If we read the Gospels with an absolute commitment to always systematize them into one coherent story, we will have difficulty to always be able to do so. In most cases it will be possible; in some it will not be. This text is an example of contradiction that can indeed be resolved with a feasible hypothesis. We read in vs. 27 that it was believed that the Messiah will be of unknown origins, while the scribes summoned by Herod at the coming of the Magi in the Gospel of Matthew claimed with consensus that the Messiah was to be born in Bethlehem (Matt.2.4-6). For Mathew’s Jewish sages who were consulted by Herod the answer seemed clear – the Messianic origins are that of Bethlehem. However, here in John, some people in the crowd, when they thought that the authorities had after all granted Jesus the status of Messiah (John 7.26), objected that Jesus’ origins were known, and therefore, they thought that it was a mistake to recognize him as the Christ. So what was it that was expected of the coming Messiah? Would his origins be known or not?
You may recall from our previous studies that when Jesus was in Galilee hoi Ioudaoi said he could not have come down from heaven as he claimed, because they personally knew his parents (John 6.42). Here in John 7.27 it is likely that something else is being referred to. Instead of personal acquaintance with Jesus’ parents, the likely issue was that Jesus’ ministry had been heard of already for some. He had already been engaged in public ministry for close to three years. There was no suddenness in his Messianic appearance. What people in John 7 were saying was not that they knew Jesus’ Galilean parents (that is rather unlikely), but that they had heard about Jesus for so long that he no longer fit their Messianic candidate checklist on this issue.
Much later rabbinic Jewish sources communicate similar sentiments coming from some Jewish sages. For example, in the Babylonian Talmud, Rabbi Zera, is remembered as having said: “Three come unawares: Messiah, a found article, and a scorpion.” (b. Sanhedrin 97a) Another example comes from the second century dialogue between Justin Martyr, a Christian and Trypho, a Jew. What is interesting is that Trypho is also objecting in a similar way: “But Christ—if he has indeed been born, and exists anywhere – is unknown, and does not even know himself, and has no power until Elijah comes to anoint him and make him manifest to all.” (Trypho, Dialogue 8) Incidentally, it is entirely possible that the conversation between Justin and Trypho in reality never took place and the content of the dialogue was simply reconstructed from New Testament texts alone (a common feature of polemical religious literature). But it is also possible that this dialogue was put together as a summary of real Jewish-Christian encounters in second century. If this is so, then it is possible that we see here an example of a widespread Jewish belief that Christ’s coming would be sudden and his origins unknown.
The idea that Christ would be of unknown origins is also known from 1 Enoch 46:1-3 (another witness to the variety of Jewish contemporary opinions about the secret things of Messiah). There we read: “There I beheld the Ancient of Days, whose head was like white wool, and with him another, whose countenance resembled that of man. His countenance was full of grace, like that of one of the holy angels. Then I inquired of one of the angels, who went with me, and who showed me every secret thing, concerning this Son of man; who he was; whence he was and why he accompanied the Ancient of Days.”
What we can clearly see from all of these biblical, extra-biblical and para-biblical sources is that Jewish people held a variety of views concerning Messiah. They were non-binding, however. This was so in opposition to Christian belief system where the Messianic idea was central and non-adherence to its core points spelled an expulsion from the early church on the grounds of false teachings.
28 So Jesus proclaimed, as he taught in the temple, “You know me, and you know where I come from. But I have not come of my own accord. He who sent me is true, and him you do not know. 29 I know him, for I come from him, and he sent me.”
What is even more striking here is that in contrast to the story found in the Gospel of Matthew (regarding Bethlehem), John’s Jesus seems to agree with the objection that the Messiah will be of unknown origin. He, however, explained that while they thought they knew him, they really did not. Since Israel’s God sent Jesus, there was a lot to know about Jesus than hoi Ioudaioi naively claimed.
30 So they were seeking to arrest him, but no one laid a hand on him, because his hour had not yet come.
This phrase “my time has not come” was already in use when Jesus said to his mother in John 2:4 “Woman, what does that have to do with us? My hour has not yet come.” Mariam, fully aware of Jesus’ divine origins and probably other actions that only a mother would know, sought for Jesus to use his miraculous powers to help embarrassed couple at the height of their wedding joy. Jesus did help, but said that his “hour has not yet come.” Later on after this incident, Jesus taught the people in the treasury rooms of the Temple and the Temple police did not arrest him. The Temple police had their own reasons as to why they did not arrest Jesus, but the author of the Gospel of John knew that the reason he was not yet arrested, tried, and killed was because his time “had not yet come” (John 7:45-51). When the news about Greek God-fearers seeking to meet Jesus came to him, he responded that “his time had come” (John 12:20-24). Shortly before his arrest, Jesus prayed: “Jesus spoke these things; and lifting up His eyes to heaven, He said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify Your Son, that the Son may glorify You” (John 17:1-2). So it is here in chapter 7 when Jesus’ arrest is being sought, it could not take place for the simple reason that the timing of Jesus “has not yet come.” (John 7:30)
31 Yet many of the people believed in him. They said, “When the Christ appears, will he do more signs than this man has done?”
The story begins with people objecting to the rumors that the authorities recognized Jesus as the potential Messiah with “when the Christ appears, no one will know where he comes from” (John 7.27), but it ends very differently. Many people did believe in Him, posing the opposite rhetorical question “when the Christ appears, will he do more signs than this man has done?!” You see that just as there were many traditions of Christ’s unknown origins, there were even more traditions that had to do with coming Christ’s miraculous powers. The Jewish people standing in the crowd were smarter than they looked. “If any one will ever be the Christ, he wouldn’t be able to do more miracles than Jesus?!”, they reasoned.
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