The obvious reason is that He was able to reach large masses of people in a short amount of time. The Temple was the center of Jewish worship and devout Israelites would travel there for the festival celebrations. But that is not the only reason Christ chose these holy days to engage in public ministry. Christ used the festivals (and the commands to observe them) as a backdrop to reveal specific characteristics of Himself depicted within those holy days to Israel and to mankind at large.
John records Jesus’ participation in Passover (Jn. 2:13-3:21; 6:1-71; 12:1-20:31), Rosh Hashanah (Jn. 5:1-47), Sukkot (Jn. 7:10-21), and Hanukkah (Jn. 10:22-39). The Passover celebrations serve to introduce and point to Christ’s role as the Lamb of God and His credentials as the Messiah. Whether He is cleansing the Temple, celebrating the Passover meal with His disciples or debating religious leaders, against the backdrop of Passover these actions cause us to sense the zeal with which Jesus celebrated these treasured holidays. When Jesus went to Jerusalem to celebrate the Feast of Trumpets (Rosh Hashanah), His actions and words harked back to the prophecies of Joel (Jl. 2:1-3:21) and Zephaniah (Zeph. 1:14-16) using the central symbol of the shofar (trumpet) as a call for repentance because the time of judgment was drawing near (also a central theme of the fall festivals). During the high light of Sukkot (the Feast of Tabernacles) Jesus again uses its imagery to illustrate the nature of His upcoming death. The symbolism of the Outpouring ritual and the Fire Ceremony (lighting of the enormous candlesticks in the Temple courtyard) speak of the ordeal He will go through when He takes upon the sin of the world. But they also illustrate the work of His Spirit in the life of the believer. Hanukah is perhaps the most surprising feast found in John as it does not appear in the list of God’s holy days in Leviticus 23 (4-44). However, in celebrating Hanukkah Jesus was relating to Israel’s historical past and prophetic destiny and its two themes (dedication and light) also point to the nature and work of the Messiah.
When the book of John is viewed through the lens of these festivals, three major truths become evident. First, Christ is prefigured in all the feasts and He has a strong bond with the Old Testament types, symbols, and prophetic announcements made in them. Secondly, there is a rich and deeper meaning found in the words and actions of Christ spoken during these celebrations which demand us to see the consequences of how we respond to Jesus’ words. And lastly, the signs and miracles which occur at these feasts provide us with confidence in Christ that He is the One foreshadowed in them. In the same fashion that the miracles of the Old Testament signified God was at work in the midst of His people, the miracles of Jesus testify that He is indeed God in the flesh (Jn. 1:14).
But more importantly, and John’s main reason for drawing out this wonderful imagery is not to impress us with Christ’s status as the Son of God or His amazing power. Instead John writes that these things were written so that we might believe (Jn. 20:31) and belief requires a response in the way the live. Do we really believe Jesus is the “bread that came from heaven”? If so, then where do we go for spiritual nourishment? Do we believe that Jesus is the Living Water? If so, then what well do we draw from when we are thirsty? Do we really believe Jesus is the Light of the World? Then whose light are we using to guide us each day? If we believe that John’s witness is true (Jn. 5:33), that Christ’s works attest to His authenticity (Jn. 5:36), that the Father affirms His words (Jn. 37-38), and that the Scriptures also confirm this (Jn. 5:39-47), then what we do and say in the coming week (and for the rest of our lives!) will also bear witness of the same.
Ann H. LeFevre, M. Div.
https://www.annhlefevre.com; Olivetreeann@mail.com; https://www.linkedin.com/in/annhlefevre; https://www.facebook.com/ann.h.lefevre