“But after His brothers had gone up to the feast, then He also went up, not publicly but in private. The Jews were looking for Him at the feast, and saying, “Where is He?” And there was much muttering about Him among the people. While some said, “He is a good man,” others said, “No, He is leading the people astray.” Yet for fear of the Jews no one spoke openly of Him.” (John 7:10–13, ESV) (Caps added to pronouns in ESV referring to God the Father, Son, and Spirit)
In these brief verses we read that the enemies of Jesus, referred to as “the Jews” were aggressively searching for Him, fully expecting that He would be present at this appointed feast. What they did not know is that He was there, but He was there without fanfare and without an accompanying crowd. He was incognito. He was like what we might call “a fly on the wall,” hearing and seeing everything without being noticed.
These Jews were likely going from person to person and small gathering to small gathering, asking everyone where He was. Yet no one had seen Him. In the aftermath of their questioning “the people” who were also Jews, but not a part of the group that was seeking after Him, entered into quiet discussions concerning just who He was and why He might be so sought after. Our passage tells us that there was much muttering about Him. “While some said, “He is a good man,” others said, “No, He is leading the people astray.” They were unsettled over who He was and what His intent might be. Some didn’t see any harm in Him and saw the good things that He was doing and possibly even knew the “good things” He had said. They possibly even knew Him to be kind and compassionate. These are the ones that saw Him as a good man. But there were also those who set aside whatever good they might have seen or heard of, and believed that His motives were no so pure. These people believed that He was possibly doing these things in order to lead them astray, to capture their attentions, and drag them away from their Jewish traditions, possibly to His own benefit. But all of them in their questioning were also intimated by the powerful “Jews,” and so they kept their discussions closed, not speaking openly about Him.
They were intimidated, and they responded by allowing their intimidation to affect their actions. Today things aren’t much different. There are seemingly powerful voices of intimidation even today who have garnered the backing and strategically placed voices of employers, educators, political leaders, legislators, judges, and even the pulpits of some “churches.” It works its way out through numerous government agencies and educational institutions who seek to remove any religious influence from the face of our nation. And I imagine that there are many among these numbers who may not agree with the agenda, but for sake of how they might be seen or may be treated suppress their closely held ideals.
Intimidation is a powerful force. It was then, and it remains so today. Voices are silenced because of it. Voices are silenced because of the large scale nature of it. But they are also silenced because of the smaller scale of rejection, alienation, and worrying about what people might think. We, as a people, have become more and more reluctant to speak out for Christ and even to speak against evil. It was “the Jews” reaction to Jesus calling their works evil that He gave for not going with His brothers to the feast. His brothers had said nothing to challenge them, but Jesus had, saying, “The world cannot hate you, but it hates me because I testify about it that its works are evil.” (John 7:7, ESV)
Jesus went in silence to the feast, not because He was intimidated, but because He knew the hearts of man and He knew that there would be a right time to speak and right words to say, even as we will see in the next verses. Jesus was not careless with His words, but wisely spoke the right words at the right time so that the will of the Father might be accomplished. We saw Him step back into the crowd after healing the man at the well in John 5, and we see Him even in these verses going to the feast as commanded through Moses, but doing so in such a way that He was not noticed, able to observe reactions, and then speak at the proper time.
Jesus knew how the people would respond to Him, and He knew that at the proper time His words would even lead to Him willingly laying down His life for us so that we might be forgiven of our sins and brought back into an eternal relationship with Himself and the Father. He also knew that throughout time that people would also hate those who followed after Him and spoke of Him to others. In John 15 Jesus spoke to His disciples and told them that they did not choose Him, but He chose them and appointed them to go and bear fruit. He then charged them in verse 17 with the command to love one another, after which He then said, “If the world hates you, know that it has hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you. If they kept My word, they will also keep yours. But all these things they will do to you on account of My name, because they do not know Him who sent me.” (John 15:18–21, ESV)
In Acts chapter 4 we read of Peter and John being brought before a council of Jewish leaders where they were asked by what power or authority they spoke. Their response to them was bold leaving their questioners baffled knowing them to be uneducated men. Then when they healed a man standing next to them they were left speechless (Acts 4:13-14). They knew they could not take any action against them because of the numbers of people who had evidenced their words and actions, so they came up with a plan. ““But in order that it may spread no further among the people, let us warn them to speak no more to anyone in this name.” So they called them and charged them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus.” (Acts 4:17–18, ESV) In response, we read, “But Peter and John answered them, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.”” (Acts 4:19–20, ESV) Seeing that their words seemed to fall on deaf ears we read that they resorted again to intimidation. “And when they had further threatened them, they let them go, finding no way to punish them, because of the people, for all were praising God for what had happened.” (Acts 4:21, ESV)
In Ephesians 6 Paul wrote about the spiritual battle in which we are engaged, and how Christ is our armor for that battle. At the end of this discussion he speaks about the importance of prayer and includes a personal request, “praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak.” (Ephesians 6:18–20, ESV)
In the introduction to Philippians Paul wrote about how his own imprisonment and how he continued to serve and speak through it served as an encouragement to many others believers to do likewise. “I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ. And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear.” (Philippians 1:12–14, ESV)
We have recorded for us in Scripture both the unshakable foundation for our faith found in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ who came to boldly speak against evil and to give life to all who listen and believe. And we have the example of others who suffered ill treatment and even death for being faithful followers. We have the record of our God who knows from eternity past all that will ever happen to each and every single one of us, and who is powerful to accomplish His perfect work in us—even perfecting us through these trials. We have the incredible promise of an eternal future that infinitely surpasses in glory any indignity we might suffer in the waiting. And we have the promise that when we step out of these bodies that we will step into the loving presence of our Lord, knowing that these things here, as the apostle Paul said, are momentary light affliction.
“So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:16–18, ESV)
“But even if you should suffer for the sake of righteousness, you are blessed. AND DO NOT FEAR THEIR INTIMIDATION, AND DO NOT BE TROUBLED, but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence; and keep a good conscience so that in the thing in which you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ will be put to shame.” (1 Peter 3:14–16, NASB95)