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The Feast of Tabernacles.
The discourse in the synagogue at Capernaum occurred, according to Andrews, in the spring of a.d. 29; the visit to Jerusalem at the feast of Tabernacles, took place in the early autumn of the same year. An interval of about six months lies between, concerning the history of which John is silent. In order that the reader may rightly locate the incidents of chapter VII., I will note the outlines of the Lord's ministry, as given by the other Evangelists, for this period. After the discourse at Capernaum, the Savior visited the coasts of Tyre and Sidon, the only time in his ministry when he passed beyond the boundaries of Israel to a Gentile country. Here he heals the daughter of the Syro-Phoenician woman, and returning to the region of Decapolis, heals one with an impediment in his speech, and afterwards feeds 4,000 persons. At Capernaum he comes in contact with the Pharisees; soon after crosses the sea, and at Bethsaida heals a blind man. From thence he goes, accompanied by his apostles, to the neighborhood of Cesarea Philippi, and there occurs the remarkable conversation in which Peter declares that “Jesus is the Christ the Son of the living God,” and the Lord, after commending Peter and declaring that he shall be a stone or splinter of the Rock, affirms, “On this Rock,” the great foundation truth Peter had uttered, “I will build my church, and the gates of the unseen world shall not prevail against it.” They were then in the vicinity of “a high mountain apart,” Mt. Hermon, the highest peak of Syria, and, ascending it, his heavenly glory broke through the bonds of humanity, and he was transfigured in the presence of his disciples. Following this remarkable event, henceforth teaching his approaching death at Jerusalem, after healing a lunatic child, paying the tribute money at Capernaum, and traversing Galilee, teaching his disciples, he sets out to Jerusalem to attend the feast of Tabernacles.
Three times a year the whole adult population of Judea was required to assemble at Jerusalem to attend the great feasts. The finest seasons of the year, spring and autumn, were chosen for these gatherings of the people. Separated into the various tribes, these annual gatherings must have served to cement the bond of national unity and establish acquaintance and friendship. Another advantage was the opportunity of an interchange of sentiment on every subject of interest. Whatever was an engrossing topic was sure to be discussed in the great assemblages. Since the Savior had healed the paralytic at the pool of Bethesda, about eighteen months before, there is no account that he had visited Jerusalem, but the story of his wonderful teaching and works in Galilee was spread broadcast over the land, and at this gathering at the feast of Tabernacles the great question was whether he would come to the feast. Among the vast crowds a search was made to know whether he was not present, but when in the midst of the feast he suddenly appeared in the temple, not only the multitude, but the temple authorities, seem to have been startled. 117
The feast of Tabernacles was instituted to commemorate the time when the Israelites had dwelt in tents during their sojourn in the desert. To bring vividly to remembrance the forty years of tent life, the people were enjoined, during the seven days of the feast, to dwell in huts made of the branches of trees. The flat house-tops of the city were covered with these leafy bowers, which became the temporary home of the family; while the open places and surrounding hills were also occupied by the vast crowd of sojourners. The feast began on the fifteenth of the month of Tisri, which this year answered to October 11th, and continued eight days, seven of which were spent in the leafy huts. While it lasted the Jews gave themselves up to festivity and rejoicing. There is a proverb: “He who has not seen the rejoicing at the pouring out of the water of Siloam at the feast of Tabernacles has never seen rejoicing in his life.” For the time, manner, and reason of this feast, see Lev. chapter 23.
It is a remarkable fact that after so long and systematic an absence from Jerusalem, as eighteen months prior to this feast, our Lord should attend every feast for the next six months, the last of his ministry, in their order.—Greswell.
This feast was the last of the Jewish year, and in some respects it was its crown of glory. Its characteristic was joyousness—(1) For deliverance from Egypt; (2) For care in the wilderness—fit emblems these, in every Christian experience, for deliverance from the bitter bondage of sin, and for care in the heavenly ways.—Vincent. (Joh 7:1)
1. After these things. After the discourse in the synagogue at Capernaum. The report of “the Jews” to the authorities at Jerusalem had intensified the enmity that had been created when the man at the pool of Bethesda was healed, and the Savior refrained from rushing into danger until “his time” had nearly come. Six months passed, “after these things,” before he went to the feast of Tabernacles, and during this time he traveled and taught in Galilee. The Jews sought to kill him. This illustrates the sense in which John uses the term “Jews.” Christ's disciples and friends were all Jews by race, but when John wrote all disciples had merged their race distinctions into Christ and were Christians. “The Jews” were still a hostile people, and when the word is used without qualification it has this hostile sense. (Joh 7:2)
2. Now the Jews' feast of Tabernacles was at hand. It is spoken of as a feast that belonged to a stranger people. This feast stood pre-eminent among the Jewish festivals. Josephus says that it “was the holiest and greatest of their feasts.” Occurring at the vintage season, after the crops were garnered, it was a season of thanksgiving. It fell from the 15th to the 22d days of the month Tisri, covering the last part of September and first of October, and was about six months after and before the passover. Its date, 118therefore, shows us that six months of Christ's ministry had intervened between the discourse at Capernaum and this time. Matthew gives some the details of this interval in chapters XII.-XVII., XXI. (Joh 7:3)
3. His brethren, therefore, said unto him. His brethren according to the flesh, whose names were James and Joses and Simon and Jude (Matt. 13:55). For discussion of their relationship to him, see notes on John 2:12. The theory that they were his cousins, the sons of Alpheus and Mary, the sister of the mother of Christ, is disproved by this passage: “James, the son of Alpheus, and Jude the brother of James,” were apostles and believers, but “these brethren” at this time were not believers and even seemed to be disposed to scoff. Depart hence and go into Judæa. A year had passed since the Savior had been at Jerusalem, and his brothers thought it inconsistent with his high claims that he should avoid the national center of religious culture and influence. That thy disciples also may see the works that thou doest. This language is partly ridicule and partly entreaty. His brothers were astonished and puzzled, but he was so different from their conception of the Christ that they refused to believe. They insist that he shall go to Judea and show what he can do. (Joh 7:4)
4. For no man doeth anything in secret. No prophet and inspired teacher. Such a teacher, they urge, seeks the multitudes and there, in the most public manner, exhibits his supernatural power. If thou do these things. If implies that they were doubters. The next verse affirms that they were unbelievers. While the counsel of these brothers, from a worldly point of view, might seem wise, it is in another form the same counsel offered by the devil in the second temptation, and spurned by our Lord. (Joh 7:5)
5. For neither did his brethren believe in him. It shows the stress to which those who hold the tradition that the mother of our Lord always remained a virgin are put that they should insist on a theory that requires three out of four of these unbelievers to be apostles! A clear distinction is made here between “the brothers of him” (Greek) and his disciples. The distinction is still clearer in Matt. 12:47. They afterwards became believers (Acts 1:14). (Joh 7:6)
6. My time is not yet come. The time for the full manifestation of himself had not yet come. He had revealed himself gradually, step by step, until his apostles had recognized and declared him as the Christ, the Son of the living God (John 6:69; Matt. 16:16). He had satisfied the woman of Sychar that he was the Christ, and had revealed himself in the synagogue at 119Capernaum, as the Bread of life. Three of his apostles had been eye witnesses of his majesty on the Mount of Transfiguration, but the time for the grand final lesson of the cross, the tomb, the resurrection and the Ascension had not come. His presence in the church, in the hearts of believers, as a power has gone on increasingly ever since, but his full manifestation to the world does not take place until his second coming, when “every eye shall see him.” His disciples had to be prepared for the manifestation of his divine Christhood to them; and the church and world has to be prepared for his coming. Your time is always ready. Those who have no set work are always ready, and the world is always ready for those who have no message to it. He who has a work must make ready for it. He who has a message for the world must educate it to receive his message. (Joh 7:7)
7. The world cannot hate you. In that case it would hate those who had its spirit and were of it. It will not hate itself. It only hates those who rebuke its sins and oppose its ways. Me it hateth because I testify . . . the works thereof are evil. It always hates those who expose and denounce its sins. Socrates had to drink hemlock because he rebuked the folly of the Athenians; Savonarola and Huss had to be burned because they exposed the corruptions of Rome; Isaiah, Jeremiah and John the Baptist all suffered because they denounced sin in high places; and when Jesus came exposing the corruptions of the priests, the hypocrisy of the Pharisees, the worldliness and debauchery of the Sadducees and Herodians, it was inevitable that he should be hated, persecuted and hunted to death. Still the world hates him. The hate of such men as Voltaire, Tom Paine and Ingersoll, and of their disciples, is due to the fact that Christ and his kingdom are a rebuke to, and condemnation of their lives. (Joh 7:8) (Joh 7:9)
8, 9. Go ye . . . I go not up yet to this feast. A more literal translation is: “I am not now going to this feast.” He does not use the future but the present tense. We cannot be certain whether he had yet determined to go at all. It would have defeated his purpose to have gone with those who were determined that he should make an exhibition of himself. Hence, after the departure of his brethren and the great caravan of Galilean pilgrims, he yet remained in Galilee. (Joh 7:10)
10. Then went he up also to the feast, not openly. After the departure of the multitude of Galileans he followed after, no doubt accompanied by his apostles, though we have no account of the journey, unless it be referred to in Luke 9:51, 52. The journey was made quietly, not clandestinely, but 120unostentatiously and in such a way as not to attract observation. As Meyer says: “Not in company of a caravan of pilgrims, or in any other way of outward observation, but so that the journey to the feast is represented as made in secrecy, and consequently quite differently from his last entry at the feast at the passover.” He seems not to have reached Jerusalem until after the feast was in progress. (Joh 7:11)
11. Then the Jews sought him at the feast. His fame had become so great that his appearance at this feast was looked forward to with expectation, and the Jews were on the watch for him in order to observe his conduct and hear his words. These Jews probably sought him among the crowds who came from Galilee. They ask, as they seek: “Where is he?” or rather, “that man.” Only one man could be meant, for all the land was busy with talk of the great Galilean teacher. The question was probably about half curiosity and half ill will. (Joh 7:12)
12. There was much murmuring among the people. Muttering and secret discussion. By the people are meant the multitudes. They must be kept in the mind as distinct from “the Jews.” This chapter brings out a vivid picture of Jewish life and of the various elements that composed the nation. We have “the disciples” or personal followers and believers in Christ; “his brethren,” who were brothers according to the flesh but were yet unbelievers; “the Jews,” officials, or those under official influence, and arrayed in opposition to Christ; “the people,” the vast body of the nation who were fined with marvel, were not yet convinced, but were discussing the claims of Jesus; “the Pharisees” (verse 32) here named by John for the first time as opposed to the Lord; “the chief priests,” the Sadducean hierarchy who hated him, not for religious reasons like the Pharisees, but because they were sensual, time-serving materiaIists; “the Pharisees and chief priests” (verses 32 and 45), evidently the Sanhedrim; “Nicodemus” (verse 50), a member of the Sanhedrim, but inclined favorably to Christ. The contact with all of these is personal and direct. He deceiveth the people. While some insisted that he was a good man, others urged that he was leading the people astray. (Joh 7:13)
13. No man spake openly. These discussions were private rather than public. The people all felt that “the Jews,” the ruling powers, were intensely opposed to Christ, and they feared that open discussion would bring down evil upon themselves. Those who held both opinions “mistrusted the hierarchy; even those of hostile opinions were afraid, so long as the Sanhedrim had not given its official decision, that their verdict might be reversed. A true indication of an utterly Jesuitical domination of the people.”—Meyer. 121
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