In the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried, saying, If any man thirst, let him come to me, and drink.…
We have here a dramatic sketch of the opposition to Christ and His gospel, which may stand, in part, or as a whole, for every subsequent scene in which error has been pitted against the truth.
I. THE DEBATERS.
1. Their respective standings.
(1) Unequal. The officers were no match for the Sanhedrim in point of social position, religious profession, wealth, and learning. How often in this great controversy has there been a clean cleavage between the masses and the classes, and how often has God chosen, as here, the weak things of the world to confound the things that are mighty? etc.
(2) Equal. Nicodemus was the peer of his colleagues in all respects, and Christianity has seldom wanted defenders as completely equipped as their opponents, ready to fight them with their own weapons, and to meet them on their own ground.
2. Their qualities —
(1) Interest and disinterestedness. The Jewish authorities had everything to lose by the success of Christ. The occupants of Moses' seat must needs tremble when the seat itself was undermined. The officers, on the other hand, had nothing to gain, except the anger of their masters, and the possible deprivation of their offices; while Nicodemus, from his pre-eminent position, was in greater danger. These two forces have been conspicuously displayed all through the great struggle. But in every religious crisis the truth has triumphed over the powerful vested interests by which it has been opposed.
(2) Bigotry and candour. Selfishness blinds the eyes to the clearest evidence. The officers related simple facts, Nicodemus recited an incontestible principle. Both were plain, and were urged with obvious sincerity. But the chief priest would not see. The same fault marks the opponents of truth in all ages. There are sincere sceptics, men who cannot see, but these are never antagonists.
(3) Ignorance and knowledge. The Pharisees had not heard these particular words, and had therefore not felt their power. Hence their controversial weakness, which showed itself in the blind rage which ever characterizes the defenders of a lost cause. As for the principle of equity stated by their colleagues, while not theoreti- cally ignorant of it, they were practically unacquainted with it, for they never used it. But both the officers and Nicodemus were fortified with experimental know- ledge, and it is with this weapon that Christianity has invariably conquered. There is no getting over the argument, "Once I was blind, but now I see."
II. THE METHODS OF DEBATE.
1. As between the Sanhedrim and the officers. To the plain unwarranted report of the latter, the former oppose —
(1) An imputation of intellectual weakness. "Are ye also deceived?" This is the standard calumny against Christians. They have weak heads, and so are imposed upon by specious arguments, or unread, and so led astray for want of knowledge. In some circles to be a Christian is quite synonymous with deficiency of intellect and susceptibility to delusion.
(2) An assumption of infallibility — a characteristic of unbelief all through the ages. How can Christianity be true when the "modern, advanced," "progressive," "ripe," thinker does not believe in it?
(3) Scurrilous abuse (ver. 49) — the time-honoured method of argument when there is no case; the well-worn weapon of anti-Christianity.
2. As between the Sanhedrim and Nicodemus. The latter appeals to a simple principle of equity. To this the former oppose —
(1) A base insinuation. To belong to Galilee was about the grossest insult that could be perpetrated on a Jewish gentleman — but Christians are by this time accustomed to be accounted the offscouring of the earth. The offence of the Cross, so far as outward profession is concerned, has well-nigh ceased, but let a man in certain circles put its principles into practice, or venture to assert them, and what epithets, such as "fanatic," "humbug," "canter," will be hurled at his head!
(2) A gratuitous assumption. Nicodemus had not said that a prophet had or would arise out of Galilee; nor had Christ asserted a Galilean origin. Because a man has lived in a certain locality that is not to say that he was born there. How often has the opponent of Christianity fought an enemy of his own making? How many caricatures of the Trinity, the atonement, heaven, hell, etc., pass muster as Christian doctrines, and are criticized as such?
(3) The closure (ver. 53). The Sanhedrim having spoken there was an end of all discussion — a convenient course frequently adopted since. Christianity is not afraid of a patient hearing, but its opponents are.
(J. W. Burn.)
Parallel VersesKJV: In the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried, saying, If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink.