In the fall of the final year of His ministry, Jesus enters Jerusalem for the Feast of Tabernacles and begins teaching in the Temple for the first time. Jesus enrages the Pharisees and openly declares that He is the one true God of Israel three times. This episode examines those words and more dialogue from the feast.
Hey everyone, Josh Hawkins here, this is Episode 91 of Opening Up the Gospels. In the last episode we were in Jerusalem with Jesus for the Feast of Tabernacles. It was October, and Jesus would be crucified in just 6 months in April of the following year. Galilee had already rejected Him, and the window of opportunity for repentance for Judea in the south was closing. About the middle of the feast, we see Jesus going up to teach in the Temple. I mentioned last time that this is the very first time the Gospels record Jesus teaching in the Temple. The Jewish authorities had been plotting for a long while on how to arrest Jesus and kill Him, but for fear of the people they left Him alone. Of course that would all change in a half a year. We also looked specifically at Jesus’ words in John 7:37 and 38 where He said anyone that thirsts should come to Him, and that He would be the giver of the Spirit unto eternal life. We see a large amount of Jesus’ dialog for this feast in John 7 and John 8. Remember, Luke’s Gospel records Jesus heading towards Jerusalem three separate times during this period, and then John’s Gospel records Him actually being in Jerusalem. Today we’re going to continue looking at what Jesus says during the feast in John 7 and John 8. Let’s pick up from the last part of John 7 where we see the Pharisees send Temple guards to go arrest Jesus: "The officers then came to the chief priests and Pharisees, who said to them, “Why did you not bring him?” The officers answered, “No one ever spoke like this man!” The Pharisees answered them, “Have you also been deceived?" (John 7:45–47 ESV) Put yourself in the place of the Temple guards. You’ve been given orders to go arrest Jesus, but when you get there you get so caught up in Jesus and His teaching that there’s no possible way you could arrest Him. Not only would you have been captivated by His words, but the rest of the people are too and surely there would be outrage and unrest if you took Him away in front of the crowds. The self-righteous Pharisees end up swimming in their own pride and would soon find themselves drowning in it by the harsh rebukes Jesus gives throughout this last 6 months of His ministry. Well, let’s look at more of Jesus’ words from the last day of the feast of Tabernacles from John 8: "Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” So the Pharisees said to him, “You are bearing witness about yourself; your testimony is not true.” Jesus answered, “Even if I do bear witness about myself, my testimony is true, for I know where I came from and where I am going, but you do not know where I come from or where I am going. You judge according to the flesh; I judge no one." (John 8:12–15 ESV) Here Jesus is revealing even more of who He is before His hearers in the Temple. Just like the water ceremony that we looked at in Episode 90, Jesus is using imagery here that would have been profoundly important and obvious to the Jews. He says that He is “the light of the world”. One passage that would have been in the minds of the Jews likely would have been Isaiah 9, verses 1 and 2: "But there will be no gloom for her who was in anguish. In the former time he brought into contempt the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the latter time he has made glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations. The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone." (Isaiah 9:1–2 ESV) This image of light would have also been very fresh in the minds of His hearers because of what goes on at the Feast of Tabernacles. According to the oral tradition of the rabbis called the Mishnah, four huge lampstands stood within the court of women in the Temple and were illuminated at the end of the first day of the feast. Each of the four is said to have been nearly 75 feet tall. Each lamp had four branches, at the top was a large bowl. Four men carrying large pitchers of pure oil would climb to the top on ladders and fill the bowls on each lamp. The oil was then ignited and the entire complex was illuminated. Back in Episode 48 I talked about how much gold and marble was used in the construction of the Temple. So the light from the sun or any sources as large as these lamps would create a beautiful reflection off of the structures of the Temple. So picture 16 blazing lights reflecting off of the gold and marble in the Temple at night. Remember that the Temple was set above the rest of the city on a large platform, so these lights would probably be illuminating the city in the evenings of the feast. As God had promised, Israel was to be a light to the rest of the nations, the people who would reflect His glory as servants and the people through whom all the other nations would be blessed. Just as John the Baptist had done and just as Jesus had done throughout His ministry thus far, He once again requires Israel to follow Him in order to have life and to obtain their covenantal blessings. Obeying the law perfectly or simply being a physical descendant of Abraham is insufficient. The lamps in the Temple were also set up to remind the people that God led them out of Egypt through the wilderness by a pillar of fire at night. Remember, Tabernacles celebrated the Exodus and anticipated the time when He would plant them in the land permanently. Now with these things in mind, what is Jesus doing when He says “I am the light of the world”? He's setting Himself up as the light itself. This would have been unbelievably offensive to the Pharisees. He is essentially saying that He is the one who led Israel out of Egypt. He also said that those who followed Him would not walk in darkness but would have the light of life. In both of these instances, He is putting Himself in the place of their God, Yahweh. To anyone even remotely familiar with the purpose of Tabernacles and the story of the Exodus, Jesus is identifying Himself as the God who gave them this feast. Wow. The dialog that ensues in the rest of John 8 is pretty significant, and I’d encourage you to read it on your own. Jesus harshly rebukes the Pharisees for their hypocrisy, their pride, their seeming loyalty to the Law, and their lack of love for God. But several times in this chapter, something even more offensive is coming from Jesus’ lips, and that is the two short words “I am”. In Greek, the words are “ego eimi”. Some translations render this somewhat odd Greek phrase as “it is I” or “I am he”, but the Greek does not have the word “he” in there. Our ignorance of the original language really places us at a disadvantage here. If we were readers of John’s gospel in the first century, we would notice this odd Greek phrase seven times. Two of the seven we’ve already looked at - the first was in John 4 and Episode 52 with the woman at the well, and the second was in John 6 and Episode 76 with Jesus walking on the water. And three of them are here in John 8. First, John 8:24, Jesus says “if you do not believe that I am, you will die in your sins.” The second is just four verses later in John 8:28, “when you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am” and then again in John 8:58, probably the most well-known one, Jesus says “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am”. Now in order to understand what Jesus is saying here, we have to look to the Old Testament, specifically in Exodus chapter 3: "God said to Moses, “I am who I am.” And he said, “Say this to the people of Israel, ‘I am has sent me to you.’ ” God also said to Moses, “Say this to the people of Israel, ‘The Lord, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you.’ This is my name forever, and thus I am to be remembered throughout all generations." (Exodus 3:14–15 ESV) What God said to Moses here, “I am”, is often called the “tetragrammaton” by Biblical scholars. This was written in Hebrew with four letters, which is why it’s called the "tetra-grammaton”. God revealed Himself to Moses using this name. Scholars most often make the link here between God’s name to Moses and Jesus’ words in John 8. Jesus is powerfully and clearly saying that He is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Now if that isn't enough, another link to the Old Testament exists that makes Jesus’ assertion even more clear: "‘See now that I, I am He, And there is no god besides Me; It is I who put to death and give life. I have wounded and it is I who heal, And there is no one who can deliver from My hand. ‘Indeed, I lift up My hand to heaven, And say, as I live forever, If I sharpen My flashing sword, And My hand takes hold on justice, I will render vengeance on My adversaries, And I will repay those who hate Me. ‘I will make My arrows drunk with blood, And My sword will devour flesh, With the blood of the slain and the captives, From the long-haired leaders of the enemy.’ “Rejoice, O nations, with His people; For He will avenge the blood of His servants, And will render vengeance on His adversaries, And will atone for His land and His people.”" (Deuteronomy 32:39–43 NASB95) This was a very significant passage for the Jewish people because they were the very last words spoken by God Himself in the Law. They are significant in that they clearly define monotheism for the Jews - the belief in one God. Yahweh says here that He alone is the one who has power over life and death and that He will render vengeance on His adversaries and atone for His land and people. The early church would go on to interpret these verses as a sure promise that God would deliver His people. Now in the first part of verse 39, the Hebrew used here (ănî hû) for “I am He” is the equivalent to "ego eimi" in Greek. This same odd Hebrew construction is also used seven times in the middle portion of the book of Isaiah, which had special significance for the Jewish people. They are: Isaiah 41:4 - "Who has performed and done this, calling the generations from the beginning? I, the Lord, the first, and with the last; I am he (Hebrew: ănî hû).” Isaiah 43:10 - “You are my witnesses,” declares the Lord, “… that you may know and believe me and understand that I am he (Hebrew: ănî hû).” Isaiah 43:13 - “Also henceforth I am he (Hebrew: ănî hû); there is none who can deliver from my hand” Isaiah 43:25 - “I, I am he (Hebrew: ănî hû) who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins.” Isaiah 46:4 - “even to your old age I am he (Hebrew: ănî hû)” Isaiah 48:12 - “Listen to me, O Jacob, and Israel, whom I called! I am he (Hebrew: ănî hû); I am the first, and I am the last.” Isaiah 52:6 - “… In that day they shall know that it is I (Hebrew: ănî hû) who speak; here I am.” In each of these instances, the God of Israel is declaring Himself as the only true God who was before all things, the one who made all things, the one who delivers Israel, and the one whom they will worship. So for Jesus to use the Greek phrase “ego eimi” is for Him is to identify Himself as the one true God, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Three times here at the Feast of Tabernacles, Jesus does this. Do you see how the Jewish authorities would have been so angered by Jesus, and do you see how glorious Jesus is for saying these things? I believe Jesus is making it so clear to them - the one they want to kill is doing more than just claiming to be the Messiah (which He is), He’s claiming to be God Himself (which He also is). Their hatred for Him is revealing their hatred for God. And in less than six months, they are going to express that hatred and put Him on a cross, sealing their fate and bringing the covenantal curses upon them. Oh Israel, Israel, if you could only see what you were about to do! Well we are out of time for this episode, but come back next time and we’ll continue working through this Late Perean and Judean ministry. As always, you can find all the episodes of this series on my website, www.joshuahawkins.com/gospels - so if you've missed any of the episodes, go back and check them out there. Blessings to you, I hope you come back next time.