Jesus—His Life and Message: The Feast of Tabernacles (Part 5)
July 30, 2019
by Peter Amsterdam
Jesus—His Life and Message: The Feast of Tabernacles (Part 5)
The first four articles about the Feast of Tabernacles covered Jesus’ interaction with others during the festival as described in John chapter 7. At the end of chapter 7, the Pharisees dismissed Nicodemus’ defense of Jesus with the sarcastic question, “Are you from Galilee too? Search and see that no prophet arises from Galilee.”1 This is followed by the passage from John 7:53 through John 8:11, which tells of the Pharisees and the scribes bringing a woman who was caught in the act of adultery and asking Jesus what should be done to her. Most Bible commentators point out that this story breaks the flow of Jesus’ speaking with the Pharisees, and that His discussion with them continues beginning at John 8:12. So we now pick up the flow of Jesus’ teaching from that point, and will cover Jesus’ interaction with the woman taken in adultery in an upcoming article.
Even though the Pharisees had earlier dismissed Nicodemus’ suggestion that they listen to Jesus,2 that is what we find them doing in chapter 8. Jesus was back in the temple speaking with them.
Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”
Earlier, Jesus had made reference to the feast’s water libations when He said “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink.”3 A second aspect of the Feast of Tabernacles had to do with light. At the end of the first day of the feast, in the Court of the Women (a location within the temple), four golden lamps (candelabras or menorahs) were lit. There was great rejoicing during the ceremony when they were lit, and they remained lit throughout the feast. These golden lamps illuminated the whole temple area throughout each of the nights of the feast. It was in this context that Jesus stated I am the light of the world.
There were numerous references to light throughout the Old Testament. During the exodus, God sent a pillar of cloud and fire which led the people of Israel during their time in the wilderness.4 The Psalms state, The LORD is my light.5 In the book of Isaiah we read that the coming Servant of the Lord would be a light for the nations (gentiles)6 and that the time will come when the LORD will be your everlasting light.7 The book of Zechariah refers to this time:
It will come about in that day that there will be no light; the luminaries will dwindle. For it will be a unique day which is known to the LORD, neither day nor night, but it will come about that at evening time there will be light.8
It is thought that these verses could have been part of the Scripture readings during the feast.
Some commentators write that Jesus made this statement at the end of the feast, and possibly soon after the four candelabras had been extinguished. While those lights were extinguished, Jesus stated that those who follow Him are delivered from darkness. The implication being that the whole world is in darkness and only those who follow Him are delivered from that darkness and enjoy the light. The phrase whoever follows me refers to those who continually follow Him, who are disciples.
So the Pharisees said to him, “You are bearing witness about yourself; your testimony is not true.”9
The response of the Pharisees didn’t focus on what Jesus said about light and darkness; rather they focused on a legal technicality. Their point was that since Jesus was testifying about Himself, His testimony was invalid, not having met the legal requirements stated in the Laws of Moses.
One witness is not enough to convict a man accused of any crime or offense he may have committed. A matter must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.10
Earlier in this Gospel, Jesus made the same point Himself, saying, If I alone bear witness about myself, my testimony is not deemed true.11
Jesus answered, “Even if I do bear witness about myself, my testimony is true, for I know where I came from and where I am going, but you do not know where I come from or where I am going. You judge according to the flesh; I judge no one. Yet even if I do judge, my judgment is true, for it is not I alone who judge, but I and the Father who sent me.”12
Even though uncorroborated testimony had no legal value, Jesus stated that while He was bearing witness about Himself, His was a valid testimony. Why? Because while Jesus was testifying about Himself, He wasn't testifying by Himself. He was sent into the world by His Father, and His Father’s presence was with Him. His unity with the Father meant that all He taught and any judgments He made were those of His Father.
Earlier, midway through the feast, Jesus had said, “You both know Me and know where I am from,”13 meaning that they knew He was from Galilee. However, at this point He stated, but you do not know where I come from or where I am going. In this case He was speaking of His true origin. Where He came from and where He was going are the same place. Throughout this Gospel, Jesus stated several times where He was ultimately from.
I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me.14
I am the living bread that came down from heaven.15
No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man.16
Besides affirming His true origin and destination, Jesus also stated throughout this Gospel that God the Father was the one who sent Him.
I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me.17
Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me.”18
I seek not my own will but the will of him who sent me.19
The Father who sent me has himself borne witness about me.20
My teaching is not mine, but his who sent me.21
Not only was Jesus sent into the world by the Father, but He would also return to His Father after His time on earth was fulfilled.
“I will be with you a little longer, and then I am going to him who sent me.”22
Jesus’ statement I judge no one23 can be difficult to understand, as elsewhere in this Gospel Jesus spoke about judging.
As I hear, I judge, and my judgment is just. 24
The Father … has given all judgment to the Son.25
Some commentators explain that Jesus’ point here was that He does not judge on His own, but together with His Father; it is not I alone who judge, but I and the Father who sent me.26 There are other views of what Jesus meant. For example, the ESV study notes state:
That is, according to the natural understanding and human standards of this world. When Jesus says, “I judge no one,” he means that during his earthly ministry he did not come as judge of the world but as its Savior (see 3:17; 12:47). However, Jesus’ coming does itself provide a basis for division and thus “judgment” in another sense (see 3:19; 9:39), and at a later time Jesus will come to judge the entire world (see 5:22, 27, 29; 12:48). In yet another sense, where “judge” means “rightly evaluate,” Jesus does judge events and people throughout his earthly ministry (see 5:30; 7:24; 8:16, 26).
In your Law it is written that the testimony of two people is true. I am the one who bears witness about myself, and the Father who sent me bears witness about me.27
Jesus acknowledged that the Law required the testimony of two witnesses to verify the truth of what was testified, and then He used this point to strengthen His argument. Both He and His Father bear witness. Jesus was making an argument from the lesser to the greater; if the testimony of “two men” was valid, then how much more the testimony of one man plus God, His Father in heaven.
They said to him therefore, “Where is your Father?” Jesus answered, “You know neither me nor my Father. If you knew me, you would know my Father also.”28
In asking about the whereabouts of His father, they likely wanted to hear from a second witness and thought they were referring to His earthly father. Jesus’ response was that His Father was inaccessible to them. The only way to know the Father is through the Son, as stated earlier in this Gospel.
No one has ever seen God. The One and Only Son—the One who is at the Father's side—He has revealed Him.29
One of the main points that the Gospel of John makes is that it is only through the Son that the Father is known. Whoever truly comes to know Jesus will know the Father as well. The Pharisees prided themselves on their knowledge of God, but Jesus stated that in reality they didn’t know Him at all.
These words he spoke in the treasury, as he taught in the temple.30
The treasury of the temple was in the Court of the Women, which was between the inner sanctuary and the outer Court of the Gentiles. In the treasury area, there were thirteen trumpet-shaped receptacles in which worshipers would put their offerings. Six of the trumpets were used for the half-shekel tax,31 which each Jewish male over twenty years old paid yearly, as well as other specified offerings. The other seven trumpets were for freewill offerings. The Gospels of Mark and Luke also make reference to money being put into the offering box.
Jesus looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the offering box, and he saw a poor widow put in two small copper coins. And he said, “Truly, I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them.”32
Though Jesus was openly and publicly teaching within the temple, no one arrested him, because his hour had not yet come.33 Earlier we read that some of the crowd wanted to have Jesus arrested,34 but they were unable to because his hour had not yet come.35 His arrest would only come at God’s appointed time. When that time did come, Jesus announced, The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.36
So he said to them again, “I am going away, and you will seek me, and you will die in your sin. Where I am going, you cannot come.” So the Jews said, “Will he kill himself, since he says, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come’?” 37
Jesus again told the Pharisees that He was going away; however, this time He added the pronouncement that they would die in their sins. The Pharisees paid no attention to Jesus’ warning about their sins, and He later repeats it two more times.
For the moment their focus was on where He was going. They were puzzled about what He meant, and instead of asking for a clarification, they discussed it among themselves, wondering if He was going to kill Himself. It’s ironic that here they were questioning if Jesus was planning to commit suicide, whereas earlier it was clear that some people were seeking to kill Him. Is not this the man whom they seek to kill?38
He said to them, “You are from below; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world. I told you that you would die in your sins, for unless you believe that I am he you will die in your sins.”39
Jesus differentiated Himself from those He was speaking with by making the point that He was from “above” (heaven), while they were from “below” (the earth). He was not from this world, and they were. He made a similar point earlier:
He who comes from above is above all. He who is of the earth belongs to the earth and speaks in an earthly way. He who comes from heaven is above all.40
As they were from the world, they would die in their sins because, as stated elsewhere in Scripture, the whole world lies in the power of the evil one.41
Earlier in this chapter, Jesus warned that the Pharisees would “die in their sins,”42 and here He repeats that warning twice:
I told you that you would die in your sins, for unless you believe that I am he you will die in your sins.
This time, He states it with a condition, that if they believe that “I am He,” the result will be different. The phrase “I am He” reflects what was said in Isaiah 43:
“You are my witnesses,” declares the LORD, “and my servant whom I have chosen, that you may know and believe me and understand that I am he. Before me no god was formed, nor shall there be any after me.”43
It is a claim to deity, similar to the one Jesus makes at the end of this chapter.
Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.”44
(Continued in Part Six)
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 John 7:52.
2 John 7:50–52.
3 John 7:37.
4 Exodus 13:21–22.
5 Psalm 27:1.
6 Isaiah 49:6.
7 Isaiah 60:19–22.
8 Zechariah 14:6–7 NAS.
9 John 8:13.
10 Deuteronomy 19:15 NIV. See also Deuteronomy 17:6.
11 John 5:31.
12 John 8:14–16.
13 John 7:28 NAS.
14 John 6:38.
15 John 6:51.
16 John 3:13.
17 John 6:38.
18 John 4:34.
19 John 5:30.
20 John 5:37.
21 John 7:16.
22 John 7:33.
23 John 8:15.
24 John 5:30.
25 John 5:22.
26 John 8:16.
27 John 8:17–18.
28 John 8:19.
29 John 1:18 CSB.
30 John 8:20.
32 Luke 21:1–3. See also Mark 12:41–43.
33 John 8:20b.
35 John 7:30.
36 John 12:23.
37 John 8:21–22.
38 John 7:25.
39 John 8:23–24.
40 John 3:31.
41 1 John 5:19.
42 John 8:21.
43 Isaiah 43:10.
44 John 8:58.