Are You Mad? Who Is Trying To Kill You?! (john 7:14-21)

Christ in the Temple Jewish Studies for Christians

14 About the middle of the feast Jesus went up into the temple and began teaching. 15 The Jews therefore marveled, saying, “How is it that this man has learning, when he has never studied?”

The Feast of Tabernacles is a week-long celebration (A Jewish historian Josephus Flavius called this particular feast – most holy and important feast (Ant.viii. 4.1)) and we are told that Jesus appeared in the Temple and began to speak publicly some time after the beginning of the feast. There does not seem to be any particular significance to the fact that Jesus went up to the Temple midweek. He probably simply wanted those who were looking for him to let their guard down since by then they would have already assumed that he feared for his life enough, not to come.

When he came to the feast hoi Ioudaioi did not recognize him. Either Jesus’ looks were so “average” that people could not tell him from others, or no one who could make an arrest knew him or ever saw him personally. Remember that Judas’ kiss served to identify Jesus when the Temple guards came to arrest him. This is the most likely reason that hoi Ioudaioi who heard Jesus speak, wondered: ““How is it that this man has learning, when he has never studied?” In other words given his accent and his clothing, he was a Galilean. His arguments were unconventional enough in its conclusions (thought not in its methods), however, that it appeared that he was not schooled in the circles of hoi Ioudaioi. How was this possible?”

16 So Jesus answered them, “My teaching is not mine, but his who sent me. 17 If anyone’s will is to do God’s will, he will know whether the teaching is from God or whether I am speaking on my own authority. 18 The one who speaks on his own authority seeks his own glory; but the one who seeks the glory of him who sent him is true, and in him there is no falsehood.

Jesus answered the questions that hoi Ioudaioi had not voiced but were probably asking in their hearts. You are right I did not receive “approved” schooling, but I have a message to bring you as an authorized representative of Israel’s God. In other words, Jesus has challenged the hearers to stop thinking of him as a young sage from out of town and begin to think of him as a young prophet from God. A prophet does not need to be schooled by men, he has a higher calling; he must be taught by God.

19 Has not Moses given you the law? Yet none of you keeps the law. Why do you seek to kill me?”

Remember that hoi Ioudaioi who were listening to Jesus’ speeches and Torah interpretations did not yet make the connection as to who Jesus was. Suddenly Jesus begins to make things clear. He first accuses them of not keeping the Torah of Moses (something that was customary of Israel’s prophets), and then states the fact that they (hoi Ioudaioi) are trying to take his life.

20 The crowd answered, “You have a demon! Who is seeking to kill you?”

The first reaction was shock and disbelief. “Are you crazy!” (In the words of Ancient Israelites: “You have a demon!!) some of them said in a loud voice. “No one is after you. Don’t be paranoid!” But as Jesus continued to speak, some of them began to connect the dots.

21 Jesus answered them, “I did one work, and you all marvel at it.

It is clear that Jesus was referring to his healing of a Jewish man at the Pool of Bethesda. The pool in Hellenized Jerusalem likely functioned as the healing sanctuary of Asclepius, the Greek god of Medicine and health (read about it here). This happened during the previous trip of Jesus to Jerusalem. You may recall that the healed man, after he was confronted by Jesus about his life of sin, went to the Temple authorities to identify Jesus. This was something that was meant to hurt Jesus and not help him. It is of course also possible that this event caused such an uproar that the man needed to put the blame on someone. Perhaps, he was threatened when he said that did not really know who healed him (John 5:10-13) and later had the opportunity to claim his innocence before hoi Ioudaioi (John 5:14-15).

The healing occurred on the Sabbath and he likely disturbed the public order by walking into a pagan facility and healing someone in the name of Israel’s God (very bad for the ancient inter-faith relations and probably would have been for the modern too). Therefore, in order to distance themselves from Jesus and to discredit him, the Temple authorities accused him of Sabbath desecration. Hoi Ioudaioi‘s blind commitment to stop Jesus and strip him of his growing popularity closed their eyes from being able to see the obvious.

22 Moses gave you circumcision (not that it is from Moses, but from the fathers), and you circumcise a man on the Sabbath. 23 If on the Sabbath a man receives circumcision, so that the Law of Moses may not be broken, are you angry with me because on the Sabbath I made a man’s whole body well? 24 Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment.”

It was believed that through the sign and seal of circumcision a person is brought into covenant relationship with Israel’s God and as a result is made spiritually whole. Notice that Jesus agrees with hoi Ioudaioi that even though it was a Sabbath day, the circumcision ritual still needed to take place because the sign of circumcision takes precedence over ordinary Sabbath regulations.

As was customary for Jesus, he didn’t argue with hoi Ioidaioi about the legitimacy of Mosaic Law. After all Mosaic Law is Jesus’ law, both because Jesus was the eternal Logos of God (read here and here) and, therefore, was its original giver. Moreover, because in his humanity he was a Jew, as such he was fully and firmly under the authority of the Law of Moses. Instead of arguing about the legitimacy of the Law, Jesus only argued with hoi Ioudaioi about the interpretation of the Law of Moses and himself accused hoi Ioudaioi of the sin of inconsistency (John 5:23). There was at least another time when Jesus criticized his opponents of the sin of inconsistency when he brought to their mind a reference from a Qumranic Damascus Document, saying that while the Pharisees were right about saving life on the Sabbath, they were wrong about the fact that they thought that healing should not be allowed on this sacred day (Mat.12.9-13 and CD XI 11b-14a). Qumran Jews were not allowed to assist their animals in birth on the Sabbath. This was done not out of lack of concern for the animal’s well-being (cruelty to animals), but out of concern for working to increase one’s own wealth on the Sabbath day. One example of what made this Jewish movement different from the far more liberal Pharisees was the following prohibition: “If it falls into a pit or ditch, he shall not raise it on the Sabbath.” Contrary to the popular opinion Jesus’ point in arguing with Pharisees over healing on the Sabbath was not to call them to repentance from legalism and bad hermeneutical methods, but rather to apply their already developed hermeneutical methods all the way. The sin of Pharisees often seems to be the sin of theological and halakhic inconsistency (read more about it here).

In a sense Jesus is saying: “You can see the importance of making the people whole spiritually and ceremonially on the Sabbath Day, but you refuse me the right to make the people physically whole on the Sabbath.[1] We do, however realize that the issues that the hoi Ioudaoi had with Jesus had nothing to do with healing on the Sabbath. This was only an excuse to make him look bad. Their real issue was that he set up himself up as the true authority, therefore, in the minds of many people, displacing them from their seat of power.

25 Some of the people of Jerusalem therefore said, “Is not this the man whom they seek to kill? 26 And here he is, speaking openly, and they say nothing to him! Can it be that the authorities really know that this is the Christ?

Notice how carefully the author of the Gospel distinguishes between the voices of the hearers (the people Jerusalem) and the authorities (hoi Ioidaioi).  All of the sudden everyone “put two and two together” and realized that this must be Jesus whom the Temple authorities have determined to arrest. They had heard about his teaching and miracles in Galilee, but coming to Jerusalem and not seeking their approval was a nothing less than a challenge to their leadership. There was no place for them and Jesus together. Either they would remain in power, or he would take their place.

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© By Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg, Ph.D.

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[1] It is very important to note that Judaism (Rabbinical Judaism) as we know it today accepts healing as legitimate activity that is allowed on the Sabbath Day. All of this means that today’s Judaism follows Jesus’ teachings about the Sabbath-observance with regard to the healing and not the teachings of hoi Ioudaioi that opposed him in spite of the popular myth.

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  1. Breno

    Jesus is not the logos of John 1 1, because he had not part in creation. Isaiah 44 24.