Jesus returns to Jerusalem for the third time in the Gospel of John, this time for the Feast of Tabernacles (7:2) and the Feast of Dedication (10:22). He spends a significant time in Jerusalem and there is increased opposition to Jesus from the Jews in the city. This will culminate in John 11:57 when the Pharisees decide that they must arrest and execute Jesus.
The Feast of Tabernacles (Sukkot) is a week long celebration of the Wilderness period (usually in late September or October, 15-21 Tishri, see Lev 23:34). In A. D. 32, the feast was celebrated Sept 10-17, the Feast of Dedication is two months later. Tabernacles is an 8 day pilgrimage in Sept / Oct at the end of the grape harvest, marked by prayers for rain. By the first century, there were daily processions from the pool of Siloam to the temple to pour out libations on the altar. The courts of the temple were lit by huge torches, thus we have a combination of the themes of water and light that Jesus uses for the teaching sections.
The Feast of Tabernacles celebrated the time Israel spent in the wilderness but also their entry into the land of Canaan. Just as Passover celebrated the birth of the nation in the Exodus, Tabernacles celebrated the nation’s pristine years in the wilderness, where they learned the name of God, received his Law, where they rebelled against him but also experienced his grace and forgiveness. The wilderness period culminated in the Conquest, Joshua’s entry into the Land of Canaan and the expulsion of the Canaanites from the Land promised to Abraham and his descendants.
In the prophets, the Exile was described as a long time in the wilderness. Israel was once again facing the punishment of God because of their covenant unfaithfulness. The Feast of Tabernacles naturally stirred the nation’s hope for a new Joshua who would begin another Conquest of the Land promised to Abraham. That Jesus is the same name as Joshua ought not be ignored, since Jesus will draw attention to himself as a messianic figure during a Feast dedicated to a remembrance of that first Joshua and the end of the exile in the wilderness. Perhaps Jesus is the one that will end the long Exile of Israel, now under Roman rule.
Just as he did in the feeding of the 5000, Jesus plays on the imagery of Israel in the wilderness in the feast of Tabernacles in order to draw attention to himself as the one who leads Israel out of the wilderness at the end of her long Exile.
3 thoughts on “John 7 – Jesus and the Feast of Tabernacles”
The Old Testament should not be disconnected from the New Testament. The purpose of so many of the stories and experiences of Israel in the Old Testament is to point to the New Testament and the coming of the Messiah. John understands this connection and uses it to display the accuracy of Jesus as the prophesized Messiah. In John 7 we find Jesus back In Jerusalem to celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles. This feast “celebrated the nation’s pristine years in the wilderness, where they learned the name of God, received his Law, where they rebelled against him but also experienced his grace and forgiveness” (Long, para. 3). Celebrating this wilderness experience often sparked the hope and longing for the coming Messiah who might expel the Romans from Israel, similar to the Canaanites being expelled from the Promise Land (Exod. 23:33). Many of the Jews were oblivious to the fact that Messiah had already come and that His Kingdom was not of this world nor political (John 18:36). The Feast of Tabernacles was also celebrated by the “daily solemn outpouring of water” (Kostenberger, p. 91). This is significant because we find symbolism when Jesus chooses to share on the last day of the festival that He can quench those who are spiritually thirsty with the Holy Spirit (John 7:37-39). Just as they traditionally poured out water onto the altar, Jesus would pour out His Spirit onto those who believe in Him. This feast is a symbol of what has happened but also of what is to come. John makes this clear in his Gospel by presenting Christ as the one who will lead us out of the wilderness, that is, out of this sinful world, to the promised land, His Kingdom.
I have been really enjoying studying and learning about the Feast of Tabernacles this semester and one piece of information I found super eye opening that P Long stated in the blog was, “Tabernacles celebrated the nation’s pristine years in the wilderness, where they learned the name of God, received his Law, where they rebelled against him but also experienced his grace and forgiveness.” I feel like the more I examine this through reading this blog, scripture on it, and hearing about it in class, it seems to have been a time where they reflected and evaluated themselves; to be intentional at looking at their own hearts and examining where they stood spiritually with their relationship with God. The keywords used in that statement are, Learned, Received, Where, and But. They learned who God truly was; not just every Sunday hearing a church sermon or a Sunday school lesson, but deeply and intentionally learning who he was by studying his word, being in communion with him through devoted prayer, mediation, silence, fasting, etc. They received his commands, needs, and his laws. They accepted the laws with not just their minds, but their hearts by applying the teachings to their lives. This was a time where they abandoned the Lord, walked away, but got to see God’s grace come alive and transform them from the inside out. I truly believe the Feast of Tabernacles was a time of restoration. A time to sit, evaluate their hearts, and to allow God to redeem them from the inside out.
The different Jewish Feasts are really interesting. The Feast of Tabernacles is about the time spent in the Wilderness and praying for rain to come. Jesus connects it to Himself by the water they pray for and the light they need. Jesus doesn’t mean He is the rain water coming from the sky they were praying for. He means He is the living water they need and will have if they believe in Him. It’s like when He was talking to the women at the well and He said something along the lines of “I have water to stop you from being thirsty.” He doesn’t mean physically thirsty but spiritually thirsty because of her sin. With Jesus we can stop giving in to our sin and turn away from it because we have Jesus. Jesus is also the light of the world because He is the Son of God. He is the Light at the end of the tunnel when going through something dark and terrible. He is always with us, even at the end. He will never go away. When going through a tunnel, even when it seems to last forever, you know that you will get out at some point and Jesus is Who is at the end waiting.