Thursday

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

John 7:37-52 Thursday 24 July 2014


Background

John 7 reaches its climax in verses37-38: "On the last day of the festival, the great day, while Jesuswas standing there he cried out, 'Let anyone who is thirsty come tome, and let the one who believes in me drink. As the scripture hassaid, "Out of the believer's heart shall flow rivers of livingwater."'" It is a great text and a great promise of the gift of theHoly Spirit.

Interestingly, however, there is noreal theological discussion among the crowds what Jesus' promisemight mean. Rather the discussion that follows his declaration isabout his identity: Is he the Messiah or not? Some are clearlypersuaded; others are unpersuaded; some wanted him arrested,presumably as a public nuisance and charlatan.

Given that Jesus is not arrested, itsuggests that those who were not in favour of arresting himoutnumbered those who were. Moreover, the temple police who hadbeen dispatched to arrest Jesus earlier in the chapter (John7:32) clearly fall into the former rather than latter group.Otherwise their failure to arrest Jesus is inexplicable. Theirexplanation for their failure to arrest Jesus is not for fear ofthe crowds, for example, but rather the observation, "Never hasanyone spoken like this!" (v. 46).

It might be worth noting that in verse41 one group appears convinced Jesus is "the prophet", and anotherthat he is Messiah. Only one group raises doubts about him, basedon his lack of obvious Davidic lineage and that he does not appearto be from Bethlehem (verse 42).

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

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

This is an impressive and importantclaim. If none of those in the know are persuaded by Jesus then itraises questions about his credibility. Nonetheless, two notes ofcaution need to be raised:

  • First, the claim it appears is not in fact true. EnterNicodemus, in verse 50, whom we will later discover, does in factbelieve in Jesus. Indeed, Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimatheanegotiate for the body of Jesus and give him a decent burial (John19:38-42). This is a role normally reserved for women. That itis undertaken by men suggests great devotion to Jesus. However,Nicodemus appears too politically savvy to make a public statementof his beliefs at this earlier stage.
  • Second, even if the statement were true, that none of thetheologians and authorities believed in Jesus would not of itselfnecessarily be persuasive. Speaking as a theologian myself, it isimportant to recognise that whilst theologians have their uses,faith is not circumscribed by what the great theologians think, allof whom have some vested interests. Rather each of us has to makeour own sense of what we will do about the claims of Jesus.


To Ponder

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