earlier comments. The context makes it clear, however, that this was not necessarily saving faith. While they were apparently willing to accept Christ as their political Messiah or another great leader, they did not understand His true identity as Lord of life and death. Their question—“When the Christ comes, will he do more miraculous signs than this man?”—reveals that their belief was related to the miracles alone. They would “believe” in Him under their terms, not His.
When the “Pharisees” detected the debate about Jesus among the crowd, “temple guards” were dispatched to “arrest him.” With this, Jesus uttered yet another of His very unusual and mysterious statements—“I am with you only for a short time . . . .” What He seems to mean is that the Jewish nation, in its day of desperation, will seek salvation but will tragically discover that the time for deliverance has passed (cf. Amos 8:11-12). “You cannot come” (v. 36) clearly implies that the Jews had actually rejected the Father by rejecting Jesus. Hence, they could never follow Christ into God’s kingdom. The stress is on the fact that “in the presence of the Father, there is not room for those who have refused to accept the Son” [Hendriksen].
At the conclusion of the feast on the eighth day, Jesus “stood” and “in a loud voice” declared, “If any man is thirsty, let him come to me and drink.” Christ apparently uttered these words against the backdrop of the customary drawing of water from Siloam’s pool during each of the previous seven feast days. This ceremony was mindful not only of the miracle in the wilderness where water was drawn from the rock, but of God’s provision of abundant rain for the parched land (cf. Zech. 14:16ff). Bruce explains the procedure:
A procession led by a priest went down to the pool at Siloam, where a golden pitcher was filled with water, and returned to the temple as the morning sacrifice was being offered. The water was then poured into a funnel at the west side of the altar, and the temple choir began to sing the Great Hallel (Ps. 113-118) .
This water, in agreement with passages such as Isaiah 12:3 and 55:1, was a symbol of “the joyful restoration of Israel and the ingathering of the nations” which would be fully realized through Jesus Himself [Kostenberger, 78].
The “streams of living water,” which Christ promised to “whoever believes in [Him],” finds parallel expression in several other Old Testament passages (Prov. 11:25; 18:4; Ezk. 47:1012; Zech 8:14). The idea is that those who drink from the fountain, or believe in Christ for salvation, receive eternal satisfaction and, in turn, become a blessing to others—“living water will flow from within him.” Thus, as the church proclaims the message of Christ, God will draw men from all nations to Himself in order that they might also “receive” the “Spirit” (v.39).
Major Themes for Reflection and Application
One: The reality of conflict for Christians. Those who are not in Christ have no conflict with the world. But we, as His dedicated followers, can be sure of nothing but conflict (7:6-8).
Two: The Word and its various effects. Sometimes when the Word of God is proclaimed the result is salvation and blessing. Other times, however, there is wholesale rejection and trouble (7:16-20).
Three: Real faith as opposed to spurious faith. Saving faith is much different than excitement, emotionalism or vivid “spiritual” experiences. (7:31).
Four: “Thirst” and justifying faith. Only the thirsty—those who truly are convinced of their spiritual emptiness and guilt before God— will come to Christ and believe (7:37).