Sukkot and the Savior
Sukkot, which occurred earlier this month (October 4-11, 2017), is one of the most important and joyous Jewish festivals and even one that we see Jesus celebrating in John 7, but it is one which few Christians know about and even fewer celebrate. While a week-long celebration of feasting and living in open air booths sounds like a lot of fun, it’s more important to focus on Christ’s activities before and during the Feast of Tabernacles which directly paralleled important ceremonies performed during the celebration and provides us with more prophetic proof of His identity as the Messiah.
At the beginning of John 7, Jesus was back in His hometown of Galilee and conversed with His half-brothers who had suggested that He go to Judea to celebrate Sukkot (Feast of Tabernacles) and try to rebuild His ministry. It’d been nearly a half year since the events of the previous chapter which took place just before Passover when Christ had fed the five thousand Jewish men with the five barley loaves and two small fish. The disciples saw Him walk on water before they returned back to his hometown to celebrate Passover. After He explained that His Body was the Bread and His Blood was the Wine of the Passover many of His disciples left Him believing He was advocating cannibalism. This led to hostility within the Jewish population and especially the Pharisees who felt they now had an excuse to execute Him.
Due to this open opposition, Jesus went to Judea for the Festival in secret after His brothers had already left. The celebrating congregation looked for Jesus and whispered amongst themselves asking where He was before He presented Himself in the Temple and began teaching. Jesus explained to the crowd that He had been sent from Heaven and taught what God had spoken to Him. The people are amazed at His knowledge and begin quarreling amongst themselves as to who He is with some rising up to try to overtake Him. On the last day of the feast Jesus cried out that if any man thirst, that he should come to Him and drink and if he believed on Him, then out of his soul would flow rivers of living water which was the Holy Spirit.
Jesus then went up to the Mount of Olives with Peter, James, and John to rest amongst the Jews sleeping in their Sukkot structures. Moses and Elijah appeared and Jesus became transfigured before the sleepy disciples and in his panic and confusion upon waking, Peter suggested that they build sleeping shelters for them. Early in the morning before the sun had risen, the adulterous woman was presented to Him within the Temple and they were asked what should be done to her. He ignored them and began to write on the floor with His finger while challenging that the one who was without sin should throw the first stone. They begin to leave after feeling convicted and Jesus instructs her to go and sin no more. Before the sun rose He declared that He was the Light of the World.
The miracle of the feeding of the 5,000 Jewish men paralleled the Passover feast which was about to occur. This was further strengthened by the 12 baskets of food (Matthew 14:20, Mark 6:43, Luke 9:17, John 6:13) that remained after everyone ate, which represented the twelve tribes of Israel. Afterwards, the apostles saw Jesus walking on water as though it were dry land which imitated how the Jews crossed the Red Sea but also fulfilled Job 9:8’s declaration that only God can walk on the Sea. Christ referred to Himself as the Bread from Heaven (John 6:33) which the Jews would have connected to the Manna that God fed the Israelites. Despite being sustained by miracles since their departure from Egypt, the Israelites’ hearts were still hard and cold and when presented with difficult to swallow situations they chose to reject God and longed to return to the captivity in Egypt just as the congregation rejected Jesus and chose to return to the shackles of the Pharisees’ Laws.
During the Feast of Tabernacles, Jesus taught in the Temple and He was tested by the listeners, who accused Him of being possessed. Jesus reminded them of how their Faith had flowed after they had seen Him heal the sick man. Just like the water that flowed from the rock of Massah (which means place of testing) after Moses had struck it, their Faith was only stirred when they saw a miracle. The crowd at the Temple argued amongst each other as to who Jesus was just as the Israelites argued what to do after their well began to dry up. At Meribah (the place of arguing), Moses failed to follow God’s instruction to speak to the rock and instead struck it twice causing water to flow from it. In Numbers 20:12 & Deuteronomy 32:51, God informs us that the reason why Moses will not be allowed into the Promised Land is because he failed to believe, act faithfully and sanctify God. Christ recalls this when He challenges the crowd to believe in Him so that Living Waters would flow from within them.
The grand ceremony conducted at the Temple was the morning water libations (Nisuch Ha-Mayim) where the high priest would draw water from the spring of Gohen (Isaiah 12:3), also known as the spring of Salvation, and pour water and wine out onto the alter as a way to ask for blessings of water to quench the thirst of the land, the animals and the people (Isaiah 44:3). The spring of Gohen was believed to be the same water source that was used to anoint Solomon king (1 Kings 1:45). It stood as an expression of the Holy Spirit coming upon those who believed (1 Sam. 16:13), satisfied the thirst of their souls, cleansed their sins and filled them with a new spirit (Ezek. 36:24-27). The water symbolism is doubly important since they were believed to be signs of the coming Messiah. When Christ stood up and loudly proclaimed to those watching the water ceremony that He was the source of the Living Waters, they would undoubtedly see the signs He was drawing to show that He was their Savior.
The name Sukkot means tabernacle or can be roughly translated as booths or tents commemorating the structures that the Israelites lived in while traveling through the wilderness. In John 8, Christ goes up to the Mount of Olives, with Peter, James, & John to rest where many others have built their ceremonial shelters of green limbs. (Matthew 17:1-13, Mark 9:2-13, Juke 9:28-36) His image is radiant as He is transfigured. Moses and Elijah’s presence confounds Peter but Christ’s heavenly glow matches Moses’ shining face (Exodus 34:30) when he comes down Mt. Sinai with the second set of Commandments just as Jesus was creating a new Covenant and Elijah’s fiery ascent into heaven (2 Kings 2:11) predicted Christ who fulfilled all of the remaining Messianic Prophecies before His own ascent.
When Jesus comes back down to continue teaching at the Temple He is presented an adulteress caught in the act just like the Israelites who were caught in idolatry worshiping the golden calf when Moses came down the mountain. Though Moses’ anger boiled over, Jesus sidesteps the sin and sets to writing within the stone floors of the Temple’s treasury with His finger, just like Moses carved the Law on a new set of stone tablets, before He told the adulteress to go and sin no more. The closing of Sukkot came just after this as Christ declared Himself the Light of the World, and that those that followed Him would not walk in darkness but would have the Light of Life. The multistory Sukkot candle lit the entire temple and most of the city, and stood as a symbol and sign of the coming Messiah. Christ fulfilled the prophecies which predicted the Christ would lead Israel as the Light unto all Nations (Isaiah 42:6; 49:6; 60:19-20 & Zechariah 14:6-7).
Christ’s description of Himself as the Bread and Wine of the Passover ceremony helped early and now modern Christians understand the deep symbolism of His fulfilling prophecy which was maintained and remembered through the Passover traditions. The Sukkot rituals of water libations and lighting of torches were important reminders and signs of the coming Savior and Christ’s fulfilling of the Messianic prophecies. By understanding the Jewish symbols and their significance, we can have a deeper appreciation of the significance that by believing in Him and not through our actions, will we receive the Living Waters of the Holy Spirit within us and be able to follow the Light of the World.
Article by Eric Sepulveda, PMT AdministratorReturn to the Newsletter Archives