The people of Jerusalem now question Jesus' messiahship on the basis of where he has come from. They think that the Messiah's origin will be unknown; so since they know where Jesus is from, he is disqualified (v. 27). Later we will hear of others among the crowd who think the Messiah's origin is known and who disqualify Jesus because he comes from Galilee (vv. 41-42). Neither of these opinions is accurate, which reveals the confusion and ignorance of the people, who, like the opponents, are judging by appearances rather than with right judgment.
Jesus' teaching about the sabbath and his reference to the people seeking to kill him (vv. 19-23) leads some Jerusalemites to conclude that he is the man the authorities are trying to kill (v. 25). They realize Jesus is claiming to be the Messiah (v. 26), so the fact that he is speaking publicly and without interference from the authorities raises the question of whether the authorities have concluded that Jesus is the Messiah after all. If false teaching is not opposed, then people get the impression that either it is not false or it is not significant.
So the people think the authorities might be confused. We will learn later (chap. 9) that the authorities themselves are indeed divided over Jesus. But these Jerusalemites assume the authorities could not have concluded that Jesus is the Messiah because he does not fit their own messianic expectations: But we know where this man is from; when the Christ comes, no one will know where he is from (v. 27). They seem to have in mind the idea that the Messiah would be hidden until his public debut (cf. Beasley-Murray 1987:110-11). As a Jew in the second century reportedly put it, "Christ—if he has indeed been born, and exists anywhere—is unknown, and does not even know himself, and has no power until Elijah come to anoint him, and make him manifest to all" (Justin Martyr Dialogue with Trypho the Jew 8).
Among the apocalypticists the origin of the Messiah had more profound implications. In two texts that probably come from late in the first century, about the same time John is finalizing his gospel, we read of the mysterious origin of the Messiah in God and his hiddenness there (1 Enoch 48:7; 4 Ezra 13:51-52). The figures depicted in these texts may not be divine, but they are more than human (J. Collins 1995:208). Such notions build on earlier reflections regarding divine Wisdom. For example, Job 28 says the place of Wisdom is hid from all creatures; only God knows where Wisdom is to be found.
In Jesus we see the fulfillment of this motif from the wisdom and apocalyptic writings. The one hidden with God has now come forth and revealed himself. In response to the Jerusalemites' musings Jesus cried out (krazo) in the temple (Jn 7:28), an expression John uses for significant proclamation, even revelation (1:15; 7:37; 12:44; cf. Bultmann 1971:75 n. 1). He begins by saying, Yes, you know me, and you know where I am from (v. 28). In keeping with good Jewish reckoning, a person is usually known by where he or she comes from (Talbert 1992:146). So to know where Jesus is from is to know him. But this is bitingly ironic since their knowledge of him as a Nazarene misses the most significant truth of his origin; they are judging by appearances. For in fact they do not really know where he is from because he is from the Father. They do not know his ultimate origin, and therefore they do not really know him.Jesus continues by speaking again of the Father and of his dependency on the Father. He has just said that he does not speak from himself (ap' emautou, 7:17-18) and that fact establishes that he is true (alethes, v. 18). Now he says that he has not come on my own (ap' emautou, v. 28) and that the one who sent him is true (alethinos, v. 28). For John, truth is objective reality—that which corresponds to reality and reveals it (cf. Dodd 1953:177). The Father is the source and standard of all truth, so truth is based on relationship with him. Jesus has such a relationship, and his opponents do not, as Jesus says flat out: You do not know him, but I know him because I am from him and he sent me (vv. 28-29).
The people of Jerusalem have raised the question of Jesus' origin. This is a good issue to raise, for instead of disqualifying him, the answer is in fact one of the main witnesses to who he is and to the validity of his message and deeds. Like the Son of Man of 1 Enoch, Jesus has come forth from the presence of the Lord. Like the prophets of old, he has been sent by God with God's own message. The issue at stake is knowledge, as the use of the word know seven times in verses 26-29 indicates. These Jerusalemites claim to have knowledge, but they do not. Jesus is the one who knows God, knows who he himself is and knows the truth about his opponents. The opponents are out of touch with reality.
Jesus, the truth incarnate, has just spoken to these people of Jerusalem, and they respond by rejecting him: At this they tried to seize him (v. 30). Presumably they were intending to take him to the authorities, who, as they knew, wanted to kill Jesus (v. 25). In any case, they are unable to carry out their will because it is not God's will: his time ["hour," hora] had not yet come (v. 30; cf. 2:4). These people, like Jesus' brothers (7:5-7), are of the world and have no sense of God's sovereign plan, which is at work among them. Their action confirms that they do not will to do God's will (v. 17). Again the judgment is taking place, for the light is shining but these people are preferring darkness.
These Jerusalemites turn against Jesus, yet many in the crowd are more responsive and put their faith in him on the basis of the signs they have seen (v. 31). It is unclear which signs they are referring to. John has only recounted five signs up to this point (changing water into wine, healing the royal official's son, healing the paralytic at the pool on the sabbath, feeding the five thousand and walking on water), but he has indicated that there were many other signs as well (2:23; 3:2). Signs are certainly intended to lead people to faith, but it is unclear whether the faith of these people is solid. They may be like those in the next chapter who believe but whose faith is not good soil for the seed (see comment on 8:31).
Having seen his impact on the crowd the Pharisees get together with the chief priests and send servants to arrest Jesus (v. 32). We know this attempt will be no more successful than the crowd's effort to seize Jesus (v. 30; the word piazo is translated seized in v. 30 and arrest in v. 32). But John does not tell us whether they seize him until after he relates Jesus' teaching about his departure (the great invitation to come to him for living water) and describes further the division of the people (v. 45). John's storytelling conveys how inconsequential their threat is. Those who seem to have such power, whom the people greatly fear (note their whispering in v. 32), are not able to disrupt even slightly God's purposes for Jesus. God's purposes are just as secure for those of us who, like Jesus, will to do his will.
After commenting on his origin Jesus speaks of his departure and destination (vv. 33-36). The leaders want Jesus off the scene. They are threatening him with arrest and death. He tells them serenely and sovereignly that he will indeed be leaving soon. The crucifixion is probably about six months away, though we cannot be sure of this since we do not know how much John is leaving out of the story (cf. 21:25). They will indeed put him to death, but even in death he will go to the one who sent him (v. 33; cf. v. 29).
After the guards are sent, Jesus says, You will look for me, but you will not find me; and where I am, you cannot come (v. 34). The opponents had been looking for him at this feast (v. 11), but they were not able to find him until he appeared openly. Their seeking has not been like the disciples' seeking (cf. 1:38; 6:24); they are judges who stand self-condemned by their response to him. He will be with the Father. Since he is the way to the Father (14:6), they cut themselves off from the Father when they reject Jesus. Again, Jesus implies that they are alienated from God.
These opponents are fulfilling a pattern from the prophetic and wisdom traditions (cf. Brown 1966:318; Cory 1997). Amos says the days are coming when people will search for the word of the Lord and not find it (8:12). Hosea says the peoples' hearts are full of prostitution and arrogance, so they will seek the Lord but not find him since he has withdrawn himself from them (5:3-6). Wisdom says,
Then they will call to me but I will not answer;
they will look for me but will not find me.
Since they hated knowledge
and did not chose to fear the Lord,
since they would not accept my advice
and spurned my rebuke,
they will eat the fruit of their ways
and be filled with the fruit of their schemes. (Prov 1:28-31)
Part of God's judgment is to withdraw access to his revelation. The "judgment will consist in the very fact that he has gone, and therefore that the time of the revelation is past. . . . They will long for the revelation, but in vain; for then it will be too late; he will no longer be accessible to them" (Bultmann 1971:307). Those who seek God's word and wisdom with their unfaithful hearts cannot expect to find what they seek. Jesus, as the incarnate Word and Wisdom of God, must be sought with a heart that wills to do God's will.
We can see from the response of these opponents, now referred to as the Jews (7:35; see comment on 1:19), that they are alienated from God. Jesus has spoken of the Father, but they completely miss his point. They speculate on where Jesus intends to go. If he were to go among the Greeks (v. 35), then they would not find him since they would not want to go looking for him there. Or perhaps they think that because he has been exposed as a false prophet in Israel he will go to the Greeks to try to drum up a following there (Talbert 1992:147). They are keying in on Jesus as a teacher (v. 35), as they did earlier in the chapter (vv. 14-17, 28), but they are not receiving his teaching.
There is, of course, enormous irony in their thinking Jesus might go among the Greeks. It is the arrival of the Greeks, who ask to see Jesus (12:20), that signals the coming of his hour. Through the witness of his disciples he will indeed go and teach the Greeks (cf. 10:16; 17:20). These opponents say more than they realize, just as Caiaphas will later (11:49-50). In both cases what is said refers to Jesus' death. These opponents are seeking to kill Jesus, but through his death the world will be saved.
A number of scholars see traces of Gnostic thought here: the themes of origin and destiny, whence and whither, are two major concerns among the Gnostics. The gnosis (knowledge) they sought was largely concerned with understanding the cosmos and human nature (Schmitz and Schütz 1976:393-94). "But for the Christian the answer . . . does not lie in gnosis about his own origin, but in faith in the one sent by God, who truly comes from God and leads the way to him (cf. 14:2-6)" (Schnackenburg 1980b:147). Jesus is here seen as the true gnostic with the ultimate answers about whence and whither. Salvation is indeed a matter of gnosis (17:3), but this knowledge is a relationship with the Father through the Son. Knowledge, for John, "has primarily the sense of the recognition and reception of love" (Bultmann 1964:711).