The yearly Festival of Tabernacles was near, and Jesus was reluctant to leave Galilee to go down into Judea. The opposition was growing, and there were people in Jerusalem who wanted him dead. He knew his mission was to give his life for others — but not that way. It wasn’t time.
He probably told his brothers this, but they didn’t believe him. Perhaps they thought he was being a bit paranoid. But they ended up leaving Jesus behind and going to the festival without him.
And then, maybe two or three days later (cf. John 7:14), Jesus went too. Incognito. The story of what happened there will occupy about three chapters of John’s gospel.
Did Jesus change his mind? Perhaps — John doesn’t say. But imagine what would have happened if Jesus had gone with his brothers.
He had already become well-known, and thousands of people would have been making their way along the roads into the city. He would have been recognized, and people would likely have come to him for healing. All along the way, the buzz would grow, until they reached Jerusalem.
The people had already tried to make him king after the feeding of the 5,000. What would an excited crowd have done with Jesus at the gates of the holy city?
It wasn’t Palm Sunday yet. It wasn’t time. Jesus had things to do in Jerusalem, but would have to do them in a way that wouldn’t create a mob.
Meanwhile, John describes what was happening in Jerusalem as Jesus was on his way there:
The Jewish leaders were looking for Jesus at the festival. They kept asking, “Where is he?” The crowds were murmuring about him. “He’s a good man,” some said, but others were saying, “No, he tricks the people.” No one spoke about him publicly, though, for fear of the Jewish authorities. (John 7:11-13, CEB)
The authorities, of course, weren’t looking for Jesus because they wanted his autograph. And the people were looking for him too, whispering among themselves, divided in their opinions.
We’ve seen the mounting tension between Jesus and the Jewish leadership. We’ve seen the crowds struggle with their understanding of who Jesus is. And we’ll see more and more of this as the gospel progresses. Jesus will do more signs, and in response, the authorities will keep looking for opportunities to kill him and the people will continue to argue.
Where’s Jesus? Everyone expected him to be at the festival. But John’s question to his readers, throughout the gospel, is not where, but who.
Who is this man? Read, John says, and decide.