“When they heard these words, some of the people said, “This really is the Prophet.” Others said, “This is the Christ.” But some said, “Is the Christ to come from Galilee? Has not the Scripture said that the Christ comes from the offspring of David, and comes from Bethlehem, the village where David was?” So there was a division among the people over Him. Some of them wanted to arrest Him, but no one laid hands on Him.” (John 7:40–44, ESV) (Caps added to pronouns in ESV referring to God the Father, Son, and Spirit)
Jesus had loudly proclaimed as His last words before the crowd that if any was thirsty they were to come to Him and drink and He would cause rivers of living water to flow from their hearts. Hearing these words we read that some were convinced that He indeed was someone special. We find recorded in these verses three general responses—two of them positive and one critical. In verse 31 we read that many believed, being convinced that there was no one else who could more perfectly fulfill what they had been expecting of the Christ. The first group of believers identified Him as the Prophet. While some understood the Old Testament prophecy of the coming Prophet to refer to a predecessor of the Messiah, others understood Him to be the Messiah Himself. We don’t know precisely what this group thought. What we do know is that they knew Jesus had been sent by God and that He was there to speak the words that were given to Him.
In Deuteronomy chapter 18 we find that Moses, who they highly esteemed as a great prophet, had written of the coming Prophet. “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers—it is to him you shall listen— just as you desired of the Lord your God at Horeb on the day of the assembly, when you said, ‘Let me not hear again the voice of the Lord my God or see this great fire any more, lest I die.’ And the Lord said to me, ‘They are right in what they have spoken. I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers. And I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him. And whoever will not listen to my words that he shall speak in my name, I myself will require it of him.” (Deuteronomy 18:15–19, ESV)
In Acts we clearly see that Scripture identifies Jesus as the Prophet and also the Christ. We read, “Repent therefore, and turn back, that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Christ appointed for you, Jesus, whom heaven must receive until the time for restoring all the things about which God spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets long ago. Moses said, ‘The Lord God will raise up for you a prophet like me from your brothers. You shall listen to him in whatever he tells you. And it shall be that every soul who does not listen to that prophet shall be destroyed from the people.’ And all the prophets who have spoken, from Samuel and those who came after him, also proclaimed these days.” (Acts 3:19–24, ESV)
The second positive response was by the ones who proclaimed Him to be the Christ. This term Christ, if you were to check your concordances (a listing of words and the verses in the Bible in which they appear) appears only in the New Testament. It is a Greek word meaning “anointed,” and when it is used referring to Jesus it is used as the identifying title “the Christ” though not necessarily included in each instance in all of our English translations. However, this is not the only word that is commonly preceded with the prefix “the” or “ho” in the Greek. It was a common practice to include “ho” before proper nouns indicating more a focus on the title, name, or position than any action. Jesus is identified in the New Testament as “the Christ” meaning “the Anointed.” In the Old Testament there is a Hebrew word used meaning the same thing. That word is “mashiyach” from which we get our word “Messiah,” which for the most part is also translated “anointed.” In chapter 9 of Daniel, however, we do find it translated as “Messiah” in a few of our English translations. But for the most part, whether it is in Greek or in Hebrew when the people proclaimed Jesus to be the Christ they clearly indicated their belief that He was the Lord’s Anointed sent to save them and rule over them as King.
In Psalm 2 we read, “Why are the nations in an uproar and the peoples devising a vain thing? The kings of the earth take their stand and the rulers take counsel together against the Lord and against His Anointed, saying, “Let us tear their fetters apart and cast away their cords from us!” He who sits in the heavens laughs, The Lord scoffs at them. Then He will speak to them in His anger and terrify them in His fury, saying, “But as for Me, I have installed My King upon Zion, My holy mountain.” “I will surely tell of the decree of the Lord: He said to Me, ‘You are My Son, today I have begotten You.” (Psalm 2:1–7, NASB95)
Those who believed Him to be the Prophet and those who believed Him to be the Christ represented those who believed Jesus. But there were also those who did not believe Him to be the Prophet or the Christ. These are the ones who picked at His fulfilling Scriptural requisites as an excuse for their unbelief. They responded, “Is the Christ to come from Galilee? Has not the Scripture said that the Christ comes from the offspring of David, and comes from Bethlehem, the village where David was?” On the one hand they were correct. They knew the prophecies that the Christ was to be of the offspring of David coming from Bethlehem as we read in Micah 5:2, “But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for Me One who is to be ruler in Israel, Whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days.” (ESV) These people assumed that since Jesus was from Galilee that His origin was there as well. But we know from Scripture that in order to comply with the demands of Caesar Augustus for a census that Joseph took Mary from Nazareth in Galilee to the home of his fathers in Bethlehem in order to register.
“In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria. And all went to be registered, each to his own town. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths and laid Him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.” (Luke 2:1–7, ESV)
In missing the birthplace of Jesus the scoffers missed the boat in understanding who He really was. As a result the crowd began to disagree over Him. I imagine in the process that those sent to arrest Him felt powerless likely for fear of how those who believed Jesus might respond. Our passage goes on to read, “Some of them wanted to arrest Him, but no one laid hands on Him.”
I love how God used even the dissension of man to accomplish His purposes. Though the temple guard had been sent to arrest Jesus they ultimately found themselves powerless to do so. As I thought on this my mind was drawn to Psalm 121 which speaks of our Lord as our keeper and protector. Just as Jesus had full confidence in the Father to speak boldly in the presence of His enemies, so we ourselves can trust Him to do the same for us in the most appropriate way in order that God might accomplish His perfect will. I say this remembering that though Jesus was not touched that day, there was a day that He was touched and in that day what God intended was perfectly accomplished.
“A Song of Ascents. I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth. He will not let your foot be moved; he who keeps you will not slumber. Behold, he who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep. The Lord is your keeper; the Lord is your shade on your right hand. The sun shall not strike you by day, nor the moon by night. The Lord will keep you from all evil; he will keep your life. The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in from this time forth and forevermore.” (Psalm 121, ESV)
Jesus knew why He came and He knew what He must endure to accomplish it. The apostle Paul expressed a similar attitude in Ephesians chapter 3. “To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God Who created all things, so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. This was according to the eternal purpose that He has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord, in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through our faith in Him. So I ask you not to lose heart over what I am suffering for you, which is your glory.” (Ephesians 3:8–13, ESV)
In response to this I am reminded of a popular verse of assurance and a reminder of God’s faithfulness to that which He started. “For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 1:6, NASB95)