Each Gospel writer noted that as Jesus’ ministry progressed, the Jewish leadership opposed Him more sharply. The Jewish leadership saw Jesus as their opponent because Jesus presented Himself as the fulfillment of Judaism itself. In Jesus, a new era had dawned in which the very fabric of Judaism would be woven together around Himself. In John 7-8, John structured Jesus’ message at the Feast of Tabernacles—including His analysis of the patriarch Abraham—so as to portray Jesus as the focal point of Israel’s faith.
(1) In John 7:10, Jesus went to Jerusalem for the Festival of Tabernacles where He described the work of the Spirit in terms used also by the prophets. Along with Passover (Exod 12:1-28, 43-13:16; Lev 23:5-8; Deut 16:1-8) and Pentecost (Exod 23:16, 34:22; Lev 23:15-22; Deut 16:9-12), Tabernacles (also called the Festival of Booths or Ingathering) was one of the major festivals Jews celebrated according to the Mosaic law (Exod 23:17; 34:22). The Festival of Tabernacles celebrated God’s provision as Israelites brought the first of their produce as an offering to the Lord (Exod 23:16; Lev 23:34-36; Deut 16:13-17). “On the last and most important day of the festival” (John 7:37), Jesus cried out for those who were yet hungry and thirsty to come to Him. Even after days of reflecting upon God’s providence to the wilderness generation and in their own day, some who gathered in the temple were yet empty, unsatisfied. Jesus said that what He had to offer was greater than anything that they had been known before. “The one who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, will have streams of living water flow from deep within him” (John 7:38). Isaiah prophesied of God’s grace upon His people saying in Isa 55:1, “Come, everyone who is thirsty, come to the waters; and you without money, come, buy, and eat!” In Ezek 36:16-37:14, Ezekiel prophesied that the Lord would renew His people by cleansing them and placing His Spirit upon them. “I will put My Spirit in you, and you will live” (Ezek 37:14), he said. In John 7:39, John said that Jesus’ promise of streams of living water flowing out of those who believed in Him was a reference to the Spirit. Jesus’ description of the Spirit’s ministry anticipated His further teaching on the Spirit where Jesus informed His disciples that He would send them another Counselor to help them after He departed (John 12:23; 14:15-26; 16:5-15; 20:21-23). Jesus and the Spirit could satisfy the spiritual hunger and thirst that no Jewish festival could quench.
(2) In John 8:39-58, Jesus portrayed Abraham as a witness to His mission and eternality. In Gen 12:1-3, the Lord called Abraham and promised him both land and lineage. The Lord affirmed these promises in a covenant ceremony in Genesis 15. Throughout the history of Judaism, Abraham was seen as a paramount figure, the father of the people of God. Jesus’ comments about Abraham in John 8 established Abraham’s greatness only in relation to Jesus. Jesus proposed that although His opponents were physical descendants of Abraham, they were yet enslaved to sin—a claim they considered an oxymoron (John 8:31-34). They understood that being in the family line of Abraham was inextricably linked with spiritual freedom. God’s covenant of land and lineage to Abraham implied that Abraham’s descendants were the true heirs of Canaan—despite the contemporary Roman domination or historic lapses of national independence. For the Jews of Jesus’ day, being in the line of Abraham was the basis of spirituality, salvation. They were frustrated when Jesus proclaimed in John 8:55 that His Jewish opponents had never known God. Jesus did not disparage Abraham but described Abraham’s pivotal role in the storyline of Scripture. “Your father Abraham was overjoyed that he would see My day; he saw it and rejoiced!” (John 8:56), Jesus said, and told His opponents, “I assure you: Before Abraham was, I am” (John 8:58).