It is a painful experience to have someone accuse you of something that you are not guilty of, and the truth is the exact opposite. To be misunderstood is a difficult pill to swallow especially when you don’t see it coming. It is even more painful when it comes from people you love.
In John 7, a change in the geographical location of Jesus’ ministry begins from Galilee to Judea, even though it places Jesus in extreme danger. We read that Jesus is cautiously traveling around Galilee. The Festival of Tabernacles is drawing near in Jerusalem. Jesus knows that the time of his crucifixion is now only months away. The tension surrounding Jesus’ ministry is escalating. People are polarizing regarding His ministry. While earlier in Jesus’ ministry attitudes were forming both positively and negatively toward him, now in this segment of his ministry, they are becoming fixed. There is a hostility by most religious leaders that creates a fear for the people to openly support Jesus. Even Jesus’ own half-brothers are in a state of unbelief. We pick up a conversation between Jesus and some of his family members. What we are about to discover is their attitude toward Jesus and how to handle being misunderstood by others, even our own family members. How did Jesus respond to the unbelief coming from his half-brothers about who He is?
After this, Jesus went around in Galilee. He did not want to go about in Judea because the Jewish leaders there were looking for a way to kill him.
But when the Jewish Festival of Tabernacles was near,
Jesus’ brothers said to him, “Leave Galilee and go to Judea, so that your disciples there may see the works you do.[i]
By this time of the year all the harvests had been safely gathered in-not only the barley and wheat harvests, which were reaped between April and June, but the grape and olive harvests too. This ‘feast of ingathering at the end of the (agricultural) year’ was an occasion for great rejoicing. The Hebrews called it the festival of booths (Sukkoth), because for the full week that it lasted people lived in makeshift booths of branches and leaves… Many Jews from outlying parts of Palestine and from the Dispersion went to Jerusalem for the festival, for this was one of the three great pilgrimages of the Jewish year.[ii]
D. A. Carson insightfully points out this window of time in Jesus’ ministry.
The time, therefore, is about six months after the feeding of the five thousand.[iii]
What happened next reveals the division in the acceptance of Jesus’ ministry among the Jewish people. What we learn from Jesus in this moment is how to respond to being misunderstood by others. Here in John 7:1-13, we find two responses to being misunderstood.
THE FIRST RESPONSE TO BEING MISUNDERSTOOD BY OTHERS IS TO EXPLAIN YOUR POSITION
We need to keep in mind that explaining is not compelling people to agree with us. It is not about winning arguments. It is accepting the fact that our explanation may not be heard or accepted initially. We may even feel that we are wasting our breath to explain why we are doing what we are doing, when people have misjudged us. However, a calm explanation, even though it may not be accepted at that moment, may one day help those who do not understand us now to finally understand later. It is interesting that John is telling this story decades after the death and resurrection of Jesus. These same half-brothers who are seen here in an adversarial relationship to Jesus become some of the greatest advocates and future leaders of the church. Two of those half-brothers, James and Jude write letters that are part of the New Testament.
A. The sarcastic remarks from his half-brothers.
Jesus’ brothers said to him, ‘Leave Galilee and go to Judea, so that your disciples there may see the works you do.[iv]
Who were these brothers that John is mentioning here? These are the very ones that the villagers from Nazareth point out that are part of Jesus’ earthly family.
‘Isn’t this the carpenter? Isn’t this Mary’s son and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas and Simon? Aren’t his sisters here with us?’ And they took offense at him.[v]
These were the children of Mary and Joseph after the birth of Jesus. Jesus being the son of Mary, was conceived by the Holy Spirit before Joseph took her as his wife.
They now comment possibly because of the loss of disciples following Jesus after the feeding of the five thousand. In the last chapter, Jesus’ words offended many because He said He was the bread of life and they were to eat His flesh and drink His blood in order to find life. Jesus was using a metaphor to describe that belief in His sacrifice was necessary to experience eternal life.
These half-brothers of Jesus propose to him that he ought to head up to the Festival and try to recoup his losses, or if he was trying to gather people to himself, he might be able to secure a following among the multitudes heading to the festival.
No one who wants to become a public figure acts in secret. Since you are doing these things, show yourself to the world.”
For even his own brothers did not believe in him.[vi]
The brothers reason that if Jesus is trying to become a public figure then he needs to go where the people are. The statement of showing himself to the world means to ‘everybody.’ He can’t keep hiding out in the rural area of Galilee.
But John the Evangelist doubtless sees irony in their request. Jesus’ brothers want Jesus to put on a display. John’s readers already know that such a display would pander to corrupt motives and in any case would not ensure genuine faith.[vii]
B. Jesus explains his approach to ministry.
Jesus then explains a number of important considerations that his half-brothers and the readers of John’s gospel need to understand.
Therefore Jesus told them, “My time is not yet here; for you any time will do.
The world cannot hate you, but it hates me because I testify that its works are evil.
You go to the festival. I am not going up to this festival, because my time has not yet fully come.”[viii]
1. First, Jesus explains that ‘his time to go to the festival was not his to determine. They were free to go whenever they wished, but that was not true of Jesus. Yet, this statement of time here is significant.
Jesus’ brothers would not be upset to hear Jesus say his time had not come, but they may well have been scandalized to hear him say for you anytime is right. It is almost as if they are being excluded from divine sovereignty–not that God suspended his providential reign in their case, but that what they did was utterly without significance as far as God is concerned.[ix]
In other words, Jesus is saying that they lack an appointed time because they belong to the world, and what they do has no bearing on what God is doing.
2. Secondly, the response of people that are in rebellion to God and His messengers will always be hostile.
In addition to stating that His mission in life was different from that of humanity at large, Jesus said that the relation between Himself and the world was different from that subsisting between His brethren and the world. They were a part of it, and the world loves its own (15:19). He was not of the world and bore testimony against it, therefore it hated Him. There is in this statement a latent claim of differentiation in nature between Him and His brethren. They were content with worldly environment and opportunism; He was content only with the Father’s will.[x]
We are warned as believers that what was true of Jesus as He explains to his half-brothers is equally true of us as His followers. James leaves us with the following warning about conforming to the values of our society or as he describes it, our world.
You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world means enmity against God? Therefore, anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. [xi]
Jesus explains why the world hates Him. Jesus’ very presence and words are a witness or testimony that its works are evil. How many have discovered that there is a backlash against stating that any behavior today is evil, except what others have done to us?
It was G. K. Chesterton, journalist and social philosopher who answered a series of articles from the London Times during the end of the nineteen century. These articles were reporting and researching many of the same problems we face with today and closed each article with the following statement: ‘What’s wrong with the world?’ Chesterton’s famous reply was simply, ‘I am,’ faithfully yours, G. K. Chesterton.[xii]
What he was saying is that the problems originate within each of us. We all have a sin nature which contributes to the evil in our world.
Here we discover why these half-brothers of Jesus spoke to Him like they did. They did not believe in him. How often as believers do we have those who oppose us, or misunderstand us, many from our own families? Jesus certainly experienced that in his earthly life.
Then Jesus entered a house, and again a crowd gathered, so that he and his disciples were not even able to eat.
When his family heard about this, they went to take charge of him, for they said, ‘He is out of his mind.’[xiii]
THE SECOND RESPONSE TO BEING MISUNDERSTOOD BY OTHERS IS RESIGNATION
We need to understand and accept that some people will not receive what we are saying and doing. Jesus not only accepted His mission but accepted that many simply did not understand who He was and what He was about to do. So, in fellowship with the Father, Jesus now embarks on his secret trip to Jerusalem. The issue was not that Jesus would not go to the festival, but he would not go on his half-brother’s program and timing. Their point is simply that if someone is a public figure, they need to declare themselves openly and before the multitudes and certainly that could only happen in Jerusalem during a significant moment like the Festival. Jesus knows that they have no idea who He really is and what His mission is really all about.
Jesus’ response to his brothers is not that he is planning to stay in Galilee forever, but that because his life is regulated by his heavenly Father’s appointments he is not going to the Feast when they say he should. The ‘counsel of the wicked’ (Ps. 1:1) cannot be permitted to set his agenda. His ‘not’ turns down his brothers’ request; it does not promise he will not go to the Feast when the Father sanctions the trip.[xiv]
A. Jesus now walks apart from his earthly family and secretly begins to attend the Feast.
After he had said this, he stayed in Galilee.
However, after his brothers had left for the festival, he went also, not publicly, but in secret.[xv]
Jesus is now leaving Galilee for the last time as he travels to Jerusalem. What the brothers perceive and what Jesus knows is so widely different. Jesus knows that his mission will lead to the cross and not a crown. They like most of the Jewish people of their hour had a false understanding of what the Messiah was about to accomplish. They saw it solely as a political deliverance, whereas God was concerned about a more significant deliverance; the deliverance from our sin.
B. The mixed reviews toward Jesus.
Now at the festival the Jewish leaders were watching for Jesus and asking, “Where is he?”
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 leaders.[xvi]
Three attitudes are reflected in these verses.
1. The religious leaders were seeking an opportunity to kill him (cf. vs. 1).
2. A second group defended Jesus, by saying that ‘He is a good man.’
3. The third group considered Jesus an imposter and was deceiving people.
However, the greatest problem was that no one would say anything publicly about him for fear of the leaders. That may be the greatest problem we are faced with today. The church is silent about Jesus because there is an awareness of the growing hostility of our culture toward Christ and His message. The only problem is that without the gospel the culture will grow darker.
What can we learn from Jesus about addressing being misunderstood? We need to explain and not argue with others. Though initially like Jesus’ half-brothers they may not initially believe, later God can use those words to help them change their minds.
Secondly, we should not be surprised by people and their hostility toward faith in Christ. Jesus explains that this world system and its values will always be in opposition to God’s word and the work of Christ. However, we must not let fear silence us, otherwise the world around us will only get darker. The future of people depends on accepting the life-giving message that the good news of Jesus brings.
[i] John 7:1-3, The New International Version of the Bible, Zondervan, 2011.
[ii] F. F. Bruce, The Gospel of John, (Grand Rapids, Mi: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1983), 170.
[iii] D. A. Carson, The Gospel According to John, The Pillar New Testament Commentary, (Grand Rapids, Mi: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1991), 305.
[iv] John 7:3.
[v] Mark 6:3.
[vi] John 7:4-5.
[vii] D. A. Carson, The Gospel According to John, 306-307.
[viii] John 7:6-8.
[ix] D. A. Carson, The Gospel According to John, 308.
[x] Merrill C. Tenney, John: The Gospel of Belief, (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1975), 131.
[xi] James 4:4.
[xii] G. K. Chesterton, taken from Michael P. Green, Illustrations for Biblically Preaching, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1989), 341-42.
[xiii] Mark 3:20-21.
[xiv] D. A. Carson, The Gospel According to John, 309.
[xv] John 7:9-10.
[xvi] John 7:11-13.