Calvary Road Baptist Church

“THE FEAST OF TABERNACLES” Part 1

John 7.11-52 

You may remember, from a recent Sunday morning sermon, that I pointed out several events in the Lord Jesus Christ’s ministry in and around Galilee that are not mentioned in John’s Gospel, and are generally thought to have occurred between what John tells us at the end of John chapter 6 and the beginning of John chapter 7. In the gap between John 6.71 and John 7.1 about six months elapsed, and a great many things occurred that are recorded in the other Gospels but do not serve John’s purpose in his Gospel account. When the multitudes refused to follow Him anymore (and this was the day after He had fed the 5,000), He departed Galilee to go North, our Lord met the Syro-Phoenician woman,[1] went from there to Caesarea Philippi,[2] and then shined forth in great glory on the Mount of Transfiguration.[3]

Another gap in the record presented to us in John’s Gospel exists between John 7.10 and John 7.11. We surveyed the events that took place in that period in last Sunday’s message from Matthew 8.19-22 and Luke 9.57-62, where our Lord dealt with the cost of discipleship when interacting with three different men in what seems to have been the vicinity of Jerusalem. In an exchange with a scribe, we learned the cost of becoming a disciple of Jesus Christ.[4] In an exchange with a disciple, we learned the cost of remaining a disciple.[5] The final exchange was also likely a conversation with a disciple, where we learned the cost of interrupting one’s discipleship.[6]

Once we turn back to the narrative found in John’s Gospel account, from John 7.11 to John 7.52, we find the Lord Jesus Christ’s involvement in one of the Mosaic Law’s three most significant religious observances, the Feast of Tabernacles. There are three feasts in the Jewish calendar that tugged at the observant Jews scattered around the world in that day; the Passover, Pentecost, and the Feast of Tabernacles. It was usually still wintery cold during Passover and often hot by the time of Pentecost, in that rapidly changing climate, so pilgrims often preferred to come in the early autumn for the Feast of Tabernacles. That would be September or early October. So, this morning we approach a passage recording events during a time frame roughly six months before the crucifixion of the Lord Jesus Christ.

The Feast of Tabernacles was typically a happy occasion, a time of bustling activity and hospitality, a time of guests being welcomed to Jerusalem and entertained by relatives, and a time for things to be prepared. It was a time when booths had to be erected, and they were put up everywhere. You’d find these little shacks made of branches and twigs and leaves everywhere. Some were erected on the flat roofs of houses. Others were built in the courtyards of nicer homes that had courtyards. Still others could be found in the streets and alleys; wherever room for one could be constructed up, it would go.

The Feast of Tabernacles was that time of year when the people would sleep at night in these little booths, or tabernacles, or wood and leaf shacks, as a reminder of their nation’s wilderness experiences after they were delivered from Egyptian bondage and before they entered the Promised Land. And there were other things associated with the Feast of Tabernacles, that we will not deal with here. The closest thing our culture has to the excitement of the Feast of Tabernacles is putting up a tent in the backyard on the Fourth of July so you and the kids can camp outside your house.

You can imagine how awestruck a Jewish pilgrim would be upon his first arrival into Jerusalem. Up on Mount Moriah, the Temple Mount, he would see the monstrous stones that the vile King Herod had used to build up the entire top of the mountain, upon which was seen the glorious Temple he had then reconstructed. Words cannot describe how impressive the scene must have been to a visiting Jewish pilgrim. But there was something else that would catch his eye as he mounted the steps to the Temple courtyard and passed through the entrance to behold the Temple immediately before him as he entered the Court of the Gentiles and faced Northward. At about his 10:00 o’clock (with the Temple being at his 12:00 o’clock) and just outside the Temple courtyard, but higher than the beautiful but surprisingly small Temple, overlooking everything was that Roman monstrosity called the Antonia Fortress. Built by Herod, the Antonia Fortress was in our Lord’s day the headquarters and barracks for the garrison of Roman occupation troops stationed in Jerusalem. At almost every feast some Jewish man, enraged at the thought of Gentiles exercising authority over God’s people, and God’s priesthood, and God’s Temple, would start some trouble.

It was into this city, bulging with the added population of hundreds of thousands of mostly Jewish men on religious pilgrimages, that the Lord Jesus Christ arrived. Let’s take a look at John’s account of this episode in the Savior’s earthly ministry. However, because this account is so long, I purpose to examine this passage in thirteen parts that will likely take me four to five sermons to get through: 

First, John makes mention of OUR LORD’S arrival 

11 Then the Jews sought him at the feast, and said, Where is he?

12 And there was much murmuring among the people concerning him: for some said, He is a good man: others said, Nay; but he deceiveth the people.

13 Howbeit no man spake openly of him for fear of the Jews. 

I want you to notice some things in these three verses, which help us to fill in some details that may be missing in your understanding of the situation the Lord was thrusting Himself into:

In verse 11 we read, 

“Then the Jews sought him at the feast, and said, Where is he?” 

What do we learn from the first portion of the verse? What do we learn from the question? From the first portion of the verse, we learn who and what. Reference is made to “the Jews” in this verse, but “the people” in verse 12. This suggests that John here refers to the religious leaders when he uses the phrase “the Jews.” That is the who. The what is that the religious leaders are seeking Christ at the feast. That is what they are doing. Instead of preparing to provide spiritual leadership for the religious pilgrims flooding into Jerusalem, they are wasting time and resources searching for the Lord Jesus Christ, who they perceive to be a threat to the status quo. Of course, this implies that the Lord Jesus Christ had not arrived for the beginning of the feast. If He were, He would no doubt have been recognized by those at the feast who knew what He looked like and by members of His Own family. Have you ever wondered why did He did not arrive at the outset? There could be several reasons: It could be that He didn’t appear to heighten the people’s anticipation of His arrival. After all, the Lord Jesus knew perfectly well what people are like and how their anticipation would build. It could also be that knowing that the authorities already intended to kill Him, He is simply allowing tension to build that would make it impossible for them to seize Him before it was time.

In verse 12 we read, 

“And there was much murmuring among the people concerning him: for some said, He is a good man: others said, Nay; but he deceiveth the people.” 

One of the first things that happen when people who live spread out far and wide then gather together for some occasion is they catch up on the news. There had been something like eight or nine major feasts in Jerusalem since the Lord Jesus Christ began His earthly ministry, with all its miracles and wonders and phenomenal teachings, and since the martyrdom of John the Baptist. So, the Lord Jesus Christ is obviously going to be the talk of the whole city, with Jews from outside the Holy Land wanting to know what has happened since they were last in Jerusalem. And opinion was obviously divided. Some felt He was a good man, while others felt He was a deceiver. In actuality, He was neither. This reminds me of a comment the late Oxford don C. S. Lewis once wrote, 

“You must make your choice: either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon; or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”[7] 

Verse 13: 

“Howbeit no man spake openly of him for fear of the Jews.” 

More evidence that John’s use of the word “Jews” should be seen in context here to refer to the rulers of the Jews since virtually everyone in Jerusalem during this feast time was Jewish. So, why would common and ordinary Jewish people fear the rulers of the Jews? It was getting to be pretty common knowledge among the people that Jesus of Nazareth was hated by the rulers, and that He, in turn, had contempt for them. But beyond the obvious fear the common folks had for the rulers of the Jews, why would ordinary people not speak of the Lord Jesus openly? We might answer two ways: First, they feared men and not God. And remember, the Lord Jesus said, in Matthew 10.28, not to fear those who could only kill you. He said, 

“And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.” 

As well, Proverbs 29.25 tells us that 

“The fear of man bringeth a snare: but whoso putteth his trust in the LORD shall be safe.” 

So, those who were scared to speak openly of the Lord Jesus were sinning. And what is another way of describing their sin of not speaking of Him for fear? They were ashamed of Jesus Christ and His words. In Luke 9.26 we read that He said these words: 

“For whosoever shall be ashamed of me and of my words, of him shall the Son of man be ashamed, when he shall come in his own glory, and in his Father’s, and of the holy angels.” 

Second, John makes mention of OUR LORD’S activity 

John 7.14: 

“Now about the midst of the feast Jesus went up into the temple and taught.” 

We see two remarkable things standing out in this brief verse:

First, there is the matter of His timing. We observed back in verse 11 that the feast had begun and the Lord Jesus was nowhere to be seen. I also mentioned to you that there would be a decided impact on the multitudes as a result of His late arrival on the scene. We find in this verse that 

“Now about the midst of the feast Jesus went up into the temple.” 

This word “midst,” mesaoo in Greek, refers to being in the middle of something.[8] So, apparently, right at the height of the festivities our Lord goes public and heads straight into the courtyard of the Temple.

Next, there is the matter of His actions: 

“Jesus went up into the temple, and taught.” 

Greek is considerably more precise a language about certain things than English is, and so there is a nuance we pick up on when we examine this verse carefully. The Apostle John is here concentrating on the activity of the Lord Jesus Christ, not on any subject matter. Specifically, he draws our attention to the fact that the Savior arrived at the Temple and began to do what He was wont to do, which was teaching. This was an astonishing thing in and of itself, especially when you consider how threatening His actions were perceived to be to those who occupied the institutional offices of instruction in that society, such as the priests and the scribes. Our Lord has effectively entered the lion’s den and is acting like a boss by teaching the people in the courtyard of the Temple in the midst of the Feast of Tabernacles. So, His timing and His teaching had an impact. 

Third, John makes mention of the Jewish leaders’ appraisal 

John 7.15: 

“And the Jews marvelled, saying, How knoweth this man letters, having never learned?” 

It may very well be, and I think it is, that when John refers to the Jews in this verse, he is still referring to the rulers of the Jews, the elites of Jewish religious society. Most of the time a regular guy would simply feast on the Savior’s instruction and care nothing about some teacher’s qualifications. But these men John refers to are shocked that the Lord Jesus Christ is a competent scholar.

Notice their question about Him: 

“How knoweth this man letters, having never learned?” 

What they mean is, How is it that this guy is so well-schooled, so expert in Scripture, given the fact that He has never been to a rabbinical school of any note? There are two facts that can be derived from this question they asked among themselves: First, just asking the question “How knoweth this man letters?” is a tacit admission of the Lord Jesus Christ’s expertise and skill as a teacher, as well as His accuracy. If He hadn’t known what He was talking about they would have criticized Him as a buffoon, an ignoramus, or a heretic. Am I right? So, there is no question but that they, too, recognized what the masses had seen in Him long ago, great skill as a teacher and profound understanding of God’s Word. Second, their awareness that the Lord Jesus had been to no rabbinical school is proof that they had been checking up on Him. And we will see more evidence in the future that the rulers of the Jews, seeing the Lord Jesus as a competitor for the affections of the people, had thoroughly investigated His birth, His childhood, His parentage, His education, and all of these other things. They knew as much about the Lord Jesus Christ as anyone could know who was spiritually blind and had not the eyes to see Him for Who He was.

From these facts that we discern from the questions that were asked about the Savior, what can we conclude about those who asked these questions? What can you tell about someone who analyzes the messenger instead of feeding on the message, who scrutinizes the speaker instead of scrutinizing his motives and heart, who criticizes instead of applies, who sits back and judges instead of immersing himself in the life-changing truths being taught? You can tell that these men are skeptics, that they are scorners, that they are critics, that they are judgmental, that they are proud, that they are arrogant, that they are self-deceived, that they are hypocritical, and that they are damned to Hellfire without remedy. Why do I say damned to Hellfire without remedy? Because the only remedy for their ills is the One they stood there criticizing, the One they rejected for not having attended a rabbinical school, the One they rejected for being meek and lowly, the One they still were out to get from the last time He was in Jerusalem, John 5.5-18. That’s when He dared to heal the man beside the pool of Bethesda on the Sabbath day, and also dared to say that God was His Father. Don’t think they’ve forgotten what He had done, and in their backyard to boot. 

This is a good place to pause in our investigation of the Lord Jesus Christ’s revelation of Himself in the last Feast of Tabernacles before His crucifixion. In closing, how can we recapitulate and act upon what we have learned in John 7.11-15?

May I suggest three summary statements from the five verses we have encountered so far? One summary statement speaks to what we see about the Lord Jesus Christ. A second summary statement has for its subject the multitudes gathered in Jerusalem to observe the Feast of Tabernacles. A third summary statement focuses on the Jews, the religious leaders the Apostle John distinguishes from the multitudes of ordinary people.

What we observe in John 7.11-15 is evidence that the Lord Jesus Christ is thoroughly in command of the circumstances. At first, He is not in attendance at the feast. Then, He is not only in attendance, but He is the center of attention, daring to go to the Temple courtyard to teach the multitudes without reservation or fear of the religious leaders. And His teaching ministry to the multitudes is so excellent that His enemies are astonished.

Concerning the multitudes, we see that they are curious, interested, but not discerning or wise. They are all a buzz about this Jesus of Nazareth, this miracle worker, this man the Jewish religious leaders are so opposed to. But like so many people of all ages, they are only mildly curious while being content to let others do the serious thinking for them. If they were insightful, the two groups of people (the one group thinking. He is a good man and the other thinking He deceived the people) would realize from evidence readily available that He deceived no one and that He was not merely good.

There is none good but God. So the multitudes, seeming to be neutral and somewhat innocent, were guilty of terrible crimes. On the one hand they were opinionated but noncommittal about the Savior, fearing to talk about Him for fear of the Jewish leaders, while on the other hand they were oblivious to their own desperate need of a savior. The result was they did nothing. While they are seen in a relatively good light in comparison to the religious leaders who were avowed enemies of the Savior, their situation was no better. Close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades. Meaning? Meaning these attentive but unresponsive masses are just as lost, just as guilty, and just as damned in their sins as the religious leaders were. Since people are born dead in trespasses and sins, to hold opinions is meaningless. And to do nothing is to remain condemned.

Turning to the religious leaders, let us consider what they know. They know the Lord Jesus Christ is a great teacher. They admit He is in John 7.15. But Nicodemus admitted as much in John 3.2. Additionally, they know He is a miracle worker. Do you think they do not know? He fed 5,000 men with five loaves and two fishes. Do you think they are unaware that He also fed 4,000? To top it off, they know He has healed the crippled and raised dead people back to life. What, then, is their problem? Generally, of course, their problem is that they are dead in trespasses and sins, they are evil, they are enemies of God. But that is true of every lost person. Their particular problem is they are born to high station, well situated in their culture, and blessed with a wonderful education. That’s a problem? Yes, that is a serious problem. You see, the Lord Jesus Christ comes along and threatens to wreck everything by toppling the established order they are so much a part of.

And because the religious leaders cared more about their position and status than they cared about their eternal and undying souls, they viewed the only savior of sinful men’s souls as a threat. But the Lord Jesus Christ is not a threat. He is a solution. And anyone who shrinks back from trusting Him identifies thereby himself or herself as someone who cares about something more than the welfare of his own or her eternal soul.

Are people’s opinions of you more important than your soul? Is your boyfriend more important than your soul? Is your girlfriend more important than your soul? Is your spouse more important than your soul? Is your job more important than your soul? Is your family more important than your soul? Is your standing in the community more important than your soul? No. No. No. No. No. No. And no.

You know as much about the Lord Jesus Christ as those multitudes of people knew, and as much as the religious leaders knew. You know He is a great teacher come from God. You know He performed miracles. You know He cleansed lepers, healed the sick and the crippled, raised the dead, and forgave sins. You also know He rose from the dead and ascended to God’s right hand.

What will you do with what you know? Will you oppose Him, as the religious leaders attempted to do, without success? Or perhaps you favor Him, as the multitudes did, but without benefit. You see, it is not nearly enough to have a favorable opinion about the eternal Son of the living God. He demands that you come to Him. He demands that you trust Him.

Part 2 of our series, Lord willing, next Sunday morning.

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[1] Matthew 15.21-28; Mark 7.24-30

[2] Matthew 16.13-20; Mark 8.27-38; Luke 9.18-27

[3] Matthew 17.1-13; Mark 9.2-13

[4] Matthew 8.19-20; Luke 9.57-58

[5] Matthew 8.21-22; Luke 9.59-60

[6] Luke 9.61-62

[7] http://www.azquotes.com/quote/477153

[8] Bauer, Danker, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and other Early Christian Literature, (Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press, 2000), page 635.

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