Some of the most delightful interactions one can read in the Bible are the interactions between Jesus and his disciples or Jesus and the Pharisees. Wittier, more honest, more cutting, and even humorous dialogue you’ll find nowhere. The interactions that occur in John 7 are especially helpful in battling one of today’s popular superstitions: The self-fulfilling prophecy.
While “the fear of the wicked comes upon them” (Proverbs 10:24), and while “the power of life and death” are in our tongues (Proverbs 18:21), there is notable distinction between the concept of a self-fulfilling prophecy and good old-fashioned discernment by the Holy Spirit.
Without further ado, let me give you the highlights of John 7 in perfectly humorous and (I assume) chronological order.
JOHN 7:19 — “Why do you seek to kill Me?” (Jesus)
JOHN 7:20 — “You have a demon,” the crowd replied. “Who is trying to kill you?”
JOHN 7:25 — “Now some of them from Jerusalem said, ‘Is this not He whom they seek to kill? But look! He speaks boldly, and they say nothing to Him.'”
JOHN 7:30 — “Therefore they sought to take Him; but no one laid a hand on Him, because His hour had not yet come.”
JOHN 7:44 — “Now some of them wanted to take Him, but no one laid hands on Him.”
To recap, Jesus claims that the people (mostly the Pharisees/leaders) are wanting to kill Him; they reply with wide-eyed innocence that they have no idea what He is talking about — to the point of calling him a demon; the crowd confirms that the leaders have been seeking to kill Jesus, despite their leaders’ denial in the previous verse; then, we are told twice more that they wanted to seize Him but, in spiritual terms, were constrained by the hand of God because it wasn’t Jesus’ time to die yet.
There are two things I want to point out here on the topic of self-fulfilling prophecy. First, just because it doesn’t happen right away doesn’t mean that one can’t have legitimate insight about coming events.
A few might recall Christians, slightly panicked at the cultural regressions, over the last few years, claiming that our society’s leaders were seeking to persecute the church and Christians. Many scoffed at this idea. Many likened it to a self-fulfilling prophecy, rebuking other Christians for saying such negative things. But the truth is… the handwriting is on the wall. Just because they can’t touch us today, doesn’t mean that day isn’t coming.
Second, Jesus was not speaking a self-fulfilling prophecy, a notion researched and put en vogue by social psychologists today, but He did have keen insight into the hearts and minds of his enemies. Jesus forecasted the intentions of their hearts accurately. Obviously, to some degree, their intent had already seeped through the cracks of the city streets because even the common crowd knew these officials wanted to kill Jesus. It wasn’t exactly a secret, though they vehemently denied it to Jesus’ face.
Negatives & Positives
Mental ascent in the guise of positive or negative vibes has gained much popularity in recent years, to the point that it permeates Church culture as well. Little of it amounts to more than superstition wrapped up in spiritual language, whereby Eastern Mysticism courts the Church, wooing her with smooth speech dripping like honey off of Delilah’s luscious lips.
Well, it’s probably the slobbery kissing-cousin of living one’s ‘best life now’ by building one’s own kingdom (of followers, esteem, and glory) and sizing-up everyone else as the ‘competition’ (when not the ‘haters’), in Jesus’ name… for someone’s glory… but not God’s.
It’s a simple theory: Speak positively and positive things will come to you, which is complete superstitious nonsense. Or speak negatively and you’ll get what’s coming to you, which can feel as true as the first but is just as equally nonsense. And I quote: “It rains upon the just and the unjust” (Matthew 5:45). End quote.
Rather, obey God... because if the Old Testament prophets had listened to some of us today, the Bible would be much smaller — that is, we would have duck-taped their mouths shut. And if the heroes of faith had attributed their received promises to their winsome speech, rather than to God’s kindness, we, likewise, would have a much smaller cloud of witnesses to admire.
Jesus did not hide, cry, or play the victim; He did not bemoan the coming Cross, though He announced it many times — as any good teacher wanting to prepare his disciples would do.
He did not break into a Gospel rendition of “You can’t touch this” either — Na-na-na-na Na-na Na-na. He trusted His Father and understood the times.
He just asked them a very sensible question: “Why do you seek to kill Me?” In context, He was pointing out that they didn’t even follow their own laws, so why should they be angry at Jesus for upsetting their manmade traditions? (Likely, because He didn’t flatter them, but that’s another lesson.)
Today, Jesus might just as well be chastised for being so negative…
Just cuz they don’t like you doesn’t mean they want to kill you, Jesus.
Just cuz they’re the competition, speaking against you, doesn’t mean they want to kill you, Jesus.
I think you’re paranoid, Jesus….
It is still true that “Some things are certain” (Arwen, LOTR), whether we believe.
That Other Thing
As for legitimate self-fulfilling prophecies, we find this most accurately portrayed in social groups. For instance, when the news begins talking about food shortages in the fall, I assume that they are 1) either conditioning me for what they want to happen (inciting panic) or 2) they have pieced together several factors they legitimately believe will contribute to that very thing.
And what do you think will happen upon such a report?
Proactive people like myself will think to stock up a little before fall, just in case, while panicked people will stock up out of fear… and, thus, the world runs out of toilet paper. It’s a predictable equation; there’s very little mystery in it (though one might think it was a 9th Wonder phenomenon to hear the media gasp).
Self-fulfilling prophecy, while a seemingly real phenomenon, tends to be predicated upon a lot of assumptions, logical predictions, and superstitions. After all, if the media didn’t report food shortages coming this fall, would we all stock up any more than usual?
The world will never know, but the toilet paper companies thank us for our business.