John: Jesus at the Feast of Tabernacles

Read John 7:1-13

If we were Jewish or celebrated with our Jewish brothers, this would be the time of year when the Feast of Tabernacles would kick into high gear. John uses the backdrop of this festival to highlight some significant lessons for us to consider. The first vignette is a look at the interaction between Jesus and His brothers. We read words about the growing separation between those who follow Jesus and those who are convinced He is dangerous. In effect, He certainly is dangerous, but not for the reasons anyone is proposing.

It’s been about six months since the last chapter. John picks up the story by giving us just a little background, things people in the first-century church would have known well.

Jesus went around in Galilee. He did not want to go about in Judea because the Jewish leaders there were looking for a way to kill him. But when the Jewish Festival of Tabernacles was near… John 7:1-2

John continues to remind us to look for those who are conspiring to kill Jesus throughout his narrative. Think of it this way, imagine you are watching a movie with someone who knows how the mystery is solved. Throughout the show, they keep saying things like, “did you see that person?” or “watch this part carefully.” Beyond just spoiling the movie, they’re trying to help you see how the plot unfolds. This is how John writes.

The setting is during the last festival of the year. The Feast of Tabernacles was designed to be a joyous time of celebration for the whole Jewish community.

Be joyful at your festival—you, your sons and daughters, your male and female servants, and the Levites, the foreigners, the fatherless and the widows who live in your towns. For seven days celebrate the festival to the Lord your God at the place the Lord will choose. For the Lord your God will bless you in all your harvest and in all the work of your hands, and your joy will be complete. Deuteronomy 16:14-15

Sons and daughters, male and female servants, even foreigners, widows and orphans are welcomed and expected to join in the seven-day festival. Wow! Can we not keep some of these old customs? Can you imagine a celebration that went on for an entire week?

Jesus’ earthly father was Joseph. Though we don’t know how long Joseph was around after His birth, I’m convinced he took Jesus to all the festivals, that he participated with the rest of the village. I like to think that this was something their whole family looked forward to each year, every season. It’s helps me to think this way because it puts me in their sandals for a bit. This was a big deal.

With that context, listen in on the conversation that John records between Jesus and His brothers.

Jesus’ brothers said to him, “Leave Galilee and go to Judea, so that your disciples there may see the works you do. No one who wants to become a public figure acts in secret. Since you are doing these things, show yourself to the world.” For even his own brothers did not believe in him. John 7:3-5

His own brothers did not believe in Him. It would be a while before James would become a follower of his brother. I’m pretty sure I’d be with His brothers, chiding Him along, suggesting that He do His miracle “show” for all to see (sarcasm sign flashing brightly).

You can’t see the cursor flashing on my screen. I’m sitting here replaying the scene in my imagination. His brothers have no idea what’s going on, they’re too close to the fire, they can’t see the flame. Jesus is patient with them. He doesn’t call down fire on them and vanquish them from the earth. He simply tries to explain that this is not His time.

Therefore Jesus told them, “My time is not yet here; for you any time will do. The world cannot hate you, but it hates me because I testify that its works are evil. You go to the festival… John 7:6-8a

He gives them a lesson about the world that they’ll have to think about for a while. In a relatively short time, Jesus will be crucified in front of them. These are some heavy words He wants them to ponder.

Jesus sends them on to the feast without Him. I imagine this was the first time in their life that this happened. I can’t prove that, but it makes sense given their heritage. I also imagine James making a note. At least I hope so.

Secretly, Jesus shows up after the festival gets going. The leaders and the crowds are wondering why He hasn’t shown up. It’s odd. He’s usually around during these events.

Rumors begin to spread: “Where is he?”, “He is a good man”, “No, he deceives people.”

But no one would say anything publicly about him for fear of the leaders. John 7:13

Lots of gossip, whispers in the crowds are heard, but not loud enough to get the attention of the religious leaders.

This is the tension I feel these days when I’m surrounded by nominal Christians, those checking their boxes, completing their duties, yet lacking the heart of one who truly follows Christ. Not that I have my act together, but I am seeking to follow the prompting of the Holy Spirit, attempting to become an authentic Christ follower. I’m closer today than a year ago, but still have a way to go.

We don’t have to wait too long this time. Jesus makes His appearance in the next section. Until then, think about what it feels like to go to something like this festival without your brother for the first time. Imagine what it’s like to turn and walk away, convinced that he is the one who is lost. Dwell in that place for a short time, but don’t stay there. You know the rest of the story. My prompt is meant to slow you down a bit. Let the dissonance hang.



Every biblical holiday given to the Jewish people has three aspects. Israel was to observe the holiday in the present in order to remember something God had done in the past while looking forward to some future prophetic purpose hidden within each festival. This is true for their weekly observance of Shabbat, as well as for the annual pilgrimage festivals of Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles.

During the Feast of Tabernacles or Sukkot, the Jewish people were to gather together in Jerusalem not only to remember God’s provision in the Wilderness but also to look forward to that promised Messianic age when all nations will flow to this city to worship the Lord.

Thoughts about serving others

This link includes a list of posts about Serving the Least, the Lost, and the Lonely.

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Let the Word evoke words. May your life encourage lives.

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