John (Part 22): Revelation of Messiah - Origin (ch 7)
The Festival of Tabernacles had two major themes: water (discussed last time) and light. The Israelites were led in their wilderness journey by a pillar of cloud during the day and a pillar of fire by night. They understood the fire, then, as God’s presence with them. Within the tabernacle itself, in the Holy Place, the 7-candled menorah burned continually. During the festival, the priests would set ablaze four giant menorahs that lit the temple courtyard, giving light even into the city. Priests would hold torches adding even more light, and they would dance about the courtyard in celebration. The lighted celebration reminded of Zechariah 14:6-7: “On that day there will be no light [literally, no clear light as if a misty diffused light]; the sunlight and moonlight will diminish. It will be a day known only to Yahweh, without day or night, but there will be light at evening.” The clear light at evening reminded everyone of the presence and provision of God. It is, in fact, revelatory light that draws us into close communion with God. As Jesus said in John 15:15, “I do not call you slaves anymore, because a slave doesn’t know what his master is doing. I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything I have heard from My Father.”
And these themes of water and light are the descriptive focus of our everlasting life with God: “Then he showed me the river of living water, sparkling like crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the broad street of the city. The tree of life was on both sides of the river, bearing 12 kinds of fruit, producing its fruit every month. The leaves of the tree are for healing the nations, and there will no longer be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and His slaves will serve Him. They will see His face, and His name will be on their foreheads. Night will no longer exist, and people will not need lamplight or sunlight, because the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign forever and ever” (Rev 22:1-5).
Chapter 7 gives us a transitional comment, letting us know that Jesus had been ministering in Galilee, avoiding Judea, because the Judean Jews were hostile toward him, wanting to kill him. But this was not out of mere personal fear (as his later trip to Jerusalem would confirm). Jesus always moved by direction of the Father and Spirit. Therefore, this transitional verse doesn’t give us so much Jesus’ reason for staying in Galilee as it does give us God’s reason for keeping him there.
John then lets us know that the Festival of Tabernacles was approaching, one of the three feasts requiring attendance by all Jews in Jerusalem. Jesus’ family was, therefore, obviously preparing to take the trip. Perhaps they noticed Jesus not preparing. Perhaps discussion of the trip had come up, and Jesus let them know he wasn’t going with them. Surely they would be puzzled by this, first of all, because everyone was supposed to go. But there may have been more specific reason for the irritation in their response to him. Verse 5 speaks directly to their unbelief, but that unbelief may not be scornful disregard because he thought himself somebody when they thought he was a nobody.
Think of growing up with Jesus. Most younger children idolize their older sibling—especially if the same sex. They see in that one the older, more mature picture of themselves--who they aspire to be. Couple that with Jesus’ perfect interaction with them and the, no doubt, later revelation from their mother of his miraculous birth, and it would then seem that the brothers would have more reason to embrace him than turn from him in scornful disregard. (Think also that these same brothers immediately became true disciples following the resurrection. They were among those in the upper room waiting together with the eleven for Pentecost [Acts 1:14]. The immediate turn seems more probable if from a wrong assumption of political leader to Son of God than if having to shrug off scornful disregard.)
I believe John’s verse 5 note that they didn’t believe is to help his readers recall the most recent example of disbelief. Chapter 6 talked about a crowd of people who didn’t believe—a crowd who had wanted to make Jesus king! These brothers may have been part of that crowd that followed Jesus to the eastern side of the sea. Maybe they too had eaten of the bread multiplied by his hands. Maybe they were cheering along as everyone saw Jesus as Israel’s political salvation.
So then, these brothers would have then felt the frustration as Jesus said no. Perhaps they also listened to him in Capernaum explain that he was the bread from heaven and that they had to eat his flesh and drink his blood. Perhaps they too were put off by Jesus’ words, finding his teaching hard to accept (6:60). Perhaps they were among those that drifted away, returning to Nazareth rather than continuing to follow him with the Twelve.
Listen again to their words in 7:3-4 with that perspective. Imagine hearts of disappointed, frustrated desire for Jesus to be the promised one who would lead Israel to political prestige. They knew full well that he had crowds of people follow him everywhere he went. And the festival was coming up. Everyone would be there—all the people who had been flocking to him—all those whose imaginations were being captured. This was opportunity! And now they find that Jesus isn’t going?! Another disappointment! Rather than taunt him as some interpret it, they cajole: “Leave here and go to Judea so Your disciples can see Your works that You are doing. For no one does anything in secret while he’s seeking public recognition. If You do these things, show Yourself to the world!” They see glory for him in this way. The same glory the crowd had envisioned in chapter 6.
So their advice to make himself known as leader may be similar to Mary’s thought at the Cana wedding when she urged Jesus to make himself known. Perhaps the brothers, who no doubt had seen some of his miracles, wanted the Jerusalem leaders to see those miracles. They may have been sincerely, albeit wrongly, urging him toward their traditional save-us-from-Rome ideas about the Messiah.
But, as at the Cana wedding, this was not God’s timing, and Jesus would again not be manipulated by his family. Jesus answered the brothers as he answered Mary at the wedding. The time was not right. Verse 8, in which Jesus says he will not go (it doesn’t include the “yet” in the original) is no lie even though he went later. At that time, he did not have indication from the Spirit to go. His “I’m not going up to the festival” would be better read with a “now” not the “yet” at the end of that clause.
Jesus always moved at the direction of God; the brothers moved according to their own thoughts and desires. So the time was always at hand for them, as Jesus says, but not for him—the one who was led by God. And God did not want Jesus marching to Jerusalem in the gaze of the public.
The reason for his delayed, secret arrival was actually for emphasis. Jesus did, a couple of days later, indeed go to the festival, and it was there that Jesus would make special effort to reveal himself as the Messiah. There were some confusing ideas about the Messiah. Remember, although local copies of the OT Scriptures did exist in synagogues throughout the area, not only were people not necessarily schooled at reading, but for the unschooled common person to have personal ideas apart from interpretive tradition was just not done. One of the general notions about the Messiah (brought about in rabbinical teaching) was the idea that he would arise mysteriously. Perhaps this idea began from Jeremiah 30:21 in which, speaking of the Messiah, we read, “Their leader shall be one of them, And their ruler shall come forth from their midst” (NASB). Coming up "from their midst" had a mysterious element to it, hinting that perhaps no one would realize until he was suddenly revealed that this one was the Messiah. This is why we read later in verse 27 that thought from some of the people. Others, still later (7:42) realized the Messiah was foretold to come from the tribe of Judah through the line of David to be born in Bethlehem. The Rabbis’ teaching, however, was meant to parallel the rise of Moses. The Messiah’s mysterious origin idea was what has been called the rabbinic tradition of the hidden Messiah. Remember that the coming Jewish leader was to be someone like Moses (Deut 18:18), and Moses was a Jew although he popped into the scene as Jewish leader somewhat mysteriously after growing up in Pharaoh’s court. When we compare Moses and Jesus, we do see similarities:
Moses was from the Jews, although he had been thought of as an Egyptian.
Jesus was a Judean Jew, although he had been thought to be a Galilean.
Moses’ mission was from God to deliver God’s covenant people.
Jesus’ mission was from God to deliver God’s covenant people.
Moses came from the desert to appear suddenly in the midst at Pharaoh’s court.
Jesus (at this time) came secretly to appear suddenly in the midst at Jerusalem.
Of course, the real fulfillment of the “hidden Messiah tradition” was to follow the pattern of Moses in Exodus 5. Moses appeared before Pharoah asking him to let the people go. Pharaoh not only refused, but increased the work load for the Israelites. The Israelites became furious with Moses for causing this hardship. And Moses retreats (some said back to the Midian desert) to seek God’s further instruction. Later Moses comes back, appearing in Pharaoh’s court, and successfully leading the people to freedom. This being-rejected-hidden-revealed outline is indeed what we see ultimately fulfilled in Jesus’ crucifixion (rejection), burial (hidden), and resurrection (revealed). But even in the going to the festival we see precursors or foreshadowing of this same pattern as Jesus is rejected in chapter 6, is hidden in Galilee, and then reveals himself in the middle of the festival.