We have here, I. The reason given why Christ spent more of his time in Galilee than in Judea (John 7:1): because the Jews, the people in Judea and Jerusalem, sought to kill him, for curing the impotent man on the sabbath day, John 5:16. They thought to be the death of him, either by a popular tumult or by a legal prosecution, in consideration of which he kept at a distance in another part of the country, very much out of the lines of Jerusalem’s communication. It is not said, He durst not, but, He would not, walk in Jewry; it was not through fear and cowardice that he declined it, but in prudence, because his hour was not yet come. Note, 1. Gospel light is justly taken away from those that endeavour to extinguish it. Christ will withdraw from those that drive him from them, will hide his face from those that spit in it, and justly shut up his bowels from those who spurn at them. 2. In times of imminent peril it is not only allowable, but advisable, to withdraw and abscond for our own safety and preservation, and to choose the service of those places which are least perilous, Matt. 10:23. Then, and not till then, we are called to expose and lay down our lives, when we cannot save them without sin. 3. If the providence of God casts persons of merit into places of obscurity and little note, it must not be thought strange; it was the lot of our Master himself. He who was fit to have sat in the highest of Moses’s seats willingly walked in Galilee among the ordinary sort of people. Observe, He did not sit still in Galilee, nor bury himself alive there, but walked; he went about doing good. When we cannot do what and where we would, we must do what and where we can.
II. The approach of the feast of tabernacles (John 7:2), one of the three solemnities which called for the personal attendance of all the males at Jerusalem; see the institution of it, Lev. 23:34; and the revival of it after a long disuse, Neh. 8:14. It was intended to be both a memorial of the tabernacle state of Israel in the wilderness, and a figure of the tabernacle state of God’s spiritual Israel in this world. This feast, which was instituted so many hundred years before, was still religiously observed. Note, Divine institutions are never antiquated, nor go out of date, by length of time: nor must wilderness mercies ever be forgotten. But it is called the Jews’ feast, because it was now shortly to be abolished, as a mere Jewish thing, and left to them that served the tabernacle.
III. Christ’s discourse with his brethren, some of his kindred, whether by his mother or his supposed father is not certain; but they were such as pretended to have an interest in him, and therefore interposed to advise him in his conduct. And observe,
1. Their ambition and vain-glory in urging him to make a more public appearance than he did: “Depart hence,” said they, “and go into Judea (John 7:3), where thou wilt make a better figure than thou canst here.”
(1.) They give two reasons for this advice: [1.] That it would be an encouragement to those in and about Jerusalem who had a respect for him; for, expecting his temporal kingdom, the royal seat of which they concluded must be at Jerusalem, they would have had the disciples there particularly countenanced, and thought the time he spent among his Galilean disciples wasted and thrown away, and his miracles turning to no account unless those at Jerusalem saw them. Or, “That thy disciples, all of them in general, who will be gathered at Jerusalem to keep the feast, may see thy works, and not, as here, a few at one time and a few at another.” [2.] That it would be for the advancement of his name and honour: There is no man that does any thing in secret if he himself seeks to be known openly. They took it for granted that Christ sought to make himself known, and therefore thought it absurd for him to conceal his miracles: “If thou do these things, if thou be so well able to gain the applause of the people and the approbation of the rulers by thy miracles, venture abroad, and show thyself to the world. Supported with these credentials, thou canst not fail of acceptance, and therefore it is high time to set up for an interest, and to think of being great.”
(2.) One would not think there was any harm in this advice, and yet the evangelist noted it is an evidence of their infidelity: For neither did his brethren believe in him (John 7:5), if they had, they would not have said this. Observe, [1.] It was an honour to be of the kindred of Christ, but no saving honour; they that hear his word and keep it are the kindred he values. Surely grace runs in no blood in the world, when not in that of Christ’s family. [2.] It was a sign that Christ did not aim at any secular interest, for then his kindred would have struck in with him, and he would have secured them first. [3.] There were those who were akin to Christ according to the flesh who did believe in him (three of the twelve were his brethren), and yet others, as nearly allied to him as they, did not believe in him. Many that have the same external privileges and advantages do not make the same use of them. But,
(3.) What was there amiss in the advice which they gave him? I answer, [1.] It was a piece of presumption for them to prescribe to Christ, and to teach him what measures to take; it was a sign that they did not believe him able to guide them, when they did not think him sufficient to guide himself. [2.] They discovered a great carelessness about his safety, when they would have him go to Judea, where they knew the Jews sought to kill him. Those that believed in him, and loved him, dissuaded him from Judea, John 11:8. [3.] Some think they hoped that if his miracles were wrought at Jerusalem the Pharisees and rulers would try them, and discover some cheat in them, which would justify their unbelief. So. Dr. Whitby. [4.] Perhaps they were weary of his company in Galilee (for are not all these that speak Galileans?) and this was, in effect, a desire that he would depart out of their coasts. [5.] They causelessly insinuate that he neglected his disciples, and denied them such a sight of his works as was necessary to the support of their faith. [6.] They tacitly reproach him as mean-spirited, that he durst not enter the lists with the great men, nor trust himself upon the stage of public action, which, if he had any courage and greatness of soul, he would do, and not sneak thus and skulk in a corner; thus Christ’s humility, and his humiliation, and the small figure which his religion has usually made in the world, have been often turned to the reproach of both him and it. [7.] They seem to question the truth of the miracles he wrought, in saying, “If thou do these things, if they will bear the test of a public scrutiny in the courts above, produce them there.” [8.] They think Christ altogether such a one as themselves, as subject as they to worldly policy, and as desirous as they to make a fair show in the flesh; whereas he sought not honour from men. [9.] Self was at the bottom of all; they hoped, if he would make himself as great as he might, they, being his kinsmen, should share in his honour, and have respect paid them for his sake. Note, First, Many carnal people go to public ordinances, to worship at the feast, only to show themselves, and all their care is to make a good appearance, to present themselves handsomely to the world. Secondly, Many that seem to seek Christ’s honour do really therein seek their own, and make it serve a turn for themselves.
2. The prudence and humility of our Lord Jesus, which appeared in his answer to the advice his brethren gave him, John 7:6-8. Though there were so many base insinuations in it, he answered them mildly. Note, Even that which is said without reason should be answered without passion; we should learn of our Master to reply with meekness even to that which is most impertinent and imperious, and, where it is easy to find much amiss, to seem not to see it, and wink at the affront. They expected Christ’s company with them to the feast, perhaps hoping he would bear their charges: but here,
(1.) He shows the difference between himself and them, in two things:—[1.] His time was set, so was not theirs: My time is not yet come, but your time is always ready. Understand it of the time of his going up to the feast. It was an indifferent thing to them when they went, for they had nothing of moment to do either where they were, to detain them there, or where they were going, to hasten them thither; but every minute of Christ’s time was precious, and had its own particular business allotted to it. He had some work yet to do in Galilee before he left the country: in the harmony of the gospels betwixt this motion made by his kindred and his going up to this feast comes in the story of his sending forth the seventy disciples (Luke 10:1), which was an affair of very great consequence; his time is not yet, for that must be done first. Those who live useless lives have their time always ready; they can go and come when they please. But those whose time is filled up with duty will often find themselves straitened, and they have not yet time for that which others can do at any time. Those who are made the servants of God, as all men are, and who have made themselves the servants of all, as all useful men have, must not expect not covet to be masters of their own time. The confinement of business is a thousand times better than the liberty of idleness. Or, it may be meant of the time of his appearing publicly at Jerusalem; Christ, who knows all men and all things, knew that the best and most proper time for it would be about the middle of the feast. We, who are ignorant and short-sighted, are apt to prescribe to him, and to think he should deliver his people, and so show himself now. The present time is our time, but he is fittest to judge, and, it may be, his time is not yet come; his people are not yet ready for deliverance, nor his enemies ripe for ruin; let us therefore wait with patience for his time, for all he does will be most glorious in its season. [2.] His life was sought, so was not theirs, John 7:7. They, in showing themselves to the world, did not expose themselves: “The world cannot hate you, for you are of the world, its children, its servants, and in with its interests; and no doubt the world will love its own;” see John 15:19. Unholy souls, whom the holy God cannot love, the world that lies in wickedness cannot hate; but Christ, in showing himself to the world, laid himself open to the greatest danger; for me it hateth. Christ was not only slighted, as inconsiderable in the world (the world knew him not), but hated, as if he had been hurtful to the world; thus ill was he requited for his love to the world: reigning sin is a rooted antipathy and enmity to Christ. But why did the world hate Christ? What evil had he done to it? Had he, like Alexander, under colour of conquering it, laid it waste? “No, but because” (saith he) “I testify of it, that the works of it are evil.” Note, First, The works of an evil world are evil works; as the tree is, so are the fruits: it is a dark world, and an apostate world, and its works are works of darkness and rebellion. Secondly, Our Lord Jesus, both by himself and by his ministers, did and will both discover and testify against the evil works of this wicked world. Thirdly, It is a great uneasiness and provocation to the world to be convicted of the evil of its works. It is for the honour of virtue and piety that those who are impious and vicious do not care for hearing of it, for their own consciences make them ashamed of the turpitude there is in sin and afraid of the punishment that follows after sin. Fourthly, Whatever is pretended, the real cause of the world’s enmity to the gospel is the testimony it bears against sin and sinners. Christ’s witnesses by their doctrine and conversation torment those that dwell on the earth, and therefore are treated so barbarously, Rev. 11:10. But it is better to incur the world’s hatred, by testifying against its wickedness, than gain its good-will by going down the stream with it.
(2.) He dismisses them, with a design to stay behind for some time in Galilee (John 7:8): Go you up to this feast, I go not up yet. [1.] He allows their going to the feast, though they were carnal and hypocritical in it. Note, Even those who go not to holy ordinances with right affections and sincere intentions must not be hindered nor discouraged from going; who knows but they may be wrought upon there? [2.] He denies them his company when they went to the feast, because they were carnal and hypocritical. Those who go to ordinances for ostentation, or to serve some secular purpose, go without Christ, and will speed accordingly. How sad is the condition of that man, though he reckon himself akin to Christ, to whom he saith, “Go up to such an ordinance, Go pray, Go hear the word, Go receive the sacrament, but I go not up with thee? Go thou and appear before God, but I will not appear for thee,” as Exod. 33:1-3. But, if the presence of Christ go not with us, to what purpose should we go up? Go you up, I go not up. When we are going to, or coming from, solemn ordinances, it becomes us to be careful what company we have and choose, and to avoid that which is vain and carnal, lest the coal of good affections be quenched by corrupt communication. I go not up yet to this feast; he does not say, I will not go up at all, but not yet. There may be reasons for deferring a particular duty, which yet must not be wholly omitted or laid aside; see Num. 9:6-11. The reason he gives is, My time is not yet fully come. Note, Our Lord Jesus is very exact and punctual in knowing and keeping his time, and, as it was the time fixed, so it was the best time.
3. Christ’s continuance in Galilee till his full time was come, John 7:9. He, saying these things to them (tauta de eipon) abode still in Galilee; because of this discourse he continued there; for, (1.) He would not be influenced by those who advised him to seek honour from men, nor go along with those who put him upon making a figure; he would not seem to countenance the temptation. (2.) He would not depart from his own purpose. He had said, upon a clear foresight and mature deliberation, that he would not go up yet to this feast, and therefore he abode still in Galilee. It becomes the followers of Christ thus to be steady, and not to use lightness.
4. His going up to the feast when his time was come. Observe, (1.) When he went: When his brethren were gone up. He would not go up with them, lest they should make a noise and disturbance, under pretence of showing him to the world; whereas it agreed both with the prediction and with his spirit not to strive nor cry, nor let his voice be heard in the streets, Isa. 42:2. But he went up after them. We may lawfully join in the same religious worship with those with whom we should yet decline an intimate acquaintance and converse; for the blessing of ordinances depends upon the grace of God, and not upon the grace of our fellow-worshippers. His carnal brethren went up first, and then he went. Note, In the external performances of religion it is possible that formal hypocrites may get the start of those that are sincere. Many come first to the temple who are brought thither by vain-glory, and go thence unjustified, as he, Luke 18:11. It is not, Who comes first? that will be the question, but, Who comes fittest? If we bring our hearts with us, it is no matter who gets before us. (2.) How he went, os en krypto—a s if he were hiding himself: not openly, but as it were in secret, rather for fear of giving offence than of receiving injury. He went up to the feast, because it was an opportunity of honouring God and doing good; but he went up as it were in secret, because he would not provoke the government. Note, Provided the work of God be done effectually, it is best done when done with least noise. The kingdom of God need not come with observation, Luke 17:20. We may do the work of God privately, and yet not do it deceitfully.
5. The great expectation that there was of him among the Jews at Jerusalem, John 7:11-14. Having formerly come up to the feasts, and signalized himself by the miracles he wrought, he had made himself the subject of much discourse and observation.
(1.) They could not but think of him (John 7:11): The Jews sought him at the feast, and said, Where is he? [1.] The common people longed to see him there, that they might have their curiosity gratified with the sight of his person and miracles. They did not think it worth while to go to him into Galilee, though if they had they would not have lost their labour, but they hoped the feast would bring him to Jerusalem, and then they should see him. If an opportunity of acquaintance with Christ come to their door, they can like it well enough. They sought him at the feast. When we attend upon God in his holy ordinances, we should seek Christ in them, seek him at the gospel feasts. Those who would see Christ at a feast must seek him there. Or, [2.] Perhaps it was his enemies that were thus waiting an opportunity to seize him, and, if possible, to put an effectual stop to his progress. They said, Where is he? pou esin ekeinos—where is that fellow? Thus scornfully and contemptibly do they speak of him. When they should have welcomed the feast as an opportunity of serving God, they were glad of it as an opportunity of persecuting Christ. Thus Saul hoped to slay David at the new moon, 1 Sam. 20:27. Those who seek opportunity to sin in solemn assemblies for religious worship profane God’s ordinances to the last degree, and defy him upon his own ground; it is like striking within the verge of the court.
(2.) The people differed much in their sentiments concerning him (John 7:12): There was much murmuring, or muttering rather, among the people concerning him. The enmity of the rulers against Christ, and their enquiries after him, caused him to be so much the more talked of and observed among the people. This ground the gospel of Christ has got by the opposition made to it, that it has been the more enquired into, and, by being every where spoken against, it has come to be every where spoken of, and by this means has been spread the further, and the merits of his cause have been the more searched into. This murmuring was not against Christ, but concerning him; some murmured at the rulers, because they did not countenance and encourage him: others murmured at them, because they did not silence and restrain him. Some murmured that he had so great an interest in Galilee; others, that he had so little interest in Jerusalem. Note, Christ and his religion have been, and will be, the subject of much controversy and debate, Luke 12:51, 52. If all would agree to entertain Christ as they ought, there would be perfect peace; but, when some receive the light and others resolve against it, there will be murmuring. The bones in the valley, while they were dead and dry, lay quiet; but when it was said unto them, Live, there was a noise and a shaking, Ezek. 37:7. But the noise and rencounter of liberty and business are preferable, surely, to the silence and agreement of a prison. Now what were the sentiments of the people concerning him? [1.] Some said, he is a good man. This was a truth, but it was far short of being the whole truth. He was not only a good man, but more than a man, he was the Son of God. Many who have no ill thoughts of Christ have yet low thoughts of him, and scarcely honour him, even when they speak well of him, because they do not say enough; yet indeed it was his honour, and the reproach of those who persecuted him, that even those who would not believe him to be the Messiah could not but own he was a good man. [2.] Others said, Nay, but he deceiveth the people; if this had been true, he had been a very bad man. The doctrine he preached was sound, and could not be contested; his miracles were real, and could not be disproved; his conversation was manifestly holy and good; and yet it must be taken for granted, notwithstanding, that there was some undiscovered cheat at the bottom, because it was the interest of the chief priests to oppose him and run him down. Such murmuring as there was among the Jews concerning Christ there is still among us: the Socinians say, He is a good man, and further they say not; the deists will not allow this, but say, He deceived the people. Thus some depreciate him, others abuse him, but great is the truth. [3.] They were frightened by their superiors from speaking much of him (John 7:13): No man spoke openly of him, for fear of the Jews. Either, First, They durst not openly speak well of him. While any one was at liberty to censure and reproach him, none durst vindicate him. Or, Secondly, They durst not speak at all of him openly. Because nothing could justly be said against him, they would not suffer any thing to be said of him. It was a crime to name him. Thus many have aimed to suppress truth, under colour of silencing disputes about it, and would have all talk of religion hushed, in hopes thereby to bury in oblivion religion itself.