JOHN, PART 18

John 7:1—13

With chapter 7, Jesus’ Galilean ministry is over. Following this intense time of public ministry, there came about six months of relative quiet. This “Retirement Ministry,” as it is often referred to, was spent in the northern regions of Israel. But the storm clouds were beginning to gather; within six months the storm would break in all its fury upon Jesus. From this point on, opposition to Jesus would become increasingly prominent and violent.

After this, Jesus went around in Galilee. He did not want to go about in Judea because the Jewish leaders there were looking for a way to kill him. (verse 1)

Verse 1 is a reminder of what happened when Jesus healed the paralytic back in Jerusalem—

For this reason the Jews tried all the harder to kill him; not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God. (verse 5:18)

Jesus’ rejection in Judea explains why He went to Galilee. This departure happened sometime during the spring of the year, before Passover, and there our Lord remained until the fall of the same year.

1. The Feast of Tabernacles, verse 2

But when the Jewish Festival of Tabernacles was near

As was John’s practice, he once again associates Jesus’ activity in Jerusalem with one of the national festivals. There were three such feasts which every Jewish male was required to attend in Jerusalem. Jesus kept His law; He never failed to observe the feasts of Passover, Tabernacles, and Passover.

The Feast of Tabernacles is described in Leviticus 23, Numbers 29, and Deuteronomy 16. It was celebrated for seven days each fall to commemorate the wilderness wanderings and it was an immensely popular feast. Josephus, in fact, in his Antiquities, refers to the Feast of Tabernacles as the “most holy and most eminent feast.”

Of particular interest to Christians, the Feast of Tabernacles is the only Old Testament feast that has no New Testament fulfillment. Passover was fulfilled at the Cross. Pentecost was fulfilled at the coming of the Holy Spirit. Tabernacles, yet unfulfilled, will finally see its fulfillment at our Lord’s Second Advent. Little wonder the Feast of Tabernacles was such a joyous feast!

2. Jesus’ brothers, verses 3—9

For even his own brothers did not believe in him. (verse 5)

These “brothers” were not Jesus’ disciples but rather His half-brothers. Matthew tells us exactly who they were: James, Joseph, Simon and Judas (Matthew 13:55). James is the same James who wrote the letter bearing that name and some suggest that Judas is really the “Jude” who wrote that New Testament epistle.

Like most family members, they were free with their advice to Jesus.

“Leave Galilee and go to Judea, so that your disciples there may see the works you do. 4 No one who wants to become a public figure acts in secret. Since you are doing these things, show yourself to the world.” (verses 3, 4)

Why did they give Jesus this advice? Some have suggested that it was a subtle temptation to substitute man’s applause and demands with God’s will; to follow man’s timetable instead of God’s appointed times. In other words, Jesus’ half-brothers wanted Jesus to “do the right deed for the wrong reason,” as T.S. Eliot remarked.

While this is not without merit, others point out that verse 5 is a blunt statement that these brothers did not believe Jesus’ claims at all. Therefore, far from trying to help Jesus, these men may have been being sarcastic with their advice; almost poking fun at Him as brothers and sisters often do.

Before we pass judgment on these men, not being sure of Jesus at this time was not uncommon. It wasn’t that most people were violently opposed to Him, they just didn’t grasp the true meaning of His teachings. So filled with their own preconceived ideas about what the Messiah would or should look like and act like, it is likely that these men, in their own inimitable way, were hoping Jesus would leave His idealism behind (teaching multitudes in relative obscurity) and thrust Himself right out in the public arena. In other words, if their brother really was who and what He was claiming to be, then He should just step up and prove it to the world!

Jesus’ three-pronged response is seen in verses 6, 7, and 8—

“My time is not yet here; for you any time 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 am not going up to this Festival, because my time has not yet fully come.”

(a) The sense of the first sentence is often missed. What Jesus is telling His earthly brothers is simply this: “You can go to the Feast any time. I have to wait for the right time to leave for Jerusalem.” Jesus’ purpose in life was to observe God’s will and God’s timetable in everything, even something as facile as when to leave on trip! His brothers were free to leave any time; not so with Jesus, for He had to wait until His Father told Him to go.

(b) Previously, the brothers had wanted Jesus to “show Himself to the world,” and from their perspective that was a good idea. After all, if Jesus was right and He really was the long-awaited Messiah, then He had a lot to offer the Jews and the Jews would embrace Him. However, they had no idea that the world apart from God is evil, alienated from God, and violently opposes anything associated with God.

(c) Jesus urged His brothers to leave and go to the Festival; they were not under the same constraints as He was. Jesus told them, “I am not going to this Festival,” yet shortly thereafter, He leaves for the Festival! His brothers were keeping man’s timetable and were doing things man’s way; the expected way. In journeying to the Festival and arriving there “in the daylight hours,” their arrival would be seen by all. It was not Jesus’ time to be “seen by all.” Jesus’ time to manifest His divine Person would take place later, at another Feast. Therefore, Jesus would, in fact, go to Jerusalem, but it would be when God wanted Him to and He would go quietly and relatively unnoticed.

3. Keeping a low profile, verses 10—13

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 is a good man.” Others replied, “No, he deceives the people.” But no one would say anything publicly about him for fear of the leaders.

We’re not told how long after His brothers’ departure Jesus left, but it must have been a little while later. The public roads into Jerusalem would have been literally choked with families heading into the city for the Festival. No doubt this was the precise thing Jesus wanted to avoid. It’s not that Jesus was trying to be deceptive or that He was trying to trick people, but that He was trying to keep a low profile and avoid as much publicity as possible. The enemies of our Lord would be watching for Him, obviously for the purpose of arresting Him. In that sense, it was not His time; not His time to be arrested.

This was Jesus’ farewell to Galilee, the scene of so much of His public ministry. His coming for the Feast was hotly anticipated by both those who loved Him and those who hated Him, of course for two very different reasons. Those who loved Jesus, or at the very least, those who were interested in His new teachings, wanted to hear Him teach some more and maybe see another miracle or two. Those who hated Jesus, mostly the religious leaders, wanted to silence Him for good. Public opinion was definitely divided!

“Widespread whispering” is translated by J.B . Phillips as an “undercurrent of discussion” about Jesus, but notice their estimate of Jesus: He was either a “good man” or a “deceiver,” neither of which was an entirely accurate estimate of our Lord. For all His efforts, the people still remained blinded to the reality of who Jesus was. Jesus was, and still is, more than just a “good man!” To this day, many people hold to that view of Jesus, but to do so is to entirely miss the point of the Incarnation, the life, the Crucifixion, and the Resurrection of Christ! Jesus never “deceived” anybody, but the NEB offers an alternate translation that paints the picture seen by the religious rulers: Jesus, they thought, was “leading people astray.” From their vantage point, anybody who turned from their teachings was, in fact, turning from the only true teachings. Their word was God’s Word and nobody, certainly not some carpenter from the plains of Galilee, could also have God’s Word! Therefore, to follow Jesus was to be following a lie, so they thought.

These differing opinions of Jesus were whispered quietly. He was a controversial figure; a lightening rod that brought out the best and the worst in people. Until the powerful Sanhedrin issued an official statement concerning Jesus, His supporters and His detractors dared not take sides openly. Much like the lumbering denominational dinosaurs of today, the Jewish religious machine had become a “curse” to their constituents. Imagine being afraid to utter an opinion about a popular, public figure until you are told what your church thought?

Lessons

Very often, the humanity of Christ gets lost in our efforts to emphasize our Lord’s divinity. But we need to be reminded that He was God and man in equal parts. This brief story involving His brothers shows us how they interacted with our Lord and He them. They talked to Jesus much like we talk to our siblings. And Jesus held His ground with them. Despite being raised with the Son of God, Jesus’ brothers were clueless as to His divinity, at least up to this point.

Jesus Christ’s life provides yet another example of how we ought to be living ours. In everything, Jesus sought to know God’s will and abide by it. We can understand doing that in the big things, but we need to seek God’s will even in the so-called small, inconsequential things in life, as Jesus did.

It may seem hard to believe, but Jesus Christ divides as well as He unites. Even down to this very day, Jesus divides people. This is because Jesus is polarizing; we either support Him or we don’t. We either serve Him with all our hearts or we don’t. Those who claim to love Jesus yet live for themselves hate those of us actually aspire to do just that. Jesus forces us to make a choice: service Him and live or live for ourselves and wither up spiritually. There is no in-between when it comes to a relationship with Jesus Christ.  And this drives the sinner and carnal Christian crazy!

(c)  2010 WitzEnd
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