The extended account of the events surrounding Jesus’ attendance at the Feast of Tabernacles and the Feast of Dedication stand at center of the fourth gospel. Although chronologically they are far beyond the midpoint of the story of Jesus’ ministry, they form the hinge of John’s narrative. Roughly two years are covered in the first ten chapters. The final eleven chapters are devoted to what transpired over the course of just three or four months. Nearly eight chapters in their entirety are focused on one particular week within those few months. In one sense, everything leading up to John 11:1 prepares us to understand what is about to be described with such detail. Yet John 7:10 – John 10:39 holds a heightened significance for understanding the week that the Church has long called Holy.
In each of the posts thus far I have referenced the fact that Jesus was in Jerusalem three times in the final six months before the Cross. Jerusalem was where Jesus was crucified and its leaders were those who sought to put Him to death. To begin meditating on the Passion of Christ when He rides towards the city with shouts of “Hosanna!” is wonderful. When the larger context and chronology is considered we can also see why it may lead to a very incomplete understanding of the final events that took place. In order to fully appreciate the drama of the third visit, we must fix our eyes on Jesus during the two visits that had just preceded it.
A great deal of continuity becomes evident when we do this. The story of each feast climaxes with Jesus surrounded by enraged faces and hands ready to hurl stones at Him (see John 8:59, John 10:31). No one could take the life of Jesus (John 10:18). It was His sovereign prerogative to lay it down, and thus these threats were in vain. Outwardly, however, He was coming to the brink of death by coming to Jerusalem on these two occasions. It was overt claims of divinity that precipitated these outbursts of rage in both instances. It is true that Jesus was crucified for His claim to be Messiah. The leadership of the nation coveted the power and wealth their status brought them. For the people to actually believe Jesus was the promised Messiah would mean they would be stripped of their authority and their lives emptied of luxury. Yet it must also be very clear that they were knowingly trying to kill One who had repeatedly claimed to be Yahweh. In fact, Jesus made direct and unambiguous statements of His Divine Identity to the leaders of Israel in each of His five visits to Jerusalem. From the first day of His public ministry to the last, God was confronting the nation through the Incarnation.