Book 4, Chapter 8.Teaching in the Temple on the Octave of the Feast of Tabernacles.

(Joh 8:12-59)

The startling teaching on ‘the last, the Great Day of the Feast’ was not the only one delivered at that season. The impression left on the mind is, that after silencing, as they thought, Nicodemus, the leaders of the Pharisees had dispersed. The addresses of Jesus which followed must, therefore, have been delivered, either later on that day, or, what on every account seems more likely, chiefly, or all, on the next day, which was the Octave of the Feast, when the Temple would be once more thronged by worshippers.

On this occasion we find Christ, first in ‘The Treasury,’ and then in some unnamed part of the sacred building, in all probability one of the ‘Porches.’ Greater freedom could be here enjoyed, since these ‘Porches,’ which enclosed the Court of the Gentiles, did not form part of the Sanctuary in the stricter sense. Discussions might take place, in which not, as in ‘the Treasury,’ only ‘the Pharisees,’, but the people generally, might propound questions, answer, or assent. Again, as regards the requirements of the present narrative, since the Porches opened upon the Court, the Jews might there pick up stones to cast at Him (which would have been impossible in any part of the Sanctuary itself), while lastly, Jesus might easily pass out of the Temple in the crowd that moved through the Porches to the outer gates.

But the narrative first transports us into ‘the Treasury,’ where ‘the Pharisees’ – or leaders – would alone venture to speak. It ought to be specially marked, that if they laid not hands on Jesus when He dared to teach in this sacred locality, and that such unwelcome doctrine, His immunity must be ascribed to the higher appointment of God: ‘because His hour had not yet come.’ An archaeological question may here be raised as to the exact localisation of ‘the Treasury,’ whether it was the colonnade around ‘the Court of the Women,’ in which the receptacles for charitable contributions-the so-called shop̱aroṯ, or ‘trumpets’ – were placed, or one of the two ‘chambers’ in which, respectively, secret gifts and votive offerings were deposited.  The former seems the most likely. In any case, it would be within ‘the Court of the Women, the common meeting place of the worshippers, and, as we may say, the most generally attended part of the Sanctuary. Here, in the hearing of the leaders of the people, took place the first Dialogue between Christ and the Pharisees.

It opened with what probably was an allusion alike to one of the great ceremonies of the Feast of Tabernacles, to its symbolic meaning, and to an express Messianic expectation of the Rabbis. As the Mishnah states: On the first, or, as the Talmud would have it, on every night  of the festive week, ‘the Court of the Women’ was brilliantly illuminated, and the night spent in the demonstrations already described. This was called ‘the joy of the feast.’ This ‘festive joy,’ of which the origin is obscure, was no doubt connected with the hope of earth’s great harvest-joy in the conversion of the heathen world, and so pointed to ‘the days of the Messiah.’ In connection with this we mark, that the term ‘light’ was specially applied to the Messiah. In a very interesting passage of the Midrash we are told, that, while commonly windows were made wide within and narrow without, it was the opposite in the Temple of Solomon, because the light issuing from the Sanctuary was to lighten that which was without. This reminds us of the language of devout old Simeon in regard to the Messiah, as ‘a light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of His people Israel.’ The Midrash further explains, that, if the light in the Sanctuary was to be always burning before Jehovah, the reason was, not that He needed such light, but that He honoured Israel with this as a symbolic command. In Messianic times God would, in fulfilment of the prophetic meaning of this rite, ‘kindle for them the Great Light,’ and the nations of the world would point to them, who had lit the light for Him Who lightened the whole world. But even this is not all. The Rabbis speak of the original light in which God had wrapped Himself as in a garment, and which could not shine by day, because it would have dimmed the light of the sun. From this light that of the sun, moon, and stars had been kindled. It was now reserved under the throne of God for the Messiah, in Whose days it would shine forth once more. Lastly, we ought to refer to a passage in another Midrash, where, after a remarkable discussion on such names of the Messiah as ‘the Lord our Righteousness,’ ‘the Branch,’ ‘the Comforter,’ ‘Shiloh,’ ‘Compassion,’ His Birth is connected with the destruction, and His return with the restoration of the Temple. But in that very passage the Messiah is also specially designated as the ‘Enlightener,’ the words: ‘the light dwelleth with Him,’ being applied to Him.

What has just been stated shows, that the Messianic hope of the aged Simeon most truly expressed the Messianic thoughts of the time. It also proves, that the Pharisees could not have mistaken the Messianic meaning in the words of Jesus, in their reference to the past festivity: ‘I am the Light of the world.’ This circumstance is itself evidential as regards this Discourse of Christ, the truth of this narrative, and even the Jewish authorship of the Fourth Gospel. But, indeed, the whole Address, the argumentation with the Pharisees which follows, as well as the subsequent Discourse to, and argumentation with, the Jews, are peculiarly Jewish in their form of reasoning. Substantially, these Discourses are a continuation of those previously delivered at this Feast. But they carry the argument one important step both backwards and forwards. The situation had now become quite clear, and neither party cared to conceal it. What Jesus had gradually communicated to the disciples, who were so unwilling to receive it, had now become an acknowledged fact. It was no longer a secret that the leaders of Israel and Jerusalem were compassing the Death of Jesus. This underlies all His Words. And He sought to turn them from their purpose, not by appealing to their pity nor to any lower motive, but by claiming as His right that, for which they would condemn Him. He was the Sent of God, the Messiah; although, to know Him and His Mission, it needed moral kinship with Him that had sent Him. But this led to the very root of the matter. It needed moral kinship with God: did Israel, as such, possess it? They did not; nay, no man possessed it, till given him of God. This was not exactly new in these Discourses of Christ, but it was now far more clearly stated and developed, and in that sense new.

We also are too apt to overlook this teaching of Christ – perhaps have overlooked it. It is concerning the corruption of our whole nature by sin, and hence the need of God-teaching, if we are to receive the Christ, or understand His doctrine. That which is born of the flesh is flesh; that which is born of the Spirit is Spirit; wherefore, ‘marvel not that I said, Ye must be born again.’ That had been Christ’s initial teaching to Nicodemus, and it became, with growing emphasis, His final teaching to the teachers of Israel. It is not Paul who first sets forth the doctrine of our entire moral ruin: he had learned it from the Christ. It forms the very basis of Christianity; it is the ultimate reason of the need of a Redeemer, and the rationale of the work which Christ came to do. The Priesthood and the Sacrificial Work of Christ, as well as the higher aspect of His Prophetic Office, and the true meaning of His Kingship, as not of this world, are based upon it. Very markedly, it constitutes the starting-point in the fundamental divergence between the leaders of the Synagogue and Christ – we might say, to all time between Christians and non-Christians. The teachers of Israel knew not, nor believed in the total corruption of man – Jew as well as Gentile – and, therefore, felt not the need of a Saviour. They could not understand it, how ‘Except a man’ – at least a Jew – were ‘born again,’ and, ‘from above,’ he could not enter, nor even see, the Kingdom of God. They understood not their own Bible: the story of the Fall – not Moses and the Prophets; and how could they understand Christ? they believed not them, and how could they believe Him? And yet, from this point of view, but only from this, does all seem clear: the Incarnation, the History of the Temptation and Victory in the Wilderness, an even the Cross. Only he who has, in some measure, himself felt the agony of the first garden, can understand that of the second garden. Had they understood, by that personal experience which we must all have of it, the Proto-Evangel of the great contest, and of the great conquest by suffering, they would have followed its lines to their final goal in the Christ as the fulfilment of all. And so, here also, were the words of Christ true, that it needed heavenly teaching, and kinship to the Divine, to understand His doctrine.

This underlies, and is the main object of these Discourses of Christ. As a corollary He would teach, that Satan was not a merely malicious, impish being, working outward destruction, but that there was a moral power of evil which held us all – not the Gentile world only, but even the most favoured, learned, and exalted among the Jews. Of this power Satan was the concentration and impersonation; the prince of the power of ‘darkness.’ This opens up the reasoning of Christ, alike as expressed and implied. He presented Himself to them as the Messiah, and hence as the Light of the World. It resulted, that only in following Him would a man ‘not walk in the darkness,’ but have the light – and that, be it marked, not the light of knowledge, but of life. On the other hand, it also followed, that all, who were not within this light, were in darkness and in death.

It was an appeal to the moral in His hearers. The Pharisees sought to turn it aside by an appeal to the external and visible. They asked for some witness, or palpable evidence, of what they called His testimony about Himself, well knowing that such could only be through some external, visible, miraculous manifestation, just as they had formerly asked for a sign from heaven. The Bible, and especially the Evangelic history, is full of what men ordinarily, and often thoughtlessly, call the miraculous. But, in this case, the miraculous would have become the magical, which it never is. If Christ had yielded to their appeal, and transferred the question from the moral to the coarsely external sphere, He would have ceased to be the Messiah of the Incarnation, Temptation, and Cross, the Messiah-Saviour. It would have been to un-Messiah the Messiah of the Gospel, for it was only, in another form, a repetition of the Temptation. A miracle or sign would at that moment have been a moral anachronism – as much as any miracle would be in our days, when the Christ makes His appeal to the moral, and is met by a demand for the external and material evidence of His Witness.

The interruption of the Pharisees was thoroughly Jewish, and so was their objection. It had to be met, and that in the Jewish form in which it had been raised, while the Christ must at the same time continue His former teaching to them concerning God and their own distance from Him. Their objection had proceeded on this fundamental judicial principle – ‘A person is not accredited about himself.’ Harsh and unjust as this principle sometimes was, it evidently applied only in judicial cases, and hence implied that these Pharisees sat in judgment on Him as one suspected, and charged with guilt. The reply of Jesus was plain. Even if His testimony about Himself were unsupported, it would still be true, and He was competent to bear it, for He knew, as a matter of fact, whence He came and whither He went – His own part in this Mission, and its goal, as well as God’s – whereas they knew not either. But, more than this: their demand for a witness had proceeded on the assumption of their being the judges, and He the panel – a relation which only arose from their judging after the flesh. Spiritual judgment upon that which was within belonged only to Him, that searcheth all secrets. Christ, while on earth, judged no man; and, even if He did so, it must be remembered that He did it not alone, but with, and as the Representative of, the Father. Hence, such judgment would be true. But, as for their main charge, was it either true, or good in law? In accordance with the Law of God, there were two witnesses to the fact of His Mission: His own, and the frequently-shown attestation of His Father. And, if it were objected that a man could not bear witness in his own cause, the same Rabbinic canon laid it down, that this only applied if his testimony stood alone. But if it were corroborated (even in a matter of greatest delicacy), although by only one male or female slave – who ordinarily were unfit for testimony – it would be credited.

The reasoning of Christ, without for a moment quitting the higher ground of His teaching, was quite unanswerable from the Jewish standpoint. The Pharisees felt it, and, though well knowing to Whom He referred, tried to evade it by the sneer – where (not Who) His Father was? This gave occasion for Christ to return to the main subject of His Address, that the reason of their ignorance of Him was, that they knew not the Father, and, in turn, that only acknowledgment of Him would bring true knowledge of the Father.

Such words would only ripen in the hearts of such men the murderous resolve against Jesus. Yet, not till His, not their, hour had come! Presently, we find Him again, now in one of the Porches – probably that of Solomon – teaching, this time, ‘the Jews.’ We imagine they were chiefly, if not all, Judaeans – perhaps Jerusalemites, aware of the murderous intent of their leaders – not His own Galileans, whom He addressed. It was in continuation of what had gone before – alike of what He had said to them and of what they felt towards Him. The words are intensely sad – Christ’s farewell to His rebellious people, His tear-words over lost Israel; abrupt also, as if they were torn sentences, or, else, headings for special discourses: ‘I go My way’ – ‘Ye shall seek Me, and in your sin shall ye die’ – ‘Whither I go, ye cannot come!’ And is it not all most true? These many centuries has Israel sought its Christ, and perished in its great sin of rejecting Him; and whither Christ and His kingdom tended, the Synagogue and Judaism never came. They thought that He spoke of His dying, and not, as He did, of that which came after it. But, how could His dying establish such separation between them? This was the next question which rose in their minds. Would there be anything so peculiar about His dying, or, did His expression about going indicate a purpose of taking away His Own life?

It was this misunderstanding which Jesus briefly but emphatically corrected by telling them, that the ground of their separation was the difference of their nature: they were from beneath, He from above; they of this world, He not of this world. Hence they could not come where He would be, since they must die in their sin, as He had told them – ‘if ye believe not that I am.’

The words were intentionally mysteriously spoken, as to a Jewish audience. Believe not that Thou art! But ‘Who art Thou?’ Whether or not the words were spoken in scorn, their question condemned themselves. In His broken sentence, Jesus had tried them – to see how they would complete it. Then it was so! All this time they had not yet learned Who He was; had not even a conviction on that point, either for or against Him, but were ready to be swayed by their leaders ‘Who I am?’ – am I not telling you it even from the beginning; has My testimony by word or deed ever swerved on this point? I am what all along, from the beginning, I tell you. Then, putting aside this interruption, He resumed His argument. Many other things had He to say and to judge concerning them, besides the bitter truth of their perishing if they believed not that it was He – but He that had sent Him was true, and He must ever speak into the world the message which He had received. When Christ referred to it as that which ‘He heard from Him,’ He evidently wished thereby to emphasise the fact of His Mission from God, as constituting His claim on their obedience of faith. But it was this very point which, even at that moment, they were not understanding. And they would only learn it, not by His Words, but by the event, when they had ‘lifted Him up,’ as they thought, to the Cross, but really on the way to His Glory.  Then would they perceive the meaning of the designation He had given of Himself, and the claim founded on it: ‘Then shall ye perceive that I am.’ Meantime: ‘And of Myself do I nothing, but as the Father taught Me, these things do I speak. And He that sent Me is with Me. He hath not left Me alone, because what pleases Him I do always.’

If the Jews failed to understand the expression ‘lifting up,’ which might mean His Exaltation, though it did mean, in the first place, His Cross, there was that in His Appeal to His Words and Deeds as bearing witness to His Mission and to the Divine Help and Presence in it, which by its sincerity, earnestness, and reality, found its way to the hearts of many. Instinctively they felt and believed that His Mission must be Divine. Whether or not this found articulate expression, Jesus now addressed Himself to those who thus far – at least for the moment – believed on Him. They were at the crisis of their spiritual history, and He must press home on them what He had sought to teach at the first. By nature far from Him, they were bondsmen. Only if they abode in His Word would they know the truth, and the truth would make them free. The result of this knowledge would be moral, and hence that knowledge consisted not in merely believing on Him, but in making His Word and teaching their dwelling – abiding in it. But it was this very moral application which they resisted. In this also Jesus had used their own forms of thinking and teaching, only in a much higher sense. For their own tradition had it, that he, only was free who laboured in the study of the Law. Yet the liberty of which He spoke came not through study of the Law, but from abiding in the Word of Jesus. But it was this very thing which they resisted. And so they ignored the spiritual, and fell back upon the national, application of the words of Christ. As this is once more evidential of the Jewish authorship of this Gospel, so also the characteristically Jewish boast, that as the children of Abraham they had never been, and never could be, in real servitude. It would take too long to enumerate all the benefits supposed to be derived from descent from Abraham. Suffice here the almost fundamental principle: ‘All Israel are the children of Kings,’ and its application even to common life, that as ‘the children of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, not even Solomon’s feast could be too good for them.’

Not so, however, would the Lord allow them to pass it by. He pointed them to another servitude which they knew not, that of sin, and, entering at the same time also on their own ideas, He told them that continuance in this servitude would also lead to national bondage and rejection: ‘For the servant abideth not in the house for ever.’ On the other hand, the Son abode there for ever; whom He made free by adoption into His family, they would be free in reality and essentially.  Then for their very dulness, He would turn to their favourite conceit of being Abraham’s seed. There was, indeed, an obvious sense in which, by their natural descent, they were such. But there was a moral descent – and that alone was of real value. Another, and to them wholly new, and heavenly teaching this, which our Lord presently applied in a manner they could neither misunderstand nor gainsay, while He at the same time connected it with the general drift of His teaching. Abraham’s seed? But they entertained purposes of murder, and that, because the Word of Christ had not free course, made not way in them. His Word was what He had seen with (before) the Father, ‘not heard – for His presence was there Eternal. Their deeds were what they had heard from their father – the word ‘seen’ in our common text depending on a wrong reading. And thus He showed them – in answer to their interpellation – that their father could not have been Abraham, so far as spiritual descent was concerned. They had now a glimpse of His meaning, but only to misapply it, according to their Jewish prejudice. Their spiritual descent, they urged, must be of God, since their descent from Abraham was legitimate. But the Lord dispelled even this conceit by showing, that if theirs were spiritual descent from God, then would they not reject His Message, nor seek to kill Him, but recognise and love him.

But whence this misunderstanding of His speech?  Because they are morally incapable of hearing it – and this because of the sinfulness of their nature: an element which Judaism had never taken into account. And so, with infinite Wisdom, Christ once more brought back His Discourse to what He would teach them concerning man’s need, whether he be Jew or Gentile, of a Saviour and of renewing by the Holy Ghost. If the Jews were morally unable to hear His Word and cherished murderous designs, it was because, morally speaking, their descent was of the Devil. Very differently from Jewish ideas did He speak concerning the moral evil of Satan, as both a murderer and a liar – a murderer from the beginning of the history of our race, and one who ‘stood not in the truth, because truth is not in him.’ Hence ‘whenever he speaketh a lie’ – whether to our first parents, or now concerning the Christ – ‘he speaketh from out his own (things), for he (Satan) is a liar, and the father of such an one (who telleth or believeth lies).’ Which of them could convict Him of sin? If therefore He spake truth, and they believed Him not, it was because they were not of God, but, as He had shown them, of their father, the Devil.

The argument was unanswerable, and there seemed only one way to turn it aside – a Jewish Tu quoque, an adaptation of the ‘Physician, heal thyself:’ ‘Do we not say rightly, that Thou art a Samaritan, and hast a demon?’ It is strange that the first clause of this reproach should have been so misunderstood and yet its direct explanation lies on the surface. We have only to translate it into the language which the Jews had used. By no strain of ingenuity is it possible to account for the designation ‘Samaritan,’ as given by the Jews to Jesus, if it is regarded as referring to nationality. Even at the very Feast they had made it an objection to His Messianic claims, that He was (as they supposed) a Galilean. Nor had He come to Jerusalem from Samaria; nor could He be so called (as Commentators suggest) because He was ‘a foe’ to Israel, or a ‘breaker of the Law,’ or ‘unfit to bear witness’ -for neither of these circumstances would have led the Jews to designate Him by the term ‘Samaritan.’ ‘But, in the language which they spoke, what is rendered into Greek by ‘Samaritan,’ would have been either kuṯi (כותי), which, while literally meaning a Samaritan, is almost as often used in the sense of ‘heretic,’ or else shomroni (שמרוני). The latter word deserves special attention. Literally, it also means, ‘Samaritan;’ but, the name shomron (perhaps from its connection with Samaria), is also sometimes used as the equivalent of Ashmedai, the Prince of the demons.  According to the Kabbalists, shomron was the father of Ashmedai, and hence the same as Sammael, or Satan. That this was a wide-spread Jewish belief, appears from the circumstance that in the Koran (which, in such matters, would reproduce popular Jewish tradition), Israel is said to have been seduced into idolatry by shomron, while, in Jewish tradition, this is attributed to Sammuel. If, therefore, the term applied by the Jews to Jesus was shomroni – and not kuṯi, ‘heretic’ – it would literally mean, ‘Child of the Devil.’

This would also explain why Christ only replied to the charge having a demon, since the two charges meant substantially the same: ‘Thou art a child of the devil and hast a demon.’ In wondrous patience and mercy He almost passed it by, dwelling rather, for their teaching, on the fact that, while they dishonoured Him, He honoured His Father. He heeded not their charges. His concern was the glory of His Father; the vindication of His own Honour would be brought about by the Father – though, alas! in judgment on those who were casting such dishonour on the Sent of God. Then, as if lingering in deep compassion on the terrible issue, He once more pressed home the great subject of His Discourse, that only ‘if a man keep’ – both have regard to, and observe – His ‘Word,’ ‘he shall not gaze at death [intently behold it] unto eternity’ – for ever shall he not come within close and terrible gaze of what is really death, of what became such to Adam in the hour of his Fall.

It was, as repeatedly observed, this death as the consequence of the Fall, of which the Jews knew nothing. And so they once more misunderstood it as of physical death, and, since Abraham and the prophets had died, regarded Christ as setting up a claim higher than theirs. The Discourse had contained all that He had wished to bring before them, and their objections were degenerating into wrangling. It was time to break it off by a general application. The question, He added, was not of what He said, but of what God said of Him – that God, Whom they claimed as theirs, and yet knew not, but Whom He knew, and Whose Word He ‘kept.’ But, as for Abraham – he had ‘exulted’ in the thought of the coming day of the Christ, and, seeing its glory, he was glad. Even Jewish tradition could scarcely gainsay this, since there were two parties in the Synagogue, of which one believed that, when that horror of great darkness fell on him, Abraham had, in vision, been shown not only this, but the coming world – and not only all events in the present ‘age,’ but also those in Messianic times.  And now, theirs was not misunderstanding, but wilful misinterpretation. He had spoken of Abraham seeing His day; they took it of His seeing Abraham’s day, and challenged its possibility. Whether or not they intended thus to elicit an avowal of His claim to eternal duration, and hence to Divinity, it was not time any longer to forbear the full statement, and, with Divine emphasis, He spake the words which could not be mistaken: ‘Verily, verily, I say unto you, before Abraham was, I AM.’

It was as if they had only waited for this. Furiously they rushed from the Porch into the Court of the Gentiles – with symbolic significance, even in this – to pick up stones, and to cast them at Him. But, once more, His hour had not yet come, and their fury proved impotent. Hiding Himself for the moment, as might so easily be done, in one of the many chambers, passages, or gateways of the Temple, He presently passed out.

It had been the first plain disclosure and avowal of His Divinity, and it was ‘in the midst of His enemies,’ and when most contempt was cast upon Him. Presently would that avowal be renewed both in Word and by Deed; for ‘the end’ of mercy and judgment had not yet come, but was drawing terribly nigh.