Feast of Tabernacles pictures a paradise

The writer, a Church of God member, has a master's degree in Hebrew studies from the University of Texas at Austin and a Ph.D. in religion and social ethics from the University of Southern California.

By Mark D. Kaplan

ANAHEIM, Calif.--As we observe the Festival of Tabernacles this year, our thoughts should be on history and prophecy. We should remember that in the first century Jesus tabernacled among human beings. We also should look forward to His return to tabernacle with humankind as King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

God's plan of salvation is based on love--unselfish, outgoing concern, God's essential characteristic (1 John 4:8). Our relationship with God is based on our response to His love for us. "We love Him because He first loved us" (1 John 4:19). Apparently it is God's will that most people first live in a physical paradise before entering the spirit realm to share eternity with Him.

God placed Adam and Eve in a luxuriant garden with work to do, but not the kind of struggle for survival that has characterized human history since the sin of the forbidden fruit.

In the beginning

Evidently, in the beginning, humans were at peace with nature, not fearing bad weather or wild animals. This was a proper setting to prepare people for their ultimate destiny, eternal joy as spirit beings. This delightful environment will be the norm around the world after the return of Christ (Acts 3:19-21).

The Festival of Tabernacles, or Feast of Booths, lasts seven days. Mankind should have experienced 7,000 years of peace and prosperity as the introductory phase of salvation history.

We are apparently experiencing the contingency plan. One of its benefits is that in the Millennium people will be able to compare and contrast life under Christ and the resurrected saints with life under Satan and his demons. It is likely that the vast majority will choose God's most gracious offer of eternal life as a son in God's family.

When harvesting crops, Israelites might leave their more-substantial dwellings to live in booths out in the fields (Isaiah 1:8). After the autumn harvest the booths in which Israelites dwelt during the festival symbolically pointed to the great spiritual harvest yet to come. God's church will grow exponentially at the culmination of the phase of human history through which we continue to live.

Playing with words

During the Festival of Booths the Israelites looked forward to the "former rain," the heavy rainfall they would need after the festival to begin the next agricultural cycle. These heavy fall rains picture the outpouring of God's Spirit during the Millennium (Isaiah 55:10-11). God has promised his people that "with joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation" (Isaiah 12:3).

There is a fascinating play on words in Joel 2:23. It contains a promise that can be translated "For He has given you the former rain faithfully" or "For he has given you a teacher of righteousness."

The word play shows the duality of the prophecy. During the reign of Jesus "the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Eternal as the waters cover the sea" (Isaiah 11:9).

Speaking on the seventh day of the Festival of Booths, which Judaism calls Hoshanah Rabbah, "Great Hosanna Day," Jesus compared God's Spirit to "living water." According to John 7:39, the resurrection of Christ was a necessary step in God's plan of salvation before the dramatic coming of the Holy Spirit reported in Acts 2.

In John we see that Christ observed the Festival of Tabernacles, but no specific details are given concerning the sort of dwelling in which He lived during those seven days. It would seem that the key element for Christians is going to a festival site and meeting with other believers for instruction.

Jesus taught during the middle of the festival (John 7:14). Our focus during this season should be on God's plan of salvation, not on condemning defensible options for housing during the Festival of Booths (Colossians 2:16-17).

In the end

Looking forward to the Millennium, Zechariah spoke of a time when all nations would observe the Festival of Booths (Zechariah 14:16-19).

Revelation 7:9-10 is a parallel passage.

In his youth the apostle John saw men in prayer shawls conducting processions holding palm fronds during the Festival of Booths.

They would cry "Hosanna!," which means, "Please save!" They would recite Psalm 118:25, "Save now, I pray, O Eternal; O Eternal, I pray, send now prosperity."

The scene in Revelation 7 is also associated with the time of the Second Coming.

When Peter, James and John saw a vision of the wonderful world of Messiah's reign, Peter wanted to build booths (Matthew 17:1-4). The Festival of Booths pictures the era when the resurrected saints of later years will interact with resurrected saints of the Bible. What a thrilling time!

Our children may even be able to ask Noah why he didn't swat those two mosquitoes when he had the chance (just kidding).

In Orthodox Jewish neighborhoods, people travel from booth to booth (sukkah in Hebrew) visiting, feasting, singing and discussing spiritual matters.

Chag sameach

The Church of God tradition is to leave one's normal location and spend time at a festival site in close proximity of other church members. Festival savings ensure that one can share many wonderful experiences with his brothers and sisters in Christ. What a refreshing change, and what a foretaste of the Millennium.

Members of God's church over the past 6,000 years have been exercising faith, looking forward to being changed to spirit when Christ returns.

The rest of humanity will have the opportunity to live in a physical paradise before their change to spirit.

The initial stage of the plan will involve those alive at Christ's return and their offspring in later years. That stage will last 1,000 years. It is the period mentioned six times in Revelation 20, possibly because it follows 6,000 years of civilization pervaded with sin.

Righteousness will dominate the seventh millennium! At that time, "the Sun of Righteousness will arise with healing in His wings ..." Chag sameach! Happy festival!

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