Old Testament Laws: Imagery of the Feast of Tabernacles in the Gospels, conclusions

The purpose of this investigation has been to examine the possible allusions to the Feast of Tabernacles in the Gospel accounts of the Transfiguration, the Triumphal Entry, and in Jn. 7 – 9, in order to form a more comprehensive assessment of the role of the festival’s imagery as a source of theological inspiration for the early Christians. We will now summarize the results of our investigation.

In our examination of the imagery of the Feast of Tabernacles, we have seen that the imagery developed eschatological, universal, messianic, and nationalistic interpretations. There are a variety of suggestions as to how this may have happened. It may be that the original agricultural nature of the feast supplied the basis for attaching eschatological associations. The connection may have begun because of the anxious concern for the year to come and the hope of salvation that rested in the future coming of the rains. The fruit harvest celebrated by Tabernacles became associated with the great harvest of people at the end of the age, with the abundance of fruit in the Age to Come, and with the future time of judgment and restoration (cf. Micah 4:1-7; Ezek. 47:12; Amos 9:13-15; Joel 3:12-21). The instruction in connection with the celebration of the Feast of Tabernacles to look back at the exodus-wilderness experience (Lev. 23:43) resulted also in some people looking forward to future, similar great acts of God to save his people from oppressors. The sukka came to picture the future dwelling of God with his people. The connection of the celebration of Tabernacles to the Temple and altar dedication led some to picture the building and dedication of the “new Temple” (Ezek. 47) as occurring in conjunction with the keeping of the feast. This would be a future time when all nations would come to the “new Temple” at Jerusalem to keep the feast (Zech. 14:16). The enthronement of the Davidic kings was seen by some as connected to the time of the Feast of Tabernacles. The symbolism of the victorious king who had overthrown all of the national enemies came to be connected to the feast (cf. Zech. 9 – 14). Various aspects of the imagery associated with the Feast of Tabernacles came to carry this variety of symbolism. In and around the NT period, the feast displayed imagery of a varied and multi-dimensional character. Though the agricultural and Temple celebrations remained important motifs, later periods in Jewish history added new meanings and interpretations to the inherited conceptions of the imagery of the festival. The ability of elements of the feast such as the lulav and the sukka to absorb, foster, and evoke new interpretations enabled the imagery of the festival to remain powerful and pervasive long after the celebration of the feast at the Temple had ceased. The imagery appears to have become so powerful that it became “portable.” It was imported into the Feast of Dedication by the Jews and, perhaps, into the Christian traditions about the Passover. The imagery of the feast seems to have become able to stand independently of the celebration of the feast of which it was a part. This study has not been about the Feast of Tabernacles per se, but more accurately, about the imagery of the feast. The enduring and potent imagery with its eschatological, universal, nationalistic, and messianic interpretations provided a vivid background and a rich palette of colors from which the Gospel writers could paint their “portraits” of Jesus.



This thesis contains several implications for further study. First, we believe that more attention needs to be given the possible importance of the imagery associated with the Feast of Tabernacles and its eschatological interpretation in the first century. As we saw in the first chapter of this work, imagery of the festival appears in coins, art, funeral symbols, and in Jewish and Christian writings. The Feast of Tabernacles may have retained its prestige as the greatest of the pilgrim festivals until the time of the destruction of the Temple. Further studies on the feast and the interpretations of its imagery might help us better understand the world of ideas extant in first century Palestine and therefore, better understand possible backgrounds for both Jewish and Christian writings of the period.

Second, we believe that the Gospels need to be further examined for imagery associated with the Feast of Tabernacles. If the feast was associated with the Messianic Age and the prophetic proclamation of “the Day of the Lord,” it likely plays a role in Christian eschatology. The Gospel of Matthew may have imagery associated with the Feast of Tabernacles as a background to its eschatological sayings in chapters 24 and 25 (Jenney:158). Cosmic signs of the Day of the Lord are mentioned (Mt. 24:6-7, 21, 49). The return of the Son of Man will be as lightning (Mt. 24:27) and he will come on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory (Mt. 24:30). He will be enthroned (Mt. 25:31) and all the nations will come up before him for judgment (25:32). Here we have the familiar imagery of fire, light, clouds, enthronement, and judgment, in a scene reminiscent of Zech. 14. Matthew’s citations are often from prophetic passages related to Tabernacles (e.g. Mt. 2:6 cf. Micah 5:2; Mt. 2:18 cf. Jer. 31:15; Mt. 4:14cf. Isa. 9:1-2). In Luke 16:9 there is reference to “eternal tabernacles.” There are several passages in the Fourth Gospel that we did not examine in detail and which may have a background in the imagery of the Feast of Tabernacles (Jn. 1:14; 2:7, 9; 3:5, 23; 4:7-15; 5:3-7; 13:5; 19:34). We note that John seems to have a particular interest in water imagery. As we have seen, water imagery played a large role in the ceremonies and interpretation of the Feast of Tabernacles.

Third, we believe that the remainder of the NT needs to be examined for imagery associated with the Feast of Tabernacles. In 1 Cor. 10:4 there is reference to the water from the rock in the wilderness that followed ancient Israel wherever it went. As we noted briefly in our study of Jn. 7 – 9, this rock was connected to the Temple rock and to the water ceremony of the Feast of Tabernacles (T. Suk. 3:11-13). Manson believes he sees traces of the Jewish festal calendar in the correspondence of Paul and notes Paul’s comments about tabernacles in 2 Cor. 5:1-5 (8). Hillyer sees imagery associated with Tabernacles in 1 Peter (39-70). There is mention of joy (1:8), of “perishable seed” (1:23 cf. Isa. 40:6-8), of judgment (1:17), of Christ as the cornerstone (2:2-8), of God’s light (2:9), of being “sojourners” and “pilgrims” (2:11), and of receiving a crown of glory (5:4). Hillyer connects the use of the flood account and the imagery of water associated with the Feast of Tabernacles to the background of the subject of Christian baptism in 1 Peter. Jenney suggests that the liturgical setting of the book of Revelation is the Feast of Tabernacles and that Revelation selects its biblical passages and derives its themes and vocabulary from the liturgy of the festival (1). Ulfgard sees imagery associated with Tabernacles especially in Rev. 7:9-17 (1). In Rev. 7 we read of white robes and palm branches (v. 9) of the use of phrases from the Hallel (v. 12), of God’s sheltering (“spreading his tabernacle over’) his people (v. 15), and of the springs of the water of life (v. 17). Rev. 21 and 22 also appear to contain a great deal of festival imagery. Comblin argues that Rev. 21:1-22:5 describes some kind of a celebration of the Feast of Tabernacles (35). In Rev. 21 we read of the tabernacle of God being with humans (v. 3), of the gift of water from the spring of the water of life (v. 6), of the glory of God (v. 11), of God as the perpetual light (v. 22), and of all nations and kings coming up to the new Jerusalem (v. 24). In Rev. 22 we read of the river of the water of life flowing out from God (v. 1), of the tree of life bearing fruit continuously (v. 2), of God as the perpetual light (v. 5), and of everyone who is thirsty being invited to come and drink of the water of life (v. 17). When all of these examples are considered, it seems apparent that there are implications for further study and that there is work yet to be done in the examination of the NT in regard to possible imagery of the Feast of Tabernacles.

Author: Dan Rogers


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