Introduction and First thoughts on Chapter 7
Chapter seven begins a new section of the book of John. In fact, chapters 7-8 could easily be lumped in together under one heading ‘Jesus at the Feast of Tabernacles’ as Carson says. John is now wrapping up the portion of Christ’s life and ministry that contains many of his miracles, and the work He did in Galilee. This is the portion of His ministry that the synoptics spend the most time on.
A.W. Pink introduces the chapter in this way, “Our Lord’s ministry in Galilee was now over, though He still remained there, because the Judeans sought to kill Him. The annual Feast of tabernacles was at hand, and His brethren were anxious for Christ to go up to Jerusalem, and there give a public display of His miraculous powers. To this request the Savior made a reply which at first glance appears enigmatical. He bids His brethren go up to the Feast, but excuses Himself on the ground that His time was not yet fully come. After their departure, He abode still in Galilee. But very shortly after, He, too, goes up to the Feast; as it were in secret.”
The feast itself was one of the most popular feasts (the most popular of the three major feasts according to Josephus cf. Carson), and people would have been flocking to Jerusalem. Carson explains, “The institution of the Feast was associated in the Old Testament with the ingathering of harvest (Ex. 23:16; Lev. 23:33-36, 39-43; Deut. 16:13-15; not grain, which was reaped between April and June, but grapes and olives).”
“People living in rural areas built makeshift structures of light branches and leaves to live in for the week; town dwellers put up similar structures on their flat roofs or in their courtyards” says Carson.
I think that it’s worth noting here that what has just occurred in 6:66 (many of His disciples leaving Him) precipitates some of the events in chapter seven. There’s no doubt in my mind that the ministry of Christ, at this point, is about to reach some very great heights of influence, and create a tension within Judaism that leads to His death on a cross. John spends a lot of time on the final week of Christ’s time here on earth, and the lead up to that final week is relatively short by comparison to the other gospels. The tension will reach its ultimate heights at the end of chapter 11, and beginning in chapter 12 we have the triumphal entry into Jerusalem, and the final week of Christ’s ministry here on earth.
Finally, since there is at least a six-month span of time between chapter six and chapter seven (one taking place around Passover and the other just before the feast of the Tabernacles), I think its worth while to consider how Christ spent this time.
John MacArthur notes that during this span of time, the synoptics spend many chapters covering His healings, the Transfiguration, the feeding of the 4000, and many other things He says and does. But John is writing from another perspective. John’s goal is to show us the Messiah, and as such he spends the most time of any of the gospel writers on the final week of Christ’s life. We’re not hopping forward, as it were, through some of the most important miracles He did in order to get to the teaching. Not that John is unconcerned with miracles – but he obviously puts them below the teaching of Christ in their importance, even labeling them “signs.”
Another point that MacArthur asks us to ponder is how Christ spent His time leading up to this seventh chapter. Certainly He was healing and performing miracles, but most of His time (it could easily be argued) was spent teaching and pouring His life into His disciples. He invested so much time into 12 men (one of whom He knew would fall away) that one wonders how Christianity ever got off the ground. But God was pleased to use these men, from diverse backgrounds and varying education, to proclaim His word to the world.
We each of us have groups of people that God has been pleased to surround us with. We each of us might also wonder from time to time “why doesn’t God use me in a way that He uses other highly prominent people?” “Surely” we erroneously conclude “my impact for the kingdom will not be very significant.” But there we fail to consider Christ’s own methodology. It is His method to use seemingly insignificant people to invest in others for the glory of God. He took from “the least of these” and created a kingdom. Christ ushered in a kingdom that has included tens (if not hundreds) of millions of people throughout the past 2000 years.
Therefore, we ought not to despair of our influence for the kingdom. Look at your children, look at your friends. Pour your life and love into those whom God Almighty has surrounded you with, for the glory and expansion of His kingdom.
7:1 After this Jesus went about in Galilee. He would not go about in Judea, because the Jews were seeking to kill him.
So when the text says “after these things” or “after this” it is probably not necessarily referring to an immediate event, but rather simply stating a matter of chronology.
Until now, Christ had been going back and forth between Judea and Galilee in His ministry, and now was about to leave Galilee for Jerusalem – not for the final time (Matt. 19:1; Mark 9:30), but His ministry there seems to have reached a conclusion.
The fact that Christ knew what His enemies intended for Him, and yet also knew that He was destined to die on a cross for the sins of the world, plays heavily into our thoughts as we see that His timing for all things is in His own hands. He will not be allowed to die before the time He and the Father have ordained. We’ll read more about this later, but look at John 10:17-18:
For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.
Can you imagine spending your life knowing that you were destined to die – not only knowing that you would die, but knowing what kind of death you would die? This was the knowledge that Jesus Christ had to bear alone. We sometimes think of the stresses and anxieties of waking up on Monday morning with a long list of things to do throughout the week. We think of the meetings, the presentations, the children, the places we need to be, the things we’ll have to do. And yet none of this compares with the weighty burden that our Lord faced day in and day out. Surely He can sympathize with our weaknesses.
But He was not going to allow any man’s timing to change the time of His death. In fact, He didn’t live any part of His life by man’s timing, but by God’s as we’ll see in a few verses.
7:2 Now the Jews’ Feast of Booths was at hand.
As I explained above, this was one of the three major feasts that the Jews celebrated. The three feasts are: the Feast of Weeks, the Passover, and the Feast of Tabernacles/Booths.
The commandment for these festivals is found in Exodus where we read the following:
“Three times in the year you shall keep a feast to me.  You shall keep the Feast of Unleavened Bread. As I commanded you, you shall eat unleavened bread for seven days at the appointed time in the month of Abib, for in it you came out of Egypt. None shall appear before me empty-handed.  You shall keep the Feast of Harvest, of the firstfruits of your labor, of what you sow in the field. You shall keep the Feast of Ingathering at the end of the year, when you gather in from the field the fruit of your labor.  Three times in the year shall all your males appear before the Lord GOD.” – Exodus 23:14-17
The feast of the “Unleavened Bread” is Passover and is in April or May in the Jewish month of Nisan (called “Abib” in Scripture). The feast of the “Harvest” is the Feast of “Weeks” (the English word “weeks” is from the Hebrew “shavuot”) which comes 50 days (or 7 weeks) after Passover and celebrates the giving of the law to Moses at Mt. Sinai.
The Feast of the “Ingathering” comes at the end of the year (in September or October – the Jewish calendar is lunar whereas our western Gregorian calendar is solar, so their holidays can shift accordingly) and is the feast of Tabernacles that we’re discussing in this chapter here.
7:3-5 So his brothers said to him, “Leave here and go to Judea, that your disciples also may see the works you are doing.  For no one works in secret if he seeks to be known openly. If you do these things, show yourself to the world.” For not even his brothers believed in him.
A Different Kind of Agenda
His brothers certainly didn’t have a good idea of what Christ came to accomplish on earth. We learn in verse five that they didn’t believe in Him, and here we see them sort of egging Him on to go up to the feast and perform as if He’s a trained monkey.
Carson comments that it wasn’t as if they didn’t believe He was capable of doing the miracles, but that they just “could not perceive the significance of what they saw.”
Why would they want Him to go to Jerusalem then? I think Carson’s explanation is spot on here as well:
(In Jerusalem) not only would He enjoy the biggest crowds of His career, but the word would spread very quickly…What better place for a religious leader to parade his wares? If Jesus is interested in religious prominence, His brothers reason, sooner or later He must prove the master of Jerusalem. Otherwise He will always be regarded by the authorities and by the upper echelons of society as no more than a rustic, rural preacher.
It seems obvious here that they have no idea of God’s plan for Jesus – simply look at the way they tell Him to “show yourself to the world” – their minds were not above but here on earth.
The Unbelief of His Brothers
In his commentary on John, R.C. Sproul says that verse five in this chapter is one that really disturbs him. It’s a cautionary verse that we ought to examine a little bit on its own merit for a moment.
It’s obvious that Jesus’ brothers believe that He can do miracles, that He has a sort of following, and that He’s got a destiny of leadership – though their ideas of these things are radically different than God’s plans, as it turns out.
Sproul says this about the brothers, “They were following Jesus for what He could provide…they were rooting for Him to go to Jerusalem to manifest His power. This tells us they were still unbelievers, outside the kingdom of God.”
He then makes an interesting point about these brothers, “If we could have asked Jesus’ brothers, ‘do you believe in your brother?’ they would have said: ‘Of course we believe in Him. Why else would we want Him to go to Jerusalem and make Himself known? We want the people to know about Him. We want to see His ministry grow and expand. Just like John the Baptist, we want Him to increase.’ Nevertheless, the Word of God says Jesus’ brothers were unbelievers. That is why we have to ask ourselves, ‘Is the Jesus we believe in the real Jesus?’”
What he means, of course, is that we humans have a tendency of making out God to be something different in our minds than He is in reality. We shape and fashion him in our own image. When we do this, Sproul says we “become like Jesus’ unbelieving brothers who looked to Him only for what they could get, for worldly power and worldly success.”
The Sovereignty of God in Salvation
The next thing that occurs to me is that His brothers had been with Him growing up. They had seen the miracles. They had seen His ministry and heard His words, and yet they were not true believers.
Later on these same unbelieving brothers would become His followers – but not until after the resurrection. What an amazing proof text to the sovereignty of God in all things – including the timing of when people come to faith in Jesus Christ. Seeing and hearing Christ is not enough. There has to be repentance and faith accompany these two things.
As J.C. Ryle says, “That great Scriptural doctrine, man’s need of preventing and converting grace, stands out here, as if written with a sunbeam. It becomes all who question that doctrine to look at this passage and consider. Let them observe that seeing Christ’s miracles, hearing Christ’s teaching, living in Christ’s own company, were not enough to make men believers. There mere possession of spiritual privileges never yet made any one a Christian. All is useless without the effectual and applying work of God the Holy Ghost. No wonder that our Lord said in another place, ‘No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him.’”
The Isolation of Christ
I remarked already before how this chapter comes on the heals (not immediately chronologically) of what must have seemed in some ways as a low point in Christ’s ministry. John 6:66 tells us that He lost a lot of followers, and even though its been some time between that time and the beginning of this chapter, chances are that He has not accrued as many followers as his brothers seem to think necessary to lead a movement (against Rome for example).
Ryle says, “Our blessed Master has truly learned by experience how to sympathize with all his people who stand alone. This is a though full of sweet, pleasant, and unspeakable comfort. He knows the heart of every isolated believer, and can be touched with the feeling of his trials.”
Isaiah predicted that Christ would be treated in this way, “He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not” (Is. 53:3).
But because of this, He can identify with our suffering, and He comforts all those who come to Him (Heb. 2:17-18). What a beautiful truth to rest our hopes on.
7:6-9 Jesus said to them, “My time has not yet come, but your time is always here.  The world cannot hate you, but it hates me because I testify about it that its works are evil. You go up to the feast. I am not going up to this feast, for my time has not yet fully come.” After saying this, he remained in Galilee.
What Kind of Time?
It is an extremely familiar saying for us here to read that Jesus said “my time has not yet come” because we encounter Him saying something like this – or we read different gospel writers saying it – in relation to times where Jesus could have been killed. In fact Jesus escaped death at the very beginning of His ministry after enduring 40 days in the wilderness and a test by Satan. The first thing He did was go into the synagogue and proclaim that a certain prophecy had been fulfilled, and for this the people (recognizing His claim to deity) attempted to hill Him.
However, in those instances, the scripture is almost always referring to “His time” as His time to suffer and die – the crucifixion. The time when He would fulfill the very thing He was born into this world to do – He was born to die.
But this is not what Christ is referring to here. When He says, “my time has not yet fully come” He is using a different word (kairos) here than in previous instances (hora). What He is saying, in essence, is that His brothers can go up to the feast any old time they want, but He must tarry a little while longer, for He has not yet been told by the Father to go up to the feast. He has not yet fully fulfilled His time where He is now.
If we read this in the way that Christ is saying His time to die and fulfill His passion has not yet come, then we must also read the inverse into His statement to His brothers…i.e. their time to die is “always here!” This would certainly have scandalized them! It would also make verse 10 almost impossible to understand, because we’d think Jesus had either told a lie, or Scripture had contradicted itself.
And so we also see that Christ is saying to His brothers not only something of His own time frame, which is dictated by God, but of theirs, which is dictated by their own whims. Carson says this; “All appointments that ignore God’s kairos are in the eternal scheme of things equally insignificant.” In other words, the brothers’ opinions on what Christ ought to do hold absolutely no significance or bearing on the plan that God Almighty has laid out for His Son!
7:10 But after his brothers had gone up to the feast, then he also went up, not publicly but in private.
His Timing is Not Our Timing
Now we see that Jesus has left Galilee and gone up to the feast – this time going up not publically but “in private” – the opposite of what His brothers had suggested.
This leads us to consider the nature of how God works in time. We see His Son, the Timeless Son of God, step from eternity into finitude. He has marked out a time whereupon He will walk with us and step on the very dirt He breathed into existence. This is quite something to ponder, is it not?
Often our mindset on the way in which God works timing in our lives is finite at best – and completely ignorant at worst. Of course we are all of us ignorant of the mystery of God’s mind, but it is wise for us to understand a few principles here that articulate for us not only how He works, but also something of His character in doing so.
The mind of God in eternity is described well by James Boice. He says, “We can make the same point also by imagining time to be something like a motion picture We view it in a sequence. God views it as though it were millions of individual frames, all seen at once. From His perspective, God sees Adam and Eve, Abraham and Isaac, Christ on the cross, you and me, simultaneously.”
Boice points out that this has an effect on how we view God’s interaction with us, and how we view His “decision making.” He says, “We make decisions constantly, and we do so in an effort to cope with variableness, ignorance, previous indecision, and other things. Our decisions are attempts to deal with problems not previously considered. God’s decisions are not like this because of the nature of His relationship to time. There is no variableness or indecision with God. Consequently, His decisions are rather in the nature of eternal decrees, unchanging and unchangeable.”
So from eternity past God had a perfect will and timing for when Christ was going to go up to Jerusalem to die on the cross, but He also had a perfect ordering to every day of Christ’s ministry – just as He has a perfect ordering to every problem and blessing you experience in your life. Consequently, ordering your life around your own whims rather than the will of God is an exercise in futility. God has a plan for your life, a beautiful, difficult, worthwhile plan to bring Him glory and pleasure, and bring you joy and an eternity with Him.
Read how James Boice concludes these thoughts by saying, “God does not make decisions because He is suddenly confronted with a problem that He has not foreseen. He determines both the problems and the solutions in advance. He is never surprised, never caught off balance. Thus, there is never a problem that baffles Him, or a work that He does not intend to finish. Because of this we can rest in Him, and trust Him for the ordering of our days.”