Angered by the teaching of Jesus regarding His authority, the chief priests and the Pharisees sent officers who were tasked with maintaining the temple’s purity to arrest our Lord (John 7:1–32). Jesus was causing a stir during the Feast of Booths, and the religious authorities felt that they had to intervene (vv. 33–44). But the officers failed. Seeing something unique about Jesus, they could not bring themselves to arrest Him (vv. 45–46).
It is doubtful that the officers had true faith in Jesus, at least at the time John 7 describes. More likely, they realized that it would not go well for them if they took into custody One with such evident authority (see Matt. 7:28–29). But the authorities who sent the officers to arrest Jesus did not share their fear. Today’s passage tells us that upon hearing of the officers’ failure, the Pharisees said Jesus had bewitched them (John 7:47). Most of the religious authorities who interacted with Jesus considered Him a fraud (see, for example, Matt. 12:22–32), and they thought He had tricked the officers.
The Pharisees, in particular, viewed themselves alone as those who truly knew the law of God. That explains their question in John 7:48. If these leaders had not believed in Jesus, surely He could not be the Christ. Moreover, we see in verse 49 their disdain for the common people. First-century rabbis tended to have a low view of anyone who was not educated in the law and the oral traditions, and the leaders we read about in today’s passage saw the crowd’s acceptance of Jesus as flowing from their ignorance and resulting in a curse on them. Yet, the common people actually knew the law better than the Pharisees did, for they followed the One to whom the law points (5:46–47). Augustine of Hippo points out the irony in the Pharisees’ accusation in a sermon on today’s passage: “The Pharisees, the teachers of the law, were made blind, and the people that knew not the law, and yet believed on the author of the law, were enlightened.”
But one Pharisee dissented. Nicodemus, who had earlier met with Jesus (John 3:1–21), told the leaders that Jesus deserved a fair trial before they judged Him (7:50–51). Their response: everyone knows that a prophet does not come from Galilee. Probably they were referring to the expected end-times prophet who would come before the day of the Lord. Here, again, their rejection of Jesus was based not on Scripture but on their traditions, for the law never says the prophet like Moses could not hail from Galilee (Deut. 18:15).