Jesus commanded His disciples to observe the New Testament Passover, not by slaying a lamb in Jerusalem, but by washing one another's feet and partaking of unleavened bread and wine. But how many of us have realized that the New Testament Feast of Tabernacles is just as different from its Old Testament celebration?
PERHAPS YOU never thought of it before — but the Church of God observes the New Testament Feast of Tabernacles. Of course we all know that the sacrifices and preparatory washings of the law of Moses have ceased. But there are other, often overlooked, ways in which the New Testament Feast of Tabernacles differs from the manner in which the Old Testament Feast was observed.
A Spiritual, Not Physical, Worship
The fact that there is a New Testament manner in which to keep the Feast was first enunciated by Jesus to the woman at the well in Samaria: "Jesus said unto her, Woman, believe me, the hour cometh, when ye shall neither in this mountain [Mt. Gerizim in Samaria), nor yet at Jerusalem, worship the Father.... But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth..." John 4:21, 23). The Old Testament Feast of Tabernacles, from Solomon's time on, was observed with all its rites at Jerusalem only. But here Jesus plainly says that the place and manner of observing all the feasts would be changed. And today, we are to worship God "in spirit and truth," not by mere ritual. The rituals of the law came by Moses, but grace and truth — and that includes how to keep the New Testament festivals of God — came by Jesus Christ John 1:17). Before we look at Jesus' example and what the New Testament reveals about keeping the Feast of Tabernacles, we need to acquaint ourselves with some of the customs that surrounded the observance of the Jews' Feast of Tabernacles under the Old Covenant. Remember, John, in his account of the Gospel, commonly uses the expression "Jews' feast of tabernacles" John 7:2) or "the passover, a feast of the Jews" John 6:4). Why? Because various human customs were added over the years to the original Mosaic regulations for the festivals.
How the Jews Observed the Feast of Tabernacles
How was the Feast of Tabernacles observed in Jesus' day? What customs were the Jewish congregations following (customs that were not necessarily ordained by God and hence not to be continued in the New Testament observance)? Lawson C. Briggs, Associate Editor of The GOOD NEWS, has prepared for this article a summary of the ancient celebration. I want to share some of it with you. You may find it surprising: "Although Israel forsook God's festivals, the Feast of Tabernacles was the most popular of all the festivals in Judah. Josephus refers to it as being the 'most holy and most eminent feast.' The Jews found it delightful in the fall of the year, when the crops were in and the summer's labor over, to rejoice. Funeral eulogies and fasting were alike forbidden for the week of the festival. "The celebrations began as the fifteenth of Tishri approached, shortly after the regular afternoon sacrifice, and continued throughout the night. Flutes were played, along with lyres, harps and cymbals. Whoever could play an instrument did so. Whoever could sing sang. Others stamped their feet, clapped their hands, danced or whatever they could do, each to the best of his ability, while songs of joy and hymns of praise ascended to God. "In the midst of all this rejoicing, the Jews were very well aware that they were strangers and pilgrims on earth, for they were living for seven days in the temporary booths or tabernacles which gave this feast its name (Lev. 23:42-43; see also 25:23). They were very careful, even overly careful, to build their booths just so — three walls and a roof of green leafy boughs, with nothing withered or dead, or taken from the precincts of pagan shrines, or stolen, etc., were specified by the typically strict Pharisaic regulations. Even the altar of burnt offering was fenced around and over with leafy branches for the festival's duration. "During the feast each celebrant carried two things as signs, in his left hand a citrus and in his right hand a palm branch tied with willow. The fruit exemplified the fruits of the good land which God had given them. The palm branch in the right hand symbolized to the Jews praise of God's kingly power and His rule over the worshippers who carried it. "A prominent part of the festivities in Jesus' day — and very popular with the crowds — was the ceremony of the drawing of water. Early on the morning of the first day of the feast, one priest headed a joyful and enthusiastic procession from the Temple down to the pool of Siloam. Here he ritualistically dipped up a golden vessel full of the water and led the procession back to the Temple. "As priest and procession reentered the city through the water gate, which was so-called from this ceremony, they were greeted by a threefold blast of a trumpet. "The priest then walked up the rise to where the altar stood and poured the water from Siloam and the wine of the drink offering (Num. 29:16) into two silver bowls, from whence a pipe conveyed it away from the altar. "Meanwhile the people shouted aloud to the priest, 'Raise your hand.' Thus they made sure the water really was poured where it was supposed to go, for once before, about 95 B.C., the priest-king Alexander Jannaeus (a Sadducee) to show his contempt for the Pharisees to whom the water symbolized the fact of resurrection, had poured it on the ground. The watching people promptly pelted him with the fruits they held in their hands, precipitating a bloody massacre of several thousand by his foreign bodyguard. "As the water and wine were poured into the bowls, the Temple music began. Psalms 113 through 118 were sung. With the opening and closing words of Psalm 118 and verse 25, 'Save now, I beseech thee, O Lord' (King James Version), the waiting worshippers shook the palm branches in their hands to all four points of the compass, thus signifying that God will rule over all nations." These various customs were very familiar to Jesus. He saw them enacted every year as part of the Jews' celebration of the Old Testament Feast of Tabernacles. The question is, how would Jesus have us — the New Testament Church of God — celebrate the New Testament Feast of Tabernacles? How would it differ from the customs which developed under the Old Testament)
Jesus Set His Church an Example
Who among us is not familiar with the fact that at the last Passover in His ministry Jesus instituted new symbols and a new ceremony for the New Testament Passover? But how many of us have looked at Jesus' example during the last Feast of Tabernacles in His ministry? Nearly as many chapters are devoted to it as are devoted to the last Passover! You will find Jesus' activities during the Feast of Tabernacles described in the Gospel of John, chapters 7 through 9. "Now the Jews' feast of Tabernacles was at hand," reports John in 7:2. Notice Jesus' example! "Now about the midst of the feast Jesus went up into the temple, and taught" (verse 14). And a few days later: "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 [innermost being} shall flow rivers of living water. (But this spake he of the Spirit, which they that believe on him should receive...)" (verses 37-39). What did John mean, "the last day, that great day of the feast"? The Festival of Tabernacles is an autumn festival, seven days in length. It begins on the 15th day of the seventh month (Tishri) in the Hebrew calendar, corresponding to September/October in the Gregorian calendar. Immediately following the seven days is an "eighth day" (Lev. 23:34-36, 39), the 22nd day of Tishri. It is a one-day festival, called the Last Great Day. The entire eight-day period came to be known as the Feast of Tabernacles, just as the two adjoining spring festivals of Passover and Unleavened Bread came to be known as Passover (Luke 22:1). Jesus' evening message, as that Last Great Day began, centered on water as symbolic of the Holy Spirit of God. It was customary, as we have noted, to have a special ceremony of water-drawing from the pool of Siloam during the Feast of Tabernacles (The Babylonian Talmud, Seder Mo'ed, Sukkah, iv, Soncino Press, 1938). The ceremony symbolized the outpouring of the Spirit of God on the nations during the reign of the Messiah. The basis for the Jewish ceremony was Isaiah 12:3: "Therefore with joy shall ye draw water out of the wells of salvation." This water-drawing occurred on each of the seven days of the Feast of Tabernacles and on the eighth or Last Great Day. (Whenever, as in A.D. 30, the Last Great Day occurred on a weekly Sabbath, the drawing of water occurred the previous evening.) The people would gather at the place of the water-drawing, at the pool in Jerusalem called Siloam, amidst rejoicing and music. A golden flagon was filled with water which, after the regular daily morning offering, would be poured out at the altar in the sight of the people. If the occasion were the eve of a Sabbath, a golden barrel was filled and placed that evening in a chamber of the Temple (Sukkah, iv, 48b). It was to this even t of water-drawing that Jesus made reference as He taught in the Temple on that evening of the Last Great Day. Jesus' message is recorded in less than two verses (John 7:37-39). Now we read: "And every man went unto his own house. Jesus went unto the Mount of Olives. And early in the morning [in the daylight part of the Last Great Day} he came again into the temple, and all the people came unto him; and he sat down and taught them" (John 7:53; 8:1-2). Here was Jesus' example of keeping the daylight part of the Last Great Day. Shortly thereafter the Pharisees interrupted Jesus. They brought into his presence a woman who had been caught in the very act of adultery. Some translations delete the section about this woman and her adultery from John's Gospel. But they are in error. This section belongs in the Gospel, exactly where it is found. It is in the official text of the Greek New Testament used throughout the Greek-speaking world and is found in the authoritative manuscripts of John's Gospel preserved by the Greek people. Following this interruption, Jesus, setting an example to the New Testament ministry, spoke again to the people (8:12). In the crowds that listened were Pharisees who again interrupted (verse 13). A heated discussion ensued in which Jesus was accused of being a demon-possessed Samaritan (verse 48). Within minutes a fight broke out: "Then took they up stones to cast at him: but Jesus hid himself, and went out of the temple, going through the midst of them, and so passed by" (verse 59). But the episode does not end here. The ninth chapter, verse one, continues: "And as Jesus passed by, he saw a man which was blind from his birth." Jesus made clay, anointed his eyes, and told him to wash in the pool of Siloam. He returned "seeing" (verse 7). Later that last day of the feast, the onetime blind man, now healed, was brought before the Pharisees (verse 13). Verse 14 continues: "And it was the sabbath day when Jesus made the clay, and opened his eyes" (see also verse 16). Here, too, we have Jesus' example: healing on the Sabbath. In summary, we see that on Friday evening, at the beginning of the Last Great Day, Jesus spoke those few words recorded in John 7:37-38 about coming to Him for living water. The golden barrel had, shortly before, been filled with water from the pool of Siloam. It was Jesus' opportunity to explain the meaning of the ceremony and to focus attention on WHO it is from WHOM living spiritual waters flow. Later in the evening — Friday night — Jesus went to the Mount of Olives to rest. Next morning, on the daylight part of the Last Great Day, everyone returned to the Temple. It was a double Sabbath — a weekly Sabbath — Saturday — and an annual Sabbath, A.D. 30.
The New Testament Teaching
Nowhere in the account do we find Jesus directly participating in any of the various Jewish customs that grew up around the Feast of Tabernacles. Not that He condemned them. Rather, Jesus set an example for the New Testament ministry to follow — that of preaching and teaching the meaning of the seven days of the Feast of Tabernacles and of the Last Great Day, and of healing the sick. That is why today the ministry during the Festival teaches, preaches and prays for the sick rather than directing the performance of symbolic rituals - that is why, in so many different climates, we "worship God in spirit and in truth" without the need to build ritually defined physical booths — that is why the Festival today does not have to be held in the one place, Jerusalem, for the entire Church of God. Many of those ceremonies and customs of Jesus' day did have meaning. Indeed! But they were physical and temporary. We are to present a spiritual worship at the Feast — "in spirit and truth." We today have access by prayer to the holy place in heaven itself — "Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus" (Heb. 10:19). And, "Let us therefore with boldness approach the throne of grace" (Heb. 4:16, Panin translation). We are a "royal priesthood" (I Peter 2:5, 9) today. Today we have, not a Mosaic copy of the throne of God, but the reality in heaven itself! Moses set the true Old Testament example. He was the one called of God to establish the practice of the Old Testament Church. He gave the "law of Moses" to the Old Testament Church. The Jews had Moses' example. Jesus did not come in Moses' name, merely repeating the example of Moses. Jesus brought a new covenant message. The gospel came by Jesus Christ. Christ brought the New Testament promise of the Holy Spirit. He set the example for the New Testament Church of teaching about conversion and the Holy Spirit during the Feast of Tabernacles. Christ left us "an example that ye should follow his steps" (I Peter 2:21) The Apostle John was inspired to write: "And hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments ... whoso keepeth his word, in him verily is the love of God perfected: hereby know we that we are in him. He that saith he abideth in him ought himself also so to walk, even as he [Christ] walked" (I John 2:3-6). Notice: We are to walk as Christ walked, and His ministers are to speak as He spoke. It doesn't say "as Moses walked." Christ not only died to pay for our sins — He also lived so that we would know how to live. He kept His Father's laws, and that included keeping the Feast of Tabernacles and setting us an example of how to keep it in New Testament times!
Paul Kept the Feast of Tabernacles
Paul followed Jesus' example and not only kept the Feast of Tabernacles, but kept it after the New Testament manner long after what was "nailed to the cross" was nailed there. And notice Paul's command that we follow his example as he followed Christ's: "Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ" (I Cor. 11:1). That is very plain. We follow Paul in keeping the New Testament Feast of Tabernacles as he followed Christ. Notice now the sequence of events in the book of Acts which clearly indicate that Paul kept the Feast of Tabernacles. God used Paul to reach the Gentiles with the gospel. In A.D. 50, Paul crossed over from Asia into Europe and began to preach the gospel at Philippi (Acts 16:11-13). After a few weeks at Philippi, Thessalonica (Acts 17:1), Berea (verse 10) and Athens (verse 16), Paul came to Corinth in the late summer of A.D. 50 (Acts 18:1). After spending several Sabbaths teaching in the synagogue (verse 4), Paul continued to hold meetings in the house of Justus (verse 7) for "a year and six months" (verse 11). This brings us to the spring of A.D. 52. After a riot stirred up against the apostle was quelled, we read the following about Paul: "And Paul after this tarried there yet a good while, and then took his leave of the brethren, and sailed thence into Syria" (Acts 18:18). It was now well into the summer of A.D. 52. The Feast of Unleavened Bread and Pentecost — the two festivals near the beginning and end of spring — were now past. To continue with Paul's journey, on his way from Corinth to the port of Syria, "he came to Ephesus" and "entered into the synagogue, and reasoned with the Jews. When they desired him to tarry longer time with them, he consented not; but bade them farewell, saying, I must by all means keep this feast that cometh in Jerusalem: but I will return again unto you, if God will. And he sailed from Ephesus" (Acts 18:19-21). Was Paul planning to keep the feast with the Headquarters Church at Jerusalem? Indeed! Which feast? The spring festivals were already past. The two late summer or early autumn holy days, the Feast of Trumpets and the Day of Atonement, were held at any of the local congregations. Yet here was a major festival being held at Jerusalem in the autumn. The one big major festival that occurs in the autumn is the Feast of Tabernacles! Paul told the Ephesians that he "must by all means keep this feast that cometh in Jerusalem" — with the Headquarters Church. (This was long before A.D. 70, at which time Jerusalem fell to the Roman General Titus and the Temple was destroyed.) Paul had just completed his first journey into Europe with the gospel and undoubtedly felt he had to report the progress of the work to the Headquarters Church and the brethren (verse 22). What better time to do so than while keeping the Feast of Tabernacles! Here is the example of Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles. After years in the New Testament ministry he is still keeping the Feast of Tabernacles!
Why Verse Left Out in Corrupted Manuscripts
Acts 18:21 appears correctly in the King James Version of the Bible. But numerous modern translations leave out that portion of the verse which tells of Paul's intention to keep the Feast. This verse, in its entirety, belongs in the Bible. It has always been 100 percent a part of the inspired Greek text handed down to the Greek-speaking world by the original true Church of God. The only manuscripts which leave it out are those copied in Egypt and in the Latin-speaking portions of the Roman Empire. There would have been no reason to add this verse to the Bible if it were not there originally. But there is every reason why men would like to remove it from the inspired text! The Catholic version of the Bible leaves it out as do almost all modern Protestant translations of the Bible. These churches do not want to keep this feast.
But Not at Jerusalem Only
Paul on this one occasion did travel to Jerusalem to keep the Feast. Yet, on many other occasions, he observed it elsewhere — just as Jesus said His Church would do. Remember, to the Samaritan woman Jesus said: "... the hour cometh, when ye shall neither in this mountain, nor yet at Jerusalem, worship the Father." But this was not the first time Jesus spoke on this subject. Notice what He said as the Spokesman in the Old Testament: "... in all places where I record my name I will come unto thee, and I will bless thee" (Ex. 20:24, last part). Jesus, born of Mary, was not speaking anything different from what He told the Israelites at Sinai as the YHWH or Spokesman of the Old Testament. "In all places" — not merely for all time at Jerusalem. As the New Testament Church of God grew in apostolic days, there soon developed a need for the scattered brethren to meet not only in Jerusalem but in numerous other sites to observe God's annual festivals. And in no case would the rituals of the Jews — such as the water-drawing — have been observed by the New Testament Church, for these rituals were performed by the Levitical priesthood only at Jerusalem in the precincts of the Temple. Though Paul kept the festivals every year (I Cor. 5:8; 16:8; Acts 18:21; 20:16), yet for nearly 14 years Paul "was unknown by face unto the churches of Judaea which were in Christ: but they had heard only, that he which persecuted us in times past now preacheth the faith which once he destroyed" (Gal. 1:22-23). Paul was not keeping the festivals at Jerusalem these fourteen years or he certainly would have been known by face. Where was Paul observing the festivals during those years? "I came," he said, "into the regions of Syria and Cilicia" (Gal. 1:21). Paul and Barnabas spent many years preaching there before being sent on their journeys. The center of the region of Cilicia and Syria was Antioch. At Antioch "it came to pass, that a whole year they assembled themselves with the church, and taught much people." Paul must have observed the Feast of Tabernacles that year with Christians in or near Antioch (read Acts 11:25-26). On the second apostolic journey the Apostle Paul went into Europe. He came to Philippi in Macedonia 19 years after the Holy Spirit had come on the day of Pentecost in A.D. 31. He then journeyed in the late summer of A.D. 50 to Corinth, in Southern Greece, in the province of Achaia. "He continued there a year and six months, teaching the word of God among them" (Acts 18:11). That period of time included two more Feasts of Tabernacles, which presumably were spent in or near Corinth. Travel was so slow in those days that it would have taken two weeks to a month just to go to Corinth from Antioch, or vice versa. So, at the same time, converts in the geographic area of Syria and Cilicia were still observing the Feast of Tabernacles in Antioch in Syria. And converted Jews in Judaea were still observing it in Jerusalem, as always. Paul's third journey took him into the province of Asia, which was subdivided into Mysia, Lydia and Caria. (This is the region of Western Turkey today.) The central location of this region was Ephesus, where Paul preached for at least two years and three months (Acts 19:8-10) without returning to Jerusalem. Now consider how these facts from the New Testament affect God's Church today.
A COLLECTIVE Blessing
It is a collective duty of the New Testament Church of God to observe the Feast of Tabernacles in the New Testament manner. And as Jesus prophesied to the woman at the well, Jerusalem would soon cease to be the primary site John 4:21). In fact, Jerusalem and the Temple were destroyed in A.D. 70 and Jerusalem temporarily ceased to be a festival site for the Church of God. But it will become so again, certainly in the Millennium if not before (Zech. 14:16). But how can the members of God's Church know where to keep the Feasts today? It is the responsibility of the ministry and leadership of the Church to make it known, as Christ the Head of the Church (Col. 1:18) leads and directs them through His Spirit. For Christ "hath set some in the church, first apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers...." (I Cor. 12:28) — or, as in Ephesians 4:11-14, some are "apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry ... till we all come in the unity of the faith... that we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine...." But perhaps the most important New Testament aspect of the Feast of Tabernacles is what Jesus continued to prophesy to the Samaritan woman in John 4:23: "But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him." The New Testament worship must be a true, spiritual, meaningful comprehension of the meaning of the Feast and of the purpose, plan and character of the Creator God whom we there and then worship. Only in this way can we truly "rejoice" as God and Jesus Christ (the YHWH) intended from the beginning. With this understanding, let's make this year's Feast of Tabernacles an even more joyous occasion as the end of this age approaches.