The Bible refers to Jesus as “Prince of Peace.” Yet, in His day as well as our day, Jesus is a divisive figure allowing no neutrality in terms of His identity. Jesus was a polarizing person producing varied opinions regarding His identity and nature. So a division occurred among the crowd because of Him” (John 7:43). John 7 depicts the following opinions of Jesus offered by the Jewish population six months prior to the death of Jesus: good man, deceiver, great teacher, demon-possessed, Messiah, the prophet, and one worthy of death. These same opinions are the options people discuss today regarding Jesus’ identity.
Who is Jesus?
First, the Fourth Gospel emphasizes Jesus as the fulfillment of the Festivals of Judaism. In other words, He is the one to whom the festivals pointed. In John 7-8, Jesus claimed to fulfill the Feast of Tabernacles. The first century Jewish historian Josephus regarded the Feast of Tabernacles as the greatest and holiest of the feasts. The festival celebrated protection and guidance God provided to His people in the wilderness. During the feast, Jews lived in tabernacles constructed from fresh tree branches. Zechariah the prophet predicted that in the end-times the nations would travel to Jerusalem to worship and participate in the Feast of Booths or Tabernacles (Zech. 14:16-21).
During the time of Jesus, the festival commemorated two aspects of God’s provision: God’s provision of water from the rock and His guidance by means of the pillar of fire. The priests lit great caldrons of fire in the temple complex celebrating God leading the Hebrews with the pillar of fire.
As the giant fire pits lit the entire city of Jerusalem, Jesus claimed, “I am the light of the world” (John 8:12).
On the last day of the feast, the high priest led in a procession from the temple to the pool of Siloam to gather water. Upon his return to the temple, he poured out the water as a libation offering as a remembrance of the water provided from the rock in the wilderness. Perhaps at the precise time the priest poured out the water, Jesus loudly cried out the words recorded in John 7:37-39. Jesus’ claimed to fulfill the symbolism and meaning of the Feast of Tabernacles or Booths. Since Tabernacles pointed forward to Him, Jesus was the one who provided the light and water in the wilderness as well as being the one the nations worship in the future.
Second, people offer varied opinions regarding Jesus. The attendees of the Feast of Tabernacles offered varied opinions regarding the identity of Jesus. Some thought of Jesus as a good man (v. 12)—a popular opinion today. Others expressed amazement at Jesus the teacher (v. 15, 46).
Others claimed Jesus was “the Prophet”—the one Moses foretold (Deut. 18:18). A sizeable group thought of Jesus as the Messiah (vv. 40-41). First century Judaism did not have a unified understanding of Messianic expectation. The common core of Messianic expectation focused on the fulfillment of promises of a ruling descendent of David (v. 42). Some in the crowd lacked a positive estimation of Jesus regarding Him as a deceiver (v. 12) or demon-possessed (v. 20). The Jewish leadership wanted to arrest Him.
Third, Jesus provided a theological explanation for these divisive views. First, understanding Jesus’ identity begins with a commitment of obedience to God’s will (v. 17). Second, people discuss the identity of Jesus without knowing the Scripture. The religious leaders claimed, “No prophet comes from Galilee” (v. 52). Yet, Jonah the prophet came from Galilee (2 Kgs. 14:25).
Ultimately, the root cause of unbelief in Jesus is a moral problem. The Jewish leadership faulted Jesus for healing on the Sabbath, yet they desired to kill Jesus.
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