We know that Luke managed to ferret out the details of Jesus’ birth and some outline of His early years. His gospel reflects this dramatic tale of birth in His ancestral home of Bethlehem, as a descendent of King David. His parents were on the Roman tax rolls, a public record. They stayed a year or so, then fled to Egypt, to return some years later to Nazareth, where His parents lived back when He was conceived. The Sanhedrin could have known this much, but refused to bother with researching it. At several points in our focal passage here, the lack of factual data is painfully obvious with the Sanhedrin and the cynical residents of Jerusalem, who seemed to know just about everything else.
Jesus met every prophetic test of His Messiahship. Not only were the Jewish leaders ignorant of this, but they refused to look at the Scripture to find out. They had long since ceased to study their Covenant documents, and had embarked on a path that led them to the Talmud. By the time of Jesus, the leadership had already decided their oral traditions trumped the written Law of Moses. Their demands were so radical that they were incapable of comprehending what the Messiah was actually supposed to do when He came. The Pharisees taught that they had God over a barrel; He had to seek their approval to nominate a Messiah.
The Pharisees held in contempt the Jewish tourists from the Diaspora. They were “accursed” and the only reason anyone put up with them was to get their money. When Jesus came along seeking to restore the ancient Hebrew perspective, He placed Himself in the Sanhedrin’s eyes below the accursed tourists. He was a genuine enemy worse than any bumbling Gentile, since His teaching demanded that the leadership, and the Pharisees in particular, surrender their longstanding prerogatives as the Chosen of the Chosen, so pure that God had to seek their rabbinical blessings, lest He lose His throne.
This is no exaggeration. They were possessed of a monumental arrogance.
After Jesus sternly rebuked them for rejecting their own God and His revelation in our last lesson, we see the people of the city wondering how He was allowed to stand in public after the Sanhedrin had issued a death warrant for Him. Had they changed their minds about Him being the Messiah? Can’t be! They were sure He was from Nazareth and that the Messiah would be from Heaven, not some place on earth.
Jesus responded with sarcasm. Oh, for sure, they knew all about the details of His birth. Yes, there was no doubt they had it all figured out. But they were utterly clueless about Who sent Him. They knew some false history about Jesus, but had no idea who their national God was. Jesus knew Him for the obvious reason that the Heavenly Father had sent Him in the first place.
The city folks in the crowd were so insulted by this that they tried to seize Him. While John doesn’t answer the obvious question of how or why, he simply notes that no one could lay a hand on Him because it wasn’t the appointed hour of His sacrifice. The implication is that everyone knew it was miraculous. Meanwhile, the Diaspora tourist debated among themselves if the Messiah could possibly do miracles any more wondrous than that. Some of them came to believe, at least on that basis, that Jesus was the Messiah.
When the Pharisees heard such chatter in the crowd, they went back and counseled with the Sanhedrin. It was decided to send the Temple Guards to arrest Jesus, but again, they were unable to do it. Jesus told them they had to put up with Him a little longer, and then He would go back to His Lord. Then He said something cryptic: They would come looking for Him and not find Him. He was going to a place they could not come. The leadership who had accompanied the Temple Guards were puzzled over this. About the only thing they could guess was perhaps He would travel out to the Diaspora synagogues where it was known there would be many Gentile visitors. In those places, it was well-known that Roman Law protected people like Jesus from being harassed by Jewish zealots, since they opened their worship to the public. Maybe He could convert some Gentiles, but no self-respecting Jew would listen to Him.
This continued over the next few days until the eighth and final day of the Feast of Tabernacles. Jesus stood in a very public place in the Temple Plaza and called for those who were spiritually thirsty. By embracing His message in faith, they would discover the meaning of Jeremiah’s prophecy — “For my people have committed two evils: They have forsaken Me, the fountain of living waters, and hewn themselves cisterns — broken cisterns that can hold no water” (Jeremiah 2:13 NKJV). This was yet another clear reference to how the Pharisees had ditched the clear and sweet revelation flowing from God in favor of toxic stagnant water stored in porous limestone. That is, they trusted their own reason and imagination instead of what God had said.
John tells us this flowing fountain was a reference to the Holy Spirit, Who had not yet been given to believers, waiting until Jesus was risen and ascended to Heaven. This announcement precipitated a debate among the folks in the crowd. Was a He a prophet, or the Messiah? But wasn’t He supposed to come from Bethlehem as a member of the ancient royal household of David? Again, they were factually unaware that Jesus was born in Bethlehem, and was from the royal household, but no one had bothered to find out for sure. Again, some of those in the crowd were infuriated and tried to seize Jesus, but simply could not.
Nor could the Temple Guards seize Him. When they reported back to the Sanhedrin empty-handed, the big shots berated them as traitors, in effect. This is where the Pharisees condemn the crowds openly as accursed, ignorant of “the Law,” by which they meant their oral traditions. Nicodemus warned them it was flatly illegal to put a death warrant on Jesus’ head in the first place without a fair trial. The only response they had was to attack Nicodemus. But it is the Pharisees who showed themselves ignorant, acting as if there was no prophet from Galilee. Both Jonah and Nahum were from Galilee.