The incident in question takes place when Jesus' brothers attempt to coax Him to go to the Feast of Booths with them. In part, Jesus told them, "You go up to the feast. I am not going up to this feast, for my time has not yet fully come" (John 7:8). But He later did go—privately. Skeptics sometimes use this passage to claim that Jesus lied. And at first glance it may look like that. But the short answer to the question of whether Jesus lied to His brothers is, no Jesus did not lie. He is God, so there is no room in His character for deception or lying (see Numbers 23:19; 1 John 5:20). So how do we understand this exchange?
At this point in Jesus' ministry, there were people who wanted to kill Him in Judea. Jesus knew this and His brothers knew this, yet they still tried to get Him to come with them. John 7:1–4 records, "After this Jesus went about in Galilee. He would not go about in Judea, because the Jews were seeking to kill him. Now the Jews' Feast of Booths was at hand. So his brothers said to him, 'Leave here and go to Judea, that your disciples also may see the works you are doing. For no one works in secret if he seeks to be known openly. If you do these things, show yourself to the world.'" On the surface, Jesus' brothers sound supportive and like they want Him to be seen and known by others. The following verse, however, says that His brothers did not believe in Jesus as Lord (John 7:5), so in knowing this we can ascertain that their invitation was inherently sarcastic. Jesus could see right through their deception.
The story continues: "Jesus said to them, 'My time has not yet come, but your time is always here. The world cannot hate you, but it hates me because I testify about it that its works are evil. You go up to the feast. I am not going up to this feast, for my time has not yet fully come.' After saying this, he remained in Galilee. But after his brothers had gone up to the feast, then he also went up, not publicly but in private" (John 7:6–10).
The key phrase to notice in this passage is "not yet." Jesus says His time has not yet come, and He does so twice in this short exchange (v. 6, 8). It is also useful to point out that some older manuscripts include a "yet" in the portion where He says, "I am not going." Thus some translations of the Bible (KJV, NKJV, ISV) convey this portion as, "I am not yet going." Even if the original manuscripts do not contain a "yet" in that portion, the context indicates the same implication.
To His brothers, on the other hand, Jesus said, "your time is always here." What we see from this is that Jesus was not lying, but rather saying that He was not going at the time His brothers thought He should be going, and He was not going with them. "Not yet" does not mean "not at all." In this, we can also see that Jesus was speaking metaphorically in saying that His time had not yet come, because He knew that He would ultimately be crucified, but it was net yet the time for that to take place.
To the skeptic's claim, we can also point out that Jesus did publicly teach during the middle of the feast (John 7:14). His brothers—who at that time did not believe He was Messiah and had previously attempted to stop His ministry, thinking He was crazy (Mark 3:21)—could certainly have called Him out right there as a liar. But they did not do so. It's also helpful to look at the other writings of John. He emphasized truth and Jesus' teaching about truth (e.g., John 1:14; 4:23–24; 8:31–32; 1 John 1:10; 2:4, 22; 4:20). It is highly unlikely John would have failed to notice if Jesus had blatantly lied. Had Jesus lied, He would not be without sin and could be neither God nor our Savior. But Jesus was sinless (1 John 3:5; Hebrews 4:15). He is who He claimed to be (John 14:6) and He is our only Savior (John 3:16–18; Acts 4:12).
Jesus did not lie to His brothers. He was not being deceptive in John 7, but rather, was unwilling to meet the demands of His brothers. He knew that His time was coming but was not yet here. In our own lives, we can see this as encouragement that though we may think God should be doing something at a certain time or in a certain way, His "not yet" does not always mean "no." He is always truthful and He brings things to pass at the proper time.
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