THE FESTIVAL OF TABERNACLES
2. Messianic implications for the Jews
3. The Feast of Tabernacles in the Past
a. The Triumphal Entry
b. The Feast in John’s Gospel
i. Doubting brothers
ii. Simchat Beth ha-She’ubah
iii. The Illumination of the Temple
iv. Healing the blind man
c. ‘Happy Birthday to You!’?
4. The Feast of Tabernacles in the Present
a. A definition of ‘The Kingdom’
b. The Kingdom ‘to come’
c. The Kingdom ‘now’
5. The Feast of Tabernacles in the Future
a. Upon Messiah’s Return
i. The festival of First Fruits
ii. The festival of Weeks or Pentecost
b. In Heaven
c. On Earth
i. Living in Temporary Accommodation
ii. Rejoicing over the Final Ingathering
Please note that, throughout these notes, I’ve extensively quoted from or cited the Mishnah and have given the appropriate references.
If there’s no reference attached to a quote, I apologise! In compiling these notes, I referred to a number of good sources which gave no reference as to where their quote came from. However, I’m quite happy to accept their authenticity as many of them are confirmed by more than one source.
I have used the abbreviation ‘FoT’ instead of writing ‘Festival of Tabernacles’ which would have been rather monotonous (and would have worn my fingers out!).
Although my wife and I have chosen to celebrate the Feast and to ‘boycott’ the celebration of Christmas, this study is not meant to be a condemnatory word to the Church to do likewise. Yes, we would that more people forsook what we consider to be a christianised pagan festival, but let each individual make up his own mind.
These notes are written solely for the purpose of showing the Church that God has got a relevant and specific word for them through the implications of the Feast.
I have also used a slightly different format for this web page than the previous ones in this series as I’ve referred to this work on many different pages written elsewhere and to renumber the notes would have either compelled me to have to alter all those places or to cause general confusion for the reader when it was accessed.
(A summary of the ‘Festivals’ teaching upto this point)
The Law of Moses was a shadow or a type of the good things that were going to be made available in Christ (Hebrews 10:1) - a provision that’s for all people regardless of nationality, race, social standing or sex (or religious persuasion?!).
Whether we look at the sacrifices, the ten commandments, the festivals, the judicial decisions, the ceremonial purity laws - even the Israelites’ experiences throughout their wilderness wanderings such as the manna, the water that came from the rock - all were illustrating what Christ and the New Covenant was going to be like (see my notes in the Introduction under ‘Christ in the OT’).
Leviticus chapter 23 is the part in the Law that talks about the seven annual festivals/feasts/fasts and, when viewed as a whole, they speak of the completeness of God’s plan until the end of the world/age.
To set the scene for the Feast of Tabernacles, we’ll take a brief look at the other festivals which lead up to it and their Messianic implications (that is, their relevance to and teaching of the Person and work of the Christ).
The Feast of Tabernacles is the seventh and final festival and in it we see the culmination of God’s purpose in Time and Space - the time in which God will have finally brought back the totality of Creation under His sovereign control in the man, Jesus Christ.
Today, we stand in the middle of the ages - we see what has taken place in the first four festivals, while experiencing the Intermediate Festival as a living reality but we strain forward to see the complete fulfilment of the final three through the One who’s been appointed by the Father to be His anointed King over all.
This isn’t meant to be an ‘in-depth’ study of the first six festivals in the Jewish calendar - it’s only intended that the reader should get a broad overview of the intentions of God to restore His Creation to Himself.
I shan’t be dealing with the Sabbath which was a weekly provision for the children of Israel but will look solely at the annual festivals that, as a whole, speak to us of the totality of God’s purpose and plan to bring the entire Creation back under His sovereign control. But, even here, the structure of the ‘seven day’ cycle make it obvious that the ‘seven festival year’ must have symbolic meaning too.
Besides, Lev 23:37-38 make it plain that the sabbaths were considered to be separate from the annual festivals even though, in our division of the Bible, it begins Leviticus chapter 23 and is placed before them.
Lev 23:4-5, Exodus chapter 12
Deliverance from bondage
I Cor 5:7 - ‘For Christ, our Passover (not ‘Passover Lamb’ - He is the fulfilment of all the festival and not just the lamb that was slain) has been sacrificed’
Jesus was ‘sacrificed’ (He hung on the cross) on the 15th day of Nisan. It must be remembered that, although the Passover lamb was sacrificed on the 14th of Nisan, it was eaten by the congregation of Israel on the 15th as the Jewish day began and ended with sunset. Jesus fulfilled the festival to the exact day on which the lamb, whose blood was applied to the doorposts and lintel, was eaten by the Israelites. It was during this night also that the destroying angel went out against the land of Egypt, slaying the firstborn. The 15th of Nisan was the day that the Rabbis called both ‘Passover’ and the first day of Unleavened Bread.
The lamb simply dying and no more does not save (14 Nisan) unless the blood is applied and the death participated in (15 Nisan), a good reason why Jesus' death was on 15 and not 14 Nisan for we are not all 'saved' because of a death but because we have availed ourselves of the provision of that death.
It's important to realise that the festival is not about the forgiveness of sin but about deliverance from bondage. While it's true that the lamb for the Passover is thought to be a sacrifice because blood is being shed, the teaching of the Festival is not that sin is forgiven (this is dealt with in Yom Kippur, the sixth festival) but that bondage is removed. As such, Passover speaks to us of God's provision in delivering people from all those things that hold them captive (Acts 13:39), of which sin is one aspect.
Unfortunately, we have belittled Passover to be talking to us about the forgiveness of sin and, in so doing, have lessened the Work of God through Christ. We've also forgotten that the Passover festival sits not in isolation but as the conclusion to God pouring out His judgment upon both the world and their ways - that is, to think that we can experience the work of the Cross (Passover) without allowing God to condemn and judge those parts of our lives that are opposed to Him (the plagues) is to believe that we can attach God to our lives as some kind of optional extra.
To be saved in Christ means to forsake all other ways to be united wholly to the redeeming work of the cross, resurrection and ascension, to be fully delivered from the bondage of enmity with God to be wholly free to serve Jesus apart from the world.
Deliverance takes many forms when we consider the work of the cross. Here are just a few:
a. Deliverance from sin - Rom 6:6-7, 6:18, Col 1:14, I Peter 2:24
b. Deliverance from satan - Luke 4:18, Col 1:13, 2:15
c. Deliverance from the flesh - Rom 6:6, 7:24-25, Gal 2:20
d. Deliverance from death - Heb 2:14-15
e. Deliverance from the Law - Rom 8:2, Gal 5:1
f. Deliverance from the coming wrath of God - I Thess 1:10
g. Deliverance from all accusation of guilt - Acts 13:39 (where the RSV’s ‘freed’ is the translation of the normal Greek word for ‘justified’ - that is, considered ‘not guilty’)
And, finally, as mentioned in the header, we must realise that Jesus is our Passover and not our Passover lamb - that is, Jesus is the one who fulfils the Festival and not just the sacrifice of the lamb. If we take the latter meaning in I Cor 5:7, we narrow the fulfilment of the festival but, seeing Christ as being the fulfilment of the totality of the Passover, we can draw understanding from the unleavened bread, from the bitter herbs, even from the destroying angel.
Jesus, then, is our Passover.
2. Unleavened Bread
Lev 23:6-8, Exodus 12:33-34
Cleansed houses: the Church age
I Cor 5:6-8 - ‘Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened...Let us, therefore, celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth’
This festival lasted seven days and, as such, referred to an age rather than to a specific single event in time and space - this will be equally true as we study the Feast of Tabernacles as this also is seven days in duration (with an added eighth day) and therefore refers to an age.
Unleavened Bread began on the day after the Passover (15th Nisan - though that was also the day on which the lamb was eaten) so, after the death of Jesus, the removal of leaven (a type of the pervading influence of sin or sins themselves) from the Israelites’ houses (their physical dwelling places - their bodies) became a reality in the lives of all who, by faith, availed themselves of the sacrifice that was offered on their behalf for the forgiveness of their sins.
Believers are called not to slip back into sin after having been cleansed, but to live lives that are ‘sin-free’, a fulfilment of this festival yet, more all-inclusively, they are to remain unbound to serve God. We must think of a deliverance from all kinds of bondage that separated us from a freedom to follow after God. Sin is one aspect - the major one - but it doesn't stop there.
We must also note in passing that the lamb was sacrificed on 14 Nisan but eaten during the first few hours of 15 Nisan. Jesus celebrated the Passover at the correct time of 15 Nisan but was also sacrificed on the cross during the same day, after daybreak and buried before the start of 16 Nisan.
Passover and Unleavened Bread stand as one and the same festival as there is no clear demarcation between the two.
3. First Fruits
The resurrection of Christ
I Cor 15:20-23 - ‘...Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep...’
First Fruits occurred the ‘day after the sabbath’. But which sabbath? The Sadducees and Pharisees had long debates over this question, the former holding to the view that a natural Sabbath was meant, while the latter that the ‘holy convocation’ that occurred during the festival of Unleavened Bread was what was intended.
All things considered, it’s evident that the Sadducean view was the correct one - the first ripe barley sheaf of that year’s harvest was to be brought before the Lord in the Temple and waved before Him on the day after the first natural sabbath that occurred during the festival of Unleavened Bread. That meant Sunday - the Sunday that Jesus rose from the dead.
Jesus, therefore, is the first fruits from the dead - He is the first to receive the new resurrected body.
The first-fruit offering was also a guarantee that the future harvest would come. So, too, Jesus being raised is a guarantee that all those who believe in Him shall likewise be raised in new incorruptible bodies on the final day when the harvest is brought in to God’s store house.
The outpouring of the Holy Spirit
Rom 8:22-23 - ‘...we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Holy Spirit...’ Eph 1:14 - ‘...(the Holy Spirit) which is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it...’ (see also Acts 2:1-4, II Cor 5:1-4)
Pentecost was another ‘first fruits’ festival. On this one day, two loaves were baked from the first ripened wheat and they were brought to the Temple where they were waved before the Lord.
The Holy Spirit is the first fruit of the believer’s inheritance that Christ has won through His death, resurrection and ascension. He is the guarantee that they will receive the full inheritance, the ‘down payment’ that secures God’s intention to give them the totality of all that’s available in Christ.
It was on the Day of Pentecost in Acts chapter 2 that the Holy Spirit was first poured out upon the Church. This festival, then, just like the two previous ones that were of one day duration, was fulfilled to the exact day - not nearly, but exactly.
It also shows that the two ‘types’ of men and women on the earth - the Jew and the Gentile - are now both acceptable to God on the basis of the offering of the High Priest, symbolised by the two loaves in which leaven was present.
The Jews have turned this day into a celebration of the Law and have even gone so far as to claim that it was the day on which Moses ascended onto Sinai to receive it. However, Exodus 19:1 states that the people of Israel arrived in Sinai on the third new moon after coming out of Egypt which, from the Day of Passover, means c.15 days to the first new moon (Passover occurs at a full moon as each month begins with a new moon), c.29 to the second and c.29 to the third, making a total of 73 days. The minimum amount of days there could be between First Fruits and Pentecost if we proposed a late sabbath would be 66 days, over two weeks longer than specified.
These first four feasts are all connected in time - Unleavened Bread began immediately after the day of Passover, while both First Fruits and Pentecost were fixed in time by reference to the sabbath that fell during the festival of Unleavened Bread.
But between these four and the final three there was a long gap until the seventh month. This is where we stand - in the midst of the festivals. Looking backward to see the plan and its fulfilment in the first four with regard to Jesus’ first coming, but straining forward in anticipation of the fulfilment of the final three which speak to us of His second coming.
We must also notice that there was an Intermediate Festival that took place whenever the first fruits were ready of whatever harvest was sown. Deut 26:1-11 comments that these first fruits were brought up to the Temple in Jerusalem that, in effect, became a time period from Pentecost to the Feast of Tabernacles and were offerings to God that anticipated the final harvest being ingathered. Ripening times were different in different parts of the region where Israel ruled so even the same produce may have had a range in its readiness which explains the flexibility of the date.
Many commentators have erred in their interpretation of the Festival of Trumpets by not realising that this intermediate festival rightly describes the evangelisation of the world, the new believers being the first fruits offered to God that guarantees the final harvest of all believers at a future date.
Lev 23:23-25, Ps 81:1-5
Israel’s preparation for the Messiah
The book of Joel
I cannot go into the complexities of the conclusion that this festival will be fulfilled near the end of the age when the Jewish nation turn to the Messiah that they rejected - that is a separate study in itself!
The festival is difficult to understand primarily because the two passages quoted above are seemingly the only ones that give some sort of indication as to its meaning.
But Ps 81:1-5 hints at the interpretation that Trumpets was meant to be a reminder to Israel that the Lord had fought for them against the Egyptians when they were delivered from their land - a reminder that it’s only God the Warrior who gives them the victory.
Similarly, the book of Joel makes mention of a day in earth history when an invading army shall come upon Israel and Jerusalem that will cause the Israelites not only to call upon God to save them (by the blowing of trumpets) but also seek God’s face for the forgiveness of their sins (that is, they will turn to the Messiah that they once rejected).
When Israel see the armies of the nations begin to surround them, then I expect that on the first day of the seventh month in that year, the nation will call upon YHWH to deliver them from the hand of their enemy and call upon Him also for forgiveness.
It will be a definite sign that the return of Jesus is imminent and, very probably, that it’s just days away.
6. The Day of Atonement
Lev 23:26-32, chapter 16
The work of the cross/The final judgment
The book of Hebrews
This is, perhaps, the most difficult one for us to get our minds round as the book of Hebrews makes it plain that the cross is the place where we see the events of the Day of Atonement fulfilled in Christ’s death and in His intercession as the High Priest of the New Covenant that has now come.
The cross was a place of judgment - Jesus, our sacrifice (the sin offering of this Day’s ceremonies) took the punishment that our sins deserved so that, by faith in that work, we receive the reality of forgiveness and union with God. But the forgiveness of sin is but one aspect of the work of the Passover - although sin is dealt with in Yom Kippur, the provision is made known in the fulfilment of Passover.
Therefore, Yom Kippur has already been fulfilled for those who have experienced God's true Passover but there remains a day when a final fulfilment must take place. That is, there remains a Day when all those who have not trusted in the work of the cross will stand before Him to see if their ‘sacrifice’ was acceptable to grant them entry into the promises of God.
That Day of Judgment is the antithesis of the cross - it’s everything that the cross isn’t (it's also intriguing to note that Yom Kippur is thought of amongst the Jews as being the 'Day of Judgment').
Simply then, our sacrifice was acceptable - the world’s isn’t. And this means that judgment must be poured out which is separation eternally from the presence of God.
Again, being of one day duration means that it will take place on a specific day in earth’s history. Incidentally, it means that Jesus will have already returned to earth when this festival is fulfilled, thereby causing His exact day of return to still be ‘unknown’.
NB - we should note that the one sin offering of Yom Kippur is represented by two goats. We shouldn't think of Jesus as only being the 'scapegoat' that bears the sin of His people away for, without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness of sins (Heb 9:22). Each of the goats, in subsequent Jewish tradition, had to look identical to the other so that, even they had perceived that, although two aspects of sin were being dealt with, they were a single offering for sin.
We should also note the confusion caused by John the Baptist's statement in John 1:29 when he announces of Jesus
'Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world'
for the Lamb, strictly speaking, bears no sin on Yom Kippur. Rather it's the goat (and no NT text ever labels Jesus as the 'Goat of God'). Is 53:4-9 also causes initial confusion for the Suffering Servant is likened to both a sheep and a lamb (as if Passover is being alluded to), only to speak of the bearing of and dealing with sins, being cut off away from the land of the living and being afflicted and stricken for His people's sin.
These aren't descriptions of the purpose of the Passover Lamb but of the Yom Kippur goats! Therefore, although it could well be argued that a lamb and a goat were so similar that they could be used interchangeably, it's probably more interesting to accept John's statement as being an allusion to the fulfilment of Yom Kippur (the taking away of sin) at the time of Passover (the Lamb of God).
However, Jesus remains the fulfilment of the Passover and not solely of the Passover lamb (as mentioned above) and yet is also, during the same fulfilment of the cross, the fulfilment of the demands of Yom Kippur that deals with sin once and for all time.
7. The Feast of Tabernacles
The culmination of God’s purposes in Time and Space to unite all things back under the Sovereignty of His anointed King, Jesus. It occurs after the Lord’s return and, being seven days in length (with an added eighth day which I will not deal with in the text which follows as whatever I wrote would be complete speculation), refers to an age rather than to a specific event.
Notice that the Lord commanded the Israelites to celebrate three of the above (Ex 23:16-17, Deut 16:16-17). Firstly, the Festival of Unleavened Bread (coupled with Passover - the work of the cross and a believer’s continuation in their following after Jesus), then the Festival of Pentecost (the outpouring of the Holy Spirit) and finally the Feast of Tabernacles.
Every believer must have the experience of living in the reality of the promise of these first two, before he will be able to ‘qualify’ for the participation in the reality of the last.
See my notes entitled ‘Afterword’ for a fuller discussion of these three compulsory festivals. But it’s to the Feast of Tabernacles that we must now turn our attention.
Leviticus 23:33-36,39-43, Deut 16:13-15
Here we shall briefly look at the Scriptural command concerning the Feast of Tabernacles which we will come back to in section 5 as we seek to see how the festival will be fulfilled by Christ in the future.
The FoT begins on the 15th day of the 7th month (Tishri) and lasts for 7 days (Lev 23:33-34). It comes five days after the Day of Atonement (10th Tishri) and fourteen days after the Festival of Trumpets (1st Tishri - now known as the Jewish new year which has led some commentators to think that this was the Jews’ original new year before God spoke to the nation in Ex 12:1-2). The time of the year corresponds with our September/October.
The seven days of the festival points us back to the feast of Unleavened Bread where we saw that the fulfilment referred to an age rather than to a specific event (or, better, to an age that had its cause in the specific event of the cross).
As we seek to understand the fulfilment of the festival in section 5, we’ll see how Tabernacles speaks similarly of an age that is to come rather than of a specific event in world history but which only comes about because of a future event which must take place prior to its inauguration.
Although it was seven days long, it had an added 8th day (Lev 23:34-36) on the 22nd of Tishri (now known as Simchat Torah which is the ‘rejoicing over the Law’ - but this was not the original intention of the eighth day and, as far as I can make out, any indication in the Scripture as to what it might have meant is missing).
Special sabbaths were also proclaimed on both the 1st and 8th days.
It was a celebration of the final ingathering of the harvest (Lev 23:39, Ex 23:16, Deut 16:13-15). Every Israelite was to come to Jerusalem (the place where God chose to put His name) and they were to be ‘altogether joyful’ because of how God had blessed them with their harvest. But they were also to take fruit and branches with which to rejoice before the Lord (Lev 23:40).
The FoT is the feast of joy and it’s worthwhile reading a few quotes from Jewish sources to bring this point home to us:
‘He who has not seen Jerusalem during the FoT does not know what rejoicing means’
‘He that never has seen the joy of the Beth ha-She’ubah (a ceremony of the 7th day) has never in his life seen joy’ (Sukkah 5:1)
‘When we rejoiced at Simchat beth ha-She’ubah (a ceremony of the 7th day), we did not know sleep’
So seriously did the Jews take the command to rejoice that even in Auschwitz in the concentration camps they danced and rejoiced. The fruit that was used during the festival was a symbol of the promised land.
The Israelites were also to dwell in tabernacles for 7 days (Lev 23:42-43). A tabernacle is a temporary dwelling place which the Rabbis defined with a great deal of legislation so that it could only be constructed in certain ways (Sukkah chapters 1-2). It reminded the Israelites of their journeying through the wilderness when they dwelt in temporary accommodation until they began to settle in Canaan, the promised land.
There were also other names given to the festival. It could also be referred to as ‘The festival of the Ingathering’ (because of the harvest - Ex 34:12) and ‘The season of our rejoicing’ (because of the command to ‘rejoice’ at the FoT which occurs three times in Scripture). More significantly, perhaps, is the simple title ‘The feast’ given to this time because it was the most important festival of the Jewish calendar. Josephus in Antiquities 8.4.1 gives us this information and, as he was a Pharisee shortly after the time of Christ, there is no reason to doubt his testimony. He writes concerning the festival in the time of the Temple’s inauguration that
‘The feast of tabernacles happened to fall at the same time, which was celebrated by the Hebrews as a most holy and most eminent feast’
Other names were given to specific days but we’ll mention these in passing as they arise and if they appear to be relevant to the overall message of the festival. There’s so much ‘liturgy’ which grew up around the festival that the commentator is forced to limit himself to a simplified explanation which cuts to the main elements.
2. Messianic Implications for the Jews
Before we go on to look at the records concerning events that are relevant in our study of the Festival, we need to stop and consider the importance of the Festival in Judaism, especially with regard to the days in which Christ lived.
Since the fall of Jerusalem in 586BC and the subsequent return from exile, the Jews look to the fulfilment of Amos 9:11 at the FoT which reads
‘...I will raise up the Tabernacle of David that is fallen...’
They look for the restoration of the Kingdom to Israel through the Messiah at this festival. The Tabernacle symbolises the destroyed Temple and the fallen Kingdom in the Jewish mind. The Jews long for their promised King to come and for the Kingdom to be restored to them. Zechariah chapter 14 is also cited as justification for looking for the setting up of the restored Davidic Kingdom through Messiah at this time.
As such, the festival is the most important of the Jewish calendar - quite a shock to us as followers of Jesus as we seem to major on the festival of Passover, sometimes touch upon Pentecost and usually totally ignore this one. But, to the Jew, FoT is the head of them all.
All the Messianic hopes are climaxed on the ‘Great Day’ of the festival which is the title given to the seventh day. This is the day on which the Jews expect the Messiah to make Himself known to Israel and it isn’t surprising, therefore, that prayers are used (called the ‘Hoshanot’ prayers - literally the ‘save us’ prayers) which are specifically Messianic.
To give some flavour of this desire for the Messiah, a few quotes from the prayer liturgy are reproduced below:
i. ‘Turn unto Me and be ye saved, today if ye hear My voice
Behold, the man who sprang forth - Branch is His name - David himself...
Glad will be the people when he ruleth...’
(Scriptural parallels - Is 11:1-2, Zechariah 6:2, 3:8, Jeremiah 23:5)
ii. ‘Ana Adonai Hoshi’ah na, Ana Adonai Hazlihah na’
(apologies for the probable errant transliteration!) translated as
‘Please, O Lord, save us; Please, O Lord, make us succeed’
This is a direct quote from Ps 118:25 and is used on the seventh day almost to the point of extinction! It’s the most common refrain that’s used throughout the entire festival, even though it culminates on the Great Day.
Notice that the verse is specifically Messianic, being followed by the words of Ps 118:26 which run
‘Blessed is He who enters in the name of the Lord!’
which is spoken following the above refrain on numerous occasions throughout the festival. The Hallel (Psalms 113-118) is used daily but of all the verses contained there, it’s these two verses that are particularly singled out for use in their service.
iii. Inserted into the grace on intermediate days of the festival is
‘May the All merciful One raise up for us the fallen Tabernacle of David’
which is a direct appeal to the Scripture Amos 9:11 as detailed above.
Special Scriptures are also read at this festival. Zechariah chapter 14 speaks of all nations coming up to Jerusalem to celebrate the festival in the coming Kingdom under the Messiah’s rule. This is one of the few Scripture passages read during this time along with Ezekiel chapter 38 which speaks of Gog and Magog - a parallel passage to Zechariah chapter 14.
The list of the Scriptures read are:
I Kings 8:2-21+
* = Read on the 1st day
+ = Read on the 2nd day
@ = Read on the natural sabbath
As far as the Jews were and are concerned, it’s the coming of the Messiah that they’re anticipating in their celebrations - this isn’t directly obtainable from the Law passages in Leviticus and Deuteronomy but, as we shall see in later sections, Jesus used this to proclaim Truth to them that they would otherwise not have understood, and other Scriptures will also testify to the validity of seeing the establishment of the Kingdom and the rule of God’s anointed King as being the fulfilment of this festival.
3. The Feast of Tabernacles in the Past
a. The Triumphal Entry
Mtw 21:1-9, Mark 11:1-10, Luke 19:28-40, John 12:12-15
The triumphal entry into Jerusalem took place on the 10th day of Nisan (March/April time - notice that John 12:1 refers to the day before the Triumphal entry being six days before Passover [9th of Nisan if ‘Passover’ is taken to refer to the day on which the lamb was eaten which is the 15th - see the notes on ‘Passover’ under Appendix 1] and John 12:12 which shows that it was the following day when the entry took place [10th Nisan]).
This day was the one on which the Israelites were commanded to take a lamb into their households for the Passover (Exodus 12:3). In this event we see the fulfilment of this part of the Paschal festival - Jerusalem, the place where God’s people are encamped around God (who dwells in the Holiest of Holies in the Temple), has received within its walls the ultimate Passover sacrifice.
But, although this event took place at Passover, there isn’t very much that’s ‘paschal’ about the details that are recorded for us by the Gospel writers. Rather, the crowds are welcoming Jesus as the Messiah, God’s anointed King, with symbols from the FoT just as they would use these symbols some six months in the future when that Festival was due to be celebrated:
Actions and words
It’s hardly surprising, therefore, that, although the Festival of Passover was at hand, it was the Festival of Tabernacles that the crowds’ minds would have been immediately drawn towards. And this is reflected and demonstrated in the events regarding the Triumphal entry into the city.
Firstly, there were the actions which accompanied the procession. Mtw 21:8 records that they
‘...cut branches from the trees...’
Mark 11:8 that they took
‘...leafy branches...cut from the fields...’
and John 12:13 that they collected together
‘...branches of palm trees...’
with which to accompany the procession. The branches (it’s only Gospel of John which tells us that they were palm branches) were those used at the Feast of Tabernacles (Lev 23:40). They were used to rejoice before the Lord with and that’s exactly what the crowds are here doing.
The palm tree in Hebrew is transliterated as the ‘lulav’ and, at the season of the Feast of Tabernacles, it’s in the shape of a sceptre, a symbol of sovereignty. Here, then, the crowds are casting the lulav before the Messiah and proclaiming Him as King over the Davidic Kingdom that they’re expecting Him to set up. This lulav is waved in the air at the Feast of Tabernacles while the Jews chant a Scripture from Ps 118:25 which runs
‘We beseech Thee, O Lord, save us (Hoshiah’na)’
where, see below. Not only were their actions associated with the Festival of Tabernacles but their voices were also expressing what they felt in language which was predominantly drawn from that festival. It will be easiest if we list their proclamations here.
Mark 11:9, John 12:13
Unlike its use in many choruses in today’s churches throughout the world, ‘Hosanna’ is not an expression of praise but of prayer, supplication, pleading and almost desperation - it means ‘Save us now!!’
The actual refrain is taken from Ps 118:25 recited (yes, at Passover) but specifically and specially at the Feast of Tabernacles when the lulav is shaken along with this chant (see above and Sukkah 3:9 in the Mishnah which gives clear instruction as to what words were to accompany the shaking of the lulav).
ii. Hosanna in the Highest
Mtw 21:9, Mark 11:10
In Hebrew, that phrase translated for us here by the Gospel writers would be ‘Hoshanna Rabba’ which is one of the names that the Jews use for the seventh day of the Feast of Tabernacles, the day that was specifically set aside for the praying for the final restoration of the Davidic Kingdom through the Messiah. Hoshanna Rabba found emphasis in the procession that took place with the lulav and the chanting of Ps 118:25 which ran
‘Please, O Lord, save us (now); Please, O Lord, make us succeed...'
iii. Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord
Mtw 21:9, Mark 11:9, Luke 19:38 (the word ‘He’ is ‘the King’ here), John 12:13 (the Scripture adds ‘even the King of Israel’)
Again, from the Hallel, in Ps 118:26. It follows on from the ‘Hosanna’ verse and is specifically Messianic at the Feast of Tabernacles.
iv. Blessed is the Kingdom of our father David that is coming
Mtw 21:9 (this reads ‘Hosanna to the Son of David’ and is the nearest Matthew’s Gospel has to the phrase), Mark 11:10 (for the relevance of the title ‘Son of David’ see my notes on the subject)
The crowds were telling Jesus very plainly that they were expecting Him, as Messiah, to deliver them from the Roman occupation and to establish the Messianic Kingdom. The Jews knew that the Feast of Tabernacles would find its fulfilment in the Messianic Kingdom so they adopted the actions and moods of that festival - not the Passover which began only four days away.
No wonder that the Jewish leaders retorted (Luke 19:39)
‘Teacher, rebuke Your disciples!’
because the crowds were plainly perceived to be calling Jesus ‘Messiah’. And, in Mtw 21:10, we read that the whole city, when they heard what had happened, said to one another
‘Who is this?’
for they fully understood the implications of what was taking place.
e. Peace in heaven and glory in the highest
This phrase alone, has no apparent Feast of Tabernacles connection.
Hoshanna/Hoshi’ah na/Hosanna (the contrast between the Hebrew and Greek transliterations) is specifically and specially the mood of the Feast of Tabernacles with regard to the Messiah. The Jews were expecting the Messiah to ‘Hosanna’ - to save them imminently - at the festival and set up the fallen Tabernacle of David (Amos 9:11) - that is, a restoration of the Kingdom of David. But the crowds got the timing wrong (their sundial watchpieces were all running fast) and they mistook God’s plan for the nation because it was the Passover that was approaching within a few days and not Tabernacles.
This will help us understand the reason behind the crowd’s sudden and normally unexpected change of attitude toward Jesus when they turned against Him after He’d rejected their plans for Him as a natural deliverer from the Roman oppression and bondage. The crowds saw Jesus coming to them on an ass (for peace), but their hearts were with Him riding on a horse (for war).
The Jews, then, only saw Him coming as the Tabernacle King and not as the Passover Lamb - they were looking for a physical deliverer and not a spiritual one and they completely forgot that the Passover festival necessarily came before the Feast of Tabernacles.
When Jesus refused the throne as He had done previously (John 6:15), the Jews forsook who they wanted as King shouting out (Mark 15:13)
when Pilate offered them the choice that Jesus might be released. Pilate’s retort (Mark 15:14)
‘Why? What evil has He done?’
should rightly have been met with the answer
‘He’s refused to be the King that we wanted Him to be’
if they’d been honest to what they saw in Him. Barabbas, on the other hand, was more like the King they wanted. He’d shown his hatred of Rome by attempting to start an uprising (Luke 23:19) so that he was a natural, almost an inevitable, choice.
Miracles versus a change of heart
The episode of what was to eventually transpire in Jerusalem teaches us much about the dealings of Jesus in believer’s lives.
Considering the children of Israel and the way that God dealt with them when He called them to be a nation set apart for His service from the time of the Exodus and through the wilderness wanderings, we see the best example of the dilemma that faces God as He desires to deliver His people, yet knowing that a physical solution to the problem will not necessarily lead to a change of heart in His people.
It was an easy thing for God to get Israel out of Egypt (a physical people out of a physical nation) but quite another to get Egypt out of Israel (spiritual ways of living against God out of a people that were called to be spiritually set apart for God’s service)! This is the dilemma which God faced also when Jesus came to His people Israel for they naturally thought in terms of overthrowing the Roman occupying army and of establishing a visible Kingdom in which they would take their place as God’s special and chosen nation. As we saw above, though, Jesus came as a spiritual deliverer and not a physical one.
For a moment, let’s consider the way that God demonstrated His power to the Israelites at the time of the Exodus and how this never once brought about a change in their hearts.
i. They murmured
The children of Israel murmured when things looked as if they were going wrong for them. You could, perhaps, excuse them for this - after all, it had been years since they’d seen God move in any real power in their midst and their knowledge of God would have probably been confined to the stories that they told each other of the patriarchs such as Abraham and Joseph and of how God dealt with them.
God did a miracle
Exodus chapters 6-12
So God did great signs and wonders and brought them out of Egypt. Surely, then, the Israelites would have learnt that God can be trusted to watch out for their best interests in future situations when things were to get a little tough.
ii. They murmured
They murmured again when things went wrong and they were surrounded by the Egyptian army. Though they had seen God deliver them through miraculous signs and wonders, they still hadn’t had a change of heart to trust Him. So, again...
God did a miracle
He opened up the Red Sea and caused them to walk through on dry land, but the pursuing Egyptian army perished in the waters as they came back upon them. Now what more miraculous sign could God have done that would have changed their hearts to be obedient to Him from that time onwards?
But still their hearts weren’t changed.
iii. They murmured
The water was bitter so they murmured again.
God did a miracle
And God did another miracle - but still no change.
iv. They murmured
The Israelites grew hungry and murmured.
God did a miracle
So God performed another great miracle and fed them with manna.
v. And they murmured
But there was still no change. The next time that they thirsted for water, they murmured again. Even though God had already done this miracle before - as if to show us that it wasn’t the different needs that was causing them to murmur (that is, the reason for their murmuring was not that they hadn’t experienced God’s provision for water so they couldn’t trust Him - they had already seen God give them water), but their dogged refusal to make themselves change.
God did yet another miracle
God caused water to come from the rock and satisfy them (if I’d’ve been in God’s place, my patience would have been wearing just a little bit thin by now...). Then came the giving of the Law and, if law was able to change the way a person is, then they would surely have found that their previous way of living had been imperfect and chosen to turn it round to obey the Law’s requirements. But they were still the same because the Law made nothing perfect (Heb 7:19).
vi. So they murmured
When they received the spies report of Canaan, they murmured against Moses.
God did a miracle
This time God’s great miracle was against the Israelites - but still they weren't changed!
vii. And still they murmured
They murmured when they had no water - repeat miracle number three. You’d’ve thought the Israelites would have been getting the hang of this by now, wouldn’t you? But still they aren’t able to trust God to provide water for them.
God does a miracle
Moses got it wrong this time - perhaps part of the problem was that he was getting just as weary with the Israelites’ grumblings as God was but he went ‘too far’ by disobeying the Word which God had plainly commanded him.
In all these things, the nation of Israel wasn’t changed and ‘Egypt’ remained in Israel. Signs, wonders and great miracles don’t change what’s inside a person and deliverance out of a situation won’t change a believer either (a change of heart only comes about when an individual man or woman decides that they will change) - it’s often the case that God’s will for a believer is that they be delivered in that situation so that what is inside them is transformed to be more like Christ.
A miracle, therefore, is not evidence that there’s been a change of heart in the individual who receives it. Neither does a miracle automatically bring about a change of heart in the recipient.
Notice here also such passages as Mark 1:44-45 and Mtw 9:30-31 where Jesus performed a miracle and then gave the individual a straightforward command that they refused to obey - although the individual wanted Jesus to be Lord of their sickness, they didn’t want Him to be Lord of their lives - the heart remained resolutely unchanged.
The death of Christ made it possible for Egypt to be removed from individuals (specifically in the crucifixion of a believer’s life with Christ so that, as the flesh - the old way of life - dies, they share in the resurrection life and power), but it wasn’t and isn’t as spectacular as getting Israel out of Egypt (that is, healing and delivering people from their difficult situations).
There was nothing miraculous to see, no sign or wonder to behold like Jesus had done before, when He shed His blood for mankind. In fact, in His entire earth walk, the background surrounding this Galilean preacher was pretty mundane!
I’ve read a few opponents of the message of the Gospel especially on the newsgroups and seen the arguments that they like to promote that, because Jesus is, today, a world famous historical figure, that He must have been so in the first century world in which He lived and died and, therefore, because He hardly gets a mention by the historians of His day, it ‘proves’ that He must never have existed.
But the ‘proof’ is no proof at all because it begins with a wrong premise. When the John Lennon of the Beatles was quoted as saying words to the effect that the group had now become more popular than Jesus, then they were quite correct if their intimation was referring to how many contemporary people of the first century AD knew Jesus and how many contemporary people of the 1960s knew the Beatles.
Consider these points:
i. Jesus (‘Joshua’ in the Hebrew language) was a very common name at that time.
France (section 3a) writes
‘Josephus mentions at least 12 separate holders of the name in the first century AD, including four of the high priests!...’
‘This Jesus, and the movement which He founded, has become so central a part of world history that it is a shock for us to realise that if you had said “Jesus” to almost any Jew of the first few centuries AD, it would have been no more specific than “George” might be for us, and it is very unlikely that if he did think of a specific individual, it would have been the one we call “Christ”...Centuries of Christian devotion have encouraged us to assume that “our” Jesus was as conspicuous a figure in His day as Napoleon was in his...’
ii. Jesus had no earthly authority, standing or reputation (and neither did the Church!! Initially, the Church would have existed as a ‘sect’ of the Jewish religion in the eyes of the Roman Empire before it’s expulsion from Judaism by the Jewish leaders and then it’s outlawing by the Imperial Throne).
There were many religious preachers in Christ’s day and age. France writes that
‘...religious preachers were two a penny in that part of the Empire, a matter of curiosity, but hardly of interest to civilised Romans’
iii. Crucifixion usually went on for days - Jesus lasted a few hours.
Yes, it was strange, but it certainly wasn’t awe-inspiring! Had Jesus ‘set the record’ for the length of time that he was alive on the cross, He may have been heralded as some sort of ‘super being’ but the short time that Jesus hung there would not have called for much attention.
iv. Jesus didn’t live or die in the capital of the Roman Empire, but in one of the inconspicuous outposts. France writes that
‘Nazareth was so insignificant that its name occurs nowhere in Jewish literature until long after the time of Jesus. It was a small village, largely devoted to agriculture, by-passed by the main roads which ran to the nearby Hellenistic city of Sepphoris, the capital of Galilee...Its population has been estimated at between 500 and 2,000 and the remains of its buildings show no sign of wealth in the relevant period. Altogether, a very unremarkable place (John 1:46!)...Galilee and Judaea were at that time two minor administrative areas under the large Roman province of Syria, itself on the far eastern frontier of the Empire. The Jews, among whom Jesus lived and died, were a strange, remote people, little understood and little liked by most Europeans of the time, more often the butt of Roman humour than of serious interest. Major events of Jewish history find their echo in the histories of the period, but was the life of Jesus, from the Roman point of view, a major event?’
His conclusion is ‘no’.
v. He died by crucifixion just like any other criminal - there were many leaders of insurrection in His day. France writes that
‘The death of a failed Jewish insurrectionary leader was a common enough occurrence...’
and it wouldn’t, therefore, have caused eyebrows to be raised amongst the mainstream of the world’s society.
Yet, through the apparent worldly irrelevance of one man’s life and death came deliverance for all.
The death of Christ in the world’s eyes is insignificant but in God’s eyes it’s of the utmost importance, whereas the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, in the world’s eyes is of utmost importance but, in God’s eyes, is insignificant.
It’s only as a believer allows the reality of the cross to be applied to their lives that they’re changed to be more like Christ.
Followers of Jesus must go through difficult situations and not be delivered out of them else they would remain in death - but, in dying to self (to their own way of doing things), they begin to live to Him and are delivered within themselves in a way that no external sign, wonder or miracle can do.
It’s in the place of apparent failure (in the world’s eyes) that God gets His will done.
Concluding words on the Triumphal entry
The Jews looked for an earthly deliverer and failed to see that their real need was to be delivered inside from the things that held them captive. If Jesus had delivered them from the Roman oppression and set up His Kingdom (visibly), their hearts would still have been unchanged. Change for a believer’s life, similarly, is found in their appropriation of the Festival Passover and not the Feast of Tabernacles.
How often we want to see Jesus come to us as a physical Deliverer (Rev 19:11-16) and so blind ourselves to Him coming as a spiritual One. More often than not, Jesus comes into our situation, not to deliver us out of it, but to deliver us in it (from spiritual bondage that lurks within ourselves). Instead of changing the situation for us, He changes us in the situation.
God comes as a Servant to us in our situation as the Passover Lamb, not as a King to remove us from our situation as the Tabernacle King.
Like the prophets of old, we need to wait for the Lord in our situation and accept the deliverance that He offers us (whether that be spiritual or physical). There’s an old song I recall that seems worth reproducing here as it deals with the conflicting thoughts of spiritual and physical deliverance in the context of that last Passover festival in Jerusalem - it’s just a shame that I can’t add the guitar work which would allow you to listen to it rather than have to read it!
Song for Jerusalem
Ana adonai, hoshi’ah na
Ana adonai, hoshi’ah na
You had no ears to hear, no mind to understand
Your veiled eyes were dim to the Father’s plan
You only saw Him as the King who was to come
Shrouded to the Passover Lamb
Hosanna! Hosanna in the Highest!
You could have chosen Him but you chose another man
The one who seemed to you to be more like King
The King of Glory you delivered up to die
The Lamb was nailed and crucified for sin
Crucify! Crucify this man!
Away with Him and crucify the Lamb!
Ana adonai, hoshi’ah na
Ana adonai, hoshi’ah na
Soon the King will come, the trumpets will be blown
And as Messiah-King you will see Him
You will see pierced hands, you’ll see a wounded side
The Lamb who once was slain will reign as King
Hosanna! - you’ll cry - Hosanna in the Highest!
Hosanna! - you’ll cry - Hosanna in the Highest!
There are also a couple of other Scriptures which are of importance for us to consider here. In II Kings 5:9-12, Naaman was angry at the simplicity of the task given him to perform to have his leprosy cleansed - he wanted something great and mighty to happen.
Yet, in this way, Naaman’s pride suffered a great blow and when he humbled himself in obedience to the word of God, he received a physical deliverance. But first something in him had to be broken, God challenging his high opinion of himself.
Even though he wanted to see the God of Elisha demonstrate His Sovereignty in some great show of pomp and ceremony, what he got was all he needed
And in the story of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in Dan 3:1-30, we see that the fiery furnace, the place of trial, was the place where Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego found:
v.23 - They were cast bound into the furnace.
v.24-26 - But they walked out of the furnace unaided.
Cp I Peter 4:1-2 - Trial is the place where we discover a release from the hold of the flesh on our lives.
ii. Increase in power and authority
v.30 - The king promoted them in his kingdom.
Cp I Peter 5:10 - After a time of trial, strength comes.
iii. God became more real to them
v.25 - God appeared to them and walked with them.
Is 43:1-2 - The place of trial is the place where God walks by our side.
This could probably well be developed into a sermon on its own with the above three points (after all, don’t all good sermons have three points?!) but I mention these here in note form for someone else to expand. God didn’t deliver them out of the situation (even though He could have done), but in the situation He worked for their own good by changing them.
b. The Feast in John’s Gospel
We often think, as believers, that the Passover is the singularly most important festival of the Jewish calendar and that the Gospel writers reflected this in the content of what they wrote for us in their Gospels.
It may come as a bit of a shock, then, to realise that here, in John’s Gospel, we have a record, three and a half chapters long, of an occasion when Jesus was at the Feast of Tabernacles in Jerusalem, using the ceremonies that were taking place around Him to bring out the Truth of the Kingdom.
Far from being a minor theme of the NT writers, the Feast of Tabernacles is an extremely important aspect in their treatment of the life of Christ.
i. Doubting Brothers
We encounter a puzzling passage right at the beginning of the chapters about the festival that needs to be understood in the light of Jewish expectation.
The FoT is the time when the Jews look for the coming of the promised Messiah - it was even more the case that year than any other because many believed Jesus to be the One. This would have been the muttering about Him at the festival (John 7:11-12, 7:26-27, 7:40-42).
His brothers (John 7:3-5) didn’t believe Him to be the One chosen by God to restore the Davidic Kingdom, so they challenged Him to prove Himself at the festival when the Messiah was expected to appear. Even though they didn’t believe in Jesus, at least they knew the right time when the Christ was to set up the fallen Tabernacle of David according to Jewish belief (Amos 9:11)!
In the light of John 7:10, many have problems understanding Jesus’ words in John 7:6-8 when He says
‘My time has not yet come...’
Jesus was saying that the time for Him to set up the Davidic Kingdom was not at this Festival (that is, the one that took place that year) - this had been the intent of the brothers’ words to Him and it was to this that Jesus was replying.
When Jesus says
‘...I am not going up...’
He’s emphasising that it was as Messiah that He was not going to go up to the festival. He had to attend the celebrations in Jerusalem for the Scripture is quite plain that all Jews were to be there at this festival as well as Unleavened Bread and Pentecost.
At the FoT in that year, it was not God’s time to proclaim the Messianic rule in Jerusalem and throughout the world - the sufferings of the Messiah to fulfil the feast of Passover had to come first.
NB - John 7:2 reads literally
‘Now the feast of the Jews was near, the Tabernacles...’
emphasising the importance of the festival, for it’s called the feast and not a feast.
ii. Simchat Beth ha-She’ubah
(Translated probably as ‘the rejoicing of the place of the water-drawing’. The name appears to refer both to the water-drawing ceremony and to the illumination of the Temple according to the Mishnah, but it’s here taken to refer specifically to the former - we’ll deal with the illumination of the Temple in the next section).
When we come to Scripture, we often bring along our own pre-conceived ideas as to what we’re expecting to find or what we think a passage means based upon our understanding of different passages in other parts of the Bible. The problem is that it often colours our understanding and prevents us from gaining a full, in depth view of what God has to say to us.
This passage has been the subject of much butchery over the years but, if we approach it free from our own preferences and with reference to context, we’ll then arrive at the Truth of what Jesus is saying. Certainly, when I first became a christian, this passage was used as evidence of the ‘infilling’ of the Holy Spirit - as you read on you’ll see that Jesus’ words mean far much more than this and we ignore them at our own disadvantage.
A Jew once told me that wherever you get two Jews discussing religious matters then there are three opinions! Translating that into the world of the Church, we might say ‘one Scripture, two christians, three theologies’!
John 7:37 tells us that it was
‘...the last day of the feast, the Great Day...’
This phrase indicates to us that it was the 7th day (named ‘Hoshanna Rabba’) when the Jewish hope and expectation of the Messiah reached its climax.
Each of the previous six days, a priest had taken a golden pitcher and drawn water with it from the pool of Siloam, in volume about two pints. He would then make his way from the pool into the Temple courtyard and then into the court of Israel (Sukkah 4:9-10).
There were fifteen steps between the Court of the Women and the Court of the Israelites upon which Levites would play music (Sukkah 5:4 - it’s specifically mentioned concerning the illumination of the Temple, but it possibly occurred here also). The fifteen steps corresponded to the fifteen songs of ascents in the psalms (Psalms 120-134) though whether the priest who carried the pitcher would recite each psalm on the relevant steps is now open to conjecture.
The water was then poured out in one of two bowls - the one that was located on the west side while wine was poured into the other - and both bowls flowed together (containing water and wine) at the base of the altar of burnt offering. The ceremony spoke to the Jews in two specific ways.
Firstly, it pointed towards natural rain. With the onset of the FoT, the dry season of summer drew to a close and the success of next year’s crops depended upon Israel receiving the autumn (former) rains which increased through the winter and finished with the spring (latter) rains.
This ‘libation’ or offering to God was a prayer for rain, though the actual prayer seems to have been delayed until the eighth day for, so the Jews reasoned, if God answered and sent rain on the seventh day it would ruin the festival as part of the commandment was that they had to dwell outside in temporary accommodation that was notably unweatherproof!
But it also spoke to the Jews about the need for spiritual rain and elevated the ceremony to a much more significant need for the people of God. It was seen by the Rabbis as foreshadowing the fulfilment of Joel 2:28 when God would pour out His Spirit upon all flesh.
It was while this water pouring was taking place, and while the Jews were thinking about its significance, that Jesus stood up and proclaimed the words of John 7:37-38
‘If any one thirst, let him come to Me and drink’
By what he declared, He was effectively saying
‘I am the fulfilment of this offering - it is I who alone can give you the Holy Spirit...’
No wonder that the people’s reaction (John 7:40-41- see Deut 18:15-19) was
‘This is really the prophet!’
‘This is the Christ!’
Notice also that whereas in Joel it is God who says
‘I will give you My Spirit’
it’s Jesus who here says
‘I will give...’
In this way, Jesus effectively put Himself on an equal standing with God.
We read in John 7:38 that Jesus quotes
even though it’s difficult to see plainly which passage He has in mind. But it seems best to take it as a reference to Zech 14:8 which is a Messianic passage concerning the FoT and which reads
‘On that day (the return of the Lord to set up the Davidic Kingdom) living waters shall flow out from Jerusalem, half of them to the eastern sea and half of them to the western sea; it shall continue in summer as in winter’
The substance of Jerusalem is her people - just as the Church is not a collection of buildings but people, so the living waters flow out from the hearts of the believers into all the world (both east and west). Jerusalem is where the presence of God dwells, the Spirit of God emanating from Himself. We, who have the presence of God in us, have the Spirit of God flowing from us because the source is in us. As the psalmist writes (Ps 87:7)
‘all our springs/sources are in Jerusalem’
It was not yet Spirit
In John 7:39 the author comments that
‘...as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified’
which probably better translates as
‘for it was not yet Spirit’
Though some sects and cults would see in the words the teaching that the Spirit
‘was not yet’
(thereby denying the deity and eternal character of the Holy Spirit), the sentence means effectively that the ‘age’ of the Holy Spirit (as it was from the Day of Pentecost onwards in Acts chapter 2) had not yet arrived.
It actually affirms the ‘age’ in which we now live as being the age of the Holy Spirit when God deals with men through His Holy Spirit in a way that He hadn’t done before.
Here we’ll look at the phrase ‘Living Water’ which Jesus uses in John 7:38 and the commands in the Mishnah located specifically in Mikwaoth 1. Firstly, we need to ask ourselves what is ‘Living Water’ and what Jesus meant by the term?
In the Mishnah, the Rabbis list for us the gradings of different types of water according to their tradition. Mikwaoth 1:la begins by stating that
‘there are six grades among pools of water, one more excellent than another...’
and the remaining chapter then goes on to list them in increasing order of importance. These were:
1. Mikwaoth 1:1b-5
‘The water in ponds...’
2. Mikwaoth 1:6
‘More excellent is the water of a rain-pond before the rain-stream has stopped’
Both these two grades of water above were bodies that contained less than 70 gallons of water (that is, 40 seahs) and could not be used for the immersion of objects or people to effect ceremonial cleansing (since 40 seahs was the minimum amount to be able to achieve this).
If a man drank from the first after an unclean man had drunk from it, then he also became unclean, but not from the second because its waters continually flow, so removing the uncleanness that’s imparted to it.
It is this ‘continual flow’ that’s so important to the concept of water amongst the Jews and, as we shall see below, is the primary characteristic of what it means to say that a body of water is ‘Living’.
3. Mikwaoth 1:7a
‘More excellent is a pool of water containing 40 seahs; for in them men may immerse themselves and immerse other things’
Of course, if you immersed objects in this pool for cleansing, it would render the pool of water unclean because the water is static. But, nevertheless, it could still be used.
Incidentally, this is the ‘grade’ of water that most churches use when they baptize believers in water - stagnant, ceremonially contaminated, water (but that isn’t a comment urging churches to ‘change’ - it’s solely an observation with the implication that Jews who want to follow Jesus after a life of Judaism might be wary of being baptized).
4. Mikwaoth 1:7b
This has to do with the water from wells.
5. Mikwaoth 1:8a
‘More excellent are smitten waters [that is, water that is salty or from a hot spring] which render clean such time as they are flowing water’
Why they should be considered of better quality than the others, I have no idea. I’m sure there must have been some good reason for the grading but it’s beyond me. All these three grades of water (points 3-5) were able to be used in the ceremonial cleansing of objects and persons, but only the sixth grade of water could cleanse three specific situations.
6. Mikwaoth 1:8b
‘More excellent than they are Living waters, for they serve for the immersion of them that have a flux, and for the sprinkling of lepers, and are valid for mixing with the ashes of the sin offering’
‘Living water’ is a body of water that contains over 70 gallons of water and which is constantly flowing - such as the Jordan river where Jesus was baptised. In the Didache, an ancient Greek church document written shortly after the NT, running water is specifically required for baptism.
This Living Water had to do with the ceremonial cleansing laws for the Jews, but to Jesus, the Living water that He would give and which would flow from believers would be sufficient for the spiritual purification of men.
Any flowing stream is ‘Living water’ - not because there is ‘life’ in it (microbes, beetles, pond snails and frogs) but solely because it’s flowing. Jesus doesn’t speak about a static infilling in John chapter 7 but about a dynamic and moving one.
Incidentally, Chinese believers (so I have been informed by a friend who works amongst them) are baptized in bath tubs but they make sure that the tap continues to run into the bath and that the plug is removed so that the water that they are baptised in is classed as ‘living water’.
From this definition, we must now go on to consider the three exclusive applications of this water as outlined in the Mishnah’s pages (and which we will see are quite Scriptural - the three applications that the Jews mention are the ones that the OT lists as being able to be cleansed only by water that is ‘living’):
1. ‘...the immersion of them that have a flux/discharge...’
People who release uncleanness/death from themselves
In Leviticus chapter 15 we find the legislation that details the requirements of the Law when a man or woman has a discharge from their body. The discharge is unclean (Lev 15:2) and the one who has had the discharge makes other things unclean by his contact with them (Lev 15:4-12). It was only by the application of Living water that the person could be rendered ‘clean’.
Here is a type of person who needs to be cleansed and areas that they have come in to contact with that equally need cleansing.
The spring of Living water that bubbles up from believers will both cleanse those areas that have been contaminated with death and render clean the one who has had the discharge - Lev 15:13 tells us (my italics) that
‘...he shall bathe his body in running water and shall be clean’
This possibility to ‘cleanse’ situations from uncleanness make a situation for God to move in. If men and women have been stained by the spiritual ‘dirt’ that overflows from their lives and which contaminates the world around them, then the outflowing of the Holy Spirit from a believer’s life is able to wipe that uncleanness away that God might move in the area and establish His will, bringing about a dynamic change in the individual (where that individual wants to be changed).
2. ‘...the sprinkling of lepers...’
People who live in uncleanness/death
The leper had to be obedient to the demands of the Law and depart from the congregation of Israel, living away from the presence of God who resided in their midst (Lev 13:46). He was dead to the presence of God, to the fellowship of God’s people and was unable to enjoy His inheritance that had been given to Him by God.
His entire life was considered to be one of ‘living death’ (notice that the Law made no provision for the leper to be cleansed in his state of death - all it could do was condemn him to an existence away from the life of God).
The (ex-)leper’s cleansing was progressive:
a. Fellowship with God’s people was restored (Lev 14:8)
b. The inheritance was restored after a further seven days (14:8-9), and,
c. Fellowship with God was restored on the following day (14:10-11)
but it began by killing one of the two birds over Living water and sprinkling the ‘mix’ on him.
But the Living water that Jesus was going to give His believers would be able to cleanse the leper while he was still living in death/uncleanness as Jesus demonstrated on a number of occasions (for example, Mtw 8:1-4).
Not only is Jesus able to physically cleanse a leper, but the Living water that flows out from his believers is able to change the lives of those people who constantly live in death and who find themselves exiled away from what God has for them.
Instead of individuals finding that there is ‘no way back’ from the situation they live in and the person that they’ve become, the life of God flowing from believers provides opportunity (if there’s a change of will) for there to be a radical transformation.
3. ‘...mixing with the ashes of the sin offering’
People who have come into contact with death/uncleanness
Ceremonial uncleanness attached itself to objects and to men and women by contact/association with death (Num 19:15-16). Living water was mixed with the ashes of the burnt offering and the resulting ‘mix’ was applied to the individual who was made clean (Lev 19:19).
In a similar way, the areas around believers that have come into contact with death will be cleaned up as they allow God’s Spirit to flow out from themselves and into those places. Again, far from the uncleanness causing restrictions to be placed upon what God will do in situations (God withdraws from sin - see the next section for further explanation of this point), the Living water makes a ‘highway’ for God to move wherever a believer finds himself and in however dark and forboding a situation appears to be.
Notice here that uncleanness attaches itself to all men and women by contact/association if the Living water of God isn’t flowing out from them for we live in a ‘dead’ world that seeks to contaminate us by our contact with it.
Contamination by the world has often been a fear of the Church only because it hasn’t realised (or isn’t living in the reality of) the life-imparting stream that is its birthright. If the Living water of God is flowing from a believer’s heart out in to the world, no contamination by the world can take place because the darkness and death is being consumed by the light and life of God.
Only when a believer chooses to go his own way and restricts the flow of the presence of God through themselves, can contamination take place.
Wherever the Living water is present and flowing, there will always be the potential for all areas of uncleanness and death to be transformed into a highway for God to move (see below on the OT Scriptures such as Psalm 84 and Isaiah 35).
Notice also that cleansing after ‘seven days’ is a recurring theme in the above three points:
1. Lev 15:13
2. Lev 14:9
3. Num 19:14,19
The 7th day was the day of cleansing in all these Scriptures and, as has already been noted, this incident in the Temple took place on the 7th day of the feast, the Great Day.
What Jesus is teaching here is that, firstly, the Holy Spirit doesn’t just flow ‘into’ a believer, but that He also flows out ‘from’ a believer (Zech 14:8 - which is the Scripture Jesus is referring to - see above - reads ‘...it shall continue in summer as in winter’ - that is, all year round).
Just to be filled is to stagnate and, according to Jewish interpretation, that type of water cannot cleanse anything or anyone for it retains its uncleanness, there not being an opportunity for the death to be pushed out of the body of water.
Secondly, He’s teaching that the water that would continually flow out of those who believed, not only would cleanse believers from the inside, but that wherever it flowed out from them, they would bring ‘cleanness’ from unclean situations - that all manner of death and uncleanness (sickness, evil spirits, physical death and the like) would be banished from situations and a way would be prepared for the Lord to work in impossible situations and areas because God’s people would release life from themselves wherever they went.
On changing unclean situations, the Bible speaks elsewhere on numerous occasions and it’s to these which we’ll now turn.
1. Ps 84:5-7
Psalm 84, written by the sons of Korah, begins with the yearning for the presence of the Lord in His Temple (v.1-4) moves on prophetically to speak of the New Covenant in terms reminiscent of a believer’s pilgrimage to Jerusalem (v.5-9) before finally returning to the original desire to be in God’s presence (v.10-12).
This prophetic insight into the New Covenant could easily go unnoticed were it not for the fact that the switch between different thoughts from verses 4 to 5 and 9 to 10 is quite marked.
Ps 84:5 speaks of a pilgrim who’s journeying towards the Temple
‘...in whose heart are the highways to Zion’
This speaks of the relationship an individual has with God and from which the waters of life flow. The psalmists aren’t solely concerned with an Israelite who knows the physical route to get to the capital city but is saying, in effect
‘Blessed is the man who knows the way into God’s presence’
not being led by a doctrinal formula of the mind, but by the liberty of the heart that’s led by the Spirit of God.
Ps 84:6 makes mention of ‘the valley of Baca’, a place near Jerusalem where brackish water oozes out of the rocks so that vegetation can’t grow. Here is a picture of death. But, as God’s ‘pilgrims’ travel through such death, they make it ‘a place of springs’ - that is, they bring life out of the death that surrounds them while God also showers His blessing upon it. Death is transformed into a place where there is a potential for life.
Ps 84:7 heralds the conclusion of the section. As a consequence of the pilgrim’s presence giving out life to transform areas of death that he finds himself in, he goes ‘from strength to strength’ - he grows stronger all the time.
The last phrase
‘..the God of gods will be seen in Zion’
is a similar concept to that found in Gen 22:14 where the Hebrew word translated here ‘see’ is there given the meaning ‘provide’. Both meanings are contained within the Hebrew word and probably both should apply, the psalmist prophesying that
‘the God of gods will see the need [for this transforming influence to occur] and provide for that need in His people [Zion]...’
by the way of the cross, the resurrection and the ascension.
We must note that ‘Zion’ can mean various things according to context. It can mean the place of Jerusalem where Christ died, God’s people or God’s presence - or a few other concepts such as ‘stronghold’ which is the root meaning of the name. Context can often be difficult to determine but here it’s taken to refer to God’s people.
2. Isaiah 35:5-8
The blind will see, says Isaiah, the deaf will hear, the lame shall leap and the dumb will sing. But why? Because of the waters and streams that have burst forth in the wilderness. The wilderness is here, firstly, the uncleanness of individual’s lives before they were saved/converted and, secondly, the uncleanness of situations around them.
Notice v.8 where it is written that there shall be
‘...a highway there and it shall be called the Holy Way...’
Here is the potential for God to move into society and to begin to effect His will into unclean situations. Just as the ministry of John the Baptist was (Is 40:3) to
‘...make straight in the desert a highway for our God...’
so, too, the stream of Living water shall make a way for God to move into those situations around believers because of His cleansing presence through them.
3. II Kings 2:19-22
If the spring that flows up and out from a person’s life is bad, then, wherever it flows, it will bring death and miscarriage - that is, death at the exit and at the introduction of life.
No matter that a person’s life might look good on the outside (II Kings 2:19 - the situation of the city was pleasant), it’s what’s on the inside (v.19 - bad water), what flows from within, that will determine whether or not people impart unfruitfulness wherever they go.
God’s healing of the spring will eliminate all hindrances to the expression and expansion of God’s life through that individual so that His people will begin themselves to bring healing to the source of bad springs around them (christianisation rather than conversion - but still necessary).
Believers are the salt that provides the healing to those springs of water that bring death wherever they flow (Mtw 5:13). The source of a man’s power is important - from the Spirit flows life, from the flesh and evil spirits flows death.
4. Ezekiel 47:8-12
This passage (Ezek 47:1-12) doesn’t talk of believers getting ‘into’ the flow of God’s Spirit (even though this principle is by no means heretical - it’s only that this is an incorrect interpretation of the passage in question), but it talks about the flow of God’s Spirit that will come from the presence of God in His people.
Ezekiel is seeing, in picture form, what was going to become a reality in the lives of God’s people under the New Covenant. God’s presence dwells within believers and not in a geographical location anymore (as it did in the Temple in Jerusalem), so that where God’s stream emanates from (v.1) is also within believers.
Wherever this stream of life goes, death is transformed. The salt waters of the Dead sea become fresh (v.8), fish are found in it (v.9b), all types of animals are seen (v.9a) and vegetation returns to the desert (v.12). There are also fishermen (v.10), a picture of the evangelisation and successful landing of many people into the Church.
The summary of all that’s found wherever the stream of Living water goes is worded perfectly in the last clause of Ezek 47:9 where it reads
‘......everything will live where the river goes’
There’s no death brought about by the presence of God.
This prophetic vision is a picture of the transformation that takes place as the Living water flows from believers, becoming ever deeper, ever wider and ever stronger (v.3-5).
Notice, though, v.11 - not all areas shall be cleansed and transformed. Even if the presence of God should become so tangible around us in the society in which we live, there will never be a total conversion of individuals to Christ. Some people and situations will never know the life changing experience of the work of the Holy Spirit.
5. Mtw 16:18
The gates of Hades (which is a way of saying ‘death’) shall not prevail against the Church. Life will overcome all death so that the Church, which is God’s source of life in this world, will overcome all and never die.
NB - some translations speak of ‘the gates of hell’ but Scripture is not saying that satan has a dominion called ‘hell’ over which he rules - even though this ‘doctrine’ seems to have become extremely prevalent not only in the world but within the ranks of the Church. It’s better translated ‘powers of death’ which is a phrase that modern day man may understand as meaning all sources of spiritual death - the former phrase is too misleading.
Concluding, when we have Living Water flowing from us, we release God’s provision and power to others through ourselves. That means that, instead of adopting the mentality of coming to ‘meet with God’ in a specific geographic location, we realise that, in reality, we’re bringing God with us to share Him with others!
Instead of sitting back and ‘letting it happen’ we should be people who, when we enter situations, begin to ‘make it happen’.
Edmund Burke, a philosopher, wrote
‘...for the triumph of evil, all that is necessary is for good men to do nothing’
As soon as we sit back, evil triumphs - but when we move forward, the life of God flows out from us and pushes back the death that hovers over the nations.
There’s no good reason (in my opinion) to exclude this passage from the body of Scripture. But there’s certainly good reason to question its location within the text. The body of text appears in differing places in the ancient manuscripts and it appears as if its various sitings is a scribe’s attempt to incorporate it into the framework of the Gospels.
Some manuscripts attach it after the end of John’s Gospel as a type of ‘appendix’ and it’s probably the best place for it, as it would appear to be a story that the early Church knew to be accurate but which hadn’t been originally included in the compilation of stories by the four Gospel writers.
Eusebius refers to a similar passage that was recorded in the ‘Gospel to the Hebrews’ (page 153), but that Gospel was considered heretical by the early Church and therefore is unlikely to be the source from which the story in John’s Gospel came.
However, if it could ever be shown conclusively to have come from this Gospel ‘to the Hebrews’ then doubt about its authority would seriously need to be made. But the description of the story as outlined by Eusebius has striking dissimilarities which rule a positive identification out.
But why have I included this point here?
Because, John 8:12 follows logically on from John 7:52 and, if we accept that the above passage is part of the original document, an additional day is added to the events of John chapter 8, taking Jesus’ next words out of the context of being on the seventh and Great Day of the FoT.
As will be seen, Jesus’ words relate directly to one of the Temple ceremonies that took place on the final day of the festival and to push them back to a later date removes their direct relevance to His hearers.
iii. The Illumination of the Temple
This was a part of Simchat Beth ha-She’ubah but was a distinct ceremony.
Before commencing this section, read John 7:1-2 (it was the Feast of Tabernacles), 14 (Jesus was present), 37 (it was the seventh day when they expected Messiah to come), 8:12-13 (Jesus’ proclamation). Once more, to fully understand Jesus’ words, we have to see them in the context of both the Festival and what was going on around Him.
Again on the last day of the festival (see note above concerning John 7:53-8:11), Jesus made a proclamation concerning Himself, drawing on a ceremony that had been performed on previous days but which reached its climax on this the ‘Great Day’.
In the court of the women stood giant candlesticks (Sukkah 5:1-4) which, according to the Talmud, were 50 cubits high (approximately 73 feet). There were four golden bowls on the top of each of them with four ladders put up against them.
The bowls were filled with 120 logs of oil (approximately 10 gallons) and wicks were made from the worn-out drawers and girdles of the priests.
When they were lit
‘...there was not a courtyard in Jerusalem that did not reflect the light of the Beth ha-She’ubah’
Levites played musical instruments while standing on the fifteen steps which led from the court of the women to the court of the Israelites and many men used to dance before the candlesticks
‘...with burning torches in their hands, singing songs and praises’
The Talmud says that a Rabbi by the name of Simeon ben Gamaliel would juggle eight burning torches at a time
‘...throwing them in the air and catching them as they came down’
To the Jews, the light served as a reminder of II Chronicles 5:3, 5:13-14, 7:2, 7:5 when, at the dedication of Solomon’s Temple (the first Jerusalem Temple) which occurred at the FoT, the Shekinah (God’s visible presence), the glory of God, filled the Holy of Holies.
It may also have looked forward to the time when God’s glory was to once again fill the place - so the Messianic Kingdom would be established (Ezek 43:1-5).
While the Jews were thinking upon the light of God’s glory, His visible presence, Jesus says to them
‘I am the Shekinah (the light), the Divine presence of this world: I am the visible manifestation of God to this world...’
Very openly, He proclaimed Himself as the presence of God, the One they had been anticipating for many years at the FoT. Hence the Pharisees reply in John 8:13
‘...your testimony is not true’
for they understood the implication of Jesus’ words.
Putting God’s presence back into the world
We read in Rom 1:18-32 that because of man’s disobedience to what can be clearly perceived about Him through the things that were brought into existence by God’s word, God withdraws His presence from mankind (Rom 1:24,26,28), allowing man to slip into worse and worse sin (see the notes on ‘Propitiation’ for a lengthier exposition of this subject).
It’s not that God wants to do this, but He has to - if He continued to dwell in man’s midst in the fulness of who He is, then His intense purity would consume in judgment. Therefore, He withdraws ever further from lives that continue to adamantly pursue styles of living that are increasingly removed from the image in which God created mankind.
If God had left the set up like this, man would degenerate from one generation to the next with no hope of ever finding the way back to Him through Jesus. Moreover, one slight concession in the Divine Law would lead to a further one amongst unregenerated humanity - and so on. This would not be for the bettering of mankind but for the worsening.
When ‘black’ and ‘white’ start to lose distinction, then society will degenerate - instead of judging society by absolutes, it begins to be judged by the action’s acceptability to society.
I read on one of the Internet newsgroups a statement probably designed to get a response but certainly worth our consideration here that
‘Tolerance is the attitude of those who have no convictions’
In the present UK society, the moral decline is certainly the offspring of tolerant attitudes toward sin, and those who stand up and let themselves be counted, who lay out concerns and statements with full conviction, are often shouted down in the name of ‘peace’ and harmony. The problem is that, without a moral root in society, the decline will never be seen to be halted or reversed.
And the UK has seen a gradual decline in standards over the years, especially in the legislation and practice of areas such as abortion, film censorship and drug use. To take the former as just one example, when it is legal to kill a part of our society who can’t defend themselves, it won’t be too long until other areas come under threat (that is, euthanasia for the older members of society and a disregard for the sanctity of human life through the genetic engineering of the DNA structure).
Similarly, one sin in a person’s life leads only to a greater one. Man degenerates regardless of any ethical standard that he may like to think he adheres to and upholds.
But, through the cross and so to counteract this trait of fallen humanity, He’s called men and women to ‘carry’ Him around, to be the Temples in which He dwells and through whom He moves to restore His presence back into society.
II Cor 6:16 speaks of God being in believers who are therefore considered to be a temple of God. The OT concept of a temple was a place where the presence of God dwelt. In the NT, God no longer dwells in man-made structures but in the living building of our bodies (I Cor 3:16-17) - in order that He might not be in one place that all come to worship, but that He might be worshipped in every area as we - and He - move around.
Jesus said to His disciples (Mtw 5:1,14)
‘You are the light of the world...’
Just as Jesus said that He was God’s visible presence in the world, so, too, He tells us that believers are (supposed to be) all that God is to this world - they are God’s presence in society (God through them) and they are God’s light (God reflected in them).
Isaiah saw this prophetically (60:1-3) that
‘...His glory will be seen upon you. And nations shall come to your light...’
Paul also saw that as believers reflect His presence back into this world (II Cor 3:18), they
‘...are being changed into His likeness from one degree of glory to another...’
a picture of Ezekiel’s stream that grows stronger, wider, deeper so long as it keeps on flowing (Ezek 47:1-12 - see section 3bii above).
Through His Church, then, God desires to shine His presence in ever-increasing intensity into this world - not to judge the world, but to draw many to Christ and to restrict others’ sin by the intensity of His presence.
In the revivals of years gone by, many became christians though many were ‘christianised’ - they became morally better because of the presence of God that flowed through the lives of believers. No society will ever wholly be converted (judging by the evidence of yesteryear) but at least the progression of sin may be restricted.
‘They shall call you...’
says the Lord through Isaiah (Is 60:14)
‘...the Zion of the Holy One of Israel’
where ‘Zion’, although the name of David’s city, is better understood as needing translation meaning ‘stronghold’. Believers are God’s stronghold in society, radiating His presence into the darkness and causing the life-giving water to flow out into the death. John 1:5 (see also Mtw 16:18 under 3bii above) reads
‘...the light shines in darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it’
The Church of Christ dispels the darkness around them by shining the light of God’s glory into every situation that they enter. The light in them cannot be extinguished by the darkness around them (because the light is the presence of God), but the darkness tries to suppress the glorious light of God’s presence in them, for, as they shine with ever-increasing glory, its days of control over the nations are restricted and shortened.
iv. Healing the Blind Man
As the previous ceremony (the illumination of the Temple) would have taken place during the dark hours (which could be the dawning of the eighth day as the Jewish day began at sunset), this took place after the seventh day but within the contexts of the festival.
It was only in the fulness of time that the things that Jesus said and did came to be fully understood by His disciples. That is why, I feel, John’s Gospel had to be written after the other three at a much later date, to bring out more of the understanding that they’d received from what Jesus had both said and done.
It was no mere coincidence that Jesus healed a man at the FoT who had been born blind. The Rabbis believed that there were three miracles that only Messiah could do. It wasn’t a Scriptural proof (even though it may have been based on Scripture) but a Rabbinic one:
1. The cleansing of a leper
Jesus laying hands on the leper presented a very difficult Rabbinic problem. As soon as you touched one who was ‘unclean’ (the leper), it rendered yourself unclean by contact. But when did his leprosy leave him? Was he cleansed an instant before Jesus touched him, or did He touch him in his uncleanness and then healing come?
Of course, such considerations are best left to the religious!
As noted above, the Living water that flowed out from Jesus - and now through each one of His believers - cleansed whatever was unclean around Him.
2. The casting out of a dumb spirit
The Rabbis believed that, because the dumb demoniac couldn’t speak, you couldn’t find out its name and so cast it out (you needed to know its name to be able to tell it to come out rather than speak to it vaguely).
Only Messiah would know its name and so be able to cast it out - even though this was not the method that Jesus used! He didn’t need to know its name - He only needed to use His authority.
3. The giving of sight to someone born blind - because, it was taught, it must have been the result of the parents’ sin or the baby’s sin in the womb - which is only forgivable by Messiah.
Hence the disciples’ question (John 9:2,34)
which is a relevant question when we understand it in the context of the culture in which all suffering was related to the results of sin by some Rabbis and religious leaders - they had been arguing the case of the man born blind from birth for many years, not being able to conclusively decide whether it was the sin of the individual or the sin of the parents that resulted in blindness from birth. Though some individual suffering is definitely a result of individual sin, the statement is not an absolute one of ‘cause and effect’ (see the notes on ‘Healing’).
His blindness wasn’t a result of sin (either his own or his parents) but, because he’d been born blind, the work of God might now be made known in his life (John 9:3). Certainly, his situation hadn’t been outside the scope of the Sovereignty of God at birth, but God had planned to remove His blindness at this time through Jesus - therefore, God had allowed him to be born blind.
And it is at the FoT when the Jews expect Messiah to come that He proved Himself to any who weren’t hard of hearing and who had open eyes.
The Rabbis couldn’t accept the miracle without accepting Jesus as the Messiah, so they tried to make the evidence say that he wasn’t born blind (John 9:18-34).
It’s no mere coincidence, either, that Jesus sent the man to wash in the pool of Siloam (John 9:7). Siloam was the place where the water was drawn to be poured out at the base of the altar in the water-drawing ceremony detailed above. The water represented the Holy Spirit (Is 8:6 is where it’s first referred to as such). And, in John 9:5, Jesus again talks of Himself being the Shekinah glory of the world.
This whole passage is an interplay between the 2 ceremonies of the water-drawing and the Temple illumination:
1. The man is in natural darkness - he cannot see.
a. He washes in the natural water (Siloam)
b. He receives natural sight (eyes opened)
c. He perceives natural light (he can see)
2. The man is in spiritual/supernatural darkness - he cannot see who Messiah is. He isn’t able to see the purposes of God on earth because his spirit is dead to the movings and workings of Him.
a. He washes in the spiritual/supernatural water (Holy Spirit - Siloam symbolised the Holy Spirit at the FoT, the Living water)
b. He receives spiritual/supernatural sight (revelation from the Holy Spirit. He defends Jesus before the Pharisees having had his spiritual/supernatural eyes opened - John 9:10-12)
c. He perceives the spiritual/supernatural Light of the world (Jesus - John 9:35-38. He begins to see the presence of God on earth. He realises that Jesus is the Christ)
The passage is a play upon the work of the Spirit/water of Siloam and the person of Jesus/natural light. It’s only by the revelation of the Spirit that man is able to accept Jesus as the Christ (Mtw 16:15-17). It’s neither head-knowledge, nor theology, nor does it come through a creed or religious experience but by revelation - this is the only way that a man can be saved. Then a man will be able to perceive God’s workings around them when their eyes have been opened by the Holy Spirit.
I’ve often found that there’s just no point in arguing - what a person needs is revelation and not contention. When two people begin with opposing views but also set in their beliefs, then there will never be a discussion to arrive at a conclusion - only strife, argument and bad feeling. Therefore, don’t be fooled in to thinking that it’s always right to enter in to an argument - sometimes it’s best to withdraw from one and pray that the Lord might give your opponent revelation.
In John 9:41 we witness the Pharisees’ guilt of rejecting Jesus as the Messiah - not because they were unable to perceive Him, but because they saw Jesus as the Messiah when He healed the man born blind yet they refused to believe the testimony of their own eyes.
They said that they saw and perceived the truth about Jesus when, in fact, they hadn’t acknowledged the real truth at all.
But, because they said ‘we see’, there was no longer any way that Jesus could reach them - their hearts were hardened against Him and nothing that He could say or do would ever change that state of affairs.
It would have been better for them if they had been spiritually blind - at least that way they would have had an excuse for their rejection of Jesus. But because they could very plainly see who Jesus was, they were guilty and stood condemned before God.
As Johnmor writes on this passage
‘...they claim to see. They claim spiritual knowledge. They know the Law. And it is sin for men who have spiritual knowledge to act as they do’
This is the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit - when what is obvious about God is taking place before one’s eyes, but it’s attributed to the work of satan because of self-interest.
c. ‘Happy Birthday to You!’?
There’s enough evidence in Scripture to conjecture that Jesus was born at the FoT - but, as you will see, some assumptions have to be made to arrive at this date. In fact, you have to start out by believing that the FoT is the birthdate before you can arrive at it!
The point is not that important and we shouldn’t accept it as a matter of foundational doctrine, but there are hints in Scripture that the christianised pagan festival of the winter solstice (Christmas) is months out.
Event - Zechariah in the Temple and Elizabeth conceives
Scripture - I Chr 24:10, Luke 1:5, 1:8, 1:24
Date - 3.5-4th Jewish month
6 Jewish months pass until
Event - Sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy and Mary conceives
Scripture - Luke 1:26
Date - 9.5-10th Jewish month
4 Jewish months pass until
Event - John the Baptist is born
Scripture - (Luke 1:57)
Date - 1.5-2nd Jewish month
6 Jewish months pass until
Event - Jesus is born
Scripture - (Luke 2:7)
Date - 7.5-8th Jewish month
i. In I Chr 24:1-19, we read of the order of the division of the Levites who served in the Temple by ministering to the Lord, the order of which continued in the Temple into NT times.
We must first note that the Jewish year comprised of 48 standard weeks in 12 months of approximately 4 weeks each (either 28 or 29 days), an additional month being added as and when necessary to bring the calendar back in line with the seasons. The 24 divisions made mention of here could have been divided equally over the year so that each one served in the Temple for a consecutive two week period or, divided into two one-week periods, their service would be repeated after the 24 week cycle. It is, however, the former arrangement that seems the most likely - and the most logical - even though the Mishnah appears to make no mention of the accepted arrangement.
Most Biblical commentators, however, state that each order served for one week twice a year with a break in the middle of 24 weeks (23 weeks off, 1 week on) but for the maths to work as in the Summary above, we have to use a fortnightly period of service and that only once a year.
What the Jews did during leap years is difficult to understand - they could have continued with the cycle so that each division didn’t have the same annual date but was brought forward when an extra month was added. If this was the case, then the dates we are about to discuss are meaningless.
Another problem is that all courses of priests were obliged to attend at the Temple for service during the three obligatory festivals commanded in the Law (Unleavened Bread, Pentecost and Tabernacles - see Sukkah 5:6-8 especially v.7a).
When we come to look at Zechariah and try to define his time of ministering in the Temple we have simply no way of knowing if the incident recorded in Luke chapter 1 is his normal duty or one performed at a compulsory festival. And we have no idea whether the cycle of priests was ‘suspended’ at these times to be begun after the festival week.
Abijah, to which Zechariah belonged, is mentioned 8th in the list of the 24 divisions in I Chr chapter 24 (v.10) so that we would expect him to be present in the Temple between New Year’s day plus 14 weeks and New Year’s day plus 16 weeks (if we adopt the first of the two possibilities of interpreting the service time).
The New Year (today’s ‘religious year’) begins on 1 Nisan (which roughly corresponds to our April). We would expect Zechariah to be in the Temple between 3.5 to 4 Jewish months in to the New Year. In order for the date of Jesus’ birth to be shown to be the FoT, we have to presume also that that particular year wasn’t a leap year in the following calculations (or that it didn’t matter!) which would have the effect of giving us a date that’s too late for the conclusion we’re trying to arrive at.
One final ‘spanner in the works’ so to speak is the un-uniform length of the Jewish month according to the Mishnah. It’s quite possible that the preceding months didn’t have 28 days in them (see on ‘Trumpets’ section 1) which would further complicate matters, though not irreconcilably.
ii. Luke 1:24
It’s further presumed that John the Baptist was conceived around the same time as Zechariah ministered. Even though the ‘proof’ is hopelessly flawed at point i, this assumption may be the correct one.
iii. Luke 1:26,36
We know that six Jewish months after John the Baptist’s conception, Jesus was conceived (John 1:14a - ‘the Word became flesh...’), though even this may not be a correct inference (making it now around midway to the end of the ninth Jewish month).
iv. Ten Jewish months later Jesus was born, making the date around the mid to late seventh Jewish month so long as the previous year was not a leap year.
v. So, sixteen Jewish months from the time Zechariah went into the Temple, Jesus was born. This corresponds approximately to the FoT (John 1:14b - ‘...and He tabernacled amongst us’ - literal translation).
vi. If Jesus was born at the FoT, then John the Baptist was born at Passover. And the Jews expect Elijah to come at Passover (Mark 9:12-13) and Messiah to come at the FoT.
Though this, initially, sounds right, the main thrust of the seven festivals when viewed as a whole is to show how God intends to get all things back under His rule in the fulness of time - it doesn’t make mention either literally or symbolically of the birth-dates of important people in His purpose.
Even if we could fix the date that Zechariah went in to the Temple, we would still be left with a proof that shows no foreshadowing in the OT legislation of Leviticus chapter 23 or its parallel passages.
Christmas versus the Festival of Tabernacles
As has already been noted at the very beginning of this series of notes, my wife and I celebrate the FoT and have decided to abandon any individual celebration of Christmas. The commercialisation that has dogged Christmas in recent years awoke us to the problem of trying to see how we might ‘celebrate’ and remember an important christian event and yet still make that time so different to that which occurs around us that people might sit up and take notice.
We found that it was impossible to do this realistically and so ditched Christmas celebrations in favour of taking the FoT and using it to proclaim to our friends and family that Jesus is going to return (a fulfilment of the FoT - see below) and that, when He does, He will bestow gifts upon His friends and judge those who are His enemies (for us, that means who gets included on the present list and who doesn’t!).
We also found that, because we’re ‘weird’, we get opportunity to speak about Jesus at the FoT - and the reasons why we celebrate it (‘Jesus is coming back to judge the earth...’ is always a good one-liner!) - and also again at Christmas when people want to know why we don’t get drunk or go to a succession of seemingly endless parties where you leave your moral code at the door before you go in.
But it’s important here that we try and think about the origins of Christmas and what the Bible has to say about all festivals - not just Christmas - and so hear what God would have us to do concerning them.
It’s irrelevant when Christ was born - likewise, there’s no command in Scripture concerning the need for Jesus’ disciples to celebrate His birthday on any day and especially not December 25th! Neither is there Scriptural foundation for celebrating it - the early Church were mostly Jews and continued (at the very beginning) to celebrate the Law’s festivals, even worshipping in the Temple like orthodox Jews did (Acts 3:1, Luke 24:53).
And, of all the festivals described and commanded in the Old and New Testaments, it’s only the FoT that’s ever mentioned in connection with the Gentiles and their need to celebrate it in the coming Kingdom that Jesus will finally and completely establish upon His return (Zech 14:16-19).
In fact, Paul makes the point that the celebration of festivals (specifically referring to those in the Law) is not a subject that a believer should be judged on (providing it’s not a satanic rite!).
So, celebrating Christmas doesn’t endear a believer to the Father any more than one who celebrates the FoT. It’s always experiencing the reality of the festival that’s important, not the annual ceremony (Col 2:16-17, Romans 14:5-6). As God said on numerous occasions to the Israelites before the exile to Babylon, it’s not a dead tradition that endears us to Himself but faith and the outworking of this in lives of holiness and righteousness (for example, Isaiah 1:12-17).
But, having said all this, it is necessary to point out that Christmas, unlike the FoT, is a christianised pagan festival which uses occult symbolism to proclaim it’s meaning. I’ve not yet found a definitive source book that lists all the inherited bleed-overs from pagan religion but every now and then a small article in some magazine or other decides to run an ‘exposé’ of the holiday and so lists many different characteristics that it fails to provide adequate references for!
But, certainly, the time of the year is a throw back to the worship of the winter solstice when Druids would gather to worship the ‘Sun’, the lengthening of the days that December 21st brought about. Seeing masses of believers converting to christianity (or, perhaps, trying to incorporate pagan worshippers into a nominal form of christianity), the religious leaders of those days decided that, rather than make a clean break with the occult practises, they would absorb them into a ‘new’ festival in celebration of the Lord’s birth - there have even been suggestions made that the pagan festival thus absorbed concerned the worship of the son of the Babylonian queen of heaven but the source for this may not be that reliable.
Certainly, a ‘Christmas’ is never mentioned until the third century and not until the fourth century did the celebration gain popular acceptance amongst the ‘christian’ church which by that time had largely ceased to be even a shadow of its first century counterpart.
Further, pagan and occult characteristics of the modern celebrations abound and are far too numerous to mention. A lot have died out with the advent of a more secularly orientated celebration, but mistletoe, the holly and the ivy (both being Druidic symbols), the tree (Roman, possibly Druidic and also Scandinavian), the Yule log (Druidic) - and the list goes on - are all throw backs to pagan worship. There seems hardly a ‘symbol’ that wasn’t at one time or another incorporated into Christmas celebrations through its use in the pagan worship of false gods. Therefore, we seem to have been left with a festival that, although it has a christian ‘head’, it has a pagan ‘body’.
And God specifically warned His people that they were not to worship Him the way that the pagans worshipped their gods (Deut 12:2-4, 30-31) - this is the real point worth making behind the incorporation of all these various symbols.
How unfortunate that the Church took hold of the pagan celebration of the winter solstice and the worship of the sun, added the message of Jesus but then maintained the symbols that the common people were used to seeing!
It’s important, therefore, that those believers who want to continue celebrating December 25th as the Lord’s birthday should remove the occult and superstitious symbolism from their celebration, and endeavour to be as true as is possible to the Scriptural account of His birth (for example, realising that the visit of the three magi occurred long after the child was born - probably around a year or so afterwards).
Christmas, unfortunately, seems to be a time in the Western Church when the Body takes two weeks off from God - Carol services are usually a poor reflection of the day to day life of the local church though, if we have to try and look positively upon them, we might see in them the opportunity for believers to reach out to the ‘lost’ who like to come to events such as these once or twice a year to try and ‘do what is culturally acceptable’.
Besides, Jesus’ birth was normal, it was His conception that was abnormal!
Further, it’s the cross that we are to live in the reality of and the birth should be seen only as the means whereby He came to do the work on the cross.
So, what my wife and I ask all believers to do, is to reassess their celebration of Christmas on a yearly basis - to be true to Scripture and averse to any occultism and superstition that has crept into their worship of God at this time of year.
4. The Feast of Tabernacles in the Present
a. A definition of ‘the Kingdom’
A kingdom must have at least three characteristics:
i. A king
through whom and by whom the Law comes into existence. One who takes decisions on behalf of the people. One who is the end of all authority and who is subject to no-one.
All those who are subject to the will of the king - not everyone who lives in the king’s land or who benefits from the king’s rule, but only those who are obedient to the law of the king.
iii. A defined area of rule
The king decrees the law which his subjects obey and enforce throughout the entire land over which the king rules. The land is the area over which a king is recognised as ruling.
The Kingdom of Heaven/Kingdom of God must also have these three characteristics:
i. A King
Note that in the definition of what is a subject of an ‘earthly’ kingdom, the same is true that not everyone who lives in the King’s land or who benefits from the King’s rule is a subject, but only those who are obedient to the Law of the King and who seek to enforce His Law (that is, His will).
iii. A defined area of rule
See Mtw 13:38,41 and the interpretation of the entire parable.
The interpretation makes it plain by the two phrases
‘...the field is the world...’
‘...gather out of His Kingdom...’
that the equation God’s Kingdom=the World is correct.
Very simply, the Kingdom of Heaven/Kingdom of God can be defined as coming when God gets His will done through His subjects in the world. That is, Heaven’s rule becomes enforced on the earth through its subjects.
b. The Kingdom ‘to come’
That God will intervene in earth history and set up a visible Kingdom on earth with Jesus as King over all Creation, is apparent from many Scriptures. The plainest must surely be Zech 14:9 where we read that
‘... the Lord will become King over all the earth...’
And it’s at the FoT that the Jews look for God to intervene in earth history through the coming of Messiah and the setting up of the fallen tabernacle/kingdom of David (Amos 9:11) partly through the passage in Zechariah quoted above which, as a result of God becoming King over the earth, goes on to mention the world’s inhabitants coming to the Festival in Jerusalem to worship God.
It was at the FoT that the Jews specifically prayed for the salvation of the Gentiles. The 70 sacrifices that were offered at the feast (Num 29:12-38 - 70 bulls) were thought to be a representative offering on behalf of the 70 Gentile nations of the earth as described in Genesis chapter 10.
In Luke 19:11-27, Jesus gave a warning to His followers as they approached Jerusalem for the festival of Passover because
‘...they supposed that the Kingdom of God was to appear immediately’
In the parable, Jesus is the nobleman who goes away into a far country (Heaven) to receive the Kingdom, only to return at a later date. When He returns, there will be rewards for all His faithful friends. By this Jesus showed that the setting up of the visible Messianic Kingdom still stood as a promise to be fulfilled.
But even after His death and resurrection, the Jews’ hearts still burned with the eager longing that the Kingdom would be restored to Israel (Acts 1:6-7). Seeing that Jesus was about to be taken up into Heaven, the disciples questioned in their hearts when this would be, naturally anticipating the Messiah to reign over a visible earthly Kingdom.
Jesus’ answer (paraphrased) was
‘It is not for you to know whether “now” is the right time, but you will receive what is necessary to complete the work that I have called you to do’
Specifically, God’s rule through the Jews (but, ultimately, the restoration of a visible Kingdom on earth) was still something that lay in the future.
c. The Kingdom ‘now’
At the FoT, the Jews looked to God to fulfil the words of Amos 9:11 through the Messiah setting up a visible, earthly Kingdom. Though a visible Kingdom will be established by God over all the earth, the early Church realised that Amos 9:11 was being fulfilled as a process.
In Acts 15:14-18, we read that the fulfilment of this passage in Amos has to do with God forming a people for Himself from the Gentiles. James, a Jew, who’s speaking these words knew the relevance of the Scripture he quoted and that it referred to the restoration of the Kingdom of David.
He’s saying that as men and women (but here specifically referring to the Gentiles) are converted (that is, those who acknowledge God’s sovereignty and live as subjects of the King), then the fallen tabernacle (kingdom) of David is being restored as a process. The King is getting subjects throughout the world who are seeking to bring in His rule.
Ps 110:2 speaks of the commission to the Messiah to
‘...rule in the midst of Your foes’
God’s Kingdom is one within the world’s kingdoms, without a physical and earthly land to look to but, nevertheless, not without a heavenly one.
It’s evident from Scripture that Jesus is already installed as King in Heaven and has all things put under His feet (Heb 2:8, I Cor 15:27, Phil 2:9, Eph 1:20-22, Col 2:10, Mtw 28:18).
But it’s also evident from Scripture that Jesus’ will is not yet being fully done on earth - God is working according to His purpose in all situations so that all things will be united in Christ (see especially Eph 1:9-11 but also Heb 2:8, I Cor 15:25).
Returning to the definition of ‘Kingdom’ (see part a above), the Kingdom of God is seen when God gets His will done on earth through men and women as it is (being done) in Heaven (Mtw 6:9-10). It’s through men and women, His subjects, that God is getting His will done in the world. He’s not only reigning in His Church but also reigning through them.
As the King’s subjects on this earth, a believer is to be concerned to get His will done wherever they go and as far as they are able (Mtw 6:33). And God’s Kingdom rule will manifest itself through His people in various forms such as:
Demon expulsion (God sovereign over evil spirits) - Mtw 12:28
Healing (God sovereign over sickness) - Mtw 4:23
Conversions (God sovereign over men’s lives/sin) - Rom 14:17-18 and the like.
Wherever and whenever darkness is overcome by Light and death is overcome by Life, God’s will is being done and the Kingdom is being established.
When ‘the Kingdom comes’ (that is, when God’s will gets done), a believer is participating in a foretaste of what’s to come in the established visible Kingdom - the first fruits of the future rule of Jesus (Heb 6:5).
5. The Feast of Tabernacles in the Future
Although we look for FoT to be fulfilled in an ‘age’ (because the festival is of seven days’ duration), a specific event must take place before it can. The fulfilment will occur only in the context of the other festivals and not independently of them.
a. Upon Messiah’s return
One of the principles that a first fruit offering taught was that a future harvest is promised (see the notes on ‘The Festival of First Fruits’). The first fruits were just a foretaste of what lay in store at the end of the full ingathering of the harvest. The FoT, the final ingathering, is a celebration of the harvest promised by the first fruit offerings previously celebrated:
i. At the third Jewish festival (First Fruits), a sheaf of
‘the first fruits of the harvest’
was waved before God (Lev 23:10). This festival marked the beginning of the final harvest of barley.
ii. At the fourth Jewish festival (Weeks or Pentecost), the beginning of the wheat harvest, two loaves of bread made from the first fruits of the wheat were offered to God in anticipation of the full harvest of wheat that was to be gathered (Lev 23:17, Ex 34:22).
iii. At the ceremony (the Intermediate Festival) which took place between the fourth and seventh Jewish festivals (Pentecost and the FoT) was a first fruit offering to the Lord in anticipation of the overall harvest that was to be gathered in (Deut 26:2, Ex 23:19).
It was given no specific date and wasn’t among the seven annual festivals that the Lord commanded Israel to celebrate but it nevertheless was a first fruit offering to God.
All three festivals looked forward to and anticipated the final harvest which was to be celebrated at the FoT (Ex 23:16, Lev 23:39, Deut 16:13). Therefore it is to the FoT that we must look to see the fulfilment of the promised harvest in the earlier first fruits ceremonies:
i. The festival of First Fruits
The first fruits of the dead
The festival of first fruits was fulfilled when Christ was raised from the dead on the precise day when the first ripe sheaf of barley was waved in the Temple, so that He was (I Cor 15:20) the
‘...first fruits of those who have fallen asleep’
the first seed that fell into the earth, died and rose again in new life with a new body.
Christ’s resurrection anticipates the final great harvest of all who shall be raised from the dead. I Cor 15:23 tells us that
‘...Christ [is] the first fruits, then at His coming those who belong to Christ’
ii. The festival of Weeks or Pentecost
The festival of weeks was fulfilled when Christ poured out the Holy Spirit in Acts chapter 2 on the precise day when the two loaves of first fruit wheat were waved before the Lord in the Temple.
Pentecost was fulfilled in two specific ways:
1. The first fruit of the Holy Spirit
The outpouring of the Holy Spirit was God giving to believers the first fruit of their final inheritance. All that the Holy Spirit does in us and through us is a foretaste of the Kingdom that is to come and of which we will be a part (the intermediate festival especially so, for the Jews had to bring the first fruit of all the produce of the land, the first taste of all aspects of the harvest. Whatever we taste now is a foretaste of the entirety of the future harvest)
By being participants in the provision of the Holy Spirit now, we’re tasting the first fruit which is a guarantee to us that we will at a later stage receive the promised inheritance, but especially with regard to a new resurrected body.
The Scriptures are plain on this matter. Rom 8:22-23 states that
‘...we...who have the first fruit of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies’
Eph 1:13-14 (see the AV’s translation here, also) that we’re
‘...sealed with the promised Holy Spirit who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it.’
and II Cor 5:1-5, sees Paul, talking about putting off the temporary accommodation in which we live (see Lev 23:43) and the putting on of our permanent one, says
‘...God...has given us the Spirit as a guarantee’
2. The first fruits of the Church
The intermediate feast speaks of all types of men (even the Gentiles) being first fruits to God but all are promises that the final harvest will come.
On the day of Pentecost in Acts chapter 2, God formed His Church. It was the fulfilment of the waving of the two loaves of (wheat) bread containing leaven before the Lord which symbolised both Jews and Gentiles being acceptable to God (Eph 2:11-22 esp v.18,22) on the basis of the work of Jesus Christ, the Offerer.
The early Church was the first fruits to God of the entire Church throughout the ages (James 1:18), all of whom have been sown in the heart of the earth awaiting the close of the age when the final harvest will be gathered in (Mtw 13:36-43 - notice the significance of the harvest being ‘wheat’).
Note that both I Cor 16:15 and Rom 16:5 talk about specific believers as being the first fruits of the local church (that is, they were the first converts when the church was being established).
The FoT will find a fulfilment on a specific day in earth history when, at Christ’s coming, all those with faith in Him will be harvested from the world through the resurrection of the dead or by the transformation of those still alive.
We cannot date the resurrection of the dead as the festival is seven days long and, therefore, refers to an age. But the final resurrection is the event that heralds in the age and is the reason for the rejoicing that will continue throughout it.
Our consideration of the fulfilment of the FoT, therefore, is not geared up to giving us a precise date for Jesus’ return.
As the natural FoT is a celebration of the harvest that has already been brought in, so its fulfilment of the resurrection of the dead is the event necessary to occur before the Messianic age can begin. There cannot be a rejoicing over the final harvest until that harvest has been reaped.
See also point c below.
b. In Heaven
Fulfilled upon Messiah’s return
There are three (perhaps four) similarities between Rev 7:9-10 and the FoT.
The great multitudes have
‘...palm branches in their hands...’
which is the lulav that’s used in the celebrations at the FoT. At the FoT, they proclaim both
‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord’
‘Save us now!/Hoshi’ah na’
while they shake them in the Temple courts. But, here, the great multitudes proclaim with a loud voice
instead of the more usual plea for salvation to be granted them immediately as it is in the earthly celebration of FoT - the reason being that the redeemed of the Lord have received salvation (the Hebrew phrase ‘Hoshi’ah na’ is that which is used to convey the idea of ‘salvation’). They’re acknowledging that it isn’t theirs by self-effort but that it’s a gift from God.
Here, in Heaven, is a celebration of rejoicing such as never was seen before on earth at the FoT (Deut 16:13-15) and in fulfilment of the command to rejoice at the earthly celebration of the festival. It will also echo as a fulfilment of the festival for all God’s redeemed.
In Rev 7:17, it also speaks of Jesus leading His own to
‘...springs of living water...’
which is possibly a reference to one of the ceremonies of the FoT (see John 7:37-39 and section 3bii above). The context of the two verses discussed above should be seen in the light of the passage that it’s in, which runs from 6:1-8:1 and which can be summarised as ‘the opening of the seven seals’.
These seals are a concise clock of the end time which appears to be worked out in more detail later on in the book. The seven seals are the ‘countdown’ to the end of the age:
Seal 1 - Rev 6:1-2 - One is let loose on the earth whose desire is for world dominion.
Seal 2 - Rev 6:3-4 - Peace is withdrawn and war follows...a result of seal 1 (Cp Mtw 24:6-7).
Seal 3 - Rev 6:5-6 - Famine...a result of seals 1 & 2 (Mtw 24:7).
Seal 4 - Rev 6:7-8 - Death...a result of seals 1, 2 & 3.
Seal 5 - Rev 6:9-11 - The martyrs cry out for God to execute vengeance for the shedding of their blood (Mtw 24:9).
Seal 6 - Rev 6:12-17 - The end of the age. The Great Day of the wrath of the Lamb has come. It is the return of the Messiah - Cp Mtw 24:29-31 which parallels this specific passage in five ways. Firstly, Revelation speaks of ‘a great earthquake’ while Matthew says that ‘the powers of the heavens will be shaken’;
Revelation says that ‘the sun became black’ while Matthew says that ‘the sun will be darkened’; Revelation says that ‘the full moon became like blood’ while Matthew that ‘the moon will not give its light’; Revelation records for us that ‘the stars of the sky fell to earth’ and, in Matthew, that ‘the stars will fall from heaven’; and, finally, Revelation speaks of the nations of the earth being terrified by the return of the Lord when it says that they cry out ‘fall on us’ and Matthew tells us that ‘all the tribes of the earth will mourn’.
Before the 7th seal, two things happen. Firstly, there’s the sealing of a saved remnant of natural Israel (Rev 7:1-8 - the 144,000) and notice that Rev 7:1 is paralleled in Mtw 24:31. Secondly, the Gentiles are before the Throne from all ages (Rev 7:9-17 - including the celebration of the FoT in heaven as noted at the beginning of this section). How are we to take the phrase (Rev 7:14)
‘these are they who have come out of the great tribulation’
other than to see that this is the resurrection of the dead now fulfilled? Jesus has returned to judge the world and establish His Kingdom.
Seal 7 - Rev 8:1 - Silence. There is no more to be done. The age is ended.
c. On Earth
Fulfilled according to the legal requirements
What James saw as a process in Acts 15:13-18 continuing throughout the Church age, is also a future event at a specific point in time, when the fallen Tabernacle of David shall be fully restored (Amos 9:11) and David’s greater Son will visibly be seen to be reigning. The threefold concept of ‘Kingdom’ discussed earlier (see section 4a - a king, subjects and a land) will find its fullest expansion when all the earth is subject to Christ.
If God’s Kingdom is not finally, visibly established on earth, then it’s a bit daft bringing in the Kingdom now because it will all be to no avail! Having set up the visible Kingdom over the entire earth, the FoT will continue to be celebrated (Zech 14:16-19).
At the very beginning of these notes we made the point that because the FoT is seven days long, it will find its fulfilment in an ‘age’ and, although we have already seen in section 5a that the age cannot come about until the ‘day’ of the resurrection of the dead has preceded it, primarily the fulfilment of the FoT will refer to the Messianic age when God is King over all the earth.
Zechariah chapters 12-14 are one continuous passage which contains the words ‘On that Day’ sixteen times, speaking of that time in earth’s history when (Zech 14:9)
‘...the Lord will become King over all the earth’
But Zech 14:16-19 is different because it refers to that Messianic age that will follow the visible manifestation and enforcing of the Kingdom (rather, the King’s Law) in all the earth. This passage is significant because rain/water was a theme of the post-exilic celebration (see Section 3bii) and any nation that sends no representative to celebrate the feast annually will receive no rain upon its land for farming.
Egypt, which doesn’t depend upon rain but upon the Nile for the irrigation of its crops, shall be smitten with a plague instead.
Because of this passage in Zechariah, the Jews believe that the Gentiles must come to celebrate the FoT in Jerusalem before their Messiah will come. At the beginning of the 1980’s, a group of Christians came to Jerusalem to bear witness to the fact of the Messiah’s coming. In whatever way the Lord may use this as a voice to the Jewish nation, the passage here doesn’t teach that the Gentiles must come first but, rather, afterwards.
Having brought all things into subjection in all the earth, the FoT will be a celebratory festival of remembrance. What, then, will it be remembering?
i. Living in Temporary Accommodation
Under the Mosaic Law, the Festival was a remembrance that, when the Israelites came out of Egypt, they dwelt in temporary accommodation (Tabernacles) before they finally entered the Promised land of Canaan.
So, too, it shall be remembered that mankind was also forced to live in temporary accommodation (our perishable human bodies) until the time of our entry into the Heavenly land of promise by the resurrection of the dead, receiving our imperishable resurrection bodies (II Cor 5:1-5).
ii. Rejoicing over the Final Ingathering
Deut 16:13-15, Lev 23:39
Under the Mosaic Law, the Festival was a time of great rejoicing when the final harvest had been gathered in.
So, too, when that final harvest of believers has been reaped from the earth, then the Creation will also be set free from its bondage to decay, bringing all things back into God’s original intention (Rom 8:19-23).
Celebrating the festival will be a remembrance and a joyful celebration of the ingathering that God has accomplished in Christ through the resurrection of the dead of all believers.
In broad, general terms, the celebration of the festival in the coming Kingdom can be summarised in the phrase:
‘Living in the fulfilment, we will remember the promise’
and it’s the only festival which anticipates a future earthly fulfilment which comes about once YHWH has brought all things back into subjection to Himself.