“The Pharisees heard the crowd muttering these things about Him, and the chief priests and Pharisees sent officers to arrest Him. Jesus then said, “I will be with you a little longer, and then I am going to Him who sent Me. You will seek Me and you will not find Me. Where I am you cannot come.” The Jews said to one another, “Where does this man intend to go that we will not find Him? Does He intend to go to the Dispersion among the Greeks and teach the Greeks? What does He mean by saying, ‘You will seek Me and you will not find Me,’ and, ‘Where I am you cannot come’?”” (John 7:32–36, ESV) (Caps added to pronouns in ESV referring to God the Father, Son, and Spirit)
Here the group referred to before as “the Jews” as opposed to “the people” or “the crowd” who were also Jews is identified as the chief priests and Pharisees. These two groups might represent the religious odd couple who without a common enemy might be found arguing among themselves. The Pharisees might be said to have represented the orthodox core of Judaism, who while not serving in the temple as priests were zealous for ritual and purity in accordance with the Mosaic law and their own traditions which they added over time. The other group was the chief priests who served in the temple and were largely represented as Sadducees. Between them they represented the hierarchy of the Jewish religious and legal system (Information can be found on these groups in many study Bibles, Bible dictionaries, and commentaries. I commonly use the ESV Study Bible and MacArthur Study Bible as quick references).
But they also had their strong differences. In Acts Paul was brought before several Roman leaders to be considered for charges against Rome and against the faith of the Jews. Paul, himself having been a Pharisee and very familiar with both groups used some of their differences to create dissension between them, which resulted in charges unable to be verified. We read of one of these encounters in Acts chapter 23, “But perceiving that one group were Sadducees and the other Pharisees, Paul began crying out in the Council, “Brethren, I am a Pharisee, a son of Pharisees; I am on trial for the hope and resurrection of the dead!” As he said this, there occurred a dissension between the Pharisees and Sadducees, and the assembly was divided. For the Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, nor an angel, nor a spirit, but the Pharisees acknowledge them all. And there occurred a great uproar; and some of the scribes of the Pharisaic party stood up and began to argue heatedly, saying, “We find nothing wrong with this man; suppose a spirit or an angel has spoken to him?” And as a great dissension was developing, the commander was afraid Paul would be torn to pieces by them and ordered the troops to go down and take him away from them by force, and bring him into the barracks.” (Acts 23:6–10, NASB95)
But here in our passage the Pharisees, who had no real legal standing in the temple, heard the murmuring among the people and went to the chief priests to let them know that Jesus had been found. They then sent the officers of the temple or the temple guard to arrest Jesus and bring Him back to them. It is with the temple guard standing there, prepared to arrest Him and probably looking for a somewhat discrete moment so as not to create a stir that Jesus again began to speak. He said, “I will be with you a little longer, and then I am going to Him who sent Me. You will seek Me and you will not find Me. Where I am you cannot come.” The next verse gives us some idea about how this statement was understood by the people. The Jews said to one another, “Where does this man intend to go that we will not find Him?...” Jesus was telling them that the time for Him to go to the cross to lay down His life and later take it up again before He returns to the Father was drawing close. It would not be long before He was back in heaven from where He came. And when He left none of them will be able to find Him. Once He returns to the Father no one will be able to see Him in bodily form. No matter how hard they might even look for His body after the resurrection they will not find it. It will not be there for He will have been risen just as He said (Matthew 28:6). When He returns to the Father He will return alone just as He came, and then only those who believe will be with Him forever though one day every man will bow before Him and recognize Him for who He truly is (Philippians 2:9-11).
But the people were still thinking along the lines of His physical being, and wondering how He might slip away from them and the temple guard who was standing there with them. The guard might also have been thinking the same thing. How will this man escape? Where will He go? Where can He hide? One of the possibilities as to where they thought He might go is listed next. “Does He intend to go to the Dispersion among the Greeks and teach the Greeks?”
The Dispersion was a result of many Jews over the years coming to live outside of their home land. Historically they had been taken captive by the Assyrians, the Babylonians, and more recently some had even been taken as Roman slaves. Others had fled in the face of these persecutions winding up in other areas. Some of these Jews wound up among the Greeks, and as a result a number of Greeks were becoming Jewish proselytes. As time would go on, with the death, burial and resurrection of Christ many Christ followers would be dispersed, fleeing persecution from the Jews. But this was not yet that time or that dispersion (James 1:1). They asked if He was going to join those who were dispersed in Greece. Was He going to leave His Jewish home in order to escape to go to a foreign land where other Jews had wound up living and wind up teaching this foreign group? Was He going to leave the Jews behind and seek after the Greeks?
What an ironic question. While the gospel would eventually be sent out to the Gentiles (non-Jews) this was not in vision at that time. It was a mystery yet to be unfolded or fully understood. But again, in writing this gospel John wrote from the vantage point of being down the road in time. He had the benefit of having seen exactly what happened with the salvation of Paul and His call to ministry to the Gentiles (Acts 9, particularly verses 15-16). And he knew how Peter had been confronted with the salvation of the Gentiles through His vision and the meeting of Cornelius who was a Roman believer (Acts 10). He had seen the gospel go out beyond the Jews, so reflecting back on the people in the temple asking this question must been an incredible memory.
The apostle Paul wrote in Romans 1:16, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.” (Romans 1:16, NASB95) But Him escaping to join the Greeks did not make total sense. They went on to ask another question, “What does He mean by saying, ‘You will seek Me and you will not find Me,’ and, ‘Where I am you cannot come’?” His statement was not satisfied by the mere answer of Him going to another physical place away from their presence. They likely sensed that there was more to it, and they thought about the statements of Jesus, wondering what He really meant by them. But from the passage we don’t get any answer as to what happened immediately next. The verse that follows this brings us to the last day of the feast, or about three days later than when He originally began to speak in the temple in front of the crowd. What we do know is that He was not arrested.
And what we know with the retrospect of John who wrote the gospel is that Jesus was not arrested that day, but continued to speak and perform miraculous signs until that right time on the night in which He was betrayed by Judas. It was then that He was arrested and brought before Roman leaders with charges by the Jewish leaders and was then selected by the people instead of the criminal Barabbas for crucifixion. “Pilate said to Him, “What is truth?” And when he had said this, he went out again to the Jews and said to them, “I find no guilt in Him. “But you have a custom that I release someone for you at the Passover; do you wish then that I release for you the King of the Jews?” So they cried out again, saying, “Not this Man, but Barabbas.” Now Barabbas was a robber.” (John 18:38–40, NASB95)
Again, as we look at this passage we see that our Lord had full confidence in the Father completing His intended plan in His perfect time, and that He would not allow anyone or anything to force a change. As I sit here writing these things I have been reflecting on the past twenty-four hours. In August we were anticipating a vote from a congregation to call me as their next Senior Pastor, but this did not happen. We did not get the percentage from the congregation that was necessary despite the confidence that many involved had that it would happen. It was a real shock that I reeled from for quite a while. I found myself frequently asking God why, but I got no answer. So, as a family we kept moving forward and I began anew the search process. In the searching and the waiting I had been given the opportunity to speak at a local church which also is without a Senior Pastor at the present time. I have really enjoyed this and was looking forward to another opportunity this coming Sunday when I got a phone call yesterday asking me if I could also bring a message the next week and if I would consider doing so more regularly. I consider this a great privilege to minster to these believers, and bring asked to do even more is a huge blessing and affirmation. I am definitely looking forward to an upcoming meeting in order to consider it further.
Not long after that phone call I also received a phone call from the chairman of the search committee of the church at which I did not receive the vote to bring me to them in service. We had a wonderful conversation. I was greatly encouraged and I hope that this chairman was as well. During our conversation he mentioned that after the vote the committee found out that there were some in the congregation who had a specific experience requirement which they wanted met in order to vote “yes,” and I did not meet that requirement. As such I did not get their vote. It was actually a good thing to know that it was due to something that I could do nothing about. Questions that had been hanging unanswered had been dealt with, and I truly hope that they will soon have that man who meets their requirements and will serve them for many years.
Then today I got a phone call from a church search committee who has my application packet asking to meet with me and my wife in order to discuss it further. This meeting will happen next week as well. Between yesterday and today we have no real answer as to where God is leading us, but we have had the privilege of being encouraged in the waiting and we’ve been practically reminded that He has not given up on us and that He will indeed complete in us what He has called us to do.
Just as we can be encouraged in the boldness of Christ entrusting Himself to His Father, we also can entrust ourselves to the Son of God, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, who brought us into an eternal relationship with God the Father who adopted us into His eternal family and who will complete the work that He starts in each and every person who believes His words and trusts in His Son.
Earlier in John we read that Jesus would not entrust Himself to man because He knew man’s heart (John 2:24). In the passages we have been considering we find Him continually entrusting Himself, however, to His Father who sent Him and who is faithful. Peter wrote of this, “and while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously; and He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed. For you were continually straying like sheep, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Guardian of your souls.” (1 Peter 2:23–25, NASB95)
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight.” (Proverbs 3:5–6, NASB95)
“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.” (Matthew 7:7–8, NASB95)