I recently heard a comment stating that the Feast of Tabernacles can hardly be associated or have any relevance to Christ, because it was originally given to the ancient Israelites under the old covenant. How can such festivals, associated as they are with the ancient’s seasonal agricultural harvests, be of any value to Christians?
It’s a good question. I hope this brief explanation is helpful.
The tabernacle, (and later the temple) were built on a heavenly blueprint. God specified every detail to Moses; details which although were made out of physical elements such as gold, wood and cloth, were based on and portrayed a transcendent divine, heavenly blueprint or reality.
Thus, the ensuing worship centring on the Tabernacle life, while in Israel’s experience was limited to their sojourn from Egypt and their annual agricultural seasons, their ceremonies, also dictated by God, equally originated from and pictured a transcendent heavenly connection.
How might we draw such a conclusion? What might that connection be?
That connection/blueprint or template can only be found in Jesus Christ.
Thus today, we do not and can not celebrate the old covenant feasts as given to ancient Israel. The old covenant and its associated liturgical practices are long gone, superceded by the new covenant written in Jesus’ blood.
So, is there any merit in divinely-given annual Sabbath celebrations? The question we might explore is, if their blueprint also originates from the heavenly, even as the design and details of the tabernacle was, then might we might have greater reason to enquire and explore what might be their heavenly significance?
What do those biblical festivals originally given to the ancient Israelites actually mean? Do they contain an inherit divine blueprint beyond the agricultural harvest seasons as experienced annually?
Jesus often used agricultural parables to tell of divine reality. “A farmer went to sow seed.” Jesus then explained the story in terms of spiritual harvest.
Curiously, Paul also used an interesting agricultural term when he referred to Jesus as “Christ the firstfruits”. It’s a phrase that clearly links ancient understanding of seasonal harvests with a higher, heavenly significance that centres on Jesus Christ.
A quick history lesson. During the annual Passover/Unleavened Bread season, the High Priest would cut the first of the barley harvest just after sunset, and that first wave sheaf was then presented in the tabernacle the next morning. We might ask: what might this ancient “firstfruits” ceremony actually mean?
Briefly, with Jesus crucified on a Wednesday, and then entombed for three days and three nights, the fulfilment of which would have occurred at or just after sunset on the Saturday night. It was then we suggest that Jesus was resurrected at the exactly the same time when the High Priest would have cut the first wave sheaf. At that moment Jesus would have opened his eyes and bodily resurrected. Recall, the tomb was already empty when the women visited early on that Sunday morning.
That first wave sheaf, cut from the early barley harvest, pictures Jesus’ resurrection. In the ceremony that followed the next day, the wave sheaf was presented in the temple, and the typology points to Jesus ascending to heaven to be presented before our Heavenly Father. Recall Jesus’ words to Mary when she saw the resurrected Jesus:
“Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.” (John 20:17 ESV)
Between seeing Mary early that morning, and later when he encountered the disciples, Jesus ascended to heaven and was presented to His Heavenly Father as the “firstfruits”, symbolised by that ancient wave sheaf offering!
Thus, accordingly, would it not be meritorious that our celebrations (that find their origins within the biblical narrative) be based entirely on the heavenly reality under the terms of the new covenant for whom our “blueprint” is our Lord, Advocate, Redeemer, King and Judge, Jesus Christ?
Perhaps, if we revisited those ancient harvest festivals as a blueprint narrative for the greater harvest of humanity, then those same celebrations under the lens of the new covenant, such as the Feast of Tabernacles, may provide amazing insight into a salvation narrative that is powerfully relevant and significant to the follower of Jesus!
In fact, Jesus purveys the notion that more of what Moses wrote pointed to Jesus than we might understand at face value. (John 5:46)
On the last great day of the Feast of Tabernacles, as recorded in John chapter seven:
…Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’” (John 7:37-38 ESV)
So, in the spirit and freedom of the new covenant, may we confidently celebrate Jesus as Saviour, Lord, King and Judge!
Remember, that we too are sojourners in this temporal world, just like Jesus was some 2000 years ago.
And the Word became flesh and dwelt [tabernacled] among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14 ESV)
Finally, we would like to suggest that as these festivals are nothing less than Christ-centred in origin and purpose, they are therefore highly recommended for all Christians!