John 8:12 and the Feast of Tabernacles

Jesus claimed, “I am the light of the world.  Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12). 

Jesus spoke that statement at the end of the Feast of Tabernacles (first mentioned in 7:2).  The week-long feast included (among other things) daily lighting rituals that involved tall lamps standing in the temple courts.  Using exaggeration, it was said that the glowing lights lit up all of Jerusalem. 

Because of the current feast, Jesus made a claim coinciding with its lighting ritual.  While the lamps only lit up the temple grounds, Jesus said “I am the light of the world.”  The revelation of Christ was intended for more than just Jerusalem.  The light of Christ dawned upon all creation (John 1:9). 

After making his claim, Jesus promised, “Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness.”  Here’s why that statement is significant: the lighting ritual during the Feast of Tabernacles remembered the pillar of fire by night that led the Israelites in the wilderness.  God’s presence was with the Israelites in a visible way, a pillar of fire.  And, when the pillar of fire moved, the Israelites followed it.  The pillar of fire guided them. 

Do you see the significance of Jesus’ statement, then?  “Whoever follows me” draws on the image of the Israelites following the pillar of fire.  Jesus is claiming to be the presence of God among them, and he is their guide.  Only he has (and is) the way of life (John 14:6), and they must follow him like the Israelites followed the fire, if they wish to have the light of eternal life.  Otherwise, they will live in darkness. 

One other point: it seems that one of the agendas in John’s Gospel is to present Jesus as the fulfillment of Old Testament hopes, expectations, practices, institutions, and people.  For example, up to this point in the Gospel, Jesus is Jacob’s ladder bridging heaven and earth (1:51), Jesus is the new temple that will be destroyed and raised three days later (2:19, 21), Jesus must be lifted up like Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness (3:14), Jesus provides water that is superior to what is found in Jacob’s well (4:13-14), Jesus acts with divine prerogatives on the Sabbath (5:11, 17-18), Jesus brought about a miraculous feeding superior to the provision of manna in the Old Testament wilderness wandering (6:31-33), and Jesus claimed to be bread from heaven that would satisfy the eater forever, unlike the manna which was temporary in its purpose (6:35). 

So when Jesus claims to be the light of the world, he is pulling the significance of the Feast of Tabernacles toward himself.  Only Jesus shows the true meaning for such a feast.  To reject the Light of the World and continue setting up lamps in the temple courts for one week a year is meaningless.  Why?  Jesus is the fulfillment of the feast! 

In summary, then: (1) Jesus’ claim to be the light of the world should be interpreted against the background of the Feast of Tabernacles; (2) Jesus’ claim to be the light of the world is significant, since the lights in the temple grounds only lit up a limited region of the temple grounds–Christ’s light knows no limits; (3) Jesus’ words about people following him allude to the Israelites following the pillar of fire by night; (4) as a light greater than the pillar of fire, Jesus is the presence of God among them and the guide for his people; (5) Jesus fulfills the Feast of Tabernacles.

Who Prepares the Vessels of Wrath and Vessels of Mercy?

In Romans 9:22-23, Paul mentions “vessels of wrath” that were “prepared for destruction” (9:22) and “vessels of mercy” that were “prepared for glory” (9:23). 

The question is: Who is the doing the “preparing”?  Is it the same person in both cases?  Or is there a different “preparer” in each case? 

Asking those questions are important, because some interpreters believe God prepares the vessels of mercy, but unbelievers prepare themselves for destruction.  The interpreter is then apparently relieved of an unwanted burden: the “burden” of viewing God as preparing a vessel for destruction.  To some, God preparing a vessel for destruction seems contrary to what is commonly believed about His love and kindness and desire for all to repent. 

The reason why two different “preparers” are often seen is due to a change in Greek voice.  In Romans 9:23, the word “prepared” is active, with God clearly the subject of the idea.  But in Romans 9:22, the word “prepared” is passive, and some believe Paul is deliberately changing tenses to avoid attributing a “preparing a vessel for destruction” act to God.

However, there are at least three contextual reasons why God must be understood as both the one who prepares vessels of mercy for glory and the one who prepares vessels of wrath for destruction.  Context must guide us. 

(1) The use of passive voice does not exclude God from being the actor in any case.  Context must have the last word.  The New Testament is full of instances when the passive voice is used as a “divine passive,” meaning that God is the implied subject.  Such is probably the case in Romans 9:22.  Simply noting a change in voice does not de facto eliminate God as the subject preparing the vessels of wrath for destruction. 

(2) The concepts of “vessels of mercy” and “vessels of wrath” parallel previous concepts in Romans 9.  For example, Romans 9:18 says, “Therefore, God has mercy on whom he wills, and he hardens whom he wills.”  Taken together, Romans 9:18 and 9:22-23 would mean, “Those on whom God has mercy are vessels of mercy prepared for glory, and those whom God hardens are vessels of wrath prepared for destruction.”  Paul is certainly not trying to hide the fact that God hardens whom he wills to harden.  There is no other competing subject in the sentence.  Only God’s sovereignty in hardening is in view.  If God does the hardening, surely God prepares a vessel of wrath for destruction. 

(3) The image of a “Potter” precedes the notions of preparing vessels of mercy and vessels of wrath.  Paul argues that the Potter has the right to do whatever he wants with a lump of clay, making some pottery for honorable purposes, and some for dishonorable purposes.  Such potter-rights parallel 9:22-23 also.  Pottery for noble purposes parallels vessels of mercy prepared for glory, and pottery for dishonorable use parallels vessels of wrath prepared for destruction.  And here is the key: there is only one potter–God!  If there were two potters, then perhaps the case could be made that God shapes vessels of mercy, but unbelievers shape themselves for destruction.  But, since there is one Potter, there is only one Vessel-Preparer as well.  The titles are synonymous. 

In light of the above reasons, it seems to go against the flow of Paul’s argument to assert that God prepares vessels of mercy, but someone else (e.g. the unbeliever) prepares vessels of wrath for destruction.  After all, Paul has already explained that God has mercy on whom he wants, and he hardens whom he wants (Rom 9:18).  In fact, it is by the act of hardening that God prepares a vessel of wrath for destruction.  God has the right to do this, for he is the potter, and the potter can do whatever he wants with the lump of clay. 

Paul’s teaching that “God prepares vessels of wrath for destruction” is not as objectionable as it may first appear.  His purpose is threefold: (1) to show his wrath (9:22), (2) to make his power known (9:22), and (3) to make the riches of his glory known to the objects of his mercy (9:23).  Therefore, God purposefully prepares vessels of wrath for destruction.  His hardening is not arbitrary or unjust.  When God hardens, he hardens sinners, and sinners do not deserve his mercy. 

Paul even cited an Old Testament example of God raising up a vessel for destruction: Pharaoh!  God told Pharaoh, “I raised you up for this very purpose, that I might display my power in you and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth” (Rom 9:17).  God can harden (=prepare a vessel for destruction=make pottery for dishonorable use) as he wishes (Rom 9:18), for none deserve his heart-softening, eye-opening, life-changing mercy. 

So, who prepares vessels of wrath and vessels of mercy?  God.  And He prepares them with purpose: to show his power, proclaim his name, display his righteous judgment, and exalt the precious nature of his mercy.  Soli Deo Gloria!

Needed Spiritual Lessons From Having a 6-Week Old Boy

Amidst the joys of having a child, there are frightening personal lessons I have experienced in the past six weeks.  The lessons are spiritual in nature and expose oversights and underestimations in my character. 

(1) I am even more selfish than I feared I was

(2) I can treat sleep like an idol

(3) I can easily neglect spending time with my wife for things I deem more important at the time

(4) I can become impatient and frustrated far too easily at times

(5) Continual personal sacrifice is easier said than done

Do these lessons resonate with anyone else?  What other spiritual weaknesses has the Spirit exposed in you through the venture of parenting? 

The answer to my weaknesses is constant yielding to the Spirit, in the prayerful hope that the fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:22-23) will overcome my fleshly tendencies.  As a Christian father, I especially need kindness, gentleness, self-control, and patience…