After Jesus offends most of his followers by declaring that anyone who doesn’t eat his flesh and drink his blood is dead, and most of Jesus’ disciples end up deserting him, Jesus decides to hang around in Galilee because he wants to avoid the Jewish elders in Judea who want to kill him.
But when the Jewish Festival of Tabernacles was near, Jesus’ brothers said to him, “Leave Galilee and go to Judea, so that your disciples there may see the works you do. No one who wants to become a public figure acts in secret. Since you are doing these things, show yourself to the world.”
And John tells us that even his own brothers did not believe in him.
But Jesus tells them that his time hasn’t come yet, and they go on up without him.
After they leave, Jesus actually does go up for the festival, but he does so in secret, and he listens to all the rumors that the crowds are whispering about him there – some people say he’s a good man, and other people say he’s a liar.
The Jewish Festival of Tabernacles was a celebration of the end of the harvest. Its purpose was to remind people of the goodness that God had shown to them during the time period of their desert wanderings… back when they lived in tents and were always on the go. During this festival, the people would set up tents (also called “tabernacles” or “booths”) and would live in them during the week. This was to remind them of when they lived in tents in desert.
John uses this same kind of language at the beginning of his Gospel when he describes the incarnation of Jesus – “the Word became flesh and pitched his tent among us.”
Not until halfway through the festival did Jesus go up to the temple courts and begin to teach.
The crowds would have reached their peak during the festival right about the time that Jesus began teaching – right at the halfway mark during the week. Jesus knew his audience and he strategized to reach as many people as possible. By waiting to go to the Temple to teach until the middle of the week, he was able to reach far more people before the Pharisees tried to shut him down than he would have if he had gone up with his brothers and started teaching straight away. His brothers, anyway, didn’t seem all that interested in Jesus’ message at that time anyway. They appeared more interested in the fame and glory it might bring to their family… and possibly the profits their prophet-brother could get them as well.
But the Jews there were amazed when they heard Jesus speak and asked, “How did this man get such learning without having been taught?”
Jesus answered, “My teaching is not my own. It comes from the one who sent me. Anyone who chooses to do the will of God will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own.
John tells us that the people were in awe of Jesus’ teachings, but not because they necessarily agreed with what he said… but because they thought he was a “nobody” who somehow became a skilled orator. They loved his miracles, too. But not all of them truly loved him for who he really was.
Jesus then accuses them of breaking the law Moses gave them by trying to kill him.
They accuse him of being demon-possessed, and are like, “Who do you think is trying to kill you?”
Jesus reminds them of how shocked they were the last time he performed a miracle there because he had done it on the Sabbath.
He then points out that they care more about making sure they’re boys get circumcised than they do about the healing of a cripple… even though both events took place on the Sabbath.
And Jesus is like, “How is circumcision better than healing a whole person?”
The elders ignore Jesus, and the crowds take note of this, and they begin to ask each other if perhaps even the elders might be beginning to believe that Jesus is the Messiah since they have all suddenly grown so silent.