The Bread of Life discourse found in John 6 seems to be the first climax of the fourth gospel. The early ministry of Jesus had been leading toward that moment. The comment in John 6:66 that many disciples turned back and no longer followed Jesus shows that a climax had come. The Feeding of the 5000 and Jesus' interpretation of himself as the authentic bread of life forced the crisis of decision for many. A significant number did not like the direction of Jesus' ministry. They wanted someone to pander to their wishes and needs. Jesus was set on doing the Father's will. At least those who turned back honestly concluded that Jesus was not what they wanted. Many people today lack the courage to flatly reject Jesus. We straddle the fence still hoping we can get Jesus to help us with our agendas while we ignore his agenda.
Some people see John 7-8 as a jumbled collection of miscellaneous materials. However, the fact that there is no long, sustained discourse does not mean that this section is without structure or purpose. Seven Dialogs make up most of chapter 7 and 8. C. H. Dodd has outlined the chapters in this way:
In one way or another all of the seven Dialogs deal with Jesus' identity. There is a great deal of argument in these chapters also. The argument over Jesus' identity helped the audience (of Jesus' time, of John's time, and of our time) sort out the various claims about Jesus. If believing in Jesus is the goal of John's gospel (20:30-31) then the believer needs "to know whom he (or she) has believed."
After a climax an author must begin the process of building again. John is no exception. Chapter 7 begins the process of building toward a new climax. The Feast of Tabernacles (Succoth) ties chapters 7 and 8 together. No sustained narrative with discourse will come again until chapter 9. Chapters 9-11 represent the culmination of Jesus' ministry as unfolded by John's gospel.
John 7:1-13 - Jesus Returns to Jerusalem
The geographical location of the opening verses of chapter 7 is Galilee where the feeding of the 5000 and the Bread of Life discourse had taken place. However, like most of the preceding chapters a major change in geography takes place. The first thirteen verses of chapter 7 describe the discussion about and the action of Jesus' return to Jerusalem. After so many trips back and forth between Galilee and Jerusalem it is surprising that Jesus does not return to Galilee until chapter 21. Judea and Jerusalem will be center stage for the rest of the fourth gospel.
As has often been the case in John's gospel, a Jewish festival occasions this journey to Jerusalem. Here (v. 2) the feast is specifically mentioned as the Feast of Tabernacles. This festival took place in late September or early October (see Hebrew/Jewish Calendar of the Old Testament). It was one of the three great feasts mentioned in the Old Testament. As such every Jewish male within twenty miles of Jerusalem was required to attend. However, Jews from all over the Middle East and Mediterranean basin came to Jerusalem for one of the three great festivals. The Feast of Tabernacles was a favorite for long distance visitors because they could travel safely during the summer months. This festival was also called the Feast of Ingathering and the Feast of Booths. The festival celebrated two major things. First, it celebrated the successful conclusion of the harvest season. The various fruits and grains of Palestine were harvested one after another beginning in May and continuing through September. The Feast of Ingathering celebrated the summer of harvest.
Secondly, the Feast of Tabernacles commemorated God's presence with Israel throughout the wilderness wanderings before they had any harvests. During this festival the Jews "camped out" as a reminder to themselves of the forty years they spent in the desert living in tents. They spent seven days living in tents or shacks made of sticks and leaves (thus the name "Tabernacles" and "Booths"). As Leviticus 23:33-36 reminds us this festival was a holy convocation (sacred assembly). They were to do no work. They were to worship and celebrate what God had done for them. This is all laid out in the Old Testament. However, the Mishnah indicates that during the intertestamental period two other major rituals were added to the celebration of the Feast of Tabernacles. There was a procession with a large bowl of water up to the altar where the water was poured out. There was also a special ceremony involving the lighting of the Court of the Women.
There is no reason to doubt that Jesus went to Jerusalem for the Feast of Tabernacles and that Dialogs like those found in John 7-8 took place at that time. However, it is interesting and symbolic that the debates between Jesus and the Jews would be set in the context of the Feast of Tabernacles. It is as if John ironically saw the Jews still in the wilderness, refusing to leave their rustic tabernacles to enter into worship in the true temple, Jesus.
Chapter 7 opens with Jesus' brothers urging him to go to Jerusalem so "his disciples" can see his mighty works. Some scholars believe that Jesus' brothers make this appeal urging him to begin the process of winning back a great following. John 6:66 had described many disciples turning away. A new effort to rebuild his popularity would be necessary. However, John sees the suggestion of Jesus' brothers as an indication of their unbelief. The brothers argue that Jesus must come out in the open and make public demonstration of his powers. No one could become a great public figure and leader in Judaism and stay hidden in Galilee. That kind of leadership would require Jesus to go to Jerusalem and displays his gifts. As Barrett insightfully notes, "To such an argument Jesus could not yield; it ignored the essential difference between himself and other men." Though there is human logic to the appeal of Jesus' brothers Jesus (and John) resist that logic. The way of power and public acclaim was not the way of Jesus.
There appear to be two reasons behind Jesus' response to his brothers. First, Jesus was not free to choose the timing of his coming and going like other people do. God directed his timing. That is the point of verse 6. "My time is not yet present; your time is always at hand." There have been a number of similar passages in the fourth gospel. In John 2:4; 7:30; and 8:20, Jesus states, "My hour has not yet come." Some commentators emphasize the difference in words used in the Greek text. John 2:4; 7:30; and 8:20 all use the term "hour," literally, hora, in Greek. John 7:6 and 7:8 use the word "time," literally, kairos, in Greek. Kairos is refers to opportune time, the right time, the appropriate moment. It is different from chronological time. Thus in verses 6 and 8 Jesus is saying, "The right time, the exact right moment, has not yet arrived for me." Frankly, that is what he means in the other passages when he says that his hour has not come.
For John the real "hour," the truly critical moment of Jesus' life, is "final display of his glory when he will be crucified and raised from the dead in Jerusalem." As Michaels notes, Jesus is not free to go to Jerusalem for the Feast of Tabernacles without concern for his time. "Only when Jesus has made it very clear that what he is about to undertake is not that final self-disclosure but a preliminary one is he free to go ahead and undertake it."
Raymond Brown has suggested an interesting parallel between verses in John 6 and 7 and the temptation of Jesus recounted in Matthew 4:1-11 and Luke 4:1-13 (see commentary on Luke 4:1-13):
It is possible that John was adapting the temptation narrative to fit into his gospel in this fashion on purpose. However, it is more likely that the correspondence Brown proposes is coincidental. (The order in John does not match the order in Matthew or Luke). But Brown's suggestion does bring to light the way in which Jesus saw the invitation of his brothers to go to Jerusalem to demonstrate his power at the Feast of Tabernacles. It was a temptation to do God's work in a way contrary to God's will. That is a temptation that all of us face all too often.
The second reason behind Jesus' response to his brothers is that "his destiny was not popularity but the hatred of the world," as Barrett states. The way of popularity is extremely attractive to many of us. The logic of Jesus' brothers seems irrefutable. After all, we think, just imagine how much greater impact we can have for the gospel if we are popular. However, for Jesus obedience to the Father's will placed him in direct conflict with "the world." Thus Jesus cannot do the things that would win him popularity. It is his "destiny" to be hated by the world, as verse 7 makes clear.
Jesus concluded his reply to his brothers in verse 8 by returning to the idea of his "time." He stated that his kairos, appointed, opportune time, was not yet fulfilled. The construction of the word "fulfilled" in Greek suggests that there would a time when Jesus' time was full and that consequences would flow into the future. That certainly was true. When Jesus' time - the crucifixion and resurrection - was brought to fullness results flowed on through history. Those results were full of blessing and benefit even to those of us who read these words of John today. We can only wonder if all that would have been lost if Jesus had "gone the way of the world," jumped the gun, and followed his brothers' suggestion. Perhaps we miss blessings and benefits flowing from our lives because we don't wait until the right time.
After his brothers had gone to Jerusalem Jesus secretly went also. For many people this is a confusing part of the story. In verse 8 Jesus had said, "I am not going up to this feast." In verse 10 he goes to the feast not openly but in secret. It seems like Jesus lied. Some of the earliest copies of the gospel of John changed verse 8 to read, "I am not yet going up to Jerusalem," which could be reconciled with verse 10. Some interpreters argue that Jesus meant in verse 8 that he was not going up to Jerusalem openly. Barclay suggests that the key lies with the word "time" or kairos. It was not the right timing for Jesus to go with his brothers at the beginning of the Feast in a public display of himself. The right timing was to come incognito and to arrive later after the feast had begun.
John's unfolding of the sequence may be motivated by literary concerns. By describing Jesus as going in verse 10 John makes us feel that we have traveled with Jesus secretly into Jerusalem. We are able to hear the comments for and against Jesus in verses 11-13 before Christ makes his appearance.
John 7:14-24 - First Dialog on Jesus and the Law of Moses
Suddenly, in the middle of the feast Jesus appeared in the temple and began teaching. John has prepared us, the readers, by mentioning in verse 10 that Jesus had come to Jerusalem. However, the clear impression we get is that of a sudden and surprising appearance of Jesus in the temple area. It is likely that John was trying to create that impression. Malachi 3:1 describes the Lord as coming suddenly to his temple. Some strands of Jewish messianic expectation believed that the Messiah would come suddenly and "out of the blue" so to speak. Thus John's description of Jesus' sudden appearance would raise the question of Jesus' identity as Messiah. That question will be addressed in the second Dialog (verses 25-36). The first Dialog will deal with Jesus as teacher and his relationship with the Law of Moses.
The themes of Jesus as Teacher and his relationship to the Law of Moses are intertwined in each other. In a Jewish culture the function of a teacher is to teach the Law of Moses. In fact, in Jesus' time there was no other curriculum taught. "Elementary" school consisted of teaching young boys to read and then memorize the Law. "Graduate" school training for rabbis consisted of learning (memorizing) the oral tradition that Jews believed to have been delivered to Moses and passed along orally through the centuries. This suggests that when Jesus began teaching in the temple he was giving interpretation of the Old Testament.
The quality of Jesus' teaching astonished the Jews according to verse 15. They are confident that he had no advanced training in rabbinic disputation like Paul received. Their question, "How does this fellow know legal matters when he has not learned [from our rabbis]?" opens the door for Jesus. In verse 16 he defends his teaching. Though he has not studied in their system his teaching is not a fabrication of his own mind. In fact, his teaching was from the one who sent him. Since rabbis often sent a student with power of attorney Jesus' reply makes perfect sense in a Jewish context. What he is saying is, "I have not made up my teaching. It is the teaching of the Rabbi-teacher whom I represent." But already from the flow of John's gospel we know that that Rabbi-teacher who sent Jesus is the Father.
Jesus continues the defense of his teaching in verse 17. Literally translated the verse reads, "If anyone is willing to do his will, he will know concerning the teaching - whether it is of God or whether I speak from myself." The condition for proper discernment is doing the will of God. But it is not just a matter of obeying the commandments. In John 5:30 Jesus had described himself as doing the will of the Father who sent him. Thus doing the will of God means doing the very thing that Jesus does. It should not be surprising, then, that doing the Father's will enables one to discern that God is the source of Jesus' teaching.
Verse 18 returns to the theme of John 5:41-44. The person who speaks out of his or her own authority and self is seeking his or her own glory. The person who seeks the glory of the one who sent him is true and there is no unrighteousness in him. By shifting from the first references to himself to third person, Jesus makes a pointed attack on the Jewish rabbis who saw their ministry as an opportunity to build their own fame. In contrast, Jesus pursued the glory of the Father who sent him. The result is that his message is reliable. This is the likely meaning of "true" in this verse. The Hebrew concept of being genuine or being authentic is idea the here. Jesus speaks authentically for God precisely because he does not seek his own glory. If the authenticity of Jesus depended on his not seeking his own prestige, how much more so for us. God-centeredness instead of self-centeredness is our only hope for maintaining credibility in the world. The fall of media preachers in recent years provides negative evidence of this truth.
Verse 19 may seem like an abrupt change of direction. However, it flows logically out of the preceding verses. After he has established his own integrity and that his teaching comes from God, Jesus turns the tables (to use Lindars' phrase) on the Jews. He has been speaking of doing the Father's will. From the Jewish perspective the Father's will was supremely expressed in the Law. Jesus acknowledged that they knew the will of God - after all Moses had given them the Law containing that will of God. The problem was that none of them (the Greek is emphatic - not even one) obeys the Law. That explains why they are trying to kill Jesus. If they were obeying the Law - doing the Father's will - they would be accepting Jesus because Moses bore witness to Jesus (John 5:46).
The response of the people is to describe Jesus as crazy. Insanity was often attributed to demon possession in the New Testament world. We might say, "You're possessed. You're crazy." They deny that anyone was trying to kill Jesus. Lindars perceptively notes, "The people have not understood that the real charge is that of spiritual murder incurred by the rejection of divine truth embodied in Jesus." We, too, resist the idea that when we reject the will of God we place ourselves on the side of those who crucified Jesus.
Jesus returns to the issue of healing the man at the pool (John 5) in verses 21-24. That is the meaning of the reference to the "one deed" ("one miracle" in the NIV) mentioned in verse 21. Jesus then defends his healing of the man as part of the will of God. His argument is an excellent example of the Jewish method of arguing from a lesser matter to a greater matter (called an a fortiori argument). They (the Jews) circumcise a baby boy on the Sabbath to fulfill the will of God. If the Sabbath can be broken to cut away such a small part of a person, how much greater it would be to heal a whole person. Such an act would be an even greater example of fulfilling the will of God even done on a Sabbath.
John 7:25-36 - Second Dialog on Jesus' Messianic Origins
The subject changes rather abruptly to Jesus' identity. The discussion of the Law and of the healing at the pool on the Sabbath disappear. As Raymond Brown points out the reference back to the healing at the pool raises the question of Jesus' identity once again. The issue of Jesus' identity was one of the most controversial issues in the earliest Jewish-Christian relations. It should not be surprising that the level of hostility increases dramatically in this section.
The opening question in verse 25 expects a positive answer. Some people in Jerusalem were saying, "This is the one they are seeking to kill, isn't it?" ("Yes, it is!" is the answer implied by the Greek construction.) This verifies the claim of Jesus in verse 19 that they were trying to kill him. (It also means that Jesus was not demon-possessed! See v. 20.)
Verse 26 contains a change in the direction of thought. Here Jesus is, speaking openly, and their leaders are not contradicting him. Does this mean that they have changed their minds and now realize that he is the Messiah? John's flow of thought is ironic. The Christian reader of this gospel already knows that Jesus is the Messiah. What an ironic thing it would be for the Jewish leaders suddenly to shift and think the same thing. However, the Greek construction is clear that they don't. "Surely, the rulers do not think that this is the Messiah, do they?" The construction implies that the answer is, "No, they don't think that."
The evidence that the Jews use to argue against Jesus' messiahship is that they know where he is from. Apparently this means that they know his home, family, and background. One of the expectations of the Messiah was that he would come unexpectedly (see the discussion above on v. 10) and be unknown until God revealed him to Israel. In typical Johannine fashion there is a great irony here. The Jews think they know where Jesus is from because they know his physical home. As a result they are sure he is not the Messiah. However, the Christian reader knows that the Jews do not really know where Jesus is from and thus the very thing that disproves his Messiahship to the Jew proves it to the Christian.
Jesus then proceeds to reveal his true origin in verses 28-29. In fact he is from the Father who sent him. Such stupendous claims could not be tolerated in Judaism and so it is not surprising that there is an attempt to arrest him. Since it is not yet Jesus' hour the attempt to arrest him fails. The upshot of all this is that many more from the crowd believe in Jesus. Thus the purpose statement of the gospel is again fulfilled and Jesus' begins to recoup the loss of disciples mentioned in John 6:66. The new believers reaffirm Jesus as the Messiah. They raise the question, "Whenever the Messiah comes, he will no do greater signs than these, will he?" The answer implied by the Greek construction is, "No, he will not do greater signs than these." The implication is clear. Jesus must be the Messiah.
This rising tide of confidence that Jesus is the Messiah must be checked. The Pharisees respond by making a more serious attempt to arrest Jesus according to verse 32. Verses 33-34 function in a two-fold way. They serve as a comment by Jesus to the temple guards who are there to arrest him. "You will not be able to arrest me because you are not able to come where I am going." The words also point the Christian reader ahead to the Passion narrative and Jesus' words in John 14. In fact, Brown argues that these verses function in John exactly the way the Passion predictions function in the Synoptic gospels (see Mark 8:31 for an example).
There is one other function of Jesus' words in verses 33-34. In typical Johannine irony the Jews misunderstand them. They seem thoroughly baffled by Jesus' statement that he is going where they cannot come. "Surely, he isn't going to the Diaspora and teach the Greeks, is he?" The Greek construction implies that they expect the answer to be, "No!" The term "Diaspora" referred to the thousands of Jews lived dispersed all around the Mediterranean and Middle Eastern world. The Jews even consider the possibility that while Jesus was in the Diaspora he might teach Gentiles. Once again, the Christian reader cannot miss the irony! The most unthinkable and far-fetched interpretation the Jews could give to Jesus' words is in fact true. As Lindars states, "Their expression of incredulity is a prophecy of truth."
John concludes this section in verse 36 by having the Jews repeat Jesus' saying from verse 34. "What does it mean, 'You will seek me and not find me, and where I am, you are not able to come?'" This is a haunting question for the Jews. The Christian reader who knows the answer can hardly wait until John 13 when Jesus begins to deal with this question in depth. However, the themes of light and life need further development before Jesus' "time" can come. That development of the themes of light and life will occupy chapters 8 - 11 of the gospel of John.
Study Questions for Reflection and Discussion
These readings and study questions are in preparation for next week's lesson.
As you begin each day ask the Lord to speak to you through His Word and to make the Word alive and meaningful to you.
First Day: Read the notes on John 7:1-36. Look up the Scripture references.
1. Identify one or two new insights that were important to you.
2. Select a truth for which you see a personal application in your own life. Describe how it would apply to you.
3. Have you stopped judging by appearance and sight (v. 24)? Ask the Lord to help you make right judgments as you deal with people.
Second Day: Read John 7:37-52. Focus in on John 7:37-44.
1. How do the Jews respond to the proclamation of Jesus given in these verses?
2. Describe how the Holy Spirit is like a river of water flowing out of one's innermost being.
3. Why do you think some people identified Jesus as the prophet and as the Messiah after he spoke about the Spirit?
Third Day: Read John7:37-52. Now focus again on John 7:37-44.
1. What condition did Jesus place on receiving the Holy Spirit in this passage?
2. How would you explain John's remark that the Holy Spirit had not yet been given because Jesus had not yet been glorified?
3. Read verses 37-38 in light of Isaiah 55. How does the Holy Spirit bring Isaiah 55 into fulfillment?
Fourth Day: Read John 7:37-52. Now focus on John 7:45-52.
1. What was the attitude of the Pharisees and chief priests to the crowd or mass of people?
2. List the different ways in which people reacted to Jesus in these verses. How do people today respond to Jesus in similar ways?
3. Read Isaiah 9:1-7. How do you explain the Pharisees' response to Nicodemus in verse 52 in light of this passage from Isaiah?
Fifth Day: Read John 7:53-8:20. Now focus in on John 7:53-8:11.
1. Does your Bible give any indication about the place of John 7:53-8:11 in the ancient manuscript copies of the New Testament? If so, what does it say?
2. Why do you think that the older ones were the first to leave after Jesus challenged the one without sin to cast the first stone?
3. John 7:53-8:11 tells a story. Can you summarize the meaning or message of this story in a brief paragraph? What applications can you draw for your own life?
Sixth Day: Read John 7:53-8:20. Now focus in on John 8:12-20.
1. What concept does Jesus introduce in verse 12 that has not been dealt with in any detail yet in John?
2. Summarize in your own words the way these verses portray Jesus in the role of judge. (How does this relate to John 7:53-8:11?)
3. Read 1 John 1:5-8. In what ways does 1 John 1:5-8 enlarge upon the meaning of John 8:12? Are you walking in the light that Christ has given you? If not, what do you need to do to enter His light?