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Most of John 7 has been excluded from the standard three-year Lectionary.  If you attend a church that addresses the Bible in its entirety, perhaps studying it one book at a time, you are indeed blessed.

Many people find church boring, particularly the cleansed Lectionary readings; consequently, the tension is largely missing.  I, too, was guilty of pronouncing them dull.  However, the Calvinist presence online — from Matthew Henry (17th c.) through to John MacArthur (present-day) — got me interested in reading the chapters in full and, as a result, really helped bring the Bible alive.

Unfortunately, because the Lectionary (we are in Year A, by the way) cuts a substantial number of New Testament verses, it is difficult to appreciate what Jesus must have experienced during His public ministry.  It is only by reading and studying Scripture a chapter at a time that we gain a fuller understanding.

Because we hear only a few verses of it in Catholic and mainline Protestant public worship, John 7 is perfect for my ongoing series, Forbidden Bible Verses, also essential to our understanding of the Bible.

Today’s reading is taken from the English Standard Version (ESV) with commentary from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

John 7:1-13

Jesus at the Feast of Booths

 1After this Jesus went about in Galilee. He would not go about in Judea, because the Jews were seeking to kill him. 2Now the Jews’ Feast of Booths was at hand. 3 So his brothers said to him, “Leave here and go to Judea, that your disciples also may see the works you are doing. 4For no one works in secret if he seeks to be known openly. If you do these things, show yourself to the world.” 5 For not even his brothers believed in him. 6Jesus said to them,  “My time has not yet come, but your time is always here. 7The world cannot hate you, but it hates me because I testify about it that its works are evil. 8You go up to the feast. I am not going up to this feast, for my time has not yet fully come.” 9After saying this, he remained in Galilee.

 10But after his brothers had gone up to the feast, then he also went up, not publicly but in private. 11 The Jews were looking for him at the feast, and saying, “Where is he?” 12And there was much muttering about him among the people. While some said, “He is a good man,” others said, “No, he is leading the people astray.” 13Yet for fear of the Jews no one spoke openly of him.

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At the end of John 6, Jesus was in Capernaum delivering some difficult truths to those who had witnessed His miracle of the loaves and the fishes. He also had words for the Jewish hierarchy and some shocking news for His Apostles.

The events in John 7 did not occur immediately thereafter.  John 6 occurred in springtime at the time of Passover.  John 7 takes place during the autumn Feast of Booths, also known as the Feast of Tabernacles.  So, six or seven months have elapsed.  How did He fill His time?  John MacArthur says (emphases mine):

Well, the other writers tell us some of the things He did. He did some miracles. He did some teaching, mostly with very small groups, not large multitudes particularly. He also confronted the Jewish leaders and they came through with that great final apostasy where they accused Him of doing what He did by Satan and He said, “That’s blaspheming the Holy Spirit and that means you can’t be forgiven” …

Those were just incidents here and there. Most of those months He spent with twelve people, twelve disciples. And He did some things that were very important for them. Number one, He taught … and I mean He taught them for seven months, day in, day out, week in, week out for seven months He taught those disciples. He spent seven months with twelve people, teaching, teaching, teaching, teaching.

Second thing He did was, while He was teaching them He told them that He was going to be rejected. He told them He was going to die.

The third thing He did was He took a few selected ones up on a mountain and He showed them His glory in what the Bible calls His transfiguration. For seven months He centered His ministry on twelve people. All the other things were extraneous to those Twelve …

Remember this, in chapter 6 Jesus spent two days … two days with a multitude of 15 to 20 thousand people. That’s all, two days. He spent seven months with twelve disciples.

You say, “So what’s the lesson?” The lesson is this. Discipleship is the priority. Did you get that lesson? Discipleship is the priority. Jesus Christ came to make disciples. Jesus Christ before He left said, “God into the world and have mass meetings.” No. He said, “Go into the world and…what?…make disciples, teaching them.” That’s what it’s all about. This is what God wants. God is not merely so concerned with mass meetings as He is with [making] disciples. That’s the whole point.

Verse 1 tells us that Jesus remained in Galilee after the events in the preceding chapter.  As we discovered reading John 5 and 6, it was too dangerous for Him to remain in Judea, near Jerusalem.  This first verse reiterates that the Jewish hierarchy wished to send Him to His death — by public acclaim or a court proclamation. However, as we discovered in the commentary concerning John 5:31-47, Jesus had His Father’s work to do, and He would not end His public ministry until it was time to do so.

MacArthur sets the scene for John 7 and 8:

He returns to Jerusalem and He finds that the hate has not died out. It has been like ashes smoldering and when He comes back it bursts into a doubly violent flame, finally culminating in a plot in chapter 11 to take His life and that ultimately culminating in His crucifixion. So this chapter begins at a tremendous high intensity of hatred and Jesus Christ, in these two chapters … He will begin to move back to Jerusalem … From here on in we’re going to see some tremendously significant things … we’re going to see the antagonism and the strife toward Jesus Christ that happened when He returned. The final climax, as you well remember, being His death. If you want to get a little idea of how these two chapters end, just look at the last of the two chapters, verse 59 of chapter 8, which says, “Then took they of stones to cast at Him, but Jesus hid Himself and went out of the temple, going through the midst of them and so passed by.” These two chapters culminate in mob violence in an attempt to stone Jesus Christ. They gather their wits a little bit by chapter 11 and they go aside from the mob violence idea and they plot His death as a council. But here the culmination of what Christ does back in Jerusalem in these two chapters causes such intense hatred and violent reaction that they all grab stones to stone Him.

This is why Scripture readings for public worship should be complete with no omissions. That’s how John MacArthur structures his services.  He preaches on a section at a time.

Verse 2 tells us that the Feast of Booths was taking place. As with two other major Jewish feasts, men were required to go to Jerusalem.  Jesus, an observant Jew, was no exception.  Matthew Henry provides background:

It was intended to be both a memorial of the tabernacle state of Israel in the wilderness, and a figure of the tabernacle state of God’s spiritual Israel in this world. This feast, which was instituted so many hundred years before, was still religiously observed. Note, Divine institutions are never antiquated, nor go out of date, by length of time: nor must wilderness mercies ever be forgotten. But it is called the Jews’ feast, because it was now shortly to be abolished, as a mere Jewish thing, and left to them that served the tabernacle.

His brothers, whom Henry describes as ‘kindred’ and MacArthur as stepbrothers, advise Him to perform wonders in Judea (verse 3).  How do we interpret this?  First of all, no one advises Jesus, even family members. Jesus takes His instructions only from God the Father.

However, what are we to think of their intentions?  In verse 4, they say that no one who seeks to be known publicly should work ‘in secret’.  But in verse 5, we discover that even they do not believe in Jesus’s power. Hmm.  If they really were His stepbrothers — as opposed to, say, cousins — it seems  difficult to believe that children of Mary and Joseph would not believe in Jesus as Lord.  Yet, stranger things have happened.

Henry surmises:

There were those who were akin to Christ according to the flesh who did believe in him (three of the twelve were his brethren), and yet others, as nearly allied to him as they, did not believe in him. Many that have the same external privileges and advantages do not make the same use of them …

I answer, [1.] It was a piece of presumption for them to prescribe to Christ, and to teach him what measures to take; it was a sign that they did not believe him able to guide them, when they did not think him sufficient to guide himself. [2.] They discovered a great carelessness about his safety, when they would have him go to Judea, where they knew the Jews sought to kill him. Those that believed in him, and loved him, dissuaded him from Judea, ch. 11:8. [3.] Some think they hoped that if his miracles were wrought at Jerusalem the Pharisees and rulers would try them, and discover some cheat in them, which would justify their unbelief. So. Dr. Whitby. [4.] Perhaps they were weary of his company in Galilee (for are not all these that speak Galileans?) and this was, in effect, a desire that he would depart out of their coasts. [5.] They causelessly insinuate that he neglected his disciples, and denied them such a sight of his works as was necessary to the support of their faith. [6.] They tacitly reproach him as mean-spirited, that he durst not enter the lists with the great men, nor trust himself upon the stage of public action, which, if he had any courage and greatness of soul, he would do, and not sneak thus and skulk in a corner; thus Christ’s humility, and his humiliation, and the small figure which his religion has usually made in the world, have been often turned to the reproach of both him and it. [7.] They seem to question the truth of the miracles he wrought, in saying, “If thou do these things, if they will bear the test of a public scrutiny in the courts above, produce them there.” [8.] They think Christ altogether such a one as themselves, as subject as they to worldly policy, and as desirous as they to make a fair show in the flesh; whereas he sought not honour from men. [9.] Self was at the bottom of all; they hoped, if he would make himself as great as he might, they, being his kinsmen, should share in his honour, and have respect paid them for his sake. Note, First, Many carnal people go to public ordinances, to worship at the feast, only to show themselves, and all their care is to make a good appearance, to present themselves handsomely to the world. Secondly, Many that seem to seek Christ’s honour do really therein seek their own, and make it serve a turn for themselves.

MacArthur adds:

But I think there was another thought, too. I think secretly in their hearts they could not deny His power. They had been raised with Him … And they were very likely hoping that He was going to go down there and become some political Messiah. And just think what that meant? You know, we’re His brothers, fellows. If He’s in, we’re in. And they figured they might slide into some glorious fame and so forth on His coattails … They figured if this was it, Jerusalem will be the acid test. And if this is it, He’ll set up His deal down there and we’ll get in on it. And so they said to Him, “Do this in Jerusalem. If You’re for real, go down there and do it” …

Here’s a key to the attitude of the brothers, if you’ll notice it in verse 4. It’s the word “if” …

Jesus replies (verse 6) that it is He whom the high priests are after, not they. Jesus knows that His life will be ending soon, just not yet.  His kin, on the other hand, are part of the world, therefore, safe from harm. As such, He says that the world hates Him because He tells the truth about people’s evil deeds (verse 7).

Would Jesus have a following today?  Based on the spittle-flecked invective which Christianity receives in Europe and the active, bloody persecution of the Church in totalitarian countries past and present, I fear that history would repeat itself.  Surely there would be contracts out on His life.  His followers would be afraid to speak, but we’ll get to that in a few verses below.

In verse 8, Jesus concludes His conversation with his relations by telling them to go on ahead.  He would not be attending this feast, at least not yet.  The ‘yet’ is included in some translations.  So, He stays for a while yet in Galilee (verse 9).

His relatives leave for Jerusalem, and He goes there some time later, alone (verse 10).  Henry writes:

When we are going to, or coming from, solemn ordinances, it becomes us to be careful what company we have and choose, and to avoid that which is vain and carnal, lest the coal of good affections be quenched by corrupt communication.

Verses 11 and 12 indicate that Jesus was being talked about behind His back, a sign that He was a truthteller. If Christians are honest about their intentions and by their example do the right thing, others often deride them in a mocking or hateful way.  The Jewish hierarchy had been on the lookout for Him and He had also been the subject of much conversation among the laypeople, causing much disagreement.  Some at least acknowledged that He was a good man, yet others said He was a bad influence, a deceiver.  Can’t you just see this playing out again today?  All flawed perspectives, all emotional and not one acknowledging Him as Lord and Saviour.

And because they feared the Jewish hierarchy, no one discussed Him openly. The repercussions could be too serious (verse 13).  People might have been thrown out of their synagogue and made an example of.  Also, who would want to be accused of stirring up trouble about such a fraught subject as the person of Jesus?  The tension was palpable, the atmosphere charged.

In closing, I wanted to share with you John MacArthur’s thoughts on discipleship, something that all committed Christians are duty bound to perform. You can be a homemaker, an office worker, a volunteer, a student — anyone — and do this in some small way, whether through example or in conversation at an appropriate time:

If you know Jesus Christ as your personal Savior, you are responsible [for making] disciples. You’re not responsible to go to church. You’re not responsible to go to Sunday School. You’re not responsible to give your money each week. You’re not responsible for that, the Bible says not one thing about that. But you are responsible [for making] disciples.

Now, of course, you’ll want the fellowship of believers and you’ll want to share what God has given you. That’s a basic principle. But nowhere is there a list of commandments…go to church, put your money in the offering, go to Sunday School…that’s not there. That’s understood because you want the fellowship and you’re committed. But what is there is make disciples, make disciples, make disciples.

Next week: John 7:14-24

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