The Feast of Tabernacles was a reminder of Israel’s journey through the wilderness, and looked forward to the promised kingdom of the Messiah. The Jews lived in booths made of branches to remind them of God’s providential care of the nation for nearly forty years (Lev. 23:33-44). Following the Feast of Trumpets and the solemn Day of Atonement, Tabernacles was a festive time for the people. The temple area was illumined by large candlesticks that reminded the people of the guiding pillar of fire and each day the priests would carry water from the Pool of Siloam and pour it out from a golden vessel, reminding the Jews of the miraculous provision of water from the rock.
But, while this was a joyous time for the people, Jesus was facing death ever since He had healed the paralytic on the Sabbath Day (Jn. 7:1). But, that was not the only difficulty Jesus had. See, his mother, Mary, bore other children with Joseph (Mk. 13:55-56) and so, Jesus had half brothers. And, certainly they knew about the miracles Jesus did, since everybody else did; yet they were still unbelievers (vs. 5). Sadly, here were men going up to a religious feast, yet rejecting their own Messiah! How easy it is to follow tradition and miss eternal truth. The publicans and sinners were rejoicing at His message, but His own half brothers were making fun of Him. No doubt the brothers also knew that the multitude of disciples had deserted Jesus (Jn. 6:66). And, the Jewish leaders wanted to kill him because they were a part of “the world” and because He exposed their evil works. Knowing this, I suppose, is why his brothers went up to the feast in secret (vs. 10).
Now, in the midst of the feast, Jesus stayed behind (vs. 11). But, the Jews (Jewish leaders) were seeking to get rid of him. In vs. 12, the people at the festival also wanted to see him and possibly worship him because they were not up on the latest gossip and were amazed anyone wanted to kill Jesus (vs. 20). Then, there were also the people living in Jerusalem who were looking for Jesus (vs. 25). And so, this debate about his character (vs. 11-13) started with the religious leaders seeking Jesus, while the crowd kept arguing whether He was a good man or a deceiver.
Now, in vs. 14-19, Jesus was there and began to teach openly in the temple. And, the Jews were amazed at what He taught because He did not have any credentials from their approved rabbinical schools. But, his enemies said that His teachings were nothing but private opinions and not worth much. Well, Jesus explained that His doctrine came from the Father. He had already made it clear that He and the Father were one in the works that He performed (Jn. 5:17) and in the judgment that He executed (Jn. 5:30). Now He claimed that His teachings also came from the Father, and He would make that astounding claim again (Jn. 8:26, 38). But does not every religious teacher make a similar claim? How, then, can we know that Jesus is teaching us the truth? In vs. 17, Jesus says, “Try it! If it works, it must be true!” and thus suggesting that if it does not work it must be false? See, the Jewish leaders were attempting to kill Jesus, yet at the same time they claimed to understand God’s truth and obey it.
Now, the leaders wanted to kill Him because He had violated the Sabbath and then claimed to be God (Jn. 5:10-18). But, our Lord used the very Law of Moses to refute the enemy’s argument. See, the Jewish leaders were not honest and evaluated things on the basis of superficial examinations, which is why Jesus called for a sincere devotion to truth (vs. 24) and see what is truth. Well, during this conversation, not only are the festival people involved (vs. 20) and the religious leaders, but now the residents of Jerusalem entered the conversation (vs. 25). They knew that the rulers wanted to kill Jesus, and they were amazed that He was teaching openly and getting away with it! Perhaps the rulers had been convinced that indeed He is the Messiah, sent from God! Then why were they not worshiping Him and leading others to worship Him? Their question (vs. 25) suggested a negative answer: “No, the rulers do not believe that He is the Christ, do they?” They were able to defend their conclusion with logic: Nobody knows where the Christ comes from, we know where Jesus of Nazareth came from, conclusion: Jesus cannot be the Messiah. Once again, the people could not see the truth because they were blinded by what they thought were dependable facts.
At this point, Jesus raises his voice so everyone can hear (vs. 28, 37) saying, you both know me and where I come, but really, you don’t know. Jesus then explained why they did not know him (vs. 29). After this, the rulers sent members of the temple guard to arrest Jesus (vs. 30-32) and did not know that within six months, Jesus would go back to the Father in heaven, and the unsaved Jews would not be able to follow Him. Had these men been willing to do God’s will, they would have known the truth. Soon it would be too late.
Now, this feast was seven days, and on the last day, the priests would march seven times around the altar, chanting Psa. 118:25. It would be the last time they would draw the water and pour it out. No doubt just as they were pouring out the water, symbolic of the water Moses drew from the rock, Jesus stood and shouted His great invitation to thirsty sinners (vs. 37-38). And so, at the feast, the Jews were reenacting a tradition that could never satisfy the heart. But, Jesus offered them living water and eternal satisfaction! So, what was the result of this declaration and invitation? The people were divided: Is He “the Christ” (vs. 31)? Is He the promised “Prophet” (vs. 40)? If only they had honestly examined the evidence, they would have discovered that, indeed, He was the Christ, the Son of God.
The temple officers returned to the Jewish council meeting empty-handed. What stopped them from arresting him? “Never man spoke like this Man!” was their defense (vs. 46). In other words, “This Jesus is more than a man! No mere man speaks as He does!” But again, the leaders refused to face facts honestly but are prejudice (vs. 47). Now, some believed in Jesus, like Nicodemus (vs. 50). No doubt Nicodemus had been doing a great deal of thinking and studying since that first interview with Jesus (Jn. 3), and was not afraid to take his stand. So, the leaders challenged Nicodemus to search the prophecies to see if he could find any statement that a prophet would come out of Galilee. Of course, Jonah was from Galilee; and Jesus said that Jonah was a picture of Himself (Matt. 12:38-41). Perhaps Nicodemus read Isa. 9:1-2 (Matt. 4:12-16) and began to trace the great messianic prophecies in the Old Testament. If he did, then he became convinced that Jesus of Nazareth was the very Son of God.