Our reading today begins with Jesus in Galilee, hesitant to openly minister in Judea because the Jews wanted Him dead (7:1 – see 5:18). We see that even His own siblings didn’t believe in Him (v. 5), and they even challenged Him to go to Judea and minister openly (vv. 3-4). Note that this is during the Feast of Booths (v. 2 – see Lev 23:34). Jesus says that His time “has not yet come” (v. 6 – see 2:4). Jesus still did not want too much attention because there was work to do before the cross (see 9:4-5 below). That their time is “always here” and the world “cannot hate” them points to their state of unbelief at this point in time. By implication, the world must hate Jesus because of their sin (v. 7). This shows the necessity of regeneration to be able to believe in Christ. He tells His family to go without Him (v. 8). When Jesus sys “I am not going,” He is not lying. In the Greek, a present active indicative verb often means something done at that moment. Jesus meant He was not going “right now.” Some later manuscripts even insert the word “yet,” possibly as a clarification. And we see that after saying that, He remained in Galilee (v. 9).
Later, Jesus does go to Jerusalem, but tried to keep a low profile at first (v. 10). It appears that everyone’s focus was on Him (vv. 11-13). In the middle of the week-long feast, Jesus goes into the Temple to teach (v. 14). The people realize that though He was not traditionally schooled as a Rabbi, He knows what He’s talking about (v. 15). Implied in this reaction is that they knew what Jesus taught was right! So Jesus explains that His teaching is directly from God, and if someone is seeking to obey God, they will know He speaks the truth (vv. 16-17). Those who teach otherwise seek their own glory, but Christ seeks to glorify the Father (v. 18). Jesus then points out the irony that the Jews want to kill Him for His obviously true teaching, while what they teach they don’t themselves obey (v. 19).
When the people say that nobody is seeking to kill Him (v. 20 – the “you have a demon” is like saying “you’re crazy!”), Jesus refers back to the healing from 5:8, the reaction in 5:9-17, and the result in 5:18 (vv. 21-23). Jesus tells them to really think about it all apart from their strict, wooden understanding of the Law (v. 24). The people then wonder: if the Jewish leaders wanted to kill Jesus (v. 25), but He is here in the open teaching against them, have they changed their minds on Him and now believe Him to be the Messiah (v. 26)? Then they reason that Jesus can’t be the Messiah because Jewish tradition (probably based on books like 1 Enoch) said that the Messiah would basically appear as if from out of nowhere (v. 27). So Jesus tells them that, essentially, it is as if He has come from out of nowhere, because He has come from God and they don’t know God (vv. 28-29 – this is a theme though these three chapters). So some wanted to arrest Him, which God sovereignly avoided (v. 30), while some believed in Him (v. 31).
In verse 32, we are told that the Pharisees heard the crowd saying these things. That means they have been right there the whole time, which is what prompted the question in verse 26. This shows their cowardice and self-preservation. They were not concerned for God’s reputation or glory, but their own. But now they decide to send Temple guards to arrest Jesus. But Jesus says that He is going away (vv. 33-34). While the Jews understood this physically (vv. 35-36 – and what else is new…), Jesus was referring to His ascension after His death and resurrection.
And what happens next is absolutely amazing!
In verses 37-39, Jesus says a lot. This is the last day of the feast. In addition to the rules for this feast that God gives in Leviticus 23, the Jews had added a liturgy to the feast long before Jesus’s day. Part of that were various readings of the Old Testament, including Zechariah 14:8, which is probably what Jesus alludes to in verse 38. And Jesus is making a point here that the Jews would understand very well. And we can see this from their reaction. He said this, and in verses 40-44, some said, “this is the prophet!” Others said, “this is the Christ!” Most of them said, “He can’t be the Messiah.” The rulers said, “arrest him. Get rid of him!” But they all knew what He was saying about drinking from Him, because water came to play a huge part in the Feast of Tabernacles, especially on the last day of the feast when Jesus said this.
On each day of the feast except for the first day, the priests would gather large willow branches, and they would march together to the Temple waving them. They wanted them to make the sound of wind blowing (see 3:8). As they marched to the Temple, they would recite Psalm 118 together and pray a prayer. This prayer was known as the “Hoshanos” because the Priests would pray different prayers for God’s blessing and end each prayer with the word “Hosanna,” which means “save now.” Then they would get to the Temple and circle the altar once. On the last day – the great day of the feast – they circled the altar seven times, and that day was known as Hoshana Rabba – which means “the day of the great salvation.” This is the day Jesus here spoke of salvation through faith in Him and the Holy Spirit.
While the procession to the Temple with the branches happened, another group of priests would go to the Pool of Siloam, and the High Priest would fill a pitcher with water that they called “living water.” He would go the Temple and as the other priests marched around the altar, he would pour the water out on the altar to represent God’s salvation coming down. During the water drawing ceremony, the High Priest would recite Isaiah 12:1-3:
You will say in that day: “I will give thanks to you, O LORD, for though you were angry with me, your anger turned away, that you might comfort me. “Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust, and will not be afraid; for the LORD GOD is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation.” With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation. And you will say in that day: “Give thanks to the LORD, call upon his name, make known his deeds among the peoples, proclaim that his name is exalted.
Do you know what the Hebrew word for salvation is? Yeshua. Or in Greek: Jesus. Which means the Isaiah passage says: “Behold, God is my Jesus…YHWH, YHWH is my strength and my song and has become my Jesus. With joy you will draw water from the wells of Jesus!”
But wait! There’s still more! This water drawing ceremony and the pouring out on the altar would happen the last seven days of the feast. The first six days, the Jews would pray for the salvation of the whole world. They would pray that the nations would come to know God and His salvation. But on the seventh day, as the Jews circled the altar seven times, the Jews prayed only for Israel. For their salvation as the “people of God.” It was this last day that Jesus, the Prophet from among the Jews, the Messiah, God Himself, stood up and cried out. This day, the Jews prayed for themselves – these same Jews who didn’t want Jesus as their Messiah – but who would pray over and over for God to save them now!
It was during this last, great day of salvation – when the priests waved the branches to make the sound of holy wind, and the high priest would pour out the living water for the salvation of Israel and Israel alone and he would cite the passage from Isaiah – that Jesus yelled out: “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.'” Once again, Jesus was saying that He came to save the whole world. Not just Israel. He would give this water to whom He will without distinction, and then the true living water would flow from them.
Jesus was clarifying what Isaiah and said, and He told the Jews: “I, Jesus, am the well (see 4:1-26). And the water of salvation, Who is the Holy Spirit, can only be drawn from Me! And it is for the world.” On this great day, Salvation Himself stood up and told the Jews where salvation was to be found. He told them where the Spirit was to be found. And He told them that it wasn’t just for them – not just for Israel – but for the world; for anyone who would come and drink at the fountain, Who is Jesus Christ (see 3:16-17)!
After this amazing statement, the Temple guards return to the Jewish leaders empty handed (v. 45). They were taken off guard (no pun intended) by what Jesus said. Perhaps they even believed (v. 46). Once again, though, the Jewish leaders were concerned with their own glory. They people should believe what the leaders believe (vv. 47-49). Here, likely hearing Jesus’s teaching that day and remembering his own conversation with Jesus, Nicodemus suggests Jesus’s words and works be considered objectively (v. 51). But the others tell Nicodemus (after sarcastically asking him if he was buying into Jesus’s teaching) to search the Scriptures and see that “no prophet arises from Galilee.”
There are two things to notice here. First, this is John saying that they really didn’t know where Jesus came from (see v. 27 above). They likely have in mind the Messianic prediction of Micah 5:2 that said the Christ would come from Bethlehem (see v. 42). Second, this shows that the leaders did not at all understand the Scriptures (as we have already seen). If they searched the Scriptures looking for Christ in the Old Testament, they would eventually get to Isaiah 9:1 (which interestingly, was actually 8:23 in the Hebrew Scriptures). The light comes from Galilee! Which Jesus addresses next.1
Jesus’s statement “I am the light of the world” (8:12) is probably where John drew from for his prologue. All that was said there applies here. This is quite a statement, too. So the Pharisees throw Jesus’s own words back at Him (v. 13 – see 5:31). However, Jesus actually said “if I alone bear witness about myself.” Clearly, the Pharisees are conveniently taking what they want of Jesus’s words and ignoring the rest to prove what they want to prove. So Jesus says that even though He is here bearing witness to His true identity, it is true, and the only reason they don’t know it is because they don’t know where He came from, or from Whom He came (v. 14). They are still stuck on the physical (v. 15). And they are ignoring the fact that both He (Jesus) and the Father bear witness to Him (vv. 17-18 – see 5:19-47). Jesus is reminding them of the parts of His words that they are conveniently ignoring.
Still not understanding, they ask Jesus where (really, Who) His Father is (v. 19). But Jesus says, essentially, “you don’t know Him.” Jesus again says that He is going away, and they (the Pharisees) can’t go where He is going (heaven) but that they will instead die in their sins (v. 21). And they still don’t get it (v. 22). Jesus tells them that He has come from heaven (v. 23). He is not of this world, and if they don’t believe in Him (“that I am He”), they will die in their sins (vv. 23-24). While Jesus is not outright saying it, the Pharisees understand what He is getting at, and want Him to outright say it so they can charge Him with blasphemy (v. 25). Jesus tells them that He has already told them (vv. 25-26), but they did not understand that He was speaking of God Who sent Him (v. 27). He wasn’t bearing witness to Himself, but to the Father.
Jesus then tells them: “when you have lifted up the Son of Man” (v. 28). He is predicting their wrongful conviction and murder of Him. He says His crucifixion will reveal Who He is. And many believed (v. 30). So Jesus tells those who believe to obey, and they will know the truth, and they will be truly free (vv. 31-32). But they don’t understand (v. 33).2 So Jesus explains that they are slaves to sin (v. 34). His comment in verse 35 refers to their slavery to the Law, which reveals their sin (see Gal 4:1-5:1). In verses 37-38, Jesus tells them to stop relying on physical lineage (see v. 33, 39 – see Gal 3:7) and realize that it is the spiritual people of God – which is those who are obedient – that are free from sin and the deceit of Satan.
Jesus then expounds upon that. Abraham’s children are obedient children of faith (v. 40). The Jews are disobedient slaves of Satan (vv. 41-44) who can’t believe the truth (v. 45, 47). The Jews then tell Jesus that He is a crazy Samaritan (v. 48). They are telling Him that He is the One Who isn’t a child of Abraham. He tells them that they are dishonoring Him because He was honoring God (v. 49). In other words, they were dishonoring God. Note that just as Christ sought the Father’s glory, so the Father seeks Christ’s glory (v. 50, 54). In verse 51, Jesus again ties in faith, obedience, and eternal life.
The Jews continue speaking about Abraham physically. How can people not die if even Abraham died (vv. 52-53). They have chosen to be physical children of Abraham rather than spiritual children of God (v. 55). Abraham chose to be a spiritual child of God (v. 56). And yet, the Jews still think in physical terms (v. 57). Jesus then says even more plainly that He is God, the great I AM (v. 58). And the Jews understood what He was claiming (v. 59).
Chapter 9 begins with the disciples confusion between the physical and the spiritual. They think physical impairment means spiritual judgment (9:2). What Jesus says here is so theologically significant. This man is not blind as punishment for sin. He is blind by the sovereign hand of God so that God’s glory might be shown in Him (v. 3). Jesus’s reference to the coming night is a reference to His death (v. 4). This is about the work Jesus had to do before His hour came. This man was blind – from birth – as part of God’s plan in Christ. If that bothers you, go read Job again.
And God’s glory is revealed in Christ through the healing of the man (vv. 6-7). This is an act prophecy relating to the light (see v. 5). Note how simply and honestly the man witnesses to what Christ has done for him (vv. 10-11), when people notice that his encounter with Jesus has changed him (vv. 8-9). And his testimony leads others to seek Christ (v. 12). We are told that this happened on a Sabbath (v. 14), and the Pharisees are again involved (v. 13). And we see the reaction of a hard heart to the man’s testimony about Christ. The Pharisees still only want to believe what accords with what they already believe (v. 16, 18-19). Note once again that Jesus is believed to be only a prophet (v. 17).
We are told in verse 22 that by this point, anathema was declared on anyone that professed faith in Christ – they would be excommunicated. While the man still testifies to the truth (v. 25), the Pharisees still harden their hearts to it (v. 24), refusing to believe the obvious truth (v. 26). Note again that the Pharisees do not know where Jesus comes from (v. 29). But the man points to the obvious truth (v. 30-33): Jesus has come from God! The man spoke the truth, and he is excommunicated (v. 34).
Jesus finds the man and asks if he believes in the Son of Man, a title for the Messiah (v. 35). Jesus then plainly reveals Himself to the man (v. 37) and the man believes (v. 38). Jesus basically tells the man he is an object lesson (v. 39). Those who see are the Jews – in particular here, the Pharisees (vv. 40-41). Those who do not are the Gentiles, which the Pharisees effectively made this man by excommunicating him.
1 Most agree that 7:53-8:11 is not original. I also agree. In fact, 8:12 would seem awfully odd otherwise, since in 8:11 Jesus is left alone.
2 I find their response somewhat ironic since they haven’t been free in 600 years at this point, and were currently in subjection to Rome.