Summary: You can either follow the public opinion poll about Jesus or you can follow Jesus.
Catching the Latest Gossip
Last week, we learned that Jesus did not take the bait that His brothers had offered to come to the feast and make a show of Himself as a means of regaining His followers. But signs and miracles of themselves convert no one. Rather conversion is the work of God when God’s word creates new life in the believer. The signs and works which Jesus did certainly testified to the truth of His person, but without faith they have no power. Faith is taught in Scripture as being the free gift of God’s grace and not of human merit or works. Without faith, the miracles of Jesus are signs of eternal condemnation to the unbeliever. With faith, they are God’s promises to the believers that He will never leave them or forsake them, no matter what hardships they have to face.
This week, we will learn that Jesus does come to the feast, but on His own terms. We will also learn of what the people at the feast thought about Jesus.
Exposition of the Text
In verse 10, we learn that Jesus did indeed come to the feast. As a Jew who had to keep the Law of Moses, he had to come to the Feast of Tabernacles. But He came secretly. Did He overhear the gossip about Him there? As He knew what was in everyone’s heart anyway, it would not have been necessary for Him to hear the talk. It is ironic though that He was in the midst of the gossipers, and they were totally unaware of it.
So what was the gossip about Jesus in the feast? The first buzz about Him was the question “Where is He?” It seems that a great many were like Jesus’ brothers. They were expecting Him to show off there. Perhaps others were wondering if Jesus was too scared to come. Perhaps some wanted to be entertained by a conflict between the Jewish authorities and Jesus. It seems that both foe and friend of Jesus were agreed on the question of where Jesus was.
The text goes on to say that Jesus was the talk of the town. It seemed that everyone had an opinion about him. However, the talk was at the level of murmuring because the people feared the Jewish authorities. The crowd was divided into two camps. One camp thought that Jesus was a good man. The others were stridently set against the first group. The strong form of the Greek word, translated “but” is used here to emphasize this division. This second group accused Jesus of deceiving the common people. The “people” was a term of contempt similar to the contempt we have in America for those of a different political view. The “people were considered little better than idiots who could be easily swayed by a smooth talker. When we remember that one of the things Satan is called is “deceiver” shows that this second group was essentially calling Jesus, “Satan”.
When we look at this passage in its historical setting, it comes after the confession of Peter of Jesus being the promised Christ twice. The first confession was in the face of the rejection of Jesus by most of His so-called “followers” in the previous chapter of this gospel. The second time was at Caesarea Philippi in the sixteenth chapter of Matthew. In the Matthew passage, Jesus began his discourse there by taking a poll among His disciples of the gossip of the people concerning Him. That report was glowing, either because the disciples were looking through rose colored glasses or because the gossip was still mostly favorable at this point. At that point, Jesus was being favorably compared to Elijah, Jeremiah, or one of the great Israelite prophets. Peter, under inspiration of the Spirit confesses that Jesus is actually far superior to them.
Jesus in that passage begins to tell the disciples that things were about to change. He revealed that He was going to be rejected by the Jewish people and nation and put to death. We don’t know how long the period that lapsed between this first poll and the second other than it was less than six months, but we already see a change in the way people saw Jesus. The crowd itself was divided into two opposing camps. One was either for Jesus or against Him. There did not seem to be any middle ground. Jesus affirms this when He say that you are either for Him or against Him. Everyone has to decide one way or the other.
Those who were for Him at this point were afraid to come out and openly profess their faith. The Scripture says they feared the Jewish authorities. At this time, the choice to openly profess Jesus was not a choice unto death. The Jewish authorities did not have the power of enforcing the death penalty. They would have seen the followers of Jesus as well as Jesus Himself as being heretics worthy of death. Indeed, if Jesus was not who He says He is, then death by stoning would have been the proper punishment under the Law of Moses.