The temple guards had listened to everything Jesus said, from their arrival days before. No arrest had been made, but now they were very aware of whenever Jesus was on the temple mount. I am certain they also heard Jesus’ invitation to come to him and drink.
The temple guard were the chief priest’s own elite escadrille of armed men, chosen nearly exclusively from the tribe of Benjamin. Their ferocity was the stuff of legends. Israel’s battle cry for centuries had been “After you, Benjamin.”
Of this tribe, Jacob had prophesied, “Benjamin is a ravenous wolf, in the morning devouring the prey, and at evening dividing the spoil.” Handpicked from this fiery fighting clan were the finest, bravest, strongest warriors in size, physical ability, and zeal.
When the Sanhedrin sent the temple guard on a mission, there was never a doubt they would return victorious.
Yet look at what is recorded in this chapter so far,
Therefore, they endeavored to apprehend him, yet not one laid a hand upon him . . .
The chief priests and the Pharisees sent officers in order to capture him . . .John 7:30, 32
So far, the guard had been coming back empty-handed.
Now again, the people were deeply stirred, experiencing the acute hunger and thirst of their souls for God. The wind of the Spirit blew among them, igniting many hearts to life and belief. Everywhere amid the worshipers, up and down the steps of the temple court, voices rang out, crying in reverence, growing realization, and spiritual fervor,
“This is really and truly the Prophet!”
“This is the Messiah!!”
But others were more circumspect, particularly those who knew the scriptures.
“For not out of the Galilee comes the Messiah?!”
“For did not the writing say that out of the seed of David and from the town of Bethlehem where David was, comes the Messiah?”
Once again, the people were disturbed and divided.
And once again, the chief priests sent in their elite fighting force to haul in the perpetrator, Jesus of Nazareth.
And once again, not one laid their hand on Jesus.
As you can imagine, this did not go down well (and mind, we are still only in chapter 7!) Demanding to know why the guard had failed once more in their very straightforward mission, the officers explained, “Never at any time has a person spoken thus.”
They found that even though some of them wanted to follow through with their orders, they simply could not bring themselves to arrest Jesus. Instead, it was Jesus who had arrested them with his powerful and authoritative teaching.
Full of courage, these soldiers were willing to stand up to the religious rulers who commanded them, and defend Jesus.
It was more than the Pharisees could bear, for the temple guard to be taken in by Jesus. Picture the angry exclamations, the accusations, pointed fingers, hands with fingers spread wide shooting into the air for emphasis. Imagine voices all trying to out-roar each other as the Pharisees jabbed the chests of the towering Benjamite warriors, in their fury,
“But, have you not been deceived and led astray?!”
“Who out of the authorities believes in him, or out of the Pharisees?!”
The guard, to a man, were miserably shaking their heads. Not one authority, not one Pharisee their wretched expressions silently acknowledged.
“But this crowd,” one Pharisee bit off, beside himself with incensed animosity, “Which does not know the law . . .” he searched for something strong enough to revile those who were—even as this Sanhedrin thundered and raged within their hallowed meeting hall—turning to Jesus in faith.
“They are laid under a CURSE!!” bellowed a deep voice.
The shouting grew, decibel by decibel, until the quiet Nicodemus moved to the center of the room. A Pharisee of impeccable reputation, an honored scriptural scholar, and a secret follower of Jesus, he was now finally roused to action. It had shocked him to the core to see how corrupt his fellow rulers had become.
“Not our law!” He boomed with such power it startled even himself.
The room instantly quieted to a low rumble as all eyes turned to the slightly stooped yet still tall and dignified elder statesmen.
“Does our law,” he began again, taking on the stance and voice of the practiced orator, “not judge the person without hearing first from [that one] and knowing what he did?”
He corrected his colleagues on two accounts.
First, he, a Pharisee, the most learned and religiously correct of any of their faith, did in fact believe Jesus.
Second, though his fellow Pharisees had just finished insulting the people for not knowing the Law, they were themselves breaking the law by having met illegally to plot a murder, and by now seeking to condemn a righteous man.
In fact, to murder God’s Son.
Without even a trial.
In even more damning irony, the religious rulers had called down a curse upon the very people they were to sanctify unto God. What would God now do to them?
What dies darkness do when light exposes what the darkness has been covering?
As angry as they were, no member of the Sanhedrin would admit, openly and with aforethought, they were prepared to transgress Moses’ law. So, they searched around for a strawman, and found one close to hand.
It is a typical debater’s maneuver, to sidestep the difficult (often damning) question, and bring up something else to pick apart.
With withering scorn and dark insinuation, another Pharisee stepped forward into the middle of the room, and chest to chest, blazing eye to blazing eye, asked, “So then! You are not out of the Galilee?” heads nodded, appreciating the insult to a Jerusalemite, born and bred.
Nicodemus’ nostrils flared, and his eyebrows drew together. Yet he kept his peace.
“Examine!” and here the man pointed to scrolls carefully tucked into their slots along the whole side of the room. The sacred words of God.
“Then see that out of the Galilee a prophet will not arise.”
They all smirked, certain this could not be contested. The scriptures bore no prophecies that the Prophet would be coming from the Galilee. (Jonah, Nahum, and Hosea had, after all, all come from the Galilee region, but this was about Jesus’ claims to Messiah.)
It was a tidy trick. No longer were they speaking of fair judgement, nor of seriously considering Jesus’ teaching and works. They had neatly, instead, dismissed Jesus upon the unarguable testimony of the scriptures.
These were the most learned, religious, and ostensibly spiritually-minded men in all Israel.
And they remained ignorant of who Jesus was.
Because they placed their confidence in their own intelligence and scriptural interpretation rather than the voice of God the Holy Spirit in Jesus.
The words of God must be illumined by the Spirit of God.
Think how grateful the temple guards were when Nicodemus stood up for Jesus, and consequently for them as well. And do you not think Nicodemus, when he met Jesus waiting for him at the end of his last day on earth, was so glad he had defended his Lord?
Once you and I know what right is, we have a responsibility to defend it.
[Modern-day depiction of Israeli soldiers by the western wall of Herod’s temple mount | Wallpaperflare.com]