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|Archbishop Averky (Tauchev)|
Explanation of the four Gospels
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Having sent His brothers to Jerusalem for the Feast of Tabernacles, the Lord went there Himself sometime later, “but as it were in secret,” i.e. not triumphantly — like on the eve of Pascha when He was going toward His sufferings — and without throngs of people that usually accompanied Him, quietly and unobtrusively. “What a sad gradation of the Lord’s appearances in Jerusalem,” notes Bishop Michael, a Gospel interpreter, “enforced, of course, not by His own actions, but from the increasing hostility by His enemies. On the first Pascha, He triumphantly appears in the temple as the Son of God, Messiah, with authority (John chp. 2); on the second (chp. 5), He appears as a traveler, but His actions and sermons arouse animosity toward Him, leading to intents to killing Him. As a consequence, He doesn’t go at all to Jerusalem for the next Pascha, but keeps away from it for 18 months, after which He is forced to return secretly!”
Verses 11 to 13 give a demonstrative presentation about what was occurring at the time in Jerusalem. Everybody was talking about Christ. It is evident that His enemies kept a vigilant eye on Him, followed Him and His actions, all of which pointed to the question: “Where is He?” Among the people, there were many understandings about Him of the most contradictory nature — but nobody spoke openly “for fear of the Jews,” which Evangelist John understands to be the usual party of Jewish leaders, headed by members of Sanhedrin and Pharisees that were hostile to the Lord. Saint Chrysostom and Blessed Theophylactus both surmise that people in general spoke well of the Lord, while the leaders spoke hostilely: “The leaders said that He was deceiving the people, while the people said that He was good.” This is evident from the fact that the leaders stand out from the people in saying that “He is deceiving the people.” It was only mid-way through the feast i.e. apparently on its fourth day, the Lord entered the temple and began to teach i.e. probably explaining the Bible, which was the custom with Jews.
Being aware that the Lord did not study in school under any known Rabbi, the Jews were amazed at His knowledge of the Scriptures that He was revealing. Characteristically, they were deaf to the substance of His teachings, but turned their attention only to the fact that He didn’t study. This indicates their contempt and hostility toward the Lord. The Lord then solves their puzzlement: “My doctrine is not Mine, but His Who sent Me.” It is as though the Lord said to them: “I didn’t go through your Rabbi schools, but I have a complete Teacher, Who is the Heavenly Father that has Sent Me.” The means for a person to be convinced as to the divine source of this teaching, lies in his decision to do “the will of My Father.” He who decides to carry out the will of God, will be convinced through internal feelings that the teachings are from God. The term “will of God” must be understood as the complete moral laws of God: as the law of conscience, as well as the Old Testament law. He who wishes to go along the path of moral completeness in fulfilling this law, then that person — through an internal conviction — will understand that Christ’s teachings are in fact divine teachings. The Lord underlines this in saying that He preaches, to seek glory for the One Who sent Him, and not for Himself — as though He was preaching His personal teachings. Keeping in mind the Jewish leaders, the Lord further says that they seek to kill Him for violating the law, which they themselves are not fulfilling.
Unaware of their leaders’ intentions to kill Jesus, the people thought the Lord’s words were meant for them, and feeling hurt, some of them exclaimed: “Who is seeking to kill You?” and isn’t it an evil spirit that prompts You to say this? “You have a demon.” From the Lord’s following sermon, it is evident that the cure of the paralytic on Saturday continued to be the subject of commentary, especially as an aftermath of His opposition to the exaggerated importance of the Sabbath. The Lord points to the fact that good deeds may be performed on the Sabbath because, as an example, circumcision occasionally takes place on the Sabbath so as not to violate the law of Moses, which decrees this be carried out on the 8th day from birth. After this, it should not be amazing that He cured the whole person on a Sabbath. The Lord concludes His sermon by calling for the law to be judged not according to the letter, to its written word, but by its spirit, so that the judgment can be regarded as correct. “If a man receives circumcision on the Sabbath, so that the law of Moses should not be broken, are you angry with Me because I made a man completely well on the Sabbath?” Blessed Theophyclatus expounds this quite excellently: “It is as though Christ remonstrates to the Jews, ‘If you judged My act of curing from a moral viewpoint and not from a formal one, then you wouldn’t have condemned Me; then, your judgment would have been just and not biased’” (Bishop Michael).
This powerful sermon from the Lord, created an extraordinary impression upon the Jerusalemites, who knew of the Lord’s enemies’ intentions; that’s why they find it strange that in seeking His death, they permit Him to speak freely, unopposed. Unable to explain this, they express their thought that perhaps their leaders have been convinced “that this is truly the Christ.” But immediately, they also express their doubts. According to the rabbis’ teachings, the Messiah had to be born in Bethlehem. He then had to disappear unobtrusively, and then reappear in such a way that nobody would be aware from where and how. In response to the Jerusalemites’ interpretations that He cannot be the Messiah because they know where He is from, the Lord, with particular solemnity, responds in a raised voice that although they state that they know Him, their knowledge is flawed. “In assuming that you know Me, you state that I came from Myself i.e. self-appointed messiah; but I came not from Myself but am the true envoy of Him, Who you don’t know — God.” These words were particularly hurtful to the proud Pharisees and “they sought to take Him,” but “because His hour had not yet come,” i.e. the hour of His impending sufferings, their efforts were unsuccessful: “no one laid a hand on Him,” because apparently, His enemies were afraid of the people, who were favorably inclined toward Christ. Also, perhaps partly because their consciences were not completely extinguished as they subsequently were. Many among the people believed in Him as the Messiah, at the same time, as though objecting to the Lord’s enemies, exclaiming: “When the Christ comes, will He do more signs than these which this Man has done?” i.e. in other words, what they wanted to say is that the signs, the miracles, performed by Jesus are sufficiently powerful witnesses of Him being the Messiah.
Having heard of this, the Pharisees arranged a meeting with the high priests. At the same time, deciding not to defer the realization of their intentions, they sent their servants to seize the Lord. Responding to their designs to seize and kill Him, the Lord said: “I shall be with you a little while longer, and then I go to Him who sent Me” — aroused within Him the thought of His impending death, and He urges the Jews to take advantage of His presence by learning from Him. These words from the Lord have the following meaning: “Currently you are pursuing and persecuting Me, but the time will come when you will be seeking Me as the omnipotent miracle-worker, able to deliver you from your woes — but it will be too late.” But the cruel Jews were not enlightened by the Lord’s words and began to ridicule: “Where does He intend to go? Does He intend to go teach to the Jews living in foreign countries (Hellenic Dispersion), so that He can preach to the heathens as we well (the term “Hellenic” usually meant all heathens in general.) This was an unintentional prophecy of the future enlightenment of the heathens through Christ’s teachings.
“On the last day, that great day of the feast,” i.e. the eighth day, which was Jesus stood and cried out, saying, ‘If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink.’” In these and further words, the Lord takes advantage of the rituals that were performed during these feast days: at the close of the morning sacrifice in the temple, the serving priest and the people went to the holy well of Siloam, where the priest filled a golden vessel with water; accompanied by joyful cries from the people and the sounds of trumpets and cymbals, he carried it into the temple and poured it over the altar of sacrificial burnings, thereby performing the “sacrifice of libation,” which was meant to be a reminder as to how Moses produced water from a rock during the Jews’ wandering in the wilderness. The Lord Jesus Christ compares Himself with the rock that discharged water to the thirsty people in the wilderness, pointing to Himself as being the Source of goodness of which the rock was the symbol. The Lord also points out that whoever believes in Him will also become a source of goodness, which will quench the spiritual thirst of everyone that seeks salvation. The Evangelist explains that here, the Lord had in mind the grace of the Holy Spirit, which was to be sent to the people after the glorification i.e. after Christ’s Resurrection and Ascension.
The Lord’s words disturbed the multitude: many among them took a decisive stand on His side, acknowledging Him as a “Prophet,” while some were openly saying that “this is the Christ.” The Pharisees began to instill into the people — who were not aware that Jesus Christ was born in Bethlehem — that He couldn’t be the Messiah: “Will the Christ come from Galilee?’ and this started a dispute over Him. Wanting to carry out the orders of the authorities, the servants of Sanhedrin attempted to grab Jesus, but every time their arms remained lowered: they didn’t dare do this: evidently, their conscience told them that it would be a sin to touch this Man. Returning to their masters in this frame of mind, they confessed that the power of the Lord’s word was so mighty and overwhelming, that they couldn’t carry out their instructions. This admission brought about a most annoyed response from the members of the Sanhedrin: “Are you also deceived?” By way of a sharp contrast, they point out to these servants (who were of common people origin) that none of the “rulers” or “Pharisees” believed in Christ. “But this crowd that does not know the law is accursed,” — is an expression of mindless fury of the Jewish leaders, against the common people that have believed in Christ. They attempt to discredit this faith, explaining it as “ignorance of the law.” But here, Nicodemus (himself a Pharisee and member of the Sanhedrin) bravely comes forward, deciding to point out to them that they themselves are forgetting the law: “Does our law judge a man before it hears him and knows what he is doing?” The law in Exodus 23:1 and Deut. 1:16 demands that the accused be investigated, and not to accept empty rumors. This only aroused annoyance: “Are you also from Galilee?” i.e. only a Galileean can reason like that. They didn’t notice that they were falsifying history, because as an example, Prophet Jonah was from Galilee.