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It appears Jesus' movement is falling apart. Many disciples have left Jesus (6:66), his betrayal is in view (6:71), and he has to lay low in Galilee because of death threats in Judea (7:1). Jesus' brothers give him some family advice: he should go back to Judea and do some miracles so that your disciples may see the miracles you do (7:3). Apparently, when his disciples left him they went to Judea. Maybe if Jesus did another sign they would give him a second chance. If Jesus wants to be a public figure, he should show himself to the world (7:4). This might look like a great statement of faith by Jesus' brothers, but John sets us straight: For even his own brothers did not believe in him (7:5). Recognizing that Jesus is a miracle worker does not make one a believer. Rather, here the world is offering the Son of God some marketing strategies. They assume he wants to be in the limelight and will do what is necessary to gain a following. In this they echo Satan's temptation (Mt 4:1-11 par. Lk 4:1-13). But Jesus rejects their suggestion just as he rejected the earlier attempt by some to make him king (6:15). Jesus' aim is not to gain a following but to reveal his Father by being faithful and obedient to him. Jesus does not need suggestions from others, even those closest to him in his family.
Jesus contrasts himself with his brothers, saying they are part of the world and alienated from God (7:6-8): The right time [hora, "hour"] for me has not yet come; for you any time [hora] is right (v. 6). Jesus will indeed go to Judea to perform a great work--his death. But it is not yet time for him to die. Jesus has not come to do his own will, he has come to do the will of his Father (6:38), and thus his schedule is determined by God. However, by saying any time is right for his brothers he is saying they are not under the Father's guidance. The problem with their time is precisely that it is theirs and not God's. Rather than being of God they are of the world (7:7); that is, they are among those who are alienated from God.
Jesus says the world hates him because I testify that what it does is evil (7:7). Jesus testifies like the prophets of old did, an association important later in this chapter (7:40, 52). He reveals that many of those who appear godly are in fact alienated from God (see comment on 3:19-21). Evil is understood as that which is not of the Father. Jesus' statement to his brothers is an example of his testimony to the world's evil, for he reveals that their apparent faith is, in fact, not faith at all. The world hates him, for it does not want its evil exposed by the light (3:20; 8:12). Therefore this rejection of Jesus, emphasized by John (even his own brothers did not believe in him, v. 5), itself bears witness to his identity as the revealer of the Father, as the light who has come into the world.
Jesus says he is not going to the feast because for me the right time has not yet come (7:8). When he made the statement to them he had only their word that he should go, and he rejects them as a source of guidance. The fact that he does actually go to the feast suggests that he received instructions from the Father to go after he spoke to his brothers. Such apparent inconsistency is a common feature in the lives of believers who are sensitive to the Lord's leading. "There never was a more inconsistent Being on this earth than Our Lord, but He was never inconsistent to His Father. The one consistency of the saint is not to a principle, but to the Divine life" (Chambers 1935:319, Nov. 14; cf. 184, July 2).
There are some important similarities between this story and the wedding in Cana, where Jesus' mother had requested something but his hour had not yet come (2:1-11). In both cases Jesus goes on to do what his relatives had suggested, but he does so on his own terms. These two stories emphasize Jesus' loyalty to his heavenly Father's will. Not even those closest to Jesus in human terms--his mother and brothers--could influence him. He must be entirely open and obedient to God. Here we see again Jesus as the model of discipleship (cf. Mt 12:50).
The conclusion to this opening section introduces the dynamics of what is about to unfold at the feast. Jesus went to the feast not publicly, but in secret (7:10), and he leaves the same way (8:59). Jesus' secret arrival and departure are part of the theme in these chapters of where Jesus is from and where he is going (7:27-29, 34-36, 41-42, 52; 8:14, 21-23, 42). This motif is very significant theologically, for Jesus is from and is going to the Father.
John continues by giving a very skillful depiction of the situation. The Jews are on the lookout for "that guy" (ekeinos, v. 11). The people are afraid to talk about Jesus publicly because of the authorities (v. 13), but in private they debate with one another (v. 12). Some say Jesus is a good man, and others say he is a deceiver (vv. 12-13). The accusation that Jesus is a deceiver is a very serious charge, and it continued on in the polemic later between Jews and Christians (for example, Justin Martyr Dialogue with Trypho the Jew 69, 108; b. Sanhedrin 43a; 107a; b. Sota 47a). Labeling Jesus as a deceiver is probably like charging him with being a false prophet who should be put to death for leading Israel astray in her relationship with God (Deut 13:1-11). Hence John notes the threats against his life (7:1,19, 25; 8:37, 40), which culminate in an actual attempt to kill him by stoning (8:59).
The Jewish leaders understand the enormity of Jesus' claims and the foundational issues he raises. Their reaction is justified if Jesus' claims are indeed false. If Jesus' claims are not true, then he is not a harmless teacher who can be tolerated or ignored. In our pluralistic society we have lost the sense of significance regarding religious views. While we need not return to stoning false prophets, believers should have a sense of urgency in opposing false teaching. Jesus and his opponents cannot both be correct, and the choosing between them has eternal consequences. If Jesus is Lord, then he cannot be wedded to any other religion or philosophy. Rather, he is the standard of truth by which we assess all other claims. There are elements of truth in all religions, but we are able to recognize those elements precisely because they cohere with Jesus, the truth incarnate. If Jesus is not the truth, then he cannot offer us life (1 Jn 5:20). Contrary to the view of many today, false teaching is a serious matter!
The Conflict Intensifies at the Feast of Tabernacles
Jesus Reveals Himself as a Disciple of God, Not of the Rabbis
About this commentary:
IVP New Testament Commentaries are made available by the generosity of InterVarsity Press.