Jesus—His Life and Message: The Feast of Tabernacles (Part 2)

July 2, 2019

by Peter Amsterdam

Sometime after Jesus’ brothers went to Jerusalem to attend the Feast of Tabernacles, Jesus also traveled there. We’re told that He went up, not publicly but in private.1 He didn’t travel in a group with His brothers—which would have been normal, as often extended families would travel together to the capital for religious feasts—but for reasons which are not explained, He made the trip privately. We’re not told how long He waited before starting off to Jerusalem, but it could have been some days, as later we read that it was only in the middle of the weeklong festival that He started preaching in the temple.

The Jews were looking for him at the feast, and saying, “Where is he?”2 

In the Gospel of John, “the Jews” often refers to the religious leadership in Jerusalem, and it’s likely that they were the ones who were looking for Him. At the beginning of John chapter 7, we’re told that He would not go about in Judea, because the Jews were seeking to kill him.3

There was much muttering about him among the people. While some said, “He is a good man,” others said, “No, he is leading the people astray.” Yet for fear of the Jews no one spoke openly of him.4

Jesus was a topic of discussion among the people at the feast. The Greek word translated here as muttering (ESV) is also translated as murmuring (KJV), grumbling (NAS), complaining (NKJ), and widespread whispering (NIV). People at the festival were debating whether Jesus was a good man or a false teacher who was leading people astray; but such discussions probably occurred only among friends and in quiet tones, so as not to be overheard by the religious leadership. While there was debate about Jesus among the people, it is clear that the Jewish religious leadership was against Him.

It was a serious matter that some people, including the religious leadership, felt that Jesus was leading people astray—this constituted a claim that Jesus was acting as a false prophet, and the Laws of Moses stated that false prophets were to be put to death.

That prophet or that dreamer of dreams shall be put to death, because he has taught rebellion against the LORD your God … So you shall purge the evil from your midst.5

There was potential danger in Jesus attending the festival.

About the middle of the feast Jesus went up into the temple and began teaching. The Jews therefore marveled, saying, “How is it that this man has learning, when he has never studied?”6 

Midway through the festival, Jesus openly began to teach in the temple. The Jewish religious leadership was amazed at Jesus’ knowledge and understanding of Scripture, since He hadn’t studied at the rabbinic centers of learning.

Jesus answered them, “My teaching is not mine, but his who sent me.”7

Jewish rabbis taught by quoting other earlier rabbinic teaching rather than teaching their own ideas. Jesus made the point that He was sent by His Father and that what He was teaching was what He had received from His Father. Elsewhere in this Gospel, Jesus affirmed that what He taught came from His Father.

I have not spoken on my own authority, but the Father who sent me has himself given me a commandment—what to say and what to speak.8

Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise.”9

He added,

If anyone’s will is to do God’s will, he will know whether the teaching is from God or whether I am speaking on my own authority.10

Jesus stated that those whose hearts were committed to God, who truly desired to fulfill God’s purpose, would discern that the words He spoke came from His Father.

He went on to explain,

The one who speaks on his own authority seeks his own glory; but the one who seeks the glory of him who sent him is true, and in him there is no falsehood.11

Unlike teachers who desire their own personal honor, Jesus sought only to honor His Father, who had sent Him. Because He didn’t seek His own glory, but rather that of His Father, there was no falsehood in Him. Jesus not only spoke the truth, but He was the truth, as He states later in this Gospel. I am the way, and the truth, and the life.12

He continued,

Has not Moses given you the law? Yet none of you keeps the law. Why do you seek to kill me?13 

While Moses received the law from God and gave it to the people, Jesus pointed out that they didn’t keep it. Jesus was probably referring to the fact that from time to time all Jewish people would break the Mosaic law because of regulations which conflict with one another, as He explained a few verses later.

The crowd answered, “You have a demon! Who is seeking to kill you?”

The “crowd” is a different group than “the Jews” (referring to the Jewish religious leaders), and they had no idea why the religious authorities would be trying to kill Him; they only knew that they had no plans to do so. By what Jesus says next, it is clear that He was addressing the religious leaders and not the crowds at this point.

Jesus answered them, “I did one work, and you all marvel at it. Moses gave you circumcision (not that it is from Moses, but from the fathers), and you circumcise a man on the Sabbath. If on the Sabbath a man receives circumcision, so that the law of Moses may not be broken, are you angry with me because on the Sabbath I made a man’s whole body well?”14

The one work that they had previously marveled at, which Jesus was referring to, was during a previous visit to Jerusalem, when He had healed a man who had been an invalid for 38 years on the Sabbath.

The Jews were persecuting Jesus, because he was doing these things on the Sabbath.15

He then pointed out that the rabbis broke the letter of the Sabbath law on a regular basis when they circumcised baby boys on the Sabbath. The Sabbath law stated,

Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work.16

However, God had instructed Moses that when a male child was born, he was to be circumcised eight days later.17 In some instances, the eighth day after the boy was born fell on the Sabbath, and in those cases the child was circumcised on the Sabbath. Jesus’ point was that they regularly broke the letter of the law by circumcising on the Sabbath, which showed that they considered that the command to circumcise took precedence over the command of the Sabbath law.

In the Gospel of Matthew, we find other instances when Jesus made a similar point regarding the Sabbath. Once, His disciples picked some grain as they were walking through a field on the Sabbath, and the Pharisees accused them of breaking the Sabbath laws. Jesus pointed out that King David and his men did the same thing, and that the temple priests, because of the work they had to do in the temple on the Sabbath, also did work on that day. He said,

Have you not read in the Law how on the Sabbath the priests in the temple profane the Sabbath and are guiltless?18

Another time He said,

Which one of you who has a sheep, if it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will not take hold of it and lift it out? Of how much more value is a man than a sheep! So it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.19

Jesus used the Jewish method qal wahomer, which means “light to heavy,” to make the point that some things take precedence over the Sabbath laws, which even the Jewish religious leaders understood and agreed with.

If performing a circumcision, which only involved one part of the body, overruled the Sabbath, how much more would the healing of a whole person on the Sabbath be permitted? Thus healing on the Sabbath was a legitimate action.

Jesus followed up by saying,

Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment.20

Jesus chided the Jewish leadership for judging this situation superficially, by mere appearances, as opposed to how they should judge, in accordance with what is right and true.

(Continued in Part Three)


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.

General Bibliography

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Bock, Darrell L. Luke Volume 1: 1:1–9:50. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1994.

Bock, Darrell L. Luke Volume 2: 9:51–24:53. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1996.

Brown, Raymond E. The Birth of the Messiah. New York: Doubleday, 1993.

Brown, Raymond E. The Death of the Messiah. 2 vols. New York: Doubleday, 1994.

Carson, D. A. Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount and His Confrontation with the World. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1987.

Charlesworth, James H., ed. Jesus’ Jewishness, Exploring the Place of Jesus Within Early Judaism. New York: The Crossroad Publishing Company, 1997.

Chilton, Bruce, and Craig A. Evans, eds. Authenticating the Activities of Jesus. Boston: Koninklijke Brill, 1999.

Edersheim, Alfred. The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah. Updated Edition. Hendrickson Publishers, 1993.

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Evans, Craig A. World Biblical Commentary: Mark 8:27–16:20. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2000.

Evans, Craig A., and N. T. Wright. Jesus, the Final Days: What Really Happened. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009.

Flusser, David. Jesus. Jerusalem: The Magnes Press, 1998.

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Green, Joel B. The Gospel of Luke. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1997.

Green, Joel B., and Scot McKnight, eds. Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1992.

Grudem, Wayne. Systematic Theology, An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine. Grand Rapids: InterVarsity Press, 2000.

Guelich, Robert A. World Biblical Commentary: Mark 1–8:26. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1989.

Jeremias, Joachim. The Eucharistic Words of Jesus. Philadelphia: Trinity Press International, 1990.

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Jeremias, Joachim. Jesus and the Message of the New Testament. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2002.

Jeremias, Joachim. New Testament Theology. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1971.

Jeremias, Joachim. The Prayers of Jesus. Norwich: SCM Press, 1977.

Keener, Craig S. The Gospel of John: A Commentary, Volume 1. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003.

Keener, Craig S. The Gospel of John: A Commentary, Volume 2. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003.

Keener, Craig S. The Gospel of Matthew: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2009.

Lewis, Gordon R., and Bruce A. Demarest. Integrative Theology. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996.

Lloyd-Jones, D. Martyn. Studies in the Sermon on the Mount. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1976.

Manson, T. W. The Sayings of Jesus. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1957.

Manson, T. W. The Teaching of Jesus. Cambridge: University Press, 1967.

McKnight, Scot. Sermon on the Mount. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2013.

Michaels, J. Ramsey. The Gospel of John. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2010.

Milne, Bruce. The Message of John. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1993.

Morris, Leon. The Gospel According to John. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1995.

Morris, Leon. The Gospel According to Matthew. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1992.

Morris, Leon. Luke. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1988.

Ott, Ludwig. Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma. Rockford: Tan Books and Publishers, Inc., 1960.

Pentecost, J. Dwight. The Words & Works of Jesus Christ. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1981.

Sanders, E. P. Jesus and Judaism. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1985.

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Spangler, Ann, and Lois Tverberg. Sitting at the Feet of Rabbi Jesus. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2009.

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Stein, Robert H. The Method and Message of Jesus’ Teachings. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1994.

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Talbert, Charles H. Reading the Sermon on the Mount. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2004.

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Witherington, Ben, III. The Christology of Jesus. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1990.

Witherington, Ben, III. The Gospel of Mark: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2001.

Wood, D. R. W., I. H. Marshall, A. R. Millard, J. I. Packer, and D. J. Wiseman, eds. New Bible Dictionary. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1996.

Wright, N. T. After You Believe. New York: Harper Collins Publishers, 2010.

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Yancey, Philip. The Jesus I Never Knew. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1995.

Young, Brad H. Jesus the Jewish Theologian. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1995.

1 John 7:10.

2 John 7:11.

3 John 7:1.

4 John 7:12–13.

5 Deuteronomy 13:5.

6 John 7:14–15.

7 John 7:16.

8 John 12:49.

9 John 5:19.

10 John 7:17.

11 John 7:18.

12 John 14:6.

13 John 7:19.

14 John 7:21–23.

15 John 5:1–18. For more on this event, see Jesus—His Life and Message: Miracles (Part 6)/Sabbath Miracles (Part 3)

16 Exodus 20:8–10.

17 Leviticus 12:1–3.

18 Matthew 12:1–5.

19 Matthew 12:11–12.

20 John 7:24.