Even after posting three blogs on John 9, there is still room for a few insights, particularly on the two interesting remarks of Jesus Christ. First, in John 9:4, “We must work the works of Him who sent Me as long as it is day; night is coming when no one can work.” What does Jesus mean by saying “as long as it is day, night is coming”? And the second, John 9:39, “For judgment I came into this world, so that those who do not see may see, and that those who see may become blind.” Lord willing, both will be explained as we go along our study of the Gospel of John.
Continuing on my study of the Gospel of John, I came across John 5:1. “After this there was a feast of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.” The Bible did not mention which particular Jewish Feast John was referring to, so this will be my focus on this blog and following blog postings.
As I had said in my previous blogpost, the introduction to my blog on Spiritual Blindness, there were Seven Jewish Annual Feasts commanded by the LORD God in Leviticus 23. The Seven Jewish Feasts of Leviticus 23 may also be divided into Three Harvest Festivals. Three times in a year, the Jews from everywhere would come to Jerusalem for the three Harvest Feasts – the Passover Feast, the Feast of Pentecost and the Feast of Tabernacle. Amazingly, the Three Harvest Feasts were occasioned according to the harvest seasons in Palestine – the harvest of barley, next wheat, and lastly fruits or grapes. God’s sovereignty is clearly in display here, don’t you think?
The first harvest festival begins with the Feast of Passover, culminating with the thanksgiving harvest of barley – the Feast of Firstfruits (Leviticus 23:9-11). The second harvest festival was the Feast of Wheat or Pentecost, celebrating the thanksgiving harvest of wheat (Leviticus 23:15-16). Lastly, the third harvest festival begins with the Feast of Trumpets, then Feast of Atonement, and finally the Feast of Tabernacle or Booths or Ingathering – it’s the harvest of fruits or grapes (Leviticus 23:33-36).
Here then is the summary of the Jewish Annual Festivals or Feasts. The first four Annual Jewish Feasts or Spring Festivals – from Passover to Pentecost – would occupy the first three months of the Jewish calendar year. Following the Spring Festivals would be a gap of four summer months then comes the final three Jewish Annual Feasts or Fall Festivals – the Feast of Trumpets, the Feast of Atonement, and the festivals finally culminate with the Feast of Ingathering (Tabernacle or Booths).
Now, on our study of John 5:1, specifically John’s mention of the “feast of the Jews,” Albert Barnes said:
Probably, the Passover, though it is not certain. There were two other feasts – the Pentecost and the Feast of Tabernacles.
On the other hand, Nelson’s New Illustrated Bible Commentary said:
The feast of the Jews is probably not the Passover, which John usually refers to by name (John 2:13; John 6:4; John 11:55). It may have been Purim, which is not a divine institution but a Jewish-instigated feast to celebrate the deliverance of the Jews and Queen Esther. It is literally a feast of the Jews.
Lastly, Robertson’s Word Pictures said:
As a matter of fact there is no way of telling what feast it was which Jesus here attended. Even if it was not the passover, there may well be another passover not mentioned besides the three named by John. (John 2:13, John 2:23; John 6:4; John 12:1)
I only checked on three Bible commentaries, but nobody seems to agree on their opinion regarding John 5:1. This simply tells us Bible commentaries are not 100% foolproof. Understanding the Leviticus 23 Jewish Feasts would greatly help us in determining facts from fiction. Like for example, proving that Jesus Christ indeed spent three years or three and a half years of earthly ministry with His disciples.
The NNIBC (Nelson’s New Illustrated Bible Commentary) rightly pointed out three verses from the Gospel – John 2:13; John 6:4 and John 11:55 – thereby showing us three annual Jewish Festivals, “the Passover,” involving Jesus Christ.
Let us do a survey of all verses of Scripture mentioning the “Passover” in John’s Gospel. John 2:13 and John 2:23 refers to the first Jewish annual festival involving Jesus Christ. Obviously, John 11:55; 12:1; 13:1; 18:28: 18:39 and 19:14 covers the third and last Jewish festival ’cause the flow of narrative spoke of Jesus’ last week with His disciples proceeding to His crucifixion. Therefore, John 6:4 pertains to second Jewish Festival involving Jesus’ earthly ministry. Here we have the internal evidence of the Scripture that Jesus’ ministry covers three successive years of the annual Passover festival.
Looking at all four Gospels, Jesus’ earthly ministry started after His baptism by John the Baptist (John 1:29-39; Matthew 3:13-17, 4:12-18; Mark 1:9-15; Luke 3:21-23), with John 2:13 mentioning the first Passover festival involving Jesus. However, prior to His ministry beginning in John 2:13 (Jesus first involvement with the Passover Feast), which was after His baptism by John the Baptist (John 1:29-33), the apostle John narrated a ministry of Jesus at a wedding in Cana. It is evident then that Jesus spent, at the very least, three years or three and a half years of earthly ministry, beginning at the age of 30, according to Luke 3:23.
Now, going back to the “feast of the Jews” narrated by the apostle in John 5:1. We already knew that John spoke of three Passover Festivals involving Jesus. Also, we should now understand that a full cycle of the annual Jewish feasts begins with the Feast of Passover and ends with the Feast of Booths (Tabernacle or Ingathering). Interestingly, John only mentioned clearly one Feast of Booths in the entirety of his Gospel in John 7:2. However, following the flow of John’s narrative, we can outright see John 6:4, “Now the Passover, the feast of the Jews was at hand,” naturally connecting to John 7:2, “Now the Jews’ Feast of Booths was at hand,” thereby giving us a narrative of the full cycle of the second Jewish annual festival involving Jesus.
Now, as I mentioned earlier, John 11:55, “Now the Passover of the Jews was at hand …” covers the third and last Passover festival involving Jesus. Since the succeeding narrative tells us the story of Jesus’ arrest, crucifixion, and resurrection, we are now left with one option. No, I don’t agree with Nelson’s New Illustrated Bible Commentary that the apostle John may be referring to the “Purim,” a non-divinely instituted feast at the time of Esther (Esther 9:26-32), simply because the events within John 5, specifically the teaching of Jesus Christ within the chapter clearly correlate with the essence of the Feast of Booths. I will discuss that in my next blog posting. For now, let us examine first the essence of the Passover Feast vis-vis the ministry of Jesus Christ.
John ended his Gospel with his narrative of the Feast of Passover involving Jesus Christ. From a human perspective, that was the time Jesus Christ was crucified. But from God’s perspective, He became the true offering acceptable to God – He was the fulfillment of the Leviticus 23 “Passover Feast”. It should be noted that Jesus Christ came to fulfill all the requirements of the first or Old Covenant. See Matthew 5:17-18; Jesus declared:
Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, nor a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished.
For in doing so, He would be qualified to inaugurate the second or New Covenant of God. See Hebrews 10:5-10:
Consequently, when Christ came into the world, He said, “Sacrifices and offerings You have not desired, but a body have You prepared for Me; in burnt offerings and sin offerings You have taken no pleasure. Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come to do Your will, O God. as it is written of Me in the scroll of the book.'” When He said above, “You have neither desired not taken pleasure in sacrifices and offerings and burnt offerings and sin offerings” (these are offered according to the Law), then He added, “Behold I have come to do Your will.” He does away with the first in order to established the second. And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.
Next, see 1 Corinthians 5:7, the apostle Paul wrote,
Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really were unleavened. For Christ, our Passover Lamb, has been sacrificed.
Looking then at both Hebrews 10:5-10 and 1 Corinthians 5:7, without a doubt, Jesus Christ indeed fulfilled both the Feast of Passover and Unleavened Bread at the Cross.
The apostle Paul clearly spoke of the believers to have been “unleavened,” not because of their own deeds but by the redemptive work of Jesus Christ at the Cross. In Colossians 2:13-14, the apostle Paul also wrote:
And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by cancelling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This He set aside, nailing it to the Cross.
The Feast of Passover and Unleavened Bread having been fulfilled, the cancelling of the record of debt that stood against the believers was then consummated at the cross. So Jesus uttered, “It is finished” (John 19:30), then gave up His spirit.
A side note: Many have always believed that since Christ Jesus had died at the cross and He resurrected, then all is finished, and salvation is available once and for eternity. We often hear the claim “Once saved, always saved,” which sadly, has often led believers to think that no matter how they have lived their lives, since they have claimed faith in Christ, surely they are now saved and will be saved until the end. Here is one subtle yet implied traditional idea often offered.
Let us again look at 1 Corinthians 5:7, but this time we will include the context:
Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our Passover Lamb, has been sacrificed. Let us therefore celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people – not at all meaning the sexually immoral of the world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler – not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. “Purge the evil person from among you.” (1 Corinthians 5:7-13)
“Purge the evil person from among you” is an Old Testament quotation found several times in the Law of Moses, Deuteronomy; see 13:5; 17:7; 17:12; 21:21; 22:21 & 22:24. It was also quoted against Israel, specifically the Tribe of Benjamin, in Judges 20:13. It was a call for the believers to set themselves apart or be sanctified. ‘Cause, again Hebrews 10:10 said, “And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.”
The Nelson’s New Illustrated Bible Dictionary defined “sanctification” as
the process of God’s grace by which the believer is separated from sin and becomes dedicated to God’s righteousness. Accomplished by the Word of God (John 17:7) and the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:3-4), sanctification results in holiness, or purification from guilt and the power of sin.
I actually see two errors in the explanation of the NNIBD. The first one might be a simple typographical error. Reference for “accomplished by the Word” of John’s Gospel should be from John 17:17, not John 17:7. The second one is a common traditional misunderstanding on Paul’s usage of the “Spirit” (Romans 8:4). In the Bible dictionary, it was explained “as the Holy Spirit,” so a quick reading of Romans 8:3-4 then would lead us to understand that Paul was contrasting the “flesh” from the “Holy Spirit”. But a careful study of the whole discourse of Paul from within the Book of Romans, perhaps Romans 7:4-6, should enlighten us to see what truly Paul was saying.
Likewise, my brothers, you also have died to the Law through the Body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to Him who has been raised from the dead. In order that we may bear fruit for God. For while we were living in the flesh, our sinful passions, aroused by the Law, were at work in our members to bear fruit to death. But now we are released from the Law, having died to which held us captive, so that we serve in the NEW WAY OF THE SPIRIT and not in the old way of the written code.
In other words, Paul’s usage of “flesh” was actually a reference to the “Law,” contrasting it from the Gospel of Christ. The Gospel is the new way of the Spirit, which is not in the old way of written code – the Law of Moses.
Another passage to look at such be in 2 Corinthians 3:4-8, Paul wrote:
Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God. Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God, who has made us sufficient to ministers of the NEW COVENANT, not of letter but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. Now if the ministry of death, carved in letters on stone, came with such glory that the Israelites could not gaze at Moses’ face because of its glory, which was being brought to an end, will not the ministry of the Spirit have even more glory?
By “letter,” as against the “Spirit,” Paul was contrasting the Old Covenant from the New Covenant. Therefore, the “letter” refers to the “written code” mentioned also by Paul in Romans, while the “Spirit” refers to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the New Covenant of God.
Sanctification then, is the process of God’s grace displayed on the cross, setting apart believers for God, declaring them therefore “righteous, holy and pure” from guilt and the power of sin. However, sanctification also is a process by which every believer, now having been declared righteous, free from guilt and the power of sin, should live by. In other works, Christians should walk the talk.
See Romans 6:17-18:
But thanks be to God that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching [the Gospel] to which you were committed, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. I am speaking on human terms, because of your natural limitations. For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, SO NOW PRESENT YOUR MEMBERS AS SLAVES TO RIGHTEOUSNESS LEADING TO SANCTIFICATION.
Oh well, let me repeat the passage above, but this time using a paraphrase – easier to understand – English translation. The New Living Translation on Romans 6:17-19 said,
Thank God! Once you were slaved to sin, but now you wholeheartedly obey this teaching [the Gospel] we have given you. Now you are free from your slavery to sin, and you have become slaves to righteous living. Because of the weakness of your human nature, I am using the illustration of slavery to help you understand all this. Previously, you let yourselves be slaves to impurity and lawlessness, which led ever deeper to sin. NOW YOU MUST GIVE YOURSELVES SLAVES TO RIGHTEOUS LIVING SO THAT YOU WILL BECOME HOLY.
Note: “Holy” and “sanctification” are the same word in Greek. Also, at this point, perhaps we see that the Bible dictionaries as well are not 100% foolproof, just like the Bible commentaries I mentioned earlier. We need to learn to carefully study the Bible, doing the proper exegesis of the Scripture and not allowing traditions to dictate our understanding of the Word of God. For only then may we be sure that indeed what we believe is the truthful revelation of Scripture.
Now, going back to 1 Corinthians 5:7-13, to celebrate the festival – that is, the Passover and Unleavened Bread – therefore means believers should keep themselves true to their festival celebration or confession of faith with unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. Again, that’s walking the talk. If we claim to have been sanctified by Christ, then indeed we ought to live a sanctified life. Also Jesus, with His utterance of “It is finished” (John 19:30), actually was declaring His fulfillment of the the first two Jewish Feasts of Leviticus 23 (Passover and Unleavened Bread).
It is therefore false or wrong to see Jesus’ utterance in John 19:30 and say salvation is a done work at the cross. Rather, it was the initial, yet certainly important, feature of God’s salvation plan. Also, it is illogical and unbiblical to claim “Once saved, always saved” basing on John 19:30, especially since Paul also spoke of a coming judgment on his letter to the same audience, the believers of Corinth. See 2 Corinthians 5:10-11.
For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil. Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade others. But what we are is known to God, and I hope it is known also to your conscience.
It is also important to understand that Paul’s declaration of judgment in 2 Corinthians 5:10 refers to the Second Coming Judgment of Jesus Christ. See Revelation 20:11-15.
Then I saw a great white throne and Him who seated on it. From His presence earth and sky fled away, and no place was found for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the Book of Life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done. And the sea gave up the dead who were in it. Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them, and they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done. Then Death and Hades were thrown into the Lake of Fire. This is the Second Death, the Lake of Fire. And if anyone’s name was not found written in the Book of Life, he was thrown into the Lake of Fire.
In conclusion, it cannot be that believers would claim “once saved, always saved” based on the once and forever sacrifice and death of Jesus at the cross. Then, at the time of God’s judgment, salvation would be revoked for they have fallen short. That would make Christ’s redemptive work inept or lacking. Instead, we have to understand that the salvation plan of God demands that Jesus Christ MUST have fulfilled all the Seven Jewish Feasts, not just celebrated. Then salvation becomes a reality. Again, that was why Jesus Christ said in Matthew 5:17-18:
Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished.
I know, this blog would raise a lot of questions in your mind. It also happened to me before I came to understand the Scripture better. The more traditions we have learned or held on, the more difficult it would be for us to comprehend the true teachings of the Bible. As the saying goes, “Patience is a virtue.” Take it one step at a time. I personally have to double my effort allowing the Word of God to speak, rather than making my traditional ideas dictate my understanding of the Scripture.
In closing, going back to John 9:39, “For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and those who see may become blind.” By judgment, Jesus Christ was also referring to the same judgment spoken by the apostle Paul both in 2 Corinthians 5:10 and Revelation 20:11-15, which I had explained earlier. On the other hand, with John 9:4-5, it should be clear now that by “day,” Jesus was referring to, but is not limiting to, the time He was in the world (John 9:5). It also extends to the short time after His ascension, when His immediate disciples were also sent, this time by Jesus Christ, to do the work of God the Father (John 20:21) – that is, believing in Jesus Christ, whom the Father has Sent (John 6:29). Meanwhile, “night” pertains to the judgment uttered by Jesus Christ in John 9:39.
Now, going back to our discussion on John 5:1. So biblically speaking, what was expected to occur with the fulfillment of the Feast of Booths by Jesus Christ? We shall next explore John 5.
To be continued …
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