1.1.Who was the most controversial person in history?
Many names may come to mind. Some might suggest such men as Germany’s Adolf Hitler, Josef Stalin of the Soviet Union, Uganda’s Idi Amin, Pol Pot of Cambodia, Saddam Hussein of Iraq, or Slobodan Milosevic of ex-Yugoslavia. The list could go on. While these names are well-known, history has pronounced its verdict on them. Few people today would consider them models of leadership. Few would want to be under the dictatorship of these men. Few people are divided over whether these men were good or evil. Most people agree about the kind of men that they were. So there is little or no controversy about the legacy that they have left. History and the court of human opinion have rendered a unanimous verdict about the character of these men. They are not really controversial.
Men of controversy are men who divide human opinion by what they do or what they say. They are men who stir up strong sentiments and debate. Men of controversy divide all others into two groups: those who are for them, and those who are against them; those who agree with them, and those who disagree with them. History has many such men, men who polarized nations and peoples and even the whole world. Men who left little or no middle ground. We might consider such men as Charles Darwin whose theory of evolution continues to divide people today. Does chance really explain the origin of all things from nothing, the origin of life, the extreme intelligence that is evident in the DNA structure of even the simplest of life forms? Does chance account for the order that is present at all levels of the universe. Some say, “Yes. It all just happened by itself.” Others believe that life, order, intelligence, and values all point to a divine Creator.
Martin Luther was certainly a controversial figure. He nailed 95 theses to the church door in Wittenberg, Germany, and unintentionally brought about the Protestant Reformation when he simply wanted to purify the Roman Catholic Church. He is the point of divide between Roman Catholics and all branches of Protestantism. But he was only controversial because another before him was controversial.
We could consider others such as Karl Marx, Mahatma Gandhi, or Mohammed. But who was the most controversial person in history?
1.2.The Testimony of Historians
When we turn to the historians, we find that there is one figure, one person, who rivets the attention. One person who calls for a response from all people everywhere.
British Historian H. G. Wells: “I am an historian, I am not a believer, but I must confess as a historian that this penniless preacher from Nazareth is irrevocably the very center of history. Jesus Christ is easily the most dominant figure in all history.”
Yale University professor and historian Kenneth Scott Latourette said, “As the centuries pass, the evidence is accumulating that, measured by His effect on history, Jesus is the most influential life ever lived on this planet.”
Wells said that Jesus is “the most dominant figure of all history.” Latourette said that he is “the most influential life ever lived on this planet.” Dominant and influential, and yet, by far the most controversial. To this day, Jesus Christ is controversial. He stands as the dividing line of history. We date our calendars by his birth. Jesus divides humanity into two groups: believers and unbelievers. Those who are for him and those who are against him. Jesus leaves no middle ground:
Matthew 12:30 ESV Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.
There is no other name that divides people more than the name of Jesus Christ. People may want to think of themselves as spiritual or interested in spiritual things. They may politely talk about God and about spiritual matters. But people often get uncomfortable when the name of Jesus is mentioned. In fact, in certain public contexts, prayer is welcomed as long as the name of Jesus is not mentioned. In my country, pastors are invited to pray at the opening of congressional meetings or the inaugurations of presidents, but they are told not to mention Jesus. Mentioning the name of Jesus is seen to be intolerant, so prayers in the name of Jesus are not tolerated.
Jesus himself was often embroiled in controversy. Ah yes, he was so controversial that his life ended on the cross. He invited controversy by his very teaching. Controversy becomes apparent in John 5 when Jesus heals the lame man on the Sabbath. What’s wrong with that? Well, the Jewish authorities considered it to be work, and Jesus knew it. Work was one thing that you were not to do on the Sabbath according to the Law. That was bad enough. But then Jesus claimed that he had the right to do miraculous works on the Sabbath because he was equal with God. That is what John explains to us in John 5:18, “He called God his own Father, making himself equal with God.
Someone has said that Buddha never claimed to be God. Moses never claimed to be Yahweh (Jehovah). Mohammed never claimed to be Allah. Yet Jesus Christ claimed to be the true and living God. Buddha simply said, “I am a teacher in search of the truth.” Jesus said, “I am the Truth.” Confucius said, “I never claimed to be holy.” Jesus said, “Who convicts me of sin?” Mohammed said, “Unless God throws his cloak of mercy over me, I have no hope.” Jesus said, “Unless you believe in me, you will die in your sins.”
In chapter 6, he claims to be the source of life: “I am the bread of life that came down from heaven.”
John 6:53 ESV “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.”
John 6:57 ESV “As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me.”
John 7 opens with the words that the Jewish authorities were seeking to kill him. But soon it was time for the Jewish Feast of Tabernacles. It was one of the three great Jewish festivals that took place every year. This Feast of Tabernacles was the most popular and important festival of the year. It was a commemoration of the 40 years in the wilderness when God had provided for them. It was a time of celebration and feasting. Would Jesus go up for the festival? Everyone was wondering.
2.1.Division in the Family
But there was division everywhere. Even among Jesus’ brothers.
John 7:3-4 ESV So his brothers said to him, “Leave here and go to Judea, that your disciples also may see the works you are doing. 4 For no one works in secret if he seeks to be known openly. If you do these things, show yourself to the world.”
Did they believe in him? Were they really wanting more people to see the signs that Jesus was doing? Did they really want Jesus to win more disciples? No. Unfortunately, they were not sincere. John, as he does so often in this Gospel, tells us what we are understand:
John 7:5 ESV For not even his brothers believed in him.
There was division in his own family. “Even his brothers did not believe in him,” John tells us. Just as Jesus had said in Luke 12:51-53:
Luke 12:51-53 ESV Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division. 52 For from now on in one house there will be five divided, three against two and two against three. 53 They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.”
Jesus, the most controversial figure of all time, was even controversial in his own family. His mother, Mary, of course, believed in him. She knew that she was still a virgin when she gave birth to Jesus. She knew what the angel had said to her. In John 2, she had told the servants to do what ever Jesus told them. They had filled the six huge water pots with water, and Jesus had changed the water into wine, the first of his signs pointing to who he is and manifesting his glory. Mary believed in her son, Jesus, but his brothers did not believe.
His brothers, “who had lived in the same house with him for nearly 30 years, did not know who he was”. Jesus’ humanity was so real and genuine — yes, the Word became flesh — his humanity was so real and his deity was so hidden before he began his earthly ministry, that his brothers “lived and ate and slept in the same rooms as the eternal Son of God and did not know it.”
You may be the only person in your family to know the Lord Jesus Christ as your Savior. Perhaps you are alone in your love, devotion, and obedience to Christ. It may be that your own family opposes you and wants you to turn back from following Jesus. Know this: Even Jesus’ own brothers did not believe in him at first. But that would change. We read in 1 Corinthians 15 that after his resurrection, the Lord appeared to James. In Acts 1, the brothers of Jesus were in the upper room with the other disciples, waiting for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. The brothers of Jesus had become disciples. You may be alone in your faith and devotion to Jesus Christ, but stay faithful. Remain true to the Lord. Give the Lord time to work in your life and in the lives of your loved ones. As they see Christ in your life, they too may be drawn to the Savior.
2.2.Danger in Jerusalem
Jerusalem was a dangerous place for Jesus. There he had cleansed the temple. He had healed the lame man at the pool of Bethesda on the Sabbath. He had made himself equal with God by claiming that God was his own Father. And the Jewish authorities were looking for him. Jesus was gaining too many disciples and the Jewish authorities wanted to put a stop to Jesus. They wanted to get rid of him. They wanted to kill him. Several times in John 7 and 8, we read that the Jewish religious authorities are out to kill Jesus.
Jesus himself explains to his unbelieving brothers why Jewish authorities were out to get him:
John 7:7 NLT The world can’t hate you, but it does hate me because I accuse it of doing evil.
So Jesus “wanted to stay out of Judea, where the Jewish leaders were plotting his death” (John 7:1 NLT).
John 7:10 NLT ¶ But after his brothers left for the festival, Jesus also went, though secretly, staying out of public view.
Jesus was present in Jerusalem, though out of sight. With so much hatred toward Jesus, he would not show himself openly until the right time had come. He would do things on his own timetable. He would determine his own schedule.
There was not only danger in Jerusalem, there was also…
2.3.Division in Jerusalem
As Jesus had stirred up a lot of controversy, some people were for him while others were against him.
John 7:11-13 NLT The Jewish leaders tried to find him at the festival and kept asking if anyone had seen him. 12 There was a lot of grumbling about him among the crowds. Some argued, “He’s a good man,” but others said, “He’s nothing but a fraud who deceives the people.” 13 But no one had the courage to speak favorably about him in public, for they were afraid of getting in trouble with the Jewish leaders.
Good man or con man — what is he? People were whispering. They were divided. You cannot be neutral about Jesus. He does not leave you that option.
Once again, we can quote C. S. Lewis, former professor of literature at Oxford University:
A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic – on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg – or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God; or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.
The air was thick with tension. Intimidation was the name of the game. The Jewish authorities were trying to scare people. They were jealous. They did not like the fact that Jesus was gaining influence with the people. They were losing influence themselves and they felt it.
Many were in favor of Jesus. They believed that he was a good man, but they were afraid to “speak favorably about him in public.” “Jesus talk” could get you into trouble with the Jewish leaders.
Today, in certain areas, in certain towns, in certain families, talking about Jesus can get in trouble. There are many countries in the world today where talking about Jesus can get you killed. Every year thousands of Christians are persecuted, tortured, and killed for their testimony in countries like North Korea, Nigeria, and islamic countries such as Iran. But even in some democratic countries, authorities are trying to intimidate Christians to abandon their beliefs and values and to accept anti-Christian agendas. Persecution is not new. Paul tells Timothy,
2 Timothy 3:12-13 ESV Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, 13 while evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived.
There is and there will be division over Jesus. Some believe in him while others believe that he leads people astray. Opposition to Christ is becoming increasingly hostile in many parts of the world. People are saying and writing things today about Jesus and about Christians that are shocking. But we must not be intimidated. We must not be afraid to speak the truth in love.
3.CONTROVERSY OVER JESUS’ TEACHING (7:14-24)
3.1.Teaching in the Temple
Speaking the truth is exactly what Jesus did. “You must go to the feast,” his brothers had said. “Go work some miracles so that your disciples can see what you are doing.” “If you can do such wonderful things, show yourself to the world.”
Suddenly he comes to the temple. He is not working miracles, signs, and wonders. He is teaching.
The unbelieving brothers want him to go up publicly, but Jesus went up privately. They wanted him to work miracles, but when Jesus finally went public, he went public with teaching, not miracles. And his teaching is not to bring glory to himself, but to bring glory to God.
3.2.Teaching that Astonishes
John 7:15 NLT The people were surprised when they heard him. “How does he know so much when he hasn’t been trained?” they asked.
Jesus had not been trained as the scribes and Pharisees, yet his ability to teach was astonishing. We read elsewhere that unlike the scribes and Pharisees, Jesus taught as one having authority.
We remember that at the age of 12, the boy Jesus astonished the elders by asking questions in the temple, his Father’s house. Now as a man, he continues to astonish people with his teaching. “How did he get such learning?” they ask.
It would be easy for us to say that he was God and knew all things. And yet, we must take seriously the divine and human natures of Christ. In his human nature, he did not know all things. “The human Jesus had to grow in his knowledge and understanding of the things of God.” In his human nature, he tells us that he did not know the day of his return (Mark 13:32).
At the same time, we see many instances when Jesus demonstrates supernatural knowledge. He knew Nathanael before he ever met him (John 1:47-49). He knew the Samaritan woman’s sordid past (4:17-18). He knew all men and did not need anyone to testify to him about man what was in him (2:24-25). Where did he get such learning? “It came from the communication of the divine nature to the human nature.”
John 7:16 NIVO Jesus answered, “My teaching is not my own. It comes from him who sent me.
This debate between Jesus and the Jewish authorities was about credentials. The Jewish leaders asked, “Where did You get Your degree?” Jesus replied: “I brought it with Me from heaven. I don’t teach anything on My own, but My doctrine comes from the Father. If you want the truth, if you want knowledge, if you care about theology, you should believe every word that I tell you because the only words I give you are from Him. If you want to do the will of God, you should hear My voice and listen to Me.”
John 7:17 ESV If anyone’s will is to do God’s will, he will know whether the teaching is from God or whether I am speaking on my own authority.
What does he mean? Jesus means that seeing the truth is a matter of the disposition of the heart.
- When our minds are made up,
- when we know what we want to do,
- when we have our own agenda,
- we have made our plan,
- when we ready to do our own thing,
— it is impossible to hear from God. No, Jesus says, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself…” (Matthew 16:24).
Here, Jesus says that if our heart’s desire is to do God’s will and not our own will, we will know whether Jesus’ teaching comes from God or is merely his own.
John 7:18 ESV The one who speaks on his own authority seeks his own glory; but the one who seeks the glory of him who sent him is true, and in him there is no falsehood.
What is our motivation? To be known? To make a name for ourselves? To impress people with our knowledge and our degrees? The one who speaks of his own authority, who tells you about his accomplishments, and his degrees, and his experience — that man is seeking his own glory. “We preach not ourselves,” Paul said, “but Jesus Christ our Lord” (2 Corinthians 4:5). “He must increase, and I must decrease,” said John the Baptist (John 3:30).
Jesus was seeking only to glorify the Father. He faithfully taught what he had heard from the Father. His teaching was true because Jesus himself was true, and “there is nothing false about him” (John 7:18 NIVO).
3.3.Misuse of the Word of God
Secret agendas distort our understanding of God’s Word. How often we refuse to see what is so clearly written! How often do we twist Scripture simply to approve what we want to do, or to prove a point? How often do we use an argument — not because it is true, but because it supports what we want to do or what we want to see happen?
Two things will prevent us from knowing the truth:
- Seeking our own glory instead of God’s, and
- having our own agenda’s instead of desiring above all things to do God’s will.
Part of the controversy between Jesus and the Jewish authorities had to do with their interpretation and additions to the Law. They said that no work could be done on the Sabbath. But Jesus had healed a lame man on the Sabbath and told him to take up his mat and walk.
“That’s against the Law!” they cried. “Let’s put this man to death!” The same Law that said that they were to honor the Sabbath day and keep it holy, also said that, “You shall not kill.” Yet, the Jewish authorities wanted to kill Jesus.
The Law also had required that an infant boy be circumcised the eighth day, even when that day was the Sabbath. So why should they be angry that Jesus made a man completely well on the Sabbath? They may have been teachers of the Law, but they had failed to understand the spirit of the Law.
John 7:24 NIVO Stop judging by mere appearances, and make a right judgment.”
4.CONTROVERSY OVER JESUS’ ORIGIN (7:25-52)
There was controversy not only over Jesus’ teaching, but also over his origin. Where did he come from? Of course, the real question was whether Jesus was the Christ, the one that had been promised through the ages, and the issue of his origin was an important factor in determining whether he was the Christ.
John 7:25-27 NIVO ¶ At that point some of the people of Jerusalem began to ask, “Isn’t this the man they are trying to kill? 26 Here he is, speaking publicly, and they are not saying a word to him. Have the authorities really concluded that he is the Christ? 27 But we know where this man is from; when the Christ comes, no one will know where he is from.”
There was confusion among the crowd:
John 7:26-27 NLT But here he is, speaking in public, and they say nothing to him. Could our leaders possibly believe that he is the Messiah? 27 But how could he be? For we know where this man comes from. When the Messiah comes, he will simply appear; no one will know where he comes from.”
Really? No one would know? Well, in fact, they did not know. They thought that Jesus was from Galilee, but they did not know that he was born in Bethlehem. Even this shows the controversy over Jesus’ origin. While some thought that no one would know where the Messiah came from, others knew that the Scriptures told precisely where he would come from. A few verses later, when Jesus gives his great invitation,
John 7:40-43 NLT ¶ …some of them declared, “Surely this man is the Prophet we’ve been expecting.” 41 Others said, “He is the Messiah.” Still others said, “But he can’t be! Will the Messiah come from Galilee? 42 For the Scriptures clearly state that the Messiah will be born of the royal line of David, in Bethlehem, the village where King David was born.” 43 So the crowd was divided about him.
The Messiah would come from Bethlehem, the town where Jesus was born.
In verse 50, the Pharisees are ready to judge him, but Nicodemus, “the leader who had met with Jesus earlier, spoke up. “Is it legal to convict a man before he is given a hearing?” he asked. “Are you from Galilee, too?” they replied. “Search the Scriptures and see for yourself — no prophet ever comes from Galilee!”
The people thought that they knew everything about Jesus. They thought that they knew where he was from.
“Oh, sure, you know me. And you think you know where I come from. But I am not here on my own. There is One who sent me, and he is true, but you don’t know Him. But I know him because I come from him, and he sent me to you” (7:28-29, my paraphrase).
They knew what he meant. He was referring to having been sent by God. So the Jewish authorities wanted to arrest him, “but no one laid a hand on him, because his time had not yet come” (John 7:30, NLT).
Controversy: The authorities wanted to arrest him, but the next verse tells us,
John 7:31 NLT Many among the crowds at the Temple believed in him. “After all,” they said, “would you expect the Messiah to do more miraculous signs than this man has done?”
Once again, the chief priests and Pharisees try to stop Jesus. They sent officers to arrest him (7:32), but the officers came back empty-handed (7:45). “Why didn’t you bring him in?” “No one ever spoke like this man!” (7:46).
5.CONTROVERSY OVER HIS INVITATION
It was the last day of the feast, the great day. It was the day of the greatest celebration. It was the day when water from the Pool of Siloam was poured out on the altar as a memorial of the water that flowed from the rock in the wilderness at Horeb.
John 7:37-39 ESV ¶ On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. 38 Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.'” 39 Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.
5.1.Come to Me and Drink
These are not the claims of simply a religious leader. In fact, Jesus never claimed to be a religious leader. Jesus is unlike any of the world’s great religious leaders. Ravi Zacharias grew up in a Hindu culture. He has studied world religions and has observed a fundamental distinction between Jesus Christ and the founders of other major religions:
“In all of these, there emerges an instruction, a way of living. It is not Zoroaster to whom you turn; it is Zoroaster to whom you listen. It is not Buddha who delivers you; it is his Noble Truths that instruct you. It is not Mohammad who transforms you; it is the beauty of the Koran that woos you. By contrast, Jesus did not only teach or expound His message. He was identical with His message.”5
The truth of Zacharias’ point is underscored by the number of times in the Gospels that Jesus’ teaching message was simply “Come to me” or “Follow me” or “Obey me.” Also, Jesus made it clear that his primary mission was to forgive sins, something only God could do.
Fundamentally, our Lord’s message was Himself. He did not come merely to preach a Gospel; He himself is that Gospel. He did not come merely to give bread; He said, “I am the bread.” He did not come merely to shed light; He said, “I am the light.” He did not come merely to show the door; He said, “I am the door.” He did not come merely to name a shepherd; He said, “I am the shepherd.” He did not come merely to point the way; He said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” –J.Sidlow Baxter
He did not come to tell the thirsty where they could go to quench their thirst. He said, “Come to me.” “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink.”
On Friday I was in the check-out at the grocery store. I looked ahead and saw a pastor friend checking out. Sandwiched between us was a man with several bottles of alcohol. It was an opportunity not to be missed. I greeted my pastor-friend and put my arm on the other man’s shoulder and said to my friend, “Wanum tinktink blong yu? Man ia, hem i nidim whiskey o hem i nidim Jisas?” Of course my pastor-friend responded that the man needed Jesus. We told the man that he had been waylaid by a couple of pastors, and my friend gave the man a good hug.
The man was thirsty for something, but nothing but Jesus will satisfy his thirst. “If anyone thirst,” Jesus said, “let him come to me and drink.”
John 7:38 NAU “He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, ‘From his innermost being will flow rivers of living water.'”
When he said “living water,” he was speaking of the Spirit, who would be given to everyone believing in him (Joh 7:39 NLT).
See also “Gospel of John”:
- John 11:01-45, “When God Is Late”
- John 10:30-42, “Jesus, the Most Controversial Person in History”
- John 10:22-30, “Missing the Obvious: Jesus is the Christ”
- John 10:07-21, “The Good Shepherd, Part 2”
- John 10:01-06, “The Good Shepherd, Part 1”
- John 09:01-41, “Blind Man Seeing, Seeing Men Blind”
- John 08:48-59, “Who Does Jesus Make Himself Out To Be?”
- John 08:31-47, “Children of God, or Sons of Satan?”
- John 08:31-36, “Life’s Greatest Freedom!”
- John 08:12-30, “Jesus, the Light of the World”