On one level, John 7:1-13 functions to set the stage for the rest of chapters 7 & 8. It also reveals to us some wrong views about Jesus that the Jewish people. Jesus’ own brothers, had about Him. But a careful look at these verses also reveals that Jesus is both Messiah and Lord. Which fits in with John’s purpose. We believe in Him as Christ, the Son of God, so that we may have eternal life in His name. All He did was according to God’s timing. So the main point is:
Believing in Jesus for salvation depends on having the right view about who He is.
The dominant focus is on those with wrong views about Jesus. Furthermore, Jesus did not follow His own will, but trusted in the will and timing of His Father.
Jesus Goes to the Festival of Tabernacles
7 After this, 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. 2 But when the Jewish Festival of Tabernacles was near, 3 Jesus’ brothers said to him, “Leave Galilee and go to Judea, so that your disciples there may see the works you do. 4 No one who wants to become a public figure acts in secret. Since you are doing these things, show yourself to the world.” 5 For even his own brothers did not believe in him.
6 Therefore Jesus told them, “My time is not yet here; for you any time will do. 7 The world cannot hate you, but it hates me because I testify that its works are evil. 8 You go to the festival. I am not going up to this festival, because my time has not yet fully come.” 9 After he had said this, he stayed in Galilee.
10 However, after his brothers had left for the festival, he went also, not publicly, but in secret. 11 Now at the festival the Jewish leaders were watching for Jesus and asking, “Where is he?”
12 Among the crowds there was widespread whispering about him. Some said, “He is a good man.”
Others replied, “No, he deceives the people.” 13 But no one would say anything publicly about him for fear of the leaders.
The events of the next few chapters of John occur around six months prior to Jesus’ eventual crucifixion.
Previous entries in this series we have established that John presents Jesus as a man always obedient to God’s timeline. Conflict with the religious leaders of Jerusalem was always inevitable. So Jesus spent much of His time in Galilee, away from their direct influence. This only delays the eventual outcome, of course. Jesus has already done enough to earn a death sentence in their eyes. Since they interpret His earlier actions in John 5:18 as a form of blasphemy. This desire to see Jesus killed will be greatly increased due to His actions during the Feast of Tabernacles.
Remember the term “the Jews” is a reference to the religious leaders of Jerusalem and their supporters. This is an important distinction when interpreting the reactions of the crowd to Jesus’ words. “The Jews,” as described here, are a separate group from “the people.”
Jewish men were commanded to attend several feasts in Jerusalem each year (Deuteronomy 16:16). Chapter 5, brought Jesus to the city, where He healed a man at the Pool of Bethesda (John 5:1–9). That celebration would have been the Feast of Tabernacles, the same event shown here in chapters 7.
The Feast of Tabernacles was a 7-day event (Leviticus 23:33–34) celebrating the journey of Israel through the wilderness. The festival reminded the people of how God had provided for Israel during their journey out of Egypt. This involved enormous lamps whose wicks were made of priestly robes and priests carrying water from the Pool of Siloam. These symbolised the pillar of fire and the provision of water from the rock respectively.
Verses 3-5 present both a sad commentary, and produce controversy. The Greek term is adelphoi, which can be used to refer to countrymen—meaning fellow Jews—as well as biological siblings. However, this same phrasing is used in verses such as Matthew 12:46, and Mark 6:3. In the gospel of Mark, Jesus’ brothers are even named. Psalm 69:8 “mother’s sons,” rather than “father’s sons”. The same passage which came to mind when Jesus cleansed the temple in John 2:16 (Psalm 69:9). In short, the only reasonable interpretation is that these were Jesus’ actual, physical, half-brothers, and children of His mother, Mary.
The suggestion made here is that Jesus should go and put on a show in Jerusalem. The feeding of thousands, from chapter 6, attracted a great deal of attention.
Tradition suggests that one of these brothers, James, would become a believer and write the New Testament book of James. Another brother is believed to have written the book of Jude. At least some of this disrespect might have been due to familiarity. Jewish tradition suggested that the Messiah would be relatively unknown (John 7:27). So merely knowing Jesus was enough for some to dismiss Him as the Promised One. Simply knowing “about” Jesus, or being exposed to Him, is not enough to make a person a believer.
Simply knowing Jesus should be enough to convict any believer that Jesus is the Messiah!
This verse continues the sarcastic, mocking tone of Jesus’ brothers. That is, these were other sons of His mother, Mary. When Jesus fed thousands, it attracted a significant level of attention (John 6:14). However, when Jesus explained the real meaning of His ministry, most of those followers turned away (John 6:66). Perhaps this is the motivation for His brothers’ mocking: “go make a scene if you want to be such a big deal!”
Jesus, on the other hand, is only interested in following God the Father’s timetable (John 7:6). Much of what Jesus does will attract controversy, but this is not the real purpose of His actions. In order to avoid needless scandal, and to make a more subtle entrance, Jesus will let His brothers go ahead of Him. So He can enter the festival alone, and quietly (John 7:9–10). Notably, Jesus will perform no miracles at this particular festival.
Of all the people in the world who should have accepted Jesus as Messiah, his immediate family are be at the top of the list. After all, nobody knew Him as well or saw His character as clearly. And yet, this same familiarity seems to produce the opposite effect – Familiarity breeds contempt! Jesus’ own brothers—other biological children of Mary—don’t yet accept His ministry or His mission. Part of this is cultural: Jewish tradition suggested that the Messiah would be relatively unknown prior to His emergence (John 7:27).
This is also proof of several ideas explored in the gospel of John. Later in this chapter, Jesus will point out that obedience must come before knowledge, otherwise people will not believe (John 7:17). A year earlier, after healing a man at the Pool of Bethesda, Jesus pointed out that the men rejecting Him were well-educated in the Scriptures, but refused to believe (John 5:39–40). Seeing miracles won’t convince those who aren’t looking for spiritual truth (Luke 16:31). Judas Iscariot is the prime example of someone who was presented with as much “proof” as could possibly be offered, yet still rejected Christ.
Not seeking attention
On a more positive note, tradition suggests that at least two of Jesus’ siblings became believers after His resurrection. These include both the author of the New Testament book of James, and the author of the book of Jude.
Jesus’ response to His brothers’ mocking provides an important perspective. Their teasing assumed that Jesus was merely seeking attention, and so He should want to go out in public and put on a show. However, Christ’s intent was not to simply draw a crowd, but to explain the truth (John 6:25–29). For many people, that conflicts with their preferences, causing them to ignore the message (John 6:66).
In addition, Jesus has been keeping away from Jerusalem in order to delay the inevitable conflict with the Jewish religious leaders (John 7:1). His time to be publicly proclaimed as Messiah is yet in the future (John 12:12–15), as is His sacrificial death (John 19:18). Jesus’ brothers, on the other hand, are already fulfilling their purpose—their time had already come.
Jesus has greater concerns to keep in mind.
In parallel with this, Jesus’ brothers did not face the same spiritual hostility as He did. Jesus’ life and ministry were focused on exposing the sin of the world, pointing to a need for a savior (John 7:7). When, where, and how His brothers attended such festivals was unimportant. Christ, on the other hand, had to carefully consider how He presented Himself, and when.
Jesus’ brothers are teasing Him about His public ministry and the sudden departure of many of His disciples (John 6:66). In their minds, Jesus ought to go to the Feast of Tabernacles in Jerusalem and perform magic tricks in order to regrow His following. This shallow, teasing attitude is grounded in their lack of belief in Christ and His ministry (John 7:5). Not until after His resurrection will some of His siblings—at least two, James and Jude—become believers.
Jesus responded in the prior verse by referring to the timetable of God. In the future, Jesus will openly declare Himself the Messiah (John 12:12–15). He will recognie that His ultimate purpose is about to be fulfilled (John 17:1).
For now, however, He will act in order to follow God’s will, instead of chasing publicity.
Jesus’ brothers have no such restrictions, for two reasons. First, they are already living in “their time.” They can move about the world without much consequence. Secondly, they do not face the spiritual resistance which Jesus encounters. Christ’s ministry confronts sin and hypocrisy. As shown over and over in Scripture, a common response to conviction is not repentance, but hatred and violence. Both in His earthly ministry and in the work of Christianity, the world often responds in the same way to the Gospel: with persecution, instead of submission.
Obligation to attend the festival
Jewish men were obligated to attend several feasts in Jerusalem each year (Deuteronomy 16:16). The biggest of these was the seven-day Feast of Tabernacles (Leviticus 23:34). During this time of year, Jerusalem would have been swarming with pilgrims, visitors, and travelers. Instead of travelling to the feast with His brothers, Jesus intends to arrive alone, in order to make a quieter entrance (John 7:10). Despite the teasing coming from His siblings (John 7:1–5), Jesus is not seeking publicity or popularity (John 6:25–29). On the contrary, He knows that His message will be opposed, since people hate to be reminded of their own sin (John 7:7; 15:24–25). Jesus is also sensitive to the will of God the Father and knows that His work on earth needs to follow God’s ultimate plan.
As shown in later verses, Jesus does attend the feast, though He does not begin to preach or teach until several days later (John 7:14). For this reason, some manuscripts add a Greek word for “yet” into Jesus’ statement to His brothers: “I am not [yet] going up…” This is true to the context, but not necessary, and also not found in the older copies of Scripture. Jesus’ meaning is clear both in context and in practice: “you go now, I am not.”
Notice, also, that Jesus performs no miracles during this particular festival.
In chapter 6, Jesus performed a dramatic feeding of thousands, followed by a public debate in the city of Capernaum. These kinds of high-profile events brought attention from the religious leaders of Jerusalem, who had already condemned Jesus as a blasphemer (John 5:18). To avoid direct conflict, Jesus has been keeping to the region of Galilee, rather than getting to close to Jerusalem (John 7:1). This area was close enough to Jerusalem for news to travel, but outside of the immediate control of the Scribes and Pharisees.
However, as a Jewish man, Jesus was obligated to enter Jerusalem for the Feast of Tabernacles (Deuteronomy 16:16). His unbelieving siblings have been teasing Him over the loss of disciples described in the last chapter (John 6:66). Somewhat sarcastically, they suggest that if Jesus wants to put on a show, He should go to the feast and do just that: draw a crowd. Instead, Jesus tells them to go on ahead without Him (John 7:8).
Christ’s intent here is to honor God’s timeline (John 7:6).
Make a quiet, private entrance. Then, several days into the festival, He will once again being publicly preaching (John 7:14). Jesus will not, however, perform miracles during this feast.
Jesus’ brothers—other children of His mother Mary—do not believe in His ministry at this point (John 7:5). Instead, they have teased Jesus by suggesting He go to the festival to draw a crowd (John 7:3–4). Jesus responds by pointing out that He is working from a divine schedule, which they are not a part of (John 7:6). He also notes that their attendance won’t be met with as much resistance as His will (John 7:7–8). So, Jesus tells His brothers to go ahead without Him, while He remains in Galilee (John 7:9). Later, as shown in this verse, Jesus will make a quiet, private entrance. The Feast of Booths covers an entire week, so Jesus’ eventual preaching in the temple does not happen until several days later (John 7:14).
These few days of anonymity would have given Jesus a chance to see and hear, first-hand, the rumors swirling through Jerusalem. Verses 11-13 describe how the people are curious about Jesus and what He will do at the festival. However, that gossip is spread with some sense of fear. “The Jews,” as the phrase is most often used in the gospel of John, refers to the religious leaders of Jerusalem. These men have already marked Jesus as a blasphemer (John 5:18; John 7:1).
The Feast of Tabernacles was one of the grandest events on the Jewish calendar. For an entire week, the people of Israel participated in rituals and events commemorating their journey out of Egypt through the wilderness. As one of the required feasts for all Jewish men (Deuteronomy 16:16), those who were curious about Jesus expected to see Him arrive at some point in time. None would have been more interested than the religious leaders of Jerusalem, whom the gospel of John typically labels “the Jews.”
It seems the religious leaders are making the same mistake as Jesus’ brothers (John 7:4–5). They assume that what Jesus wants is publicity, popularity, and power. On the contrary, Jesus is committed to preaching the truth (John 6:26–27), even when it causes most people to turn away (John 6:66). For this reason, Jesus entered the festival alone, and in private, after His family had already arrived (John 7:8–10). He arrives to find the people debating His character and mission.
Jesus’ feeding of the thousands, described in chapter 6, was only the most public of His actions thus far. The combination of His miracles, His teachings, and His conflict with the religious leaders of Jerusalem made Jesus a popular subject of gossip at the Feast of Tabernacles. Jesus complicated His public image by explaining that His ministry was ultimately spiritual, not material (John 6:26–29), which caused many people to abandon Him (John 6:66). Here, in the days before Jesus begins teaching in the temple (John 7:14), the people are quietly discussing His public ministry.
This crowd is described as “the people,” a term referring to the general crowds attending the Feast of Tabernacles. This would have included Jewish pilgrims as well as residents of Jerusalem. The term “the Jews” refers more specifically to the religious leaders of the city, and their followers, whose opinion of Jesus is quite clear (John 5:18; John 7:1). In fact, this anger is already so strong that the crowds in Jerusalem keep their discussions of Jesus private, out of fear.
Jesus’ earthly ministry was often the source of controversy and debate. Ultimately, this is grounded in mankind’s natural hatred of conviction. Showing someone the reality of his sin is a sure fire way to earn his anger (John 15:22–24). Likewise, people are attracted to flashy miracles and other signs (John 6:26), even though they aren’t really interested in spiritual truth (John 6:66). Jesus’ willingness to confront the religious leaders of Jerusalem (John 5:39–40) was a particular source of scandal. A full year prior to the events of this chapter, Jesus had healed a lame man at the Pool of Bethesda (John 5:1–9), enraging the Pharisees (John 5:10–12). His response to them earned Him their hatred, and their desire that He be killed (John 5:18).
That seems to be the mood driving the people to discuss Jesus furtively, rather than openly. The people are curious and split on their view of Jesus, but are afraid to express those ideas too publicly, for fear of Jerusalem’s religious leadership (John 7:1).
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