Toward the end of Jesus’ ministry, there was a lot of public debate about his true identity. Part of the problem was that Jesus intentionally tried to keep his identity a secret. Many times after he performed a miracle, he would tell the recipient not to tell anyone what had happened to him. Even when Jesus took three of his disciples to the top of a mountain and showed them his glorified state, he instructed them saying, “Tell the vision to no man, until the Son of man be risen again from the dead” (Matthew 17:9). It says in John 7:1, “After these things Jesus walked in Galilee: for he would not walk in Jewry, because the Jews sought to kill him.” The controversy about Jesus stemmed from the fact that many people knew him as the son of Mary and Joseph, a carpenter who had lived an ordinary life until the start of his ministry around the age of 30. When it was time for Jesus to begin his work of salvation, he tried to win the common people over without impressing them with his holy grandeur. Often times, Jesus had to sneak away to remote locations just to get a break from the masses of people that sought his help. During a popular religious festival, that would be attended by the majority of the Jewish population, Jesus was encouraged to “go into Judea, that thy disciples also may see the works that thou doest. For there is no man that doeth any thing in secret, and he himself seeketh to be known openly. If thou do these things, shew thyself to the world” (John 7:3-4).
The crux of the argument being presented to Jesus was that his intention of being the savior of the world meant that he had to be known by everyone. Therefore, it was necessary for him to go where masses of people could witness his miracles. Jesus knew that the risk of being killed was too great for him to expose himself to anymore public appearances. After Jesus’ brethren were gone, it says in John 7:10, “then went he also up to the feast, not openly, but as it were in secret.” Jesus’ intention to keep himself hidden from the religious leaders was nearly an impossible feat. When it was discovered that Jesus was somewhere in the vicinity, “Then the Jews sought him at the feast, and said Where is he? And there was much murmuring among the people concerning him: for some said, He is a good man: others said, Nay; but he deceiveth the people” (John 7:11-12). When the Pharisees heard the murmuring about Jesus, they sent officers to arrest him, but Jesus told them, “Yet a little while am I with you, and then I go unto him that sent me. Ye shall seek me, and shall not find me and where I am, thither ye cannot come” (John 7:33-34).
Jesus’ reference to his ascension to heaven was probably meant to startle the officers that came to arrest him so that they would realize he wasn’t an ordinary man that they could just take into custody. When the officers were asked to explain why they hadn’t arrested Jesus they told the Pharisees and chief priests, “Never man spake like this man” (John 7:46). In other words, they recognized the supernatural power of Jesus’ words and were unwilling to try and take him by force. Like the prophet Elijah, Jesus could have brought fire down from heaven and consumed these men if he chose to (1 Kings 1:10). At the heart of the discussion about Jesus true identity was the question about whether or not the Pharisees intended to allow the Jews’ Messiah to accomplish his mission on earth. At that time, it was becoming clear to the religious leaders that Jesus had already won over the majority of people and proven himself to be who he claimed to be, “the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). Among the Pharisees that were debating what to do about Jesus, was Nicodemus (John 7:50), the Pharisee that had come to Jesus by night and admitted, “no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him” (John 3:2). Even though Jesus had given him an in depth explanation about how he could be saved (John 3:3-21), Nicodemus didn’t appear to have been converted, because rather than sharing what had happened with the other Pharisees, Nicodemus suggested a trial should be conducted in order to settle the controversy about Jesus’ identity once and for all (John 7:51).