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The Life of Jesus - Series 8: Episode 1

Jesus goes to the Feast of Tabernacles

| Martin Charlesworth
John 7:1-24

Jesus challenges the religious leaders about the Sabbath day and their attack on his character. He shows courage to face them and his brothers, who do not believe in him at this stage.

Jesus challenges the religious leaders about the Sabbath day and their attack on his character. He shows courage to face them and his brothers, who do not believe in him at this stage.


Hello and welcome to Series 8 and Episode 1 entitled: Jesus at the Feast of Tabernacles. Returning now to John's Gospel, we're going to be studying in John 7: 1 - 24.

Introduction and Recap

This is the beginning of a new series. The context changes; the situation changes. We're now going to be focusing on events in Jerusalem for the next few episodes as recorded in John's Gospel. Before we get into that, let's remind ourselves of where we are in the story. Those of you who followed series 7, will know that this is a series which describes the transition in Jesus' ministry from his very fruitful years of ministry in Galilee described in Series 3,4,5 and 6 and that period of time is coming to an end. Series 7 describes some very key moments in which Jesus decides that he is now going to move his focus away from Galilee. He's going to head for Jerusalem and in one of his visits to Jerusalem, the final one, there will be a confrontation. He warns his disciples he'll be suffering, will die and then rise again from the dead. These events are described in Series 7 during the time that Jesus took his disciples aside to the town outside Galilee, called Caesarea Philippi, where he had conversations with them in that area. He also appeared in a transformed, glorious way to Peter, James and John during the episode known as the Transfiguration, where he spoke with Moses and Elijah who came back on this earth for that brief moment. That's described in Matthew 17 and parallel passages. During the Transfiguration, Jesus makes it clear in his discussion with Moses and Elijah, which Peter, James and John overhear, that he is going to go to Jerusalem and bring about his departure - in other words, the end of his life and his return to heavenly glory. This is very clearly stated in Luke's account and in our last episode we noticed Luke describing the fact that Jesus is going to be leaving Galilee and travelling south through Samaria, down to Jerusalem.

That's the context. Things are changing. Things are moving and the second half of Jesus' ministry is now coming in view. It won't be based in Galilee; he won't be returning to Galilee. He'll be focusing his attention on areas like Samaria and the centre of the country, Judea, the southern heartland of the Jewish nation and particularly on the city of Jerusalem, where the story will come to a great conclusion and climax at the end of his life and in his resurrection.

We're turning to John's Gospel and it's important to remember when looking at John's Gospel, as we mentioned before when we've been studying some early events described by John, that he almost certainly wrote his gospel last. He has Matthew, Mark and Luke before him when he writes and he is very selective in the events that he describes. We have to think carefully as to how John fits together with the other three gospels known as the Synoptics (Matthew, Mark and Luke) which fit together a bit more closely and tell a more similar story. John quite deliberately doesn't repeat many things that are said in the Synoptic Gospels We understand the Gospel of John to be written by John the Apostle, an eyewitness to the events and he chooses, amongst other things, to focus on events that happened in Jerusalem which are not recorded in Matthew, Mark and Luke.

Much of John's material describes things that take place in Jerusalem and that's what we're going to find here. We note that Jesus is heading for Jerusalem, in the general sense, according to the description given in Luke 9 which we discussed more fully in the last episode (Series 7 Episode 11) John describes here an event happening at the same time, where Jesus makes a brief visit to Jerusalem but this is not the ultimate visit. This is not the moment where he wants to bring about a confrontation with the religious authorities, as implied by words stated by Jesus and recorded in Luke 9. Jesus on this occasion makes a brief and guarded appearance in Jerusalem. You'll see the context as we read the account and he does this on more than one occasion. We're going to read the text in a moment, Let's turn to John 7: 1 - 13, the first half of our passage today.

After this Jesus went about in Galilee. He did not want to go about in Judea because the Jewish leaders there were looking for a way to kill him. But when the Jewish festival of Tabernacles was near Jesus's brother said to him ‘Leave Galilee and go to Judaea so that your disciples there may see the works you do. No one who wants to become a public figure acts in secret. Since you're doing these things, show yourself to the world.’ For even his brothers did not believe in him. Therefore, Jesus told them, ‘My time is not yet here. For you any time for you will do. The world cannot hate you but it hates me because I testify that its works are evil. ‘You go to the festival I'm not going up to this festival because my time has not yet fully come.’ After he said this he stayed in Galilee. However, after his brothers had left for the festival, he went also - not publicly but in secret. Now at the festival the Jewish leaders were watching for Jesus and asking, Where is he?’ Among the crowds there was widespread whispering about him .Some said, ‘He's a good man.’ Others said, ‘No, he deceives the people.’ But no one would say anything publicly about him, for fear of the leaders.

John 7:1-13, NIV
Feast of Tabernacles

Let's think for a moment about the Feast of Tabernacles. In Judaism at this time, based on the Old Testament and the Law of Moses, there were three main religious festivals every single year. They're all mentioned in the Gospels. The Feast of Passover is the first one which took place in March or April and this one was focused on remembering the exodus - the event by which the Jewish nation escaped suddenly and miraculously from Egypt under the leadership of Moses. Then, in May or June, came the second great festival - Pentecost - which celebrates the giving of the Jewish law to Moses particularly. In the autumn, in September or October, comes the feast of Tabernacles which commemorates the years the Jews spent in the wilderness. 40 years were spent in the Sinai Desert and that area, between the time that they left Egypt and the time that they entered the promised land of Israel under the leadership of Joshua. These years saw the miraculous provision of God and also some judgement of God on the Jewish people which held them up in their process; the time passed and a new generation had to come before they entered the promised land. However, the Feast of Tabernacles used a particular symbol which was that many people would make temporary tent-like structures, either out of material or out of wood and branches, and they would place them on the roof of their house, or on open land, or near their homes, or near the place that they were staying if they were visiting the city. They would stay in those during the course of some, or all, of the Feast of Tabernacles as a sign that they remembered what it was like for the Jewish people to be living in tents for those 40 years. The Feast of Tabernacles is also a harvest festival. It was called in Exodus 23:16, the Festival of Ingathering. It celebrated the harvest and it also celebrated the work of the Holy Spirit amongst the people. Contemporary writers of the time of Jesus, or just afterwards, said that it was in fact the most popular of the religious festivals and therefore in Jerusalem, when the Feast of Tabernacles was taking place, there would be huge crowds coming from all over the country and from Jews living in other countries, who would travel internationally to get there for the feast which lasted seven days. They'd stay as much of the feast as they could. That's one aspect of the story that we need to keep in mind. Another aspect is something a bit more subtle. What was the atmosphere like in Jerusalem, particularly concerning Jesus and his ministry? John records that this is the third visit that Jesus makes to the city. You'll remember what I said a few minutes earlier, when I said John highlights Jesus' visits to Jerusalem which are largely unmentioned in the other three gospels - apart from the final one where Jesus enters into conflict and then he's crucified and raised again from the dead. John adds in a number of these accounts to give another dimension of the ministry of Jesus which wouldn't be known to people who just encountered him in Galilee, in his popular ministry, in the north of the country.

Jesus Visits Jerusalem

Jesus visits rarely for different festivals but in John 2 we have the first account of Jesus visiting, which we studied in an earlier episode, but you may remember, that on that occasion he went into the Jewish Temple the very heart of Judaism and he confronted the traders operating there, selling animals for the sacrificial system and exchanging coin and making money out of that process. He confronted them; he turned their tables over; and he became temporarily very angry with them. Even the very first time that Jesus visited Jerusalem in his public ministry, there was a direct confrontation with the religious authorities which put them on the defensive and made them very suspicious and hostile to him.

In John 5, we see an account of the second visit of Jesus to Jerusalem and on this occasion he performs a miracle in a place called the Pool of Bethesda which we studied in an earlier episode. You may want to refer back to it. On that occasion, Jesus picks out a man who is a long-term disabled visitor to the pool of Bethesda and he went there because there was a sort of superstitious reputation that this water would sometimes be stirred miraculously and people would get healed. People went there, hoping to find healing and therapy. He'd been disabled for over 30 years according to the text and Jesus picks him out and heals him on the Sabbath day, significantly. This then provokes a confrontation with the religious authorities who say you can't work on the Sabbath day; you can't do things like healing on the Sabbath day. That becomes the story of John 5.

If we keep those two things in mind. Here we have the third visit. We have a difficult atmosphere in the city. It's dominated by the religious establishment, the ruling council - whom I've mentioned a number of times before. They're called the Sanhedrin. There were 70 men in that group. It was chaired by the High Priest. - a number of other priests were in that group, also a number of other members of leading religious groups like the Sadducees and the Pharisees, who we've encountered quite a number of times already in telling the life of Jesus. This group was hostile to Jesus and had already come to, at least an informal judgement, that he was a false messiah. They might have even formalised it and they certainly formalised it when they tried Jesus at the end of his life; they claimed that he was committing blasphemy, by claiming to be the Messiah, the Son of God. We can understand from the text, they already have this opinion, at this particular time, so they were hostile. They were very dominant in their influence over all the people coming to Jerusalem - the residents and the visitors, the people coming to the Temple. They were teaching. They were dealing with the sacrificial system. They were hugely influential and they'd already been speaking very firmly against Jesus. They didn't like his previous two visits and they didn't like him coming back again on this occasion.

Jesus went partly because of the provocation of his brothers which is very interesting. His brothers didn't believe in him and they said, ‘You need to make a show of force and strength in Jerusalem. Try and convince Jerusalem what you've convinced the people here in Galilee,’ they said rather cynically to Jesus. They were going up as a family unit to the festival. They say, 'Jesus come with us and do some miracles. Turn people's minds round; make them all believe that you're the Messiah'. John is quite clear his brothers did not believe in him at this time in their lives. Jesus, however, according to this account, travelled to the Feast of Tabernacles a little later than the others secretly, privately, discreetly, halfway through events. Halfway through the festival, he becomes public. Let's read verses 14 - 24, the second half of our passage today.

Not until halfway through the Festival, did Jesus go up to the temple courts and begin to teach. The Jews there were amazed and asked ‘How did this man get such learning without having been taught?’ Jesus answered, ’My teaching is not my own. It comes from the one who sent me. Anyone who chooses to do the will of God, will find out whether my teaching comes from God, or whether I speak on my own. Whoever speaks on their own, does so to gain personal glory but he who seeks the glory of the one who sent him, is a man of truth; there's nothing false about him. Has not Moses given you the Law? Yet not one of you keeps the law. Why are you trying to kill me?’ ‘You're demon possessed, the crowd answered, ‘who is trying to kill you?’ Jesus said to them, ‘I did one miracle and you were all amazed, yet because Moses gave you circumcision, though actually it did not come from Moses, but came from the patriarchs, you circumcise a boy on the Sabbath. Now if a boy can be circumcised on the sabbath so that the Law of Moses may not be broken, why are you angry with me for healing a man's whole body on the sabbath? Stop judging by mere appearances and instead judge correctly.’

John 7:14-24, NIV
Jesus' Authority

Jesus starts teaching in the Temple, in order to make his presence felt. The Temple had a huge compound and a huge outer court where people could walk around freely. They could preach; they could teach; and they could share. There was a huge amount of room so Jesus could easily take up a position there which he did on in other visits to Jerusalem, as will see later. He makes a statement: ‘My teaching is not my own it comes from the one who sent me.’ We're dealing here with the question of the authority of Jesus' teaching. Is it self-promotion? Is it human tradition, like the Jewish teaching very often was? Or rather, did it come directly from God's authority? Jesus claims that his teaching comes directly from God's authority and he then goes on to imply that those people who are seeking the truth, seeking out the Messiah, will intuitively know that his teaching is authentic. Verse 17,

‘Anyone who chooses to do the will of God will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own.’

John 7:17, NIV

The genuine seeker, seeking to do the will of God, will intuitively know that the teaching of Jesus is authentic. This has been the experience of countless people through the centuries. As they've engaged with the teaching of Jesus, and as they are seeking to find the truth about God, many people have come to an inner intuitive conviction that this man is authentic. He is what he says he is. It's an inner knowing, that is in fact described later on in the New Testament, as the witness of the Holy Spirit. The crowd gets angry, accusing him of being demonised - influenced by demonic forces. That might sound to us to be very dramatic, very hostile and very sudden. It's not that sudden because, as we discovered in an earlier episode - several episodes indeed - but particularly when we looked at Matthew 12 and a debate between Jesus and the Pharisees in Galilee. We find that the Pharisees who represent the view of the religious authorities in Jerusalem pretty accurately, and some of them are on the Sanhedrin council themselves. The Pharisees, in Matthew 12:24, when speaking about Jesus's miraculous powers, say

‘It's only by Beelzebul, the Prince of Demons, that this fellow drives out demons’.

Matthew 12:24, NIV

They ascribe his power to demonic forces, to a satanic influence in his life. This conversation about the source of Jesus' power has been going on for some time. It came from the religious establishment in Jerusalem. The conversation played out on a number of occasions in Galilee when the Pharisees were following Jesus round and so it's not surprising that the crowd in Jerusalem are reiterating this opinion, which has been fed to them by the religious leaders in the city.

Jesus goes on in the final section, to refer back to the miracle of John 5 - the healing of the man at the pool of Bethesda. Verse 21 ‘I did one miracle and you were all amazed.’ They remembered that miracle. It was still being discussed and Jesus refers to it again. It comes up in John 5, as we've mentioned, and it was a remarkable miracle because a man who had been an invalid, according to John 5: 5 for 38 years, was immediately healed. Jesus said to him, ‘Get up, pick up your mat and walk.’ At once the man was cured. He picked up his mat and walked. He travelled around the city of Jerusalem, talking to the religious authorities and the crowds explaining that he had been healed miraculously. Jesus said, I did one miracle and you are all amazed but he goes on to point out that, that miracle became controversial - not just a matter of amazement but a matter of controversy - because the day that he performed that miracle happened to be the Jewish Sabbath day.

Sabbath Laws

In our earlier episodes, while discussing Jesus' ministry in Galilee, we noticed quite a number of times that the issue of the Jewish Sabbath has become controversial between Jesus and his opponents. He has healed on the Sabbath before; on the Sabbath, according to the Law of Moses, the Jews should rest from their work, focus on family and worship and rest for one day in seven. This became the Jewish Sabbath and is now the Saturday of a modern week. The religious authorities took that basic command not to work and they applied it in an overzealous, and over-literal way to Jesus, by saying that when he heals someone he's working whereas Jesus claimed against them, that that wasn't the intention of the law at all. No, the law was there to help them rest from their agricultural work, from their commercial work, from their business of life.and Jesus wasn't doing the business of life when he was healing the sick; he was doing divine miracles. He was blessing people; he was doing a work of mercy. He's argued in the past and it's implied in the text here, that they've got their understanding of the Law wrong and they've completely misjudged his intention in healing on the Sabbath. They've accused him wrongly of breaking the Law. Jesus obeyed the Law of Moses in every way that was appropriate for him to obey the Law in his role and in his circumstances. Every applicable Law he obeyed but he did not accept the authority of subsequent Jewish tradition which tried to interpret and develop the law and created hundreds and hundreds of extra laws, particularly around issues like the Sabbath and created loads of regulations which never appeared in the Old Testament. Jesus described that as human tradition and he said that he is not going to obey that and that is part of the debate that is going on in this particular context. Jesus even points out that the pattern of circumcising infant children on the eighth day breaks the Sabbath law if that eighth day happens to fall on the Sabbath day. That's a bit of a technicality concerning a practice that was happening at the time which Jesus comments on by comparison. He basically says you're not obeying the law accurately, and you're wrongly accusing me of breaking the law when I'm not even breaking it in the first place by healing on the Sabbath, as he had done in John 5 at the pool of Bethesda with the invalid of 38 years standing.

The atmosphere in Jerusalem is really difficult for Jesus and every time he goes there, there's a controversy and there's a genuine risk to his person, his security and even his life. We've noticed even in the episode, in John 5, the Jews were very hostile after the healing of this man and his life was in danger. They were looking for ways to kill him. We're going to find this theme working out several more times in Jesus' experience of being in Jerusalem. He's only in Jerusalem for a very short period of time - just a few days - and he will remove himself very quickly from the city and then get back onto his mission which is going through Samaria and Judea, travelling around in the central and southern parts of the country, according to what Luke has told us in Luke 9 in our last episode, Series 7 and Episode 11. There's more to be said about this incident because the story continues and that will be the topic of our next episode.


Some reflections to conclude: Jesus faced a tough family situation. His brothers didn't believe in him. They were setting him up for a conflict, by suggesting that he made a show of strength in Jerusalem which would provoke the authorities to act against him. That was difficult. Even his own brothers did not believe in him. I wonder if we have had that experience with those close to us who don't really believe, or even oppose things that we stand for. We need to take encouragement from the example of Jesus. He loved his family, loved those close to him, but even if they disagreed with him, he always followed what he knew to be the right thing. Courage was shown by Jesus in that respect but the courage required for that was nothing compared with the courage required to face the hostile environment of Jerusalem where the religious leaders were watching him, plotting against him, hoping to get rid of him and feeding negative propaganda to the crowds. The crowds could turn volatile very quickly. They could pick up stones to stone him. They could chase him out of the Temple compound. They could do all sorts of things to him. Jesus showed incredible courage but his courage came from his obedience to his father and to the certainty that he was in the right place, doing the right thing. We'll continue the story in our next episode. Thanks for joining us.

Study Questions

The following questions have been provided to facilitate discussion or further reflection. Please feel free to answer any, or all the questions. Each question has been assigned a category to help guide you.

  • Exploring Faith
    Exploring Faith
    1. Is Jesus’ teaching just good advice or something more?
  • Discipleship
    1. Can you think of a time when people close to you couldn’t understand you or your actions? How did you resolve it?
  • Further Study
    Further Study
    1. What are the different responses to Jesus shown here? How does Jesus deal with these?
    2. Why did the Temple Guards not arrest Jesus at this point? - afraid of the crowd, or impressed with what Jesus had to say?
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