Meditating on Great Themes in John: 20. The Tide of Acceptance (2)
John 3:19 This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil.”
We spoke about a ‘The Battle for Belief’, and said it is rather like the tide that goes in an out. Now that was true of the ordinary people, it seems, but it also seems that there was a constant undercurrent that flowed against the incoming tide, an undercurrent that was there in the religious people of the day, which is tragic when you think about it; they should have been the people to appreciate Jesus first, but when you accept second best and the best turns up, that is a challenge.
We noted this tide early on in the Prologue when John wrote, “The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.” (Jn 1:5) and then, “He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. That was John’s overall summary of what happened in the long-term and our verse at the top which comes in what we called John’s Recap reiterates that and explains it. Where people are established in sin they will reject Jesus. You may find that difficult to believe but I once spoke with someone for five hours about Jesus and at the end of it they said, “I understand all that you are saying, and I can see it, but I like this life of sin and I want to hold on to it.” And with that they got up and left. People often reject Jesus because they want to hang on to the life they have, as wrong as it may be.
The thing that upset the religious Jews the most was whenever he referred to himself in divine terms, uniting himself with God, for example, “I tell you the truth,” Jesus answered, “before Abraham was born, I am!” At this, they picked up stones to stone him, but Jesus hid himself, slipping away from the temple grounds” (Jn 8:58,59).
A little while later, two chapters on, we find the same thing: “I and the Father are one.” Again the Jews picked up stones to stone him, but Jesus said to them, “I have shown you many great miracles from the Father. For which of these do you stone me?” “We are not stoning you for any of these,” replied the Jews, “but for blasphemy, because you, a mere man, claim to be God.” (Jn 10:30-33)
But this ‘undertow’ or ‘undercurrent’ first came to light when Jesus went and cleansed the temple in chapter 2. After he had done that we find, “Then the Jews demanded of him, “What miraculous sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this?” (Jn 2:18) which is a fairly natural question to ask in the light of what he had just done, but it was a seed of rejection rather than of acceptance as their future behaviour revealed. Chapters 3 and 4 are chapters of acceptance but they are to do with one man, Nicodemus and then one woman, the Samaritan, and her neighbours. When we come to chapter 5 we are back in Jerusalem and although Jesus heals a long-term invalid, the religious Jews were upset about it because it was the Sabbath, a day when no work was supposed to be done (Jn 5:9,10).
It was shortly after this we see the first of the Jews’ objection to Jesus’ references to his divinity: “Jesus said to them, “My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I, too, am working.” For this reason the Jews tried all the harder to kill him; not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God.” (Jn 5:17,18)
In chapter 6 we saw the feeding of the five thousand then Jesus walking on water and then his teaching on being the bread of life. It is within this that the Jews get upset again: “At this the Jews began to grumble about him because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” They said, “Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, `I came down from heaven’?” (Jn 6:41,42) After he later speaks of them needing to eat his flesh we find, “From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.” (Jn 6:66) Now this appears rejection more from lack of understanding that anything else and this is rejection by ordinary people rather than the religious Jews of Jerusalem.
As they approach the Feast of Tabernacles John notes, “For even his own brothers did not believe in him.” (Jn 7:5). The crowd in Jerusalem reveal the split opinions about him: “Among the crowds there was widespread whispering about him. Some said, “He is a good man.” Others replied, “No, he deceives the people.” But no one would say anything publicly about him for fear of the Jews.” (Jn 7:12,13) but it was when he started teaching in the temple precincts that it really warms up: “Then Jesus, still teaching in the temple courts, cried out, “Yes, you know me, and you know where I am from. I am not here on my own, but he who sent me is true. You do not know him, but I know him because I am from him and he sent me.” At this they tried to seize him, but no one laid a hand on him, because his time had not yet come.” (Jn 7:28-30)
Again the opposition, although muted, is because of his claims to divinity. It continues, “On hearing his words, some of the people said, “Surely this man is the Prophet.” Others said, “He is the Christ.” Still others asked, “How can the Christ come from Galilee? Does not the Scripture say that the Christ will come from David’s family and from Bethlehem, the town where David lived?” Thus the people were divided because of Jesus. Some wanted to seize him, but no one laid a hand on him.” (Jn 7:40-43) There is clear division and those against want to take it to the next level.
The next attack on Jesus comes from the Pharisees and we find, “You do not know me or my Father,” Jesus replied. “If you knew me, you would know my Father also.” He spoke these words while teaching in the temple area near the place where the offerings were put. Yet no one seized him, because his time had not yet come.” (Jn 8:19,20) and the hostility is because of his claims to divinity, yet again. We have already seen how this culminated in them wanting to stone him (Jn 8:58) The Jews’ refusal to believe becomes even clearer in their cross-examining the blind man healed in chapter 9. Again we have seen their desire to stone him in 10:31-33 for claiming to be God.
It is the Lazarus incident that really brings it to a climax: “Then the chief priests and the Pharisees called a meeting of the Sanhedrin. “What are we accomplishing?” they asked. “Here is this man performing many miraculous signs. If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and then the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation…… So from that day on they plotted to take his life.” (Jn 11:47,48,53) In the closing stages of his public ministry, John records, “Even after Jesus had done all these miraculous signs in their presence, they still would not believe in him. This was to fulfill the word of Isaiah the prophet:” (Jn 12:37,38)
To summarise: In Galilee he was completely accepted; it was only when he came south to Jerusalem that Jesus received opposition Mostly the ordinary people accepted him although they struggled at times with his teaching. The opposition came whenever he even hinted at his origins and it came from the religious authorities, and this gradually built until the tide was right out and the awful events of Good Friday came about.