31 Mar 2007

Text & Context 4: Jesus, the Festivals & Claims of the Messiah

Author: Bobby Valentine | Filed under: Bible, Exegesis, Gospel of John, Hermeneutics, Jesus, Jewish Backgrounds, Worship
Jesus is the Christ (a word that simply means the Messiah) the hope of Israel.
Jesus is the New Adam, the one in whom humanity is made right.
Jesus is the Good Shepherd who protects his sheep.
Jesus is Immanuel the living tabernacle of God among his people.

But Jesus is also the true worshiper. Jesus’s life was one of worship. He spent entire evenings in prayer with his Abba (prayer is communion, fellowship with God, it is worship). We see in the Gospels a life supremely lived out as worship to the Father and we see in Jesus one who gathered with the people of God in worship assemblies on a routine basis.

The rhythm of Jesus’s life was to some extent shaped and molded by the great pilgrimage festivals of Israel’s. These feasts connected Jesus with the history of God’s redemptive acts in the history of Israel and empowered his vocation as Messiah. Luke tells us that Jesus’ family went to Jerusalem to participate in the Passover “every year” (Lk 2:41). Assuming that Joseph died Jesus would have even brought the lambs to Jerusalem to be sacrificed. During one Passover the preadolescent Jesus looses himself at his “Father’s house” (Lk 2:49).

The Gospel of John

It is the Gospel of John, however, that draws extensively on the liturgical calendar of Israel and Jesus’ habitual attendance at these worship gatherings to tell his story of God tabernacling with us. John 5-10 is dominated by Jesus attending all the major feasts of prescribed by the Torah except Purim. Israel’s worship assemblies provide an interpretive lens for understanding the identity and mission of the Messiah. The life of Jesus and the message of John is often not as clear because we Gentile readers are not as saturated in the world of the Hebrew Bible and Second Temple Judaism that was the air the Messiah breathed.

John, like Luke, tells us that Jesus habitually made the pilgrimage to Jerusalem for the Passover (Jn 2:13, 23; 11:55). The Last Supper of Jesus with his disciples was the Passover meal (Mk 14:12). John’s Gospel points us in the direction that Jesus not only celebrated the Passover with his family and disciples but that he became the Passover Lamb.
The second pilgrim festival of the Jewish year was Weeks also called Pentecost. John tells us “some time later Jesus went up to Jerusalem for a feast of the Jews” (5:1). Though this festival is not specifically named it has since ancient times been identified as Weeks. The content of the chapter five is directly related to the themes of the Festival of Weeks. During the gathering that celebrated, among other things, the giving of the Torah the Jewish leaders are confronted with their lack of faith. Moses, according to the Jewish tradition (recorded in the Assumption of Moses), was in heaven interceding on Israel’s behalf as he did during the Golden Calf tragedy. Jesus, in that context, turns the tradition on its head and states that rather than interceding Moses will accuse Israel of being, yet again, hard-hearted.
The texture of John 7 and 8 woven with imagery from the Festival of Tabernacles. Because Jerusalem was becoming a dangerous place for Jesus he did not immediately intend to attend the festival. Jesus’ doubting brothers had mockingly encouraged him to attend because that was a natural place for a publicity stunt (Jn 7:3-5). Jesus did go up but did not arrive at the temple until halfway through the feast (7:14). It was the last day of the feast that Jesus seized as a great teaching opportunity.

Each day at dawn a priest filled a golden pitcher from the pool of Siloam and brought it to the temple while the people sang the words of Isaiah 12, “with joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation” (12:3). The temple choir sang the Hallel Psalms (Pss 113-118) as the priest poured the water and wine into a bowl at the altar. The dramatic ceremony recalled God’s blessing of water in the wilderness (Ex 17:1-6) and the promise of living water flowing from Ezekiel’s new temple (47:1-12). In this assembly Jesus identifies with and claims to be the source of this water (Jn 7:37-39). What a powerful claim by Jesus made in Israel’s worshiping assembly.

The narrative of John is interrupted by the wonderful but spurious episode of the woman caught in adultery (7:59-8:11). What happens in John 8:12ff apparently takes place during the evening of the last day of the Festival. On that day lamps and torches were placed in the Court of Women of the Temple. Pious Jews brought lamps and would dance and sing as the Levites played zithers, harps and other musical instruments. The entire area was ablaze with light and rejoicing. Jesus seized the moment of worship to proclaim “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life” (Jn 8:12). No first century reader would miss this great connection to the festival. Jesus is the fulfillment of the Festival.
The last major feast mentioned by John (Jn 10:22) is one not contained in the canonical Old Testament. The Festival of Lights or Dedication has its origin in the dark days of oppression at the hands of Antiochus Epiphanes who seized the temple and instituted the sacrifice of swine and raised an image of Zeus in the temple of God. Dedication celebrates the rededication of the temple by the Maccabees in 167 B.C.E. Though not commanded in the Torah, Jesus participated in this festival honoring the salvation of Israel from the hands of the pagan Antiochus. John uses Jesus attendance at the temple during Dedication to highlight the irony the continued disbelief on the part of Israel’s leadership. Jesus challenged the Jews to “believe the miracles” (10:38, NIV) he has worked.
The festivals provided Jesus an opportunity to gather in sacred assembly with his fellow Jews in worship of the Father. But the festivals also provided Jesus with wonderful grist to make powerful claims about his mission and vocation as the messiah of Israel. In the context of these worship assemblies Jesus affirmed that the hopes and dreams of Israel expressed in the feasts were realized in his own person.
Our brief study has once again highlighted the importance of “context” in reading the Gospel. A great deal is missed when we come to the text with only our contemporary eyes.
Bobby Valentine

5 Responses to “Text & Context 4: Jesus, the Festivals & Claims of the Messiah”

  1. Gardner Hall Says:

    Thanks for reminding us of the interesting background surrounding these events.

  2. Bob Bliss Says:

    Bobby, excellent post. All the more reason to preach from the Old Testament in helping our folks understand the context of the Gospels.

  3. Michael Morrison Says:

    But the festivals also provided Jesus with wonderful grist to make powerful claims about his mission and vocation as the messiah of Israel. Amen. A great reminder of the cultural context of those living as God’s children and a our our responsibility to live in the culture God has ordained for us to be living in today in this culture.

    Jesus demanded that his people paid taxes and supported the activities of Caesar and his campaigns to not only take the world for Rome but in his efforts to control and maintain God’s people. It is amazing to me that today God’s people refuse to support our efforts in this country. Matthew 22:21, “They say unto him, Caesar’s. Then saith he unto them, Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s.”

  4. Stoned-Campbell Disciple Says:


    Jesus never ordered anyone to support any governmental structure. He did tell us to pay our taxes or to give back what Caesar has claimed. Of those Roman soldiers that “demand” you or I take a pack pack for a mile, we volunteer for 2. When that Roman soldier smashes you in the mouth, Jesus said to give him another chance with the other side.

    Jesus said to love your enemy. I haven’t heard Caesar say that lately. He said to bless those who persecute you … haven’t heard that lately either. What am I supposed to give Caesar when he tells me to do something that directly contradicts what the Lord says for me to do?

    Strange strategy indeed.

    Bobby Valentine

  5. Darin Says:


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