In a fallen world, some of the most painful relationships can be found in those who are closest to us. Parents, spouses, children, and intimate friends can all manifest shocking betrayals of Christian character and fidelity, and in so doing can wound us twice. Once as people who reflect God’s image and thus are created for love and community, and then again as the twice born, members of that new humanity over which Christ rules as the Head and forerunner…the humanity in which oneness and consecrated love under God’s lordship based on His truth, not rebellion and loveless rejection, are to have free reign. As both the greatest Man and the one true God robed in flesh as the promised Messiah of Israel and the world, Jesus knew more than anyone else the pain of when our beloved betray God’s design. Ever humble and a master Teacher to His regenerate disciples, Jesus inspired His apostle John to share this painful story from Jesus’ own family struggles to teach us profound truths about Himself, the deadliness of sin, the glory of His sovereign program, and what truly following our incarnate king looks like.
- The Danger in Judea (v. 1)
Chapter 6 of John describes in painstaking detail Jesus’ extensive miraculous and didactic ministry during and after the feeding of the 5,000, in which many of His professing disciples ceased following Him because of the hardness of His pure teaching. Close study of the other three gospels reveals that there is a gap of about six months in between the end of chapter 6 and 7:1. It is “after this” period of time that John’s narrative resumes. Jesus is portrayed as remaining in Galilee because the Jewish leadership localized in Judea (where Jerusalem was) was seeking to kill Him. The Pharisees repeatedly contended with Jesus throughout His ministry, as He was a threat to their man-centered religion and their power overt the Jewish people. They were the false shepherds the Lord condemned in Ezekiel 34. Jesus then took up the authoritative salvo of His Father and blasted the Jewish leaders in Matthew 23, who twisted His inerrant Word and used religion to enhance their own image and prestige instead of glorify God and repent of sin. In both cases human thinking—bearing the fruit of selfishness, manipulation of others for gain, and justification of sin—rendered the sovereignty of the Word of God ineffective and powerless (cf. Matthew 15:1-20). Because Jesus represented a persistent threat to their power, the Jewish leaders regularly sought to kill Him—and more than once some of the rank and file followed suit (Luke 4:28-30; John 7:30).
On one level, this is simply human aggression against the divine authority. Since the Fall, humans have sought to rebel against heavenly rule and to establish self as the final arbiter of all things. Because both unregenerate humans and irreversibly doomed demonic spirits reside within the thoroughly godless spiritual and attitudinal locus which the Bible calls “the world,” humans have followed suit from their demonic counterparts and chosen to reject the wooing and ways of God revealed in His Word. But on another, more specific one, His Word, His very holy presence are a restriction, a bondage, which frustrates their attempts to be gods. So when He moves to undo their rebellion, their setting of themselves against His kingdom program, He is viewed as a threat to be opposed, a danger to their self-sufficiency and self-will. Thus, it is only natural when God comes as a man and claims His lordship over the religious institution which He established from heaven itself, those who have usurped it to further their own ends will seek to destroy Him. This same hostility bubbles under the surface of all the unregenerate, even those who admire His moral beauty and innate goodness. And for the Christian, our unredeemed flesh remains wedded irrevocably to this hostility. Our God’s mercy in winning destructive sinners has not yet displayed the fullest extent of its sovereignty; it will not until all the unredeemed are cast into Hell forever and the final remnants of the rebellion in even the holiest saint are finally vanquished. The Lord’s ongoing persecution by the Jews of His day continues a thousand times—more!—daily in ours. How good He is to every moment work powerfully within and for us for our joy!
- The Danger Ignored (vv. 2-5)
Jesus’ half-brothers, being unregenerate at this point, cannot see His glory and lordship for what they are (cf. 2 Cor. 4:4). They had grown up with Him, had likely heard exasperated complaints from Mary asking them why they couldn’t be more like their elder Brother, and had been part pf the group of relatives who attempted to get Him to stop preaching publicly because they assumed He was insane (Mark 3:21, 31-35). They were not the types to be inclined towards faith in Him! Thus, when one of the biggest religious events of the year, the Feast of Booths, was upcoming (which celebrated the faithfulness of God to the wilderness generation and in which people lived in makeshift huts of branches to commemorate that time of God’s sustaining provision), it was only natural that they would expect Jesus to go to the holiest part of Israel to do some magic tricks and prove He was another messiah-wannabe.
Why? Given their unbelief, it is likely they had an insatiable desire to see great displays of supernatural power to stimulate faith. It isn’t that Jesus’ demonstration of miraculous ability should be rejected, and certainly Jesus desired to evoke the faith of His people and provide for them. But Jesus knew the hearts of all, and He knew the motivation for why they wanted to see Him work miracles. Was it out of a desire for God to glorify Himself by proving Himself sovereign over the creation, the promised divine-human king giving a preview of how things would be, both now and even more in the millennial future, now that the promised king had come and was acting on His authority? Was it out of a desire for God to do in Christ what He was born to do—to reclaim His creation from the grip of sin and Satan and the Curse? Or, as it so often was, was it because they simply wanted Him to “prove it”—to prove to their insatiable unbelieving minds, for whom no proof would ever be enough, that He was in fact who He said He was? Given their growing up in the same house, I suspect they held more than a little resentment and anger towards Christ. If He really were the Messiah, wouldn’t He take advantage of this massive religious opportunity? The crowds were expectant, the timing was one of commemorating God’s blatantly miraculous provision, and many of Jesus’ followers lived in Jerusalem—alongside the Jewish leaders who were waiting for Jesus to do something, anything, worthy of execution. Surely, Messiah would want to be seen as such (vv. 3-4). And, the implication is, if Jesus didn’t go to the feast and do as they said, then His Messiahship was suspect. All of this is because of their continuing unbelief (v.5)
But recall why Jesus did not want to go to Jerusalem: The Jewish leadership was seeking to kill Him (v. 1). Jesus knew His death would break the hold of Satan on the world and on His elect, and would inaugurate the plan of God to reclaim His creation. It would lay the foundation for the future millennial kingdom and the new earth. And more. And Jesus also knew that to die outside the will of God would make His death meaningless and would give the final victory to Satan. Jesus was and is not stupid. He knew to be in Jerusalem apart from the sovereign direction of God would be to risk His life and the program of God. Because it was not time for Him to die (v. 6), it was also not time for Him to go to the very place where His life was in danger. God works through means! Yes, it would be impossible for Him to die, because the Father had not willed it. But for that will to come to pass in time, Jesus had to make the decision to not go to Jerusalem. The Father’s sovereign and infallible will would not come to pass apart from the means of Jesus’ human will. Was this means infallibly guaranteed as well? Yes! But both had to be present. Jesus would not use the glorious sovereignty of God to excuse His irresponsible and foolish behavior. Nor should we. Jesus’ trust in His Father was such that unless He told Him to change His plans, He would stay put (v. 6). In other words, He was not presumptuous. Nor should we be.
- The Danger Declined (vv. 6-9)
Jesus’ expression of faith in the program and timing of God leads Him to make an important statement: His time—that of His glorification through death and by extension the proclamation of His Messiahship—is not yet here, but because His brothers are of the world, their “time”—the window for operating according to their unbelief and worldliness—is always present, at least for the short term. Because they are on the wavelength of the world, the world does not hate them—but it hates their Brother, for He has set Himself against the world and reminds it of the imperial empire of Heaven, which rules over all and takes note of the world’s rebellion. They are not nearly as independent as they think, and they hate Him for reminding them (v. 7). He then tells them to go up to the feast—it’s just a party to them, after all—but He will stay because His time is not fully here (v. 8). “Fully” is interesting. It’s for this phrasing that I suspect His “time” is not merely His death and the glorifying events to follow—which is the ultimate meaning of that phrase—but His public proclamation of His Messiahship at the feast, which would get Him very close to death twice then (7:30, 8:59) and eventually, successfully. His preaching at the feast results in an attempt in His life, but He miraculously escapes “because His hour had not yet come” (v. 30). The time would be fully here a few days later when the Father told Jesus to now go up to the feast (v. 10). And that would begin a new mini-epoch of time, starting then and continuing until His death, in which events would happen like a domino effect pushing Him further and further towards His prophetically-established goal. But it would start at the feast.
God’s sovereign plan is to unveil His glory through the establishment of His earthly kingdom. Because this plan deals with earth, it must happen in the context of time. God is outside of time, but He works in time to execute His perfect plan. And Jesus demonstrates the sovereignty of God, the faith to which He calls us all, and the understanding that our responsible choices are an impetus for furthering that plan. He also shows us that God has a perfect time for everything. He sovereignly orchestrates things to happen exactly when they must to further His program, and everything that happens is interconnected to secure its execution. Had Jesus gone to the feast only a few days sooner, the entire thing would have come out very differently! But going up at the sovereignly-appointed time protected the plan and set in motion its next phase. Praise our eternal God, who controls all things for His glory, overrides the sins of men, and uses such as us in time to establish over all men the fullness of His reign!