Imagine yourself seated in a room about 7 feet square in size. The walls and roof are thatched, made of loosely woven branches of willow, myrtle and palm trees. The air is fragrant with freshly picked fruit. You look up to see fresh dates, pomegranates, bananas and grapes hanging from the ceiling. Beyond the fruit you see stars twinkling in the night sky. The faces of those seated around you are lit by the smiles of those enjoying friendship and good conversation. They are dark and light skinned faces—Asian, African, Middle Eastern. One man wears a turban, another a Yarmulke, and they are all speaking of the One who has just returned, King Messiah Jesus!
Welcome to the future celebration of the Feast of Tabernacles (Sukkot). Some day soon, that vision will be fulfilled. The week-long holiday of Sukkot, which begins October 15th this year, is actually a prophetic festival. It anticipates the return of Christ and offers us a vision of future peace. Of all Jewish holidays mentioned in Leviticus 23, this is the only festival that Gentiles will one day be enjoined to celebrate. We see this in Zechariah 14, where the prophet tells about the Day of the Lord. He describes a terrible battle that will precede a time of perfect peace, when God will establish His rule and reign over the whole world. All the nations, including those that once waged war against Jerusalem, will join the Jewish people to celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles.
What is so special about this festival, that God enjoins it upon all the nations of the world to signal the ushering in of His ultimate peace plan? We can grasp the key to this holiday through its symbolism. The Feast of Tabernacles is rich in symbols, but the most compelling is the one from which the holiday draws its name. In Leviticus 23, God commanded the children of Israel to dwell in tabernacles, or booths, for seven days each year, 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" (Leviticus 23:43).
Yet it wasn't so much the booths that God wanted us to remember when we think back to those dangerous and uncertain times. Throughout our wilderness wanderings, God provided constant reminders of His watchcare: the pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night. More than anything else, the Tabernacle itself (also called the Tent of Meeting) pointed to God's provision and His presence as He sojourned with the Jewish people in the desert. That's what God wanted us to remember during this festival of booths. Yes, God caused us to wander for 40 years because of our disobedience—but He didn't cause us to wander alone. In speaking of that Tabernacle, God promised Israel, "where I will meet you and speak to you" (Exodus 29:42). God's presence was experienced in that tabernacle and it was there that His provision of atonement (covering for sin) was secured. God made a holy place for Himself in the midst of a disobedient and rebellious people.
But sin is not just a Jewish problem; it is a human problem. When sin entered the human race, God's intimate fellowship with man and woman, was shattered. The Holy One cannot abide evil, but in His mercy He established a means of reconciliation through the sacrificial system. He codified that provision while the nation of Israel was wandering in the desert.
What God sought to establish in reconciling Israel to Himself was a down payment on His peace plan for all peoples. The problems that lead to war and bloodshed and strife did not begin when nation took up sword against nation, but when people began to war against God. Therefore the violence we see in the world today cannot be solved by diplomacy or peace talks. The striving will end when all peoples submit their hearts in obedience to God, accepting their need and His provision of forgiveness.
King Solomon recognized God's universal intention when he dedicated the Temple. By divine design, this momentous event took place during the Feast of Tabernacles (1 Kings 8:2). The Ark of the Covenant, once kept in the Tabernacle, was brought into the newly constructed Temple in Jerusalem. The glory of God so filled that Temple that the priests could not continue ministering. As Solomon prayed his great prayer of dedication that day, he recognized the world-wide significance of God's holy presence. "Moreover, concerning a foreigner, who is not of Your people Israel…when he comes and prays toward this temple, hear in heaven Your dwelling place, and do according to all for which the foreigner calls to You, that all peoples of the earth may know Your name and fear You…" (1 Kings 8:41-43).
Peace among "the foreigners" or the nations is the fruit of peace with God. The Feast of Tabernacles symbolizes both beautifully. Peace is not the absence of strife. It is not tied to any one place but to the presence of the person of God. Where He is, where He dwells, there is true and lasting peace.
When Yeshua (Jesus) came into this world He represented, in the fullest sense, the presence and provision of God. God literally tabernacled among us in the person of Jesus. "And the Word became flesh and dwelt (tabernacled) among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth" (John 1:14).
One day, the Apostle Peter, along with James and John, followed Yeshua up the side of a mountain. There they saw Him transfigured, radiant and in dazzling garments along with Moses and Elijah. Peter was overwhelmed by the sight, but found the courage to speak up and say, "Lord, it is good for us to be here; if You wish, let us make here three tabernacles: one for You, one for Moses, and one for Elijah" (Matthew 17:4). In the midst of his wonder and awe, Peter probably made such a suggestion, because—as noted Jewish Christian scholar Alfred Edersheim points out—he recognized, "the imminent dawn of the Messianic age." (The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, 385-6) Peter knew of the promise of Zechariah 14. He saw in Jesus' transfiguration hope and promise of God's final peace plan being implemented. He had the right idea. His timing was just off by a couple of thousand years or more.
Peter was ready to bask in the presence of God. However, that moment of glory—of utter contentment, of peace—was in preparation for the turmoil to come.
We are all wanderers in the wilderness of this world. Yet God is with us to guide us—not by a pillar of cloud or fire, but by His Holy Spirit that dwells within each blood-bought believer in Jesus. Through Yeshua, God has promised to meet with us. Sometimes we get glimpses of His glory like Peter and John did on the Mount of Transfiguration. For while it is not yet time for us to set aside everything and bask in the glory of our Lord, we still need reminders that the day is coming. We need to set aside time to enjoy the taste of His presence God has already given us…so that we can look forward to that which He has promised us in full.
Those of us who know Jesus have a great hope anticipated in this feast of Israel. That hope was typified in the Tent of Meeting and the tabernacles of Leviticus 23. The down payment for that hope was made when Jesus tabernacled among us and through His sacrificial death, paid the purchase price for our salvation. Through His resurrection, God provided the hope of lasting peace and eternal life with God for Jew and Gentile. And through peace with God, we will have peace with one another.
The doorway to the tabernacle of peace has been opened for every tribe and tongue and nation, yet we still wait for the day when all the nations will celebrate together. And that day is coming for Jews and Gentiles, Israelis and Arabs, Koreans and Japanese, blacks and whites—people between whom enmity has often been the norm. They will lay down their hatred for one another and pick up palm and willow and myrtle branches to build tabernacles to the glory of God.
That great day was revealed to John the Apostle in a vision, and the record of that vision gives us further evidence of its coming. "And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, îBehold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God'" (Revelation 21:3). The ultimate celebration of the Feast of Tabernacles will be when Messiah returns. This is our Blessed Hope and the confidence that we as believers can have, even in times of trouble. May God stir our hearts with longing for that day. May our confidence for the future rest not in human efforts at temporary reconciliation, but in the presence of God and the promise of His final plan for everlasting peace. Let the celebration begin!