What is the Feast of Tabernacles?
“About the middle of the feast Jesus went up into the temple and began teaching ” (John 7:14).
The Feast of Tabernacles was first introduced in Exodus 23:15-16; 34:18,22, where it is called the “Feast of Ingathering”. It is mentioned as the third of three harvest festivals. The Bible frequently refers to crop harvests as symbols of the spiritual harvest of believers (see box at right). The first two harvest festivals are the Feast of Unleavened Bread (often called the Passover—Luke 22:1) and the Feast of Pentecost. Most Christians today understand and observe the importance of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ as Good Friday and Easter. But during the first century, Paul recalled these events using the biblical names of “unleavened bread” and “Passover”:
Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed (1 Corinthians 5:7).
Many Christians also observe Pentecost, called the Feast of Weeks in the Old Testament. It was the day when the Holy Spirit was poured out and the Church began (Acts 2). Fewer Christians, today, observe the Feast of Tabernacles, which pictures the return of Christ. But as His return draws closer, is it not time to observe this day with our fellow believers and be ready?
The verses about Christ returning to Earth are indeed numerous (see box at right). However, let us focus on one that was originally kept secret between Jesus and his three closest apostles:
A Vision of Christ's Return
“For the Son of Man will come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and then He will reward each according to his works. Assuredly, I say to you, there are some standing here who shall not taste death till they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom” (Matthew 16:27-28).
Wow! This is the very thing that many Christians have sought through the ages! A promise to live to see the return of Christ. The next chapter explains how that promise was fulfilled:
Now after six days Jesus took Peter, James, and John his brother, led them up on a high mountain by themselves; and He was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and His clothes became as white as the light. And behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them, talking with Him. 4 Then Peter answered and said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if You wish, let us make here three tabernacles: one for You, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” ... When they had lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only. Now as they came down from the mountain, Jesus commanded them, saying, “Tell the vision to no one until the Son of Man is risen from the dead” (Matthew 17:1-4, 8-99, NKJV).
These three men had seen a powerful, life-like vision of Christ returning for his Kingdom! It was so powerful that Peter wanted to build physical tabernacles for Jesus, Moses and Elijah, according to the Old Testament instruction (Leviticus 23:39-42). But Moses and Elijah disappeared. The Kingdom had not come yet, but the apostles had seen Christ and His servants shining like the sun—the way it will be in the future. Needless to say, the connection with the Feast of Tabernacles is clear. The Greek word used here, skene, is the same one used when Jesus attended the Feast of Tabernacles in John 7:2,14.
Jesus gave these three men permission to tell this story after He rose from the dead. And what a powerful story it is! It needs to be told today! Now let us read the major New Testament lesson about the Feast of Tabernacles and Christ's coming Kingdom. It will be easier with this basic prophetic fact in mind:
But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day (2 Peter 3:8).
When we see a Feast with a length of seven days, we should not be surprised that it represents God's seven thousand year plan. Nearly all Bible-believing Chronologists will agree that there were approximately 4000 years between Adam and Christ, and approximately 2000 years from Christ till now. (Our present BC-AD dating system is from the birth of Christ. Some believe that prophetic timing should be from the death and resurrection of Christ—approximately 30 AD. This means we have about 15 years before the end of 6000 years.) In general terms, we are near the beginning of the seventh thousand years or the seventh day of the Feast. The New Testament gives days within the Feast of Tabernacles which apparently correspond to those thousand year periods.
Jesus Teaching at the Feast of Tabernacles
John Chapter 7 contains Jesus teaching at the Feast of Tabernacles. The words of Scripture are all important. God did not have verses included with no purpose. But as long as we keep praying and reading, He will keep showing us. We are using the New King James Version below as it maintains the word “Tabernacles” The ESV and some other translations call it the Feast of Booths—a booth being essentially the same thing as tabernacle. It is a primitive shelter that one might make out of available materials for an animal or a person in an emergency.
The Hebrew word for “tabernacle” is sukkah (singular) or sukkot (plural). Some modern calendars will have the days of Sukkot labeled in September or October every year. This article will include all of John 7, below, as it is what Jesus taught on the Feast of Tabernacles for the Feast of Tabernacles.
After these things Jesus walked in Galilee; for He did not want to walk in Judea, because the Jews sought to kill Him. Now the Jews’ Feast of Tabernacles was at hand (John 7:1-2).
Most of Jesus ministry was in Galilee, almost 70 miles from Jerusalem—like being in Montana rather than Washington, DC. His righteousness, power and occasional talk of being a king was a threat to the civil and religious authorities in the capital, Jerusalem. They did not understand his mission to die for our sins. John called this the “Jew's Feast of Tabernacles” to help his readers understand what Feast this was. John wrote his Gospel years later. Some readers knew little of the Old Testament—he had to explain the meaning of the word “Rabbi” to them (John 1:38). John refers to the biblical Feasts 16 times in his Gospel, but refers to them as “Feasts of the Jews” only three times.)
His brothers therefore said to Him, “Depart from here and go into Judea, that Your disciples also may see the works that You are doing. For no one does anything in secret while he himself seeks to be known openly. If You do these things, show Yourself to the world.” For even His brothers did not believe in Him. Then Jesus said to them, “My time has not yet come, but your time is always ready.The world cannot hate you, but it hates Me because I testify of it that its works are evil. You go up to this feast. I am not yet going up to this feast, for My time has not yet fully come ” When He had said these things to them, He remained in Galilee. But when His brothers had gone up, then He also went up to the feast, not openly, but as it were in secret.(John 7:3-10).
Here we have a beautiful analogy of God's own relationship to mankind. Jesus’ own family, before the feast begins, are telling him to show his power to the leaders. And for thousands of years, mankind has said, “If there is a God, why doesn't he show himself?” If people honestly looked at the creation, they would know there is a God (Romans 1:20-32.) God had a plan for how we was working with mankind and He was going to send Jesus when He was ready:
Then the Jews sought Him at the feast, and said, “Where is He?” And there was much complaining among the people concerning Him. Some said, “He is good”; others said, “No, on the contrary, He deceives the people.” However, no one spoke openly of Him for fear of the Jews.
The “Jews” here are clearly the Jewish leaders—the ruling council, the priests, the scribes, the lawyers, etc. They wanted control of the civil government and the leaders. The common people were genuinely confused—some thought he was good, some evil. And so it has been through most of history: Civil and religious leaders have tried to control religion to control the people. The First Amendment to the USA’s Constitution was a novel idea in government—it prevented the creation of an official state religion. Fortunately, the same idea has since been included in the laws of many other countries. But before the 1500s, a common person who wanted to read the Bible or honor the God described there generally had to keep it a secret, for fear of the political and religious leaders of his day.
Now about the middle of the feast Jesus went up into the temple and taught (John 7:14).
As the Feast of tabernacles was seven days, the middle day would be the fourth day. If seven days represent 7000 years, then Jesus came and began to teach after about 4000 years—which is exactly what history shows! The world was without the teaching of Jesus before that time!
And the Jews marveled, saying, “How does this Man know letters, having never studied?” Jesus answered them and said, “My doctrine is not Mine, but His who sent Me. If anyone wants to do His will, he shall know concerning the doctrine, whether it is from God or whether I speak on My own authority. He who speaks from himself seeks his own glory; but He who seeks the glory of the One who sent Him is true, and no unrighteousness is in Him. Did not Moses give you the law, yet none of you keeps the law? Why do you seek to kill Me?” (John 7:15-19).
Here Jesus deals with the issue of how does one learn truth. Jesus is attacked by the leaders of his day because he has not gone to their schools. Jesus shows that learning truth is dependent upon our desire to “do His will”. He also warns that those seeking their own glory—maybe naming a college, denomination or program after themselves—may not be following God. They often do not even follow the laws that they teach others, and seek to do great evil. So during the time that Jesus is teaching on Earth, we need to look to Him for truth, not religious or secular leaders.
The people answered and said, “You have a demon. Who is seeking to kill You?” Jesus answered and said to them, “I did one work, and you all marvel. Moses therefore gave you circumcision (not that it is from Moses, but from the fathers), and you circumcise a man on the Sabbath. If a man receives circumcision on the Sabbath, so that the law of Moses should not be broken, are you angry with Me because I made a man completely well on the Sabbath? Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment.” Now some of them from Jerusalem said, “Is this not He whom they seek to kill? But look! He speaks boldly, and they say nothing to Him. Do the rulers know indeed that this is truly the Christ?” (John 8:20-26)
The true God and Jesus have been blasphemed through the ages— as the people accuse Christ of “having a demon”. Jesus also acknowledges that there are times when laws conflict—but such cases should be resolved by righteous judgment, not selfish judgment. Finally, the people are confused as to why the leaders are not carrying out their threats to kill him. But indeed, leaders often make big boasts when they are secretly afraid of God. Christians should be courageous! Ultimately, we can see God's timing in the Scripture: Christ dies at Passover—the Feast of Tabernacles signifies His rulership!
“However, we know where this Man is from; but when the Christ comes, no one knows where He is from.” Then Jesus cried out, as He taught in the temple, saying, “You both know Me, and you know where I am from; and I have not come of Myself, but He who sent Me is true, whom you do not know. But I know Him, for I am from Him, and He sent Me.” Therefore they sought to take Him; but no one laid a hand on Him, because His hour had not yet come. And many of the people believed in Him, and said, “When the Christ comes, will He do more signs than these which this Man has done?” The Pharisees heard the crowd murmuring these things concerning Him, and the Pharisees and the chief priests sent officers to take Him.”
This is an example of the confusion people get into with prophetic arguments. Even though Christ performs numerous obvious miracles, some say he cannot be the Messiah because he does not fulfill their understanding of the prophecies of his birth. Sure, Jesus was born in Bethlehem, fled to Egypt and then was raised in Nazareth. But those who sought could find out. And so today, and for the past 2000 years, people have been giving their version of when Jesus can or cannot return. Do not be dissuaded by them. Jesus’ miracles were obvious, and for 2000 years the miracles recorded in the Bible have been obvious. Both then and now, some honest people have believed in Jesus. Now dear reader, what do you think? Are those officers going to get Him?
Then Jesus said to them, “I shall be with you a little while longer, and then I go to Him who sent Me. You will seek Me and not find Me, and where I am you cannot come.” Then the Jews said among themselves, “Where does He intend to go that we shall not find Him? Does He intend to go to the Dispersion among the Greeks and teach the Greeks? What is this thing that He said, ‘You will seek Me and not find Me, and where I am you cannot come’?”
The religious leaders were blind to what Jesus was saying. They thought he was talking about some kind of escape plan, which they would hope to foil. Jesus was teaching on the fourth day of the Feast representing his first coming after nearly 4000 years of human history. He was not going to return until the last day of the Feast—the seventh day—which represents his second coming, the seventh 1000 years of human history (Revelation 20:1-6).
On the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out, saying, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.” But this He spoke concerning the Spirit, whom those believing in Him would receive; for the Holy Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified (John 7:37-39).
Now Jesus teaches His message for the last day of the Feast of Tabernacles. We can find the expression “great day” used in four other Bible verses, all are about Christ’s return to judge the nations (Zephaniah 1:14; Jude 1:6; Revelation 6:17; 16:14). This day brings judgment to those who have been evil, but healing, life and the Holy Spirit to those who want God. Without judgment to stop evil, peace and safety are not impossible. These living waters bring salvation with Christ's reign in Revelation 7:17 as well as Zechariah 14:
And in that day it shall be That living waters shall flow from Jerusalem, Half of them toward the eastern sea And half of them toward the western sea; In both summer and winter it shall occur. 9 And the LORD shall be King over all the earth. In that day it shall be—“The LORD is one,” And His name one.... And it shall come to pass that everyone who is left of all the nations which came against Jerusalem shall go up from year to year to worship the King, the LORD of hosts, and to keep the Feast of Tabernacles (Zechariah 14:8-9,16).
Therefore many from the crowd, when they heard this saying, said, “Truly this is the Prophet.” Others said, “This is the Christ.” But some said, “Will the Christ come out of Galilee? Has not the Scripture said that the Christ comes from the seed of David and from the town of Bethlehem, where David was?” So there was a division among the people because of Him. Now some of them wanted to take Him, but no one laid hands on Him. Then the officers came to the chief priests and Pharisees, who said to them, “Why have you not brought Him?” The officers answered, “No man ever spoke like this Man!” (John 7:40-46).
Even though Christ had clearly shown himself to be the source of the living waters, the source of the Holy Spirit and the rightful King of the earth, the people were still divided. Some believed—even the officers sent to arrest him found it unacceptable to carry out their orders. Others denied the evidence and resorted to their prophetic argument that He was from the wrong place. This has been the story of Christianity over the past two thousand years: some having faith and trusting Jesus, others finding reasons to avoid him—even nice-sounding religious reasons. Persecuted Christians ought to note that even though they may live in a country where the leaders want to arrest and punish them, their police or military may see the value of Christ-like people and refuse to carry out such orders.
Then the Pharisees answered them, “Are you also deceived? Have any of the rulers or the Pharisees believed in Him? But this crowd that does not know the law is accursed.” Nicodemus (he who came to Jesus by night, being one of them) said to them, “Does our law judge a man before it hears him and knows what he is doing?” They answered and said to him, “Are you also from Galilee? Search and look, for no prophet has arisen out of Galilee.” And everyone went to his own house. But Jesus went to the Mount of Olives (John 7:45-8:1).
When the leaders could not disprove what Jesus was saying, they resorted to lies, threats and false arguments. These things have happened from that time till this day. When some religious idea is put forward, such as “Did God create life or did it evolve from dead matter?”, it is often answered like this: “Do universities teach that?” The first century religious leaders did not want to talk about the overwhelming miracles and righteousness of Jesus; today’s leaders do not to talk about the overwhelming improbability of life occurring by chance. Nicodemus, one of the few good leaders, wanted Jesus to be heard—to receive “due process”, but the leaders portrayed him as too bad to receive such niceties. And of course, the false “ born in the wrong place” argument was raised for a third time. Jesus was born in Bethlehem because His father Joseph had to be there for the Roman taxation. That census data, as well as Herod’s murder of the babies under age two in an effort to kill the Messiah, would certainly have been available to the Jewish leaders. But the false argument was working, so they kept it going. If people have believed a false argument long enough, they will often refuse to consider new evidence simply because they do not want to admit they were wrong in the past.
And so the same tactics have been used against Christians by governments, both civil and religious, for the past 2000 years. But Jesus was not arrested at the Feast of Tabernacles—because God is in control and that represents Jesus’ time to reign! The people all went home—there were no more arguments, no more schemes. Jesus went to the mount of olives. Why? It likely was a symbol of His future plans to set up his Kingdom! We have already been in Zechariah 14, but here are two more verses:
Then the LORD will go out and fight against those nations as when he fights on a day of battle. On that day his feet shall stand on the Mount of Olives that lies before Jerusalem on the east, and the Mount of Olives shall be split in two from east to west by a very wide valley, so that one half of the Mount shall move northward, and the other half southward (Zechariah 14:3-4).
The Feast of Tabernacles pictures Christ’s interaction with mankind—with the last day picturing the return of Christ to reign on earth and to judge it. Many believers already observe Christ’s death, His resurrection and the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, but we all need to look forward to His return, and observe the Feast that God has made in His honor. We should not be surprised that Christians have not always observed this day. It does take study to understand it. After all, even on the day of Pentecost, in Acts 2, their is no indication that the disciples were expecting to be filled with the Holy Spirit that day. But they were gathered on that day to see what God would do, and He did it! Let us all gather to look forward to His second coming!