Sukkot, the Feast of Tabernacles
The Jewish new year begins in the spring. Seven months after the new year (usually in September or October), there are three great festivals: The Feast of Trumpets, Yom Kippur, and Sukkot.
Yom Kippur is a very solemn festival, focusing on the Day of Atonement. It is a time of fasting and prayer. The high priest would enter the Holy of Holies, sanctifying it and then the entire people of Israel. Two goats would be brought forth. The first would be sacrificed, while the second would have all the sins of Israel laid upon it, then led off into the wilderness. There is a lot of Messianic symbolism connected with the Day of Atonement, as the Messiah would come to atone for Israel - being the sacrificial goat, as well as the one receiving all the sins of the world and then carrying them alone into the wilderness.
Contrasted to Yom Kippur was Sukkot, or Feast of Tabernacles. This was an eight day festival celebrating the harvest. People would build tabernacles, tents or booths of reeds, branches, etc. They would eat their meals and often sleep in these booths during the event, as a reminder of the tents that Israel lived in for 40 years in the wilderness with Moses. As a harvest festival, it is sometimes called the Feast of In-gathering.
It is the last of the three pilgrimage festivals of the year, where Israel would travel to gather to the temple. During the festival, a bundle of plants called the Four Species (palm, citron, willow and myrtle branches) are bound and waved for two events. First, they are waved to all six directions (north, south, east, west, up, down) and said with a blessing to show that God is all around us. During Hallel, the Four Species is also used, waved to bless as people walk in circuits. Anciently, they would walk in circuits to and around the holy temple, waving the fronds and praying “Hosha na” (please save us).
All of this goes back to Moses at Sinai. According to tradition, Moses spent 40 days on the Mount receiving the law of God until the original Day of Atonement. Upon descending during the first Sukkot, Moses began to build the original Tabernacle of God, which would travel with Israel through the desert for 40 years, and then settle in the promised land. So important was this period that Solomon would later dedicate the Jerusalem temple during Sukkot.
During Sukkot, a water libation brought from the pool of Siloam in a gold vessel was poured out at the ancient temple as a sacrifice to God. As the water was poured, the people would pray: "Save now, I pray, O LORD; O LORD, I pray, send now prosperity."
Four towering menorahs (candelabras) were lit at night, where the priests would stand on the temple walls giving a light show with torches for all those below to view, while the Levites would play instruments.
It is believed that this festival will continue into the Messiah’s reign during the Millennium, with people gathering to the temple to celebrate the In-gathering harvest of souls, as well as the return of the Messiah in power. Many Jews believe the coming of the Messiah will be during Sukkot.
A portion of the festival period is Rosh Hoshana, or the Festival of the Trumpets. This is a festival that celebrates the coming of the Messiah in glory to rescue Israel. In it, trumpets are sounded to announce the harvest period. It is believed that Israel will be gathered during these high holidays.
Interestingly, Joseph Smith received the gold plates from Moroni on Rosh Hoshanah. For LDS, this was a key symbol of the latter day in-gathering of both spiritual and physical Israel.
So, Jesus entered into Jerusalem during the high holy days of Israel to celebrate the festivals prepared anciently to prepare for his Messiah-ship.
My Time is not yet come
Jesus’ brothers did not yet believe he was the Messiah. They mocked him, goading him into going up to the feast in Jerusalem, encouraging him to perform his miracles there, so that they would believe him. Instead, Jesus explained to them that the Jews would not believe his miracles, because they hate him.
Why did the Jews hate Jesus? For various reasons. First, many Jews were looking for a political Messiah who would force Rome to leave. Since Christ was not willing to be that type of Messiah, many rejected him. Second, his teachings caused a power play among other Jewish sects, especially among the leaders of the Sadduccees and Pharisees. They were concerned that this up start would gain great power and the people would leave their sects for Jesus. In his trip to Jerusalem, Jesus will give them more reasons to hate him and seek his death.
Jesus arrived in the middle of the feast, after everyone else had built their booths. He taught at the temple, probably in the outer court. The Jews were amazed that an unschooled man from Nazareth could know so much about the scriptures.
“16 Jesus answered them, and said, My doctrine is not mine, but his that sent me.
“17 If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself.
“18 He that speaketh of himself seeketh his own glory: but he that seeketh his glory that sent him, the same is true, and no unrighteousness is in him.
“19 Did not Moses give you the law, and yet none of you keepeth the law? Why go ye about to kill me?
“20 The people answered and said, Thou hast a devil: who goeth about to kill thee?
“21 Jesus answered and said unto them, I have done one work, and ye all marvel” (John 7).
The people thought Jesus must be crazy or paranoid to think there were people out to kill him. Jesus then explained that because he was known to have healed people on the Sabbath, some wanted to kill him. For Moses, it was okay to circumcise babies on the Sabbath, but Jesus was being plotted against for healing on the Sabbath.
The people listening then realized that the leaders sought to kill Jesus. Some asked, “But, lo, he speaketh boldly, and they say nothing unto him. Do the rulers know indeed that this is the very Christ?” (v21). They claimed they knew where he was from (Nazareth), but the prophesy of the Messiah was that none would know where he was from. Given that Jesus was born in Bethlehem, a fact his audience did not know, this prophesy the people quoted was fulfilled.
In verse 28, we read, “Then cried Jesus in the temple as he taught....” Often, we think of Jesus as a stoic, quiet speaker. Yet he cried, most likely meaning he shouted out in a strained voice against those speaking against him.
“28...Ye both know me, and ye know whence I am: and I am not come of myself, but he that sent me is true, whom ye know not.
“29 But I know him: for I am from him, and he hath sent me.
“30 Then they sought to take him: but no man laid hands on him, because his hour was not yet come.
“31 And many of the people believed on him, and said, When Christ cometh, will he do more miracles than these which this man hath done?”
Jesus proclaimed himself as the Messiah. He established that his enemies, those who ran the temple, did not know God. Because they rejected Jesus, and sought to kill the Christ, they did not know God. While many wanted him dead, they did not lay hands on him at that point, probably because many believed on him and they did not wish to grab him in public, turning him into a martyr during the festival.
The Living Waters
On the last day of the festival, Jesus encouraged all to come to him, for he was the living waters. Part of Sukkot was the pouring of the waters from the pool of Siloam as a holy libation and sacrifice. Jesus compared himself to this water:
"37 In the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried, saying, If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink.
"38 He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water.
" 39 (But this spake he of the Spirit, which they that believe on him should receive: for the Holy Ghost was not yet given; because that Jesus was not yet glorified.)
"40 Many of the people therefore, when they heard this saying, said, Of a truth this is the Prophet.
" 41 Others said, This is the Christ. But some said, Shall Christ come out of Galilee?”
Some thought he was the prophet Elias, who would prepare the way for the Messiah. Others did think he was the Messiah himself. However, contention arose as people argued over the location where the Messiah should come from. Even officers sent by the Pharisees to arrest Jesus were confused and returned to the court without him.
In this council, the Pharisees and other leaders argued concerning Jesus. When Nicodemus attempted to establish that Jesus had not been found guilty of anything, they turned on him asking if he was a confederate. For no prophets ever came out of Galilee!
Returning to the Temple
Jesus rested at the Mount of Olives. On the mount, at the place called Gethsemane is a cave where an olive oil press was located. Often during periods when the harvest season was over and the festivals were going, travellers would stay in such locations overnight. During the festivals, no work was allowed, so the olive press would not have been working during this time frame.
Returning to the temple on the following day, he again taught the people. The scribes and Pharisees brought forth a woman caught in adultery to him. The law of Moses demanded the woman be stoned to death. Had Jesus agreed and called upon them to stone her, they could have said he was not compassionate as the Messiah was supposed to be. Yet, in showing compassion, he would have ignored the Law of Moses.
Ignoring them briefly as he scribbled in the dirt, he finally arose and said, “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her” (vs 7). Then he began scribbling in the dirt again. Soon, the accusers left. The Savior finally looked up and seeing no one around them, he asked the woman,
“Woman, where are those thine accusers? hath no man condemned thee?
“She said, No man, Lord. And Jesus said unto her, Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more” (vs 10-11).
Missing in this event is the man who committed adultery with the woman. How could she have been caught in adultery, if there were also no man caught? Each of the accusers was convicted by his own conscience, and quietly left the temple grounds, because they knew that they had each been involved in similar sins. They were not clean. They should not have been in the temple. Even more, they were not willing to admit to their own actions, which would have lead to their being stoned also.
The Light of the World
The Festivals were over, yet many of the exciting events lingered in the minds of those still worshiping in the temple. The priests had given giant light shows that lasted the entire night. These shows included giant menorah lit and viewable from all parts of the city. The priests danced on the walls at night, holding torches, to entertain the people during the festival.
It was in this context that Jesus then proclaimed, “I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life” (John 8:12).
The Jewish leaders instantly questioned him. A man who proclaimed something by himself was obviously speaking falsely. Yet Jesus could show he had witnesses.
First, his actions compared to those actions of the Jewish leaders. They had wrongly judged the woman (after the flesh), where he had not judged anyone. He knew his true roots, but they did not.
And God the Father bore witness of Christ. However, when Jesus stated that his Father bore witness of him, the Jews first thought it was an earthly parent, not a celestial one. As they then understood that Jesus spoke concerning God, they again wanted to kill him, but did not dare lay hands on him.
While his teachings confused those with hardened hearts, yet many still believed on his words.
“"31 Then said Jesus to those Jews which believed on him, If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed;
"32 And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free."
The Great I Am
But those who rejected him would die in their sins. They thought themselves to be the children of Abraham, and so free. But Jesus explained that they were servants of sin, and as servants, under eternal bondage except they repent and exercise faith in the Messiah.
A discussion ensues on who is the real Father of the Jews. First they claimed Abraham. But Jesus said they should follow God. Then they claimed God as their Father. Again Jesus told them that in their sins, they were the children of the devil. Had they been God’s true children, they would have accepted and embraced Jesus as their Savior. Instead, they were filled with hatred and murderous intentions - the same as the devil has always had.
Jesus told them that if they believed on him, they would never taste of death, but live forever. Amazed, they asked if he were greater than Abraham, who had died.
“56 Your father Abraham rejoiced to see my day: and he saw it, and was glad.
“57 Then said the Jews unto him, Thou art not yet fifty years old, and hast thou seen Abraham?
“58 Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Before Abraham was, I am.
“59 Then took they up stones to cast at him: but Jesus hid himself, and went out of the temple, going through the midst of them, and so passed by.”
Abraham saw in revelation that Jesus would come to save all mankind. He rejoiced in the day. Abraham knew the great king of Salem, Melchizedek. He paid tithes to the king. Melchizedek literally means “King of Righteousness.” That Melchizedek was a symbol of the future priest/king Messiah was clear. When the Jews asked how Abraham could have known about Jesus, the Savior explained that he was the Messiah.
If we change the comma around, we could read verse 58 as saying, “Before Abraham, was I AM.” “I AM” is the literal translation of the name-title Jehovah/Yahweh. He is the Being that Exists. It was I AM that sought out Abraham to begin the nation of Israel, striking a covenant with him that promised him seed as massive as the stars in the heavens.
Jesus was proclaiming that not only was he the Messiah, but that he was also Yahweh, the God of Israel under his Father Elohim.
There no longer was any fence sitting. Either people must accept Jesus as the Lord God and Messiah, or reject him for blasphemy. In this, the Jews sought to kill him, but Jesus was able to slip out among the crowd to safety.
Today we each must determine whether we give God lip service, as did the Pharisees and Sadduccees, or not. Will we put up a pretence, changing the laws of God to where they fit our own standard, or not? Are we ready to proclaim Jesus as the Messiah, the Lord Jehovah over all the earth? And are we willing to repent of our sins: our false accusations, or our accusing others while we retain the greater sin, our outward signs of religion while inwardly we rot from sin? Will we pick up stones to kill the Lord and his prophets when they speak things that are not easy to hear? Will we care enough to pick a side?
Or will we embrace him?
Feast of Tabernacles:
Rosh Hashanah, Moroni and Joseph Smith: http://lds.org/ensign/2000/01/the-golden-plates-and-the-feast-of-trumpets?lang=eng
The Covenant between Abraham and Yahweh/Jehovah: