Much of the events in these chapters happen in Jerusalem during or immediately after the festival Sukkot, also known as the Festival of Tabernacles or the In-Gathering. It was a festival celebrating the Harvest, when crops were gathered in. It also celebrated the gathering of Israel under Moses into the Promised Land. For many Jews, it was also a celebration to look forward to the day when God would send the Messiah, gathering in all of Israel and rescuing them from their enemies.
At the beginning of the festival, a water libation was brought from the Pool of Siloam and poured out at the temple, as a sacrifice. During the procession of the water, the people would cry, "Save now, I pray, O LORD; O LORD, I pray, send now prosperity."
Four towering menorah (candelabras) were lit at night. Each was 75 feet tall, and each candle had 4 ladders going to it, so the Levites could ensure each was filled with oil continually. So bright were these menorah that they lit up the entire city of Jerusalem. Temple priests would stand on the temple walls giving a light and dance show with torches for all those below to view, while the Levites would play instruments.
It is believed that this festival will continue into the Messiah’s reign during the Millennium, with people gathering to the temple to celebrate the In-gathering harvest of souls, as well as the return of the Messiah in power. Many Jews believe the coming of the Messiah will be during Sukkot.
A portion of the festival period is Rosh Hoshana, or the Festival of the Trumpets. This is a festival that celebrates the coming of the Messiah in glory to rescue Israel. In it, trumpets are sounded to announce the harvest period. It is believed that Israel will be gathered during these high holidays.
Interestingly, Joseph Smith received the gold plates from Moroni on Rosh Hoshanah. For LDS, this was a key symbol of the latter day in-gathering of both spiritual and physical Israel.
So, Jesus entered into Jerusalem during the high holy days of Israel to celebrate the festivals prepared anciently to prepare for his Messiah-ship.
Anytime Jesus taught in Jerusalem (and he only went there for the festivals), he came in direct contact and conflict with the Pharisees and Sadducees, as well as the temple priests. His Messianic claims would anger them more and more.
esus arrived in the middle of the feast, after everyone else had built their booths. He taught at the temple, probably in the outer court. The Jews were amazed that an unschooled man from Nazareth could know so much about the scriptures.
“16 Jesus answered them, and said, My doctrine is not mine, but his that sent me.
“17 If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself.
“18 He that speaketh of himself seeketh his own glory: but he that seeketh his glory that sent him, the same is true, and no unrighteousness is in him.
“19 Did not Moses give you the law, and yet none of you keepeth the law? Why go ye about to kill me?
“20 The people answered and said, Thou hast a devil: who goeth about to kill thee?
“21 Jesus answered and said unto them, I have done one work, and ye all marvel” (John 7).
The people thought Jesus must be crazy or paranoid to think there were people out to kill him. Jesus then explained that because he was known to have healed people on the Sabbath, some wanted to kill him. For Moses, it was okay to circumcise babies on the Sabbath, but Jesus was being plotted against for healing on the Sabbath.
The people listening then realized that the leaders sought to kill Jesus. Some asked, “But, lo, he speaketh boldly, and they say nothing unto him. Do the rulers know indeed that this is the very Christ?” (v21). They claimed they knew where he was from (Nazareth), but the prophesy of the Messiah was that none would know where he was from. Given that Jesus was born in Bethlehem, a fact his audience did not know, this prophesy the people quoted was fulfilled.
In verse 28, we read, “Then cried Jesus in the temple as he taught....” Often, we think of Jesus as a stoic, quiet speaker. Yet he cried, most likely meaning he shouted out in a strained voice against those speaking against him.
“28...Ye both know me, and ye know whence I am: and I am not come of myself, but he that sent me is true, whom ye know not.
“29 But I know him: for I am from him, and he hath sent me.
“30 Then they sought to take him: but no man laid hands on him, because his hour was not yet come.
“31 And many of the people believed on him, and said, When Christ cometh, will he do more miracles than these which this man hath done?”
Jesus proclaimed himself as the Messiah. He established that his enemies, those who ran the temple, did not know God. Because they rejected Jesus, and sought to kill the Christ, they did not know God. While many wanted him dead, they did not lay hands on him at that point, probably because many believed on him and they did not wish to grab him in public, turning him into a martyr during the festival.
The Living Waters
On the last day of the festival, Jesus encouraged all to come to him, for he was the living waters. Part of Sukkot was the pouring of the waters from the pool of Siloam as a holy libation and sacrifice. Jesus compared himself to this water:
"37 In the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried, saying, If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink.
"38 He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water.
" 39 (But this spake he of the Spirit, which they that believe on him should receive: for the Holy Ghost was not yet given; because that Jesus was not yet glorified.)
"40 Many of the people therefore, when they heard this saying, said, Of a truth this is the Prophet.
" 41 Others said, This is the Christ. But some said, Shall Christ come out of Galilee?”
Some thought he was the prophet Elias, who would prepare the way for the Messiah. Others did think he was the Messiah himself. However, contention arose as people argued over the location where the Messiah should come from. Even officers sent by the Pharisees to arrest Jesus were confused and returned to the court without him.
In this council, the Pharisees and other leaders argued concerning Jesus. When Nicodemus attempted to establish that Jesus had not been found guilty of anything, they turned on him asking if he was a confederate. For no prophets ever came out of Galilee!
Returning to the Temple
Jesus rested at the Mount of Olives. On the mount, at the place called Gethsemane is a cave where an olive oil press was located. Often during periods when the harvest season was over and the festivals were going, travellers would stay in such locations overnight. During the festivals, no work was allowed, so the olive press would not have been working during this time frame.
Returning to the temple on the following day, he again taught the people. The scribes and Pharisees brought forth a woman caught in adultery to him. The law of Moses demanded the woman be stoned to death. Had Jesus agreed and called upon them to stone her, they could have said he was not compassionate as the Messiah was supposed to be. Yet, in showing compassion, he would have ignored the Law of Moses.
Ignoring them briefly as he scribbled in the dirt, he finally arose and said, “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her” (vs 7). Then he began scribbling in the dirt again. Soon, the accusers left. The Savior finally looked up and seeing no one around them, he asked the woman,
“Woman, where are those thine accusers? hath no man condemned thee?
“She said, No man, Lord. And Jesus said unto her, Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more” (vs 10-11).
Missing in this event is the man who committed adultery with the woman. How could she have been caught in adultery, if there were also no man caught? Each of the accusers was convicted by his own conscience, and quietly left the temple grounds, because they knew that they had each been involved in similar sins. They were not clean. They should not have been in the temple. Even more, they were not willing to admit to their own actions, which would have lead to their being stoned also.
The Light of the World
The Festivals were over, yet many of the exciting events lingered in the minds of those still worshiping in the temple. The priests had given giant light shows that lasted the entire night. These shows included giant menorah lit and viewable from all parts of the city. The priests danced on the walls at night, holding torches, to entertain the people during the festival.
It was in this context that Jesus then proclaimed, “I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life” (John 8:12).
The Jewish leaders instantly questioned him. A man who proclaimed something by himself was obviously speaking falsely. Yet Jesus could show he had witnesses.
First, his actions compared to those actions of the Jewish leaders. They had wrongly judged the woman (after the flesh), where he had not judged anyone. He knew his true roots, but they did not.
And God the Father bore witness of Christ. However, when Jesus stated that his Father bore witness of him, the Jews first thought it was an earthly parent, not a celestial one. As they then understood that Jesus spoke concerning God, they again wanted to kill him, but did not dare lay hands on him.
While his teachings confused those with hardened hearts, yet many still believed on his words.
“"31 Then said Jesus to those Jews which believed on him, If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed;
"32 And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free."
The Great I Am
But those who rejected him would die in their sins. They thought themselves to be the children of Abraham, and so free. But Jesus explained that they were servants of sin, and as servants, under eternal bondage except they repent and exercise faith in the Messiah.
A discussion ensues on who is the real Father of the Jews. First they claimed Abraham. But Jesus said they should follow God. Then they claimed God as their Father. Again Jesus told them that in their sins, they were the children of the devil. Had they been God’s true children, they would have accepted and embraced Jesus as their Savior. Instead, they were filled with hatred and murderous intentions - the same as the devil has always had.
Jesus told them that if they believed on him, they would never taste of death, but live forever. Amazed, they asked if he were greater than Abraham, who had died.
“56 Your father Abraham rejoiced to see my day: and he saw it, and was glad.
“57 Then said the Jews unto him, Thou art not yet fifty years old, and hast thou seen Abraham?
“58 Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Before Abraham was, I am.
“59 Then took they up stones to cast at him: but Jesus hid himself, and went out of the temple, going through the midst of them, and so passed by.”
Abraham saw in revelation that Jesus would come to save all mankind. He rejoiced in the day. Abraham knew the great king of Salem, Melchizedek. He paid tithes to the king. Melchizedek literally means “King of Righteousness.” That Melchizedek was a symbol of the future priest/king Messiah was clear. When the Jews asked how Abraham could have known about Jesus, the Savior explained that he was the Messiah.
If we change the comma around, we could read verse 58 as saying, “Before Abraham, was I AM.” “I AM” is the literal translation of the name-title Jehovah/Yahweh. He is the Being that Exists. It was I AM that sought out Abraham to begin the nation of Israel, striking a covenant with him that promised him seed as massive as the stars in the heavens.
Jesus was proclaiming that not only was he the Messiah, but that he was also Yahweh, the God of Israel under his Father Elohim.
There no longer was any fence sitting. Either people must accept Jesus as the Lord God and Messiah, or reject him for blasphemy. In this, the Jews sought to kill him, but Jesus was able to slip out among the crowd to safety.
Today we each must determine whether we give God lip service, as did the Pharisees and Sadduccees, or not. Will we put up a pretence, changing the laws of God to where they fit our own standard, or not? Are we ready to proclaim Jesus as the Messiah, the Lord Jehovah over all the earth? And are we willing to repent of our sins: our false accusations, or our accusing others while we retain the greater sin, our outward signs of religion while inwardly we rot from sin? Will we pick up stones to kill the Lord and his prophets when they speak things that are not easy to hear? Will we care enough to pick a side?
Or will we embrace him?
Not long after the Feast of Tabernacles and probably before the Feast of Dedication, Jesus walked in Jerusalem with his disciples. As they walked, they noticed a man begging in the streets who had been blind from birth. His disciples asked whose fault it was that the man was blind: the man or his parents. Jewish tradition suggested that those born with defects were obviously cursed of God for some reason.
For Latter-day Saints, this suggests an understanding of the premortal existence. How else could the man have sinned at or before birth to merit such condemnation from God? And if it was the parents’ sins that caused the curse, why did it fall upon the child and not on them?
Jesus explained that many are born with disabilities so that God’s work and power could be shown forth. In this instance, Jesus was able to heal the man, showing God’s mercy and power, as well as demonstrating that Jesus had the power of his Father. In other instances, such physical challenges allow individuals to rise above them and do marvelous things in their lives. While not born with disabilities, Helen Keller became blind and deaf at the age of 19 months of either scarlet fever or meningitis. For most children in her situation they normally were put away where no one would see them. But through the hard work of Anne Sullivan and Helen’s own efforts, she learned sign language and to speak. She was the first blind-deaf person to receive a college degree. She became an author and a sought-after speaker.
Neither the man nor his parents had sinned. Such things happen so that great miracles may occur to help people believe in God. Jesus used a pagan magic healing method to heal the man. Using clay and spittle to create a paste, he placed it on his eyes. He then sent the man to the pool of Siloam to wash his eyes, whereupon he received his eyesight. The pool of Siloam is where the priests obtained water for use as a holy libation or sacrifice during the Feast of Tabernacles, which ended just days before. The water was considered sacred and blessed. Jesus compared himself to the living waters during the feast. Symbolically, the man was healed by the living waters of Christ, who is the true water libation.
As he healed the man, Jesus explained:
“4 I must work the works of him that sent me, while it is day: the night cometh, when no man can work.
“5 As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”
Again, Jesus referred back to the events of the Feast of Tabernacles, where giant menorah were placed on the temple walls, seen throughout the city. In the darkness of night, the torches, the menorah, and Jesus shone for all in Jerusalem to see. But did they comprehend that light? (see John 1:4-5 for the answer).
The man went about praising his healer. The Pharisees brought him in for questioning. How dare he praise Jesus for healing him! They brought in his parents to verify the event. Terrified that they would be excommunicated (literally cast out or exiled from Jerusalem), they answered that it was their son, but that he was old enough to answer for himself. The Pharisees explained that Jesus was a devil and healed by that evil power, especially since it was done on the Sabbath. However, the man insisted that Jesus was a prophet of God:
“32 [the man said] Since the world began was it not heard that any man opened the eyes of one that was born blind.
“33 If this man were not of God, he could do nothing.
“34 They answered and said unto him, Thou wast altogether born in sins, and dost thou teach us? And they cast him out.”
So the traditions of the Pharisees won out. No one was allowed to heal on the Sabbath unless it was by the power of the devil. People born blind were born in sin, and therefore were liars. They insisted on their theological ties to Moses were greater than the miracles Jesus performed. The man was cast out. Later, upon meeting Jesus, the man would learn that Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah, and would worship him.
“39 And Jesus said, For judgment I am come into this world, that they which see not might see; and that they which see might be made blind.
“40 And some of the Pharisees which were with him heard these words, and said unto him, Are we blind also?
“41 Jesus said unto them, If ye were blind, ye should have no sin: but now ye say, We see; therefore your sin remaineth.”
The Pharisees did not realize they were showing themselves as the darkness, represented by blindness and ignorance. However, they were neither blind nor ignorant, but chose the darkness purposely. They chose the torches of the dancing priests over him whose temple and festival truly belonged.
The Good Shepherd
In John 9:39-41, Jesus gave a segue into his next discussion. There are those who are shepherds, and those who are hirelings. Anciently, shepherds took their flocks out by day and pastured them together in a corral at night. One shepherd would watch over the sheep fold or corral, while the others slept. In the morning, the shepherds would come again to the corral and call out. Their sheep would recognize the voice of their particular shepherd, who showed fondness and kindness to the flock. They would willingly follow him anywhere.
However, some of the religious leaders of the Jews were more like hirelings. They did the job as long as it paid well, and there were no major obstacles. If a bear or lion came to attack the flock, while a shepherd would defend the sheep with his life, the hireling would run off and leave the defenseless sheep to fend for themselves. Many Jewish leaders were glad to lead the people, and collect their alms and offerings, until it was no longer convenient, or worth the money and risk. They spent their time focusing on protecting the Jews from good works on the Sabbath, rather than protect them from the enemies of God or pointing them to the living waters, the refreshing meadows, the true light, the Living Christ.
Other religious leaders were like those who sought access to the corral at night, but not by the main entrance. The corral was guarded, and only true shepherds were given access to the sheep from the entrance. Others would have to climb the back side of the fence to steal away sheep. Some tried to gain converts to their version of the Jewish faith by force, such as what happened to the blind man in John 9. If he wouldn’t quickly agree with the Pharisees, they would threaten him and his parents with excommunication and other dangers.
But the True Shepherd is heard by his flock when he calls them in the morning to take them to the meadows of grass for grazing. He calls and they come. They recognize his voice. They will not follow other shepherds or anyone else. Those who truly embrace Jesus are his sheep. Some sheep are totally dedicated to his voice and will follow him wherever he will lead them. Other sheep are not as dedicated, and will occasionally follow the voice of another shepherd. These are believers that should follow Jesus completely, but instead waver and are not dedicated to the true shepherd. Some find that they are instead following a Pharisee or Satan, disguised as a shepherd. But if they will listen to the voice, they can and will recognize Him.
Jesus explains that he will lay down his life for his sheep. He foresaw his destiny. His sheep needed rescue from death and hell, and only the true shepherd could do so. In the atonement and resurrection, Jesus broke the chains of death and hell for those who will listen to the shepherd’s voice, repent of their sins, and follow him.
Jesus, the Son of God
Around the winter equinox, the Jews celebrated the Feast of Dedication. This celebrated the rededication of the temple in the times of the Maccabees (165 BC), who rescued Israel and the temple from desecration by Antiochus Epiphanius. This gentile ruler sought to destroy the Jewish religion, burning pigs on the temple altars, and setting up a statue of Zeus inside the temple. To reconsecrate and cleanse the temple became an important festival.
Jesus again stood in the temple and was asked about his sermon concerning the sheep, and whether he truly was the Messiah. He told them they had seen signs enough and were told enough that they should believe. Yet they did not. They were angered when he explained, “I and my Father are one” (John 10:30), meaning that they were united in all things. This also meant that Jesus placed himself on the same level as God. The Jews began again to grab stones to throw at him, but he quickly explained scripture to them:
“34 Jesus answered them, Is it not written in your law, I said, Ye are gods?
“35 If he called them gods, unto whom the word of God came, and the scripture cannot be broken;
“36 Say ye of him, whom the Father hath sanctified, and sent into the world, Thou blasphemest; because I said, I am the Son of God?
“37 If I do not the works of my Father, believe me not.
“38 But if I do, though ye believe not me, believe the works: that ye may know, and believe, that the Father is in me, and I in him.
“39 Therefore they sought again to take him: but he escaped out of their hand,”
He explained that the Jews were the children of God and were heirs of God. They were supposed to become gods under Heavenly Father. This was a difficult concept for Jews who had changed the rites of Solomon’s temple, rejecting the concepts of ministering angels, the Tree of Life, and other liturgy believed before the days of King Josiah.
But Jesus’ miracles and teachings testified that he truly was the Messiah, the son of God. He sought to guide his sheep to become what they were truly meant to be: Christ-like and the true children of God. Sadly, many of the sheep were led astray by those teaching other doctrines that lower mankind’s prospects on the marvelous things God has in store for us, if we just listen to the Shepherd’s voice.
Feast of Tabernacles:
Rosh Hashanah, Moroni and Joseph Smith: http://lds.org/ensign/2000/01/the-golden-plates-and-the-feast-of-trumpets?lang=eng
The Covenant between Abraham and Yahweh/Jehovah:
Helen Keller - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Helen_Keller
Feast of Tabernacles in Lesson 15 - water libation, menorah and torches: http://joelsmonastery.blogspot.com/2011/04/new-testament-gospel-doctrine-lesson-15.html
Commentary on John 10: http://bible.org/seriespage/exegetical-commentary-john-9
Feast of Dedication: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dedication#Feast_of_Dedication
Josiah’s Reforms to the Temple: