In John’s Gospel, the ministry of Jesus is largely structured around three of the major Jewish religious festivals: Passover, Tabernacles, and Pentecost. In chapter seven the Festival of Tabernacles (or, Feast of Booths) is the organizing theme. During the Festival of Tabernacles, which took place in autumn, various liturgies involving fire and water were practiced, each meant to remind the people of God’s presence with them during their years in the wilderness. During those years of exodus Moses met with God on the people’s behalf in the Tent of Meeting, or Tabernacle.
During the seven day Festival, God’s presence was symbolized in the Jerusalem temple by large bonfires. Throughout the Old Testament, God made his presence known among his people through fire (Exodus 3:1-6; 13:21; 14:24; 2 Chronicles 7:1-2). In the New Testament, at Pentecost, the presence of the Holy Spirit is made visible by tongues of fire resting upon the apostle’s heads (Acts 2:3). It was during the illumination of the temple by the bonfires of the Feast of Tabernacles that Jesus declared himself to be the “light of the world” (John 8:12).
As the Feast of Tabernacle got underway, Jesus’ brothers urged him to enter Jerusalem and perform miracles. But he explained that his time had not yet come so he entered the city quietly without any fanfare. Jesus faced increasing opposition from the Jewish religious authorities since he healed the lame man at the Pool of Bethesda. In chapter seven, the opposition to Jesus increases even to include the cynicism of his brothers whose desire for more signs was driven by their unbelief.
Jesus would indeed make his presence known in Jerusalem. In fact it would happen on the final and greatest day of the Festival of Tabernacles where he would declare, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water” (vv. 37-38). Commenting on chapter seven of John, Edward Klink writes: “Jesus is the true tabernacle, the fulfillment of the world’s hopes and joys, whose faithful obedience to the Father is the source of true brotherhood in the family of God” (p. 350).