21 July 2014

John 7:14-24

“The crowd answered, ‘You have a demon! Who is trying to kill you?’” (v. 20)


Chapters 6-8 of John's Gospel contain a concentrated block of teaching, located between two of the seven signs in John's Gospel, that is to say between Jesus walking on water (John 6:16-24) and healing the man born blind (John 9:1-7)[1]. Coincidentally it is also the teaching block which bridges the two first 'I am' sayings of Jesus: "I am the bread of life" (John 6:35, 48, 51) and "I am the light of the world" (John 8:12)[2].

However this is a block of teaching in which Jesus' prophetic ministry is completely misunderstood by his hearers. It is evident that Jesus and the crowds, to which this teaching is addressed frequently and with some frustration, mishear and misunderstand one another.

When Jesus declares that he is the bread of life and the living bread, and invites his hearers to feed on his flesh and drink his blood, many of his hearers misunderstand him and later turn away from him. Given Jewish sensibilities about consuming blood that is perhaps unsurprising.

However, the mutual frustration comes to its climax in verse 20 when people in the crowd respond angrily to Jesus' suggestion that some were looking for an opportunity to kill him. The crowd ask, with scarcely concealed annoyance, "You have a demon! Who is trying to kill you?"

For readers of the story who know how it ends, Jesus is of course being remarkably prescient. There were indeed some who were seeking opportunity to kill him. The crowd that he addressed in John 7 could not see that at the time. However, many must have recalled his words at some point subsequent to the crucifixion.

What is perhaps most remarkable about this passage is that despite the fact that there was so much mutual misunderstanding Jesus was still engaged in sharing the gospel of the kingdom with the crowds.

This is a passage that reminds us that the ministry of Jesus was intensely uncomfortable at times, both for him and for those who heard him. It was only later on, after the events of Easter that his words would make sense.

To Ponder

  • How far do you think contemporary followers of Jesus still have the capacity to engage in difficult conversation with those who are not yet followers of Jesus?
  • To what extent is there still a place for sharing a gospel that appears at the moment to be indecipherable but which may come into sharp focus at some later stage?
  • Has contemporary Christianity lost some of the angular edginess which seems to be evident in Jesus in this passage? If so, is that a good or bad thing?


Bible notes author

The Revd Dr Calvin T Samuel

The Revd Dr Calvin T Samuel is a Methodist minister, currently stationed as Director of Wesley Study Centre, Durham - a Methodist theological institution which is part of St John's College within the University of Durham. Prior to this he was New Testament Tutor at Spurgeon's College in London and Chaplain to Farringtons School in Kent