Jesus—His Life and Message: The Feast of Tabernacles (Part 7)
January 7, 2020
by Peter Amsterdam
Jesus—His Life and Message: The Feast of Tabernacles (Part 7)
(This is the concluding article of “The Feast of Tabernacles” section of this series. The previous articles were posted in mid-2019.)
When we left off in the previous article, Jesus had just made the point that the Jewish listeners who were claiming Abraham as their father were not truly his children.
“If you were Abraham’s children, you would be doing the works Abraham did, but now you seek to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God. This is not what Abraham did.”1
“You are doing the works your father did.” They said to him, “We were not born of sexual immorality. We have one Father—even God.” Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and I am here. I came not of my own accord, but he sent me.”2
He then asked:
Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word.3
Jesus asked and then answered His own question. They didn’t spiritually comprehend what He was teaching because they had no understanding of who He was or what He stood for. As He had told them earlier in this chapter:
You are from below; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world.4
They claimed that God was their Father, but Jesus told them, If God were your Father, you would love me.5 Since they didn’t truly know God, they couldn’t understand Jesus.
Jesus then forcefully stated who their true father is.
You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and has nothing to do with the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies.6
In direct contradiction to their statement that we have one Father—even God, Jesus explicitly stated that they took their origin from their father the devil. He went on to say that their desire was to carry out their father’s desires. They voluntarily chose to do Satan’s will. Jesus contrasted that relationship with the relationship that He had with His Father—as stated earlier in the chapter, the Father who sent me,7 who bears witness about me,8 and who taught me.9
By contrast, the Pharisees’ desires and actions were in alignment with the devil’s. He was a murderer from the beginning. Jesus may have been referring to the murder of Abel in Genesis chapter four, but more likely He was referring to Satan’s role in tempting Adam to disobey God—which resulted in all of humanity becoming mortal and therefore suffering death. He continued speaking of their father the devil, stating that he has nothing to do with the truth, because there is no truth in him. Truth is associated with God and with Jesus. Satan isn’t interested in God or the truth. He is the father of lies.
Because I tell the truth, you do not believe me.10
Jesus spoke strongly to these Jewish “believers,” stating that they were not God’s children, they didn’t love God’s messenger (v. 42), they didn’t understand Him, and weren’t able to hear His word (v. 43). He explicitly stated that they were unbelievers. And as the devil’s children, they were inclined to believe his lies instead of God’s truth.
Which one of you convicts me of sin? If I tell the truth, why do you not believe me? Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God.11
Jesus asked His accusers two questions. The first was in reference to sin. In this instance He wasn’t referring to sin in general, but to the events that had just transpired. He had already claimed to speak the truth (v. 45), so in not believing in Him, they were in effect calling Him a liar. Jesus challenged them to prove it by asking who could convict Him of sin, knowing that none of them could do so.
Jesus asked and then answered the second question: If I tell the truth, why do you not believe me? He explicitly stated the reason they didn't believe Him: They were not of God. This statement echoed what was said elsewhere in the Gospel of John: they were not “born again,”12 or “born of God,”13 or entitled to call God “Father.”14 They weren’t from God, therefore they were unable to hear His word, meaning that they could not recognize Jesus’ words as God’s words.
Jesus’ opponents then proceeded to accuse Him falsely, like their father the devil.
The Jews answered him, “Are we not right in saying that you are a Samaritan and have a demon?”15
They were not right in saying Jesus was a Samaritan. Earlier in this Gospel it was quite clear to the Samaritan woman who spoke with Jesus at the well that He was a Jew.
The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?” (For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.)16
Jesus’ accusers only called Him a Samaritan to slander Him, as in general the Jews looked down on the Samaritans because of their centuries-old reputation of worshiping many gods.17 Jesus Himself had said of them, You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews.18
Jesus answered, “I do not have a demon, but I honor my Father, and you dishonor me.”19
Jesus repudiated their false accusation of His having a demon, and then turned the tables on them by pointing out that while He honored His Father, they dishonored Him. Earlier in this Gospel, Jesus stated that whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him.20 In dishonoring Him, they were dishonoring God, who they claimed as their “one Father.”21
I do not seek my own glory; there is One who seeks it, and he is the judge.22
In clarifying that He wasn’t seeking glory, Jesus implied that His accusers were, which He had also said to some of His opponents earlier in this Gospel.
How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God?23
Jesus only sought the Father’s glory. He had also said: 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.24
Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death.25
Jesus emphatically stated that those who keep His word, meaning the whole of Jesus’ message, will not die. He was not saying that those who believe will not experience physical death, but rather that they will not experience spiritual death, eternal condemnation. He made this clear later in this Gospel when He said to Martha, I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.26
Those listening to Him took His words literally.
The Jews said to him, “Now we know that you have a demon! Abraham died, as did the prophets, yet you say, ‘If anyone keeps my word, he will never taste death.’ Are you greater than our father Abraham, who died? And the prophets died! Who do you make yourself out to be?”27
His Jewish listeners were convinced that their earlier statements about Jesus were now proven, for in their eyes only someone who had a demon could say such things. Abraham, the father of the Jewish people and the father of faith, had died, as had all the prophets who were sent from God to Israel. Jesus’ listeners understood Him to be promising eternal life, while only someone with superhuman powers—namely God—was able to deliver someone from death. They asked who Jesus was making Himself out to be—though they knew the answer to this question.
Throughout this Gospel, the religious leaders understood that Jesus spoke in a manner that indicated He was claiming to be God’s Son.
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.28
The Jews answered him, “It is not for a good work that we are going to stone you but for blasphemy, because you, being a man, make yourself God.”29
The Jews answered him, “We have a law, and according to that law he ought to die because he has made himself the Son of God.”30
Returning to John 8:
Jesus answered, “If I glorify myself, my glory is nothing. It is my Father who glorifies me, of whom you say, ‘He is our God.’ But you have not known him. I know him. If I were to say that I do not know him, I would be a liar like you, but I do know him and I keep his word.”31
Jesus made the point that He was not glorifying Himself. But that did not mean He didn’t receive glory. He reminded them that His Father is God, and that it was God who glorified Jesus. Since this is the same God that His accusers claimed as their own, and because their “Father” glorified the Son, it would logically follow that they should also glorify the Son. However, since they didn’t, Jesus said you have not known him. This was the third time Jesus had stated that these Jewish leaders didn’t know the Father.
He who sent me is true, and him you do not know.32
You know neither me nor my Father. If you knew me, you would know my Father also.33
Unlike them, He does know the Father. He then made another important claim: I keep his word. Because Jesus kept His Father’s word, it is necessary for us to keep Jesus’ word—as Jesus’ word, which gives eternal life, is the Father’s word.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.34
Jesus then returned to speaking of Abraham, whom they claimed was their spiritual father.
“Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad.”35
Rather than being opposed to Jesus, Abraham rejoiced at His “day.” And if he rejoiced and was glad, they should have done likewise. Bible commentators point out that this verse raises some difficult questions. First, what precisely does Jesus mean by “my day”? Second, when did Abraham “rejoice” at the promise of seeing Jesus’ day? Third, when and how did it finally come about that “he saw and was glad”? Rather than going into a variety of interpretations, none of which are certain, I will simply quote what one commentator wrote:
We cannot, however, feel confidence in any of the proposed occasions [the possible event in Abraham’s life which this could be referring to] and it may be significant that Jesus does not refer to any. In other words, he may well mean that Abraham’s general attitude to this day was one of exultation, rather than referring to any one specific occasion in the life of the patriarch.36
So the Jews said to him, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?”37
Jesus was likely in His thirties, and Abraham had died almost two millennia prior. Those listening to Jesus knew that it was impossible that He could have seen Abraham, therefore they understood this to mean that Jesus was making a claim to pre-existence. Jesus wasn’t making that claim. Rather He was saying that Abraham saw the future (Jesus’ own “day”), and He implied that Abraham still lives (not physically, but in the afterlife). Jesus was not the one who brought up the topic of pre-existence, but since they had, He then addressed it in reference to Himself.
Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.”38
Other Bible translations add in the word born so that it reads “before Abraham was born, I am!”39 This was an explicit statement of Jesus’ pre-existence. The “truly truly” is an expression that adds weight to the veracity of the statement.
Jesus’ use of the phrase I Am was significant. Throughout the Old Testament, God Himself made a number of “I Am” statements.
God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.” And he said, “Say this to the people of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’”40
“See now that I, even I, am he, and there is no god beside me; I kill and I make alive; I wound and I heal; and there is none that can deliver out of my hand.”41
“Who has performed and done this, calling the generations from the beginning? I, the LORD, the first, and with the last; I am he.”42
“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. I, I am the LORD, and besides me there is no savior.”43
“Listen to me, O Jacob, and Israel, whom I called! I am he; I am the first, and I am the last.”44
When Jesus stated that “before Abraham was born, I am!” those listening knew exactly the point He was making—it was a claim of Deity. Because they considered His claims to be blasphemy, they picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple.45
When Jesus first went to the Feast of Tabernacles, He went up, not publicly but in private.46 After speaking publicly in the temple throughout the feast, and being faced with stoning because He made a claim to Deity by stating I Am, we are told that in order to avoid being stoned to death for blasphemy, He took defensive measures by hiding and leaving the temple. This brought an end to Jesus’ interactions with the Jewish religious leadership during the Feast of Tabernacles.
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.
Bailey, Kenneth E. Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2008.
Biven, David. New Light on the Difficult Words of Jesus. Holland: En-Gedi Resource Center, 2007.
Bock, Darrell L. Jesus According to Scripture. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2002.
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.
Elwell, Walter A., ed. Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1988.
Elwell, Walter A., and Robert W. Yarbrough. Encountering the New Testament. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2005.
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.
Flusser, David, and R. Steven Notely. The Sage from Galilee: Rediscovering Jesus’ Genius. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2007.
France, R. T. The Gospel of Matthew. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2007.
Gnilka, Joachim. Jesus of Nazareth: Message and History. Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers, 1997.
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.
Jeremias, Joachim. Jerusalem in the Time of Jesus. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1996.
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.
Sheen, Fulton J. Life of Christ. New York: Doubleday, 1958.
Spangler, Ann, and Lois Tverberg. Sitting at the Feet of Rabbi Jesus. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2009.
Stassen, Glen H., and David P. Gushee. Kingdom Ethics: Following Jesus in Contemporary Context. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2003.
Stein, Robert H. Jesus the Messiah. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1996.
Stein, Robert H. Mark. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2008.
Stein, Robert H. The Method and Message of Jesus’ Teachings. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1994.
Stott, John R. W. The Message of the Sermon on the Mount. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1978.
Talbert, Charles H. Reading the Sermon on the Mount. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2004.
Williams, J. Rodman. Renewal Theology: Systematic Theology from a Charismatic Perspective. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996.
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.
Wright, N. T. Jesus and the Victory of God. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1996.
Wright, N. T. Matthew for Everyone, Part 1. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2004.
Wright, N. T. The Resurrection of the Son of God. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2003.
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 8:39–40.
2 John 8:41–42.
3 John 8:43.
4 John 8:23.
5 John 8:42.
6 John 8:44.
7 John 8:16.
8 John 8:18.
9 John 8:28.
10 John 8:45.
11 John 8:46–47.
12 John 3:3.
13 John 1:13.
14 John 8:42.
15 John 8:48.
16 John 4:9.
17 2 Kings 17:24–41.
18 John 4:22.
19 John 8:49.
20 John 5:23.
21 John 8:41.
22 John 8:50.
23 John 5:44.
24 John 7:18.
25 John 8:51.
26 John 11:25–26.
27 John 8:52–53.
28 John 5:18.
29 John 10:33.
30 John 19:7.
31 John 8:54–55.
32 John 7:28.
33 John 8:19.
34 John 1:1.
35 John 8:56.
36 Morris, The Gospel According to John, 419.
37 John 8:57.
38 John 8:58.
39 John 8:58 NIV.
40 Exodus 3:14.
41 Deuteronomy 32:39.
42 Isaiah 41:4.
43 Isaiah 43:10–11.
44 Isaiah 48:12.
45 John 8:59.
46 John 7:10.