Why has the Christian world overlooked the real meaning of the most significant Feast of Tabernacles in history?
No more important Feast of Tabernacles is recorded anywhere in the Bible. The apostle John spent almost one fifth of his gospel account on it. So irate were the chief priests and Pharisees when they heard Jesus' teaching at that particular Feast that they attempted to stone Him to death. The episode we are about to read begins in John, chapter 7, and continues through chapter 10, verse 21. Turn to it in your Bible.
What John records
The background of this historic Festival is found in John 7:1: "After this Jesus went about in Galilee; he would not go about in Judea, because the Jews sought to kill him. Now the Jews' feast of Tabernacles was at hand" (Revised Standard Version). It was seven months before the Passover and crucifixion, and already the leaders in Judea were looking for a chance to kill Jesus. Even Jesus' brothers were upset with Him. They said sarcastically to Jesus: "'Surely no one can hope to be in the public eye if he works in seclusion. If you really are doing such things as these, show yourself to the world'" (verse 4, New English Bible). Jesus was not attempting to be in the public eye — but His brothers did not know that. The Work of God today is not attempting to be in the public eye or to seek notoriety. It is doing exactly what Jesus did. John explains it in verse 7: "The world cannot hate you," said Jesus to His brothers, "but it hates me for exposing the wickedness of its ways" (NEB). We are exposing the wickedness and injustice of the ways of this world. We are announcing the good news — Gospel — that a better world is coming. How? Through Jesus Christ's intervention in world affairs to reestablish the government of God over the whole earth! Herbert W. Armstrong and his staff go to world leaders with this message in a private manner. We do not seek newspaper headlines about discussions with world leaders. That time will come soon enough. Now to continue with John's account of the Feast. Jesus said to his brothers, "Go ye up unto this feast: I go not up yet unto this feast; for my time is not yet full come" (verse 8, King James Version). Modern translations erroneously omit the first yet in Jesus' words, "I go not up yet unto this feast." With this answer Jesus remained behind in Galilee. To continue: "But after his brothers had gone up to the feast, then he also went up, not publicly but in private" (verse 10, RSV). The apostle John refers to this impending Festival in 7:2 as the "Jews' feast of tabernacles." The Festival is God's Feast of Tabernacles. He ordained it. But since the Jews were a nation as well as a congregation, it had become a national festival, celebrated with special temple ceremonies and national customs. "About the middle of the Feast Jesus went up into the temple and taught. The Jews marveled at it, saying, 'How is it that this man has learning, when he has never studied?'" (verses 14-15, RSV). Of course Jesus studied! But He had not studied as a student of the Pharisees or Sadducees. His apostle today studied — but not in this world's colleges and universities. When Jesus was 12, He was found by His parents "sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions; and all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers" (Luke 2:46-47, RSV). Jesus answered His critics that fourth day of the Feast by saying: "My doctrine is not mine, but his that sent me. If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself... Did not Moses give you the law, and yet none of you keepeth the law? Why go ye about to kill me?" (verses 16, 17, 19, KJV). Jesus' teaching came from God. He appealed to the law as the basis of true character. He challenged those who harbored murderous thoughts contrary to the law. They, in turn, to justify themselves, accused Jesus of being demon possessed (verse 20). For the next two days the people discussed among themselves whether Jesus' was indeed the Christ, the Messiah. "'When the Christ appears,'" they said, "'will he do more signs than this man has done?'" (verse 31, RSV).
The controversy heightens
John continues, "The Pharisees heard the crowd thus muttering about him, and the chief priests and Pharisees sent officers to arrest him" (verse 32). When the officers came into the presence of Jesus and heard Him speak, they were immensely impressed. It was now the seventh day of the Feast of Tabernacles. (The Feast of Tabernacles is a seven-day festival. It is followed by an eighth day, which is an annual Holy Day. This eighth day — see Lev. 23:36, last half — has no specific name in the Old Testament.) On this seventh day of the Feast of Tabernacles a great closing celebration occurred in the temple ceremonies. Quantities of water were drawn in public view, and poured out, in preparation for the final or eighth day of the Festival season. The ceremony commemorated an event recorded in I Samuel 7:5-6. There we read that Samuel the prophet, apparently at the time of the Feast of Tabernacles, gathered the people to Mispah. (This was before the temple of Solomon was built at Jerusalem.) Samuel then "drew water, and poured it out before the Lord." The Jews had just repeated this traditional ceremony, amid great celebration at the end of the seventh day of the Feast, when Jesus stood up at the beginning of the last great day (the eighth day) at sunset (John 7:37) and proclaimed: "'If any one thirst, let him come to me and drink. He who believes in me, as the scripture has said, 'Out of his heart shall flow rivers of living water.'" The apostle John explains to his readers what Jesus meant — and what, in fact, this joyous ceremony signified, "Now this he said about the Spirit, which those who believed in him were to receive; for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified" (verse 37, last half, to 39, RSV). Jesus' Gospel reveals the way of salvation, the way to eternal life. Man is born mortal, fleshly. He has no eternal life naturally abiding in him. He needs the Spirit of the immortal, ever-living God. That Spirit is made available to man through Jesus Christ, who offered Himself for the sins of the world, was buried and resurrected, ascended to God the Father, is glorified and now, as high priest and our personal advocate, ministers for us at the throne of God. This was Jesus' message on the beginning hours of the Last Great Day of the Feast of Tabernacles. This annual Holy Day pictures a time when the government of God is established over all the earth. Salvation is opened to the whole world. Those who are now called and chosen will rule with Christ not only for 1,000 years (Rev. 20:4), symbolized by the seven days of the Feast of Tabernacles, but also during the judgment, at the time of the second resurrection (Rev. 20:11-12). This Last Great Day pictures this great event, when all who have lived and died in spiritual ignorance will come to a knowledge of the truth and to salvation. Out of the saints' innermost being will flow rivers of spiritual water, converting the world. When the officers heard these words of Jesus, they returned that evening to the chief priests and Pharisees without having apprehended Jesus (John 7:45). "'Why did you not bring him?'" demanded the chief priests and Pharisees. "The officers answered, 'No man ever spoke like this man.'" (verse 46). And the Work of God today speaks with the same conviction and authority and truth. World leaders pay attention to what Herbert W. Armstrong announces to them in private discussions. They have never heard anything like it before. The true Gospel — the good news of the Kingdom (government) of God — is as astounding to the rulers of the world today as it was to the leaders of that day when Jesus first announced it.
Attempting to trap Jesus
Now we turn to the King James Version, beginning verse 53 of chapter 7. "And every man went unto his own house." The account continues with verse I of chapter 8: "Jesus went unto the mount of Olives. And early in the morning he came again into the temple, and all the people came unto him; and he sat down, and taught them." After a night's rest the people were again at Jesus' feet eager to hear Him. It was the morning of the last Festival of the year, the eighth day (the day we now call the Last Great Day), which immediately followed the seven-day Festival of Tabernacles. Hardly had Jesus begun to teach when the scribes and Pharisees entered. They hatched a plan during the night to trap Jesus so they might have cause to arrest Him. With them as they entered was a woman who had been found committing adultery. Instead of privately helping her to overcome her sin, they made a public spectacle of her. "Now Moses in the law commanded us, that such should be stoned," they intoned, "but what sayest thou?" (verse 5). Jesus' discerning answer was His message of the Holy Day. "He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her" (verse 7, KJV). Humiliated, the scribes and Pharisees left one by one, beginning with the eldest. "Woman," said Jesus, "where are those thine accusers? hath no man condemned thee?" When she responded, "No man, Lord," Jesus said, "Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more." This account of the woman taken in adultery is wrongly deleted, or mistakenly placed in footnote, in modern versions. It is a vital part of the story. Then Jesus began to explain to the people who had witnessed this ugly scene, "I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life" (verse 12, KJV). Those millions of human beings who throughout history have lived and died in spiritual darkness will indeed see the light of truth — after the millennium in a second resurrection. As Jesus was explaining this, the Pharisees in Jesus' audience took offense (verse 13). They accused Jesus of bearing false testimony — that His Gospel was a lie and of the devil. "Jesus replied, 'If I glorify myself, that glory of mine is worthless. It is the Father who glorifies me, he of whom you say, 'He is our God,' though you do not know him. But I know him; if I said that I did not know him I should be a liar like you. But in truth I know him and obey his word... They picked up stones to throw at him" (John 8:54-59, NEB). We pick up the account in the King James Version: "But Jesus hid himself, and went out of the temple, going through the midst of them, and so passed by. And as Jesus passed by, he saw a man which was blind from his birth" (John 8:59; 9:1). Jesus put clay on his eyes and healed the man. The blind man, now healed, was whisked before the Pharisees. The apostle John takes special note of the time this healing occurred: "And it was the sabbath day when Jesus made the clay, and opened his eyes" (John 9:14, KJV). (See also verse 16.) So the day that followed the seventh or last day of the Feast of Tabernacles was not only an annual Holy Day, but also the weekly Sabbath. This pinpoints it to the autumn of A.D. 30. In that year the last Holy Day, the eighth day — which Christians later came to call the Last Great Day — occurred on the Sabbath, Oct. 7, according to the basic rules of the fixed Jewish calendar we use today. And the next spring (A.D. 31) the Passover and crucifixion fell on a Wednesday. (See our booklet, The Resurrection Was Not on Sunday.) Such a combination of the Last Great Day on a Sabbath and the Passover on a Wednesday occurred at no other time in Jesus' ministry! Nor would such a combination be possible at any time in Jesus' ministry if the later, temporary Pharisaic custom of observation of the new moon were in force. John's account of this final Feast of Tabernacles' season in Jesus' ministry is vital not only in revealing Jesus' messages on these days — and therefore the meaning of these autumn Festivals in God's plan — but also in dating precisely His ministry and the crucifixion to the very year and to the very day of the week.