Return to Sender

32 The Pharisees heard the crowd muttering these things about him, and the chief priests and Pharisees sent officers to arrest him. 33 Jesus then said, “I will be with you a little longer, and then I am going to him who sent me. 34 You will seek me and you will not find me. Where I am you cannot come.” 35 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? 36 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

The Pharisees were among the growing number who found Jesus’ claims to be preposterous and potentially dangerous. As members of the religious leadership of Israel, they had convinced themselves that Jesus posed a serious threat to the nation. His words and actions were stirring up the people and giving them the hope that their Messiah had finally come. The Pharisees saw this as a problem because the people expected the Messiah to be a military leader who would free them from Roman oppression and reestablish Israel’s prominence as a nation. If enough people were swayed into believing that Jesus was the Messiah, His followers could insight a rebellion against the Roman authorities and bring down the wrath of Caesar.

Their fear was well-founded. Even John alluded to the fact that there was a movement among some of Jesus’ followers to make Him their king. Immediately after His miraculous feeding of the 5,000, the awe-struck crowd came up with a way to use His supernatural powers to even greater advantage.

When the people saw him do this miraculous sign, they exclaimed, “Surely, he is the Prophet we have been expecting!” When Jesus saw that they were ready to force him to be their king, he slipped away into the hills by himself. – John 6:14-15 NLT

So, it’s easy to see why the Pharisees were anxious about Jesus’ growing fame. And whenever they heard the people says things like, “When the Christ appears, will he do more signs than this man has done?” (John 7:31 ESV), their fears increased exponentially. Any reference to Jesus as the Christ or Messiah was considered to be a red flag to these men that signaled danger ahead. That’s why they immediately responded by sending officers to arrest Jesus. They wanted Him off the streets and under lock and key. In their less-than-humble opinion, Jesus was a menace to society, not the long-awaited Messiah of Israel.

The entire scene described in chapter seven takes place on the temple grounds. This was the home turf of the Pharisees and the other members of the Sanhedrin and they viewed Jesus as a dangerous interloper who was trying to incite rebellion among the people. They had already tried to get their hands on Him, but John indicates that their efforts had been unsuccessful “because his hour had not yet come” (John 7:30 ESV).

There was a divine timeline associated with Jesus’ earthly ministry. No one was going to crown Him king prematurely or have Him arrested ahead of schedule. God had ordained a specific sequence for the events that were to mark the last days of Jesus’ life. They could not be rushed, prevented, or altered in any way. And Jesus continued to speak with a complete sense of calm, informing His audience of what was about to happen.

I will be with you only a little longer. Then I will return to the one who sent me. You will search for me but not find me. And you cannot go where I am going. – John 7:33-34 NLT

As usual, Jesus spoke in rather cryptic terms that left His listeners more confused than comforted. In a sense, Jesus was simply articulating that His hour had not yet come. He would be leaving them, but now was not the time. The religious leaders would eventually get their hands on Him, but it would be according to God’s timing, not their own. And Jesus informs His audience that His next destination would not be a throne or a jail cell. He would be returning to His Father’s side in heaven.

Jesus was fully aware that death awaited Him. His whole purpose in coming to earth had been to die on behalf of sinful mankind. He had come to offer His life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45). But His death would not signal the end of His ministry. It would be just the beginning. The Pharisees and their peers believed that if they could put Jesus to death they would eliminate His influence over the people. But they were wrong. And the people believed that if they could force Jesus to be their king, they could eliminate the oppressive rule of the Romans. But they too were wrong.

In a sense, everyone was seeking Jesus. The crowds were seeking to make Him their king. The Pharisees were seeking to make Him a martyr. But God had other plans for Jesus. The Father was preparing to offer His Son as Lamb who takes away the sins of the world (John 1:29). And once Jesus accomplished that objective, He would be restored to His Father’s side. And no matter how hard the crowds or the Pharisees searched for Him, their efforts would prove fruitless.

And as expected, the words Jesus spoke made no sense to those who heard them. They wracked their brains trying to figure out where Jesus intended to go so that they could not find Him. Was He thinking of leaving Judea permanently? Did He have plans to go beyond the borders of Palestine and join other Jews who had been dispersed among the Gentile nations? In their minds, none of this made any sense. Why would the Messiah of Israel leave the borders of Israel? Why would He go where they could not find Him?

Even the Pharisees in the crowd must have been stunned by Jesus’ announcement. Was He really leaving? Was their problem about to go away for good? Was their worst nightmare about to turn into a dream come true?

Everyone was left asking the same question: “What does he mean when he says, ‘You will search for me but not find me,’ and ‘You cannot go where I am going’?” (John 7:36 NLT). With this final question, John drives home the point that the Jews had no clue as to Jesus’ true identity. They had no idea where He had come from and they had no idea where He was going because they had no clue that He was the Son of God. Over and over again, Jesus had explained that He had been sent by God. Now, He was declaring that the plan was for Him to return to His Father’s side.

When Jesus stated, “I will return to the one who sent me,” He was declaring once again His divinity. He was not really from Nazareth in Galilee. And while He had been born in Bethlehem in Judea, He was actually the Son of God sent from heaven. He was the true light that had come into the world (John 1:9).  He was the true bread from heaven (John 6:32). He was the living bread that had come down from heaven (John 6:51). He had been sent by God and He would one day return to His rightful place at His Father’s side. The deity of Jesus is central to John’s gospel. He was the Son of God who had been sent by His Heavenly Father with a task to perform that no mere man could accomplish. If Jesus was just a man, His death would have proved Him to be nothing more than a martyr but not the Messiah. If Jesus was just a man, crowing Him king would have made Him a sovereign, but not a Savior. Jesus had come to offer His sinless life as a ransom for many. And the apostle Paul reminds us of the staggering significance of what Jesus accomplished by taking on human flesh and dying on behalf of sinful men and women.

When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners. Now, most people would not be willing to die for an upright person, though someone might perhaps be willing to die for a person who is especially good. But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. – Romans 5:6-8 NLT

 English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.