The Prince of Peace Wields a Sword of Division - Part One

February 23, 2003 Preacher: Randy Smith Series: John

Scripture: John 5:1


The Prince of Peace Wields a Sword of Division-Part One

John 5:1-52
Sunday, February 23, 2003
Pastor Randy Smith

"He was born in an obscure village, the child of a peasant woman. He grew up in another obscure village, where He worked in a carpenter shop until He was thirty. Then for three years He was an itinerant preacher.

He never had a family or owned a home. He never set foot inside a big city. He never traveled two hundred miles from the place He was born. He never wrote a book, or held an office. He did none of the things that usually accompany greatness.

While He was still a young man, the tide of popular opinion turned against Him. His friends deserted Him. He was turned over to His enemies, and went through the mockery of a trial. He was nailed to a cross between two thieves. While He was dying, His executioners gambled for the only piece of property He had - His coat.

When He was dead, He was taken down and laid in a borrowed grave.

Nineteen centuries have come and gone, and today He is the central figure for much of the human race. All the armies that ever marched, and all the navies that ever sailed, and all the parliaments that ever sat, and all the kings that ever reigned, put together, have not affected the life of man upon this earth as powerfully as this 'One Solitary Life.'"

Dr James Allan Francis
July 11, 1926,The Real Jesus and Other Sermons

There can be no doubt that Jesus Christ has influenced the world more than any other human figure. Some, ignorant of His claims, view Him merely as a teacher or a philosopher or a spiritual figure on par with the plethora of other religious leaders. Others who rightly understand His message are sharply divided on either end of the spectrum: those who are adamantly for Him and those who are adamantly against Him. The message is so radical that it is impossible to stay neutral in the cosmic conflict. When rightly confronted with the Person of Jesus Christ, people are forced to take sides. As Jesus Himself proclaimed, "He who is not with Me is against Me" (Lk. 11:23).

This One who lived the solitary life has cornered people, even now 2,000 years later, to oppose Him with all of their strength or fall down at His feet and worship Him with all of their heart. It's amazing how He who was prophesized to be the "Prince of Peace" (Isa. 9:6) could wield such a sword of division. The clear-cut division in response to the ministry of Jesus Christ is possibly best witnessed in John chapter 7. As the objectives of Jesus Christ become clearer, battle lines are being drawn and sides are being formed.

I would like to study this division by examining four people groups and their responses to Christ's teaching. Then I would like to provide the biblical rationale as to how the One who is intended to bring such peace can bring such division. Finally, I would like to share how this truth applies to us today.

Six months have now passed since the feeding of the 5,000 and the Bread of Life discourse. Jesus is in Galilee (7:1) and the very popular "Feast of Booths" or "Feast of Tabernacles" was at hand. As this festival was first inaugurated with Moses (Lev. 23:34), the faithful would flock to Jerusalem to celebrate the blessings of God from the harvest. The people would live in temporary structures for a week (hence the name "Feast of Booths or Tabernacles"), reminiscent of the Exodus (Lev. 23:42-43). Then a special celebration was held on the eighth and final day. Jewish historian, Josephus, referred to this festival as the most popular of the three primary Jewish feasts. The setting of John chapter 7 is the teaching of Jesus Christ (7:14) at this religious festival (7:2) in Jerusalem (7:25).

Well. Let us begin with the major theme of this chapter, the division over the Person of Jesus Christ.


The first to take a position on Christ's ministry was His very own family.

Beginning in verse 3, "Therefore His brothers said to Him, 'Leave here and go into Judea, so that Your disciples also may see Your works which You are doing. For no one does anything in secret when he himself seeks to be known publicly. If You do these things, show Yourself to the world'" (Jn. 7:3-4).

You get the picture that the four half-brothers of Jesus were chiding Him as to the imprudent way Jesus was conducting His ministry. In their worldly wisdom they mocked His rustic and rural lifestyle. They made little sense of His secret Messiahship! They beseeched Him to go where the crowds gathered, rub elbows with the "religious elite" in the Holy City lest He continue to lose disciples and completely shipwreck His objectives.

Nevertheless, noble as it may appear, their advice was essentially camouflaged ridicule. Mark 3:21 states that even His own family thought, "He (had) lost His senses." His brothers were berating Him, criticizing Him and mocking Him with the presumption that their wisdom was somehow greater than His. But this attitude should not surprise us because verse 5 says, "For not even His brothers were believing in Him." They were "natural men." The Scriptures declare, "A natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised." (1 Cor. 2:14)

The great confidence that most of us have is that whenever we fail, whenever the world turns it back on us, we will always have our family that will love us and support us. Jesus was not afforded this luxury. His own brothers, men who had even witnessed His miracles (Jn. 7:3-4), turned their backs on Him. In a time of growing opposition and isolation, Jesus failed to receive support from the members of His own household.

The division that existed was suddenly about to enlarge. Jesus responded to His brothers (beginning in verse 6) by saying, "My time is not yet here, but your time is always opportune. The world cannot hate you, but it hates Me because I testify of it, that its deeds are evil. Go up to the feast yourselves; I do not go up to this feast because My time has not yet fully come" (Jn. 7:6-8).

Jesus made it clear that He had a time for everything. Though His strategy appeared foolish to the human mind, in reality everything was working as planned according to the divine timetable established by the Father. However, those ignorant of God and seduced by the ways of the world, fail to understand the necessity of staying in step with God's Spirit. They refuse to submit to God's agenda, and therefore view all time as their time, every moment as "opportune" for their selfish agenda. They don't wait on God. They do what they want to do, when they want to do it! This is the accusation that Jesus basically leveled at His brothers. If they had no understanding of their own divine commission, how could they possible understand His?

Through their foolish speculations, Christ's brothers identified themselves as children of the world. Since they are of the world (verse 7), "the world cannot hate (them)." But since Jesus is not of the world (verse 7), "(the world) hates (Him)." Jesus later would say to His disciples, "If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you" (Jn. 15:19). Jesus made it clear that there are only two camps: His camp and the world's camp. There is tremendous allegiance in each camp evidenced by a love-hate relationship of the other. Christians love the people, but hate the world. The world hates Christ and those who profess to be His followers. One camp loves the darkness, and one camp loves the light. According to verses 7, Jesus came to expose evil and darkness and therefore became the great Divider. Some run to the Light to have their sin exposed, while others in love with their sin reject the Light with great hostility. The brothers said popularity; Christ said rejection. One author rightly commented, "His destiny was not popularity but the hatred of the world, a hatred such as no one else could experience, since He alone brought the world into judgment" (C. K. Barrett, quoted in Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John, pg. 396.)

Jesus did not mince His words. His brothers were not with Him because they were not of His camp. They were affiliated with the enemy. They were blinded by the darkness. They were unable to understand God's agenda. We later understand that Jesus does go up to the feast; however, He does it when the Father, and not His brothers, sanction the trip. The counsel of the wicked would not determine His agenda. His mission, like ours, was to follow God and not man (Ac. 5:29). And when He did this, a division ensued even among the members of His own family just as He Himself predicted. "A man's enemies will be the members of His own household" (Mt. 10:36). Though His mother appears to be on His side, His brothers became adversaries.


Another noticeable division over the ministry of Jesus was between those whom John refers to in chapter 7 as the "crowds." More than likely, these were the Jews scattered throughout the land who traveled to Jerusalem for the festival.

The crowds are first introduced in verse 12. "There was much grumbling among the crowds concerning Him; some were saying, 'He is a good man;' others were saying, 'No, on the contrary, He leads the people astray.'"

It's amazing when you consider that this solitary man was the talk of the town! Verse 12 says there was "much grumbling" about Jesus. Most likely this was not complaining, but rather quiet, suppressed discussions, conducted in seclusion. The reason for such concealed conversation is explained in John's commentary in verse 13. "Yet no one was speaking openly of Him for fear of the Jews (the religious leaders)." The opposition and hatred was increasing to such a degree that these leaders did not even want Jesus to be the topic of a conversation. The crowds knew this and kept their discussion private which is no different than today. Mention the Name of Jesus as a curse word or vain expression, no problem. Mention the Name of Jesus as an object of worship, and expect persecution.

Considering the crowd, verse 12 states, "some were saying, 'He is a good man;'" while "others were saying, 'No, on the contrary, He leads the people astray.'" We can speculate as to the basis of their conclusions, but regardless, a division between the crowd was apparent over Jesus. Some of the crowd in verse 20 would later say, "You have a demon!" They thought He was out of His mind! While others of the crowd in verse 31, "Believed in Him," they embraced His message and said, "When the Christ comes, He will not perform more signs than those which this man has, will He?" Their faith may not have been profound, but yet they aligned with the One whom their fellow pilgrims thought had a demon.

The crowd again surfaced in verse 40. "Some of the people therefore, when they heard these words, were saying, 'This certainly is the Prophet.'" Others in the crowd may have been impressed (as we just mentioned-verse 31) with the signs, yet the ones here marveled at His "words," His teaching. They concluded that Jesus was the great Prophet that Moses promised in Deuteronomy 18:15.

Others in verse 41 "were saying, 'This is the Christ." Though we know as Christians the grand Prophet and the Christ are the same individual (Ac. 3:20-22), popular thought at the time believed they were separate people. Therefore this segment of the crowd was even more overwhelmed than the former. They concluded that Jesus was none other than the Christ, the Messiah!

However, once again, not all were as optimistic. While the first two parties spoke favorably of Jesus, a third party concluded in verse 41, "Surely the Christ is not going to come from Galilee, is He?" They held to the erroneous belief that no prophet, much less the Messiah, would appear from Galilee!

In verse 42 they confidently said, "Has not the Scripture said that the Christ comes from the descendants of David, and from Bethlehem, the village where David was?" However, if they had done their research, they would have discovered that Jesus was not born in Galilee, but Bethlehem (Mt. 2:1) and that He truly was from the line of David (Mt. 1:1). Jesus did fulfill both Old Testament requirements. What irony! They cited as their objection true facts about His Messiahship! The biblical information was correct, but their research was inaccurate. It would be a mistake that led to their rejection of Jesus, and lest they repented, the forfeiture of their souls.

Based upon the various positions the people took in response to Jesus, John said in verse 43, "So a division (schisma) occurred in the crowd because of Him." Some were crying, "He's a good man. He's the Prophet. He's the Christ. We believe Him!" Yet others exclaimed, "He leads the people astray. He has a demon. He's an imposter!" The dissenters opposed Jesus so much that verse 44 says, "Some of them wanted to seize Him, but no one laid hands on Him."


We have witnessed a division among Christ's family. We have witnessed a division among the pilgrims to Jerusalem. Now let's witness the division between the native residents of Jerusalem.

Beginning in verse 25, "So some of the people of Jerusalem were saying, 'Is this not the man whom they are seeking to kill? Look, He is speaking publicly, and they are saying nothing to Him. The rulers do not really know that this is the Christ, do they'" (Jn. 7:25-26)?

The citizens of Jerusalem immediately drew two conclusions about Jesus. First, being from the Holy City, they were aware that their religious leaders wanted to kill Jesus (they were obviously more informed than the pilgrims-Jn. 7:20). Therefore they were amazed that Jesus was speaking openly and yet nothing was being done by these hostile men to both silence and arrest Him. They couldn't understand how the leaders were allowing Jesus to get away with a public proclamation. Furthermore, the citizens observed the ignorance of the leaders and professed their own different understanding of Jesus. In verse 25 they said, "The rulers do not really know that this is the Christ, do they?" The laymen now appear to divide from the leaders in the city over Jesus.

Unfortunately, their brief revelation is short lived. As soon as the suggestion was considered, it was dismissed. The moment they gave Jesus' identity any further thought they replied in verse 27, "However, we know where this man is from; but whenever the Christ may come, no one knows where He is from." Possibly, the citizens were unaware of the Old Testament texts, which predicted that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem (Mi. 5:2). Most likely, however, they held the popular notion that the Messiah would be unknown until He appeared to accomplish Israel's redemption. In other words, "We thought He could be the Christ, but this Jesus fellow, well, He was from Nazareth. His home was in Capernaum. He is an ordinary man. There was nothing mysterious or spectacular about Him. He didn't suddenly appear on the scene!"

The brothers rejected Christ because of jealousy. (Like Joseph's brothers, they were envious of their brother's ambitious dreams.) The pilgrims to Jerusalem rejected Christ because of deficient information. (They wrongly thought Jesus was born in Galilee.) And now the citizens reject Christ because of biblical ignorance. (They don't understand the teachings of Scripture.) Jealousy, deficient information and biblical ignorance. It should not surprise us that Satan, the Father of Lies, still uses these means to actively engage his people to reject the Messiah and to keep his division and love for disunity alive.


The final group we will examine the morning is the religious leaders. Commonly in the book of John they are simply referred to as the "Jews." They violently opposed Jesus because of their hard hearts and stiff necks. They are like Pharaoh, ten plagues and they still wouldn't believe God's revelation. As it was known to the citizens of Jerusalem (Jn. 7:25), they had a plot to do away with Jesus once and for all. Their murderous intentions were known not only by the residents, but also by Jesus Himself. Verse 1 states, "He was unwilling to walk in Judea because the Jews were seeking to kill Him." Jesus was ready to die in Jerusalem, but only at the appointed time of the Father. In verse 19, Jesus confronts the leaders and says, "Did not Moses give you the Law, and yet none of you carries out the Law? Why do you seek to kill Me?" The accusation is simple and penetrating. "You esteem Moses. You pride yourself on following the Law he has given you. But nonetheless, you violate the law by seeking to kill Me, an innocent man" (Ex. 20:13; Dt. 19:10)!

The Jewish leaders, the Sanhedrin, were made up of Pharisees and Chief Priests (The Chief Priests are often called the Sadducees in the other gospels). Normally we see these two parties opposed to each other, but in this case they found a common bond in their mutual hatred for Jesus. The powers of darkness often draw enemies together to oppose the light. Neither party held any tolerance for His instruction. Therefore, they united in a joint effort to arrest Jesus. Verse 32, "The Pharisees heard the crowd muttering these things about Him, and the chief priests and the Pharisees sent officers to seize Him."

These officers, dispatched by the Sanhedrin, were acquired from the tribe of Levi. They functioned as the temple police force. These officers went out. They found Jesus. They listened to His teaching and then returned to the Temple. To the dismay of the Sanhedrin, Jesus was not with them. They were empty handed. They did not fulfill their assignment. They were called to account. Verse 45, "The officers then came to the chief priests and Pharisees, and they said to them, 'Why did you not bring Him?'" Verse 46, "The officers answered, 'never has a man spoken the way this man speaks.'"

As we have witnessed within the other parties in Jerusalem, a division was now forming within the Temple precinct. When confronted with the Person of Jesus Christ, the officers were so influenced that they abandoned their obligation. Despite the potential to receive severe disciplinary action, the officers didn't even make an excuse. They attributed the failure of their mission to the affect that Christ's teaching had upon them. Their hearts were touched at the deepest level. One commentator said, "They came to arrest Him, but He arrested them." (Kent Hughes, John, pg. 224.)

The hard-hearted religious leaders strike back in verse 47, "The Pharisees then answered (the officers), 'You have not also been led astray, have you?'" Though many other uneducated, misinformed and gullible people were following Jesus, they couldn't imagine how one of their own could be so deceived to esteem His teaching. Their pompous retort is found in verse 48, "No one of the rulers or Pharisees has believed in Him, has he?"

However, soon they were about to discover that they were wrong again. At least one of the Pharisees, one who knew the Law, did believe in Jesus. He was no slouch. Jesus Himself called him, "The teacher of Israel" (Jn. 3:10). His name was Nicodemus. Verse 50-51, "Nicodemus (he who came to Him before, being one of them) said to them, our Law does not judge a man unless it first hears from him and knows what he is doing, does it?"

Though His comment was not a direct defense of Christ, it nevertheless took great boldness and courage to speak on Christ's behalf before those who were his peers, before the lynching mob called the Sanhedrin. Moreover, beyond his compassion for Jesus was his accusation that the Sanhedrin was failing to rightly apply the Law. Both of these aspects were guaranteed to drive the religious party into a furious rage!

Their wrath exploded. They were too hostile to listen. They responded by heaping scorn on Nicodemus. "They answered him (in verse 52), "You are not also from Galilee, are you? Search, and see that no prophet arises out of Galilee.'" The Apostle John has an interesting and indirect way to show that the real ignorant ones and the real close-minded ones were those who rejected Jesus. Once again the Pharisees, in their rash behavior, were wrong. First of all, Christ's true origins were not from Galilee. Second, some notable prophets did arise from Galilee, namely Jonah and Nahum. Third, God is not limited as to where He may choose raise up a prophet.

We have witnessed that the Man who lived the "solitary life" created divisions: divisions between His family, divisions between travelers to the Feast, divisions between the Jerusalem residents, divisions between the Temple party, and finally, divisions between the Pharisees.

When His message is rightly understood, people will strongly align themselves on either end of the spectrum: those who are for Him and those who are against Him. Neutrality is not a possible option. Jesus Christ Himself declared, "Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I came to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and a man's enemies will be the members of his household" (Mt. 10:34-36). And might I add, members of the same city and members of the same occupation and members of the same "religion."

Though chapter 7 does contain some teaching from Jesus, my primary goal this morning was to extract the division that occurs when people are confronted with the Person of Jesus Christ. But why, why does the Prince of Peace wield a sword of division and what application can I draw from this truth? You come back next week as we seek to answer that question.

More in John

May 9, 2004

The Priority of A Disciple

May 2, 2004

From Fishermen To Shepherds

April 25, 2004

Fishing For Men