Jesus Goes to the Festival of Tabernacles
1 After this, Jesus went around in Galilee. He did not want to go about in Judea because the Jewish leaders there were looking for a way to kill him. 2 But when the Jewish Festival of Tabernacles was near, 3 Jesus' brothers said to him, "Leave Galilee and go to Judea, so that your disciples there may see the works you do. 4 No one who wants to become a public figure acts in secret. Since you are doing these things, show yourself to the world." 5 For even his own brothers did not believe in him.
6 Therefore Jesus told them, "My time is not yet here; for you any time will do. 7 The world cannot hate you, but it hates me because I testify that its works are evil. 8 You go to the Festival. I am not going up to this Festival, because my time has not yet fully come." 9 Having said this, he stayed in Galilee.
10 However, after his brothers had left for the Festival, he went also, not publicly, but in secret. 11 Now at the Festival the Jewish leaders were watching for Jesus and asking, "Where is he?"
12 Among the crowds there was widespread whispering about him. Some said, "He is a good man."
Others replied, "No, he deceives the people." 13 But no one would say anything publicly about him for fear of the leaders.
It was a special day and the bride and groom couldn't just go walking around on the stage once the guests started arriving. They had been up there earlier quite a bit for different reasons to get ready for the wedding, but once everything was set, timing was everything. This was especially true of the bride. Imagine the disappointment of all of the honored guests if the bride had suddenly sauntered out to adjust some flowers on the stage or to go over one more time where she would stand. Other people, even people in the wedding party, could and did go down the aisle and even up on the stage for various reasons and nobody much cared or noticed but the bride simply could not do that. When she came down the aisle it meant something. When the time was right, though, the attendants proceeded down the aisle, everyone took there places, and then with a dramatic pause, the music began. The time was now. The doors swung open and the bride appeared. Everyone knew that the wedding had officially begun. All the signs were in place and now the bride had arrived.
Although this isn't a perfect analogy, they never are, it does help to keep this concept in mind as we read through this passage. Jesus wasn't just running around Israel making things up as he went along. He had a plan, and there was specific timing and specific symbolism involved. It just wouldn't do for him to saunter into Jerusalem, get the Jewish leaders angry, and be put to death. Nothing In Jesus' life just happened without forethought and meaning. He carefully followed the will of the Father. There was a timing and a reason to everything he did, and whether or not he would go to Jerusalem during the festival of the Tabernacles was included in that. There were many things about this festival that did point to the Messiah and John will make that fairly clear, but the ultimate timing involved Passover. The death of the Lamb of God had a Passover flavor to it, not the festival of Tabernacles. When the Messiah arrived in Jerusalem with all of the attention and fanfare that demonstrated that what he was going to do was at that moment, must hap[pen during Passover. Here is the major difference between the wedding analogy and what we see here. The bride remains safely hidden from the eyes of the guests until the wedding begins. Jesus would go to Jerusalem this time, but in a way that made it very clearly that this was not the big moment. The time for that simply hadn't come yet.
John's, "after this", doesn't mean it happened immediately. In fact, the time period that passed between Passover (6:4) and this incident would have been about six months. This demonstrates that John isn't writing a complete blow-by-blow history of Jesus' ministry but recording what is necessary so that people might come to faith in Jesus as the Messiah (20:31). John doesn't tell us precisely what Jesus had been doing during this time, but he does stress that Jesus had stayed out of Judea, for the most part, because the Jewish leaders were constantly seeking to kill him. John does tell us that he "went around" in Galilee, using a word that indicated the actions of a rabbi or sage walking among the people and teaching. Since Galilee was ruled by Herod Antipas and Judea by the Roman Governor, staying in Galilee would have provided Jesus a certain amount of protection.
As this scene unfolds, it is obvious that there is a basic conflict between Jesus and his brothers. They simply don't understand what he is doing. Whether they thought he might be the Messiah or not, they certainly didn't understand what sort of Messiah he was going to be, so John uses their misunderstanding to show us exactly what shape his Messiahship will take. His brothers want him to go to Jerusalem for the festival. If he is truly going to be a public figure, a public Messiah, then the issue must be settled in Jerusalem. That's where he is going to really gain the most attention and the most followers. It's quite possible, in fact, that his group of followers remained relatively small since the events of chapter 6. He has been doing some incredible things, which his brothers seem to accept that he has, but how will anyone know? How can he truly be the Messiah of the whole nation if he continues in the relative secrecy of Galilee? They disapproved of Jesus' handling of the situation. If he was the Messiah, then he needed to step up and prove it in the only place that mattered for such things. They simply could not conceive of a Messiah that would be largely unpopular. In that sense, his brothers, to this point, have the same attitude as the crowd of 6:15 who wanted to make Jesus king, or even Satan who tried to lure Jesus into a form of Messianic fulfillment that would be self-aggrandizing (Mt. 4:5-7).
They didn't understand the full impact of what they were asking Jesus to do. If he was going to do something, it might as well be now. But they had no divine mission. They had no commission from God to fulfill a specific role. The world wouldn't reject them (hate them) because they were very much of the world. They were still stuck in the same small pattern of expectations that the world was, so it would have no reason to reject them. Jesus, though, had opposed the values and reality of the world with everything that he had said and done, and the world would simply not accept that.
Jesus tells his brothers to go to the Festival whenever they like, because what they do is not that important in the grand scheme of things. If they went up with the regular band of pilgrims, it would not mean anything (we get the idea from Luke 2 that these pilgrim caravans could be quite large as it took Joseph and Mary an entire day to figure out that the twelve-year old Jesus was not with the group). Jesus, however had a specific time. His work had to be completed and his time had not yet fully come. John doesn't explain explicitly why this would not yet qualify as his time, but he has already given us several hints that Jesus' hour would be at Passover time, not the festival of Tabernacles. Like a bride coming down the aisle, the timing and attention were of vital importance. Jesus simply could not make a spectacle of traveling to Jerusalem in a Messianic fashion yet. The timing was not right. He had more of the Father's work to complete.
This leaves us with a bit of puzzle, though. Jesus appears to say that he is not going to Jerusalem, but then he turns right around and does exactly what he seemingly just said he was not going to do. What Jesus appears to be declining, however is the option of going up with the regular band of pilgrims. He will not go with the caravan, making their way to Jerusalem to observe the festival of Tabernacles in the traditional manner. Jesus will not do that. He will not meet the expectations of the public and the Jewish leaders, who were evidently expecting that he would make the most of this very public opportunity.
Rather than doing what might have been expected, Jesus waits. He goes by himself, in relative secrecy (that doesn't imply that he snuck around or wore a disguise, simply that he did not go publicly with a great deal of fanfare). We could almost say that Jesus won't be making an "official Messianic" visit to the holy city of God. He will go and he will teach but it is not yet time for the new Exodus that Luke will describe as Jesus quite deliberately and publicly makes his way to Jerusalem before the Passover which would mark his death.
John tells us that the crowds were quite split on their perceptions of Jesus. Some thought he was a good man, while others charged him with deceiving people, in essence, making him a false prophet, a charge worthy of death in ancient Israel. Regardless of how they felt, however, no one wanted to say much of anything publicly. The risk was simply too great.
What John has given us as this scene opens is a picture of a Messiah who is on a very specific mission. He is not being tossed around, back and forth, by the whims and wills of the Jewish leaders, the Romans, or even Satan. The Word has become flesh to do only what the Father has sent him to do. His mission is not a haphazard one of random teachings and miraculous signs that resulted in his tragic and untimely death. No, everything he was doing was pointing to his death. The new creation was coming, but it would somehow come, strangely enough, through his own death (this is precisely the point that so many of his own disciples simply could not understand). Jesus would complete his work and go to his death, but that would not happen until his hour had come. His life would not be taken until he laid it down.
Does Jesus' careful thought, planning, and timing inspire you at all? Do you carefully think through your spiritual life and growth or even opportunities to evangelize the lost in your life the way that Jesus did? We certainly don't have the same type of specific commission from God that Jesus did, but we do all share a commission to demonstrate a life reconciled to God and to call others to that life. Make some efforts this week to consider the careful thought that went into each of Jesus' actions and learn and apply what you can to your own life.