A bunch of years ago, when my boys were younger, we did a study on Biblical holidays. We were homeschooling at the time, so we incorporated it in that way, but this study would make phenomenal family devotions as well (or even a Sunday school class!).
The book we found was dense with activities for all ages as well as full of interesting information. For example, I hadn’t known that among Biblical holidays, the spring celebrations pointed towards Jesus’ first coming, while the fall holidays point to his second coming.
Passover and the Feast of the Unleavened Bread Passover remember the deliverance from Egyptian bondage. An unblemished, firstborn male lamb was sacrificed. Leaven symbolizes sin. Unleavened bread speaks of sanctification. Jesus was slain on Passover as our sacrificial lamb, releasing us from bondage. He is the ‘bread of life’.
The Day of Firstfruits reminded the Jews that God gave them the land, and the harvest belonged to him. 1 Corinthians 15 tells us that Jesus is the Firstfruits, his resurrection was the first of the harvest. And the Feast of Weeks (Pentecost) is a remembrance of the giving of the law took place. It’s celebrated fifty days after the Feast of Firstfruits. Fifty days after Jesus arose, the Holy Spirit came upon believers, writing the law on their hearts.
The Feast of Trumpets (Rosh Hashanah) and the Day of Atonement are two separate holidays, but celebrated just 10 days apart. These are the holiest days of the Jewish year. Unlike other holy days, they don’t celebrate a season or historical event, but are a time to look inward towards spiritual growth. We are told that Christ’s return will be with the blowing of trumpets, and on that day, atonement will be made for sin.
The Feast of Tabernacles (or the Festival of Booths) was historically kept as a remembrance of the Israelites dwelling in tents in the wilderness as they wandered on their way to the promised land. When Christ returns and establishes his Father’s kingdom on earth, God’s covenant with Abraham to give his descendants the promised land will be fulfilled.
And this is where we find Jesus in John chapter 7: at the Festival of Booths. The Hebrew name for this holiday was Sukkot (which means tabernacles). Tabernacles were portable, like a tent.
Jewish families build a temporary little hut or shelter in their yard called a sukkah. The roof covering must be made of something that used to grow in the earth. It can be made of palm leaves or bamboo sticks. The walls can be made of any material that can hold up to the wind. (Leviticus 23:33-43) It is traditional to eat meals in the sukkah. Some people even sleep in them during the week-long celebration.
When John wrote this, he would have known that Jesus was the fulfillment of all the Jews hoped for. It’s interesting that he highlights in this text the conflict between those that accept Jesus and those that do not. It’s interesting because, really, that’s what our ultimate choice is, isn’t it? The choice that will determine our eternal future.
The fact that this happens at the Festival of Booths, which looks ahead to the fulfillment of God’s promise to establish his permanent kingdom on the earth (ie: no more wandering) I don’t think was a coincidence. Those who accept Jesus will get that permanent place in the kingdom and those that do not…well, they won’t.
Jesus’ words were never said without purpose, and he often used the environment around him to teach. One part of this celebration at the time of Jesus was a water ceremony. Priests would gather water from the Pool of Siloam into a golden pitcher and walk to the Temple while the crowds recited Isaiah 12:3: “With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.” They would then pour the water out on the altar.
Knowing that makes Jesus’ words in John 7:37-38 even more meaningful:
On the last day of the festival, the great day, while Jesus was standing there, he cried out, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink. As the scripture has said, ‘Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.’”
When Jesus revealed himself as Messiah to the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4, he told her about the living water too:
“Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.”
Her response was perfect:
The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water”
Questions for Reflection and Discussion:
- Why do you think there was so much skepticism about Jesus and his teachings?
- Do you think you would have been a skeptic, or instantly on board with Jesus and his teachings? Why do you think that, and are you satisfied with that response? If not, what needs to change?
- Why do you think God instituted the Biblical holidays/feasts/festivals? While we are not required to celebrate them, what might the value be in understanding them better?