THE FEAST OF TABERNACLES
Written by Vladimir Moss
THE FEAST OF TABERNACLES
The Gospel for the great feast of Pentecost begins with the words: 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. He that believeth on Me, as the Scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water (John 7.37-38). What is this feast that is here referred to? We should expect that it would be the Jewish feast of Pentecost, of which the Christian feast of Pentecost is the fulfilment. But no: the feast referred to is the feast of Tabernacles, the third of the great feasts of the Jewish year. The question, therefore, arises: why, on the Christian feast of Pentecost, should our attention be drawn in this way to the Jewish feast of Tabernacles? There is nothing accidental in the Holy Scriptures, and certainly not in the Gospel readings for the great feasts. So there must be some lesson for us here…
In the Old Testament the Lord commanded the Jews to go up to the Temple to worship three times in the year: at the spring feast of Unleavened Bread (Pascha), at the early summer feast of Weeks, also known as the feast of Harvest, and at the autumn feast of Tabernacles (Succoth), also known as the feast of Ingathering (Exodus 23.14-17; Deuteronomy 16.16). The first two feasts are, of course, well known to us in their Christian fulfilment as the feasts of Pascha and Pentecost, during which we commemorate the most important events of our salvation – the Death and Resurrection of Christ, and the Descent of the Holy Spirit upon the Church. But much less is known and written about the third and final great feast of the Jewish year, the feast of Tabernacles...
Since the first two great feasts have received their Christian fulfilment, and since the feast of Tabernacles was on a par with these feasts, are we entitled to expect a Christian fulfilment of Tabernacles also? For, as Jean Daniélou writes, "although the Jewish feast of Tabernacles has not been carried on into the Christian liturgy of today, this feast was seen by the Fathers of the Church as a figure of Christian realities." If so, what is this fulfilment likely to be? Since the patristic references to this feast are few and short, we cannot answer these questions with certainty. Nevertheless, it will be worth gathering what information we have from the Holy Scriptures and Holy Fathers, and offering a very tentative hypothesis as to the feast’s meaning.
In Leviticus (23.26-43; cf. Numbers 29.7-38), the climax of the Jewish church year begins with the tenth day of the seventh month (Tishri – approximately, September-October), when the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur) is celebrated. And you shall do no work on that same day, for it is the Day of Atonement, to make atonement for you before the Lord your God.... It shall be a Sabbath of Sabbaths for you, and you shall humble your souls. Then, five days later, begins the feast of Tabernacles: On the fifteenth day of this seventh month, when you have gathered in the fruit of the land, you shall keep the feast to the Lord for seven days; on the first day there shall be a rest, and on the eighth day a rest. And you shall take for yourselves on the first day the ripe fruit of a tree, leaves of palm trees, the branches of leafy trees, and the pure willows of the brook; and you shall rejoice before the Lord your God for seven days. You shall keep it as a feast to the Lord for seven days in the year. It shall be an ordinance forever in your generations. You shall celebrate it in the seventh month. You shall dwell in booths for seven days. All who are native Israelites shall dwell in booths, that your generations may know that I made the children of Israel dwell in booths when I brought them out of the land of Egypt.
The feast of Tabernacles lasted for eight days, longer than any other feast. The eighth, last and great day of the feast (John 7.37), was the "crowning feast of all the feasts of the year," in the words of Philo the Alexandrian. It means “the completion and fulfilment of all the feasts”, according to St. Gregory Palamas.
The eighth day, of course, is suggestive of the Lord’s Day, the day of the resurrection; and Blessed Theophylact, Archbishop of Ohrid develops this as follows: “The feast of the tabernacles suggests to us the resurrection, when the fruits of our deeds are gathered for spiritual harvest, and the tabernacles of our bodies – dissolved at death into their constituent elements – are reconstructed.”
In agreement with this are the words of St. Methodius of Olympus, who writes: "Only those who have celebrated the Feast of Tabernacles will enter into the holy land. Leaving their tabernacles, they hasten to arrive in the Temple and the City of God, that is to say, to a joy more great and more heavenly, as it took place among the Jews in the figures of these things. In the same way, indeed, as, having come out of the borders of Egypt, they, by journeying, came to tabernacles and, from there, having advanced still further, they reached the Promised land, so is it with us. I also, having started on the journey, I come out of the Egypt of this life, I come first to the Resurrection, to the true Scenopegia [feast of Tabernacles]. There, having built my beautiful tent on the first day of the feast, that of the judgement, I celebrate the feast with Christ during the millenium of rest, called the seven days, the true Sabbaths. Then, following Jesus Who has crossed the heavens, I start on my journey again, as they, after the rest of the Feast of Tabernacles, journeyed toward the land of promise, the heavens, not waiting any longer in tabernacles, that is to say, my tabernacle not remaining any longer the same, but, after the millenium, having passed from a corruptible human form to an angelic grandeur and beauty. Then, going out from the place of tabernacles, having celebrated the feast of the Resurrection, we shall go towards better things, ascending to the house that is above the heavens."
So the basic spiritual theme of the feast of Tabernacles is resurrection, the renewal of our earthly bodies, or tabernacles, at the General Resurrection. And this gives us our first clue as to the link between the feasts of Pentecost and Tabernacles. For it is the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost that makes possible the resurrection both of the soul and of the body; Pentecost looks forward to Tabernacles as its final fulfilment, the last day of the feast, as it were, when the Spirit, being no longer simply an “earnest” of our salvation, as St. Paul says, brings forth Its final fruit in the resurrection of the dead.
However, there is reason to believe that this explanation does not exhaust the full meaning of the feast. The Jewish feasts of Pascha and Pentecost were fulfilled in time, and in time for the Church to institute liturgical services in order to commemorate the temporal events commemorated in them. Should we not expect the same of the feast of Tabernacles? But the resurrection of the dead is an event that will take place at the end of time, bringing time to an end. So could it not be that the Christian fulfilment of the feast of Tabernacles, in addition to celebrating the imminent General Resurrection, will also commemorate some other resurrection taking place in time and before the General Resurrection?
This hypothesis is greatly strengthened by the fact that, according to the Holy Scriptures, the Christian fulfilment of the feast of Tabernacles will indeed be celebrated in time, and throughout the world. Thus in the Prophet Zechariah we read: And it shall come to pass that everyone who is left of all the nations which came up against Jerusalem shall go up from year to year to worship the King, the Lord of hosts, and to keep the feast of Tabernacles. And it shall be that whichever of the families of the earth do not come up to Jerusalem to worship the King, the Lord of hosts, on them there will be no rain. If the family of Egypt will not come up and enter in, they shall have no rain; they shall receive the plague with which the Lord strikes the nations who do not come up to keep the feast of Tabernacles. This shall be the punishment of Egypt and the punishment of all the nations that do not come up to keep the feast of Tabernacles (14.16-19).
Now it is evident that the prophet is here speaking, not of the Jewish feast of Tabenacles, but of its future, worldwide fulfilment in Christ. It is also evident that this fulfilment will take place in time, before the General Resurrection. So what clues do we have as to what the temporal event it commemorates could be?
Since this prophecy comes in the prophecy of Zechariah, we might expect the clue to lie in the previous chapters of that prophecy. So let as look at it more closely, and especially at its last three chapters, which describe a series of very important events taking place first of all in Israel, and then on a worldwide scale, in the last days. It is tempting to allegorize these events as referring to events, not in the physical land of Israel, but in the Church, in accordance with the exegetical principle that “Israel” refers to “the Israel of God” (Galatians 6.16) – that is, the Church. But, useful and convincing as such an allegorical interpretation is in other passages from the prophets, it is much less convincing here, where the details appear to be far too concrete to allow it.
Although much is unclear, this much is evident: that there will be a formidable coalition of nations against Israel, which will be destroyed. At this time, whether during or after the war, the Jews will repent profoundly of their apostasy from Christ, the True Messiah and King of Israel. I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and compassion; and they shall look upon Me Whom they have pierced [this is the Hebrew quoted in John 19.37; the Greek is: because they have mocked Me], and they shall make lamentation for Him, as for a beloved Friend, and they shall grieve intensely, as for a First-Born Son (12.10). The false prophets and shepherds will be cast out. Nevertheless, two out of three in the land will die (13.8). As for the city itself, it will be taken, the houses plundered, the women defiled, and half of the city will go forth into exile; but the rest of My people will not be utterly cut of from the city. (14.2) But of the third of the population that comes through the fiery trial, the Lord will say: He shall call upon My name, and I will hear him, and I will say, ‘This is My people’, and they will say, ‘The Lord is my God’. (13.9) And on that day His feet shall stand upon the Mount of Olives (14.4), which will be split in two. There will be an earthquake as in the time of King Uzziah, and the Lord my God will come, and all the saints with Him (14.6). In that day there will be no light, but towards evening there will be light (14.7). And the Lord shall be King of all the earth (14.9), and He will strike all the nations, as many as made war against Jerusalem. Their flesh shall be eaten away as they stand upon their feet, and their eyes shall pour out of their sockets, and their tongue shall melt away in their mouth (14.12). And then everyone that survives of all the nations that have come against Jerusalem shall go up year after year to worship the King, the Lord of Hosts, and to keep the Feast of Tabernacles. And if any of the families of the earth do not go up to Jerusalem to worship the King, the Lord of Hosts, there will be no rain upon them. And if the family of Egypt do not go up and present themselves, then upon them shall come the plague with which the Lord afflicts the nations that do not go up to keep the Feast of Tabernacles… (14.16-17).
Apocalyptic although these events undoubtedly are, they clearly are not describing the end of the world or the general resurrection, but rather a terrible war (the melting of the eyes in the soldiers’ sockets suggests a nuclear war) followed by a great revival of the faith after the war. For even after the appearance of Christ on the Mount of Olives, there is no mention of any general judgement or resurrection, still less of entrance into a Heavenly Kingdom, but rather of the continuation of life on this corruptible earth. In particular, we see the celebration on earth of a new feast by most, but not all of the nations on the earth.
So what could this Christianized Feast of Tabernacles be celebrating? First of all, we suggest, the “ingathering” of the Jews into the Church that was prophesied by St. Paul in Romans 9 to 11, and which he called life from the dead (Romans 11.15). Secondly, it refers also the ingathering of the fullness of the Gentiles (Romans 11.25). Thus the Feast of Tabernacles will indeed be the feast of the "ingathering" of the whole Church, when the fullness both of the Gentiles and of the penitent Jews, will enter the Church. After the horrors of Armageddon and world war, the people of God will be granted a period of rest and joy, in which they will celebrate the feast in preparation for the final battle against the Antichrist and in anticipation of the more complete victory that will take place at the Second Coming of Christ and the General Resurrection.
The Lord may have been referring to this joyful event when He said to the impenitent Jews: Behold, your house is forsaken and desolate. For I tell you, you will not see Me again until you say, Blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord (Matthew 23.38-39). For Blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord is the verse sung at the climax of the Feast of Tabernacles. It is as if the Lord were saying: "You will not see Me with the eyes of faith until you are converted and participate with the whole of the New Testament Church in the Christian fulfilment of the Feast of Tabernacles."
St. John of Kronstadt has the same interpretation. The verses Matthew 23.38-39, he says, “mean: I will cease to be your Messiah until you recognize Me as such. In the meantime I will reveal My Face to the Gentiles, who have not heard about Me. The holy Apostle Paul in his epistle to the Romans (11.25) announces that the hardening has taken place in Israel in part until the fullness of the Gentiles comes in. And this, as is evident from the Revelation of St. John the Theologian, will take place in the sixth period of the last ages, when terrible times will come accompanied by great astronomical signs and unusual physical phenomena. Then the whole of the true Israel, in the number determined in the Apocalypse, will be saved, that is, will believe in Christ as their Messiah and God. The remaining Jews will become still more hardened and will recognize the Antichrist, as their messiah, king and god.”
Thus the Feast of Tabernacles celebrates a kind of “resurrection before the Resurrection”, an ingathering of the last good fruits of both the Jews and the Gentiles, a period of rest for the Church before her last battle with the Antichrist, her crossing the river of the Last Judgement, and her ascent to the Heavenly Jerusalem, where she puts on the tabernacle of the Resurrection Body.
Daniélou points out that the liturgy of the feast of Tabernacles is similar to the liturgy of Palm Sunday [notably in the use of the verse, Blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord], which is a similar "resurrection before the Resurrection" and - to the liturgical rites described in the Apocalypse. "The whole liturgy of the Feast of Tabernacles serves St. John in the Apocalypse to describe the procession of the elect around the heavenly altar. It is, in fact, the liturgy of this Feast which we are to recognize in the passage of the Apocalypse (7.9-17) describing the great crowd which stands before the throne of the Lamb. Many details are connected with the Feast: the palm-branches ('phoiniches') in their hands, the white robes, which recall the garments of Christ at the Transfiguration (7.9), the tabernacle in which the Lord dwells in the midst of the elect ('scenosei') (7.15), the springs of living water where they quench their thirst (7.17). We have here, on the second level of eschatology, the projection of the first fulfillment which was, on the level of the Gospel, the episode of Palm Sunday..."
The liturgical links between the Feast of Tabernacles and Palm Sunday reflect a profound prophetic parallelism; for as on Palm Sunday, so on the future Feast of the Tabernacles, the Jews acclaim Christ as the Messiah and their true king - temporarily. But just as Palm Sunday was followed by Great Friday and the Crucifixion of Christ, when the Jews who had hailed Christ five days before called for His death, saying “Crucify Him!”, so the same race of the Jews, after turning to Christ after the World War and joining the Church in fulfilment of the prophecies (Romans 11), and after participating with the Christian Gentiles in the Christian Feast of Tabernacles, will turn against Him again to worship the Antichrist, in fulfilment of many other prophecies. For it is of this, the Jewish worship of the Antichrist at the end of time, that the Lord says: I have come in My Father’s name, and you do not receive Me; if another comes in his own name, him you will receive (John 5.43).
There are several other Old Testament prophecies that refer to the conversion of the Jews towards the end of the world, the turning again of the heart of the fathers to the sons (Malachi 4.5). They all involve a return of the Jews from exile in other lands to the land of Israel, followed by their conversion to Christ. Perhaps not coincidentally, when the Jews under Zerubbabel and Joshua returned from Babylon to Jerusalem, and started to rebuild the temple, the first great feast they celebrated was the Feast of Tabernacles (I Ezra 5.50); for it is the feast of return and conversion...
The earliest such prophecy we find in Deuteronomy: When all these blessings and curses I have set before you come upon you and you take them to heart wherever the Lord your God disperses you among the nations, and when you and your children return to the Lord your God and obey him with all your heart and with all your soul according to everything I command you today, then the Lord your God will restore your fortunes and have compassion on you and gather you again from all the nations where he scattered you. Even if you have been banished to the most distant land under the heavens, from there the Lord your God will gather you and bring you back. He will bring you to the land that belonged to your fathers, and you will take possession of it. He will make you more prosperous and numerous than your fathers. The Lord your God will circumcise your hearts and the hearts of your descendants, so that you may love him with all your heart and with all your soul, and live. The Lord your God will put all these curses on your enemies who hate and persecute you. You will again obey the Lord and follow all his commands I am giving you today. (30.1-8).
One of the clearest of these prophecies is in Ezekiel, where, after describing how the Jews will spend seven months clearing up after the destruction of Gog and Magog, the prophet continues: All the nations shall know that the house of Israel was led captive because of their sins, because they rebelled against Me, and I turned My face from them, and delivered them into the hands of their enemies, and they all fell by the sword. According to their uncleanness and according to their transgressions did I deal with them, and I turned My face from them. Therefore thus saith the Lord God, Now will I turn back captivity in Jacob, and will have mercy on the house of Israel, and will be jealous for the sake of My holy name (39.23-25). For I will take you from the nations, and gather you from all the countries, and bring you into your own land. I will sprinkle clean water upon you [baptism], and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses… And you shall be My people, and I will be your God (Ezekiel 36.24-25,28).
Again, in Jeremiah we read: Then it shall come to pass, when you are multiplied and increased in the land in those days, says the Lord, that they will say no more, ‘The ark of the covenant of the Lord’. It shall not come to mind, nor shall they remember it, nor shall they visit it, nor shall it be made anymore. At that time Jerusalem shall be called the Throne of the Lord, and all the nations shall be gathered to it, to the name of the Lord, to Jerusalem. Nor more shall they follow the dictates of their evil hearts. In those days the house of Judah shall walk with the house of Israel, and they shall come together out of the land of the north to the land that I have given as an inheritance to your fathers (3.16-18).
Again, in Zephaniah we read: From beyond the rivers of Ethiopia My suppliants, the daughter of My dispersed ones, shall bring Me offering. On that day you shall not be put to shame because of the deeds by which you have rebelled against Me; for then I will remove from your midst your proudly exultant ones, and you shall no longer be haughty in My holy mountain. For I will leave in the midst of you a people humble and lowly. They shall seek refuge in the name of the Lord, those who are left in Israel... I will remove disaster from you, so that you will not bear reproach for it. Behold, at that time I will deal with all your oppressors, and I will save the lame and gather the outcast, and I will change their shame into praise and renown in all the earth. At that time I will bring you home, at the time when I gathered you together; yea, I will make you renowned and praised among all the peoples of the earth, when I restore your fortunes before your eyes, says the Lord. (3.10-13,18-20).
And so all Israel (i.e. Christian Jews and Gentiles together) will be saved; as it is written: The deliverer will come from Zion, he will banish ungodliness from Jacob (Romans 11.26; Isaiah 59.20).
One more point should be made with regard to the Feast of Tabernacles: its close relationship to the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross. Both Tabernacles and the Exaltation last for eight days; both take place around September-October. Both celebrate the triumph of Christianity on an ecumenical scale: the Feast of Exaltation – the triumph of St. Constantine over paganism throughout the Roman Empire, the oikoumene, or “inhabited earth” of the time, and the Feast of Tabernacles – the triumph of the faith over all heresies and apostasies throughout the world.
September 21 / October 4, 2011; revised June 11/24, 2013.
Day of the Holy Spirit.
 Daniélou, The Bible and the Liturgy, Notre Dame, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press, 1966, p. 333.
 David Baron, Commentary on Zechariah, Grand Rapids, Mich.: Kregel Publications, 1918, 1988, p. 527.
 St. Gregory Palamas, Homily 17, 12. Christopher Veniamin writes: “It is in fact the Feast of Tabernacles that refers to ‘the eighth day’ as the exodion – lit. The time of going out or departure, and thus a commemoration of Exodus (The Homilies of Saint Gregory Palamas, Canaan, Penn.: St. Tychon’s Seminary Press, vol. 1, 2002, p. 313).
 The Explanation of the Holy Gospel According to John by Blessed Theophylact, House Springs, Mo.: Chrysostom Press, 2007, p. 118,
 St. Methodius, The Banquet, IX, 5:120.
 A useful rule of interpretation in this context has been provided by Bishop Ignatius (Brianchaninov), who writes: "The people of Israel are called both Jacob and Israel after the name of their forefather, who was named Jacob at birth and renamed Israel after he had been counted worthy of the vision of God; [but] in the spiritual sense Christians who have made significant spiritual progress are called Israel" ("On the Judgements of God", in the Collected Works (in Russian)).
 St. John, Nachalo i konets nashego zemnogo mira (The Beginning and End of our Earthly World), Moscow, 1901, 2004 p. 48.
 Daniélou, Jewish Christianity, p. 342.