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When Jesus revealed Himself and taught controversial things at the feast of Tabernacles, the religious leaders wanted to arrest him. But they were unable to do so, because the divine plan called for His arrest at Passover, not at Tabernacles. In the prophecies of the two comings of Christ, the first dove was killed, while the second was released into the open field (Lev. 14:5-7). Likewise, the first goat on the Day of Atonement was killed, while the second was released alive into the wilderness (Lev. 16:9, 10).
Because the two comings of Christ are also prophesied through Passover and Tabernacles, it is plain that He will not be killed at His Tabernacles manifestation—that is, at His second coming. So also he could not be killed when He kept the feast of Tabernacles in John 7.
John 7:44-46 says,
44 Some of them wanted to seize Him, but no one laid hands on Him. 45 The officers then came to the chief priests and Pharisees, and they said to them, “Why did you not bring Him?” 46 The officers answered, “Never did a man speak the way this man speaks.”
Obviously, Jesus did not follow the mainstream teaching in His day. His exposition of the Scriptures was different and irrefutable. No doubt He expounded on the meaning of the feast of Tabernacles in ways that the rabbis had never considered. He taught with authority—that is, He did not promote the teachings of other rabbis but taught the truth that His Father had sent Him to reveal to the people. While the rabbis and the chief priests taught the traditions of men—men’s understanding of the word—Jesus taught the revelation of God.
The Pharisees were upset that the officers had failed to arrest Jesus. John 7:47-49 says,
47 The Pharisees therefore answered them, “You have not also been led astray, have you? 48 No one of the rulers or Pharisees has believed in Him, has he? 49 But this crowd which does not know the Law is accursed.”
The simple answer is that these officers probably did believe in Him, but their jobs depended on their willingness to follow orders and to fulfill their duties. Secondly, on the surface it did not appear that any of “the rulers” had believed that Jesus was the Messiah. However, that was not strictly true, for Nicodemus was already a secret believer.
As we will see later at Jesus’ burial, Jesus’ great uncle Joseph of Arimathea, a member of the Sanhedrin, was also a believer. In fact, it seems logical that Jesus had gone with him on many voyages, disguised as a disciple being trained by Joseph to be a rabbi. This would certainly explain how Jesus had acquired the title of rabbi. If so, there is little doubt that Joseph would have learned a great deal about the Kingdom of God and the messianic prophecies that other members of the Sanhedrin did not know.
But Joseph was probably traveling during this time, as he was the Minister of Mining for the Roman Empire with tin mines in Cornwall in far-off Britain.
The third issue raised by the Pharisees shows how they despised the common people for their supposed ignorance of the law. Pride and arrogance show their faces here. The numerous and often petty traditions of men could hardly be known to all without many years of study. Most of the people spent their days trying to make a living and did not have time to study the Talmud as it existed then.
The question that intrigues me, however, is how John knew about this conversation between the Pharisees and the arresting officers. It is likely that at least one of them later was part of the church in Jerusalem and that he told John and others about this incident. There can be no doubt that this was Nicodemus.
John 7:50, 51 says,
50 Nicodemus said to them (he who came to Him before, being one of them), 51 “Our Law does not judge a man, unless it first hears from him and knows what he is doing, does it?”
It was well known that the law of God demands an honest investigation and that two or three witnesses are required to convict anyone of sin. Deut. 19:15 says,
15 A single witness shall not rise up against a man on account of any iniquity or any sin which he has committed; on the evidence of two or three witnesses a matter shall be confirmed.
The Pharisees had sent emissaries to investigate Jesus and His teachings, just as they had done with John the Baptist. But their investigation was hardly honest, because they relied on the traditions of men, and because their understanding of the law was corrupted through self-interest. Jesus did not meet their messianic expectations, for He did not hate the Romans, nor did He use His miraculous power to defeat any Roman armies.
Jesus was not subservient to the Sanhedrin, neither to the Pharisees nor the Sadducees. So they knew that if Jesus were to be declared as the Messiah, He would remove most of the existing religious rulers from their positions of power. Hence, they could not carry out an honest investigation nor come to a just verdict.
So when Nicodemus suggested that they actually follow the lawful procedure, they brushed aside his advice. John 7:52, 53 says,
52 They answered him, “You are not also from Galilee, are you? Search and see that no prophet arises out of Galilee.” 53 Everyone went to his home.
Their prejudice against the Galileans shows up here. They were of the opinion that the people of Galilee, being farther from Jerusalem and more influenced by Greek culture than in Judea, were ignorant of the law. By suggesting that Nicodemus must be from Galilee, they show their prejudice and arrogance. If by this they meant that no prophet had risen recently from Galilee, then they were correct. But neither had a prophet risen from Judah for 400 years until John the Baptist, who bore witness to Jesus.
Dr. Bullinger says in his notes,
“If they had looked, they would have found that Jonah and Hosea arose out of Galilee, and perhaps Elijah, Elisha, and Amos.”
Jonah was from Gath-hepher, a northern town in the tribe of Zebulun (2 Kings 14:25). Zebulun’s territory was later part of Galilee. Hosea was a prophet to the northern House of Israel, whose territory included all of Galilee. Hosea was not sent from Judah to Israel to prophesy, so it is likely that he actually lived in Israel.
Elijah’s chief foe was King Ahab, who was the king of Israel while Jehoshaphat was the king of Judah. Yet there is no evidence that Elijah even knew Jehoshaphat. His dispute was with Ahab alone, showing that he was from Israel (later known as Galilee).
Elisha was Elijah’s servant and prophet-in-training. Hence, Elisha too was an Israelite living in what was later known as Galilee. Amos, however, was from Tekoah, a town in Judah (Amos 1:1). I do not understand why Dr. Bullinger listed Amos as a Galilean in his notes on John 7:52. He seems to contradict himself in his introductory notes on the book of Amos, where he calls the prophet, “a native of Judah.”
Nonetheless, it is sufficient that Jonah, Hosea, Elijah, and Elisha were all Israelite prophets from the territory later known as Galilee. Elijah himself was prominent enough to represent all of the prophets, even as Moses represented the law. Malachi links them together in Malachi 4:4-6. So it appears that the Pharisees despised the Galileans so much that they refused to acknowledge that prophets did indeed arise in Galilee.
Nonetheless, it also appears that they did not know (or perhaps forgot) that Jesus was of the tribe of Judah and that He was born in Bethlehem.
John 7:53 probably should have been made the opening statement of John’s eighth chapter. It was not meant to tell us that the Pharisees and Nicodemus went home after their discussion with the arresting officers. It was meant to tell us that the people all went home after the feast of Tabernacles. The next verse should be included:
53 Everyone went to his home, 1 but Jesus went to the Mount of Olives.
This, then, transitions us from one story to the next.