The Identity of Jesus
John 7:40-44 MKJV Then when they heard the Word, many of the people said, Truly this is the Prophet. (41) Others said, “this is the Chris but others said, Does the Christ come out of Galilee? (42) Has the Scripture not said that Christ comes from the seed of David and out of the town of Bethlehem, where David was? (43) So a division occurred in the crowd because of Him. (44) And some of them desired to seize Him, but no one laid hands on Him.
Two groups are found in the crowd – those that “heard the Word” (v 40) and cried out that He was the Prophet or the Christ (v. 40-41); and those who “judged the Word” by coming up with theological, quibbles about Jesus’ birthplace and dividing the crowd (v. 41-44).
The Jews knew that Jesus was someone of spiritual authority so they tried to find the appropriate spiritual category to place Him in – Elijah (the prophet), the Christ/Messiah, a madman with a demon (John 7:20), a presumptuous untaught Teacher (John 7:15) or just an ambitious “somebody” (John 7:1-5).
They used their theology to try and work out who Jesus was – and thinking He was from Nazareth, and that the Christ would be from Bethlehem, they got it wrong! And yet a simple question would have solved the conundrum. Their failure to ask the obvious question “Sir, where were you born?” shows they were not seekers but in fact were “judges”.
Often a move of God is “judged” for how it fits in to preconceived notions, rather than “sought out” and properly evaluated for what God is (or is not) doing through it.
Back to our two groups: those who “heard the Word” and those who “judged the Word”. We can take two stances in the spiritual life:
While spiritual discernment is necessary it is not primary. Seeking God is primary and then as we find things we can test them (which makes discernment secondary), but we test them looking for what God may be saying in them and eager to learn. Seek and ye shall find, yet when we find we can “test the spirits” to see whether they are of God (1 John 4:1-3)
But the Jewish critics put their own system and ideas and notions in primary position and evaluated Jesus’ ministry expecting Him to conform. There was a great lack of true seeking and genuine openness to the Truth, especially Truth that brought change.
However those who “heard the Word” got it but did not know quite what to make of it. Was Jesus the Christ or the Prophet? They believed but were not sure just what it was they believed, or rather had personally encountered in Jesus Christ.
Jesus had just taught them about Living Water and this resonated as deeply then as it does today – perhaps more so in such a dry and thirsty land. It seems that the crowd split into “Yes, its available” and “No, I don’t think so” groups. Between those who discerned God’s voice in Jesus’ proclamation on the last day of the Feast of Tabernacles, and those who only heard the voice of their own skepticism, opinions and doubts.
The good news about the availability of the Holy Spirit tends to split people into two groups, between those who “get” the Promise of joy and life and abundant living – and those who sit back with low expectations and think the whole thing is a religious fraud (or even of the Devil).
John spends so much time recording the crowd’s reactions – because they are our reactions, and the reactions of common humanity down the ages. We do not just believe automatically, we question and doubt and raise objections, and sometimes that can be good, but mostly it just gets in the way. It seems that God wants us to err on the side of faith; indeed history tells us that trust is the path to growth. Few great saints have become spiritually great by being highly analytical or distrustful! Indeed most great saints have been accused of almost childish gullibility.
The Kingdom of God does not belong to the paranoid – but it does belong to the child-like, the meek, the trusting and the receptive. Wisdom is child-like, but not immature or childish. In fact God has been described as the Eternal Child – which is shocking at first but which bears some thought.
Jesus did not justify His provocative comments, or explain all the nuances behind them, He simply let them fall and let them be interpreted however they may. Jesus knew that the bulk of people would misinterpret Him, but that those who were seeking would find and those who were just sitting back and judging would be offended and would stumble.
That is why the apostle Peter wrote: 1 Peter 2:7-8 MKJV Therefore to you who believe is the honor. But to those who are disobedient, He is the Stone which the builders rejected; this One came to be the Head of the corner, (8) and a Stone-of-stumbling and a Rock-of-offense to those disobeying, who stumble at the Word, to which they also were appointed.
So Jesus is both the Giver of Living Water – and the Rock of Offense!