The senators dismiss the Galilean prophet.

by K.W. Leslie, 02 September

John 7.37-52.

The last day of the Sukkot festival was treated like Sabbath. Lv 23.36, Nu 29.35 Every day, God was presented a ritual food offering; on the last day they presented a ritual drink offering. The priests drew water from the Šiloakh pool (where Jesus later sent a blind guy to wash himself) then walked round the temple’s altar with the water. Then the officiating priest lifted his hand to indicate the ritual was over… and then this happened.

John 7.37-39 KWL
37 On the last day, the great day, of the Sukkot feast, Jesus stood and called out,
saying, “When anyone thirsts, come to me and drink!
38 When one believes in me, as the scriptures say,
‘Rivers of living water will flow from his womb.’ ”
39 Jesus said this about the Spirit who was about to receive those who believed in him:
The Holy Spirit hadn’t yet come, for Jesus hadn’t yet been glorified.

Jesus’s bible quote isn’t an exact quote of anything. He was going for a general idea of water bubbling up from within, as implied in verses like this one.

Isaiah 58.11 KWL
“The LORD led you constantly. He satisfied your soul in scorched lands. He strengthened your bones.
You’re like a well-watered garden, like a water spring which doesn’t produce foul water.”

It’s similar to what he told the Samaritan at the well:

John 4.13-14 KWL
13 In reply Jesus told her, “All who drink this water will be thirsty again.
14 Whoever would drink the water I give them, won’t be thirsty in the age to come.
Instead, the water I give them will become a water spring within them,
bubbling up into eternal life.”

As John said, this is a prophecy about the Holy Spirit, who wouldn’t come Ac 2.1-4 till after Jesus was raptured and glorified. Ac 1.9-11 Come to Jesus and receive the water of life; receive the Holy Spirit.

Still, it galvanized the people, who were pretty sure Jesus was either the Prophet or Messiah… although as you can see, there was still some debate about his credentials to be Messiah. He was Jesus the Nazarene, after all—and they knew Messiah didn’t come from Nazareth.

John 7.40-44 KWL
40 So some from the crowd who heard this word said, “This is truly the Prophet.”
41 Others said, “This is Messiah.”
And some said, “No, for Messiah doesn’t come from the Galilee!
42 Doesn’t the scripture say Messiah comes ‘out of David’s seed’ Ps 89.4
and ‘from Bethlehem,’ Mc 5.2 the village where David was from?”
43 So there became a split in the crowd about Jesus.
44 Some of them wanted to arrest Jesus, but nobody put their hands on him.

We know Jesus was born in Bethlehem, but I remind you John didn’t include Jesus’s birth story; he just showed up in his 30s to be baptized by John, gather students, and start teaching. John states multiple times he came from heaven, sent by the Father, which was good enough for John. Not so much for the Jerusalemites, who were looking for any reason to disqualify him. Jesus is descended from David ben Jesse, Mt 1.1 and wasn’t just born in Bethlehem but had ancestors from Bethlehem; Nazareth was founded by Bethlehemites. His provenance definitely doesn’t disqualify him from being Messiah. But for doubters, any excuse will do. We get the same way nowadays; all humans do.

The senators’ contempt.

Wasn’t just the crowds who debated Jesus: The Judean senate did as well. You recall they sent their ὑπηρέτας/ypirétas, “underlings” (KJV “officers”) to either go get him, or quiet him. Jn 7.32 Instead the underlings came back empty-handed, too impressed by Jesus to oppose him—to the great annoyance of the senators.

John 7.40-49 KWL
45 So the underlings came to the head priests and Pharisees,
and these officials told them, “For what reason did you not bring Jesus?”
46 The underlings replied, “Nobody ever spoke like that person.”
47 So the Pharisees answered them, “Jesus deceived you too, did he?
48 Do any of the rulers believe in Jesus? Or any of the Pharisees?
49 But this God-damned crowd doesn’t know the Law.”

The way I translated verse 49 never fails to get a strong reaction from people, ’cause they’re pretty sure I took God’s name in vain, or used a blasphemous profanity. Honestly I didn’t. First of all, that’s not even what taking the LORD’s name in vain means; the context of the command is to not casually use the LORD’s name for vows we’re gonna break, or to swear to tell the truth yet perjure ourselves. Second, blasphemy is about slandering God, or lying about him, which I didn’t do, and technically the senators didn’t either.

The Pharisees among the senators described the people as ἐπάρατοί/epáratí, “[divinely] accursed ones.” When it’s used in Greek literature, the idea is the gods cursed people, ’cause they did something the gods forbade, like desecrating graves or living in forbidden cities. And when the Pharisees used it, they meant the LORD cursed them—because they didn’t know his Law. Certainly not like the Pharisees did.

Now wasn’t the entire point of Pharisaism to teach people the Law? To perpetuate the Law in Israel, lest the cycle start all over again ’cause God’s people slid back into apostasy and idolatry? Of course. But in holiness movements there’s always a toxic faction of legalists who forget to be compassionate and gracious to those who don’t know any better. Christianity definitely has ’em too: Some of us treat pagans like crap, like sinners doomed to destruction. Some of us even claim God wants to destroy them; that the only reason they exist is so God can dump wrath on ’em, and look good and glorious by comparison. It’s a totally messed-up worldview, contrary to scripture, 1Ti 2.4 but it’s far too common among Evangelicals. These people forget if it weren’t for God’s grace, they’d be just as lost. And these Pharisee senators were in the very same boat.

Pride made ’em figure they knew God better than the crowds; that they knew better than to believe Jesus was Messiah; that certainly none of them believed in Jesus. “Do any of the rulers believe in Jesus?” Or any of the Pharisees?”

Well yeah… some of ’em did. Nicodemus obviously.

John 7.50-52 KWL
50 Nicodemus, who previously came to Jesus, was one of the senators. He told them,
51 “Our Law doesn’t judge a person unless we first hear from him and know what he does, does it?”
52 In reply the rulers told him, “You’re not also from the Galilee, are you?
Search and see: The Prophet doesn’t arise from the Galilee.”

Good on Nicodemus for speaking up, but y’notice the other senators’ rotten attitude, and you can see why Nicodemus didn’t bother to speak up often. Their immediate response was, “You’re not also from the Galilee, are you?”

Dismissing the Galilee.

In the 900s BC, Israel split into two countries. Ten tribes became northern Israel (also known as Ephraim, though the Old Testament authors usually kept calling it “Israel”) and three, plus smaller factions of the other tribes, became southern Israel (also called Judah). And ever since, the Judahites, or Judeans, wrote off the northerners as a bunch of pagans.

To be fair, they were pagans. Ephraim’s first king, Jeroboam ben Nevat, set up temples to the LORD at Dan and Bethel so his people wouldn’t have to travel to Jerusalem’s temple for worship, for fear he might lose their loyalty. 1Ki 12.26-30 But because he decorated the temples with gold calf idols, the Deuteronomistic historian considered this grievous pagan idolatry, and every Ephraimite king thereafter was just as heretic as Jeroboam. Got worse when Ahab ben Omri promoted the heck out of Baalism.

When the LORD finally had the Assyrian Empire overthrow Ephraim, and replace the people with Samaritans, the Judeans figured all lands north of Samaria were just “the Galilee of the gentiles,” Ge 9.1 full of Syrians, Sidonians, Tyrians, Greeks, Samaritans, and rebellious Israelis who lived outside God’s covenant. It was lost territory.

Well, not wholly lost. Some Judeans, like the Nazarenes, settled there and tried to create Jewish towns amidst all that paganism. But Judeans still felt themselves superior to their own Galilean settlements, kinda like European imperialists felt about their own citizens in their colonies: What kind of people would voluntarily leave their blessed homeland to go settle a new territory? Only hard-luck cases. People who have nothing going for them back home. Opportunists. Criminals. Real Judeans would stay home in the Holy Land.

And to Pharisees, the good guys in their End Times timeline would only be the realest of real Judeans. Like Elijah, who’d come again. (Who, they totally forgot, was a Tishbite; was from northern Israel. But whatever.) Like the Prophet, the prophet-like-Moses who was meant to prepare the way for Messiah. Like Messiah, the king-like-David who’d smite Israel’s enemies and establish God’s kingdom. These fellows were surely from Judea. Messiah was from Bethlehem, same as the great King David. The Prophet… well, some Pharisees claimed he’s from Jerusalem, and the rest figured it was somewhere in their province.

In general, the Pharisees’ ideas of the End Times were entirely focused on Judea. Not the Galilee; nowhere outside their home province. None of those places even factored into their plans. (Kinda like some American “prophecy scholars” who only focus on Israel and the United States.) So much so, Matthew had to stretch a bit to find a verse where Messiah would be called a Nazarene Mt 2.23 —which is more wordplay than prophecy, based on Isaiah’s statement a rod (or scepter, or ruler, if you wanna be metaphorical) will grow from Jesse’s נֵצֶר/nechér, “sprout,” Is 11.1 and doesn’t nechér sound a little like Nazareth? Maybe?…

This tunnel vision actually came in handy: Jesus’s dad realized everybody would be looking for potential Messiahs in Bethlehem, but nobody would look for him in Nazareth, so he could go unnoticed for decades. But it later became a problem when it was time for Jesus to be noticed… and his Galilean accent kept getting in the way. “Messiah’s not Galilean!”

Even today’s Historical Jesus scholars get hung up on it. They think because Jesus is “Jesus the Nazarene,” he must’ve been born there; they think Matthew and Luke’s claims he was born in Bethlehem must be inventions by the apostles to give Jesus credibility. They can’t imagine someone would be known by a place they weren’t actually born in. Unlike, say, T.E. Lawrence of Arabia, Benjamin Franklin of Pennsylvania, Abraham Lincoln of Illinois, or Arnold Schwarzenegger of California.

So when Nicodemus correctly pointed out the Law didn’t permit the Pharisees to leap to conclusions, they rejoined with yet another leapt-to conclusion: “The Prophet doesn’t arise from the Galilee.” Seems they weren’t willing to say Jesus was Messiah, but maybe he was the Prophet… and the Prophet can’t be from the Galilee.

Every once in a while some preacher will point out of course prophets came from the Galilee. Like Jonah ben Amittai. 2Ki 14.25 But they don’t realize the Pharisees weren’t speaking of just any prophet, but the Prophet, their End Times figure who’d point to Messiah. And yes, Christians recognize Jesus is that prophet. Ac 3.22 And Messiah. Contrary to Pharisee teachings, these aren’t two different people.

The Pharisees were so sure they were right, they were willing to mock Nicodemus (“You’re not also from the Galilee, are you?”) and dismiss the crowd as “God-damned.” That’s how lofty they thought they were, and how little they thought of everyone else. They knew better; not the rabble. These people who obediently came all the way to Jerusalem to celebrate Sukkot as the LORD commanded? They’re going to hell. They’re a bunch of morons, or are otherwise deficient in religion somehow; only Pharisees were the chosen few.

The Pharisees were so locked into their End Times theories, into their prejudices, they couldn’t recognize Jesus when he was among them. Something we need to bear in mind when we get fixated on our own End Times theories.

Christ Almighty!