Jesus—His Life and Message: The Feast of Tabernacles (Part 1)
June 18, 2019
by Peter Amsterdam
Jesus—His Life and Message: The Feast of Tabernacles (Part 1)
The seventh and eighth chapters of the Gospel of John cover Jesus’ teachings while He was in Jerusalem during part of the Feast of Tabernacles, also known as the Feast (or Festival) of Booths. The Feast of Booths is a seven-day festival celebrated by the Jewish people in September or early October, during which they dwell in “booths.” In Jesus’ time, it was one of three major Jewish feasts which required all “native born” Jewish males to attend in Jerusalem. The feast was celebrated after the harvest had been gathered, not only grain crops but also the grapes and olives.
You shall keep the Feast of Harvest, of the firstfruits of your labor, of what you sow in the field. You shall keep the Feast of Ingathering at the end of the year, when you gather in from the field the fruit of your labor.1
One author wrote:
Together with the note of thanksgiving for harvest, the feast commemorated the goodness of God to his people during the wilderness wanderings. The tents, or leafy bowers, which gave the feast its name, were erected in the courts of houses or on the roofs.2
This festival was commanded by God as a reminder of how the Israelites dwelt in tents when God brought them out of Egypt.3 The “tents” used during this festival are temporary structures made from leaves and branches.
John chapter seven begins:
After this Jesus went about in Galilee. He would not go about in Judea, because the Jews were seeking to kill him.4
While the verse says that “the Jews were seeking to kill Him,” it seems that it is referring more specifically to Judean Jews, as there were plenty of Jews in Galilee. The Jews that Jesus was referring to were most likely the religious authorities in Jerusalem. Earlier in this Gospel, when Jesus was in Jerusalem during one of the Jewish feasts (in this instance we’re not told which one), He healed a man on the Sabbath.5 In that instance, the Jews were persecuting Jesus, because he was doing these things on the Sabbath.6
This was why the Jews were seeking all the more to kill him, because not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God.7
The religious authorities in Jerusalem were vehemently opposed to Jesus, which made it very dangerous for Him to be there, so He withdrew to the north. During this time, He had an itinerant ministry in Galilee, where it was safer for Him, and He and His disciples walked throughout the area preaching and ministering to people.
The Jews’ Feast of Booths was at hand. So his brothers said to him, “Leave here and go to Judea, that your disciples also may see the works you are doing. For no one works in secret if he seeks to be known openly. If you do these things, show yourself to the world.” For not even his brothers believed in him.8
Jesus’ brothers challenged Him to do miracles in the nation’s capital during the feast, giving Him two reasons for doing so: that your disciples also may see the works you are doing, and so that He could “show himself to the world.” It’s unclear why they wanted His disciples to see the works He was doing, as the band of His closest followers had been with Him and had already witnessed His miracles. It may be that the brothers were thinking of some of Jesus’ disciples from other places who would be gathered in Jerusalem. Bible commentators give a variety of explanations as to the meaning of this phrase; in any case, the point made was that signs wrought by someone claiming to be the Messiah must be done in the holy city, not just in outlying areas. The Jewish concept was that it is only as the Messiah openly performs messianic signs that he is the Messiah.9 Jesus’ works had been done openly in Galilee, but that was a long distance from Jerusalem.
The brothers’ suggestion was a political one, as they saw this as an opportunity for Jesus to be in the public eye in the capital city during this major festival. They knew that if He wanted to be a public figure, to be in the limelight, He couldn’t do so only working behind the scenes and in outlying areas. One author wrote:
Galilee was far from the capital, and anything done there would be “secret” as far as the dwellers in the metropolis were concerned. And such things as messianic claims must be established in the capital city before the religious leaders.10
If Jesus had been seeking fame and the glory of this world, then Jerusalem would have been the place to get it. He could have done messianic signs and wonders, and the people would have accepted Him as the Messiah. However, His brothers’ concept of the role of the Messiah was a far cry from Jesus’ understanding of it. He would eventually go to Jerusalem, but the end result was far different from what His brothers expected.
We’re told that not even his brothers believed in him.11 There are references to Jesus’ siblings throughout the Gospels,12 as well as in the book of Acts13 and in 1 Corinthians.14 In the Gospel of Matthew we read,
“Is not this the carpenter’s son? Is not his mother called Mary? And are not his brothers James and Joseph and Simon and Judas? And are not all his sisters with us?”15
Even though at this point in Jesus’ life His brothers didn’t believe in Him, after His death and resurrection, they did believe.
In the book of Acts we read that His mother and brothers were present in the upper room with the disciples after Jesus’ resurrection.
All these with one accord were devoting themselves to prayer, together with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers.16
Later, James, who was probably the next oldest of Jesus’ brothers, became the head of the Jerusalem church. Bible commentators hold that Jesus’ brother Jude is the author of the epistle of Jude.
Jesus responded to His unbelieving brothers,
“My time has not yet come, but your time is always here. The world cannot hate you, but it hates me because I testify about it that its works are evil. You go up to the feast. I am not going up to this feast, for my time has not yet fully come.” After saying this, he remained in Galilee.17
Jesus stayed in Galilee until His Father led Him to attend the Feast of the Booths. Some question why Jesus told His brothers that He wasn’t going to the feast, but then eventually did go. Some Bible translations appropriately add the word “yet” for clarity, such as the New King James Version and others, so that it says, “You go up to this feast. I am not yet going up to this feast, for My time has not yet fully come.”18
When saying my time has not yet fully come, He probably wasn’t referring to the time of His death or resurrection, as in the Gospel of John when Jesus refers to His death and resurrection He uses the word “hour” rather than “time.” For example:
They were seeking to arrest him, but no one laid a hand on him, because his hour had not yet come.19
The hour is coming, indeed it has come, when you will be scattered, each to his own home, and will leave me alone.20
When Jesus had spoken these words, he lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you.”21
In this passage, the implication is that all of Jesus’ movements were in the hands of His Father who had sent Him into the world, and that it wasn’t God’s time for Him to go to Jerusalem.
His brothers’ situation was a different story, as they weren’t sent by the Father as Jesus was. Their movements weren’t under God’s direction in the same sense that Jesus’ were. They were part of the world that Jesus was sent to save, the same world which hated Him—because I testify about it that its works are evil.22 Jesus’ response to His brothers used some of the same vocabulary they had used. They wanted Him to go to Jerusalem so the people could see the works you are doing, and to reveal Himself to the world. As one author stated:
Jesus picks up both words, characterizing both “the world” and its “works” (in contrast to his own) as evil.23
The world didn't hate His brothers, because they were part of the world; but it hated Jesus, because He pointed out that the works of the world are evil.
Having sent off His brothers to the feast without Him, we’re told that Jesus remained in Galilee for an unspecified amount of time.24 Sometime later, Jesus went to Jerusalem in a manner which was the opposite to what His brothers had recommended.
After his brothers had gone up to the feast, then he also went up, not publicly but in private.25
Other Bible translations say not publicly, but as it were, in secret (NAS); secretly, staying out of public view (NLT). Jesus intentionally distanced Himself from His brothers by not going with them, and He was absent for at least half of the ceremonies. As we’ll see further into the passage, His purpose for going to Jerusalem wasn’t to participate in the festival ceremonies, but rather to teach and preach.
(Continued in Part Two)
Unless otherwise indicated, all scriptures are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
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1 Exodus 23:16.
2 Morris, The Gospel According to John, 349.
3 Leviticus 23:39, 42–43. See also Deuteronomy 16:13–16.
4 John 7:1.
5 John 5:1–16.
6 John 5:16.
7 John 5:18.
8 John 7:2–5.
9 Morris, The Gospel According to John, 350.
11 John 7:5.
12 John 2:12, 7:3–5; Matthew 12:46–50; Mark 3:31–35; Luke 8:19–21.
13 Acts 1:13–14.
14 1 Corinthians 9:5.
15 Matthew 13:55–56.
16 Acts 1:13–14.
17 John 7:6–9.
18 John 7:8 NKJV.
19 John 7:30.
20 John 16:32.
21 John 17:1.
22 John 7:7.
23 Michaels, The Gospel of John.
24 John 7:9.
25 John 7:10.