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When Jesus went to the temple to teach in the middle of the feast of Tabernacles, it caused great controversy. John 7:15 begins,
15 The Jews then were astonished, saying, “How has this man become learned, having never been educated?”
Since they were unable to dispute His miracles (except when performed on the Sabbath), they tried to discredit Jesus for not having a proper education from a respected rabbi. Obviously, Jesus had been educated, for He knew the Scriptures well and could quote from memory the law, the prophets, and the psalms.
He was often called “rabbi,” a title not given to uneducated men. I set forth Jesus’ educational credentials in my book, Dr. Luke: Healing the Breaches, Book 1, chapter 16. There I showed that Jesus was not only a rabbi but a “Rabbi with Authority.” To be such a rabbi required the witness of two other rabbis. John bore witness of Jesus, and the Holy Spirit bore witness of Him again at His baptism. His miracles were a third witness (John 5:36).
A Rabbi with Authority was allowed to create his own “yoke,” or discipline for his disciples. He did not have to follow everything that his teacher had set forth. In other words, Jesus was free and independent of men’s disciplines. In practice, this meant that Jesus could follow the leading of the Spirit completely and without obligation to any other man.
John 7:16, 17 says,
16 So Jesus answered them, and said, “My teaching is not Mine, but His who sent Me. 17 If any man is willing to do His will, he will know of the teaching, whether it is of God, or whether I speak from Myself.”
Jesus taught by revelation. There were many rabbinic teachings that were good, and perhaps many were even inspired on some level. However, even inspired teachings must be treated as “grass” until the disciple has had time to “chew the cud” and to transform flesh to spirit. What a teacher believes to be inspired cannot be passed down to another in spirit form, for the command regarding manna is to “gather of it every man as much as he should eat” (Exodus 16:16).
All must seek the witness of the Holy Spirit in order to make it their own revelation. If the revelation is indeed truth, then any hearer who “is willing to do His will” is going to hear the teaching and respond by faith. John 7:18, 19 continues,
18 “He who speaks from himself seeks his own glory; but He who is seeking the glory of the One who sent Him, He is true, and there is no unrighteousness in Him. 19 Did not Moses give you the law, and yet none of you carries out the law? Why do you seek to kill Me?”
Those who do not teach by inspiration of the Spirit are soulish and speak the things that their soulish minds have learned from others. The soul seeks his own glory and functions in a state of pride. In fact, pride is probably the chief characteristic of the soulish man, regardless of the truth in his words. Pride is the measure of soulishness.
Jesus sought to do the will of His heavenly Father. He sought to give glory to the One who sent Him. For this reason, “there is no unrighteousness in Him.” Moses too was inspired when he gave the law, because the law was not from his own mind but from God Himself. So Jesus set forth Moses as a further example of one who did not seek his own glory. Though he was great, he was also humble, for Num. 12:3 tells us,
3 (Now the man Moses was very humble, more than any man who was on the face of the earth.)
This was a parenthetical statement, no doubt added by Eliezer, son of Aaron, who was Moses’ inspired scribe. After all, it is not likely that a humble man would proclaim himself to be the humblest man on the face of the earth!
The religious leaders in Jesus’ day all reverenced Moses and claimed to believe His teachings. However, if they had truly believed Moses, they would have believed what Jesus said, because they were both sent by the same God and were inspired by the same Father. The fact that they sought to kill Jesus proved that the law was not written on their hearts. They had studied the law extensively by their soulish minds, but they had failed to consult the Holy Spirit by chewing the cud, as the law commands (Lev. 11:3, 4).
The crowds who were listening to this exchange were oblivious to the underlying hatred in the hearts of their respected leaders. John 7:20 says,
20 The crowd answered, “You have a demon! Who seeks to kill You?”
The question would be answered soon, and the crucifixion would finally prove the point. John 7:21-24 continues,
21 Jesus answered them, “I did one deed, and you all marvel. 22 For this reason Moses has given you circumcision (not because it is from Moses, but from the fathers), and on the Sabbath you circumcise a man. 23 If a man receives circumcision on the Sabbath so that the Law of Moses will not be broken, are you angry with Me because I made an entire man well on the Sabbath? 24 Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment.”
Here we find that the religious leaders were still angry that Jesus had healed the invalid on the Sabbath the previous Passover (John 5:8-10). This was the “one deed” that had provoked the religious leaders to wrath. Recall also John 5:18 tells us that “For this reason therefore the Jews were seeking all the more to kill Him.”
Again, in John 7:1 we find that Jesus stayed away from Judea, because “the Jews were seeking to kill Him.” Yet the common people seemed to be unaware of the hatred in the hearts of their respected leaders.
Jesus then defended His miracle of healing on the grounds that it was not a sin to do good on the Sabbath, even if it was technically “work.” Even the priests circumcised eight-day-old sons on the Sabbath. And what about the animal sacrifices? Did they refuse to sacrifice on the Sabbath on the grounds that it was work?
Lightfoot tells us that Rabbi Haggai taught this:
“If a heathen come to you and say, “I would be made a Jew, so that he would be circumcised on the Sabbath day, or on the day of Expiation, will we, for his sake, profane those days? Do we ever profane those days either of the Sabbath or Expiation, for any other than one born of an Israelitess only?” (John Lightfoot, Commentary on the New Testament from the Talmud and Hebraica, Vol. 3, p. 315)
They allowed circumcision on the Sabbath only for a biological Israelite, because they believed that only Israelites took precedence over profaning the Sabbath. Foreign converts had to wait until the next day. Yet the point is that they considered circumcision to be “work” that actually profaned the Sabbath except in certain circumstances.
The invalid that Jesus healed on the Sabbath was not only an Israelite himself, but he was also a prophetic type representing Israel as a whole during their 38 years from Kadesh-barnea to the Jordan crossing (Deut. 2:14). Thus, by their own standards, it should have been lawful to heal him on the Sabbath.
Scripture teaches that the Sabbath was not so much about ceasing from labor as it was about setting aside time to do the Father’s work. Isaiah 58:13 and Heb. 4:10 show that the underlying purpose of the Sabbath is for us to cease from our own works and words and instead to do the work of God and to learn to speak His words as an Amen people.
To judge by outward appearance inevitably brings injustice. To “judge with righteous judgment” is possible only by the revelation of the Spirit, who alone knows all of the evidence and can interpret and apply the law according to the mind and intent of the Lawgiver.
John 7:25-27 says,
25 So some of the people of Jerusalem were saying, “Is this not the man whom they are seeking to kill? 26 Look, He is speaking publicly, and they are saying nothing to Him. The rulers do not really know that this is the Christ, do they? 27 However, we know where this man is from; but whenever the Christ may come, no one knows where He is from.”
It appears that some of the people perceived that the religious leaders were looking for an excuse to kill Jesus. However, they did not want to do so during the feast, lest they profane themselves.
Others doubted that Jesus was the Christ because they knew where He was from. The common view was that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem, after which time He would disappear from public view, and finally He would reappear, giving people manna from heaven. Perhaps their view was based on the fact that Moses had disappeared from view when he went to the land of Midian for 40 years.
From the conversation above, it seems that the people knew He had been born in Bethlehem and had then disappeared from public view. So we read in John 7:28, 29,
28 Then Jesus cried out in the temple, teaching and saying, “You both know Me and know where I am from; and I have not come of Myself, but He who sent Me is true, whom you do not know. 29 I know Him; because I am from Him, and He sent Me.”
Jesus had been born in Bethlehem as expected. He had disappeared for 30 years, first being taken to Egypt and later to Nazareth. There is evidence also that His great uncle, Joseph of Arimathea, took Him on his trading ships to Britain and even to India. But He returned when He was 30 to be baptized by John and to begin His public ministry.
The controversy was not about His place of birth but about His mission and whether or not He was the “messenger of the [new] covenant” (Mal. 3:1). Some believed, some did not, but most of the people had not yet decided or were waiting for their leaders to decide, so that they would know what to believe.