Review: Jewish Feasts in John’s Gospel

The Role of Jewish Feasts in John’s Gospel ( vol 162) by Gerry Wheaton, Cambridge University Press. A monograph The Role of Jewish Feasts in John’s Gospel (Society for New Testament Studies Monograph Series) Hardcover – March 9, 2015 ISBN-10: 1107079683
ISBN-13: 978-1107079687

First of all, let me say this is a very thorough scholarly work and it is definitely not for the layman. It has untranslated quotations from German, French, Greek and Hebrew, as well as a plethora of footnotes. I borrowed this book from the library because I am interested in how the Gospel writers used types from the Hebrew scriptures to show how Jesus was the fulfillment of those signs, symbols, and festivals (the study is called Typology). For instance, Matthew, in the book of Exodus, draws a parallel between Jesus’ 40 days in the wilderness ending in the Sermon on the Mount to Moses’ 40 days on the mountain with God and the giving of the Law from Mt. Sinai.
I was primarily interested in understanding how John uses the Hebrew Holy Festivals as a thematic structure in the Gospel. Gerry Wheaton’s thesis is that John’s Gospel is written to show Jesus as the fulfillment of the prophetic festivals of Passover, Tabernacles, the Feast of Dedication, and indeed the of the Temple itself. While it is often argued that John’s Gospel structure is related around the seven signs, John does not use all the festivals as a thematic structure. Specifically, Yom Kippur is not addressed except indirectly. Passover becomes the focal point of redemption.

Jesus Fulfills Passover:

I am the bread of life.  Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die.  I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” Jn 6:48–51.

Wheaton argues that Jesus feeding of the 5,000 during Passover (in John chapter 6) is a sign that He will become a living substitute for the Passover meal… (p.109-111.) Jesus will become the Bread of Life, as the “lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” He becomes the bread of the passover meal in the giving of his “flesh” to eat.

Just as the Law required every Hebrew eat of the Passover meal to remain part of the covenant community (Nu. 9:13), so Jesus’ new covenant meal of bread (his body) and wine (his blood) becomes the means of entering the new covenant community.

For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink.  Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. John 6:55 -56

Jesus’ death during Passover, sacrificed at the same time as the Lamb’s were being slaughtered in the Temple, confirms Jesus as the new Passover.

Jesus Fulfills Tabernacles:
Jesus is the new Temple (his body) out of which the waters of life will flow. John 7 becomes the focus of Tabernacles (of the Feast of Booths). During the festival, the celebration of water and of light is integral to the celebration of `Tabernacles. Jesus, by alluding to himself as the water of life and the light of the world, implies that these celebrations during Tabernacles are both symbols pointing to him, as the true light that enlightens the world, and the source of living waters.
1 Simchat Beit HaShoevah (Rejoicing at the Place of Water-Drawing).Water was drawn from the Siloam spring in Jerusalem every day of Sukkot with great ceremony, then brought to the Temple. Here the priests made libation of the water and wine during the Nisuch ha-Mayim (the pouring of water). Some interpreters have traced the origins of this practice to Isaiah 12:3: “With joy shall you draw water out of the wells of salvation.”
On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, “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.’ ”  Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.
The Holy Bible: English Standard Version, (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Jn 7:37–39

2 Illumination. When the Temple was still standing, great pillars like candelabra were erected and illumined in the Court of Women. Levite youths poured oil poured into the basins for the different branches of the candelabra, and worn-out priestly undergarments made of linen acted as wicks. Because the Temple stood atop a hill, the blazing candles illuminated the city below, so that the denizens of Israel could see from afar. This glorious blaze of fire recalled to Israelites God’s Shekinah, the pillar of fire by day and smoke by night that accompanied them throughout their wanderings in the wilderness. Men of great > skill danced bearing torches (one, Rabbi Simeon ben Gamaliel, is said to have juggled eight at a time) while the Levite orchestra played on. The Talmud says of the Temple illumination that accompanied the water-drawing ceremony, “He who has not beheld this celebration has never seen joy in his life.”

Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”
The Holy Bible: English Standard Version, (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Jn 8:12.

Jesus as the New Altar – The Rock that was Struck

During Tabernacles, there is something called the Willow Ceremony. This ceremony was not prescribed by the Law but was a tradition of the festival. Priests would cut down willows and bring them to the altar and walk around it. At one point, the altar is struck seven times and the willows are laid against the altar. This action is reminiscent of Moses striking the rock to release the waters of life in Exodus: 17:6, which is a prophetic sign that Jesus will also be stuck so that life may flow from him. But just as Moses called the place “waters of contention,” because of the grumbling of the people, Jesus also must hide himself during the festival because of those who seek to kill him. There also may be a reference to Ezekiel 47, where the waters of the Temple flow forth to heal all the land and the seas.

Behold, I will stand before you there on the rock at Horeb, and you shall strike the rock, and water shall come out of it, and the people will drink.” And Moses did so, in the sight of the elders of Israel. And he called the name of the place Massah and Meribah, because of the quarreling of the people of Israel, and because they tested the Lord by saying, “Is the Lord among us or not?”
The Holy Bible: English Standard Version, (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Ex 17:6–7.

Water Flowing from the Temple
Then he brought me back to the door of the temple, and behold, water was issuing from below the threshold of the temple toward the east (for the temple faced east). The water was flowing down from below the south end of the threshold of the temple, south of the altar. The Holy Bible: English Standard Version, (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Eze 47:1.

MISHNAH: How was the precept of the willow-branch [carried out]? There was a place below Jerusalem called moza. They went down there and gathered thence young willow-branches and then came and fixed them at the sides of the altar so that their tops bent over the altar. They then sounded a Teki`ah [long blast], a Teru`ah [tremulous blast] and again a Teki`ah. Every day they went round the altar once, saying, `we beseech thee, O Lord, save now, we beseech thee, O Lord, make us now to prosper`. R. Judah [T4; PA4 or PA5 in Y] said, [they were saying], `ani waho, save now`. but on that day they went round the altar seven times. When they departed, what did they say? `thine, O altar, is the beauty! Thine, O altar, is the beauty!` R. Eliezer [T2 or T5] said, [they were saying,] `to The Lord and to thee, O altar, to The Lord and to thee, O altar`.
MISHNAH: As was its performance on a weekday, so was its performance on the Sabbath, save that they gathered them on the Eve [of the Sabbath,] and placed them in golden basins that they might not become mildewed. R. Johanan b. Beroka [T3] said, they used to bring palm twigs and beat them on the ground at the sides of the altar, and that day was called `[the day of] the beating of the palm twigs`.

Hanukkah: the Dedication of the Temple (Jesus’ Body)

At that time the Feast of Dedication took place at Jerusalem. It was winter, 23 and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the colonnade of Solomon
The Holy Bible: English Standard Version, (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Jn 10:22–23.

Wheaton argues that both the claim of Jesus in Jn 2:19–20 saying, “Destroy this temple (his body), and in three days I will raise it up,” and Jesus’ fight with the people in John 10 both point to Jesus as the new Temple consecrated through the sacrifice of his body.

Historically, the Maccabees opposed Antiochus Epiphanes who claimed himself God and set up the idol worship of Zeus in the Temple. The Jewish leaders accuse Jesus of blasphemy for claiming to be God implying that Jesus is like Antiochus. Hanukkah, is the feast of dedication, which celebrates the cleansing and rededication of the Temple under the Maccabees. While Jesus is accused of blasphemy, the difference between Antiochus and Jesus is that ONLY God can give life: while Antiochus murdered the martyrs of the Maccabees, Jesus raised Lazarus and did works only God could do, justifying his claim to divinity.

These are the major highlights of this monograph.

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