Chapter 7 of John’s Gospel begins with the information that the Jewish leaders were seeking to kill Jesus. So Jesus kept to Galilee and away from Jerusalem for a period of time. Possibly 6 months pass before the events recounted in the rest of the chapter. (This chapter can be read here.)
The Feast of Tabernacles (John 7:2)
In verse 2 of this chapter, John tells us that the Jewish feast of Tabernacles (also known as the Feast of Booths or Sukkot) was approaching. This is the only mention of the Feast of Tabernacles in the New Testament. This feast was a week-long harvest festival that marked the end of the busy harvest period and the end of the Jewish year.
As part of the celebrations, people made temporary shelters (booths) from branches, and they picnicked underneath these shelters in the mild autumn weather.
As well as being a harvest festival, the Feast of Tabernacles commemorated God’s protection of the Israelites during their forty years of wandering in the wilderness. The booths reminded the Jews of the temporary shelters their ancestors had used during that time in the desert.
The Feast of Tabernacles was a happy celebration and holiday. The festivities also included a daily procession of pilgrim worshippers to the temple in Jerusalem with daily temple services.
The Messiah and his Unbelieving Brothers (John 7:3-10)
The text then mentions Jesus brothers. After giving birth to Jesus, Mary had other children: sons and daughters (John 2:12; Matt. 13:55-56; Mark 6:3). Jesus’ brothers, really his half-brothers, would later come to put their faith in their older brother later (Acts 1:14). In fact, James (Jacob) would become the leader of the Jerusalem church and die for his faith, but at this point in time, Jesus’ brothers were unbelievers (John 7:5). Their comments in John 7:3-4 are sarcastic and scornful.
His brothers were taunting him by saying,
“Leave here and go to Judea so that your disciples can see your works that you are doing. For no one does anything in secret while he’s seeking public recognition. If you do these things, show yourself to the world.” John 7:3-4 CSB
Jerusalem is where the Jews expected that their Messiah would appear. Jesus’ brothers tell Jesus that if he really is the Messiah he should assert his messianic status and perform his miraculous signs in Jerusalem, not in quiet parts of Galilee. The Feast of Tabernacles could be an ideal time to do this.
Jesus could have made a triumphant entry into Jerusalem with the other pilgrims in procession. However, he knew that it was not the time for such a display (John 7:6, 8). Jesus refused his brothers’ suggestions and did not travel up to Jerusalem with the other pilgrims to the feast, an act that might have been conspicuously public and might have drawn undue attention to himself. Jesus chose instead to travel to Jerusalem by himself, quietly and privately.
Jesus at the Feast of Tabernacles (John 7:10-18)
There was a real buzz at the festival, perhaps heightened by the fact that the Jewish leaders were seeking to kill Jesus. And the crowd was divided in their opinion about who Jesus really was. “Some were saying, ‘He’s a good man.’ Others were saying, ‘No, on the contrary, he’s deceiving the people’” (John 7:12 CSB). In these verses, the Gospel writer prepares the scene for the later debate about the identity of Jesus in John 7:25-36.
By the middle of the festival, any excited expectation of the Messiah’s coming would have been waning, but the crowd would have been at its largest. It is at this point that Jesus stood up and began teaching openly and prominently in the temple courts. The Jewish leaders marvelled at his teaching, knowing that Jesus had not received formal training to be a rabbi. Jesus immediately explained that his teaching had come from God—the one who has sent him. Jesus is making a messianic claim here.
Comparing Moses and Jesus (John 7:19-24)
The Jews had a very high regard for Moses and the Law (i.e. the first five books of the Old Testament). Moses was a type, or example, of what the Messiah would be like. John often compares Moses and the Law with Jesus and Grace, showing that Jesus is superior to, and more powerful than, Moses.
The Jewish leaders were angry that Jesus had previously healed a man on the Sabbath. The Jews believed, that by doing this, Jesus has broken the Sabbath Law about refraining from work. Jesus points out, however, that the Jews would still circumcise an 8-day-old baby even if the eighth day happened to be the Sabbath.
So absolutely binding did rabbinic Judaism regard the command of Leviticus 12:3 to circumcise on the eighth day, that Mishnah Shabbath 18.3; 19.1, 2; and Nedarim 3.11 all hold that the command to circumcise overrides the command to observe the Sabbath.
Jesus always observed the Jewish feasts and Sabbaths as stipulated in the Old Testament. Jesus had not disregarded the Sabbath when he healed the man. In fact, he had fulfilled it by combining the Law with grace. Jesus highlighted the true purpose of the Law: justice, mercy and faithfulness (Matt. 23:23).
Judging with Righteous Judgements (John 7:24)
Jesus tells the Jewish leaders to stop being judgemental and condemning. He tells them to look beyond mere superficial and narrow appearances, but he doesn’t tell them to stop making judgements altogether.
God wants us to be wise and discerning, and to have righteous judgements and truthful opinions. He wants us to formulate our judgements and opinions with grace and insight, and without any condemnation. Especially with people who are weak in faith. (See Matt. 7:1-5; Rom. chapter 14; Heb. 5:14.)
Jesus’ Ancestry (John 7:25-31, 40-43, 52)
In the first century, there were a variety of viewpoints concerning the coming Messiah and his ministry. This included several different ideas surrounding the origins of the Messiah. Undoubtedly, he would be from King David’s lineage, and the Gospels of Matthew and Luke show that Joseph was a descendant of King David. Another thought was that the Messiah would have a mysterious heritage like Melchizedek and appear suddenly.
Jesus’ ancestry was supposedly well-known: the son of Mary and Joseph of Nazareth. His parents seemed to be ordinary people, neither noble or aristocratic, and certainly not mysterious. And they lived in the humble town of Nazareth in Galilee. This caused some people to doubt that Jesus could be the Messiah. Yet the origins of Jesus’ humanity are mysterious. Jesus was eternally divine before being conceived by the Holy Spirit within the young virgin Mary.
Jesus states emphatically that he knows God, that he is from God and that he has been sent by God on a sacred mission (John 7:29). He also accuses the Jewish religious leaders of not knowing God (John 7:28).
Many other people in the crowd recognised that Jesus was performing messianic miracles. Who else but the Messiah could do the amazing miracles of healing that Jesus was performing in fulfilment of Isaiah’s prophecies?
“Where I am, you cannot come.” (John 7:32-36)
Yet again, here is another example in John’s Gospel of a misunderstanding used as a rhetorical, or literary, device to emphasise a point. In John 7:33 Jesus is talking about his stay on earth as only lasting a short time before he returns to heaven. The Jewish leaders, however, were thinking that Jesus was leaving Judah to visit the Jews that were scattered throughout the Roman Empire. These Jews had become Hellenised, that is, they had adopted the Greek culture in varying degrees and they spoke Greek. The Jewish leaders were unknowingly being prophetic, because immediately after Jesus returned to heaven, the gospel of Jesus did reach the Jews scattered among Greeks, as well as other Gentiles, through the ministry of Jesus’ followers.
Living Water (John 7:37-40)
Each day during the Feast of Tabernacles, water in a gold vessel was ceremonially carried in procession from the Pool of Siloam to the temple. This water was then poured out in front of the altar of burnt offerings, and Isaiah 13:3 was recited: “With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.” Trumpets would be sounded, special Psalms were sung, and the people gave thanks for the rain. It reminded people of the rain God had sent in the time of Moses (Exod. 17:1-6). It also looked forward to the days when abundant, living water would flow from the temple in the messianic kingdom.
On the last day of the feast, there was a special closing ceremony when even more water was poured out in the temple. Many scholars believe that Jesus made his proclamation about the Living Water as this water was being poured out in front of the altar.
On the last and most important day of the festival, Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. The one who believes in me, as the Scripture has said, will have streams of living water flow from deep within him.” John 7:37-38 CSB
This life-giving, free-flowing water is symbolic of the Holy Spirit which believers would receive after Jesus had completed his earthly mission and been glorified. Looking further ahead, Zechariah indicated that the Feast of Tabernacles will be an important festival for the whole earth when Jesus returns in the future (Zech. 14:16ff).
 More information on the Feast of Tabernacles here.
 Matthew 13:55 tells us the names of Jesus’ half-brothers: James (Jacob), Joseph, Simon and Judas (not the traitor Judas Iscariot). These were all very common Jewish names. It may be that Mary’s husband Joseph had died by this time.
 When Jesus returns to earth, he will return to Jerusalem (Zech. 14:4ff; Acts 1:9-12, etc.)
 Whenever John refers to “the Jews”, he is referring to certain Jewish leaders, not to the entire Jewish race, or even all the Jews in Judea or Galilee.
 John 1:16-17; 6:30-32; 7:19-23.
 W. Hall Harris, Commentary on the Gospel of John. (Source)
 Scripture verses about Melchizedek: Genesis 14:18-20; Psalm 110; Hebrews 5:5-11; 6:20-7:25
 Ezekiel 47:1-12; Zechariah 14:8.
More articles on John’s Gospel are here.