Updated: Nov 9, 2021
John (7) begins with the Feast of Tabernacles. This marks a section of John’s gospel around significant meals or feasts and continues through (Jn. 10) with the Feast of Dedication or Hanukkah (ref. Jn. 10:22). From here, John moves to the raising of Lazarus in (Jn. 11). In many ways, the first significant movement of John’s gospel builds to the raising of Lazarus. We are left to consider the pressing question of who Jesus is.
The Feast of Tabernacles
JOHN 7: 1-9 (NKJV)
“After these things Jesus walked in Galilee; for He did not want to walk in Judea, because the Jews sought to kill Him. Now the Jews’ Feast of Tabernacles was at hand. His brothers therefore said to Him, “Depart from here and go into Judea, that Your disciples also may see the works that You are doing. For no one does anything in secret while he himself seeks to be known openly. If You do these things, show Yourself to the world.” For even His brothers did not believe in Him. Then Jesus said to them, “My time has not yet come, but your time is always ready. The world cannot hate you, but it hates Me because I testify of it that its works are evil. You go up to this feast. I am not yet going up to this feast, for My time has not yet fully come.” When He had said these things to them, He remained in Galilee.”
There are a few essential things to notice about this text as we consider the background. First, this account comes after Jesus’ teaching about the “true bread from heaven,” where many of Jesus’ followers turned and left Him (ref. Jn. 6:60). We also see in (Jn. 7:1), Jesus was not welcome in Judea. Some sought to take His life (ref. Jn. 7:1). Third, people are divided over who Jesus is. His brothers, at this point, don’t believe Him. Some people believe in Jesus, while others depart and no longer follow Him, and still, others seek to take His life. John returns to this point in (7:40ff). Some thought Jesus was the Prophet, others the Christ, and some doubted Him. There are many questions about who Jesus is.
The Feast of Tabernacles was one of the three most important festivals of the Jewish calendar year. It was a feast to commemorate God’s faithfulness in the wilderness when Israel lived in tents or booths (tabernacles). On the first day of the Feast, Israel gathered in a holy convocation, and they were not to do any work. Then, for seven days, they presented an offering by fire to the Lord. Then, again on the eighth day, they were to assemble and not do any work as they give another offering by fire to the Lord (ref. Lev. 23:33-44).
Noted scholar N.T. Wright provides a bit of context surrounding this feast:
“It was also an agricultural festival, coming at the climax of the harvest season, celebrating the harvest of grapes and olives in particular. In the time of Jesus it was one of the three great annual pilgrimage feasts (the others being Passover and Pentecost), when tens of thousands of Jewish people would converge on Jerusalem. All kinds of lavish celebrations took place, involving lighting of lamps, dancing by torchlight, processions that ended with the pouring out of water and wine in the Temple, and a march of priests and people around the altar carrying citrus fruit and waving palm branches. The festival, like Passover, was regarded as a key symbol of the great national hope: the coming of the Messiah, and liberation from Rome. The celebrations went on for a full eight days, starting and ending with a special sabbath.” 1
The Feast of Tabernacles was a joyous celebration. N.T. Wright points out and it was also a time of great hope as Israel looked forward to the coming Messiah and the liberation of Israel. It was a time when many people would have been in Jerusalem. A bit later in our text, after Jesus’ disciples depart for the festival, Jesus would go up to the festival in secret. Although, Jesus does not remain secret for long. The large crowds gathered in Jerusalem quickly become divided about Jesus. John (7:12) states that some thought Jesus was a good person, while others thought He was deceiving.
The Authority of Jesus
On day four or so of the festival, Jesus goes to the temple and begins teaching. Some marveled at His teaching, as they recognized that Jesus had never studied under a Jewish rabbi. Jesus clarifies, His teaching is not His own. It comes from the authority of His Father (ref. 7: 16-19). Jesus desires to glorify His Father in heaven, not Himself, dividing the crowds even more. Some in the crowd are plotting to kill Jesus. Jesus though, demonstrates their hypocrisy, He accuses them of having deceptive hearts.
JOHN 7: 19 (NKJV)
“Did not Moses give you the law, yet none of you keeps the law? Why do you seek to kill Me?”
Some in the crowd have murder stored up in their hearts. They are seeking to kill Jesus. How are they keeping the Law of Moses when, in their hearts, they desire murder?
Why are some so angry with Jesus and want to take His life? Jesus says, “...are you angry with Me because I made a man completely well on the Sabbath?” (ref. Jn. 7:23).
Jesus is referring back to (Jn. 5) where He healed the paralyzed man by the pool, telling him, “rise, take up your bed and walk.” Much of what we read in (Jn. 7) is people trying to decide who Jesus is. Many people believed that Jesus was the Messiah (ref. 7:31) or the Prophet (ref. 7: 40), a reference back to Moses and the Prophet, like Moses, who was to come. Some considered Jesus to be the Christ, God’s Anointed. At the same time, others thought Jesus to be a deceiver (7:47). Interestingly, it’s Nicodemus, who we first read about in (Jn. 3), meeting Jesus under cover of night, steps in, and tries to temper the reaction of the Pharisees.
John is careful to show us the reaction of the crowds. Some, when they see the signs believe, others doubt, some follow, while others are critical and plot to kill Jesus. John seems to press us with the question, “What do you believe and understand about Jesus?”