Several years ago, I did something you might think is strange. I spent a week sleeping in a tent to celebrate Sukkot, the Jewish Feast of Tabernacles. Traditionally, Jews around the world spend the seven days and nights of this festival in tabernacles (or tents) to remember what it was like for their ancestors to be in the wilderness and to celebrate God’s provision. In fact, God instructed Jews to do so in Leviticus 23, and we’ve been celebrating this feast for thousands of years. It’s the biggest of all the feasts celebrated in Judaism, and it holds a great deal of significance for us as Christians.

The key to understanding why it’s so important is in the name: the Feast of Tabernacles. John 1:14 says, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, ….” The Greek word for “dwelt” is eskēnōsen, which means tabernacle. So if we read it as “And the Word became flesh and tabernacled among us,” it means Sukkot is all about being with God and beholding His glory.

There’s another interesting element hidden in plain sight in the book of John. Much of the book takes place during a particular Sukkot festival. It’s almost as if John is saying, “I’m going to tell you a story focused on the Feast of Tabernacles.” On the last day of the festival, during the traditional water-pouring ceremony, a priest offers water to the Lord and thanks Him for taking the Israelites out of the dry and thirsty wilderness. It’s a big ceremony and the entire city is there to celebrate. Then, in John 7:37, Jesus stood and shouted, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink.” He did a similar thing in John 8:12. After a special ceremony, where four massive candelabras were lit so brightly they illuminated the city, Jesus said, “‘I am the light of the world.’”

Some people heard Him and thought He was a lunatic. Some thought He was a prophet while others believed He was the Messiah. But when we look back, we can see that He was really saying, this is all about Me.

Sukkot takes on even deeper significance for us when we look at it in the context of the Passover and Pentecost feasts. The Passover feast comes first in the calendar year, and it’s when the Last Supper took place. Jesus left the Last Supper and went to the cross. He died and rose again. Because of this, we can see that Passover is all about the Son setting us free. The Pentecost feast comes next in the calendar year, and it was the day that God sent the Holy Spirit to mold us into the image of Jesus and empower us to live worshipful lives. Here we can see that Pentecost is all about the Holy Spirit. And finally, because of John 1:14, we can see that Sukkot is all about us dwelling with the Father. Take a look at the order of these events: First Jesus sets us free, then the Holy Spirit empowers us, and finally we dwell with the Father. These feasts are a picture of God’s plan to reconcile with mankind.

So as we approach Sukkot this year (October 4–11), even if you don’t celebrate it by spending a week in a tent, I want to encourage you to take some time to dwell with God.

As I reflect on the week I did sleep in a tent for Sukkot, I remember the joy I felt. I did normal things at home with my family and we ate dinner together indoors, but afterward I went outside to my tent while everyone else went to bed inside the house. I still remember the first night. I rested on my small cot and noticed something peculiar. I was smiling. Though no one else was around, I was not alone in that tent.

 

Greg Stone is the pastor of Jewish Ministry. For more information, visit jewish.gatewaypeople.com.