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Jesus and the Feast of Tabernacles

A Sukka set up in New Hampshire, US Credit: oseh_shalom/Public Domain/Wikipedia

The Jewish Feast of Tabernacles also called the Feast of Sukkot or Feast of Booths started this past Monday (October 14, 2019) and will run for seven more days.

There are seven feasts instituted in the Old Testament and the Feast of Tabernacles is one of the three pilgrimage festivals, along with Passover and the Festival of Weeks, that requires Jewish males to visit Jerusalem (Deuteronomy 16:16).

The Feast of Tabernacles is the last feast on the Jewish Calendar and falls in September or October, five days after the Day of Atonement. The seven feasts fell in this order:

So should Christians celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles or any of the other feasts?

I don’t think there is any problem if they do. In fact if we look at the Book of Acts, we see hints that Paul celebrated the feasts or at least took part in them as he may have considered them as an opportunity to preach the Gospel.

In Acts 20:6, Luke writes that their group set sail from Philippi after the Feast of Unleavened bread suggesting that they had stayed for the celebration and ten verses later in the same chapter, Luke writes that Paul wanted to get to Jerusalem in time for the Feast of Pentecost (Acts 20:16).

But at the same time, the Apostle was also very clear that celebrating the feasts was not a requirement:

16 Therefore no one is to act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day— 17 things which are a mere shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ.

Colossians 2:16-17 NASV

There was no problem if people celebrated the feasts and there was no problem if they didn’t, the key is that we are not to judge others if they do or don’t.

The Feast of Tabernacles had two facets to it. Because it fell at the end of harvest it was considered a feast of thanksgiving, but perhaps its greatest significance was its historical tie to Israel’s deliverance from Egypt.

42 You shall live in booths for seven days; all the native-born in Israel shall live in booths, 43 so that your generations may know that I had the sons of Israel live in booths when I brought them out from the land of Egypt. I am the Lord your God.”

Leviticus 23:42-43 NASV

And as part of the feast, Jews were required to build temporary shelters or tents and live in them as they did in their wilderness journey.

Today, Jews wanting to celebrate the feast are required to build a tabernacle and have at least one meal inside it each day, though it is not uncommon for Jews to sleep in them during the feast.

Aside from constructing a tent or temporary structure, there were two other elements to the Sukkot celebration included as part of the week-long celebration. But there is no mention of these two requirements in the Bible and were added later.

This included the priest taking water from the pool of Siloam and pouring it along with wine into a container beside the altar as libation. It is possible this was a reminder of how God provided water for the Hebrews in their journey through the wilderness (Exodus 17:1-7).

As part of this remembrance, the Priests would call upon God to provide heavenly water and today some Jews look upon this as God pouring out His Holy Spirit and even reference the outpouring promised in the book of Joel (Joel 2:28-32).

A second element not required in scripture was for the Jews to light torches throughout the temple. It indicated that Jehovah was a light to the gentiles.

The lights have their roots in the pillar of fire by night and smoke by day that accompanied Israel in their wilderness journey (Exodus 13:21).

As part of this, men would dance around the temple through the court of gentiles and the court of women carrying their torches. They would also set up massive candelabras in the outer courts surrounding the temple and light them. Because of this, the Temple was completely illuminated at night during the feast and since it was high on the hill, it could be seen for miles.

Of all the feasts, the Feast of Tabernacles has the strongest connection to the Messiah. In the book of Zechariah, the prophet admonishes those living in other nations who were not celebrating the Feast of Tabernacles at the end of the age or the Messianic age — (Zechariah 14:16-19), see also (Ezekiel 37:26,27. Micah 4:1-7).

And because of its Messianic connection, Jesus attended the Feast of Tabernacles in John 7:1-37, and used it to testify that He was the Messiah.

First we see Jesus connecting with the water used in the celebration:

37 Now on the last day, the great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out, saying, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink. 38 He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, ‘From his innermost being will flow rivers of living water.’” 39 But this He spoke of the Spirit, whom those who believed in Him were to receive; for the Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.

John 7:37-39 NASV

In this passage Jesus testified of how He was the living water and John noted that this was fulfilled in the great outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost.

Secondly in John 8, Jesus said:

12 Then Jesus again spoke to them, saying, “I am the Light of the world; he who follows Me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the Light of life.”

John 8:12 NASV

The Feast of Tabernacles was over at this point, but still this close to the end of the Feast of Tabernacle there is no doubt that Jesus was referring to the lights associated with the feast.

Jesus was in the treasury located in the court of women when he made this statement (John 8:20), the same spot where the widow gave two coins (Mark 12:41-42). The lights were put out on the final or eighth day of the feast and though no longer lit, some suspect the huge candelabras set up in the court of women probably hadn’t been taken down yet.

The Jews would understand the prophetic significance of Christ’s claim, because Isaiah prophesied that the Lord would be a light to the world and the gentiles (Isaiah 42:6; Isaiah 49:6).

And finally the Apostle John refers to Jesus as the tabernacle when he wrote:

14 And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.

John 1:14 NASV

The Greek word translated dwelt is ‘skenoo’ and literally means “tabernacled” and if we understand it properly it means that God briefly tabernacled or lived with man through Jesus.

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