In our study of the feeding of the five thousand in John 6, we noted how Jesus’ provision of bread led those whom He fed to associate Him with Moses and his work of deliverance. Israel received bread miraculously in the wilderness during Moses’ ministry (Ex. 16), so the people understandably thought something marvelous was going on when Jesus multiplied the loaves and fishes in the wilderness. That first-century Jews were hoping for freedom from Roman occupation contributed to this expectation. Perhaps, they thought, Jesus could be a new Moses-like figure who would liberate them from Rome just as Moses freed them from Egypt.
But that was not the only occasion when the Jews associated Jesus with Moses or his ministry. They also did so just after Jesus proclaimed during the Feast of Booths that He is the source of living water. We see this in today’s passage, where we read that some of the crowd in Jerusalem who heard our Lord’s pronouncement began speculating that He was “the Prophet.” First-century Jews were looking for a new prophet like Moses, based on texts such as Deuteronomy 18:15. Since Moses also gave Israel water through the working of miracles (Ex. 17:1–7; Num. 20:10–13), it was natural that people might think that a new Moses arrived in the person of Jesus, who worked miraculous signs and claimed to be the source of water.
Not everyone agreed with this assessment, however. Others thought that Jesus might be the Christ, that is, the Messiah. (Although we understand that the promised prophet of Deuteronomy 18:15 and the Messiah are the same individual, many first-century Jews saw them as two distinct figures.) But many said otherwise, for they knew that the Messiah had to come from Bethlehem and they saw Jesus only as a Galilean (John 7:41–42; see Micah 5:2–5). John wants us to see irony here. Having written his gospel after the other three gospels were composed, he knew that many in his audience knew that Jesus was in fact born in Bethlehem (Matt. 2:1). The objectors were right that the Christ had to come from Bethlehem; they were wrong that Jesus did not originally hail from that town.
People were divided over whether Jesus was the Prophet, the Messiah, or someone else. Some found His words so disturbing that they wanted to arrest Him (John 7:43–44). But the temple officers could not bring themselves to do so. They saw His evident authority and were afraid to take Him into custody (vv. 45–46).