Jesus at the Feast of the Tabernacles

Knowing ancient Jewish culture will help us know the Bible better, and know God better. The investment will pay off many fold. 

Modern Jews and Christians are far removed from the ancient Israelite culture. Our food supply in the developed world is relatively secure, while their food supply, and their survival, depended on each year’s harvest. “Feast” in rich modern nations usually means low food prices and “famine” means high food prices, whereas feast in ancient Israel meant life and famine meant death. Refrigeration and cheap transportation give us variety and reliability at the dinner table, while the lack of both made it frequently hard for the Hebrews to know where their next meal was coming from. In modern times we emphasize the role of technology in our prosperity and downplay the grace of God, while in ancient Israel they used existing technology wisely while recognizing that the hand of the Lord was the source of all things.

Is it any wonder that modern first-world Christians don’t understand how important the feasts were to the Hebrews in the Old Testament? Many Americans’ main worry surrounding the main cultural feasts, Thanksgiving and Christmas, is not putting on too much weight. Political and social leaders encourage people to enjoy family and friends, and maybe even thank others who grew the food, but say nothing about God.

To better understand the Bible we must have some understanding of the feasts that meant so much to the Israelites at the time.

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Jesus’ Discourse on the Bread of Life

Jesus’ most controversial discourse stuns, shocks, offends, and has lots of other signs of good teaching. 

Jesus has often been called a master teacher, and the book of John illustrates the truth of that label.  Good teachers do not merely tell their students the material; they show them.  John 6 begins with Jesus teaching a multitude of people on a hillside on the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee in spring.   He taught for hours and when the disciples advised Jesus to let the people go to find food, He miraculously fed all of them, possibly more than 15,000 people.  The parallels between Moses giving manna to the Israelites (Exodus 16:1-21), Elisha’s feeding of 100 men (2 Kings 4:42-44), the Lord hosting a magnificent banquet (Isaiah 25:6), and Jesus feeding the multitude were striking to the Jews, hungry as they were for a political Messiah to lead them out of bondage to Rome (6:14). As a result, they tried to make Him king (6:15).  Jesus escaped and allowed time for the fervor to abate.

The next morning Jesus gave His famous, to some infamous, Bread of Life discourse.  With the amazing miracle of the prior day, Jesus had shown the people, and His disciples, that He could provide bread for those who followed Him.  Now Jesus intended to teach them about greater bread. The greater bread is not the bread that perishes with the eating, but that which lasts forever.  It comes from God, and ultimately the bread, that which nourishes the people of God for eternity, is Jesus Christ Himself.  After showing the people His ability to provide physically for those who followed Him, He had then described how He Himself was the ultimate bread.  Finally, Jesus finished the lesson telling His listeners that they needed to “eat His flesh” and “drink His blood” to have eternal life (6:53-58).

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The Sanhedrin

No study of the New Testament is complete without a study of the government of Palestine in the first century AD, and no study of the government of Palestine in that period is complete without a study of the Sanhedrin. The term Sanhedrin is derived from the Greek phrase for “gathering place” and is not found in Jewish history prior to the periods of Greek domination under Alexander, the Ptolemies and the Seleucids.


Though the term came late in Biblical history, the idea of a Hebrew or Jewish ruling council came early. In the time of the Exodus (around 1400 BC), God told Moses to bring together 70 elders of Israel to receive His spirit and lead the people (Numbers 11:16). During the reign of Jehoshaphat in Judah, the king assembled priests and heads of families to discern and convey the judgment of the Lord and to handle controversies (2 Chronicles 19:8).  After the exile (during the Persian period), Ezra (5:5, 6:7, 10:8) and Nehemiah (2:16, 5:7, 7:5) made extensive use of ruling councils to legislate and judge.

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Jesus, an Example of Mentoring Leadership

How did Jesus mentor His disciples? How did He mentor others? How should we mentor those who look to us for leadership?

One of the greatest strengths of mentoring leaders is the ability to teach.  To reproduce himself, a man must teach, by words and by actions, those who are learning from him.  Jesus taught large groups and the people marveled at the wisdom and authority of His words.  He was doing His most important work, however, when He was teaching small groups of His disciples and other followers (Luke 24:32).

Mentoring leaders also use gifts of exhortation to mentor those entrusted to them.  Exhortation includes encouragement and instruction to do the right and wise thing.  After Peter’s proclamation of faith in Matthew 16:16, Jesus encouraged him.  After Peter denied Jesus in Matthew 26:69-75, Jesus encouraged him again (John 21:15-17).  Many times in the gospels Jesus exhorted His disciples.  Such gifts as exhortation and teaching are evidence of excellent communication, in this case sharing leadership principles and examples to the next generation of leaders.

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