An Enigmatic Mirror
Jesus at the Festival of Sukkot, Part 2: John 7:25-53
Jesus was thus opposed by the Jewish aristocracy, who were largely collaborating with the Herodian kings and Romans, either willingly or under duress. This faction included the Sanhedrin (the Jewish senate), the archiereus (the various High Priests with their extended families and clients), and other wealthy Jewish clans. There were also theological opponents of Jesus such as the Pharisees, who rejected Jesus' claim to be the Messiah, disputed his interpretations of the Law, and saw him as a Sabbath violator and blasphemer. When John speaks of the "Jews" who opposed Jesus he generally has reference to these aristocratic and religious factions who often feuded among themselves on a wide range of issues, but could generally agree on their opposition to Jesus (Jn. 1:19, 3:1, 5:10-18, 6:52, 7:1, 13, 8:48, 52, 9:22, 10:31-33, 11:8, 18:12-14, 36, 19:7, 12-16, 38, 20:19).
On the other hand, it is important to note that these groups were not monolithic, either politically or theologically. Some of the elite Jews and priests supported Jesus. John the Baptist was a priest (Lk. 1:5-8), and "a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith" of Jesus (Acts 6:7). Likewise early Christians included scribes (Mt. 8:19; Mk. 12:28-34), Pharisees (Acts 22:3, 26:5), and aristocrats like Nicodemus (Jn. 3:1-14, 7:50-52, 19:39-40) and Joseph of Arimathea (Jn. 19:38; Mk. 15:43; Lk. 23:50-51), both of whom were members of the ruling Sanhedrin council. Nonetheless, it is clear that most of the leaders of the Jews opposed Jesus, and some plotted his death.
From Whence the Messiah? (Jn. 7:27-31)
During this discussion at the temple, one group insisted that Jesus could not be the Messiah because "we know where this man comes from [Galilee], but when the Messiah appears, no one will know where he comes from" (7:27). As I have noted before, there were many different factions among the Jews, and many differing Messianic expectations. This objection came from a faction that believed that the Messiah would be a supernatural, angel-like figure whose appearance would be miraculous and overwhelming. (In a sense, this group believed the appearance of the Messiah would parallel what many Christians believe about the second coming of Jesus.) The foundation of this belief was Daniel 7:13, where the Messiah appears in "the clouds of heaven," an idea also found in other biblical and non-canonical Jewish writings (Mal. 3:1; 1 Enoch 46, 48:2-6; 2 Esdras 7:28; 4 Ezra 13:51-52; 2 Baruch 29:3; Talmud, Sanhedrin 97a). Since Jesus' parents and siblings were known (6:42), and he was known to have come from Galilee (7:41), he did not fulfill the expectations of the Hidden Messiah.
Jesus' response was simply to emphasize that his true origin is from the Father in heaven (7:28-29), precisely as Daniel 7:13 predicts. At this point, however, Jesus' claim was still an assertion, for his "hour" has not yet come (7:30). But it was an assertion supported by his signs. These signs were sufficient to convince some people (7:31), but by no means all. The purpose of his coming "hour" was his glorification, which would provide clear evidence that he is the Messiah sent by the Father.
To the Dispersion? (Jn. 7:32-39)
As noted above, the Pharisees and Chief Priests wanted to arrest Jesus for blasphemy and had sent officers (upēretas, "assistants," probably meaning the Levite temple police) to arrest him (7:32), though they ultimately failed to fulfill their orders (7:30, 45-47). In this context, when Christ spoke of returning "to him who sent me," so that they "will not find him" because he is going "where you cannot come" (7:33-34), the crowd might have been forgiven for thinking that Jesus was planning to go into hiding to escape arrest. Some thought he might be planning to go into the Dispersion (diaspora) to teach the Jews living among the Greeks (7:35)—the largest community being in Alexandria. Their failure to recognize that Jesus had been sent from the Father meant they failed to understand that when he returns to "him who sent me" (7:33; 17:8, 18, 21, 23, 25) it means that when his hour comes Jesus will return to the God the Father (8:14, 22; 13:3, 33, 36; 14:4, 5, 28; 16:5, 10, 17).
William James Hamblin is professor of Near Eastern History at Brigham Young University. You can follow and discuss "An Enigmatic Mirror" on Facebook.