(John 7:37-39 ESV) 37 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.
In shouting to the crowd, Jesus was likely responding to a ceremony conducted at the feast —
The ritual associated with the Feast was nothing short of spectacular. Thousands of “tabernacles” made of olive, myrtle, palm and other branches (Neh. 8:15) dotted the streets and roofs of Jerusalem, as the Feast opened with an exuberant celebration at the Temple. Leaping flames from four gigantic menorot flooded the Temple Mount with daylight brilliance, while beneath the great lampstands the people danced and sang to the Lord. Through the open gates leading from the Court of the Women the illumination of the candelabra and the sounds of worship and praise spilled out into the Court of the Gentiles.
Over the course of the Feast of Tabernacles no less than 189 animals were sacrificed to God — more than at any other festival in Israel’s calendar. These sacrifices included 70 bullocks, which rabbinical tradition claims were offered for the “70 nations” of heathendom (Sukk. 55b). Every sabbatical year, the Feast also included a public reading of the entire law (Deut. 31:10-13). The whole emphasis of the Feast of Tabernacles was that of spiritual revelation and enlightenment, given first to Israel, then through her to all the nations of the world.
This point was further illustrated by the daily outpouring of water. Each morning the High Priest, accompanied by a procession from the Temple, went down to the Pool of Siloam and filled a golden pitcher full of water. As the sweet savor of the last morning sacrifice rose from the altar of burnt offering into the sky, the High Priest re-entered the Temple through the Water Gate on the south side. There he was met by another priest bearing wine for a drink offering, crushed from the grapes gathered in just before the Feast. Through silver funnels the priests simultaneously poured their libations out at the base of the altar. The water, symbolizing the Holy Spirit poured out upon men, flowed down the Temple steps into the outer courts. Though introduced solely by tradition, this outpouring aspect was regarded as one of the Feast’s most significant features.
On the “last and greatest day” of the Feast, the people gathered at the Temple, bearing lulav, a cluster of palm, myrtle and willow branches, in one hand and ethrog, or citron fruit, in the other. As the libations of water and wine were poured out, the priests sang the Hallel psalms, remembering God’s mercies to Israel and praising Him for His greatness. As the singing drew to a close, the people vigorously shook their palm branches toward the altar, with the possible intent of ritually reminding God of His promises to the nation.
Now imagine the scene. The feast has reached its climax. The crowd is deep. People are pressed against each other viewing the ceremony. The temple guard are holding the people back so the priest can carry the water from the Pool of Siloam up the many Temple steps and finally to the altar.
Meanwhile, other guards have been dispatched to find and arrest Jesus. You’d think Jesus would be hiding in the crowd — it would have been impossible to find him, and the guards were looking for him.
And yet at the height of the ceremony, Jesus stands and shouts, in effect, “I AM GOD!” He claims to be there to fulfill the very purpose of the ceremony. If you want God to send the Spirit — well, I’m the guy who is going to do it! Believe in me and the ritual will become reality!
(John 7:40-42 ESV) 40 When they heard these words, some of the people said, “This really is the Prophet.” 41 Others said, “This is the Christ.” But some said, “Is the Christ to come from Galilee? 42 Has not the Scripture said that the Christ comes from the offspring of David, and comes from Bethlehem, the village where David was?”
And some believed. Others, however, knew that the prophets said the Messiah would come from Bethlehem and be a descendant of David — a Judean. Jesus was obviously from Galilee, which was miles north of Judea and, frankly, just not really Jewish enough for the tastes of those who lived in Judea; they mingled with with Gentiles too much because Galilee had Greek cities as well as Jewish. Galilee was, you know, impure.
(In those days, people usually lived in whatever town they were born in. After all, how else could you live with you family?)
(John 7:43-44 ESV) 43 So there was a division among the people over him. 44 Some of them wanted to arrest him, but no one laid hands on him.
If Jesus was not the Messiah, then he was surely a blasphemer and deserved to be arrested. Those who lacked faith saw him as a fraud and a criminal. And yet Jesus was still not arrested. He’d taught, reminded people that he’d healed on the Sabbath, and then made a spectacle of himself at the climax of the feast — and yet not one guard could manage to arrest him.
(John 7:45-46 ESV) 45 The officers then came to the chief priests and Pharisees, who said to them, “Why did you not bring him?” 46 The officers answered, “No one ever spoke like this man!”
The guards were afraid. They knew a man of God when they saw one, and not a one was willing to risk being wrong. (And God didn’t want Jesus arrested.)
(John 7:47-49 ESV) 47 The Pharisees answered them, “Have you also been deceived? 48 Have any of the authorities or the Pharisees believed in him? 49 But this crowd that does not know the law is accursed.”
The Pharisees, with no sense of irony at all, held themselves up as the standard of perfection. None of us believes! Therefore, no one should believe! They then spoke ill of “the crowd,” meaning the guards, too, of course. They just couldn’t believe that anyone would be so dense as to believe in Jesus!
(John 7:50-51 ESV) 50 Nicodemus, who had gone to him before, and who was one of them, said to them, 51 “Does our law judge a man without first giving him a hearing and learning what he does?”
Then John re-introduces Nicodemus to the story — surely to contradict the claim that not a single Pharisee believed and to point out how very lawless the Pharisees were being. They’d judged him without giving him a fair trial — contrary to the Law of Moses.
(John 7:52 ESV) 52 They replied, “Are you from Galilee too? Search and see that no prophet arises from Galilee.”
The other Pharisees sneered. Jesus is not from Galilee and so cannot be the Messiah! But, of course, they didn’t know Jesus’ background because they’d judged him without investigating. They didn’t want to believe, and so they assumed.