Friday at sunset begins the Festival of Sukkot (pronounced: sue-COAT, also known as Tabernacles or Booths), the last and most joyful of all the Lord’s holidays. It is a time of intense celebration and joy because God has given us the Promised Land. And so, during this time of joy, we remember what it was like to live in the desert so we can appreciate the land we have now. But Sukkot has always held special significance not only for Jews, but also for the Gentiles. Indeed, the Torah, the Prophets, the Writings, and even the New Testament uses Sukkot as a picture of the future Messianic times. By studying Sukkot, we can get a glimpse of what Heaven will be like!
Setting the Stage: From the Torah
The feast is first mentioned when it is given in Leviticus 23 along with the other 6 feasts:
The LORD said to Moses, “Say to the Israelites: ‘On the fifteenth day of the seventh month the LORD’s Feast of Sukkot begins, and it lasts for seven days…For seven days present offerings made to the LORD by fire, and on the eighth day hold a sacred assembly and present an offering made to the LORD by fire. It is the closing assembly; do no regular work…So beginning with the fifteenth day of the seventh month, after you have gathered the crops of the land, celebrate the festival to the LORD for seven days…On the first day you are to take choice fruit from the trees, and palm fronds, leafy branches and poplars, and rejoice before the LORD your God for seven days…Live in booths for seven days: All native-born Israelites are to live in booths so your descendants will know that I had the Israelites live in booths when I brought them out of Egypt. I am the LORD your God.”
–Lev 23:33-43 (selected portions)
From this passage we come away with several important details for the purpose of this post:
- Every day, for seven days, they were to “present sacrifices” to the LORD by fire.
- The Jews were required to take “choice fruit” (an etrog) and several different branches (most notably Palm), and wave them before the LORD. The three branches together are called the “lulav” (pl. lulavim). Not in the passage, but important, is the Jewish tradition that was certainly in place by the first century to wear all white garments when going up to the temple during the three pilgrim feasts (Passover, Pentecost, Sukkot)
God tells the people to present sacrifices to Him every day during the feast. But what do they present? Numbers 29:12-35 goes over this and gives the number of bulls to be offered during Sukkot which equals 70. This is very interesting because in the whole Bible 70 is representative of the number of nations in the world. This comes from Genesis 10 (called the “Table of Nations”) which when added up equals 70, and so the number 70 came to represent all the nations of the world (I should explain this more, but that’s for another post). So we can see immediately that God is hinting at some sort of international and uniting theme behind Sukkot.
Setting the Stage: From the Prophets
Continuing onward, the prophet Zechariah looks forward to the Messianic age where the entire world will celebrate Sukkot together as one.
“Then the survivors from all the nations that have attacked Jerusalem will go up year after year to worship the King, the LORD Almighty, and to celebrate the Feast of Sukkot.”
The most important things to take away from this passage:
- All the nations (70) will come to together and be united, both Jew and Gentile in the Messianic Age.
- Where will they come together? Jerusalem.
Setting the Stage: From the Writings
Several important historical events happened on Sukkot, the most notably the dedication of the first temple (Solomon’s Temple) found in 2 Chronicles 5-7. Each successive event that happened on Sukkot only filled it with more and more cultural and spiritual meaning. And so by the first century, Sukkot had become an INCREDIBLE celebration. Each day the temple was packed FULL of people and over a million people crowded into Jerusalem! The worship was intense and everybody had their lulav and etrog with them, waving them before the LORD at His Holy Temple.
Many scholars believe that the Hallal (Pslam 113 – 118) was originally composed and put together based on what they sang at Sukkot. The Hallel then took on additional meanings through usage at other feasts, but it’s origins are with Sukkot. During the Sukkot worship at the temple, the people would sing/chant through the Hallel up to Psalm 118:25 where they would repeat this verse over and over again.
O LORD, save us;
O LORD, let us prosper.
Over and over and over again they would chant this. This was the climax of Sukkot. To a Jew in the first century, this verse screamed Sukkot (sort of like how 1 Cor. 13 might make you think of weddings).
A Glimpse of the Throne
Now, with all of this in mind, we come to John’s revelation. What is that final, heavenly celebration going to be like? Well, what’s the one celebration that has always been foretold as for all the nations? What’s the only celebration that has been prophesied will include everyone? It’s Sukkot!
“After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice:
‘Salvation belongs to our God,
who sits on the throne,
and to the Lamb.'”
The countless multitudes from all nations celebrating the final victory in Heaven (aka: The New Jerusalem), the lulavim (palms) in their hands, the white robes…do you see it? It is crystal clear that John confirms Zechariah’s prophecy that Sukkot is a picture of the Messianic Age, and the worship therein gives a glimpse of the throne. But notice what they chant in this final Messianic Sukkot! In the old celebration, they used to beg God “Oh Lord, save us!” and now in Heaven they chant “Salvation belongs to our God!” in other words: “You have saved us! You have answered our prayers!” Do you see the connection? Everything about this scene is taken from the imagery of Sukkot.
I think we should celebrate Sukkot because it looks forward to that final day when our King Messiah returns and all nations will be as one, praising God like we’ve never seen or experienced before! Halleluyah!
Peace to you,