THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO JOHN - PART X
THE FEAST OF
TABERNACLES AND THE GROWING CONFLICT IN JERUSALEM
I. The Gospel then shifts from Galilee to a scene in Jerusalem surrounding the feast of Tabernacles and describes a scene of increasing tension.
A. The Feast of Tabernacles was one of the three highest Jewish Feasts (alongside Passover in March or April and the Feast of Weeks seven weeks later.) This feast took place in late September or early October on the occasion of the harvest. Although Passover was theologically more important, by Jesus' time this feast generally drew more Jews to Jerusalem than any other. All Jews within fifteen miles of Jerusalem were obliged to attend it, and many more did so every year.
1. It was a celebration
of God's providence for His people in the desert and throughout their
history. The people would stay in tents (also called tabernacles
or booths) to recall their journeying in the desert. Lev. 23:40-42.
There were seven days of great celebration and an eighth day of transitioning
back to regular life. The Temple was also filled with lights and,
on the seventh and highest day, there was a procession of water, which
was then poured over the altar. Jesus develops the theme of water
and lights in chapters 7 and 8.
2. Being at the
harvest it was also a thanksgiving for the fertility of the land.
See Ex. 26:16, 34:22; Lev. 23:39; Duet. 16:13-15. Because
the food was bountiful at this time, it was sometimes called simply
"a feast." See 1 Kings 8:2, 65, 12:32; Is. 30:29; Ezek. 45:25;
Neh. 8:14. Every seventh year, there was a reading of the law
because it was a Sabbath year, in which no harvest was gathered.
3. This feast
was the occasion for the dedication of the original Temple, see 1 Kings
8. See also 2 Macc. 10:6-8, describing the rededication of the
Temple as "like the feast of Booths."
4. Later on,
it would become an anticipation of the ingathering of the nations to
worship God. See Zech. 14:16.
5. The Pilgrims based Thanksgiving
largely on this feast.
B. Because Jesus' popularity and opposition was rising rapidly, some of His "brethren" (which in Hebraic Greek meant any close relative), who still did not understand Him, urged Him to make a dramatic move in Jerusalem during this feast.
they speak the truth when they say that no one acts in secret who wants
His deeds to be known. Jesus earlier made a similar point about
people who do evil deeds wanting the darkness. See John 3:20-21.
However, they do not understand that Jesus is keeping His power to perform
miracles largely disguised because worldly power is not the power He
wants to show. Thus, the Gospel points out that they still do
- Jesus points out
that the time for manifesting His glory and the time of His suffering
has not yet come. (The two go very much together, especially in John.)
- Jesus says that their
time is always present, which has at least two possible meanings.
One meaning may be ironic, saying that those who seek the approval of
the world will always seek it. Another meaning may be that , because
we do not know God's timing, Jesus' disciples should always be looking
for an opportunity to witness to the faith. Jesus, knowing more
about God's timing, was more select.
- In any case, Jesus
keeps Himself in secret for the time being. St. John Chrysostom,
in one of his homilies, said that, while Jesus could have kept persecution
at bay through many means (as He will do soon) He chose to stay in secret
for awhile, to give assurance to Christians who would later be persecuted
that worshiping in secret to avoid such persecution is permissible.
See St. John Chrysostom Homily XLVIII.
C. Jesus' statement
that He is not going up to the feast may be a bit puzzling, given the
fact that He will soon do so. However, in Greek the present tense
can easily imply that He is not currently going up, with no necessary
implication about the future. (One old text adds the word "yet"
to emphasize this fact.) In addition, the term "going up"
also refers to Jesus' death, resurrection, and ascension. See
John 3:13, , 6:62, 20:19. See also Luke 9:51; John 8:28 (using
similar terms for Jesus' death.)
II. Jesus eventually comes to the feast, but gets there in secret.
A. Part of the idea is that His opponents probably wanted to arrest (or assassinate) Him before He got to Jerusalem and present His conviction or death as a fait accompli, as they would later do. By going up in secret, Jesus does not allow His opponents to know where He is until all the crowds are already gathered, when an arrest would make a public scene.
- Nevertheless, the
chief priests and Pharisees eventually send officers to arrest Jesus
when Jesus Himself makes speaks openly about the plot to kill Him and
continues to make it clear that He is from heaven itself.
- It is noteworthy
that there is a pall over the crowds, such that no one dares speak his
mind for fear of the Jewish authorities. But there is still "murmuring"
going on beneath the surface.
B. The power of Jesus' words shows forth as even His opponents wonder where He is getting His knowledge from.
- John the Baptist
was the son on a priest, and so would have had a great deal of formal
education, but that level of formal education would not be available
to a carpenter's son. It is this formal education the leaders
say Jesus is lacking, for any Jew should have studied the Hebrew Scriptures
and traditions to a certain degree.
- Jesus points out
that His wisdom is directly from above. This source contrasts
with the teachings of the leaders in Jerusalem, who drew based their
preaching primarily on scholarship. Jesus does not criticize this
approach, but reminds them of where all of this learning is supposed
to come from.
- Jesus also says that,
if one chooses to do God's will, he will recognize the voice of God.
Jesus then points out that the crowd is not keeping the law, for some
are trying to kill Him and others are not defending Him.
- Jesus then justifies
His cure on the Sabbath by a common sense analogy to the current teaching
of the Jews, which was that circumcision was to be performed on the
eighth day after birth, even if doing so would break the usual
rules of the Sabbath. The implication is that, if people really
read the Scriptures with good faith, they would see that His ministry
is from God.
III. A dispute then arises about whether Jesus could be the Messiah.
A. On the one hand,
the people recognize the power of His voice to bring about conversions
and a renewal of worship and His ability to perform "signs," which
were most likely miracles. Such things were indications
that the long awaited kingdom of God was at last coming. The prophets
had spoken about the Messiah as overcoming obstacles and bringing about
a new creation. See, e.g., Is. 8:23-9:6, 11:1-12:6, 65:17-25,
66:18-24; Ezek. 37:15-28; Amos 9:11-15; Micah 4:6-8, 5:1-4; Zech. 6:9-15;
see also Ps. 2, 45, 110. Jesus Himself hints at the prophesy of
Isaiah with the command to judge justly, not according to hearsay.
See Is. 11:3-4.
B. On the other hand, many people believe that the Messiah should be from an unknown area, and they believed that Jesus was simply from Nazareth. This expectation is based in part from the view that he would come "on the clouds" as Daniel had prophesied and be appointed by the new Elijah as Malachi had prophesied. See Dan. 7:13; Mal. 3:23-24. Psalm 110 also spoke of the king as being begotten in mystery "from the dayspring." Ps. 110:3. Others object that the Messiah should be from Bethlehem, as Micah had prophesied, not realizing that Jesus was born in Bethlehem. Micah 5:1. John is assuming the reader knows the true account of Jesus' birth.
- Jesus says
or asks "You know Me and where I am from?" indicating just the opposite.
They do not really understand the God who sent Him and Who He is from.
He skips right over His birth in Bethlehem, possibly because telling
them of that birth would have created expectations of a worldly kingdom.
- The officials rightly
understand that He is saying that He comes from God, and thus send officers
to arrest Him.
- Jesus then indicates
He will return to the heaven from which He was sent, but the crowds
cannot comprehend anything but an earthly one of going to foreign lands.
Ironically, they are right that, through the Eucharist He will go to
foreign lands, but they miss the main point.
C. The statement that they cannot go to where Jesus is going contains an image of the journey to the Chosen Land that the first generation of Chosen People, because of their unbelief, were unable to complete. See Num. 10:20-35; Heb. 3:7-19. Picking up on the theme of the journey in the desert, Jesus also speaks of Himself as providing the water for the journey. Cf. Ps. 78:15-16; Is. 28:21-22. Moses had struck rock and provided water for the people, but only after prayer and some impatience. See Ex. 17:1-7 Num. 20:1-13.
- On the seventh day
of the feast, the highest day, Jesus goes further and indicates, by
reference to the prophesies of Isaiah, Ezekiel, Zechariah and Joel that
the those who believe will see a flow of water that will renew the people
and allow them to give glory to God. See Is. 12:1-6; Ez. 471-13;
Zech. 14:8; Joel 4:18. Isaiah, Zechariah, and Joel refer to a
an idyllic time after a purification, and Ezekiel likewise refers to
the restored Temple, from which will flow cleansing water for all lands.
It is not clear from the text whether the flow of water will be from
Jesus to the believer or from the believer to the world. See Is.
58:11. It could very well mean both.
- In either case,
the water brings the power of the Spirit, Who has not yet been revealed.
This sermon is thus setting up the promises of the Last Supper regarding
Jesus sending the Spirit of truth and understanding. Isaiah
had spoken of the age in which the Spirit of the Lord would govern the
people, and Joel of the Spirit being poured forth upon all of humanity.
See Is. 11; Joel. 3; see also Num. 11:29. In saying that "there
was no Spirit yet," John is saying that the spirit of God had not
yet been poured out upon the people.
- The theme of
cleansing water also sets up the next episode, regarding the forgiveness
of the adulterous woman.
- This reference to
water and to the prophets apparently makes some people believe that
Jesus is the prophet that Moses spoke of so long ago. See Duet.
IV. The authorities' plot to arrest Jesus fails because of the power of Jesus' words.
A. The Jewish authorities
scorn Jesus and the crowds because they do not have sufficient learning,
ignoring the fact that some of the prophets (e.g., Amos) and heroes
(e.g., Gideon) of the Chosen People were taken from the seemingly lesser
ranks. See, e..g, Judges 6:15, Amos 7:13-17.
B. It is ironic that
the less educated, and very possibly pagan, soldiers appreciate the
word of God, while those who are learned, but satisfied with their learning,
C. Nicodemus sensibly
proposes putting the questions to Jesus, referring back to Moses'
instructions that judges must listen to both sides of a case before
deciding it. See Duet. 1:16. Jewish law also established
rules for proceeding with trials, which included the opportunity of
the accused to confront witnesses. However, the authorities assume
that Jesus is from Galilee, i.e. an area of mixed Jews and outsiders
and, therefore, cannot be a prophet. Even on their own terms,
they ignore the prophesy of Isaiah that the light of the new era will
shine first in the northern tribes. Is. 8:23. However, the
authorities, wanting a quick and easy answer rather than the truth do
not care to investigate.
D. Possibly in order to avoid an immediate conflict, Jesus goes to the Mount of Olives, where He will stay again in His final week before His death and Resurrection.