Thanksgiving, Sukkot and Christ - Part 2

Thomas Lieth

We should always remember what God did in our lives when He saved us from the godless wilderness. We should remember what He’s doing now, as He gives us what we need to live every day. People don’t give much thought to most things. How naturally the electricity comes from the socket, water from the tap, bread from the baker, and vegetables from the weekly market. But without God’s preservation of His creation, without the sun, the rain, the dew, the wind, yes, even without the earthworm, we humans would be hopelessly lost. All this is grace and a gift of God. That is why we not only celebrate Thanksgiving, but also say at the same time, “Thank God!”

This is precisely the meaning of the Feast of Tabernacles: thanks for the grape harvest and crops. Unfortunately, it is in the supposedly-Christian West, meanwhile, that the honor is no longer given to God; rather, man praises himself. If the vintage and harvest have turned out well, man takes pride in his intelligent management, his diligence and technical achievements. But if the harvest is bad, it is naturally not due to man’s inability, but rather to bad weather, fate, or just plain bad luck. Maybe the earthworms were out of shape, anyway. Or man remembers God and says, “God didn’t allow a good harvest.” God is made responsible for the evil, and man praises himself for the good. It was once said in the communist GDR (German Democratic Republic): “Without the Lord or rays of sun, we will get the harvest done.” A priest retorted to this haughty battle cry: “Without rain and without God, the whole world goes bankrupt.” Well, the GDR has experienced it. But onward to the contents of the Feast of Tabernacles.

On the first seven days of the festival, the prescribed burnt and fire sacrifices, as well as the food, sin, and drink offerings were presented, along with the many freewill offerings and sacrifices (Lev 23:37-38; Num 29:12ff.). On top of this was the closing day, the so-called Day of the Assembly. This was the eighth day, which once again had a special place within the festival, in which no workday labor was permitted to be done—incidentally, also the case on the first day, so that the first and eighth day differ from the days between (Lev 23:35).

Even the Lord Jesus, when He was on earth, went to Jerusalem at the time of the Feast of Tabernacles. We find this in the Gospel of John in chapter 7. Among other things it says: “Now the Jew’s feast of tabernacles was at hand…then went he also up unto the feast…” etc. At the beginning, we read that the Jewish officials would have preferred to kill Him at this time, but His hour had not yet come. The living Son of God, with His crucifixion and resurrection, should not fulfill Sukkot but Passover, the Feast of Unleavened Bread, and the Feast of Firstfruits. For Calvary is not the end of God’s plan of salvation, but the beginning of redemption. It is the firstfruit and not the final harvest. Sukkot, the Feast of Tabernacles, will also be fulfilled in Jesus Christ, but on another occasion and, most importantly, at another time.

Back to John 7 and the appearance of the Lord Jesus during the festival. It says in verse 14: “Now about the midst of the feast Jesus went up into the temple, and taught.” Then He began to speak about having been sent from the Father; He announced His ascension and referred to the superficial ceremonies observed on the occasion of the festival. These ceremonies that the Lord Jesus alluded to, corresponded to the Jewish tradition of the Mishnah and were not part of God’s instructions for the festival, either in the Old Testament or the New.

One of the ceremonies was the pouring of water. A priest went down from the temple to the Kidron Valley at daybreak, fetched water from the pool of Siloam, and carried it up to the temple. He did this every day for seven days. At the temple entrance, he was greeted with three trumpet blasts, and then he poured the water onto the altar at the same time as the drink offering, which was wine. For this contribution of water Isaiah 12:3 is cited, where it says, “Therefore with joy shall ye draw water out of the wells of salvation.” At the same time, this should stand for the pouring out of the Holy Spirit and the connected hope that the Spirit of God will one day be poured out on all the people of Israel. This reminds us, among other things, of Ezekiel 37:14, “And [I] shall put my spirit in you, and ye shall live…” 

When the Lord Jesus celebrated the Feast of Tabernacles, He said on the last day of the festivities: “In the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried, saying, If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink. He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water” (John 7:37-38). With these words, the Lord Jesus attached Himself precisely to this custom, by promising every believer the gift of living water, and thus the Holy Spirit. As a result, the Lord Jesus also elevated Himself above the priests, who drew water as drudgery, and He revealed Himself as the source of all spiritual blessings. Jesus is both the Creator as well as the Giver. He is the fountain of salvation, and He is the source. He is the High Priest, and He is the one from whom the Holy Spirit comes forth! Everything is through Him, everything is in Him, and everything is for Him.

A second ceremony was the illumination of lights. In the temple district, huge candlesticks with golden lamp bowls were set up, and these were lit at sunset. This light was meant to symbolize the glory of God—what is known as Shekinah. The festival participants were involved in the spectacle, marching around the temple with torches and then mounting them on the temple walls; a sign that the Messiah would also be a light for the nonbelievers. Here again we have a reference to the Gentiles; according to Isaiah 49:6, “It is a light thing that thou shouldest be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and to restore the preserved of Israel; I will also give thee a light to the Gentiles, that thou mayest be my salvation unto the end of the earth.”

The Lord Jesus also hinted at this ceremony during the festival: “I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life” (John 8:12). He is the light of the world, which shines outwardly for the Gentiles, and He is the glory of God, which filled the temple for the Jews. As it says in Hebrews 1:3, “Who being the brightness of his glory…” It is almost a tragedy that the Jews devote themselves to religious festivities, enjoy an undoubtedly beautiful tradition, but refuse Jesus, the real life-giving water and true light, and even had Him nailed to the cross a short time later. The priests were greeted by the people with trumpet blasts, and the Messiah was pierced with hammer blows.

It is interesting that the Lord Jesus does not oppose the traditional rituals and celebrations during this festival. In other words, we also have the freedom to embellish certain traditions and Biblical festivals, provided that the essentials are not moved out of the center. But this is exactly what has happened to the Jews, even to this day. It is beautiful to watch the Jews during the Feast of Tabernacles, especially on the last day, but it is frightening that the Messiah has no place in their hearts. For this reason the Feast of Tabernacles, as celebrated in Israel, cannot be a cause for joy for us; it simply grieves us. What good are all these beautiful celebrations, the shelters, the cheer, the food, the dances, the music, when the promised Redeemer is despised? But before we accuse Israel with wagging fingers, we must conclude that there are also festivals and worship celebrations celebrated within Christianity—even Thanksgiving church services—in which Jesus has no room or at best has to stand in the corner. And who is at the center for us at Christmas? Who is the focus of Easter? What is the most important part of our Pentecost? And what is Thanksgiving about for us?

We come to the most essential point; namely, how the Lord Jesus referred to the ceremonies during the Feast of Tabernacles. It is interesting how Jesus, in all wisdom, used the Old Testament customs to point to Himself. Thus, at Passover He speaks of Himself as the bread which is broken, and as the blood which is shed. And here, during the Feast of Tabernacles festivities, He speaks of living water; that is, at the moment the priest is drawing the water and pouring out the drink offering. He speaks of the light of the world, when gigantic light plays are being held in Jerusalem. That means that His listeners could guess what Jesus wanted to say. These were not randomly chosen comparisons, but the right words, at the right time, in the right place, to the right people. He spoke of living water; He spoke of the light of the world, and everyone knew what He meant by it. He didn’t come to abolish the Old Testament, the Feast of Tabernacles and Passover, but rather to fulfill everything. Abolition is no problem; the Antichrist can also do that. He will sit in the temple to abolish worship—but only God can fulfill it all!

We have already seen how Pentecost and Passover have been fulfilled in Jesus Christ, as well as the so-called Feast of the Firstfruits. Israel’s other holy festivals have been fulfilled in Jesus Christ or will yet be fully fulfilled. The Sabbath is also fulfilled in Jesus Christ. Moreover, Jesus Christ is the true High Priest, the true King, the true scapegoat, the living water, the light of the world…The Lord Jesus, as the Lamb of God who shed His blood and as the bread of life, is the fulfillment of the priestly and sacrificial duty and the fulfillment of all promises. Even in the Old Testament, the Lord Jesus is at the center of all things, although he is not called by name there. Everything points to Him. And so the Feast of Tabernacles also finds its fulfillment and continuation in Jesus Christ; namely, when the Lord Jesus will reign as King along with those who belong to Him during the Millennium.

Zechariah prophesies in chapter 14, verses 16-19: “And it shall come to pass, that every one that is left of all the nations which came against Jerusalem shall even go up from year to year to worship the King, the LORD of hosts, and to keep the feast of tabernacles. And it shall be, that whoso will not come up of all the families of the earth unto Jerusalem to worship the King, the LORD of hosts, even upon them shall be no rain. And if the family of Egypt go not up, and come not, that have no rain; there shall be the plague, wherewith the LORD will smite the heathen that come not up to keep the feast of tabernacles. This shall be the punishment of Egypt, and the punishment of all nations that come not up to keep the feast of tabernacles.”

This means that in God’s coming thousand-year kingdom on earth, the peoples of all nations—Jews and Gentiles alike—will make an annual pilgrimage to Jerusalem to worship the Lord and God, and to celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles. In fact, the Feast of Tabernacles—which is the last of the seven holy festivals of Israel—is also prophetic for the last harvest. Actually, while the Passover and Pentecost have already been fulfilled, the Feast of Tabernacles has not yet been completed.

Sukkot, “the festival,” will only be completed when the Lord Jesus brings His chosen ones to Himself, and thus Israel will also be able to enter into the promised Sabbath rest. This is the true harvest and, moreover, the last harvest to be completed, the ultimate end to all the holy festivals of Israel. The Church actually belongs to the firstfruits; with Israel, God comes to the conclusion of the harvest time. And then all the faithful of all nations are united with Christ, and the Lord Himself will reign. In the meantime, the Feast of Tabernacles will remain a joyous festival, and may well be a part of the joy and the blessings of God that are connected with it!

So, we see that the Feast of Tabernacles is more than just an ordinary harvest festival; it is a unique/singular act of praise to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, and is something like a conclusion, the last harvest in God’s plan of salvation. Thank the Lord. Amen!

Midnight Call - 11/2017

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