Life of Christ 99
Yesterday, at the Feast of Tabernacles, Jesus became involved in a give and take conversation with the crowd around Him at the Temple. Today in the life of Christ, our story (John 7.37-53) finds Him an unexpected and very public participant in the great closing ceremonies of this feast.
This feast was designed to remind Israel of both her past and her future. When Moses established this feast, in Leviticus 23, he clearly meant it as a memorial of the time when Israel left Egypt and spent years wandering through the Wilderness. The accommodations then were tents or temporary structures, and water for such a large group was very hard to obtain in the Wilderness, and eventually had to be provided by the Rock which followed them. Thus, dwelling in temporary booths or tabernacles during the feast brought this to mind, and using water as a central element of the closing ceremony was very applicable.
By the same token, the feast was meant to point toward a future time period, yet to happen, in which Israel would once again be gathered out of Egypt, a figure of the world, and returned to the Promised Land. (As a dispensational premillennialist, I believe the events described in this paragraph are still yet to come, and are part of God's literal promises to Israel that He will fulfill in the end times.) The prophets Zechariah and Ezekiel both mention that on this great occasion a river of water would flow out of Jerusalem that would bring life to the world. This, though an actual river, was also representative of the Holy Spirit, Who, according to the prophet Joel, would likewise be poured out on the world at that time. Thus, a gathering of Israel from temporary abodes, and the usage of water as a central element in the closing ceremony was very applicable.
'In the last day, that great day of the feast' (John 7.37) the day opened well before sunrise. A solemn procession, composed of 446 priests, traveled from the Temple to the Pool of Siloam. Accompanied by music, the priest who led held an empty golden pitcher that would be used to carry water from the Pool back to the Temple. The route along which the priestly procession marched would be lined by thousands of people holding or waving the kinds of branches that were used to build the temporary booths which so conspicuously marked this feast. This procession, traveling through the Water Gate, which was so named for this, was carefully timed to arrive back at the Temple precisely at sunrise. Previously in this blog I discussed the sunrise ceremony which took place at the Temple each day (see Life of Christ 4). When the priest in the pinnacle announced the sunrise by the blast of his silver trumpet, and the morning sacrifice was offered, the High Priest would lift the golden pitcher high for all to see, and slowly pour out the water at the base of the Brazen Altar. Immediately after this came a series of chants in the call and response style composed of various psalms.
Edersheim paints the scene for us:
We can have little difficulty in determining at what part of the services of "the last, the Great Day of the Feast," Jesus stood and cried, "If any one thirst, let him come unto Me and drink!" It must have been with special reference to the ceremony of the outpouring of the water, which, as we have seen, was considered the central part of the service. Moreover, all would understand that His words must refer to the Holy Spirit, since the rite was universally regarded as symbolical of His outpouring. The forthpouring of the water was immediately followed by the chanting of the Hallel. But after that there must have been a short pause to prepare for the festive sacrifices (the Musaph). It was then, immediately after the people had responded by repeating those lines...and then silence had fallen upon them - that there rose, so loud as to be heard throughout the Temple, the Voice of Jesus. He interrupted not the services, for they had for the moment ceased: He interpreted, and He fulfilled them.
In essence, then, Jesus, before a hushed crowd of tens of thousands of people, during a pause in the elaborate Temple service, publicly, forcefully, and loudly proclaims, 'If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink. He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water' (John 7.37-38). In so doing He pronounces Himself as being exactly what they need, He proclaims that Israel should believe on Him, and that if they do they will receive the Holy Spirit (John 7.39). There is no other clearer, more public claim by Jesus Christ than this one.
The reaction of the assembled thousands is immediate and varied. Some said He was a prophet. Some said He was the Messiah. Others vociferously disagreed with these conclusions because He was from Galilee, and neither prophets nor the Messiah came from Galilee. In fact, the Messiah came from the seed of David and the town of Bethlehem (John 7.42).
While the majority of the crowd suddenly began to argue among themselves the more zealous among them emotionally and immediately responded with an attempt on His life. Jesus, of course, slips away in the confusion because this is neither the time nor the place in which He needed to die.
With Jesus gone, the Sanhedrin tries to figure out how Temple security could have let this whole disaster happen. How could they have allowed Jesus to publicly ruin the closing ceremony of the Feast of Tabernacles? Even worse, how could they have then allowed Him to get away scot free? Their answer is priceless: 'The officers answered, Never man spake like this man' (John 7.46).
In the ensuing palaver amongst the Sanhedrin Nicodemus, a secret believer in Jesus for years now, since Christ won him to Himself on His first visit to Jerusalem as the Messiah back in John 3, discreetly tries to stick up for Him. He is shouted down, however, with the same objection that was raised by so many in the crowd, that of Jesus' Galilean background (John 7.52). Thus, with such a feeble shield, Israel's religious leadership sought to turn away all of Jesus' astounding miracles, powerful preaching, sinless life, and numbers of directly fulfilled prophecies.