This chapter of John’s Gospel opens with about six months after the events in Chapter 5, wherein Jesus healed the paralyzed man on the Sabbath. The Sanhedrin were seeking to lay hands on Jesus with the intent to secretly execute Him. The city dwellers in Jerusalem would be aware of this, at least in the form of a rumor. That was around Passover near the end of March; now we are at the Feast of Tabernacles in early October.
In the previous chapter we saw where Jesus intentionally killed His mass popularity. He stoked their shallow curiosity of Him by feeding the 5000, then talked in parables about the Bread of Life. It was time to winnow the crowd. So few of them were ready to be a part of His Kingdom that His teaching lost the interest of the crowd of bored peasants seeking entertainment. His younger siblings fussed at Him about this, and suggested His ministry needed fresh publicity. Going up to the Feast of Tabernacles was a perfect opportunity, since it was a week of feasting and just hanging around Jerusalem sleeping outdoors in little shelters and tents. Large crowds of wealthy Jews living in foreign lands would travel to the city for this festival.
Jesus rejected His brothers’ advice. They knew about the miracles, but did not at all believe He was the Messiah. He told them their attitude was the same as everyone else, so they could easily go up to the feast and not attract attention. Nobody was going to arrest them. His comment about “My time” refers to His crucifixion, which He saw coming, and considered His one moment of full revelation to everyone. There were still too many tasks between Him and that day, so this was the wrong time, given there was a death warrant on His head in Jerusalem. He told them to go on without Him.
The Sanhedrin and all their lackeys were looking for Jesus. Why did He then sneak up to the city during the middle of the Feast? By this time the campers would be bored and more ready to listen to His teaching. The one thing that caught the authorities’ attention was how Jesus seemed to know so much about Talmudic teaching, since He was countering it so accurately. Yet they knew He had not attended any of the prestigious rabbinical schools or been discipled to any of the famous rabbis. He was a nobody, yet it was quite obvious He was familiar with the entire range of academic background. So far as we know, He did spend some limited time with at least one local rabbinical school in Galilee, at which most big city rabbis would sneer. But He was tearing their ideas to shreds.
Jesus addressed this murmuring. His teaching did not rest on the credentials and name-dropping savored by the big shots. Instead of quoting the established sages, He quoted God. Who sent those rabbis? Who gave them their teaching? Once again Jesus emphasized the difference between the heart-led servants of God and the heart-less rabbis whose doctrine rested on their intellects. Anyone determined to please God by faith would recognize what Jesus taught as the voice of the Father. People who taught out of their heads were seeking self-promotion. The One who sought the glory of Jehovah was more trustworthy and they could not justly accuse Him of anything.
They claimed the authority of Moses, yet clearly did not obey the Covenant. It was a violation of Moses to seek to murder Jesus without a proper public trial. At this point, the folks from out of town wondered if Jesus had gone mad, using the common figure of speech of “having a demon.” They had not yet heard the rumors about the secret execution warrant, but they knew this was the guy who had healed the crippled man at the pool on a sabbath. It’s part of why they had come to see what He taught.
So Jesus pointed to an example they would understand. The rabbis often noted that Moses commanded circumcision on the eighth day, Sabbath or not. Circumcision was something the Jews were so proud of, but they forget it was a tradition long before Moses. It was so important to them that they technically violated the Sabbath for it. Just a simple little medical procedure that marked a man as born under the Covenant of Moses for the rest of his life. They cut away a tiny piece of flesh and it justified breaking the Sabbath, but for some reason they couldn’t allow Jesus to put a man’s life back together on the same sabbath.
He sternly warned those listening not to be so shallow and legalistic in their discernment. They understood keeping up appearances to impress mere men, but had no clue about divine justice.