At the Festival of Tabernacles (John 7:11-52 [also 7:53-8:11])

Submitted by admin on Thu, 2008-05-15 12:14.

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In Jerusalem, many who knew about Jesus tried to find him and wondered where he was. Among their trusted acquaintances, they engaged in considerable subdued talk about him. Some said that he was a good man, whereas others disagreed, maintaining that he deceived the multitude. Out of fear of fellow Jews, no one spoke concerning him openly. People must have been aware that the Pharisees generally and the prominent members of the nation were hostile toward Jesus. They doubtless feared incurring the displeasure of influential countrymen and being ostracized in the community for suspected sympathizing with Jesus and his teaching. (John 7:11-13)

In the middle of the festival, Jesus made his public appearance and began to teach in the temple precincts. His teaching astonished those who heard him, and they began to wonder how it could be that he spoke authoritatively as a lettered man when he was not among the recognized learned ones of the nation. In response, Jesus gave all the credit to his Father, saying that his teaching was not his own but that of the one who had sent him. Anyone who desired to do God’s will would recognize whether he was the source of Jesus’ teaching or whether Jesus was expressing his own thoughts. Any man who spoke of his own would be desirous of glorifying or bringing honor to himself. Then, referring to himself, Jesus indicated that the one who sought to glorify or honor the one who sent him is “true” (completely trustworthy and truthful) and free of any evil. There would be nothing deceitful or underhanded in him. His motivation would be pure. (John 7:14-18)

Those who heard Jesus’ teaching should have responded to him in faith, especially since they claimed to believe in Moses. From Moses they had received the law; yet, as Jesus pointed out, they did not heed it. According to the words of the law they considered to have been received from Moses, the Jews who heard Jesus knew that they were to listen to the prophet like Moses. (Deuteronomy 18:15) The miracles Jesus performed as the representative of his Father confirmed that he was a prophet “like” Moses and, in fact, the prophet greater than Moses and the foretold Messiah or Christ. Those who wanted to kill Jesus, instead of heeding his words, proved undeniably that they did not do what the law said. Those in the crowd who were unaware of the earlier attempt to kill Jesus for violating the Sabbath and blasphemy regarded his comments as preposterous and accused him of having a demon. “Who is trying to kill you?” they asked incredulously. (John 7:19, 20)

In response, Jesus called attention to the one work he had done on the Sabbath, which had been the curing of a man who had been afflicted for 38 years and was lying on a mat at the pool near the Sheep Gate. (John 5:2-9) That work had prompted amazement among those who came to know about it. (John 7:21)

The Son of God then referred to the law to show that no one should have objected to what he did on the Sabbath. Moses had given the command about circumcision (Leviticus 12:3), which command had actually come from an earlier time. It had been given to the “fathers” or ancestors of the Israelites, specifically to their forefather Abraham. (Genesis 17:11-14) If the eighth day falls on a Sabbath, a baby boy is circumcised to avoid breaking the law of Moses. Why, then, asked Jesus, should the people be infuriated at him for having made a man’s body completely whole on the Sabbath? He called upon them to desist from judging according to mere appearances but to judge rightly. (John 7:23, 24)

Certain inhabitants of Jerusalem among the multitude who heard Jesus’ words recalled that he was indeed the one whom fellow countrymen wanted to kill. It puzzled them that he spoke openly and that no one said anything, causing them to wonder whether the rulers had come to know that he was indeed the Messiah. Believing that they knew from where Jesus was (from Galilee, if not also from Nazareth), they, however, dismissed the possibility of his being the Messiah. They reasoned that no one would know from where the Messiah had come. (John 7:25-27)

Refuting their claim about knowing him and from where he came, Jesus cried out that he had not come of his own and that the one who sent him is true and was unknown to them. Thus he identified himself as the one whom his Father had sent. When speaking of him as “true,” Jesus probably meant “trustworthy” or “dependable.” He thereby appears to have implied that the people should have believed in him, for he did the works of his Father and conveyed his teaching. If they had known his Father, they would have recognized him, for as the Son he reflected his Father flawlessly in word and deed. Unlike the unbelieving Jews, he knew his Father and could truthfully say, “I am from him, and he sent me.” (John 7:28, 29)

Those who opposed Jesus wanted to seize him, doubtless to take him to the ruling authorities. No one, however, laid a hand on him, for “his hour” had not yet come. It was not then the time for him to finish his earthly life. (John 7:30)

Despite the prevailing unbelief, many among those who listened to his teaching believed in him. They reasoned that when the Christ or the Messiah came he would not perform more signs than Jesus had. (John 7:31)

The unbelieving Pharisees heard the subdued talk about him and appear to have found it very disturbing. Therefore, they and the chief priests decided to send temple guards to arrest him. (John 7:32)

Knowing what lay ahead for him, Jesus told the multitude that he would be with them for only a short while and then would return to the one who had sent him. Though they would look for him, they would not find him, for they would be unable to go where he would be. Not understanding that Jesus would return to his Father, the people were puzzled about the meaning of his words. Some thought that he might leave the land of Israel and go to the “Dispersion of the Greeks” (Jews living among the Gentiles) and teach the Greeks (or non-Jews). (John 7:33-36)

On the Last Day of the Festival of Tabernacles

The festival of tabernacles ended the agricultural year and was marked by great rejoicing. The law required only the males to be present for the observance, but they often attended with their whole family. For seven days, they were to dwell in temporary shelters or booths made from palm fronds and leafy branches from various trees. These shelters were to remind them of the tents in which the Israelites lived during their journeying in the wilderness after they left Egypt. (Leviticus 23:34-43; Deuteronomy 16:13-15; Nehemiah 8:14, 15)

The law outlined the specific sacrifices to be offered on each day of the festival. Other ceremonial features came to be added later in connection with the temple services. One of these involved the pouring out of water brought from the Pool of Siloam. Ancient rabbinical views are divided as to whether the water was poured out only on the first seven days or also on the eighth day. According to ancient rabbinical sources, two silver bowls were positioned above the altar. Wine would be poured into the one to the east, and water into the one to the west. These bowls were perforated with holes through which the liquids could flow into a channel that led to the base of the altar. (Tosefta, Sukkah, 3:14, 15) The act of pouring out accompanied “the offering up of the limbs of the daily whole-offering.” (Tosefta, Sukkah 3:16, Jacob Neusner’s translation)

Ancient Jewish sources associate the water with Ezekiel 47:2-10 and Zechariah 13:1 and 14:8. (Tosefta, Sukkah, 3:3[4]-10) In Ezekiel, the reference is to life-giving water flowing from the temple and continuing to deepen until it formed a river. (Compare Joel 3:18[4:18].) Zechariah’s prophecy (14:8) speaks of living water flowing from Jerusalem, with half of it going to the “former sea” (the “eastern sea” or the Dead Sea) and the other half going to the “hinder sea” (the “western sea” or the Mediterranean Sea). Zechariah 13:1 pointed forward to the time when a fountain would be opened for the house of David and the people of Jerusalem, a fountain that would serve for cleansing from sin.

On the last day of the festival, Jesus revealed that the foretold life-giving water was available through him. As he stood, he cried out for all thirsty ones to come to him and drink. Paraphrasing the words of the prophets, he added regarding anyone who believed in him, “Rivers of living water will flow from his inmost part.” (John 7:37, 38; for additional comments about John 7:38, see the Notes section.)

The account explains Jesus’ words as applying to those who would receive God’s spirit because of believing in him. As Jesus had not yet been glorified or in possession of the splendor he formerly had when with his Father in heaven, there was as yet “no spirit.” (John 7:39) Whereas God’s spirit did powerfully operate through the Son of God and also when the apostles performed miracles in his name, none of the disciples enjoyed the fullness of the spirit’s operation. With holy spirit operating fully within them, they would be abundantly blessed spiritually, empowered to conduct themselves in harmony with God’s will, enlightened to grasp Jesus’ teaching, strengthened and sustained in times of trial and distress, and filled with courage to make expressions about their faith. Moreover, they would be able to impart to others everything that was essential for coming into possession of eternal life. Thus it proved to be that streams of living water flowed out from them, and those who responded in faith came to enjoy the real life, ceasing to be dead in sin.

Based on what they had heard, the people came to different conclusions about Jesus. Some regarded him to be “the prophet,” probably meaning the prophet like Moses but distinct from the Messiah. (Deuteronomy 18:15) Others believed him to be the Messiah or Christ. Not knowing that Jesus had been born in Bethlehem, certain ones reasoned that he could not be the Messiah, for he had come from Galilee, which did not agree with the scripture that foretold his being of the “seed [offspring] of David” and David’s village Bethlehem. As a result, the multitude proved to be divided in their view of him. (John 7:40-43)

“Some,” likely meaning the temple guards whom the unbelieving Pharisees and chief priests had sent to arrest Jesus, wanted to seize him. No one, however, laid a hand on Jesus. (John 7:44)

When the temple guards returned empty-handed, the unbelieving Pharisees demanded why they had failed to bring Jesus in. “Never has a man thus spoken,” they replied. The indignant Pharisees chided them for having been deceived and added that none of the rulers or Pharisees believed in him. The only ones who did were those of the ignorant multitude, persons who did not know the law and whom they pronounced as accursed. (John 7:45-49)

Nicodemus, a Pharisee who had much earlier spoken to Jesus, tried to appeal to his fellow Pharisees on the basis of their sense of justice. He reminded them that the law did not condemn a man until he is first heard and known for what he is doing. Nicodemus was then ridiculed, “Are you also from Galilee? Search and see that no prophet is to be raised up from Galilee.” (John 7:50-52) The prominent unbelieving members of the nation failed to recognize the fulfillment of the prophecy of Isaiah (9:1, 2) that referred to a great light to be seen in the territory of Galilee and disregarded the very law they were obligated to uphold. (See the Notes section for comments about John 7:53-8:12.)


No specific passage in the Scriptures matches the quotation in John 7:38, but the thought can be gleaned from the prophetic writings. A linkage of water and spirit (John 7:39) is found in Isaiah 44:3. There God’s pouring out of water on the ground (in the form of rain) parallels the pouring out of his spirit on his people. Then, in Isaiah 58:11, those who would repent and change their ways are promised to become like a watered garden and an unfailing spring of water.

It appears that knowledge about Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem may only have existed among the few who were familiar with his early history, likely only members of the family and close acquaintances. The majority only knew him as being from Galilee, where he had lived nearly all of his life.

The narrative about the woman accused of having committed adultery (John 7:53-8:11) follows the account that focuses on Jesus’ words spoken at the Festival of Tabernacles. This narrative is missing in all of the oldest extant Greek manuscripts, raising doubt about whether it relates to an actual occurrence. Later manuscripts do include it here, but in others it appears after John 7:36, John 21:25, or Luke 21:38.

John 7:53 through 8:2 does provide an introduction for the account about the woman. This introduction relates that each one went to his home and that Jesus went to the Mount of Olives, returning to the temple precincts early in the morning of the next day and seating himself to the teach the people.

Later, the scribes and Pharisees brought the woman and asked Jesus about his view of the law that set forth stoning as the penalty for her sin, their aim being to trap him so as to have something to use to accuse him. He ignored them, bent down, and began writing on the ground with his finger. When, however, they continued questioning him, he straightened up and said that the one without sin should cast the first stone and then bent down again and resumed writing on the ground. Thereafter the accusers began to depart, leaving the woman by herself. When Jesus asked whether anyone had condemned her, she replied, “No one.” After telling her that he also did not do so, he admonished her not to continue sinning. (John 8:3-11)

That Jesus would be writing on the ground seems unusual and, therefore, raises a question about whether the account preserves a historical event. If it does pertain to an actual happening, a possible explanation could be that Jesus, by his action, chose to indicate that he was not going to involve himself in the matter. According to the law, both the man and the woman were guilty and yet the scribes and Pharisees made no mention of the adulterer, which would suggest that their seeming concern about the law was insincere.

Although the question about the historicity of the account may need to be left open because of its existence in many later manuscripts, the narrative does not seem to fit with the rest of the eighth chapter of John. After Jesus’ admonition directed to the woman in verse 11, the next verse tells of his addressing the multitude and starts with the words, “Again, therefore, Jesus spoke to them.” These introductory words suggest a continuation of his teaching at the Festival of Tabernacles. Moreover, what he said thereafter harmonizes with that conclusion. Accordingly, it appears preferable to regard John 7:53 through 8:11 as an insertion that interrupts the logical flow of the narrative about what Jesus said at the Festival of Tabernacles.