The internet is littered with examples of miscarriages of justice. A Wikipedia article exists listing more miscarriages of justice than I had time to count, including remarkable tales of individuals even being convicted for the murder of someone who was apparently still alive. Such cases capture the imagination of the wider public, and appeal to our innate sense of outrage at the injustices of the world. When the evidence is ignored, it’s not just a pain – it’s outrageous.
Jesus & the Jews on trial
John, the eye witness of Jesus’ life, is helping us to see the treatment of Jesus in similar terms. In his account of Jesus’ life, he appears to spend 6 chapters dealing with a substantial question: how can I really believe in Jesus when the original group to whom He came chose to reject Him? Why accept His claims to be God when His own people rejected Him? John 5-10 is almost like a trial, set up to investigate why they rejected Him.
The chapters mostly take place in Jerusalem, but following the explicit statement of His claim to be God in John 5, we took a brief journey in John 6 up to the north of the country to hear the affirmation: Jesus’ words really do work. In spite of rejection, it’s worth coming to Him for eternal life.
Now, in John 7, we return to Jerusalem to continue our analysis of the Jews’ response to Jesus. Last time we saw the Jews, they had decided to kill Jesus on account of His divine claim1. As we return to Jerusalem, we take a longer, slower look at their responses to Him, and take a couple of chapters to ask ourselves ‘Why did they respond like this…?‘.
John 7 is a chapter full of responses. Moreso than in other places in John’s account, we get a constant back-and-forth between Jesus and those around him, with particular attention to an increasingly divided response amongst the Jews.
Having started with a minimally divided crowd2, we see movement in both directions. By vv25-29, there seemed to be considerable recognition of His claim to be the Christ, with simultaneous difficulty accepting it. Then, just a few verses later, there were those who were utterly convinced and those who wanted to arrest Him (vv30-31).
The peak of the chapter (as often seems to be the case!) comes at the end, as we see those whose confident declarations affirmed His identity (v40), and others who were determined to arrest Him (v44).
Jesus’ clear claims
Meanwhile, we see the increasingly clear statements of Jesus totting up during the chapter. While the crowd around Him debated His identity, Jesus was clear: He has been sent from above3. Rather than taking the credit, He pointed attention to the Father – and said that the fact that He sought the glory of the Father backed up the truthfulness of His claim (vv16-18). He even went as far as to claim that He was the one who would give the Holy Spirit to those who believed in Him4!
Jesus wasn’t just making bold claims; He was making claims that were sufficient for people to respond rightly. Those who responded positively to Jesus in this chapter demonstrated that there was enough evidence to respond rightly to Him. They aren’t held up as examples of the gullible, but of those who had concluded – from the evidence in front of them – that Jesus was who He said He was (v40).
So why did people reject Him?
Judge with right judgement?
John is only part way through his answer by the end of this chapter, but it’s a crucial step, and the answer is there in verse 24.
Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgement.
The command from Jesus wasn’t just a wise-sounding instruction, but an accusation against those who were bringing charges against Jesus.
The point is illustrated most clearly at the end of the chapter, in several striking exhibitions of a blatant refusal to respond to the evidence. Firstly, those who had insisted that the Christ’s origin should be unknown5 were then complaining that He didn’t come from Bethlehem. The fact that He did come from Bethlehem6 should have quickly brought an end to their discussion, but instead ‘there was a division among the people over him’ (v43).
Finally, Nicodemus appeared again7 to suggest they give Jesus a fair trial. The Pharisees’ refusal confirmed and epitomised Jesus’ condemnation: they were not judging with right judgement, but with a pre-conceived conclusion. “He cannot be the Christ” had prejudiced their conclusions. They were ignoring the evidence8.
A comfort or a challenge?
John’s point is clear: they didn’t reject Jesus because of the evidence in front of them. They rejected Him in spite of the evidence. Jesus really is sent from above. He really is the Christ, the Son of God.
The point for us, then, depends in part on the position we find ourselves in as we approach John 7.
- If you’re reading this and you’re not someone who’d call yourself a Christian, the application is plain: look at the evidence. When Christians are accused of taking a blind leap into the dark, John 7 waves a frantic banner in the face of such patronising nonsense. Please don’t close your eyes and leap into the dark. If anything, that kind of ‘ignoring the evidence’ was the purview of those who rejected Jesus. Look at the plain facts of history. “When the Christ appears, will he do more signs than this man has done?” (v31). If you’re not already convinced, keep reading!
- To those who are already trusting in Jesus, the words of this chapter are an encouragement. When you’re reminded that the experts in Jesus’ day rejected Him, you’re helped to see why. And when the same occurs today, you get a sense again of why it’s happening. Don’t be discouraged by the wise-sounding arguments of those who refute Jesus’ claims. Even those in this chapter who were “using their Bibles”9 were ignoring the evidence. Jesus has made the verdict clear: He really is God. And so He’s really worth believing in.
More on John’s gospel will be published each Wednesday evening, with a bonus blog article thrown in on most weeks at some point before the next Wednesday. Feel free to share posts using the buttons below, and you can subscribe to the blog by using the sign-up form on the right.
- See John 5:18, “This was why the Jews were seeking all the more to kill him, because not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God.” ↩
- In John 7:12, the crowd is comprised of those who think Jesus is a good man and those who think He is leading people astray ↩
- See for example v16, v29 and v33 ↩
- More on that later in John’s account! See John 14-16 ↩
- In v27, the fact that they know where He came from apparently stands as evidence against Him ↩
- John seems to think it’s so obvious that He came from Bethlehem that he didn’t think it was necessary to refute this ludicrous objection. Matthew 2:1 and Luke 2:4-7 both make absolutely clear that this was the town of His birth. If John didn’t think this was a self-evidently ludicrous claim, it would be a strange thing to include on its own. In fact, if John thought it was a valid objection, you would expect him to leave it out altogether – especially in an account designed to convince you Jesus is indeed the Christ (see John 20:31). John clearly knew – and expected his readers to know – that Jesus was indeed born in Bethlehem, and then moved to Galilee. ↩
- Nicodemus’s earlier appearance in John’s gospel left us concerned about his future (see John 3). His second appearance puts him in a more encouraging position – apparently eager to give Jesus a fair hearing. Look out for his appearance again later in John’s account ↩
- Their objection was all the more absurd when you realise that their reasoning was false – at least one prophet in the Old Testament did come from Galilee: Jonah. Indeed, he might not even have been the only one. ↩
- e.g. v42 ↩