The Gospel of John – ”Right Judgement”

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A strong spiritual challenge issued by Jesus against the religious leaders of Jerusalem is the theme of the next section of John chapter 7. Jesus makes the point that obedience is a necessary aspect of learning. The resistance of the scribes and Pharisees is ultimately a matter of rebellion, not knowledge. In the same way, Jesus criticises their hypocritical attitude towards His miracles – constantly trying to trap Him or pass judgement on Him.

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Jesus Teaches at the Festival

14 Not until halfway through the festival did Jesus go up to the temple courts and begin to teach. 15 The Jews there were amazed and asked, “How did this man get such learning without having been taught?”

16 Jesus answered, “My teaching is not my own. It comes from the one who sent me. 17 Anyone who chooses to do the will of God will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own. 18 Whoever speaks on their own does so to gain personal glory, but he who seeks the glory of the one who sent him is a man of truth; there is nothing false about him. 19 Has not Moses given you the law? Yet not one of you keeps the law. Why are you trying to kill me?”

20 “You are demon-possessed,” the crowd answered. “Who is trying to kill you?”

21 Jesus said to them, “I did one miracle, and you are all amazed. 22 Yet, because Moses gave you circumcision (though actually it did not come from Moses, but from the patriarchs), you circumcise a boy on the Sabbath. 23 Now if a boy can be circumcised on the Sabbath so that the law of Moses may not be broken, why are you angry with me for healing a man’s whole body on the Sabbath? 24 Stop judging by mere appearances, but instead judge correctly.” John 7:14-24

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Jesus’ knowledge

The Festival lasts seven days. Jesus’ appearance in the temple is after at least three days of silence. There, He once again amazes those in attendance with His knowledge (Luke 2:41–52). Key to this amazement is their knowledge that Jesus has not studied in any of the rabbinic schools (John 7:15). This would be like a person who has never been to university discussing high-level physics with a group of professors. This surprise ties to the arrogance of the Pharisees. In their view, the education and knowledge they had received made them superior to others, and especially to someone like Jesus. Convincingly to themselves their knowledge means they are obedient to God.

Jesus will clarify that the exact opposite is true. In fact, a person’s willingness to obey comes before their ability to understand truth (John 7:17). Those who refuse to believe (John 5:39–40) will not come to the truth, no matter how much knowledge they have.

The Pharisees arrogance

In Jesus’ day, common people would hear, read, and discuss the scriptures in a synagogue. However, for most of those common people, this was an occasional practice. Only those dedicated to formal study, such as the Pharisees, had the time to deeply study the Word of God. This makes Jesus’ profound expertise something incredible to the religious leaders. If a modern factory labourer began debating high-level physics with a group of professors, it would produce a similar reaction. And yet, this is not the first time Jesus has surprised people at the temple with His knowledge (Luke 2:41–52).

This surprise on the part of Jerusalem’s spiritual leaders gives insight into their arrogance. Much of their rejection of Jesus’ message is based on this assumption: nobody knows better than they do. No matter what Jesus says, they will reject it since it does not agree with their own study. Unfortunately, this study is not sincere (John 5:39–40). Later in this response to these religious leaders, Jesus will point out that obedience comes before understanding, not as a result of it (John 7:17)!

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Divine authority which Jesus

In John 5:17, Jesus claimed to be equal to God in His works. In John 5:30, Jesus claimed to be equal to God in His judgment. Here, Jesus claims to be equal to God in His teaching. Jesus receives His grounding directly from God the Father rhater than a school of religious knowledge or self-teaching. This makes Jesus able to discuss the Word of God with such skill, despite having no formal training (John 7:15).

This represents an interesting and important distinction between Jesus’ ministry, and that of Christians today. Jesus here claims that His teachings, specifically, are those of God Himself. Scripture makes sense. This also provides context for Jesus’ later comment that only those who are willing to obey God can successfully determine whether or not these teachings are valid (John 7:17). Christian believers, on the other hand, can only appeal to the spiritual authority of the Bible, and not to our own teachings. While we have the Bible—the Word of God—we don’t have the same divine authority which Jesus possessed.

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True knowledge through obedience

The phrasing used here by Jesus is unmistakable; He literally says, “If any man is willing to do His (God’s) will, he shall know…” We have to obtain true knowledge through obedience to God. Satan tempts man with limited knowledge based on disobedience (Genesis 3:5). Jesus essentially turns His era’s assumed relationship between knowledge and morality backwards. Ancient philosophers believe that morality is something that is produced by knowledge. Under that assumption, moral behaviour and the ability to do “good” was based on whether or not a person understood moral and philosophical truths. Only those who could understand could obey, they thought. In other words, misunderstanding causes disobedience, per ancient philosophy.

According to Christ, disobedience causes misunderstanding. Rather than knowledge of the truth leading to obedience, Jesus claims that whether or not a person is willing to obey God is what affects their ability to learn the truth!

An echoe can be read elsewhere in Scripture, both by Jesus and others (John 18:37; Romans 1:18–20; Hebrews 11:6). In fact, Jesus laid the groundwork for this idea when preaching in Capernaum, after feeding the thousands (John 6:29). The fact that Jesus was noted to be sinless (Hebrews 4:15), even by many of His own critics (John 8:46), demonstrates how a person’s spiritual life says a great deal about their knowledge (or ignorance) of God’s Word.

Obedience must come before knowledge

Wisdom from God

Rather than being educated in some Rabbinic school, or generating knowledge on His own, Jesus credits His amazing wisdom to God (John 7:16). In context, this is what Jesus means by those speaking on “his own authority.” While Jesus is fully man, and fully God (Colossians 1:19), His earthly mission is to follow the will of God the Father. Since the message Jesus brings is that of God, God is to be given credit for it. Even further, Jesus claims that a person’s willingness to obey God is what determines his or her understanding—rather than the reverse, where understanding enables obedience.

Even Jesus’ critics were forced to take note of His honesty and moral perfection (John 8:46). This very fact made Jesus’ claims difficult to dismiss out-of-hand. This, again, is a common theme of Christianity. When we give critics of the faith no cause to criticise us (Titus 2:7–8; 1 Peter 3:15–16), or to seek revenge (Romans 12:17–19), we make the Gospel all but inarguable.

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self-righteous, self-confident, self-centered

Here, Jesus once again attacks the self-righteous, self-confident, self-centered religion of Jerusalem’s spiritual leaders. To the people of Israel, there was no more important figure than Moses, and no ideal higher than following the laws given to Israel by Moses. For Jesus to criticise their adherence to the law was an attack on their very sense of identity. This is a criticism Jesus has posed in the past (John 5:39–47), and will bring up again (John 8:39–44). This meshes with the point Jesus made in verses 17 and 18, that those who refuse to obey God will not understand the truth. Worse, their refusal to accept Jesus is, in effect, a rejection of the very Scriptures they claim to uphold.

Despite the crowd’s skepticism (John 7:20), Jesus is well aware that the religious leaders of Jerusalem have sought to kill Him as a blasphemer (John 5:18). He is well aware that their rejection of Him is not superficial—it is deadly serious (John 7:1). And, it proves the very prediction made by Jesus in the early verses of this chapter: convicting the world of sin earns the world’s hatred (John 7:7).

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Trying to silence Jesus

In the terminology of Jesus’ day, telling someone they “had a demon” was the equivalent of saying, “you’re crazy.” The crowd, at this particular feast, was composed of people local to Jerusalem, as well as those who had arrived from remote regions. Some of those people would not have been as familiar with Jesus’ clashes with Jerusalem’s religious leaders. For this reason, when Jesus claims that some are seeking His death (John 7:19), a portion of the crowd brushes the claim off as nonsense.

Even so, some in the crowd know that Jerusalem’s religious leaders desire exactly that: Jesus’ death (John 5:18; 7:1; 7:25). This was one reason why gossip about Jesus was mostly kept private until His appearance mid-way through the feast (John 7:13). In fact, those more aware of the clashes between Jesus and Jewish leadership will begin to question whether the Scribes and Pharisees can, or want, to silence Jesus at all (John 7:25–26).

Invalid criticism

Here, Jesus refers back to the prior year’s Feast, where He healed a man at the Pool of Bethesda (John 5:1–9). The reaction of local religious leaders to that sign was extremely hostile (John 5:10–17). Most of that hostility was focused on the fact that Jesus had healed the man on a Sabbath day, contradicting the Pharisees’ traditions. This controversy led Jesus to claim that the Pharisees had all the required knowledge of God, but refused to come to Jesus in the way God intended (John 5:37–40; 6:29). This was also a reason Jesus stayed away from Jerusalem—and the direct influence of her religious leaders—for quite some time (John 6:1; 7:1).

In the next verses, Jesus will point out that even the Pharisees believe in performing certain spiritually-based works on a Sabbath, such as circumcision. Jesus will develop this example to show how their criticisms are ultimately invalid.

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Working on the Sabbath

Circumcision was originally mandated under Abraham, but it was part of the law which Moses established for the people of Israel. Jesus’ use of Moses has more to do with the religious leaders’ pride than anything else. In their own eyes, they were the only ones knowledgeable enough about the law, given by Moses, to make spiritual judgments. They felt this knowledge made them spiritually obedient, though in reality, they were rejecting God (John 5:39–47). One year prior, Jesus had healed a man during the Feast of Booths, on a Sabbath day. This earned Him condemnation from the Pharisees, since this conflicted with their man-made traditions.

In verse 22 and 23, Jesus points out that in order to follow the law—those given by the vaunted Moses—these same men would approve of a circumcision ritual on a Sabbath day. The question asked by Jesus in the next verse is one the hypocritical religious leaders cannot answer: if it’s alright to perform a minor “work” such as circumcision, in order not to break the law of Moses, how can they criticize Jesus for healing a crippled man on the Sabbath?

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Judge Correctly

“Judge not” is one of the most over-used clichés in discussions of Christianity (Matthew 7:1). Unfortunately, it’s almost always stated out of context. This gives the impression that Jesus simply said, “Do not judge.” In fact, Jesus often made a point of telling others that they should judge, but only “with right judgment,” as stated here (Deuteronomy 1:16; Matthew 7:2–12). Jesus’ frequent teaching was that we should not be superficial in our assessment of other people. However, it is crucial that we separate what is good from what is evil (Ephesians 5:8–16).

This statement follows a direct challenge to the spiritual authority of Jerusalem’s religious leaders. Despite having no formal education, Jesus is confounding his critics. He has accused them of hard-headedness (John 5:39–40), disobedience (John 7:17), and even attempted violence (John 7:19). As a result, as seen in the next few verses, the people of Jerusalem will begin to wonder: is Jesus being allowed to preach because the authorities are powerless, or because they have come to believe Him (John 7:25–26)?

That crisis of confidence will spur the Jewish leaders towards drastic measures to silence Christ!

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Posted by Stephen Baragwanath

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