The Grand Finale

This is part of a series of essays I wrote in 2018 to explain the Biblical Appointed Times (mo'adim) to my family members. If you'd like to read the other papers in this series, you can find them linked here:

  1. Happy New Year! (four months early)
  2. Shabbat shalom!
  3. Passover & Unleavened Bread
  4. Pentecost
  5. The Day of Loud Noise
  6. The Day of Atonement
  7. The Grand Finale
  8. That Jewish Christmas?

Merry Christmas!

“In September?” you ask. Yes, in September. Some of you may remember that back in college, I merged the nativity accounts in Matthew and Luke to produce a chronological account of Jesus' birth. During that research, I came across an article presenting the idea that Jesus was born on the first day of the Feast of Tabernacles (Tishrei 15).1 And that just so happens to be the next feast on our list of mo'adim. Actually, this paper will cover both the Feast of Tabernacles (called Sukkot in Hebrew) and the Last Great Day. They blend together the same way that Passover, the Feast of Unleavened Bread, and the Day of Firstfruits do.

As you may know, I am busy preparing to go on a weeklong camping trip in Missouri to celebrate Sukkot. If you're curious, you can read about it here. This will be my first time that I can celebrate the entire week and not just a couple of days. I'm more than a little excited. Sukkot is the biggest party of the year, and for good reason. It has both great historic significance and future impact.

The first reason for celebrating this feast is to mark the completion of the late-summer harvest. From this point until the spring, all the produce of the land has been brought in. In fact, Exodus 23:16 refers to this holiday as the Feast of Harvest and the Feast of Ingathering. These two names mean the same thing, and they do point to something very exciting in redemptive history. More on that later.

In Leviticus 23, we are given an additional purpose for the feast: “All native Israelites2 shall dwell in booths, that 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 Yehovah your God.” What is a booth, anyway? A booth (or tabernacle) is another name for a tent. It's more specifically a style of tent that our ancestors used, but I don't think the style of structure is as important as the meaning behind it. This weeklong feast is all about remembering how God led us through the wilderness to bring us to the Promised Land.

Just five days prior, the high priest anointed the Holy of Holies and exiled the scapegoat, effectively removing Israel's sins from before the eyes of God. With a renewed national conscience, all the children of Israel were to travel to Jerusalem to celebrate a great feast. In case you're curious, the Torah even explains how to fund this feast. In Deuteronomy 14:22-27, God tells us to devote a tithe (ten percent) of our income specifically for the feasts. Given the agrarian culture of Israel and how the feasts would happen around times of harvest, this was much easier to do back then than it is now. They didn't tithe money because money wasn't the basis of their economy. They would bring in the produce and set aside ten percent of it to bring to Jerusalem. God invited them to indulge in anything their hearts desired—provided it wasn't sinful, of course. (Note that they had another tithe to support the Levites and priests, and a third to support the poor in their community.3) Sukkot is all about recognizing the abundant generosity of God in giving us all good things (James 1:17).

So to recap, this feast is (1) to celebrate the completion of the harvest, (2) to remember God's provision as he led our ancestors through the wilderness in tents, and (3) to party as one giant family of God's children. But this is where we leave the pages of ancient history and move a little closer to home. What does Sukkot have to do with Jesus? Quite a lot, in fact.

As I mentioned at the beginning of this letter, Jesus was most likely born on the first day of this week-long celebration. I won't bother repeating all the information in the article I cited, but it does give a whole new meaning to John 1:14, “And the word became flesh and tabernacled among us.” Yup, the word “dwelt” literally refers to living in a tent. (There are many other fascinating things that I could discuss that aren't particularly germane to the point, so I'll ignore those, at least for this paper. They might come up again when we talk about Hanukkah.)

I've said to this point that the spring feasts were fulfilled at the first coming of Christ, and the fall feasts will be fulfilled at his return. But in the case of Tabernacles, that's only partly true. Jesus' entire life was an intermediate fulfillment of this feast and a promise of a greater reality at his return.

To explain the full picture of the beauty of this weeklong festival, I'll share the words of a Jewish sage named Rabbi Yehiel Mikhal of Zlotchov. Now I want to issue a couple of caveats. First, I only found this story while I was looking up sources for this letter. Second, I'm not endorsing anything else this rabbi might have written or said. I found his analogy inspiring, and it aligns perfectly with Scripture, but I can't vouch for anything else he might've taught or said. You can read the entire parable here.

“On Rosh HaShanah4 we pray that G-d be proclaimed King over the entire world, that the Sacred Marriage, which will bring unity to the world, shall come about immediately. On Yom Kippur we are transported to the Holy Temple, the nuptial canopy; the High Priest proclaims everyone purified, we hear the triumphant trumpet-shofar of the Almighty, we cry out: ‘Hear Oh Israel, the Lord our G-d, The Lord is One, Blessed be the Name of His glorious Kingdom forever, the Lord (of Israel) he is G-d (of the world).’5

“But alas, this is all a dream—a glorious dream—but not yet a reality. And so immediately after we awaken from the dream, with the blast of the shofar, we must build our modest sukkah,6 symbol of the exile of the Divine Presence, move into that sukkah with our entire family, and pray that the ‘Merciful One re-establish for us the fallen tabernacle of King David’ and transform our small sukkah into the Eternal Temple; at that time all nations will flock to attend the Sacred Marriage of the Divine and the redemption of all humanity.”

The Feast of Tabernacles is all about celebrating the marriage between God and his people. We call this the “new covenant”, and it will restore the nation of Israel back under the canopy of blessings of a restored relationship with her God. The book of Revelation calls this the Marriage Supper of the Lamb (Revelation 19:6-10).

To fully understand this, we must look at the covenants in Scripture. As I talked about in my fourth paper on Pentecost, we are still in the engagement period. At the Last Supper, Jesus walked through the rituals of a traditional Jewish proposal, including offering a cup of wine. I must confess that this is a subject I'm still trying to understand, so I will try to be careful in what I say. Revelation 21 says that the New Jerusalem is the Bride of the Lamb, and two chapters earlier, it merely talks about us as being “invited” to the wedding. But elsewhere we as believers are called the Bride of Christ. Exactly who is married to Christ is a bit of a mystery to me at this point, although I'm confident the reality will be greater and more glorious than anything we could imagine. That aside, the New Covenant is between us and God. It is the goal of the resurrection, when our mortal bodies will be transformed into spiritual bodies that will no longer struggle with sin. I am much more confident in that.7

Let us quickly recap the mo'adim from beginning to end before moving any further.

  1. Passover. A reminder of our freedom from the bondage of slavery to sin accomplished in the death of Jesus.
  2. Unleavened Bread. A reminder to remove the sin and traditions from our lives and start over with the perfect teachings of the Bible.
  3. Firstfruits. A reminder of the resurrection of Christ, and a promise of our own, future resurrection.
  4. Pentecost. A reminder of God giving the Torah to Israel and writing it on the hearts of the early Christians through the holy spirit. We are still waiting for the final outpouring of the Holy Spirit promised in Joel 2, when all of us will be anointed with the same power seen in Jesus and given to the apostles.
  5. Trumpets. A promise of the resurrection of the dead, when the saints sleeping in the earth and those of us still alive will be caught up together to meet Jesus in the air. We will be given new bodies impervious to sin and death.
  6. Atonement. Shortly after we are caught up, Jesus will anoint the temple of God in heaven so all traces of our sin will be removed from his sight, and we can have full access to God our Father forever.
  7. Tabernacles. The Wedding Supper of the Lamb, when the New Covenant will be enacted and we will forever united in marriage to our God. In the Messianic Kingdom, the entire world will be required to celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles in Jerusalem every single year (Zechariah 14:16-19).

But there is still one more day of great significance we must discuss. The Feast of Tabernacles is seven days long, but there is an eighth day at the end which is also a High Sabbath. This is known as the Last Great Day, and it marks the end of the 1,000-year reign of Christ and the beginning of the New Heavens and Earth. The Rapture of the saints taking place on Yom Teruah is just a sneak preview of the Last Great Day, when everyone who has ever lived will be resurrected at once to stand before the Judgment Seat of Christ. Jesus spoke of it in John 12:48, and Jude (Jesus' brother) also talked about it in reference to the judgment of the wicked angels in Genesis 6:4 (Jude 6).8

Have you ever asked yourself or your pastor, “What about people who live and die and never hear the Gospel? How is it fair that they be judged for not believing something they never knew about?” Theologians for centuries have debated this question, with some swinging to the left with Universalism and saying that nobody is judged, while others swing to the right with Calvinism and say God specifically chooses certain people to be saved at the expense of everyone else. (I used to be in the latter camp.) That question would be answered quite simply with a better understanding of the Last Great Day.9

And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done. And the sea gave up the dead who were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them, and they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done. Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. And if anyone's name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.
—Revelation 20:12-15

In God's justice, he will only judge people according to what they knew. Jews will be held to a greater standard because they were entrusted with the Torah (Romans 3:1-20), but everyone old enough to make moral choices has had to deal with his conscience.

Therefore you have no excuse, O man, every one of you who judges. For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things [as described in chapter 1]. We know that the judgment of God rightly falls on those who practice such things. Do you suppose, O man—you who judge those who practice such things and yet do them yourself—that you will escape the judgment of God? Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God's kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God's righteous judgment will be revealed.

He will render to each one according to his works: to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury. There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek, but glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek. For God shows no partiality.

For all who have sinned without the law will also perish without the law, and all who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law. For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified. For when gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus.
—Romans 2:1-16

Jesus also spoke of this day in Matthew 12:41-42, when he said that the Queen of Sheba and the repentant Assyrians in Nineveh would rise up to condemn the wicked Jews of Jesus' day who blasphemed the Father by claiming Jesus' miracles came through Satan and not the Holy Spirit.

During Jesus' lifetime, there was a practice in Judaism during the entire week of Sukkot called the Water Libation Ceremony.10 It isn't prescribed in the Bible, but it does have some important teaching points for us. The priest would take a basin of water from the Pool of Siloam and pour it onto the altar in the temple. This was the high point of each night, full of music, singing, dancing, acrobatics, and more. It was during this portion of the feast, on the Last Great Day, that Jesus stood up and shouted his greatest proclamation,

If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, “Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water!”
—John 7:37-38

He had just been anointed the High Priest of the New Covenant, and now on the Last Great Day of Sukkot, he declared himself as the source of living [flowing] water. John's commentary on this statement says that he was speaking of the outpouring the Holy Spirit upon those who trust in him.

Whether we are part of the first resurrection (Yom Teruah) or the second (the Last Great Day), we will not sleep in the ground forever. Jesus is the source of living waters—holy spirit—so we will either be raised up to rule with him in his kingdom,11 or we will be raised up to be judged according to our works.

Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the son of God, and those who hear will live. For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the son also to have life in himself. And he has given him authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of Man. Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment.
—John 5:25-29

There is one, final thing to note before I close this out. Another name for the Feast of Tabernacles is the Feast of Ingathering. Ingathering just means “harvest”. Just as this feast traditionally celebrated the completion of the harvest in Israel, it also celebrates the harvest of the saints. There are many broken, hurting, and helpless people in this world who are desperate for hope. It may be that you and I have been called to bring in the harvest. If you feel God tugging on your heart to minister to someone in this lost and dying world, do not hesitate. “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest” (Matthew 9:37-38).

May the grace of God our Father be with you in Jesus the Messiah.

Seth שת

  2. Elsewhere, the Torah says that the law is the same for foreigners as well. This statement doesn't exclude foreigners (gentiles) from participating, but it does require all of Israel to do it. As Christians, we are being grafted into Israel, so we ought to participate as well.
  4. This is another name in Judaism for Yom Teruah, the Day of Trumpets.
  5. This is the Shema, the greatest commandment in Scripture. Jesus himself said so in Mark 12:29-30. It comes from Deuteronomy 6:4-5. “Listen, Israel, Yehovah is our God, Yehovah is one. And you shall love Yehovah your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your muchness [everything].”
  6. A sukkah is a kind of tent traditionally built with a box frame. The roof is covered and decorated with leafy branches so the sky may still be seen, and the walls may be covered and decorated with certain plants. As with anything in Judaism, there is a lot of symbolism that has come about around the particulars of building a sukkah that go beyond the topic of this paper.
  7. For my regular readers (hahaha), you may wonder why I am crossing terms like “Christ” and “God” so flexibly. This is primarily because I wanted to avoid a discussion such a deep subject when I wrote this. Both because of personal circumstances (my employment at Answers in Genesis) and wanting to keep the focus on learning about the holy days, I opted to keep Christology out of these papers. Baby steps.
  8. I was going to talk a little more about this angelic rebellion in the last paper, but my editor thought it was too esoteric to be worth including. There is a lot of Jewish mythology centered around this topic, and it seems that the New Testament authors believed at least some of it to be true. The largest source of material on it is the book of Enoch. It isn't considered Scripture by most Jews or Christians, so I've stayed away from talking about it, but because Jude talks about the Last Great Day in reference to the fallen angels, I thought it was worth mentioning.
  9. Most of my information for this day comes from this paper by UCG. I can't, in full confidence, endorse all the material of the United Church of God, but I think this article is spot-on. I reproduced all the important bits for this paper.
  10. You can read more about this fascinating ritual here.
  11. We didn't address this in this paper, but that is the role of those of us who are part of the first resurrection.
  12. [text]


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