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    Images of the Savior (33 – His Teaching at the Feast of Tabernacles)

    And on the last great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out, saying, “If anyone thirst, let him come to me and drink!” – John 7:37
    Then Jesus spoke to them again, saying, “I am the Light of the World: he who follows me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life.” – John 8:12

    Of all the gospel-blessings and benefits that were given to Israel in ancient times, so as to distinguish them from all the other nations of the world as the people upon whom God had set his special, elective love, one of the greatest was the joyful feasts and celebrations that it was enjoined upon them to observe, coming up to Jerusalem three times a year for a solemn and joy-filled assembly. These feasts were a bountiful and merciful gift of God both in that they contained within the manner of their observance a rich instruction of things pertaining to the coming of Christ, and the redemptive blessings that he should provide for his people; and also, in that they provided a foretaste, as it were, of these blessings themselves, as all the people of God were enabled therein to cast off the cares of this cursed world, for a time, and rejoice together in unity before the God of their salvation. Will not the consummation of all things be an anti-type of these joyful feasts, in which all God's people from every nation of the world rejoices together in the presence of Christ their Savior, and feasts upon the rich banquet that their heavenly Father has provided for them (see Isaiah 25:6-12)? And it is a further point that the most joyful feast, and one of the most richly instructive in gospel truths, was the last great feast of the year, that of Tabernacles. As we turn to our next account, therefore, we must first labor to understand the symbolism of this feast, and how Christ intimates that it is fulfilled in him; and then to notice in brief the basic heads of the message that he was proclaiming at this feast.

    When we read of the institution of this feast in Leviticus 23:24-44, we immediately notice several features which set it apart from the other feasts, as follows:

    First, its timing as the last great feast of the year, and specifically, as the feast which took place immediately after the Day of Atonement, is significant. After the most solemn day of the year, in which Israel was to afflict herself, mourn for her sins, and offer a sacrifice of blood for those sins (Leviticus 23:27), the Jews then celebrated the most joyful feast of the year. This feast was a celebration of the ingathering of the harvest of grapes and olives, and so it is sometimes called the Feast of Ingathering (Exodus 23:16). But this ingathering of the harvest is only a small part of the significance of the celebration – for ultimately, the feast looked ahead to the ingathering of God’s people from all the nations, and their joyful celebration together in God’s presence (see Zechariah 14:16-21). The basic meaning of the feast, then, is to remember that, after the effective sacrifice of the Day of Atonement (fulfilled by Christ on the cross), there would follow the bountiful fruits of this sacrifice. Christ’s atonement would have the effects of bringing people from all over the world to rejoice in the presence of God. That is the essence of what the Feast of Tabernacles looked forward to.
    Second, this truth is also fleshed out by the tabernacles, or booths in which the Jews were supposed to live during the days of the feast. These booths looked backward to when God first redeemed his people from Egypt, so that they had to put up crude booths for shelter (Leviticus 23:42-43); but also, they looked ahead to when God would “tabernacle” among his people, which he did in fact when he took upon himself human flesh, and dwelt in their midst (John 1:14); and even as the climax of redemptive history was the Son of God's taking on human flesh to tabernacle among his people, and ultimately to give his life for them; so also the culmination of redemptive history will be when he comes again, to the thunderous pronouncement, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he shall dwell with them, and they shall be his people and he shall be God with them, their God!”. So in sum, the Feast of Tabernacles, coming at the end of the year, and immediately after the Day of Atonement, looked ahead to the day in which the final fruits of Christ’s great atonement would be enjoyed – and these fruits would be the gathering of a people from every nation to rejoice in the very presence of God (taken and expanded from Studies in John, Lesson 7).

    Third, this feast is different from the others by virtue of the water-pouring ceremony, which marked the climax of the celebration on the last great day of the feast, so that it was said among the ancient Jews, "he that never saw the rejoicing of the place of drawing of water, never saw any rejoicing in his life'' (Misn. Succa, c. 5. sect. 1, 4, cited in John Gill's commentary on John 7:37). In this joyful ceremony, water was drawn from the pool of Siloam (which means “sent,” and corresponds to the ancient messianic term “Shiloh”, see Genesis 49:10) and taken in a golden vessel to the foot of the altar, where it was poured out. The Jews believed that this was done in fulfillment of Isaiah 12:3, “With joy you shall draw water out of the wells of salvation”; and furthermore, that it was representative of the life-giving Spirit who would be poured out upon all flesh for salvation, in the days of the Messiah. Hence, when Jesus stood up on this notable occasion and cried out for all who thirst to come to him and drink, promising to flood them with the Holy Spirit of life (John 7:37-39), he was claiming that he was “Shiloh,” the Messiah from whom salvation would flow, and from whom the life-giving Spirit would proceed, bringing joy to all who had been thirsty and dry.

    And fourth, this feast was notable for its temple-lighting ceremony, in which four golden candelabras of magnificent height and brightness were lighted in the temple courtyard, so that from the temple a great light flooded the darkness round about, and all Jerusalem was enabled thereby to walk in light. This ceremony was likewise done in anticipation of the day of the Messiah, when would be fulfilled that promise of God to the Christ, in Isaiah 42:6-7: “I will give you as a covenant for the people, a light for the nations, to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness”. And also Isaiah 9:2: “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined”. Hence, when Jesus cried out a little later, in conjunction with this feast, “I am the light of the world,” he was manifestly holding himself forth as the fulfillment of this ceremony, and hence, the Messiah who would bring to the people the light of life. So then, as we look to the nature of this feast and the sayings of Jesus during the course of its celebration, we see him as a wondrous fulfillment of its imagery, in these four notable ways: he was the one who would gather in the fruits of God's full harvest from all the nations, in consequence of his bloody atonement for them on the cross, which would be a cause for great joy and feasting; he was the one who would tabernacle among his people, and so bring to them God's presence, the heart of the covenant promises, forevermore; he was the one who would draw out water from the wells of salvation, flooding the people with his life-giving Spirit; and finally, he was the one from whom would shine, as the true Temple, that is, as God in visible, human form, the light of the world of dark and desperate men. In all these wonderful ways, we see Jesus as the great fulfillment of the great Feast of Tabernacles.

    But let us now mention in brief the heads of the controversial doctrine which Jesus proclaimed at this occasion, and because of which he was more fiercely persecuted by the Jews; only excepting that which we have already noted, namely, his claims to be the Messianic fulfillment of the ceremonial imagery of the water-pouring and the temple-lighting. First, Jesus claimed to be the one who proclaimed the true will of the Father, so exactly and unerringly that in comparison Moses was altogether insignificant. And so we find later that Jesus, the Word of God, is God's final and consummative self-revelation, eclipsing all the prophets before him (Hebrews 1:1-3), and far surpassing even Moses himself (Hebrews 3:1-6). Jesus came from the Father, and would return to the Father; and in the meantime, he would continue to do the Father's works, and proclaim the Father's will. To these truths the Father himself testified, as did the prophets through whom he spoke before the coming of the Son; and through these truths, they who were held captive in the dark dungeons of Satan's lies would be made free at last. In all these ways, we see that Jesus is the eternal Son of God, who existed before Abraham, and came into the world to bring the light and life of God to the dark and hopeless world of men.

    But second, Jesus proclaimed concerning those who opposed him, that they did not believe in him simply because they did not know God; for if they knew God, they would recognize that Jesus spoke the very words and did the very works of God. They were not, therefore, true children of Abraham, who did believe in God; but rather, they were children of the devil, held captive by him and blinded by his lies; and hence, they were not able to believe in Jesus, whose truth stood in direct opposition to their truth-hating nature as Satan's children. Jesus came from God, and would return to God; but those who were not his, but who belonged rather to their father the devil, could never come with him into the presence of the God whom they professed to serve but did not truly know, and indeed hated when they saw him in truth.

    Brothers and sisters, let us be admonished by these teachings! If we believe ourselves already able to see, will not our sin remain with us (John 9:40-41)? Will we not continue to be the children of Satan, blinded to the Light of the World, and heirs of eternal misery and darkness? If we do not thirst for a righteousness greater than our own, and for a life truer and deeper than our state of animate death, away from the presence of the Father, will we not find ourselves thirsty at the last, yearning for but a drop of water from the fingertip of one of God's true children to quench our raging thirst (Luke 16:24)? Let us not be as the Pharisees, unable to see God and unwilling to drink of his free waters of joy, drawn by Shiloh from the wells of salvation; let us instead flee to Christ, blind and thirsty as we are, and cry out to him for his true light and salvation. He will not turn away anyone who comes in desperation before him, bringing nothing but an unquenched thirst and an unopened eye. Father, rescue us from our captivity to the father of lies! Show us our need and bring us to the only place where it may be satisfied, in the presence of your eternal Son, sent into the world to save the most desperate of men.

    Posted by Nathan on July 17, 2007 10:03 AM

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