- Written by David Brickner
The rule often cited for how to change our clocks for daylight savings time is "spring forward, fall back," but when it comes to God's timetable, as taught through the Jewish Festivals, it is always "fall forward." Of each of the seven Feasts of Israel, the most often overlooked aspect of their rich symbolism is their prophetic significance.
In light of the recent raft of end-time predictions, it is important to keep ourselves rooted in our Biblical hope and not be caught up in speculation. Sukkot, or the Feast of Tabernacles, (celebrated this year on October 12-20) provides just that kind of Biblical grounding. While it does commemorate how God was with us in our wanderings between redemption from Egypt and entering the Promised Land, the holiday is very forward-looking. In fact, none of the holidays is more significantly tied to end-times prophecy than Sukkot, the Last Fruits Harvest Festival as well as the final festival on the calendar year.
Zechariah 14 confirms the prophetic significance of this holiday by placing it at the very center of the coming celebration of God's Kingdom. Through Zechariah we see that it was always God's intention to gather all kinds of people into a relationship with Him. And in Zechariah we discover that of all the festivals God gave to Israel, the Feast of Tabernacles is the only one all the nations will one day be commanded to celebrate (verses 16-20).
But as you read the preceding verses in Zechariah, you see that the celebration only comes on the heels of ghastly conflict. Zechariah describes warfare such as has never been seen before. By comparison, the current conflict in Jerusalem and the surrounding region seems like an ordinary squall on the sea.
Zechariah envisions a hurricane of war that descends upon the nation of Israel and upon all the land. All of the nations are fighting against Israel. A lethal dagger is poised and ready to strike Israel's heart.
In this, her darkest hours, Israel cries out for a deliverer—and He comes! Zechariah tells us that as He comes, as His foot touches the Mount of Olives, an earthquake splits that mountain from east to west. The entire landscape is reconfigured. This serves as the backdrop for the greatest celebration of the Feast of Tabernacles ever.
From All Nations
Imagine an even greater transformation that will occur in order for people from all nations to come and stand shoulder to shoulder, worshiping the Lord as they celebrate this feast. People who had learned to hate and kill one another will be reconciled and united in worshiping the Lord of the Harvest. This is the great vision of the Feast of Tabernacles.
Can you imagine Jews and Palestinians worshiping the Lord together in Jerusalem and celebrating the Feast of Tabernacles? That's part of the kingdom vision. It is God's promise. In the midst of a community where everything was fragile, everything was uncertain, where people never knew what their neighbors might be planning against them—in the midst of all this—the vision of the Feast of Tabernacles captures the hopes and dreams of the people of Israel. And it is our hope as well, when we know Jesus.
Christians differ regarding what the Bible teaches concerning end times. But whether Jesus' return inaugurates a period of a thousand years of peace on the earth, (commonly called the millennium) or whether it ushers us immediately into eternity, complete with a new heaven and a new earth, one thing seems clear. The Feast of Tabernacles plays a major part in future worship. In fact, the Feast of Tabernacles serves as the backdrop for a very powerful scene of end-times worship as recorded in the book of Revelation 7:9-17.
This passage depicts a scene similar to that envisioned by Zechariah. People from all the nations of the earth have gathered for worship, yet they are a select group. They are followers of Jesus who have "come out of the great tribulation." The service of worship pictures five elements of this future Feast of Tabernacles celebration.
- The worshipers come from all the nations and are part of the universal aspect of Tabernacles as represented by the tradition of the sacrifices.
- They are dressed for Sukkot in the white robes of priesthood and minister "day and night in His temple."
- They are waving a Sukkot symbol, the lulav, palm branches in hand.
- They are all proclaiming Sukkot liturgy, a fulfilled version of "hoshiah-na, O Lord, save us."
- Finally, we are promised that the Lamb himself will lead these worshipers in a Sukkot ceremony to "living fountains of waters."
Zechariah gives us the apocalyptic vision of an earthly end-time celebration of the Feast of Tabernacles, while John gives us the vision of a heavenly end-time celebration. Both writers depict worshipers from every tribe and tongue and nation.
In a sense, the Feast of Tabernacles is the archetype of God's ultimate vision for humanity, worshiping Him together as one, both in heaven and on earth.
And, in perhaps the most beautiful of all Feast of Tabernacles imagery, we read:
"And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, 'Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people…'" (Revelation 21:3)
What a beautiful picture of God's presence and provision! The Creator tabernacles with His creation. The One who has sustained us through the wilderness of all our trials and sojourns is The One who will sustain us forever in eternity. In His presence we will have rest and peace and be free at last from sorrow.
That presence and provision are most beautifully symbolized in the book of Revelation as the Water of Life and the Tree of Life, made accessible to all God's people forever. The river even flows down the street, making the way open right into the Tree of Life. The source of that river is God's own throne, which symbolizes His very power, His glory, His being—that feeds all life, as it will forever.
What started in ancient Israel as Sukkot, an autumn festival and a prayer for rain, eventually became a search for the Spirit. This formed the backdrop to Jesus' promise during the great water pouring ceremony on the last day of the Festival in John 7: "If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. He who believes in me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water." (John 7:37b-38). As believers, we have received that living water, but there is more.
Ultimately Sukkot finds its fulfillment in the river of Living Water that flows from the Throne of God throughout all eternity. Every believer, every saint, thrives in and lives by this water. That's the eternal life that the water represents, and that's also what the Feast of Tabernacles looks forward to.
Jesus is our life-giving Spirit and He is is our Tabernacle, our only true home while we are on this earth. But God has prepared a place for us. We will find a room in His tabernacle, to dwell with Him forever. As we live now as sojourners, may we remember that these bodies are frail booths. May we be humbled by the cold and by the rain that might fall, and by everything that the Feast of Tabernacles is supposed to bring to mind. Most of all, may this feast cause us always to "fall forward," to keep our eyes on Jesus and remember that he will be our Tabernacle for all eternity! AMEN.
*adapted from Christ in the Feast of Taberacles by David Brickner, Chapter 7, published by Moody Press (2006).
 see Numbers 29 and Sukkah 55b