The Feast of Tabernacles
1. And after these things Jesus was walking in Galilee, for He was not willing to walk in Judea, because the Jews were seeking to kill Him.
Walking in Galilee
Near the end of the previous episode, the people said, “Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How is it that He says, ‘I came down from heaven?’” (John 6:42). Unable to comprehend what Jesus meant, or how His words might be true, many of Jesus’ followers “went back and walked with Him no more” (John 6:66). Nevertheless, many people continue to walk with Jesus, including His disciples, as He continues His ministry in Galilee.
Most of Jesus’ miracles have been in Galilee. He has turned water into wine in Cana of Galilee, healed the nobleman’s son in Capernaum of Galilee, fed the multitudes on a mountain overlooking the Sea of Galilee, and even walked on the water of Galilee. As we have seen, almost all of the early disciples came from Galilee. The region of Galilee has become a kind of base of operations for Jesus’ miracles and teachings.
Situated approximately seventy miles north of Judea, and far from the hostility of the religious leaders, Galilee has been a place of safety for Jesus and His followers. At a deeper level, Galilee signifies the reception of God among all people who are eager to hear the truth and willing to live according to it. They, so to speak, walk with Jesus in the place called “Galilee” in every human heart. 1
The same is true for each of us. As long as we are “walking in Galilee,” that is living according to the truth that Jesus teaches, we are safe from the “religious leaders” within us—the false and self-serving beliefs that conspire to destroy true faith and a life of genuine charity. Therefore, it is written that Jesus was “walking in Galilee,” but not in Judea, for He knew that the religious leaders in Judea “were seeking to kill Him” (John 7:1).
Jesus’ Secret Journey
2. And the festival of the Jews, the [Festival of] Tabernacles, was near.
3. His brothers then said to Him, Pass on hence, and go into Judea, that Thy disciples may behold Thy works which Thou doest.
4. For no one does anything in secret, and himself seeks to be in the open. If Thou do these things, manifest Thyself to the world.
5. For neither did His brothers believe in Him.
6. Then Jesus says to them, My time is not yet here, but your time is always ready.
7. The world cannot hate you, but Me it hates, because I testify about it, that its works are wicked.
8. You go up to this festival; I am not yet going up to this festival, because My time has not yet been fulfilled.
9. And having said these things to them, He remained in Galilee.
10. And when His brothers went up, then He Himself also went up to the festival, not openly, but as in secret.
According to the Hebrew scriptures, every Jewish male was expected to come to Jerusalem to worship the Lord three times a year. As it is written, “You shall keep the Feast of Unleavened Bread…. You shall observe the Feast of Weeks, celebrating the first fruits of the wheat harvest, and [you shall observe] the Feast of Ingathering at the year’s end. Three times in the year all your men shall appear before the Lord Jehovah, the God of Israel” (Exodus 34:23).
The first festival of the year, called “The Feast of Unleavened Bread,” is also called “Passover.” This festival, which takes place in early spring, commemorates the night when the Lord “passed over” the homes of the children of Israel and brought them out of Egyptian captivity. The children of Israel were told to eat unleavened bread on that night and to prepare enough dough to make unleavened bread for the next seven days of their journey out of Egypt (see Exodus 12:13-17; 34-39).
The second festival is called the “Feast of Weeks.” It takes place in late spring, seven weeks after Passover, celebrating the first fruits of the early harvest (see Exodus 23:16). Because it occurs on the fiftieth day after Passover, it is also called “Pentecost” from the Greek word for “fiftieth” [πεντηκοστή pentékosté].
The third festival is the “Feast of Ingathering.” It takes place in the fall, celebrating the ingathering of the completed harvest (see Exodus 34:22). This festival also commemorates the forty-year period during which the children of Israel wandered in the wilderness and lived in tents. To celebrate this historical event, the people pile branches together and spend a week living in tents—or “tabernacles”—as their ancestors did. Therefore, the Feast of Ingathering is also called the “Feast of Tabernacles” (see Deuteronomy 16:13).
The miraculous feeding of the five thousand, which was described in the previous chapter, had taken place in the spring, near the time of Passover (see John 6:4). As this next episode begins, it is now the fall, and it is time for Jesus to return to Jerusalem, as required, to celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles. As it is written, “Now the Jews’ Feast of Tabernacles was at hand” (John 7:2). Jesus’ brothers, who are about to leave for the feast, see this as an opportunity for Jesus to stop being so secretive and to declare His works openly. “Depart from here,” they say, “and go into Judea, that Your disciples may see the works that You are doing. For no one does anything in secret while he himself seeks to be known openly. If You do these things, show Yourself to the world” (John 7:3-4).
At first glance, it might seem that Jesus’ brothers are pressuring Him to show Himself openly in Jerusalem because they have come to believe in Him and support His mission. But, as we discover in the next verse, this is not the case. As it is written, “His brothers did not believe in Him” (John 7:5).
Although Jesus’ brothers urge Him to attend the festival, Jesus refuses to succumb to their pressure. Instead, He says, “My time is not yet come; but your time is always ready. The world cannot hate you, but it hates Me because I testify of it that its works are evil. You go up to this feast. I am not yet going up to this feast, for My time has not yet fully come” (John 7:6-8).
In this context, Jesus’ brothers represent our insistent lower nature, the part of us that believes that prospering in the natural world is all that really matters. Because it pursues worldly values and does not oppose them, it is not hated by the world. Jesus, however, who stands for higher values, is often hated by the world. This is especially the case when the light of truth that Jesus brings reveals the selfish desires that lay concealed in human hearts. As Jesus said earlier in this gospel, “Everyone practicing evil hates the light, and does not come to the light, lest their evils be exposed” (John 3:20). This, then, is what Jesus means when He says, “The world cannot hate you, but it hates Me because I testify that its works are evil.”
Jesus also adds that His time has not yet come. He mentions this twice. First, He says simply, “My time has not yet come” (John 7:6). Taken literally, this refers to the time when He would return to Jerusalem to face His accusers at the Feast of Tabernacles. But when He mentions this a second time, He says, “My time has not yet fully come” (John 7:8). This can also be translated, “My time has not yet been fulfilled.” At one level, these words refer to Jesus’ returning to Jerusalem to take part in an annual feast. More deeply, Jesus’ words refer to His immanent crucifixion and resurrection—the fulfillment of His work on earth. 2
With all of this in mind, Jesus is planning to go to Jerusalem, but only when the time is right, and not when He is expected to appear. Therefore, Jesus remains in Galilee a little while longer, until the Feast of Tabernacles has already begun. And then, after His brothers have already departed, He goes to Jerusalem, “not openly, but as it were in secret” (John 7:10).
Jesus’ secret journey to Jerusalem at the time of the harvest festival represents the secret ways that God works in each of our lives. If God were to reveal to us, all at once, the numerous ways we are corrupt and self-serving, it would overwhelm us. Therefore, He operates in secret, revealing to us only the evils that we can combat at that time, and only when we have enough truth to drive them out. God then stands by, ready to provide all the aid we need—if we sincerely pray for it. In this way, He leads us step by step, little by little, into the promised land of His love and wisdom. As it is written in the Hebrew scriptures, “Little by little I will drive them out until you have increased enough to take possession of the land” (Exodus 23:30). 3
A practical application
As your spiritual growth continues, you will become increasingly aware of those times when you say or do something that is not in line with your higher understanding. It might be in the tone of your voice, in an offhand complaint that you make, or even in noticing a selfish intention that arises. During these times, the Lord is allowing self-centered desires and thoughts to arise in your mind so that you can see them for what they are, strive to overcome them, and, through this process, develop spiritually. The Lord is secretly entering your “inner Jerusalem,” inspiring you to separate all that is good and true in yourself from all that is selfish, self-centered, and false. With this in mind, be aware of those times when your intentions, thoughts, words, or actions are not in line with the Lord’s will. In the language of sacred scripture, these moments of awareness and separation are compared to the harvest of ingathering. It is a time to look within, a time to separate the wheat from the tares, that which is kind from that which is unkind, and that which is true from that which is false. 4
Willing to Do God’s Will
11. Then the Jews sought Him at the festival, and said, Where is He?
12. And there was much murmuring about Him in the crowds; indeed some said, He is good; but others said, no, but He deceives the crowd.
13. However no one spoke openly about Him for fear of the Jews.
14. And it being already the midst of the festival, Jesus went up into the temple and taught.
15. And the Jews marveled, saying, How knows this [man] letters, not having learned?
16. Jesus answered them and said, My teaching is not Mine, but His that sent Me.
17. If anyone wills to do His will, he shall know about the teaching, whether it be of God, or [whether] I speak from Myself.
18. He that speaks from himself seeks his own glory, but He that seeks the glory of Him that sent Him, He is true, and injustice is not in Him.
19. Did not Moses give you the Law, and none of you does the Law? Why do you seek to kill Me?
20. The crowd answered and said, Thou hast a demon; who seeks to kill Thee?
21. Jesus answered and said to them, I have done one work, and you all marvel.
22. On account of this Moses gave you circumcision (not that it is of Moses, but of the fathers), and on a Sabbath you circumcise a man.
23. If a man on a Sabbath receive circumcision, that the Law of Moses should not be broken, are you bitter toward Me because I have made [the] whole man well on a Sabbath?
24. Judge not according to [the] face, but judge the just judgment.
During the time that Jesus is absent from the Feast of Tabernacles, He is much sought after, and is very much the topic of conversation. “Where is He?” ask the religious leaders who want to seize Him and kill Him. The people also murmur among themselves. Some of them are saying, “He is good,” while others are saying, “He deceives the people.” Whatever their position is on the subject, it is clear that they do not have the freedom to discuss it openly. As it is written, “No one spoke openly about Him for fear of the Jews” (see John 7:11-13).
The religious leaders, who control all things pertaining to religion, strongly disapprove of the people discussing the credibility of Jesus. Such matters are to be determined exclusively by the Sanhedrin. Only those who are highly trained and educated in rabbinical schools can have any say in such matters. It would therefore be considered arrogant and impudent for lay persons to speak openly about Jesus—especially if they are inclined to believe in Him.
Even so, it is highly probable that much whispering is going on, and many animated discussions are taking place as people share stories they have heard or the experiences they have had involving the mysterious Man from Galilee. The Feast of Tabernacles provides a lively venue for such discussions, especially since the people are anticipating Jesus’ possible arrival at any moment.
Jesus does not disappoint them. About half-way through the feast, Jesus suddenly appears. As it is written, “Now about the middle of the feast Jesus went up into the temple and taught” (John 7:14). Jesus’ sudden appearance at the temple is in fulfillment of the words of the prophet, “The Lord, whom you seek, will come suddenly to His temple ” (Malachi 3:1).
Jesus has taken the religious leaders by surprise. He has suddenly entered the temple and started teaching—even though He has no credentials to do so. In the eyes of the chief priests and Pharisees, Jesus is a simple, uneducated person from Galilee, and yet, here He is, setting Himself up as a religious authority. Deeply offended by what they believe to be Jesus’ pretension to be a religious teacher, they say, “How does this Man know letters, having never studied?” (John 7:15). 5
In response, Jesus tells them that true doctrine does not come from man, nor can it be formulated in rabbinical schools, for it comes from heaven. As Jesus says, “My doctrine is not Mine, but His who sent Me” (John 7:16). He then adds, “If anyone wants to do His will” [that is, God’s will], “he shall know concerning the doctrine, whether it is from God or whether I speak on My own authority” (John 7:17). In other words, Jesus is saying that He is not delivering man-made theology. Rather, He is delivering divine doctrine—the teaching of “the One who sent Me.”
Jesus could have easily said, “If anyone does God’s will ....” Instead, He says, “If anyone wants to do God’s will.” This can also be translated, “If anyone wills to do God’s will.” In this case, the Greek word that is used for “wants” or “wills” is ἤθελον (ēthelon) which also means “earnestly desires.”
We have already pointed out that Jesus uses this same word when He asks the man at the Pool of Bethesda if he “wants” (earnestly desires) to be made whole (see John 5:6). Similarly, we noted that the miraculous feeding of the five thousand takes place in all four gospels. Only in John is it added that the five thousand received “as much as they wanted”—that is, as much as they earnestly desired (see John 6:11). The same is true in this episode. Jesus says, “If anyone wills to do God’s will, he shall know concerning the doctrine, whether it is from God or whether I speak on My own authority.”
The repeated use of the word “will” is significant. Jesus is saying that the only way to discover for oneself whether His doctrine is from heaven—and therefore from God—is to earnestly desire to live according to His teachings. In doing so, we are led into goodness. And then, from a state of goodness, we can judge for ourselves what doctrines are false and what doctrines are true, what is from man and what is from God. Simply put, goodness is like an inner flame that enlightens our mind, enabling us to see truth, love it, and eagerly accept it. 6
Jesus is trying to make it clear to the religious leaders that He is not speaking on His own authority. If that were the case, He would be seeking His own glory. Instead, Jesus is seeking only “the glory of the One who sent Him,” and because of this, there is “no unrighteousness in Him” (John 7:18). In brief, Jesus is earnestly striving to teach and to live according to the will of God.
The implication is that the religious leaders have not been living according to God’s will. If they truly desired to understand God’s will, and lived according to it, they would have seen the truth of Jesus’ teaching. Instead, they have been relying on their own interpretations, believing that they had the truth, that they were right, and that there was no other way to see it. Although they believed that they were keeping the law, they were unwilling to regard the spirit of the law. As Jesus puts it, “Did not Moses give you the law, and yet none of you keeps the law? Why do you seek to kill Me?” (John 7:19). 7
This is a dramatic moment. According to the religious leaders, Jesus, who has violated their understanding of the Sabbath law, must be put to death. The people, however, have no idea that the religious leaders are plotting to seize and kill Jesus. Therefore, basing their judgment on external appearances, the people say to Jesus, “You have a demon. Who is seeking to kill you?” (John 7:20).
Doing good on the Sabbath
Instead of responding to the mistaken judgment of the people, Jesus continues to address the religious leaders. Referring to their rigid adherence to the literal law apart from its inner spirit, Jesus asks them to examine their response when He healed a crippled man on the Sabbath, telling the man to rise, take up his bed, and walk. As Jesus puts it, “I did one work and you all marvel” (John 7:21). Jesus then goes on to say that even the rabbis work on the Sabbath: “Moses gave you circumcision … and you circumcise a man on the Sabbath” (John 7:22).
According to a Jewish law going all the way back to the days of Abraham, a Jewish boy had to be circumcised on the eighth day after his birth. As it is written, “He who is eight days old among you shall be circumcised, every male child in your generations…. The male child who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin shall be cut off from his people; he has broken My covenant” (Genesis 17:12). Therefore, the rabbis permitted no deviation from the law of circumcision. In fact, circumcision was even practiced on the Sabbath—if that happened to be the eighth day after a male child was born.
In a previous episode, Jesus had healed a man who had been crippled for thirty-eight years. The healing, which had taken place on the Sabbath, had infuriated the religious leaders. Fully aware of their animosity towards Him, Jesus turns to the religious leaders and says, “If a man receives circumcision on the Sabbath, so that the law of Moses should not be broken, are you angry with Me because I made a man completely well on the Sabbath?” (John 7:23).
From the limited viewpoint of the religious leaders, healing a man on the Sabbath was judged as a clear violation of the Sabbath commandment to do no work. But Jesus came to demonstrate that the Sabbath, like all scriptural teaching, can be understood more deeply. In fact, the Hebrew word for Sabbath is Shabbat (שַׁבָּת), meaning “to rest.” At a deeper level, then, the Sabbath is about resting in God. It’s not so much about not working; rather it’s about putting aside self-will and selfish desire so that God’s will can work through us. In this way, the Sabbath is kept holy and God is glorified. As it is written in the Hebrew scriptures, on the Sabbath we are to glorify God by putting aside “our own ways and our own will” (Isaiah 58:13).
In this episode, Jesus has given the religious leaders much to think about. Indeed, why would they be angry with Jesus for making a man completely well on the Sabbath? Why would they be upset to see a man who had been crippled for thirty-eight years picking up his bed and walking, even if it happens to be on the Sabbath? Jesus is asking the religious leaders to consider the deeper meaning of the law, to see it in terms of its spirt, not just in terms of its letter. He is also inviting them to look more deeply at what He is doing, and to judge with “righteous judgment”—that is, “not according to the appearance” (John 7:24). 8
25. Then some of the Jerusalemites said, Is this not He whom they seek to kill?
26. And see! He speaks openly, and they say nothing to Him. Therefore have not the rulers truly recognized that this is truly the Christ?
27. But this [Man], we know whence He is, but when the Christ comes, no one knows whence He is.
28. Then cried out Jesus in the temple, teaching and saying, you both know Me, and you know whence I am! And I have not come of Myself, but He that sent Me is true, whom you know not.
29. But I know Him, because I am with Him, and He has sent Me.
30. Therefore they sought to lay hold of Him, and no one cast a hand on Him, for His hour had not yet come.
31. And many of the crowd believed in Him and said, When Christ comes, will He do greater signs than these which this [Man] has done?
At the end of the previous episode, Jesus said, “Do not judge according to the appearance. But judge with righteous judgment” (John 7:24). By “righteous judgment,” Jesus means the kind of judgment that people can make only when they strive to see the inner spirit rather than just the outward appearance. As it is written in the Hebrew scriptures, “Man looks at the outward appearance, but God looks upon the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7).
This ability to make righteous judgments takes form in people gradually, as they persevere in the way of the divine commandments. As they honor and respect God’s law by applying it to their lives, God enlightens their minds with wisdom and fills their hearts with love, so much so that they begin to see the spirit within the law. As a result, they experience the blessings that follow when love and wisdom, will and intellect, charity and faith work together in them as one. They do not err on the side of compassion without truth, or on the side of truth without compassion. Even as the left eye and the right eye work together to produce depth perception, people who unite love and wisdom within themselves begin to see all things more clearly. They make better judgments about how to conduct their lives. And they make sharper discernments about how to support that which is good—that is, from the Lord—in others. 9
Although Jesus wants the people to judge with righteous judgment, they are unable to do so. Instead, they begin to conjecture about whether or not He is the Christ. “Is this not He whom they seek to kill?” they ask. “But look,” they reason, “He speaks boldly, and they say nothing to Him. Do the rulers know indeed that this is truly the Christ?” (John 7:25-26). These conjectures say nothing about Jesus’ teachings. Instead, the people resort to superficial reasoning. “Perhaps He is the Christ,” they reason. “After all, the religious leaders have determined not to kill him.” They also use superficial reasoning to support the opposite position: perhaps He is not the Christ. As they put it, “When the Christ comes, no one will know where He is from. But we know where this Man [Jesus] is from” (John 7:27).
This is fallible human reasoning—not righteous judgment. In actuality it was prophesied that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2), so the limited knowledge from which they are reasoning is not even correct. Undaunted, Jesus continues to instruct them, saying, “You both know Me, and you know where I am from” (John 7:28). They know that Jesus is the son of Mary and Joseph, and they know that He is from Nazareth of Galilee. But they do not know that He has another identity. They know that He is born of Mary; but they do not know that He is born of God. They know that He is from Nazareth of Galilee, but they do not know that He was born in Bethlehem as the Messiah. As Jesus continues to instruct them, He alludes to His divine origin, saying, “I have not come of Myself, but He who sent Me is true, whom you do not know. But I know Him, for I am from Him, and He sent Me” (John 7:29).
It should be kept in mind that all of this is taking place during the Feast of Tabernacles while Jesus is speaking in the temple. Some of those who are listening, especially the religious leaders, must have taken offense when Jesus stated, right there in their temple, that they do not know God. As Jesus puts it, “He who sent Me is true, whom you do not know.” Enraged by Jesus’ bold statement, they seek to take Him by force, but for some reason they are thwarted. As it written, “No one laid a hand on Him, because His hour had not yet come” (John 7:30).
As this episode comes to an end, we are left with a poignant picture of what happens within each of us when we hear the Word of God. The part of us that resists and opposes divine truth is enraged when it hears it. This is because divine truth contradicts our self-love and threatens to depose the false gods of contempt, anger, envy, and arrogance within us. This is the part of us that is represented by the religious leaders who want to destroy Jesus.
At the same time, there is another part of us that sincerely wants to know the truth and follow it. This is the part of us that sees the spirit of God shining through the truth that Jesus teaches. It perceives that there is something deeper within Jesus’ words and actions, is profoundly moved, and believes that He is the Messiah. It is no wonder, then, that they exclaim, “When the Christ comes, will He do greater signs than these which this Man has done?” (John 7:31).
“I Go to Him Who Sent Me”
32. The Pharisees heard the crowd murmuring these things concerning Him; and the Pharisees and the chief priests sent out attendants to lay hold of Him.
33. Then Jesus said to them, Yet a little time I am with you, and I go to Him that sent Me.
34. You shall seek Me, and shall not find; and where I am, you cannot come.
35. Then the Jews said among themselves, whither is He about to go, that we shall not find Him? Is He about to go to the dispersed among the Greeks, and teach the Greeks?
36. What word is this that He said, you shall seek Me, and shall not find, and where I am, you cannot come?
Jesus has been in Jerusalem since midweek and His popularity is growing. The Pharisees and the chief priests, however, are becoming increasingly agitated. They see Jesus not only as an uneducated Galilean, but even worse, they see Him as a rabble rouser and a threat to their authority. After all, He is presenting a new religious perspective about the Sabbath that challenges their traditional beliefs and shakes the very foundation of their teachings. They are particularly disturbed because this commoner from Galilee, who is exerting such a powerful influence among the people, seems to be threatening their positions as honorable teachers of sacred law. Therefore, they arrange to send officers from the guard “to seize Him” (John 7:32).
In the meantime, while the plot to capture Jesus is unfolding in the background, Jesus continues to teach in the temple. “I shall be with you a little while longer,” He tells the people, “and then I go to Him who sent Me” (John 7:33). These words refer to the end of Jesus’ life on earth. It is, therefore, literally true that Jesus will be with them only “a little while longer,” for He knows that this will be His last year on earth.
In order to understand the spiritual message within Jesus’ words, we need to keep in mind that “coming forth from the Father” means that the invisible God became a finite being. He became visible to human senses so that His presence could be seen, heard, and felt. The Infinite Word—the Word that is beyond human comprehension—came forth, and was made flesh through the life and teachings of Jesus. In this way, the nature of God’s infinite love and wisdom became understandable and applicable to life. The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us.
There are, however, two aspects of Jesus’ divine mission. Not only does He “come forth from the Father.” He must also “return to the Father.” In the language of sacred scripture, “returning to the Father” represents the way divine truth must be reunited with divine love. This is why Jesus says “I must return to Him who sent Me.”
This is not only true for Jesus, but for each of us as well. It is one thing to learn truth; it is a necessary step at the beginning of our spiritual journey. But the truth we learn must be reunited with the love from which it comes. In this regard, Jesus’ statement, “I go to Him who sent Me,” means that we must come from love in everything we do without separating it from the divine truth we have learned. In practical terms, this could mean that we allow God to bring to our remembrance the truth we need in any given moment so that we might speak the truth from love. It could also mean that we lift our minds to a higher place so that we see the bigger picture and seek a fuller perspective. In each case, our goal is to re-unite the truth we know with the love from which it comes. All this and so much more is contained in the statement, “I go to Him who sent Me.” 10
“Where I am, you cannot come”
As we have seen so often, Jesus’ words are beyond the comprehension of the people. While He is speaking spiritually, they are understanding His words literally. “Where does He intend to go that we shall not find Him?” they ask one another. “Does He intend to go to the Dispersion among the Greeks and teach the Greeks?” (John 7:35). Their reference to the “Dispersion” applies to the people of Israel and Judah who never returned from the Assyrian and Babylonian captivities. In a broader sense, however, the idea that Jesus will go to those who have been “dispersed” applies to the way people from all lands will eventually hear the gospel. This will be the fulfillment of the prophecy given through Isaiah: “It shall come to pass in that day that the Lord will … assemble the outcasts of Israel, and gather together the dispersed of Judah from the four corners of the earth” (Isaiah 11:10-12).
At an even deeper level, the prophecy that the Messiah will “bring back the outcasts of Israel” and “gather together the dispersed of Judah” refers to what can take place within each of us when we allow the Lord to reform our understanding and regenerate our will. The “bringing back the outcasts of Israel” represents the reformation of the understanding, and “gathering together the dispersed of Judah” represents the regeneration of our will. This new understanding and new will forms, as it were, a “new church” in each of us. 11
All this, of course, is far beyond the comprehension of the people. In fact, they are still trying to figure out the meaning of Jesus’ puzzling words about a place where they cannot come. Not realizing that He is referring to a spiritual state of mind, they say, “What is this thing that He said, ‘You will seek Me and not find Me, and where I am you cannot come’?” (John 7:36).
When Jesus says, “Where I am, you cannot come,” He is referring to the love within Him—specifically the love of doing the Father’s will. Unless we are in the place where Jesus is, loving God and earnestly desiring to do His will, we will seek Him and not find Him. Without that love burning within us as a fervent desire, we cannot dwell where Jesus dwells. In this regard, He says, quite truly, “Where I am, you cannot come.”
Rivers of Living Water
37. And in the last day, the great [day] of the festival, Jesus stood and cried, saying, If anyone thirst, let him come to Me, and drink!
38. He that believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water.
39. But this said He concerning the Spirit, which they that believe in Him were about to receive; for the Holy Spirit was not yet, because Jesus was not yet glorified.
40. Many of the crowd, therefore, hearing the word, said, This is truly the Prophet.
41. Others said, This is the Christ. But others said, No, for does the Christ come out of Galilee?
42. Has not the Scripture said that the Christ comes out of the seed of David, and out of Bethlehem, the village where David was?
43. Therefore there was a schism among the crowd, on account of Him.
44. And some of them willed to lay hold of Him, but no one cast hands on Him.
The people who are following Jesus are understandably confused by His words. And they are probably disappointed to hear Him say that they would seek Him and not be able to find Him, and that where He is, they cannot come.
In the very next episode, however, Jesus offers words of hope and encouragement. Throughout the week, water has been gathered from the Pool of Siloam, and carried to the temple. On the last day of the celebration, the water is carried to the Altar of Sacrifice. And then, before all the people, the priest reverently pours the water from a golden pitcher into a silver funnel. As the water is poured through the silver funnel, it is carried into the earth at the base of the Altar of Sacrifice.
While the full details of this ceremony are not given in the Word, they are well documented by biblical scholars. Moreover, in sacred scripture, “gold” corresponds to the goodness of love, “silver” to the truths of wisdom, and “earth” to a state of humble reception to what flows in from God. Therefore, the pouring of the water during the Feast of Tabernacles beautifully represents the way in which the goodness of God pours forth through the truths of the Word into a humble heart. 12
Throughout the ceremony, the role of the people is to cry out, “With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation” (Isaiah 12:3). These words, which are sung with great joy and exultation, are understood to be a prophecy of the coming Messiah and of deliverance through Him. For Isaiah had said, “I will pour water on Him who is thirsty, and floods on the dry ground. I will pour My spirit on your descendants, and My blessing on your offspring” (Isaiah 44:3). The prophet Joel also spoke of the day in which the Lord would “pour out” His Spirit. As it is written, “And it shall come to pass afterward that I shall pour out My Spirit on all flesh; Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions; and also, on my menservants and maidservants, I will pour out My Spirit in those days” (Joel 2:28-32).
This idea, that God would one day “pour out His Spirit” upon His people, like water poured out on dry, thirsty soil, would have been especially moving to the people on this last day of the Feast of Tabernacles. And it is on this last day, in the midst of this most holy celebration, that Jesus stands up in the temple and says, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the scripture has said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water” (John 7:37-38).
To some, these words are blasphemous. But to others these words offer hope, encouragement, and inspiration. Before their very eyes they are seeing the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy when he said, “I will pour water on Him who is thirsty, and floods on the dry ground. I will pour My spirit on your descendants.” Before their very eyes they are seeing the fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy when he said, “I shall pour out My Spirit on all flesh.” For many of the people it is now clear that the Messiah has come.
Jesus had already said to the woman of Samaria, “The water that I shall give him shall become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life” (John 4:14). But this was said in Samaria to only one person. This time Jesus is in the temple at Jerusalem, standing before all the people, inviting them to come to Him and drink the water of life. And He adds that if anyone believes that He is the promised Messiah, then out of that person’s belly will flow “rivers of living water” (John 7:38). While there is no Hebrew scripture that corresponds to the precise wording of this promise, it is closely related to the promise given to those who allow themselves to be guided by the Lord. As it is written, “You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail” (Isaiah 58:11)
In a note to the reader, John says that these rivers of living water that would flow from a person’s belly is a reference to the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit would eventually be received by those who believed in Jesus as the Messiah and lived according to His teachings. This, however, was not yet the case because, as John writes, “Jesus was not yet glorified” (John 7:39). As we shall see, the glorification of Jesus will involve the gradual shedding of His humanity and the full unition with His divinity. At the time of the Feast of Tabernacles, this process was not yet completed. Jesus had not yet undergone His crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension. 13
The response from the crowd is mixed. Many say, “Truly, this is the Prophet” and, “This is the Christ.” But there are others who refuse to believe, still clinging to their limited reasoning. “Will the Christ come out of Galilee?” they say. “Has not the scripture said that the Christ comes from the seed of David and from the town of Bethlehem where David was?” (John 7:40-42). This is, of course, a purely legalistic argument which overlooks the miracles Jesus has performed, the powerful teachings He has given, and the prophecies He is fulfilling. While the scriptures say that the Christ will be born in Bethlehem, some of the people fail to remember that Jesus’ family had traveled to Bethlehem on the night of His birth. So even though He had been raised in Nazareth of Galilee, Jesus was indeed born in Bethlehem of Judea. 14
The effort to kill Jesus
This kind of argument, however, is a way of rationalizing and justifying the darker, hidden intentions of the religious leaders who are determined to kill Jesus. It denies any evidence that might support the idea that Jesus is the Messiah. When people are determined to prove themselves right, their mind will supply all manner of rationalizations to justify its ends. Similarly, there is a tendency in each of us to prove ourselves right. In doing so, we lie, deceive, become argumentative, get defensive, and resort to legalistic arguments rather than seek deeper truth.
This is especially the case when our ego is injured, our sense of significance is threatened, or a selfish ambition is thwarted. This is what the religious leaders who oppose Jesus represent in us. At its worst, the effort to kill Jesus represents a perpetual desire to deny or destroy everything that is from the Lord in us and in others. In brief, it is the effort to murder everything of charity and faith, love and truth. 15
God, however, always preserves our freedom, constantly maintaining the equilibrium between truth and falsity, goodness and evil. For every false idea that intrudes upon our minds, God offers an opposing truth. For every evil desire that enters our heart, God provides a benevolent affection. This is how our freedom is constantly protected. In any given moment we can believe in the Lord and desire to do His will, or we can reject Him. That is, we can reject the goodness and truth He is offering.
Ultimately, no amount of legalistic argumentation can persuade us to accept or reject the goodness and truth that constantly flow into us from God. The love that we feel through the truth of His words, especially when put into our lives, must be the ultimate test. But meanwhile, before we have made our decision, our mind will be divided. Therefore, it is written, “There was a division among the people because of Him” (John 7:43). 16
This division is most prevalent during times of temptation, especially during those times when we find ourselves on the brink of anger, resentment, fear, envy, self-pity and other states that would prevent us from experiencing higher states of consciousness and deeper states of love. At the same time there is something else present; something that silently, invisibly, counterbalances evil influences. This secret source of power is available to us at all times. It is a heavenly sphere that gives us the strength to withstand assaults on what is good and true within us. Therefore, it is written, “Now some of them wanted to take Him, but no one laid hands on Him” (John 7:44).
A practical application
The brief sentence, “No one laid hands on Him,” is a marvelous testimony to the way in which God offers continual protection, always maintaining the equilibrium with exactness, counterbalancing the fury of hell with the mercy of heaven. Try to remember this brief sentence, “No one laid hands on Him,” the next time you feel yourself slipping into denial and disbelief, doubting the Lord’s presence and power. At such times, honesty does not seem like the best policy, integrity seems worth compromising, and forgiveness seems irrational, especially when you believe that your resentments are justified. At times like these, remember that none of these evil influences can lay hands on you. The sphere of God’s love and truth, when called upon and brought into your life, will repel these dangerous influences. Spiritually speaking, you will be safe. Remember the brief sentence, “No one laid hands on Him.”
“No man ever spoke like this Man”
45. Then the attendants came to the chief priests and Pharisees, and they said to them, Why did ye not bring Him?
46. The attendants answered, Never a man spoke like this Man.
47. Then the Pharisees answered them, Are you not also deceived?
48. Has anyone of the rulers believed in Him, or of the Pharisees?
49. But this crowd, who know not the Law, are cursed.
50. Nicodemus says to them, he that came to Him by night, being one of them,
51. Does our law judge a man, unless it first hear from him and know what he does?
52. They answered and said to him, Art thou also out of Galilee? Search and look; for out of Galilee no prophet has arisen.
53. And each went to his own house.
When the Pharisees first heard the crowd murmuring that Jesus was perhaps the Messiah, they sent officers from the guard to seize Him (John 7:32). However, to the great distress of the chief priests and Pharisees, the officers returned empty-handed. When asked why they have not captured Jesus and brought Him back, the officers answer, “No man ever spoke like this Man” (John 7:46). The words of the officers call to mind Peter’s words when Jesus asked Him if he was planning to go away and follow Him no longer. Peter said, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” (John 6:68). The officers have had a similar experience. While they were under the influence of the chief priests and Pharisees, they were willing to capture Jesus. But something must have shifted in them when they heard Jesus for themselves.
These officers represent that place in each of us where we hear the voice of the Lord and are affected by it. Like these officers who were temporarily separated from the chief priests and Pharisees, there are times when we are temporarily separated from the selfish desires and false thoughts that prevent us from hearing the Word of God. Whenever we can separate ourselves from our lower nature, we can rise to a higher state and say, “No man ever spoke like this Man.”
This is, of course, impossible for that part of us represented by the chief priests and Pharisees. Puffed up by their acquired knowledge of scriptural information, and filled with pride in their own intelligence, they cannot understand how anyone who is not theologically trained can understand the scriptures. “Are you deceived?” they ask the officers. “Have any of the rulers of the Pharisees believed in Him?” (John 7:47-48).
It is remarkable that their measure of truth is the opinion of “the rulers of the Pharisees,” or, in other words, their own opinions. These men pride themselves on being able to determine for the people what is true and what is not true. They alone are the authorities on all matters of religion. They tolerate no disagreement, for every disagreement is a threat to their power and prestige. But truth is self-authenticating. It cannot be determined by the consensus of those who are in power—and especially not by the rulers of the Pharisees. 17
This is not to say that the acquisition of knowledge and the systematic study of the sacred scriptures is unimportant. On the contrary, if it is done with the right motives, scriptural study can increase our faith in the Lord and strengthen our resolve to live in alignment with our higher nature. But if these studies are done from a negative principle, that is, to promote ourselves and our own ideas, the result will be the gradual destruction of any basic sense of what is good and true. We see this illustrated in the irrationality that now takes control of the chief priests and Pharisees. Abandoning all sense of reason and justice, they exclaim that Jesus has taken advantage of the crowd’s ignorance, that He has deceived them, and that now He holds them under a “curse.” As they put it, “This crowd that does not know the law is accursed” (John 7:49).
Nicodemus speaks up
Up to this point the chief priests and Pharisees have seemed to speak with one voice, all agreeing that Jesus is an imposter from Galilee, a Sabbath-breaker attempting to lead ignorant people astray, and a false prophet proclaiming that He is the promised Messiah. But there are some, even among the religious leaders of the day, who are listening carefully to Jesus, and who are deeply touched by His words. As we have seen, Nicodemus was one of those religious leaders who believed that Jesus is “a teacher come from God” (John 3:2). And it is Nicodemus who now stands up to defend Jesus, saying, “Does our law judge a man before it hears him and knows what he is doing?” (John 7:51).
Nicodemus here represents the voice of our higher nature. It manifests at those times when the truth in us is being challenged. But if we are dead set in our ways, and hell-bent on succumbing to the desires of our lower nature, we cannot hear this voice. Instead, we regard it as foolish and ignorant. And so, without even considering the merit of Nicodemus’ words, the religious leaders question his intelligence to have made such a comment. They ask him, “Are you also from Galilee?” In other words, they are saying to Nicodemus, “Are you also ignorant and uneducated, and therefore under this deceiver’s spell?” And then they return to their legalistic and spurious argument: “Search and look,” they say, “for no prophet has arisen out of Galilee” (John 7:52).
As we have seen, however, the place of Jesus’ birth or the region of His upbringing is not really the point. Moreover, many great prophets were born in Galilee. The list of prophets includes Jonah, Hosea, Nahum, Malachi and Elijah. Their argument, then, is merely an attempt to discredit Jesus so that they can take Him legally, convict Him, and finally kill Him. But Nicodemus’ words have made an impact. After he speaks, the chief priests and Pharisees say no more. Instead, we read that, “Everyone went to his own house” (John 7:52). In sacred scripture, returning to one’s house represents a time of careful reflection and consideration, for a “house” represents the human mind. 18
This is understandable. Jesus has said some of the most incredible things ever spoken. For example, He has said that whoever believes in Him, “out of his belly will flow rivers of living water” (John 7:38). This is a bold claim. The religious leaders are shaken to the core. At the same time, the people—especially those who have been listening deeply to Jesus’ words and have been moved by them—will have to carefully reflect on whether or not this Man is the Messiah. As everyone returns to His own house there will indeed be much to consider.
After all, as the officers said when they returned to the religious leaders, “No man ever spoke like this Man.”