The Conflict Intensifies at the Feast of Tabernacles
Jesus has clearly revealed his identity, causing deep offense to both the opponents (5:16-18) and his own disciples (6:66). Now he increases the controversy by revealing himself yet more clearly. The central motif in chapters 7 and 8 is Jesus' role as a prophet and as something much more than a prophet. He is the dispenser of living water (7:38), he is the light of the world (8:12), and he is the I AM (8:58). As his claims become clearer the rift between himself and the Jewish leaders grows.
This revelation takes place during the Feast of Tabernacles, a week-long feast in September or early October. This feast was given in thanksgiving for God's gracious provision for Israel, both in the past and in the present. God's graciousness in the present is seen in the harvest that has just occurred at this time of year (Deut 16:13-15). His past blessing is his provision during the wilderness wanderings (Lev 23:39-43). By recalling the wilderness pilgrimage while thanking God for the blessings of the land, participants realized their profound dependence upon God for provision. The feast's emphasis on God's provision fits perfectly with the teaching Jesus has just given, in which he revealed himself as the bread of life, and with the revelation in this chapter of himself as one who gives living water. He is the one who provides nourishment for eternal life even during the present time of our pilgrimage.
Even the details of the feast correspond to Jesus' activity and teaching during the feast. The Jews lived in huts during the feast to commemorate how the Israelites lived in tents in the wilderness. In these chapters Jesus is depicted as a pilgrim, through the many references to where he is from and where he is going. Another feature of the feast was a series of water libations each morning in the temple, commemorating the provision of water in the wilderness. This provides a striking setting for Jesus' great invitation to come to him to drink (7:37-38). Similarly, Jesus' proclamation that he is the light of the world (8:12) was made in the part of the temple where the feast's lamp-lighting ceremonies took place, ceremonies that commemorated the pillar of fire during the wilderness wanderings. Thus, Jesus is revealed as the fulfillment of the major themes of this feast. The very God to whom they are giving thanks in this wonderful feast has come into their midst (8:58).
These chapters depict the sharp give and take of debate between Jesus and various people and provide a detailed picture of the confusion and controversy his revelation has aroused among the people. The people are confused, and the opponents' hostility now turns violent. There are eleven references to death threats and attempts to arrest Jesus (7:1, 13, 19, 25, 30, 32, 44; 8:20, 37, 40, 59). Thus, the low point reached at the end of chapter 6 gets even lower. The opponents' increased hostility leads Jesus to state clearly that they are alienated from God, and Jesus' clearest statement about their identity as people alienated from God is spoken at the same time that Jesus makes one of his clearest claims regarding his own relationship with God (8:31-59). In this way, the end of chapter 8 is the theological center of the controversy in this Gospel. It also marks a break between Jesus and the temple (8:59).