John’s gospel, chapters 7-10, form a unit based around a religious celebration called the Feast of Tabernacles. This feast took place on the fifteenth day of the Jewish month of Tishri (September-October). On the first day of the same month was the solemn Day of Atonement (Leviticus 23) where the nation of Israel mourned their sins. The joyful Feast of Tabernacles came fourteen days later and commemorated their sojourning in the wilderness by living in tents or thatched structures. At night, a huge lantern in the Temple area reminded the people of the pillar of fire that guided them for forty years.
This chapter is a turning point in John’s account. The opposition to Christ comes noticeably to the forefront. First there is the disbelief of Jesus’ family (1-10). After Jesus was born through divine conception, Mary and Joseph had normal relations and other children, four boys and at least two girls (Matthew 13:55-56; Mark 6:1-6)–Jesus’ half-siblings. Despite living with Him and observing His sinlessness, they missed His uniqueness. They had observed many of His miracles, but remained unbelievers. They advised Christ: If you want a following, use your opportunities. Do something spectacular. Play to the crowd. Promote yourself. They knew many of Christ’s followers had deserted Him (6:66). Jesus said, “My time is not yet come,” using the word ‘kairos,’ describing not an “hour” but “opportunity.” Jesus was saying, ‘When the time is right, I will go to Jerusalem.’ His brothers could go up any time without fear, but Jesus was hated and must be in sync with the Father’s timetable. To know God’s timing is important and requires spiritual discernment! Verse 10 tells us Jesus went up to Jerusalem in secret after his brothers left for the feast. He arrived quietly to avoid gathering a huge crowd. He kept a low profile during the early part of this feast.
Second we see the debate with Jesus’ foes (11-36). Jesus, His ministry and identity were the main discussion at the Feast (10-11). Jesus had confrontations with three groups: Jewish leaders (14-24), Jewish residents (25-31), and the Temple servants (32-36).
The basic issue of the confrontation with the Jewish leaders (14-24) was “Where were you trained?” Jesus was probably seated, teaching in the court of the Gentiles where He could address a large crowd. Jesus grew up in Galilee and hadn’t trained under any big-name rabbi. “My doctrine is not mine” (16). Doctrine is not opinion but God’s revealed truth. The criterion for knowing truth is a willingness to do what God reveals in the truth! God teaches surrendered hearts, not closed minds or stubborn wills. God doesn’t reveal His will to rebels! Jesus gets confrontational; the Pharisees knew the law of Moses and what it said about murder but they plotted to kill Jesus. They were neither godly nor teachable because they would not surrender their hearts to obey God! Jesus referenced the healing of the paralytic at the pool of Bethesda (5:1-9), a miracle performed on the sabbath which violated their tradition. Lawful circumcision happened eight days after birth, occasionally falling on the sabbath. Circumcision was “work” but it was overlooked by the Pharisees. Jesus healed a man on the sabbath, and they considered that “unacceptable work,” punishable by death. How twisted their thinking had become! Jesus concluded the discussion by challenging them to quit judging mere outward appearances, but to judge (yes, we are commanded to judge or exercise discernment) righteously by using God’s Word as the yardstick of what is right and best.
In the confrontation with the Jewish residents (25-31) the basic issue was, “Where are you from?” They had a wrong, mystical view of the Messiah. They thought no one would know where Messiah was from, but they knew where Jesus was from, so He couldn’t be the Messiah. Jesus answered sarcastically, “You know me and where I am from?” Then Jesus stated that He did not come on His own but was sent from the Father (28-29) and they did not know Him – a serious accusation against the Jews, God’s chosen people!
The last confrontation, with the Temple servants (32-36), was over this: “Where are you going?” Because many of the people were believing in Jesus (31), the Pharisees sent the officers of the Temple to apprehend Him (32). The officers later reported to their authorities, “No man ever spoke like this man” (46). When Jesus told them He was going where they could not come (33, 34), they thought Jesus was going to minister to the Jewish proselytes among the Greeks. That was not what Jesus was saying. Within six months Jesus would return to His Father in heaven and these unsaved Jews would not be able to follow Him. Had these men been willing to do God’s will, they would have known the truth. Soon it would be too late.
The same is true of men today. No man can afford to turn away from God’s appeals. When the Lord speaks, bend your will to hear and obey, to understand who Jesus is and trust him with the forgiveness of sins and eternal life.