September 2, 2005

From the Editor Emeritus / John F. Fink

Jesus in the Gospels: Return to Jerusalem

See John, Chapter 7

It has been seven weeks since we last delved into the Gospel of John. This week, we’ll take up a visit to Jerusalem that the other Gospels don’t mention.

It was for the feast of Tabernacles, also known as Sukkoth, the feast of Booths, or the feast of the grain harvest. It was a seven-day celebration at the end of the harvest, commanded by God in Deuteronomy (Dt 16:13-16). Its symbols included booths or tents, originally built to shelter harvesters, in which some people lived for the seven days (and some Jews continue to do so today); water from the Siloam well poured on the temple altar; and lights of four torches in the temple’s Court of the Women.

Jesus’ brothers asked him if he was going to Jerusalem for the feast because they thought he should show his power where numerous Jews were gathering for the feast. Indeed, John says, many people were looking for him. At first, Jesus demurred because he knew that some of the Jews wanted to kill him, but then changed his mind and went to Jerusalem when the feast was half over. He went there to teach in the temple area—the first time he did so there.

The first reaction of the Jews was amazement that he could teach as their rabbis taught despite never having been to rabbinical school. Jesus told them that his teachings came “from the one who sent me.” But then he suddenly switched the topic and asked why they wanted to kill him.

The “crowd” asked incredulously, “Who’s trying to kill you?” But obviously, some people knew because they asked each other, “Is he not the one they are trying to kill?” They wondered if he might be the long-awaited Messiah.

Soon all this attention reached the ears of the Pharisees, who sent some guards to arrest him. Before they arrived, though, Jesus used a metaphor from one of the feast’s symbols, the water that was poured on the altar, to say that anyone who believed in him would have “living water” flow from within him. John tells his readers that this was a reference to the Holy Spirit that those who believed in him would receive but, of course, when he said it Jesus had not yet sent the Holy Spirit.

When the guard arrived, they did not arrest Jesus. When asked why not, the answer was simply, “Never before has anyone spoken like this one.”

Then there ensued an argument among the people over whether or not Jesus was truly the Messiah. Some argued vehemently that he couldn’t be because he was from Galilee and the Messiah was to come from David’s family and be born in Bethlehem. They obviously didn’t know about Jesus’ background.

When Nicodemus meekly tried to defend Jesus, he was told to search Scripture and he would find that no prophet came from Galilee. (That was incorrect, by the way. According to 2 Kings 14:25, the prophet Jonah came from Galilee.) †


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