Thursday, April 14, 2011

New Testament Lesson #15 "I Am the Light of the World"

John 7-8

THE FEAST OF TABERNACLES

Chapters 7 and 8 of John are set during the Festival of Booths or Tabernacles.  This was a seven-day harvest festival observed in October.  It "drew many pilgrims to Jerusalem...It...included ceremonies involving the pouring out of water and the lighting of great lights in the temple." (Harper-Collins; also McConkie, p. 133)  To understand what happened during these chapters, and to understand Christ's words given at that time, we must understand the Feast of the Tabernacles.

"It has been calculated that it took 'not fewer than 446 priests,' and an equal number of Levites, to carry out the sacrificial worship at the Feast of Tabernacles.  On each of the seven days, and possibly also on the [eighth] day, one of these sons of Aaron, after the morning sacrifice was laid on the altar, drew three logs of water--somewhat more than two pints--from the Pool of Siloam.  Attended by throngs of worshippers who carried their palm branches, to be waved in the Hosannah Shout, this priest brought the water from the pool in a golden ewer.  A solemn procession carried the 'living water' to the temple; joyous blasts on the sacred trumpets heralded its arrival" (McConkie, p. 134-135).

The water was poured into a basin on the side of the altar, wine was poured on the other side, and the Levites began to chant the Hallel, which is found in our scriptures as Psalms 113-118.  During the chant, the people would respond at certain points with "Hallelujah;" "O then, work now salvation, Jehovah;" "O Lord, send now prosperity;" and "O give thanks to the Lord," while waving their palm branches.

After this point, the special festival sacrifices were made, but there would have been a small break in the action while they were being prepared.  "Now about the midst of the feast Jesus went up into the temple and taught."  "It was then, immediately after the symbolic rite of water-pouring, immediately after the people had responded by repeating those lines from Psalm 118--given thanks, and prayed that Jehovah would send salvation and prosperity, and had shaken their [fronds] towards the altar...and then silence had fallen upon them--that there rose, so loud as to be heard throughout the Temple, the Voice of Jesus" (Alfred Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messias, 2:160, quoted in McConkie, p. 136).  (Note:  Alfred Edersheim was a Jewish convert to Christianity.)

Wow!  What a spectacle that would have been!  The words Jesus taught at that moment are not recorded, but we can assume that in some way he proclaimed his gospel.  The Jews wondered where Jesus got his knowledge.  (Likely "the Jews" refers to the Jewish authorities rather than the Jewish people throughout this chapter, according to Harper-Collins.)

"Jesus answered them, and said, My doctrine is not mine, but his that sent me.  If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself" (John 7:16-17).  Jesus accused the Jewish authorities of not keeping the Law of Moses, despite their many observances of religious tradition.  (See the previous two lessons for evidence.)  Since they didn't live the doctrine of the Father, they did not receive the testimony of Jesus. 

At this accusation, confusion erupted.  Some said he was crazy ("possessed of a devil," in the terms of the day) (v. 20).  Some said he couldn't be Christ because they knew where he was from (v. 27).  "Many" of the people believed in him (v. 31).  The Sanhedrin (called here "chief priests and Pharisees") "which had at its disposal a small force of police, mainly for keeping order in the temple" (Harper-Collins) sent for his arrest (v. 32), but he could not be taken, because his work was not yet finished (v. 30).

THE LIVING WATER

Although the Bible often states that the gospel was to go to the Jews first, it was always intended to be sent to the Gentiles as well.  In fact, the symbolism of the Feast of the Tabernacles specifically emphasized the spreading of the gospel to the heathen nations.  They were "to depict an outpouring of divine grace upon all men of all nations, using water as the symbol of life.  As Edersheim observes, this feast 'points forward to that great, yet unfulfilled hope of the Church: the ingathering of Earth's nations to the Christ,' including the nations of heathendom, for whom sacrifices were then offered...The daily and ritualistic pouring out of the water...was understood by the Rabbis to be symbolical of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit" (McConkie, p. 134).

"It was said that he who has not seen the joy of the drawing of water at the Feast of the Tabernacles does not know what joy is" (Bible Dictionary, p. 673).

At the end of the services each day, the priests walked a circle around the altar, chanting "O then, work now salvation, Jehovah!  O Jehovah, send now prosperity."  And on the last day of the feast, they circled this altar not once, but seven times--seven, hearkening back to the circling of the City of Jericho, and seven, refering in Hebrew to godly perfection.

On this last day, the "Great Day" of the feast, Jesus answered this cry for divine redemption: "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.  (But this spake he of the Spirit, which they that believe on him should receive: for the Holy Ghost was promised unto them who believe, after that Jesus was glorified.)  Many of the people therefore, when they heard this saying, said, Of a truth this is the Prophet.  Others said, This is the Christ.  But some said, Shall Christ come out of Galilee?" (v. 37-41 JST).  "Galilee was regarded by many Pharisees as religiously lax" (Harper-Collins, p. 2028).  "Hath not the scripture said, That Christ cometh of the seed of David, and out of the town of Bethlehem, where David was?" (v. 42).  Obviously it was not well-known that Jesus was actually born in Bethlehem.

And yet, he was so remarkable that even the temple guards wondered, and they refused to arrest him in a rather understated act of bravery (v.45-46), and a prominent leader of the Sanhedrin spoke in his defense.  (For more Nicodemus's defense of Christ, see a previous entry.)

THE LIGHT OF THE WORLD

A significant ceremony during the Feast of the Tabernacles was the lighting of the temple courts by four golden candelabra (Bible Dictionary, p. 673), a perfect setting for Christ to proclaim himself the light therefore represented.  "Then spake Jesus again unto them, saying, I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life" (8:12).  The words used as "I am" are ego emi and refer to the great "I Am That I Am," the Jehovah of the Old Testament.  "It functions virtually as a divine name, based on Old Testament assertions of God's identity" (Harper-Collins, p. 2029).  It was clear to everyone that Christ was proclaiming himself their God.

The authorities said, "Thou bearest record of thyself; thy record is not true" (8:13).  Then ensued an argument about whether there were witnesses enough, blah, blah, blah...all the same stuff the Sanhedrin was always going off on.  When it was over, "Then said Jesus unto them, when ye have lifted up the Son of man, then shall ye know that I am [ego emi] he." (Note that the word "he" is italicized in the New Testament, indicating that the King James Translators, not understanding the significance of the phrase "I am" added it for grammatical clarity) "I do nothing of myself; but as my Father hath taught me, I speak these things.  And he that sent me is with me: the Father hath not left me alone; for I do always those things that please him.  As he spake these words, many believed on him" (8:28-30).

But a little later in the record, when he identified himself once again as Jehovah, saying, "Verily, verily, I say unto you, Before Abraham was, I am" (8:58), the leaders tried to stone him for blasphemy.

"'So there was a division among the people because of him,' just as there is division in so-called Christendom today, because of him, because some--again at the peril of their salvation--choose to worship a Christ of one sort, some of another" (McConkie, p. 138).  It is of vital importance in each of our lives that we learn who Christ is, who it is we worship.  Testifying of himself, although it inflamed the Sanhedrin, was a key part of the ministry of Jesus Christ, so that we could know where to find our salvation.  (See John 6:68-69.)

"WHO IS THIS SON OF MAN?" (John 12:34)

Gospel concepts are so multi-faceted, and actually beyond our comprehension, that Christ uses multiple explanations, symbols, and words to teach us the entire ideas, bit by bit.  It is definitely the case as Jesus tries to let us know who he is.  So let's look at some descriptions Christ has given to himself, all linked in with the introductory identification "I am."

"I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life" (John 8:12).

"In him was life, and the life was the light of men" (John 1:4).

"I am the way, the truth, and the life" (John 14:6).

"I am the light, and the life, and the truth of the world (Ether 4:12).
 
So all of these words seem to be nearly synonymous descriptions of Christ: The Light, The Truth, The Life, The Way.

Knowing Christ is The Truth, it makes sense that Jesus said to his disciples, "Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free" (John 8:32).  Christ himself is The Truth.  "And this is life eternal, that they might know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent" (John 17:3).  To know Jesus Christ is not just to know about him, but to become unified with him, to keep his commandments (John 7:17), to receive of his grace, to be sanctified.  The more we know Christ, the more free we will become:  Free from the bondage of sin which so ensnared the Jewish authorities (John 8:33-47), free from fear as we trust in the Lord, free from the darkness that swirls around this fallen existence, free to progress, free to feel peace, free to know what to do on a day-by-day basis through the spirit, free to become like Christ.  "If the son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed" (John 8:36).

Knowing Christ is The Light, it makes sense that Jesus said to the Nephites, "I will also be your light in the wilderness; and I will prepare the way before you, if it so be that ye shall keep my commandments; wherefore inasmuch as ye shall keep my commandments ye shall be led towards the promised land, and ye shall know that it is by me that ye are led" (1 Nephi 17:13).  When we are lost, confused, trapped in darkness, Christ is the light, the only way out.

Knowing Christ is The Life, it makes sense that Jesus said, "Verily, verily, I say unto you, he that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life.  Verily, verily, I say unto you, The hour is coming, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God: and they that hear shall live" (John 5:24-25), and "I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly" (John 10:10).

Knowing Christ is The Way, it makes sense that Paul taught, "[God] will with the temptation also make a way to escape" (1 Cor. 10:13), and that Nephi testified, "I know that the Lord giveth no commandments unto the children of men, save that he shall prepare a way for them, that they may accomplish the thing which he commandeth" (1 Ne. 3:7), and that Jacob taught, "[Christ] is the way; and there is none other way nor name given under heaven whereby man can be saved in the kingdom of God" (2 Ne. 31:21).  Christ is the only way up.

THE ADULTEROUS WOMAN

We are all familiar with the story of the adulterous woman that took place immediately after this festival (John 8:3-11)--how the Sanhedrin dragged this woman into the temple demanding a judgment from Jesus, not caring about her or about the sin she commited, but simply trying to trap him into either breaking Roman law or the law of Moses with his edict.  And of course, since he was the Master, he gave a masterful response which defeated their purpose and taught a valuable lesson:  Not to accuse others, since there is also sin in you. 

But there is one significant detail of this story that is missing from our LDS King James Version, but is recorded in the Joseph Smith Translation*:  "Jesus said unto her, Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more.  And the woman glorified God from that hour, and believed on his name."  (8:11 + JST)  Where in the former tradition of the Jews, this woman had merited death by stoning, Christ offered forgiveness through his atonement and she became a disciple.  She then would very likely have been in the group that heard Jesus testify, "I am the light of the world" (8:12), and just a little later, "Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free" (8:32).  In these hopeful words to this sinner-turned-convert, we find hope for every one of us.  Christ offers to us, as he did to her, freedom from sin, endowments of truth, light in the wilderness, and the way to everlasting life.


*For more information on the Joseph Smith Translation, follow this link to a previous post.
SOURCES:

The Harper-Collins Study Bible
Bruce R. McConkie, The Mortal Messiah, Book 3

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Where is the JST of the woman taken in adultery? I cannot find it in either the footnotes nor the JST in the bible dictionary

Nancy W. Jensen said...

It is not in our LDS King James Version. If you go to my link on the JST, you will see that only a portion of the JST changes were included in our LDS Bible due to space constraints. You can find it in one of the complete JST publications which are listed in that post, such as "Joseph Smith's New Translation of the Bible" by Herald Publishing House.