Jesus at the Feast of Tabernacles (7.1-52)
In large part, chapter 7 seeks to investigate the questions, Who is Jesus and how should I respond? It takes place during one of Israels 3 major feasts.
- Passover – the beginning of the grain harvest in spring
- Pentecost – 7 weeks later, at the end of the spring grain harvest
- Tabernacles – an autumn harvest celebrating the tree and vine harvest
Since the Feast of Tabernacles sets our context for us, let’s briefly look at the importance of this celebration before we jump into chapter 7.
The feast of Tabernacles (AKA The feast of booths/ingathering). Since the fall crop had to be protected from weather, families would build temporary shelters in the fields. During the feast, these were also constructed throughout Jerusalem by those who came to celebrate the fall fruit harvested from trees and vines. On a macro scale, the feast celebrated God’s provision. Theologically, these makeshift tents also reminded the people of the time Israel spent in the wilderness wanderings and God’s faithfulness to Israel to free them from Egypt and see them through the wilderness.
33 And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 34 “Speak to the people of Israel, saying, On the fifteenth day of this seventh month and for seven days is the Feast of Booths to the Lord. 35 On the first day shall be a holy convocation; you shall not do any ordinary work. 36 For seven days you shall present food offerings to the Lord. On the eighth day you shall hold a holy convocation and present a food offering to the Lord. It is a solemn assembly; you shall not do any ordinary work. Le 23:33–36.
13 “You shall keep the Feast of Booths seven days, when you have gathered in the produce from your threshing floor and your winepress. 14 You shall rejoice in your feast, you and your son and your daughter, your male servant and your female servant, the Levite, the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow who are within your towns. 15 For seven days you shall keep the feast to the Lord your God at the place that the Lord will choose, because the Lord your God will bless you in all your produce and in all the work of your hands, so that you will be altogether joyful. Dt 16:13–15.
As suggested from the texts above, there was to be a rest from regular work, and a time for great celebration. The feast would be accompanied by the sacrifice of numerous bulls, rams, lambs, etc.
“Tabernacles takes place in September or October [and] coincided with the autumn equinox, when day and night are equal length and from which point on the calendar the nights lengthen and the days become shorter. Jewish ritual practice recognized this ‘dying the sun’ and incorporated into the festival ceremonies of light to hallmark the passing of the season…the late autumn was a period of drought in Israel…Cisterns were low. Springs were becoming weak.”* Because of the nature of the feast the feast also incorporated various libation offerings celebrating the new harvest.
Two of Jesus’ statements in the following verses are directly associated with feast activities:
- “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink” (7.37)
- “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (8.12).
I. The beginning of the Feast (7.1-13)
7 After this Jesus went about in Galilee. He would not go about in Judea, because the Jews were seeking to kill him. 2 Now the Jews’ Feast of Booths was at hand. 3 So his brothers said to him, “Leave here and go to Judea, that your disciples also may see the works you are doing. 4 For no one works in secret if he seeks to be known openly. If you do these things, show yourself to the world.” 5 For not even his brothers believed in him. 6 Jesus said to them, “My time has not yet come, but your time is always here. 7 The world cannot hate you, but it hates me because I testify about it that its works are evil. 8 You go up to the feast. I am not going up to this feast, for my time has not yet fully come.” 9 After saying this, he remained in Galilee. 10 But after his brothers had gone up to the feast, then he also went up, not publicly but in private. 11 The Jews were looking for him at the feast, and saying, “Where is he?” 12 And there was much muttering about him among the people. While some said, “He is a good man,” others said, “No, he is leading the people astray.” 13 Yet for fear of the Jews no one spoke openly of him.
“After this Jesus went about Galilee” – “this” most likely refers back to the events of chapter 5, where Jesus heals a man at the pool of Bethesda and when questioned about his doing so on the Sabbath responds: “My Father is working until now, and I am working” (5.17). John provides the commentary, “This was why the Jews were seeking all the more to kill him, because not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God (5.18)”. Thus Jesus spends the next year ministering in Galilee.
“Jews were seeking to kill him” – obviously referring to the religious establishment (5.10, 5.15). A common designation in John.
7.3-5 – Because of the popularity of the upcoming feast, Jesus’ brothers suggest that he go to Jerusalem to gain a wider audience. Perhaps they could sense that Jesus had been avoiding Judea and had been ministering only in Galilee. And wished to challenge to legitimacy of his ministry – “If you’re the real deal, go show yourself to everybody and quit hiding over in Galilee. If you’re the Messiah go make it known already.” We are not entirely sure of their motives for this suggestion, but verse 5 clearly states that his brothers were not believers at this point.
“My time has not yet come…” – Jesus assured his brothers that there would come a time for the world to understand why he had come. A time for him to be ‘shown to the world’ in a more profound way.
“your time is always here” – Because God’s agenda was Jesus’ agenda, he was aware that it was not time for him to fulfill atonement. However, for those who did not live with a keen sense of God’s agenda, anytime is as good as the other.
7.7 – In Jesus’ classic Johanian method, he makes a play on his brother’s use of the word “world”. They mean it in the sense of ‘everyone’. Jesus uses it in the way John began the gospel. “The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him.” Jn 1:9–11. The world cannot hate his brothers, because they are currently still in it.
II. The middle of the Feast (7.14-24)
14 About the middle of the feast Jesus went up into the temple and began teaching. 15 The Jews therefore marveled, saying, “How is it that this man has learning, when he has never studied?” 16 So Jesus answered them, “My teaching is not mine, but his who sent me. 17 If anyone’s will is to do God’s will, he will know whether the teaching is from God or whether I am speaking on my own authority. 18 The one who speaks on his own authority seeks his own glory; but the one who seeks the glory of him who sent him is true, and in him there is no falsehood. 19 Has not Moses given you the law? Yet none of you keeps the law. Why do you seek to kill me?” 20 The crowd answered, “You have a demon! Who is seeking to kill you?” 21 Jesus answered them, “I did one work, and you all marvel at it. 22 Moses gave you circumcision (not that it is from Moses, but from the fathers), and you circumcise a man on the Sabbath. 23 If on the Sabbath a man receives circumcision, so that the law of Moses may not be broken, are you angry with me because on the Sabbath I made a man’s whole body well? 24 Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment.”
7.14-18 – These verses speak to Jesus’ authority and his agenda. They also answer Jesus’ delayed travels to the feast and how he possesses the ability to teach God’s word in such an impressive manner. Jesus doesn’t minister for his own glory, only God’s. He operates on God’s agenda, not his own. He doesn’t need to manipulate worldly support for success. He simply remains obedient to the will of God. His authority is not dependant on man-given authority, but derives his authority from God.
7.19 – Jesus argues that they have the Mosaic law, yet are unable to keep it. Why is it that they want to kill the only one obedient to the law?
7.20 – We would do well to understand this comment as the crowd accusing Jesus of having delusions of grandeur.
7.21-24 – Jesus defends his healing of the man at the pool of Bethesda. If the law concerning the sabbath is suspended to perform circumcision on the 8th day to remove a small piece of of the body, how is it wrong to make to make a whole person’s body well on the sabbath? Rabbis had used this same argument to justify medical procedures that needed to be performed on the sabbath.
III. A Messianic claim and attempted arrest (7.25-36)
25 Some of the people of Jerusalem therefore said, “Is not this the man whom they seek to kill? 26 And here he is, speaking openly, and they say nothing to him! Can it be that the authorities really know that this is the Christ? 27 But we know where this man comes from, and when the Christ appears, no one will know where he comes from.” 28 So Jesus proclaimed, as he taught in the temple, “You know me, and you know where I come from. But I have not come of my own accord. He who sent me is true, and him you do not know. 29 I know him, for I come from him, and he sent me.” 30 So they were seeking to arrest him, but no one laid a hand on him, because his hour had not yet come. 31 Yet many of the people believed in him. They said, “When the Christ appears, will he do more signs than this man has done?” 32 The Pharisees heard the crowd muttering these things about him, and the chief priests and Pharisees sent officers to arrest him. 33 Jesus then said, “I will be with you a little longer, and then I am going to him who sent me. 34 You will seek me and you will not find me. Where I am you cannot come.” 35 The Jews said to one another, “Where does this man intend to go that we will not find him? Does he intend to go to the Dispersion among the Greeks and teach the Greeks? 36 What does he mean by saying, ‘You will seek me and you will not find me,’ and, ‘Where I am you cannot come’?”
As is often the case, Jesus’ teaching brought forth a variety of opinion from it’s recipients. Verses 25 and 26 argue that it was a known fact that the religious elite desired to kill Jesus, but they hesitated to take action. Perhaps this was because they understood him to be the Messiah.
“You know me and you know where I come from, But I have not come of my own accord. He who sent me is true, and him you do not know.” – You may think you know me, but you really don’t. They failed to realize that Jesus was sent by God. They only viewed him through a human lens. His brothers were guilty of the same mistake. Jesus brings the fact that God cannot be known unless he is accessed through his “Word” to the forefront of the discussion.
“All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows who the Son is except the Father, or who the Father is except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.” Lk 10:22.
7.31-32 – Naturally, this statement evoked a response of either belief or intense opposition.
7.33-36 – Jesus’ statement that he had just a short time before his mission was completed and he returned to the Father was misunderstood by his listeners.
IV. The last, great day of the Feast (7.37-52)
37 On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. 38 Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’ ” 39 Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified. 40 When they heard these words, some of the people said, “This really is the Prophet.” 41 Others said, “This is the Christ.” But some said, “Is the Christ to come from Galilee? 42 Has not the Scripture said that the Christ comes from the offspring of David, and comes from Bethlehem, the village where David was?” 43 So there was a division among the people over him. 44 Some of them wanted to arrest him, but no one laid hands on him. 45 The officers then came to the chief priests and Pharisees, who said to them, “Why did you not bring him?” 46 The officers answered, “No one ever spoke like this man!” 47 The Pharisees answered them, “Have you also been deceived? 48 Have any of the authorities or the Pharisees believed in him? 49 But this crowd that does not know the law is accursed.” 50 Nicodemus, who had gone to him before, and who was one of them, said to them, 51 “Does our law judge a man without first giving him a hearing and learning what he does?” 52 They replied, “Are you from Galilee too? Search and see that no prophet arises from Galilee.”
7.37-39 – Jesus’ ties himself into the celebration of the feast (see notes above). Part of the celebration involved a ceremony highlighting God’s goodness in sending rain. In this ceremony, the priest would lead a procession for the first seven days of the feast down to the pool of Siloam, fill a golden pitcher with water and bring it back to the temple as the morning sacrifices were being made. The water would be poured into a funnel beside the alter and the temple choir would sing from the book of Psalms 113-118. On the 8th day, prayers were said without the procession. Hence Jesus reference to himself as the one who cures thirst carries great significance.
Jesus quotes from Isaiah 55.1 which reads, “Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters” but he adds the self designation “come to me”.
“Out of his heart will flow living water.” – see Zechariah 14.8.
John adds an editor’s note in verse 39, that Jesus spoke of the Holy Spirit. His full ministry was not yet on display because Jesus was still here. Jesus will explain this further in chapter 16.
7.40-46 – Varied responses to Christ continue.
7.47-49 – When questioned why the temple police did not apprehend Jesus as told, they respond that there was something authentic and different about Jesus’ teaching (46). The Pharisees then ironically accuse the crowd of being the deceived ones.
7.50-52 – Here we see Nicodemus for the second time. This time speaking perhaps with a bit more boldness. Nicodemus is citing a Pharisaical law that forbid judgment upon another without hearing him first hand. The Pharisees, still in anger, accuse Nicodemus of switching sides.
“no prophet comes from Galilee” – because no had ever. Two wrongs with their response to Nicodemus: 1) Elijah came from Gilead (Galilee beyond the Jordan). 2) In their hasty judgment, they neglected that Jesus was actually born in Judea.
*Gary M. Burge. The NIV Application Commentary: John. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000. p. 220-21.