24 July 2014

John 7:37-52

“Has any one of the authorities or of the Pharisees believed in him?” (v. 48)


John 7 reaches its climax in verses 37-38: "On the last day of the festival, the great day, while Jesus was standing there he cried out, 'Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink. As the scripture has said, "Out of the believer's heart shall flow rivers of living water."'" It is a great text and a great promise of the gift of the Holy Spirit.

Interestingly, however, there is no real theological discussion among the crowds what Jesus' promise might mean. Rather the discussion that follows his declaration is about his identity: Is he the Messiah or not? Some are clearly persuaded; others are unpersuaded; some wanted him arrested, presumably as a public nuisance and charlatan.

Given that Jesus is not arrested, it suggests that those who were not in favour of arresting him outnumbered those who were. Moreover, the temple police who had been dispatched to arrest Jesus earlier in the chapter (John 7:32) clearly fall into the former rather than latter group. Otherwise their failure to arrest Jesus is inexplicable. Their explanation for their failure to arrest Jesus is not for fear of the crowds, for example, but rather the observation, "Never has anyone spoken like this!" (v. 46).

It might be worth noting that in verse 41 one group appears convinced Jesus is "the prophet", and another that he is Messiah. Only one group raises doubts about him, based on his lack of obvious Davidic lineage and that he does not appear to be from Bethlehem (verse 42).

It appears that the mood was beginning to shift towards Jesus, towards giving him the benefit of the doubt. The crowds are perhaps more inclined than not to conclude that Jesus might just be the Messiah after all, or at the very least the Elijah-like prophet who was an expected precursor to the Messiah.

Into this mix comes the voice of authority pointing out that whilst 'the plebs' might be fooled by Jesus' antics the theologians were not impressed. None of the authorities or Pharisees believe in him.

This is an impressive and important claim. If none of those in the know are persuaded by Jesus then it raises questions about his credibility. Nonetheless, two notes of caution need to be raised:

  • First, the claim it appears is not in fact true. Enter Nicodemus, in verse 50, whom we will later discover, does in fact believe in Jesus. Indeed, Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea negotiate for the body of Jesus and give him a decent burial (John 19:38-42). This is a role normally reserved for women. That it is undertaken by men suggests great devotion to Jesus. However, Nicodemus appears too politically savvy to make a public statement of his beliefs at this earlier stage.
  • Second, even if the statement were true, that none of the theologians and authorities believed in Jesus would not of itself necessarily be persuasive. Speaking as a theologian myself, it is important to recognise that whilst theologians have their uses, faith is not circumscribed by what the great theologians think, all of whom have some vested interests. Rather each of us has to make our own sense of what we will do about the claims of Jesus.

To Ponder

  • Are there some things that you believe about the person of Jesus and about Christian faith, which you are too politically savvy to admit openly in some contexts? What might these be?
  • How do we balance the need to have theologians in order to help us understand the complexities of Christian faith with our own need to make personal faith commitments?

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