Gospel of John: Moses’ Law


Jesus’ brothers had urged Jesus to go up to Jerusalem for Sukkoth, the people’s favorite holiday, known to us as the Feast of Booths, or Tabernacles. They pointed out to him that people who want to grow a movement don’t skulk around in the backwaters, they get out there to the front.

Jesus demurred, telling them his time was not yet ready, to go on ahead without him. Then he did stay behind in Galilee.

But, John continued, “After his brothers went up to the festival, then also [Jesus] went up—not publicly but rather in secret.” (John 7:10)


Jesus most likely stayed with his friends in Bethany, then went quietly to the Feast once it was underway. There were several groups of people swirling around in Jerusalem.

  • First there were the locals, who knew what was going on.
  • There were pilgrims from out of town who had heard of Jesus, and remembered him from the last Festival, but didn’t realize there was a death warrant out on him.
  • The temple guards were present everywhere.
  • And of course, the religious authorities, most notably the Pharisees and chief priests, mingled with the festival participants.

As he walked through the crowds, Jesus could hear what they were saying about him.

So then, the Judeans were seeking [Jesus] in the festival, and were saying, “Where is that one?”

And much muttering-grumbling concerning him was in the crowd, many were saying that he is good, but others were saying, “No! But rather he is deceiving, seducing, and leading the crowd astray!”

Nevertheless, not one was speaking freely concerning him because of the fear of the Judeans.

John 7:11-13

Jesus went to the most public place available, the temple, most likely Solomon’s Porch, where he had taught at other times, and began to speak. Typically, when rabbis would teach, they would always begin by quoting other famous rabbis and theologians.

But when Jesus taught, he invariably said, “Truly I say to you…” This amazed the crowds.


Therefore the Judeans were marveling, and saying, “How does this one perceive and know the writings, who has not learned [been educated]?”

The scribes, Pharisees, and teachers of the Law, John 7:15

So, Jesus revealed the source of His teaching.

  1. “My teaching is not of me, but rather of the One Who sent me.”  John 7:16. There was no reason to quote mere humans when Jesus’ teaching came straight from God.
  1. “Whoever wants to do the will of [God], will come to know, recognize, perceive, and understand, concerning the teachings, whether it is out of God or I speak from myself.” John 7:17 How could a person tell if that were true? Jesus challenged them to be honest with themselves. How willing were they (and are you and me today) to surrender their wills to God’s will, and tell God that at any cost, they were willing to believe God? That they were willing to obey the truth God gave them?

The only way anyone can ever know if a teaching is true and of God is to first align with God’s will.

  1. The one who seeks the glory of the One Who sent him, this one is true and unrighteousness is not in him.” John 7:18 Because Jesus taught to the glory of God, and not himself, Jesus was also proven righteous.

This is an important point so hold onto it.

The religious authorities had accused Jesus of transgressing Moses’ Law because he had healed a man on the Sabbath. The reason why that was so important—why keeping Moses’ Law was so important—is because the benefits of God’s covenant with Israel hinged on keeping God’s commandments.

God’s Covenant

In Biblical language, a covenant is a promise of God made to one person, or made to a group of people. “Testament” in Greek means covenant, so early in church history, the scriptures began to be referred to as the Old Covenant and the New Covenant. Language for this can be found in the book of Hebrews,


Jesus has now obtained a more excellent ministry, and to that degree he is the mediator of a better covenant, which has been enacted through better promises.

For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no need to look for a second one.

“’The days are surely coming,’ says the Lord,
    ‘when I will establish a new covenant with the house of Israel
    and with the house of Judah;
not like the covenant that I made with their ancestors.’”

[Quote taken from Jeremiah 31:31-34]

In speaking of “a new covenant,” [God] has made the first one obsolete. And what is obsolete and growing old will soon disappear.

Excerpts from Hebrews 8:1-13 (NRSV)

[As an aside, many theologians, scholars, and commentators are moving towards referring to Genesis through Malachi as the Hebrew Bible and Matthew through Revelation as the Christian Bible. My tendency is to use similar language, though I prefer Christian Testament.]

Covenants are different from contracts, A contract is an agreement made between relatively equal parties, and either party is free to choose whether to sign the contract or not. A covenant is also an agreement, but it follows the pattern of ancient Near East treaties made between a conquering king and the conquered people.

Generally there were two types of covenants:

Conditional: Meaning the conquering king’s treatment of the people would depend upon their behavior. When God gave Moses the Law, the Lord promised to bless the people if they would keep God’s commands. Disobedience would bring increasingly heavy consequences.

And this gets to the very crux of the matter.

1 and 2 Maccabees offer a bracing, often heartbreaking, account of brutality leveled against Judeans by the Seleucids, and the brief time of Judean self-rule enjoyed between 167 to 37 BC.

A mere thirty years before Jesus was born.

The memories were still fresh, and many longed—passionately, fervently—for independence once again, to be the nation they had once been in the halcyon days of the Davidic dynasty.

And they were convinced God would not grant this blessing unless they would finally, finally be the people God called them to be, who observed all the Law, faithfully attended to all the sacrifices, rites, festivals, and holy days, who were a pure and purified people who truly would


“Put these words of mine in your heart and soul, and you shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and fix them as an emblem on your forehead.

Teach them to your children, talking about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise.

Write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates,

so that your days and the days of your children may be multiplied in the land that the Lord swore to your ancestors to give them, as long as the heavens are above the earth.”

Deuteronomy 11:18-21 (NRSV)

The Jerusalem authorities were convinced that Jesus had broken the third of God’s ten commandments by not keeping the Sabbath holy. But Jesus’ life was perfect, there was no unrighteousness, no falsehood in him. Jesus had never broken even the smallest point of God’s law.

Jesus was the quintessential innocent man.

But Jesus challenged the crowd, and the religious leaders, that all of them had broken Moses’ Law and profoundly so, because they were seeking to kill Jesus, God incarnate.

How many commandments would be utterly violated by that?

Well, if we stick to the Ten Commandments, let us see.

1No other gods before GodRaise their religion above God
2No idolsWorship their own interpretation of scripture
3No misuse of God’s nameUse God as their authority to murder Jesus (God incarnate)
4Keep the SabbathUse the Sabbath against Jesus (God incarnate)
5Honor parentsDishonor God the Father
6No murderMurder Jesus
7No adulteryFaithlessness towards God
8No stealingSeek to steal the hearts and minds of the people away from Jesus
9No lyingMisrepresent God and God’s words
10No covetingActively jealous of Jesus’ success

The aching irony in all this was the evident sincerity of the Judeans in their defense of the Sabbath as they understood it, by their own interpretation, and their genuine passion to finally get it right after centuries of failure and loss.

That is really convicting.


[Ten Commandments | Jekuthiel Sofer / Public domain]

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