Jesus continues to teach about His relationship with God, about His upcoming ascension into heaven, and about the future ministry of the Spirit. Some are amazed and are ready to accept Him as the Messiah, but many more are confused. They misunderstand Jesus’ own lineage and birth, and they have a different idea about the origins of the Messiah. In the midst of all the confusion Jesus manages to stay free, perhaps with some supernatural help, but certainly because the soldiers themselves are amazed at His teaching. Nicodemus attempts to defend Jesus to his contemporaries, but is ridiculed by them.
This all happens during the Feast of Tabernacles/Booths. This is a seven day feast that celebrated the fact that God led the Israelites for 40 years during their wilderness wanderings, where He sustained them with mana, quail, and water while they lived in tents. There was a tradition that, during the time of Jesus’ ministry, a golden container of water was carried from the pool of Siloam in the south side of the city up to the temple mount in the north. As the procession came into the inner court, three trumpet blasts rang out to mark the joy of the occasion and people recited Isaiah 12:2-3.
“Look, God is my deliverer! I will trust in him and not fear. For the LORD gives me strength and protects me; he has become my deliverer. Joyfully you will draw water from the springs of deliverance.” (or, “wells of salvation”)
This is the context for Jesus’ saying, “On the last day of the feast, the greatest day, Jesus stood up and shouted out, ‘If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink. Just as the scripture says, “From within him will flow rivers of living water.”’”
Awesome, isn’t it?!?!? Not just the circumstances, but the fact that we have the Spirit of God living in us!
Some find a moral conundrum in this passage. How could Jesus say definitively that He wasn’t going, then turn around and go? Well, there is a variant reading that may shed some light on the passage. The vast majority of manuscripts say, “I am not yet going” (7:8). I believe that properly summarizes the intent here. Jesus is saying, “You can go up the feast now because no-one is trying to kill you. I’m not going up yet. I’ll come later.”
The fact that His brothers didn’t believe in Him (7:5) explains the tone of their comments. They are trying to goad Him into going to the feast!
When Jesus does go, He teaches in the temple courts. The Jewish leaders are astonished at Him because He hasn’t had any formal teaching. Jesus points out that He’s merely teaching about God and seeking God’s glory, which they would understand if they really knew God! And if they truly knew God, they wouldn’t want to kill Him! Either they deny it or the crowd doesn’t fully understand, so Jesus explains Himself. It goes back to His healing of a man on the Sabbath. The religious authorities are willing to break the Sabbath command in order for a child to be circumcised, so how can anyone be upset when Jesus makes a man well? They don’t understand because they are judging superficially, without taking into account why Jesus did what He did when He did it.
How about us? Are we quick to judge others, rather than trying to understand their motivations? Do we lack compassion like the religious leadership in Jesus’ day? Or perhaps we do the same thing with the Bible, taking a command out of context without trying to understand how to apply it properly.
Jesus accuses the crowd of coming to find Him simply because they were fed! It brings up an interesting point. We understand that He did a miracle with the loaves and the fish, but how many outside of the circle of disciples would know? Jesus encourages them to not just look for literal food, but spiritual food: the food that only He can provide. They want Him to be the prophet like Moses, and to perform a miraculous sign like the manna. Were they looking for daily feeding, or for something more spectacular than loaves and fish? Either way, Jesus cautions them that it was God who actually did the miracle, and He was currently doing another one in their midst. They just need to believe that Jesus is the bread of life!
This is the first of seven “I am” metaphors in the book of John. Jesus is using the title that God used for Himself in Exodus 3:14. Not only is Jesus claiming deity here, but He is sharing with them that He is the giver of eternal life. They have to believe in Him (eat of His flesh), because He is going to give His body on the cross for the sake of mankind. They can believe if the Father brings them through the Spirit, and Jesus will accept them because that is the Fathers will. Once they are accepted they will be His for eternity, and will participate in the bodily resurrection at the end of the age!
Some of the crowd find this hard to understand. They take his metaphor literally, and don’t understand that He is foreshadowing His death on the cross. They quit following Him at this point, but the disciples understand that Jesus has “the words of eternal life.” However there is one among the 12 who does not believe. John makes sure to record Jesus comments about Judas here to again emphasize that Jesus knows and understands all things, and that what was foretold in the OT must take place.
For worship: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tdxSC1tHJn0
Because of John’s repeated mention of the Passover, we understand that Jesus’ ministry lasted a few years rather than a few months (6:4)!
John also emphasizes Jesus’ foreknowledge and understanding (6:6). When Jesus asks a question there is a specific reason, and much of the time it is actually a test.
We have a verification here of what was mentioned yesterday. People really are looking for a prophet like Moses, as was foretold in the Old Testament (6:14)!
Tomorrow we’ll look at the first clear “I am” statement in the gospel of John and what it means. What is neat here is that Jesus literally says, “I am. Do not be afraid.” This is a reference to His deity, because the expression is used by God to describe Himself:
Exodus 3:14 “God said to Moses, ‘I AM that I AM.’”
When we are at our worst, when we are the most fearful, when we are facing difficult circumstances, we need to remember that God is watching over us and we don’t need to be afraid anymore (6:20). He brings us safely to shore (6:21)!
Finally, we see the people continuing to “stalk” Jesus (22-24)! This reminds us of why He doesn’t always want His ministry broadcast. Sometimes He needs rest. Sometimes He has to be somewhere else. Sometimes He is avoiding the Jewish leadership. He always has a reason and a plan for what He does, even when we don’t always understand.
Jesus is always a stumbling block! Here is starts out because of what He does, but soon becomes worse because of the testimony of who He is. Unfortunately that reality continues today:
1 Corinthians 1:23 “but we preach about a crucified Christ, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles.”
Some Jewish authorities thought that God’s rest on the Sabbath was absolute and continual. Jesus points out that God continues to work, and that He is joining God in that work! He obeys the Father and does His will, but He also claims authority and equality with the Father. The Son has the ability to judge, to grant life, and to raise the dead, both literally and figuratively. Figuratively, those who are willing to listen and believe obtain eternal life. But there is also a literal and real physical resurrection that will happen for those who believe and follow, and doing what is good comes naturally for those who believe.
Ephesians 2:10 “For we are his creative work, having been created in Christ Jesus for good works that God prepared beforehand so we may do them.”
The religious leadership won’t believe because they refuse to accept both the testimony of John the Baptist and the Scriptures themselves! The law reveals that we are sinners. The sacrificial system points to our need for a Savior. The prophets predict the coming Messiah. All of Scripture points to Jesus, but they refuse to believe, so they stand condemned.
By the way, there is one specific verse from Moses that the religious leadership believed pointed to the Messiah. Deuteronomy 18:15 says, “The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you—from your fellow Israelites; you must listen to him.” We must listen!
For worship: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IQ4-8WZOjlY
Isn’t it interesting that this man doesn’t come to Jesus for healing? He doesn’t even know who Jesus is! What a perfect example of grace. The man wants to be healed, and apparently believes that when the water is stirred it’s an indication that the first one in will be cured (this is made even more explicit in 5:4, which some newer translations don’t include). The fact that Jesus chooses him out of all those waiting is another indication of grace, and the fact that he has been disabled for 38 years speaks to the magnitude of the healing. No water or angel is necessary. Jesus just commands that he take us his bed and walk, so he does!
Now, since work was prohibited on the Sabbath day, the religious authorities had come up with specific definitions of what work was, and had 39 different categories of work! Carrying something from one place to another was one of them. The Jewish leadership doesn’t care about the circumstances, just the appearance and the action. In truth, by carrying his bed the healed man was engaging in an act of worship and obedience! Rather than rejoice that the man was healed, the authorities want to learn who had the termerity to tell him to carry his mat! The man can’t even tell them that.
Jesus comes to him in the temple and gives him a warning. It’s not necessary to believe that the man had sinned before and caused his suffering. It’s quite possible that Jesus is just making sure that the man understands that even worse things could happen to him if he isn’t willing to obey! We often look at God’s commands as His way of keeping us from having any fun. In reality they are there to keep us out of trouble!
Once the man can point Jesus out to the religious leadership he does. We might think that’s not a great way to show His gratitude, but I don’t think the man has any concept of why it’s a problem. He simply knows that Jesus healed him, and that he can now point out his Savior to others!
Although Jesus does perform His second miracle in this passage, there is also a continued emphasis on the importance of the Word over the miraculous. In John 4:23-24 we saw that many followed Jesus because of the signs, but that He did not “commit Himself to them.” Here we read that He says, “Unless you people see signs and wonders you will by no means believe.” That wasn’t intended as a compliment! And it comes on the heals of the Samaritans believing the word of the woman at the well, and then believing “because of His own word.” John seems to be preparing us for a new age, where the Spirit works more though the Word than the miraculous. Miracles can encourage true faith, but they are not the be all and end all of belief:
Luke 16:27-31 “So the rich man said, ‘Then I beg you, father—send Lazarus to my father’s house (for I have five brothers) to warn them so that they don’t come into this place of torment.’ But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; they must respond to them.’ Then the rich man said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’ He replied to him, ‘If they do not respond to Moses and the prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’”
And Jesus’ ministry foreshadows the coming gospel mission. He starts with the Jews (which is emphasized by His meeting with Nicodemus), but also ministers to the Gentiles (by going to Samaria). Once again we are reminded that the gospel is not just for the Jews, but for everyone:
Acts 1:8 “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the farthest parts of the earth.”
Wow. Talk about a section that could use a whole commentary to describe it! I’ll try to be brief:
- This is a significant place in Jewish history. This land was not only owned by Jacob, it was given to Joseph and he was buried there (Joshua 24:32).
- That Jesus is willing to talk to a Samaritan woman tells us something about how we should be willing to reach out. He crossed barriers (27)!
- Jesus initiates a conversation so that he can share the gospel.
- We see the issue of confusion again, like with Nicodemus. Jesus is talking about salvation when he talks about living water. The woman thinks that He is talking about moving water!
- Jesus shares that salvation is a gift that can only come through Him (14).
- Jesus wants her to understand who He is, so He asks her a question that leads to Him revealing His divine knowledge.
- The woman finally begins to think spiritually, and asks Him the most important question of the time: “Who is right about where the temple belongs and where we should worship? Jews or Samaritans?”
- Jesus tells her that the Jews are right, since salvation is coming through them. But she is really asking the wrong question. It’s not where you should worship, but who you should worship!
- Worshiping in spirit and in truth is worshiping Jesus! The Spirit reveals Jesus, who is the truth. He is the Messiah!
- The woman runs to get others, seemingly not yet convinced. Perhaps she wants to find out what others think?
- Jesus reminds the disciples and us how important outreach is, and that it’s a group effort (36-38). We all have a part to play, and one isn’t more important than the other.
1 Corinthians 3:6-8 “I planted, Apollos watered, but God caused it to grow. So neither the one who plants counts for anything, nor the one who waters, but God who causes the growth. The one who plants and the one who waters work as one, but each will receive his reward according to his work.”
John’s words should echo in our lives as well: “He must become more important while I become less important.” That’s because Jesus is from heaven, and can testify to more than earthly things. He speaks the Word of God, and He is the only one who has the Spirit without measure! He is our authority, and we need to follow Him.
The NET Bible makes a deliberate choice in 3:3 to make us aware of a possible Greek translation. The phrase so often translated as “born again” can also be translated “born from above.” Nicodemus obviously understands it one way, and Jesus accommodates his understanding, but also tries to get Nicodemus to think more spiritually. To be born again is to be born from above, born of the Spirit. And to be born of the Spirit means to believe in Jesus Christ. He is the only way to have eternal life. And if you believe in Him you will change, because you are no longer in darkness: you are in the light!
There are various opinions as to when Jesus stops speaking in this passage. Is it after verse 12? Is it after verse 15 (as it is in the NET Bible)? Of is it later in the passage? It’s an interesting question because He may be revealing Himself as the Son of Man and giving Nicodemus some important information. I believe that Jesus probably stops speaking after verse 12, and that John is one revealing the spiritual truth of how to be born from above to his readers. And that truth was actually foretold in the Old Testament:
Numbers 21:4-9 “Then they traveled from Mount Hor by the road to the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom, but the people became impatient along the way. And the people spoke against God and against Moses, ‘Why have you brought us up from Egypt to die in the wilderness, for there is no bread or water, and we detest this worthless food.’ So the LORD sent venomous snakes among the people, and they bit the people; many people of Israel died. Then the people came to Moses and said, ‘We have sinned, for we have spoken against the LORD and against you. Pray to the LORD that he would take away the snakes from us.’ So Moses prayed for the people. The LORD said to Moses, ‘Make a poisonous snake and set it on a pole. When anyone who is bitten looks at it, he will live.’ So Moses made a bronze snake and put it on a pole, so that if a snake had bitten someone, when he looked at the bronze snake he lived.”
Either way, it’s quite an expose of Nicodemus’ lack of spiritual insight!
For worship: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7k_2DEjcojA