How does Christ Jesus fulfill the Feast of Tabernacles? (Feasts, #9)

The Feast of Tabernacles. The seventh major festival of the Hebrew calendar is Tabernacles which is a seven-day long feast beginning on the fifteenth day of Tishri (Lev 23:34-43). The Hebrew word translated as “Tabernacles” comes from sukkāh (סֻכָּה) which simply means “thicket” or “hut.”[1] Concerning this word, Harris, Archer, and Waltke state that “most commonly, it is used in connection with the Feast of Tabernacles.”[2] The most prominent feature of this celebration was the construction of huts or booths, hence why the feast was called The Feast of Tabernacles. This festival was also the third and final yearly festival that all Jewish males had to attend in Jerusalem (Deut. 16:16).

The Feast of Tabernacles in the Old Testament. This particular feast was celebrated for seven days (Lev. 23:40). Furthermore, the first day of the festival and the day after the feast (i.e. the eighth day) were special Sabbaths (Lev. 23:39), “marking not only the climax of the religious year but symbolizing the rest of the believer in his God (Lev. 23:39).”[3] The Feast of Tabernacles was to be a joyous celebration (Lev. 23:40) occurring immediately after the olive and grape harvests in the land of Israel. After the Israelites had gathered in the fruit of these harvests, they would construct huts from “the fruit of splendid trees, branches of palm trees and boughs of leafy trees and willows of the brook” (Lev. 23:39-40) to inhabit for the duration of the feast (Lev. 23:42). In addition to the construction of ‘foliage’ huts, Israel was commanded to offer extensive sacrifices throughout the feast:

The feast was one of the most expensive and lavish of the year, celebrated in gratitude for the people’s freedom from slavery. In the temple the offering for the first day was thirteen bulls, two rams and fourteen sheep. Each day thereafter the number of bulls was reduced by one. The total offering was 71 bulls, 15 rams, 105 lambs and 8 goats. By eating God’s food in a state of purity the people enjoyed real fellowship with their God.[4]

Leviticus 23:42-43 describes the purpose of this festival: “You shall dwell in booths for seven days. All native Israelites shall dwell in booths, 43that your generations may know that I made the people of Israel dwell in booths when I brought them out of the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God.” The festival commemorated Yahweh’s gracious provision not only during the wilderness wanderings but also the recent harvests.

Christ: the Tabernacle of God. The Apostle John presents the Lord Jesus as the ultimate Tabernacle of God. On two occasions, he describes the God-Man using ‘tabernacle’ language. In John 1:14, we learn that “the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us.” Interestingly, the word (eskenōsen) John uses for “dwelt” is derived from the Greek verb (skēnoō) which is related to the noun skēnos meaning “tent.”[5] Blake White comments, “John uses ‘dwelt’ (from skēnoō – ‘tabernacled’) to show that God now dwells with his people through Jesus, the true temple.”[6] Revelation 21:3 states that “the tabernacle of God is among men, and He shall dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself shall be among them” (NASB) [emphasis mine]. In effect, the eschatological fulfillment of the Feast of Tabernacles was inaugurated at Christ’s incarnation (John 1:14) and will be consummated at His Second Coming when He ushers in the new heaven and the new earth (Rev. 21:3-4).[7]

Truly, the Old Testament Tabernacle typified Christ’s Person and work. Just as the Tabernacle was the only means of entering into Yahweh’s blessed presence, it is only through Jesus Christ that the elect have “access in one Spirit to the Father” (Eph. 2:18). Even the sacred furniture of the Tabernacle prefigured the Lord Jesus. For instance, the brazen altar foreshadowed His once-for-all-time sacrifice “to put away sin” (Heb. 9:26-28), and the altar of incense speaks of Christ’s current high priestly ministry of intercession on behalf of His New Covenant people (Heb. 4:15). Even the veil separating the Holy of Holies from the Holy Place prefigured the Lord Jesus. The writer to the Hebrews declares that the Lord Jesus opened for His people “the new and living way” into God’s presence “through the curtain, that is, through His flesh” (Heb. 10:20). Lastly, the Ark of the Covenant pictured both Christ’s propitiatory work and the immanent presence of God in Christ. The God-Man Jesus Christ is the One and only mediator “between God and men” (1 Tim. 2:5).

John also refers to Christ as a tabernacle/temple in such passages as Revelation 21:22 and John 2:19-21. Referring to the New Jerusalem, Revelation 21:22 states: “And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb.” In John 2:19-21, Jesus “speaking about the temple of His body” tells the Jews: “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” Christ likewise fulfills Zechariah 6:12-13, “which repeats that the messianic ‘branch…will build the temple of the LORD’, and then says he ‘will…rule on His throne’ and ‘be a priest’.”[8] Moreover, the beloved disciple presents Christ as the antitype of two particular pieces of Tabernacle/Temple furniture. For instance, the golden table of showbread spoke of Christ as the “bread of life” (John 6:48), “the living bread that came down from heaven” (John 6:51), and the sacred lampstand typified Christ as “the light of the world” (John 8:12).

Just as the Old Covenant temples were described as sanctuaries from which flowed streams of ‘living water,’ the Lord Jesus Christ is the source of ‘living water’ in the New Covenant. Many New Testament verses verify this particular truth. In His exchange with the Samaritan woman, Jesus said: “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” Revelation 7:17 states that “the Lamb,” that is Christ, is the One who guides God’s people “to springs of living water.” In John 7:37-39, it is written: “On the last day of the feast, the great day [i.e. the Feast of Tabernacles], Jesus stood up and cried out, ‘If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. 38Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’39Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.” [emphasis mine]. McFall astutely notes:

On the last day of the Feast of Tabernacles, a priest would draw water from the pool of Siloam and carry it in a solemn procession to the altar where, it is suggested, he poured it out. This ritual apparently lies behind Jesus’ statement that if anyone would come after him, that person would experience streams of living water flowing from within (John 7:37-39), a reference to the promised Holy Spirit (John 14:16-17; 16:7).[9]

Observe also that Christ “alludes to the water flowing from Ezekiel’s end-time temple in John 7:38 and interprets it of himself and of the Spirit in relation to believers, a passage that further develops the ‘living water’ theme of John 4.”[10] Jesus’ own testimony is that He “fulfilled the image of Ezekiel foretold in chapter 47 of his prophecy, when he spoke of water flowing from the sanctuary.”[11] Note that “if Jesus is the true temple of God, he alone gives us the ‘living water’ which takes away the thirst of human sin and longing.”[12] The Son of God dispensed His ‘living water,’ when He baptized His followers with the Holy Spirit at the Pentecost event, thereby forming the Church. John 7:38 also speaks of the abiding presence of the Holy Spirit in the life of a believer throughout the New Covenant age (John 7:37-39; cf. 1 Cor. 6:19; Eph. 2:19-22).


Footnotes:

[1]HALOT, 255.

[2]Harris, Archer, and Waltke, Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, 624.

[3]Ibid.

[4]McFall, “Sacred Meals,” 753.

[5]Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, ed. Frederick William Danker, trans. William F. Arndt and F. Wilbur Gingrich, 3rd ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 929.

[6]White, Newness of the New Covenant, 30.

[7]In contradistinction to this view, Classical Dispensationalists typically understand the Feast of Tabernacles to be ultimately fulfilled in a literal, earthly, premillennial kingdom. For example, Unger concludes, “The feast of Booths is thus prophetic of Israel’s millennial rest.” Unger, New Unger’s Bible Dictionary, 423. A literal interpretation of Zechariah 14:16-21 undergirds the Classical Dispensational understanding. That being said, New Covenant Theology (NCT) differs from this interpretation in that it teaches that the New Testament must have interpretive priority over the Old Testament due to the former being the final revelation of God. In short, NCT understands Zechariah to be prophesying about future New Covenant realities using Old Covenant terminology, terminology familiar to his original ‘Old Covenant’ audience. Understood in this manner, Zechariah 14:16-21 is symbolically prophesying of Christ’s incarnation (John 1:14), the abiding presence of the Holy Spirit in the life of a believer throughout the New Covenant age (John 7:37-39; cf. 1 Cor. 6:19; Eph. 2:19-22), and the future new heaven and new earth (Rev. 21:3-4). Furthermore, Revelation 20 is the only New Testament passage that addresses the concept of the millennium, and there is no ‘tabernacle ‘language in the entire chapter. There is, however, ‘tabernacle’ language within Revelation 21, a passage which details the new heaven and new earth (Rev 21:3-4).

[8]Gregory K. Beale, The Temple and the Church’s Mission: A Biblical Theology of the Dwelling Place of God (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2004), 194, 218.

[9]McFall, “Sacred Meals,” 753.

[10]Beale, Temple and the Church’s Mission, 345.

[11]Kim Riddlebarger, A Case for Amillennialism: Understanding the End Times. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Publishing Group, 2007), 79-80.

[12]Ibid., 80.

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