Why We Celebrate the Feast of TabernaclesPublished on: 15.8.2023
By: David Parsons, ICEJ Vice President & Senior Spokesman
“And it shall come to pass that everyone who is left of all the nations which came against Jerusalem shall go up from year to year to worship the King, the Lord of hosts, and to keep the Feast of Tabernacles.” Zechariah 14:16
The International Christian Embassy Jerusalem is preparing to host thousands of Christians in Israel once more for our joyous and colourful celebration of the Feast of Tabernacles, from 29 September to 6 October 2023. Some may ask why these Christians are coming up to Jerusalem to keep this Feast? After all, isn’t this a “Jewish holiday”?
The answer lies in the universal significance of this ancient biblical festival, which has past, present and future relevance for all nations.
Every biblical holiday given to the Jewish people has these three aspects. Israel was commanded to observe the holiday in the present in order to remember something God has done in the past, and because of some future prophetic purpose hidden within each festival.
Thus, Jews begin Shabbat each week by lighting of two candles, which stand for “Keep” and “Remember”. In so doing, they remember today how God rested on the seventh day of Creation while also looking forward to the Millennial rest promised for the whole earth.
Likewise, Passover and Pentecost look back on the great Exodus from Egypt and the giving of the law at Sinai, while their hidden prophetic purposes were fulfilled in the death and resurrection of Jesus and the birth of the Church fifty days later.
The Feast of Tabernacles, or Succot, is the third great annual pilgrimage festival when the Jewish people gather together in Jerusalem not only to remember God’s provision in the Wilderness but also to look ahead to that promised Messianic age when all nations will flow to Jerusalem to worship the Lord.
A Feast for all People
Tabernacles is unique from the other pilgrimage festivals in that not just Jews but all nations were also invited in ancient times to come up to Jerusalem at this season to worship the Lord alongside the Jewish people. This tradition first arose from the command given to Moses that Israel should sacrifice seventy bulls at Succot, which were offered for the seventy nations descended from Noah (see Numbers 29:12-35).
When Solomon later dedicated his Temple at Succot, he also called on the Lord to hear the prayers of all the foreigners that would come there to pray (2 Chronicles 6:32-33). Thus, Jerusalem and the Temple itself were destined from the start to be a “house of prayer for all nations” (Isaiah 56:7; Matthew 21:13).
A second unique aspect of Succot is that it is a feast of joy. It is a fall harvest feast to be marked with great rejoicing in the ingathering of the fruit of the land. Israel also was called to instruct the nations in the laws of God and the people were to take joy in this task. Thus, Succot also serves as a harbinger of the joyous last-days ingathering of the nations.
The Past: Remembering the God of Provision
The most visible symbol of Succot is the small hut or booth which the Israelites were commanded to dwell in for the eight days of the Feast of Tabernacles (Leviticus 23:33-43). Jewish families across Israel build these booths on their patios and balconies, and decorate them with colourful fruit, ribbons and pictures. Some families eat their meals in the succah and even sleep there at night.
These flimsy booths serve as a reminder to Israel that they once dwelled in makeshift huts during their forty years in the Wilderness. It was a harsh environment and they were totally dependent on the Lord. Yet during that time, God was ever faithful to provide water, manna, quail and everything else needed to sustain them in the barren desert. He even was a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night – a shade from the noon-day sun and then warmth and light in the darkness.
Indeed, He is Jehovah Jireh, the “Lord who Provides”, and He even provided Himself a sacrifice for our salvation (Genesis 22:14). So, there is every reason for Christians to also celebrate the faithful provision of the Lord in our lives at Succot.
The Present: Celebrating His Presence Today
Succot also marks the ingathering of the harvest at the end of the summer season, providing sustenance for the coming winter. This includes harvesting the ripened dates, grapes, figs, olives and pomegranates – among the seven species native to the Land. There also is at present a great harvest of souls from every corner of the world into the Kingdom of God. This too gives us reason to celebrate, as Christians from around the globe gather to worship the Lord together in Jerusalem at Succot.
It may surprise some, but Jesus also celebrated the Feast of Tabernacles. The Book of John, in chapter 7, tells us that one year the disciples went up to Jerusalem for Succot but Jesus stayed behind and then came up secretly. Then on the last “great day of the feast”, he stood in the Temple courts and cried out: “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 7:37-38)
So, Succot is a time for Christians to rejoice in the abiding presence of the Holy Spirit in our earthen vessels.
The Future: Entering the Joy of the Lord
The prophet Zechariah foretells of a time when all nations will ascend to Jerusalem from year to year to “worship the King, the Lord of hosts, and to keep the Feast of Tabernacles” (Zechariah 14:16). Thus, we keep Succot now because of that future prophetic purpose hidden in this unique festival which will soon be revealed – and it has to do with the second coming of the Lord.
Throughout the Messianic Age, the entire world will celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles because it will mark the return of Jesus to the earth. For a thousand years, we will look back on the day of his appearing to take up the throne of David in Jerusalem and to judge the world in righteousness and peace.
At that time all nations will be required to join in this yearly gathering, but for now it is voluntary. Yet when Christians flock to Jerusalem now to celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles, it serves as a powerful statement of faith that we believe that day is coming when the earth will finally be at rest in Messiah, the King of Israel.
For the past forty-three years, thousands of Christians from all over the world have come up to Jerusalem each fall to celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles, sponsored by the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem. They come with much expectancy to take part in a dynamic worship experience, knowing the One we worship will soon be sitting on His throne in this great city. Indeed, celebrating Succot now gives us a foretaste of the joy of the age to come.
There is still time to join us either in person or online for the Feast of Tabernacles 2023! To register or find out more, please visit: feast.icej.org