The Forgotten Festival
(or “If I Had Only One Sermon to Preach”)
By Richard M. Davidson
Oh the glories of campmeeting! Some of my fondest memories as a boy are those of attending campmeeting. We didn't have much surrounding beauty like many campmeeting settings in Southern California where I grew up. We met on the dry, barren vacant school grounds of Lynwood Academy in the heat of the metropolis of the Los Angeles area, yet those weeks are indelibly etched in my memory. The excitement of camping in tents; the special meals--we would splurge at this time and buy fresh fruit (apricots, plums, pears, etc.) and eat in bright-colored plastic picnic bowls. On years we didn't camp, especially those years my mom was sick, I remember driving through busy streets of California--no freeways--for what seemed like hours, then park the car, help my dad carry the monstrous Webcor reel-to-reel tape recorder--the early days of recorders when they weighed almost as much as I did--plug into the recording jack at the back of the big auditorium. I would look up to the front of the auditorium, and the people on the platform looked like little specks. Sometimes I would stay with my dad, or go to the children's meetings and later listen to the tapes of the big-people's meetings when we got home. The excitement of campmeeting for a little boy!!
Of course my experience of campmeeting doesn't go back very far. Some of you old-timers remember campmeetings in the rugged, pioneer settings. I'd love to hear some of your stories and adventures.
But this morning I'd like us to go back in our thinking--before the campmeeting of the 50s, 40s, even before the 30s and 20s--yes, even before the first campmeetings in Adventist history.
Back, in fact, to the very first campmeetings. They were not called "campmeetings," then, but they amounted to the same thing. We sometimes call our campmeetings "spiritual feasts," and God called the first campmeetings "feasts" or "festivals." The Israelites were lucky. They didn't have only one campmeeting festival a year, but three! Three times a year all Israel gathered for sacred convocations; and for the pilgrims living some distance from the Jerusalem campgrounds, they got to spend more than a month each year just attending and traveling to and from campmeeting! What an opportunity for fellowship and spiritual growth.
In volume 6 of the Testimonies, p. 40, God's servant compares the feasts of ancient Israel with our campmeetings. She concluded: "If the children of Israel needed the benefit of these holy convocations in their time, how much more do we need them in these last days of peril and conflict!" Too bad we only have one per year!
Well, in this message I don't need to persuade you of the importance of campmeeting. You probably wouldn't be here if you had not already sensed this.
But this morning, as we begin the full week of our encampment, as we seek to capture the essence of the spirit of campmeeting, to highlight the experience of the coming week, I would like us to focus upon one topic that I believe will make this campmeeting--and all succeeding ones--come alive in a way that is not possible otherwise. I wish to call our attention to what I like to call the Forgotten Festival.
I invite us to look more closely at the festivals set forth in Leviticus 23. As one studies the yearly round of festivals and their gospel antitypes, it becomes apparent that the Jewish religious year foreshadowed the whole plan of salvation, the whole sweep of salvation history.
In fact, if I had only one sermon to preach, and in this sermon I wished to take only one passage of Scripture, one page of the Bible at the most, and cover in detail the whole plan of God for this world–including Creation/Sabbath, Christ’s life and death and resurrection, the outpouring of the Holy Spirit and the start of the Christian church, the Great Advent Movement, the investigative judgment starting in 1844, the second coming of Christ, the millennium, and the New Earth–there is only one passage or page of Scripture that I know of which covers it all! That’s Leviticus 23.
Leviticus 23 has two introductions. Vs. 2 introduces the festivals: “The feasts of the Lord, which you shall proclaim to be holy convocations, these are My feasts.” Then in vs. 3 in the reference to the weekly Sabbath: “Six days shall work be done, but the seventh day is a Sabbath of solemn rest, a holy convocation. You shall do no work on it; it is the Sabbath of the Lord in all your dwellings.” Then in vs. 4 we have a second introduction: “These are the feasts of the Lord, holy convocations which you shall proclaim at their appointed times.”
Why two introductions? By means of these introductions God separates between the weekly sabbaths and the yearly (ceremonial) sabbaths/festivals. Why this separation? The conclusion to the chapter underscores this separation gives us the reason. Vs. 37 reads: “These are the feasts of the Lord which you shall proclaim to be holy convocations, in order to offer an offering made by fire to the Lord, a burnt offering and a grain offering, everything on its day.” Then vs. 38 adds: “Besides [in addition to] the Sabbaths of the Lord, besides all your vows, and besides all your freewill offerings which you give to the Lord.” Note the ultimate purpose given for the annual festivals of vs. 37 was “in order to offer an offering made by fire. . .” The annual festivals are intricately linked to the sacrificial system; their main purpose was to provide a time for the offering of sacrifices. On the other hand, vs. 38 describes the weekly Sabbaths, and other activities like vows and freewill offerings that were NOT linked to the sacrificial system. The weekly Sabbath and other activities not linked to the sacrificial system continue in force still today, and the weekly Sabbath, rooted in Creation and not a ceremonial “type,” thus still is mandatory for the Christian. But the ceremonial annual festivals, inextricably linked to the ceremonial sacrificial system, had a built-in statute of limitations. When the sacrificial (ceremonial) system of types came to an end when Type met Antitype in the sacrifice of Christ, the annual festivals rooted in this sacrificial system no longer were mandatory. Type gave way to Reality–the Fulfillment of all these types. Since the death of Christ we have now been living in the era of that antitypical fulfillment.
While it is not mandatory to keep the OT ceremonial festivals today, at the same time it is very beneficial for us to look at the compacted prophecy of the plan of salvation typified in those OT festivals, and marvel at how they have been, or are being, fulfilled in NT times. Let’s review the sweep of salvation history contained in these annual festivals of Lev 23.
The first festival, Passover, coming on the 14th day of the first month (nisan), pointed forward to what? Yes, to Christ the antitypical Passover Lamb, and this festival was fulfilled as Christ died (in A.D. 31) at the very hour of the slaying of the Passover lamb. On the third day after Passover, according to Leviticus 23 (vs. 11), the priest was to wave the wave sheaf of barley as the first fruits of the harvest. And on the third day, after the Lamb of God died on calvary, he arose as the first-fruits of them that sleep (1 Cor 15:2, 3).
Fifty days later (3rd month, 6th day) came the Feast of Weeks, or Pentecost, also called Feast of Harvest. What did this foreshadow? Yes, in the year A.D. 31--fifty days after Christ's resurrection, when Pentecost had fully come--when it had reached the 50th day--the seed which Jesus had sown in His earthly ministry witnessed a mighty harvest, as He poured out His Spirit on His waiting disciples and thousands were converted in a day.
In Lev 23:17 there is the reference to the waving of two loaves of bread at Pentecost time in Old Testament times. Note that this is leavened bread, in contrast to the unleavened bread of Passover. Christ’s sacrifice was without fermentation or sin, a perfect, unblemished offering. But our offerings to God, our lives of sanctification through the Holy Spirit, as the loaves of bread were made by human hands, even with fine flour (vs. 17), still are corrupted with the leaven of sin and cannot be acceptable to God by themselves. But according to vss. 19-20, these two loaves are waved together with two lambs! Even our best offering, our “finest work of sanctification,” is only acceptable on the basis of the Lamb of God!
When was the first Pentecost? The data in Exod 19:1 indicates that 50 days after the first Passover finds the people of Israel at Mt. Sinai: the Sinai experience comes at Pentecost time. The reference to two loaves of bread in Lev 23:17 provides a hint of the two tables of stone given on Mt. Sinai (cf. Deut 8:3; Mt 4:4; and the continuing living Jewish tradition that links the two loaves of hallah bread eaten on the eve of the Sabbath with God’s law on two tables of stone). The parallels between the first Pentecost at Sinai and the Upper Room experience of Acts 2 are phenomenal! Just as at the original Pentecost which was kept at the foot of Mt. Sinai, God organized His Old Testament church Israel, so in the antitypical Pentecost He organized His New Testament church. Just as at Mt. Sinai, in the Old Covenant on the first Pentecost there was earthquake, fire, mighty wind, and the finger of God writing the law (Exod 19-20; 32:15-16), so at the New Covenant Pentecost, the house shook, there was the sound of rushing wind, and tongues of fire descended on the waiting disciples (Acts 2:1-4). And the Holy Spirit (the “Finger of God,” cf. Mt 12:28 with Lk 11:20) wrote His law in their hearts and minds.
We usually think that the meaning of Pentecost concentrated on the giving of the Holy Spirit to the Christian Church. But this is not the deepest meaning of Pentecost! According to Acts 2:33 the pouring out of the Holy Spirit on the disciples was the earthly sign that Christ had been inaugurated as priest-king in the heavenly sanctuary! Heb 1:9 indicates that after Christ’s ascension He was anointed with the oil of gladness above His companions. Psalm 133 gives us a picture of that anointing service in the Old Testament type. David in this Psalm is describing the unity of the people of God, and He struggles to find the most wonderful memory in Old Testament history with which to compare this unity. He finally finds a suitable simile: “It is like the oil upon the head, that ran down upon the beard, even Aaron’s beard, and down off the hems of his garments.” This was the one-time occasion of the anointing of the high priest when the sanctuary services started up (see Lev 8:12). It was a time of great rejoicing for Israel, for with the anointing of Aaron the high priest, they now had a mediator to represent them in the sanctuary.
So is the anointing of Christ as High Priest and King in the heavenly sanctuary a time for great joy. Following Christ’s ascension on the 40th day after his resurrection, there was a ten day inaugural celebration–the greatest inaugural ball in the history of the universe (see AA 38-39 for amplification of biblical data)! And as the climax of that celebration, Christ was anointed. Can you picture it, in the light of Ps 133? The heavenly anointing oil–symbolizing the Holy Spirit (Zech 4:1-6)–was poured on Jesus’ head, and flowed down upon His beard, and was so abundant that it flowed on down and off the hems of His garments, and as I like to picture it, it kept right on flowing, from heaven to earth, and on the way between heaven and earth that heavenly oil was ignited into tongues of fire! And the waiting disciples who received that gift of the Holy Spirit, recognized it as the earthly sign of the descending oil! The Holy Spirit never testifies of Himself, but of Jesus Christ (Jn 15:26). So the outpouring of the Holy Spirit was the sign to the disciples in the upper room that Jesus had been inaugurated as High Priest in the heavenly sanctuary. They had a Mediator before the Father!
As Ellen White puts it:
The Pentecostal outpouring was Heaven’s communication that the Redeemer’s inauguration was accomplished. According to His promise He has ssent the Holy Spirit from heaven to His followers as a token that He had, as priest and king, received all authority in heaven and on earth, and was the Anointed One over His people. (AA 39)
So the spring typical festivals were fulfilled right on time, and in every detail in the events surrounding the First Advent. And just as surely as the spring typical festivals at the beginning of the Jewish year have been fulfilled, so surely do the fall festivals, at the end of the Jewish year meet their fulfillment in connection with the windup of salvation history.
On the first day of the seventh month, God ordained Israel to keep the Feast of Trumpets. This was a call to judgment, a solemn summons to be prepared for the cleansing of the sanctuary on the tenth day of the month, the Day of Atonement. As in the type, so in the antitype.
The Advent believers from all denominations were stirred by the prophecy of Daniel 8:14: "Unto 2300 days, then shall the sanctuary be cleansed." Before the time for the antitypical cleansing of the sanctuary, the trumpets of warning were sounded. The first angel went forth with the message of the everlasting gospel in the setting of judgment: "Fear God and give glory to Him, for the hour of His judgment is come." And then the day came toward which the prophetic time clock had pointed--October 22, 1844. Just as the disciples of Jesus at His first coming were at first unclear as to His work at the end of the 70 week prophecy, and were at first disappointed, so the Advent believers at first misunderstood the nature of the antitypical cleansing of the sanctuary at the end of the 2300 days. But God's light of truth shown upon the Advent disciples in 1844 as surely as He did upon the disciples in A.D. 31. The glorious truth of the investigative judgment was revealed--the great heavenly courtroom session, resulting in vindication of God in the Great Controversy, the vindication of His commandment-keeping faithful people. Brethren and sisters, that message of present truth stands firm! It is a solid platform that is rooted and grounded in Scripture! The most intense investigation of this doctrine in recent years has only made it shine more brightly, and reveal greater depths of significance. If any of you have had questions about this doctrine, or have been led to doubt its Scriptural basis, I would love to talk to you personally about it after this meeting or tomorrow. I too went through a period of questioning and uncertainty not too long ago, and I spent agonizing hours searching the Scriptures like the Bereans, to see whether these things were so. And I can testify that my confidence in the historic Adventist doctrine of the heavenly sanctuary has never been stronger, as I have seen how the Adventist understanding of the investigative judgment and antitypical Day of Atonement can stand the closest scrutinizing and only shines brighter. It is a pillar showing clearly where we are in the course of history.
But our topic this morning is not the antitypical Day of Atonement. What we have attempted to show so far is that the major feasts of Israel, as set forth in Leviticus 23, have already been, or are in the process of being fulfilled. That is all but one! Which one is that? Yes! the last one of the religious year. The Feast of Tabernacles, of Feast of Ingathering which still points forward to the final ingathering of God's people into their harvest home after the millennium. (Zech 14:16)
Now let me ask you, if this feast is still pointing forward, if type has not yet ultimately met antitype in this feast, does it not therefore follow that Christians would gain a blessing to still observe at least this particular Old Testament feast? I'm not suggesting that we still sacrifice the animals as Israel did on this and the other feast days. Obviously all the Old Testament sacrifices pointed toward the One Great Sacrifice, Jesus Christ. And this part of Tabernacles is already fulfilled. But the Feast of Tabernacles itself, which still points forward to the New Earth, which is a type that has still not ultimately reached its antitype should it not be the Christian's privilege to take the occasion of this feast to meditate on the meaning and hope its message has for us? The inspired author of that beautiful book Patriarchs and Prophets wrote a sentence that has been largely overlooked by Seventh-day Adventists.
Patriarch and Prophets, 540-541: "Well would it be for the people of God at the present time to have a Feast of Tabernacles--a joyous commemoration of the blessings of God to them." This is the only Old Testament festival thus recommended. Praise God--another chance to celebrate the goodness of God. (Note that Ellen White says, "well would it be"--not that we are required to, as with the weekly Sabbath. Since the ceremonial law met its Antitype at the cross, it is no longer mandatory to keep any of the annual feasts. But as spiritual Israel, we have the privilege to savor our Hebrew roots if we choose. And the Feast of Tabernacles is particularly inviting, since it still points forward in its ultimate fulfillment.)
Well, when should we celebrate it? There may be several appropriate times, but since the Feast of Tabernacles was the one time in the year when Israel left their homes and camped in booths or tents, it actually was a grand and glorious campmeeting, and so what better time for us to have our Feast of Tabernacles than at campmeeting! (Ellen and James White correlated the ancient Israelite festivals, and Feast of Tabernacles in particular, with modern campmeetings). Now even the timing of campmeeting this year can be seen as appropriate--Tabernacles came at the turn of the Jewish civil year (September-October), and our campmeeting this year is coming at the turn of our fiscal year.
Now let's see, how many here are eligible to attend this Old Testament biblical feast? How many are Israelites or Jews? Let me remind you of the biblical text, then ask you to raise your hands again. Gal 3:29: "If you are Christ's then you are Abraham's seed/offspring, heirs according to the promise." Now, how many spiritual Israelites, spiritual Jews!--those who are not yet Christians--you are also welcome, just as ancient Israel invited the sojourner and the stranger to partake with them in their feasts.
So, are your ready? Let's enter into the joy and celebration of God's divinely appointed, but almost well-nigh forgotten festival, the Feast of Tabernacles. With true Hebrew spirit--vigor and enthusiasm--let's celebrate our heritage. In our imagination let us join them and participate with them. The Bible sometimes speaks of this festival simply as "The Feast," because it was considered the crowning festival of the whole year. It was the most popular and most anticipated of all the feasts. The other festivals involved times of joy, but especially regarding Tabernacles does the Bible command the celebrants to rejoice.
Lev 23:40: "You shall rejoice before the Lord seven days." So let us rejoice together! Imagine yourself among the bands of happy pilgrims that make their way along the roads leading upward to Jerusalem and Mt. Zion. What were those pilgrims doing as they marched joyously along? Right--singing the songs of Zion! (Songs of Ascents--Psalms 120-134) As we are marching upward to Zion--the heavenly Zion, let us join them in song. Sing one stanza of Marching to Zion!
Let's say we're coming from the west, and we reach the summit of the forested pass just beyond Kirjath Jearim; or if we're coming from the north on the road from Shechem twisting through the hilly country of olive orchards and reach the lookout over Jerusalem near Gibeon; or if we are coming from the east up the desolate Jericho Road, and mount the heights of the Mount of Olives; or if from the south we pass the tomb of Rachel and round the bend from Bethlehem; from whatever direction we come in view of the holy city, Mt. Zion, we are hushed to silence by the sound from the Temple Mount. A priest is standing on the southwest cornerstone of the temple enclosure calling us to the feast. Archaeologists have dug up the very stone where this priest stood in Christ's day with the inscription: "The Place for the Blowing of the Shofar Horn."
Just to get us more into the spirit of the feast, I have brought a Jerusalem shofar horn (Ibex or ram's horn). I can't duplicate the clarion tones of the accomplished priestly musician, but let it stir your imagination nonetheless.
As we hear the call to the Feast, we break forth into the melody of the Psalm of Ascent (Ps 48:1, 2): "Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised in the city of our God, in the mountain of his holiness. Beautiful for situation and the joy of the whole earth, is mount Zion, on the sides of the north the city of the great King."
And with joy in our hearts, we make our way to Mt. Zion. According to Heb 12:22 every Christian can consider that by faith he has already come to the heavenly Mt. Zion. So as we gather here at campmeeting, we can by faith visualize our gathering at Mt. Zion. The first thing the pilgrims do as they arrive for the Feast is to construct tabernacles or booths. (Lev 23:40-43) Many of you are lodging in tents or some other kind of portable booths. May I ask you, through the remainder of campmeeting, to consider where you sleep as the booths of the Feast of Tabernacles, and meditate on the deep spiritual significance of this crucial element of the Feast.
The booths first of all point backward--they commemorate the pilgrimage of Israel in the wilderness. (Lev 23:42-43) Throughout the long years of wandering, God's protection had continually been manifest. As we dwell in our booths, I encourage us to think back on the way God has led us. Gratefully call to mind the various ways God has devised for bringing us out from the world; think how he has brought you out from the darkness of error into the precious light of His grace and truth.
If you have not yet experienced this glorious divine deliverance, I still invite you to look back. Look back, not only to the booths of the Sinai wilderness, but to the Booth that gives every other booth meaning. In Amos 9:11 God promises to send the Messiah Jesus Christ as the true Booth: He says, "In that day I will raise up the booth [same word as booth of Feast of Booths] of David that is fallen."
The true Booth is a person! Our Savior Jesus Christ. He is the personal Tabernacle of the Feast of Tabernacles. John writes in John 1:14: "And the word became flesh and tabernacled [literally] among us." In His booth we may dwell secure. (Note also that Christ was probably born at Feast of Tabernacles time.)
So the booth points back--to Israel's wilderness wandering, to the ultimate Booth--Jesus Christ, to the way He has led us in the past. The booths also speak of our present experience. This earth is a pilgrimage. There is a better land ahead. "This world is not my home, I'm just traveling through"--the barren wastes of this sinful land. We're dwelling in the tents of our sinful bodies (2 Cor 5:1), waiting for the transformation and glorification that is to come. "By faith, like Abraham [Heb 11:9] he sojourned in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents (booths) looking forward to a city, whose builder and maker is God." Like the other worthies of Hebrew 11, we "desire a better country, that is a heavenly one." (Heb 11:16) Christ, the Pioneer and Perfecter of our faith, has gone before us to prepare us a place in the lasting city.
Thus the booths of Tabernacles teach us the meaning of our present pilgrimage, and at the same time point us forward to the ultimate tabernacle. When the cry goes forth after the millennium and the New Jerusalem descends: "The tabernacle of God is with men. And He shall tabernacle with them and they shall be His people and God Himself shall be with them." (Rev 21:3)
Let all of these glories flow through your mind as you dwell in your "booth" tonight. (Be authentic--go under branches of trees.)
Our activities on this Sabbath day can serve to remind us of the Feast of Tabernacles. Tabernacles was a time for feasting. The pilgrims brought of the produce of the harvest and celebrated before the Lord and in glorious fellowship with each other. In our meals on this Sabbath, (harvest--fruit, juice, and grain) as we gather together with our brothers and sisters in Christ, we celebrate the blessing of life, health, and sustenance provided by God this year. We celebrate our material well-being. Let us also sense our social well-being, putting work aside for this convocation and fellowship with friends and relatives.
Tabernacles was also a time for spiritual well-being. It came immediately after the Day of Atonement when the assurance had been given that their sins were pardoned, and they were at peace with God. What joy filled their hearts. Today we live in the antitypical Day of Atonement. Though we know not when our names may come under review, I thank God that we can live now with the assurance that our sins are forgiven; and we are accepted in the Beloved. We need not fear the judgment. With David we can actually pray: Lord judge me! (Because we know the Judge is on our side; and as we have committed our souls into His keeping, He is also the Advocate, the Attorney who has never lost a case. So in the time of the judgment we may know the acceptance with God and have Shalom--Peace.)
Such is the message of the sacrifices of the Feast of Tabernacles. More sacrifices were offered at the Feast of Tabernacles than at any other feast. The foundation for our spiritual-well-being, for our joy for eternity is the sacrifice of Jesus. The more the emphasis upon the sacrifice, the greater the joy! The more we contemplate the atoning work of Christ on the cross, the more we fall in love with Him, and our joy knows no bounds. Has Christ's life been one of joy since last campmeeting?--or drudgery, a burden--Behold the Lamb of God--and the Christian life will become a Feast of Tabernacles!
Notice, also that the number of sacrifices descend each day. Bullocks: 13, the first day; then 12, 11, 10; the seventh day, 7; then the 8th (great day of Feast), one. Likewise with the rams: eighth day, one. Could this perhaps be calling our attention from the many animal sacrifices down to the One True Sacrifice, Jesus Christ?
What better time to meditate upon Jesus and His sacrifice than during our private devotions and reading of Scripture during this feast. In fact, Tabernacles time was the special time for the reading of the Law (Deut 31:9-13). Every seven years at Tabernacles time the whole Law of Moses was to be read. So let your reading of Scripture this day be part of the celebration of Tabernacles.
And let your singing be a celebration of Tabernacles. The words of Ps 106:1 rose triumphantly in song at the Feast: "O give thanks unto the Lord, for He is good; for His mercy endureth forever." Then followed music of all kinds. On either side of the white marble steps of the temple, the antiphonal choirs led the service of song. The multitude of worshippers waving the branches of palm and myrtle, took up the strain and echoed the chorus. Accompanying the united singing were mingled shouts of Hosanna--"Save now!" I wish we had the courage to recapture that joyous enthusiasm that pervaded the celebration of the Hebrew Feast. Try Hosanna!--wave branches!
To heighten our enthusiasm and fervor, let us turn our imaginations to the most impressive ceremony of the Feast, the one calling forth greatest rejoicing. In Jesus' day this ceremony was called the "water of outpouring," in commemoration of God's supplying of water from the rock in the wilderness.
At the first dawn of day every day of the feast there was a long blast of trumpets, followed by answering trumpets and shouts from the pilgrims in their booths all over the surrounding hills of Jerusalem. Then the designated priest led a procession down the steep slope of Mt. Zion to the pool of Siloam, and filled a golden flagon holding three logs (about one and a half pints). The priest made his way slowly up again toward the Temple Mount, and as he reached the Water Gate they blew on the shofar a sustained, a quavering, and another quavering blast. The priest lifted the golden flagon on high, and while the trumpets continued sounding, he slowly ascended the fifteen white marble steps of the temple, keeping time with the music and chanting, "Our feet shall sand within thy gates, O Jerusalem." (Ps 122:2)
Then the priest ascended the altar ramp and turned to the right where there were two silver bowls. The bowl to the west was for the water and the one to the east for the libation of wine. The bowls each had a spout at the bottom. The spout for the wine was narrower than the one for the water, so that the wine, which flowed more slowly would empty out at the same time as the water.
The flagons of wine and water were poured into the bowls and flowed together into a pipe, down under the temple court, to the Brook Kidron, and finally out into the Dead Sea, the lowest spot on earth. The worshippers witnessed this display of consecrated water representing the fountain which at God's commands had gushed from the rock in the wilderness, and spontaneously the jubilant strains rang forth, "The Lord is my strength and my song, therefore with joy shall ye draw water out of the wells of salvation." (Isa 12:2, 3)
What joy animated the worshippers who witnessed this scene. In fact the rabbis said, "He that never has seen the joy of the water of outpouring has never in his life seen joy."
I would add, O the even greater joy that comes from grasping the meaning of this service. Christ brought just such joy. It was the Feast of Tabernacles, A.D. 30. According to John 7:37, it was "On the last day of the feast, the great day." Jesus had been teaching day by day throughout the Feast, but now this final morning the priest had ascended from the pool of Siloam for the last time that year, and the ceremony reached a grand climax at the pouring out of the water with the wine into the silver bowls. Just then, as the people were dazzled by the splendor of the ritual and the music, and yet groping to understand the meaning of it all, thirsty for spiritual water to satisfy their souls, just then, Jesus lifted up his voice, and in tones that rang throughout the temple courts, He said, "If any man thirst, let him come to me and drink. He that believeth on me, as the Scripture said, out of his heart shall flow rivers of living waters."
Praise the Lord!
Jesus is the real fountain of living waters. On the cross, from the hole in His side flowed together water and blood (John 19:34) down, to the Dead Sea--to the lowest spot on earth, to the lowest sinner--the most hopeless case--to give life, living waters,--and to make each of us veritable pools of Siloam to share living water with other sinners. Jesus is the center, the meaning of the water service.
Jesus is also the meaning of the beautiful ceremony of lights that took place every evening during the Feast of Tabernacles. In the Court of the Women in Jesus' day were two lofty standards, supporting golden lampstands some 75 feet high. After the evening sacrifice four young boys of priestly line climbed ladders. Holding in their hands jars each containing 120 logs or about ten gallons of oil, they poured the oil into the bowls at the top of each lampstand. Then they took huge wicks made from the worn out clothes of the priests and stuck them down into the oil and then set the lampstands alight. And according to the Mishnah "there was not a courtyard in Jerusalem that did not reflect the light of the lamps." All night long joyful Jews continued their celebration in the light of the lighted standards. They danced before the Lord with burning torches in their hands, singing songs and praises. And countless Levites accompanied them on harps, lyres, cymbals, and trumpets, and other instruments.
The light which brought such joy commemorated the pillar of fire that had guided Israel in the desert. It was also widely believed among the Jews of Jesus' day that the light pointed to the Messiah who would come to shed His light upon Israel.
Such was the expectation in 30 A.D., when night after night Jesus witnessed the lighting of the great lamps. The final lighting ceremony took place, but Jesus made no announcement then. The light of the lamp was impressive, but it was an imperfect symbol of His mission.
So Jesus waited till the final morning of the Feast. The cock-crowed, and the last ceremony of the Feast began. Two priests stood at the upper gate (Nicanor Gate) that leads down the fifteen steps from the main Court of the Women, with two trumpets in their hands. As the cock crowed, they blew a sustained, a quavering, and another sustained blast, and began descending the steps. On the tenth step they again blew blasts on the trumpets. When they reached the Court of the Women--more trumpet blasts. They went on across the court to the gate that leads out to the east. Then they turned their faces toward the west--toward the temple building, and said, "Our fathers when they were in this place turned with their backs toward the temple of the Lord and their faces toward the east, and they worshiped the sun toward the east, but as for us, we are the Lord's; and our eyes are turned to the Lord."
By this climactic point in the morning service, the sun had just risen, and its rays fell with dazzling brightness upon the marble palaces of Jerusalem and lighted up the gold of the temple walls. Ah, here in the magnificence of the sunrise was the more perfect symbol of the glory of the Messiah's mission! And at this dramatic hour, with the sunlit splendor before them, and the words on their lips, "our eyes are turned toward the Lord," Jesus, pointing to the scene, speaks in clarion tones, "I am the light of the world."
What a moment! What a message! Jesus announces that He is the true light the Jews had been longing for. The Messiah has come! The light, the glory of Israel is here; and yes, as the sun shone all over the earth, Jesus is a light also to the Gentiles, (Isa 49:6) the light which lighteth every man that cometh into the world.
That moment of Tabernacles in A.D. 30--the revelation of Jesus as the Light of the World--may I challenge us to recapture it this last day of campmeeting. This is the last or the "Great Day" of our Feast of Tabernacles. May we look at every lamppost as the great standards at the temple. May the sunrise tomorrow morning take on new significance, may we say with Jesus "we are the Lord's; our eyes are turned toward the Lord," and view by parterous light in the heavenly Sanctuary.
And on this last and great day of the Feast, let us visualize and internalize the water festival. May every drinking fountain be a pool of Siloam, every pitcher of drink--the goblets of water and wine. Let us hear through all, Christ's words ringing out in this encampment, "If any man thirst, let him come to me and drink." And responding in faith, may there flow out of our hearts the rivers of living waters to thirsting ones around us.
We have pictured how the First Advent of Christ gave meaning to the symbols of Tabernacles. But Tabernacles does not only point to Christ's first coming. His life, death, and resurrection are the provisions, making possible that ultimate Feast of Tabernacles that still lies in the future. As we saw at the beginning of our study, Tabernacles is the one feast in which type still awaits its ultimate antitype. After the Great Day of Atonement comes to an end, after the scapegoat (Satan) has been led into the wilderness for a 1000 years, and at the close of the millennium the New Jerusalem descends to earth, and the purifying fire consumes sin and sinner, both root and branch, and the Great Controversy is over, then the saints finally are gathered into their Harvest Home. The meek finally inherit the earth. The seed of Abraham finally find rest in the Promised Land. And the Glorious Ultimate Feast of Tabernacles can begin!
Jesus points us to that ultimate Feast in the book of Revelation. As you study the Feast of Tabernacles, and then turn to the book of Revelation, you recognize that the descriptions of the New Earth (especially Revelation 21-22) are largely portraying the Feast of Tabernacles.
Rev 21:(3) begins: "The Tabernacle of God is with men!" Tabernacles can begin, the ultimate Tabernacle is present! And the water festival is there. Not just a goblet from the pool of Siloam, nor even water gushing from a rock, but a river of water of life clear as crystal flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb. The light ceremony is there. Not lampstands in the Court of Women, nor even a pillar of fire, nor even the dazzling sun; but the Lord God is the Light, and the lamp is the Lamb.
The waving of the palm branches is there: "A great multitude which no man could number, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes." And singing. Oh such singing! The multitude praising God with a loud voice, "Salvation belongs to our God who sits upon the throne, and to the Lamb . . . Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might to be our God for ever and ever. Amen!" (Rev 7:9-12)
And what a feast is prepared. Not just the manna provided by God for Israel in the wilderness, though the hidden manna will be part of the fare. Not just the harvest bounty that can be carried by worshippers coming up to Jerusalem. God Himself has set the feast! There's the tree of life with twelve manner of fruit. And from the testimony of one who saw the scene more recently than John, there is a table of pure silver. Many miles in length, yet our eyes can extend the length of it. On the table--yes the fruit of the tree of life, and the manna, and almonds, and figs, and grapes, and many kinds of fruit. And Jesus Himself says to us, "Come, my people, come in to supper; for I will gird myself and serve you." We all shout Alleluia! Glory! (Early Writings, p. 19)
Brothers and sisters, is there anyone of us that can resist such an invitation! Can a stronger motivation be given than picturing the glories of that Great Feast. Is it any wonder that Jesus gives the final invitation of Scripture in the setting of the Feast of Tabernacles? After the description of Revelation 21-22, we read: "The Spirit and Bride say, 'come.' And let him who hears 'come.' And let him who is thirsty, let him who desires take the water of life--the water of that ultimate tabernacles--let him take it without price." (Rev 22:17)
Will you with me at the beginning of this High Day of the Feast of Tabernacles on earth, even now open your hearts to partake of that living water? And will you join me in accepting that divine invitation for the Great Tabernacles in the New Earth?
After the Jewish temple was destroyed in 70 A.D., and the Jews were forced out of Jerusalem into exile, the Feasts were still celebrated at the synagogues. But at the conclusion of each feast, the parting greeting of the worshippers was--"Next year in Jerusalem!" May we not join them and at this Feast of Tabernacles, say, next year Lord--if you will, next year, very soon, may we celebrate in the New Jerusalem! Amen! Come Lord Jesus!