In Part 1 and Part 2 of this series, we discussed the history and traditions of the Jews regarding God’s weekly Sabbath and the first four of God’s feasts. [See: God’s Feasts and the Jews — Part 1 and God’s Feasts and the Jews — Part 2.] We pointed out how the Jews have unwittingly fulfilled or missed out on certain steps in God’s plan of saving all of mankind. In this third and last part of the series, we will discuss how the Jews have observed the last three of God’s feasts: the Day of Atonement, the Feast of Tabernacles, and the Last Great Day.
The Day of Atonement and the Jews
The Jews call this feast Yom Kippur — the Day of Atonement [kippur means “atonement” — conveying the idea of reconciliation with God]. The Encyclopaedia Judaica [as paraphrased by the Jewish Virtual Library (JVL), article titled “Atonement”] summarizes what the Jews consider as the meaning of this day: “Both the Bible and rabbinical theology reflect the belief that as God is holy, man must be pure in order to remain in communion with Him. Sin and defilement damage the relationship between creature and Creator, and the process of atonement — through repentance and reparation — restores this relationship.”
This view certainly resonates, in part, with Isaiah 59:2, where the prophet says: “But your iniquities have separated you from your God; and your sins have hidden His face from you, so that He will not hear.” However, the Jews have a view different from that of Christians on how that atonement or reconciliation between sinful man and a holy God can be achieved.
In Leviticus 16:7-9, 15-19 God instructed the high priest Aaron (and his descendants who would hold the same office) to get two goats, and the one chosen “for the LORD” was to be killed as a sacrifice for atonement, “because of the uncleanness of the children of Israel, and because of their transgressions, for all their sins.”
The same article from the JVL concedes: “The basic means of atonement is the sacrificial rite, which functions to purify man from both sin and uncleanness…” But the article adds: “In its most spiritual aspect, however, the sacrificial rite is only the outward form of atonement, and in order for it to be effective, man must first purify himself.” And the means to do that: “Fasting [as Leviticus 23:26-32 commands to be done on the Day of Atonement] and prayer are also specified as means of atonement (Isaiah 58:1-10; Jonah 3…)” [emphases in all the preceding and subsequent quotes from JVL, mine].
Thus the Jews have the tradition of reading the book of Jonah during Yom Kippur. In the story of Jonah, God relented from punishing the inhabitants of the great Assyrian city of Nineveh when the city’s ruler and his subjects (including their animals) fasted and turned from their sins.
With the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem in 70 A.D. and the cessation of the sacrifices and the absence of a high priest, the Jews now consider that “Suffering [by the sinner is]…a means of atonement and is considered more effective than sacrifice [such as that of the goat which God commanded to be killed on the Day of atonement] to win God’s favor” (same JVL article as above).
As I showed in my previous discussion in Part 1 of this series [see: God’s Feasts and the Jews — Part 1, the section on “The Passover and the Jews”], the Jews do not recognize the Passover lamb as representing Jesus (“the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world,” John 1:29). Instead, the Jews look at the Passover lamb as representing an Egyptian idol that must be destroyed in order that the children of Israel could be delivered from sin and death.
In the same vein, the Jews also reject the idea — contrary to what Christians accept — that the goat slain on the Day of Atonement represents Jesus sacrificed at Calvary. Instead, the Jews believe (as the same JVL article explains) that — particularly with sins against a “negative commandment” [that is, one of the “Thou shalt not’s”] — the sins cannot be atoned for by penitence on the Day of Atonement alone. “Death [of the sinner — as supposedly pictured by the slain goat] procures the final atonement.”
The Jews conclude this from their faulty spin on Isaiah 22:14 — “The Lord of hosts revealed Himself in my ears; surely this iniquity shall not be expiated by you till ye die” (a translation of The Holy Scriptures according to the Masoretic Text) [or as the NKJV renders it, “even to your death”]. The context of this verse is in Verse 11, which refers to God’s people who “did not look to its Maker (referring to God as Maker of the “city of David,” Verse 9), nor did you have respect for Him who fashioned it long ago.” Because of this grave sin, God was not going to forgive the people’s sin even to the people’s death. But God has provided for a future time when His people will finally be forgiven of their sins and be saved from death! [See: Predestination and God’s Kingdom and Israel.]
Having rejected Jesus as the “Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29), the Jews have missed out on the atonement for sin that only the sacrifice of Christ can bring about! Instead, they have relied on their own ineffectual efforts and suffering to atone for their sin. [For more information from the JVL, you may click on this link: www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org. You may also click on this link: www.aish.com.]
The Jews also have their view on what the other goat which God commanded to be brought to the high priest on the Day of Atonement: the goat for the “Azazel” (Leviticus 16:17-10, 21-22). Traditionally, the Jews have looked at this “Azazel” (meaning “let escape” or “for loosing”) goat as representing the devil. Without really examining the Jews’ basis for this belief against the testimony of Scripture, most Christians have unquestioningly followed this Jewish view of the “Azazel.”
Rather than explaining here the meaning of the two goats offered as a sacrifice on the Day of Atonement, let me just refer you to my article: Two Goats Together. Briefly, this article particularly presents the view, from both the Scriptures and sound reasoning, that the Azazel better pictures the resurrected Christ, whom the Jews have also rejected, rather than Satan. Jesus’ resurrection is as important as Jesus’ death — if not more so — to make full atonement for our sins (1 Corinthians 15:17, etc.).
Someday, when they will finally acknowledge Jesus as the Holy One whom they “pierced,” the Jews will mourn over what they have done to Him. They will receive His “Spirit of grace and supplication” — forgiveness of their sin, and true atonement [“at-one-ment” and reconciliation with God] (Zechariah 12:1).
As they accept the resurrected Christ, the Jews will also receive the power of Christ’s resurrection — they will receive everlasting life (Philippians 3:10; 1 Corinthians 6:14; 2 Corinthians 4:14; Romans 8:11). And they will play an important part in teaching surviving mortal human beings during Jesus’ earthly reign, about the true way of atoning for the sin of mankind, and other “things of God” (Zechariah 8:23; 1 Corinthians 1:22-24; 2:7-12). [See: Peter Knew “The Holy One.”]
The Feast of Tabernacles and the Jews
If there’s one of God’s feasts where the Jews are mostly right on, it has to be the Feast of Tabernacles — also called The Feast of Booths or the Feast of Ingathering. The Jews call this festival Sukkot, from the Hebrew sukkah [plural, sukkot] — meaning booths or temporary dwellings. Thus the Jews construct flimsy lean-tos around their house, rooftops or streets during this feast, and they sit under these booths during part of the day — even sleep there at night — throughout the seven-day feast.
The Jews observe this feast as God commands in Leviticus 23:42, “You shall dwell in booths for seven days…” And for what purpose were the children of Israel to do this? God says, “…that your generations may know that I made the children of Israel dwell in booths when I brought them out of the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God” (Verse 43).
God here was clearly referring to the 40-year sojourn of the children of Israel, wandering in the wilderness, after they had left Mount Sinai (Numbers 10:11-14:38, etc.), and before God brought them to the Promised Land, the land of Canaan (Numbers 32-35; Deuteronomy 29-34; Joshua 1-24). It was not until they reached the Promised Land that the surviving children of Israel found rest from this wandering and living in booths or tents. As Joshua, Moses’ successor, told the first batch of them (from the tribes of Reuben, Gad and Manasseh):
“The LORD your God is giving you rest and is giving you this land” (Joshua 1:12-13). From that day forward they no longer lived in booths or tents. They either built new permanent houses, or they possessed the houses left intact by the inhabitants of the lands which the children of Israel conquered (Deuteronomy 6:10-11; Joshua 24:13).
The other name of the Feast of Booths is the Feast of Ingathering (Hebrew, Chag Ha-Asif) — a harvest festival. This feast, which falls on the seventh month of the Hebrew calendar (Tishri) also celebrates the bountiful fall or autumn harvest of both grain and fruit trees. The Jews see this feast as picturing the gathering-in of the surviving nations (including the remnants of all the twelve tribes of Israel) from all over the world to learn of God’s laws when their long-awaited Messiah will reign on earth from Jerusalem (Isaiah 2:1-4; 11:1-16; 32:1, 16-20; 51:1-11; Micah 4:1-5; Zechariah 14:16-19). A representative delegation from these nations will even be required to worship the King (Jesus Christ) in Jerusalem during the Feast of Booths.
Chag Ha-Asif is thus a joyous feast, and the Jews deck their sukkot with their fall harvest of fruits and other goodies, and they invite people to partake of these.
Revelation 5:10 and 20:6 says that those who are “blessed and holy” — the “firstfruits” or “firstborn” who will have “a part in the first resurrection” [at Christ’s return, 1 Thessalonians 4:13-17] — will reign with Christ on earth for a thousand years (called “the Millennium” by many Bible students). [See: Predestination.]
The “four species”
The Jews also have the Sukkot tradition of observing the “four species.” These are branches of four types of trees mentioned in Nehemiah 8:15 — olive, oil trees [willow — KJV], myrtle, and palm. The Jews get branches from these trees to make their booths or sukkot, in compliance with God’s law in Leviticus 23:40-43.
In addition, the Jews also traditionally make a sheaf composed of branches from four species of trees [the Jews list them as: esrog (citron — similar to lemon), lulav (palm), aravot (willow), and hadas (myrtle)]. During the seven days of the Feast of Booths, the Jews would wave this sheaf in a prescribed manner (east, west, north, south, up and down) — to symbolize God’s presence everywhere when the Messiah will rule over all the earth and will bring about true, lasting peace and prosperity.
When we examine the actual Hebrew words used for those four types of branches, we will see that the Jews are correct about two species but are off on the other two. The Jews are right about willow and myrtle. But they have substituted (and therefore have misread) what the Bible lists as zayith (olive tree) instead of esrog, and tamar (palm tree) instead of lulav.
This point may come across as engaging in “hair splitting,” “nit-picking” or “majoring in the minors,” but it shows how in even the littlest detail, one can misread God’s Word — as the Jews have done here, and as they have in the matter of the commanded day that the Passover lamb was to be killed and eaten, for example. We explained what import this seemingly simple detail has had on their standing with God [see: God’s Feasts and the Jews — Part 1, the section on “The Passover and the Jews”; see also: Spiritual Dyslexia].
Jesus said, “… till heaven and earth pass away, one jot [Greek, iota — the smallest letter in the Greek alphabet] or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled” (Matthew 5:18). Jesus also said, “He who is faithful in what is least is faithful also in much; and he who is unjust in what is least is unjust also in much” (Luke 16:10).
If the Jews have not been faithful in such minor details as the four branches (or “four species”), how can they be faithful in the major and weightier matters of God’s law (see Matthew 23)?
God does not speak a word without some meaning or purpose! As Isaiah 55:10-11 has God saying: “For as the rain comes down, and the snow from heaven, and do not return there, but water the earth, and make it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth; it shall not return to Me void, but it shall accomplish what I please.” The words of God that the Jews have substituted and missed show what they have missed in spiritual meaning and spiritual blessings as well!
The olive tree — as does olive oil — symbolizes God’s Spirit or a person imbued with such Spirit (see, for example, Zechariah 4:3-14, which speaks about “two olive trees” that picture the “two anointed ones” — God’s servants whom God will fill with His Spirit so they can “stand beside the Lord of the whole earth,” as the “two witnesses” of Revelation 11:3-10 will, in fulfillment of this prophecy). Not only have the Jews substituted esrog (citron) for zayith (olive). They don’t include the branch of the citron (nor the olive) in the sheaf for waving. Instead, they hold the citron with one hand, and with the other hand they wave the sheaf. If, as the Jews say, they picture the reign of their Messiah on earth by their waving of the sheaf in all six directions, does not this tell us something about what the Jews fail to acknowledge? Does this not tell us what they have resisted all this time (see Acts 7:54-53)?
As I explained [see: God’s Feasts and the Jews — Part 2, in the section on “The Feast of Weeks and the Jews”], by their rejection of God’s Word, the Jews have missed out on receiving God’s Spirit. Thus they have been unable to truly understand and obey God’s law as they should [see: Moses and Jesus — Are They Contraries?]. But eventually God will pour out His Spirit on the Jews — and all the rest of mankind (Zechariah 12:10; Joel 2:28-29) — during Christ’s reign on earth. Thus they will then have the power to understand God’s law rightly, and obey it accordingly (Ezekiel 36:25-29).
Jews also refer to the palm tree as lulav instead of the Biblical tamar. They rightly describe the palm tree — tall, stately and generally erect and straight. But by substituting another word for it, they actually picture what they have done with God’s law! The law of God — which is a product and reflective of God’s lofty thoughts and ways (Isaiah 55:9) — is well symbolized by the palm tree. God’s law is a kind of “straight edge” to pinpoint all crooked thoughts! [See: Freed From Bondage and Transgressions Under the First Covenant; Romans 7:7; Hebrews 4:12, etc.]
How aptly Jesus told the Jews of His day: “All too well you reject the commandment of God, [so] that you may keep your tradition … making the word of God of no effect through your tradition which you have handed down. And many such things you do” (Mark 7:9, 13)!
The Jews have exchanged the law of God for their traditions! The Jews think that their traditions are in harmony with the law of God, whereas Jesus — the Holy One who gave Israel that law — says they have fallen short of the law of God.
When the Jews finally admit their error and accept Christ as their Messiah, however, they will be at the forefront in teaching mankind the law of the God of Jacob in God’s kingdom (Zechariah 8:23; Isaiah 2:2-3; Micah 4:1-2). It will be by that law that Jesus Christ — with His glorified saints — will judge all nations then.
The Jews rightly use the willow (aravot) branch to picture what they will go through: suffering and pain. The weeping willow, particularly, has long twiggy branches that cascade, like tears, down to watery places.
Psalm 137 pictures the Jewish captives in Babylon hanging their harps, in deep sadness, upon the willows by the rivers there. God had brought them there in punishment for their sins (Jeremiah 24:1-11, etc.).
The LORD will likewise judge Jews in these end-times for their sins, but He will save a remnant of them (Zechariah 14:2) — Jews who will finally accept God’s judgments and accept Jesus as their Messiah. They will, with the saints of God, serve with Jesus when He reigns and judges the earth with righteous judgment (Psalm 67:4; 9:8; Isaiah 2:2-4; Micah 4:3, etc.).
The myrtle tree, as the Jews use rightly for hadas, is symbolic of God’s mercy — instead of curses. Because of the sin of our first parents, God cursed the land with thorns and thistles (Genesis 3:17-18). But when Christ reigns on earth, He will reverse all curses. Isaiah 55:13 declares of that magnificent transformation: “Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress tree, and instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle tree, and it shall be to the LORD for a name, for an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.”
Because of God’s mercy — which is as long as forever (Psalm 136, etc)! — the whole earth will experience a great renewal, both physical and spiritual! And the Jews (as well as all Israel) who, in general, are known for their being merciful (1 Kings 20:31), will also receive mercy (Matthew 5:7). God will forgive them of all their sins and spare them the curse of death for sin. They will instead receive God’s Spirit and everlasting life, and will thence help their Messiah in ruling the earth not only with judgment or justice, but more so with mercy (James 2:13).
While the Feast of Tabernacles pictures the reign of Christ on earth, with His saints — showing the earth at rest and at peace — why does Leviticus 23:40-43 picture this feast as a reminder to the children of Israel of their wilderness sojourn, when Moses and Joshua had not yet given them rest (that is, they had not yet stepped into the Land of Promise, as Joshua 1:12-13 says)?
How do we square this seeming dissonance?
If we will revisit my explanation [see: God’s Feasts and the Jews — Part 1, the section on “The weekly Sabbath and the Jews”], the “rest” (Greek, katapausin) which Joshua gave to the children of Israel when they reached the Promised Land pictures the seventh millennium (seven thousandth year) of man’s history, which will start when Jesus returns. It is the weekly Sabbath (the seventh day of the week) — not the Feast of Tabernacles — that pictures this rest.
Certainly the coming reign of Christ on earth will bring about rest, quiet and peace all over the world. So why the symbolism of living in booths or temporary dwellings as the children of Israel did when they were still in the wilderness and had not been given rest by settling into their allotted places in the Promised Land?
This can mean only one thing: while Christ’s glorious millennial reign on earth will bring rest and peace everywhere, it will not be the ultimate resting place that God has prepared for all of mankind. It will only be a temporary — “interim,” if you please — phase in God’s plan of redeeming all of mankind and creation. And the Jews’ staying in their flimsy sukkot during the feast pictures this beautifully and fittingly!
Watch the time lines!
In my almost 50 years now as a member in the Church of God, I have often read and heard it said that the feasts of God picture His “step-by-step plan” of saving all of mankind. The first two feasts [Passover and Days of Unleavened Bread] lay the groundwork for the salvation of all mankind — through the death and resurrection of the sinless Jesus Christ, the pure and holy Lamb of God, for the forgiveness of the sin of the whole world.
Following a time line, the next two feasts picture the perfection of the “firstfruits” or “firstborn” of God’s kingdom or family [Feast of Weeks/Feast of the Firstfruits/Day of Pentecost], and their glorification in a resurrection or change into Spirit or immortality at Christ’s return [Feast of Trumpets]. For this batch of people, this is their time of salvation. Thus, the next step or phase of God’s plan of salvation — as pictured by the succeeding feasts — no longer concerns their salvation as a hope: salvation will already have become a reality for them. The rest of God’s feasts concern other human beings who have not been saved thus far. [See:Predestination.]
Next in the time line is the salvation of human beings who will survive the Day of the Lord [pictured by the Feast of Trumpets] as mortals and who will be the subjects of God’s kingdom when Christ establishes His initial 1000-year rule on earth soon after His return. The Day of Atonement rehearses Christ’s once-for-all sacrifice and resurrection as the “banner” to draw these mortals to Christ and make them “atoned” or become “at one” with Him, as the “firstfruits” or “firstborn” had been (John 12:32-33). It is Christ’s banner of love that will call these mortals and the generations that will arise from them all through the “Millennium,” to His “banquet” — His “wedding feast” (Song of Solomon 2:4; Matthew 22:2; Revelation 19:9) [pictured by the Feast of Booths or Feast of Ingathering].
The millennial rule of Christ and His saints will gather in more spiritual harvest of souls. Jesus will prepare more saints to help in the spiritual re-education of the rest of mankind that have never had a chance to know The True Christ. These are the multiple billions of human beings who will come up in a resurrection after the 1000 years of Christ’s reign (Revelation 20:5). This will be their time to be saved. Shortly after that, and finally — when every single human being will have had his or her fair chance to be saved — will come the cleansing of the whole earth by “fervent heat” in preparation for the ultimate home of all the saved: the New Jerusalem — the Holy City — which will come down from heaven with God the Father to this renewed earth (2 Peter 3:10-13; Revelation 21-22). [See:The Great Wall, box on “fervent heat.”]
While spiritual principles like fasting to show our humility and dependence upon God certainly apply to God’s people in this present life, the fasting on the Day of Atonement depicts the humility and dependence upon God that those mortals who are yet to be saved will need to show in order that they can also be changed to immortality during the millennial rule of Christ. God’s people fasting at this present time during the Day of Atonement does not picture their becoming immortal and therefore no longer needing food in order to live. They will have become immortal by a resurrection or change at Christ’s return [pictured by the Feast of Trumpets — their time of salvation]. Let’s not confuse our time lines!
Christians and Jews alike agree that life in this present world and age is but fleeting and temporary — and they are right. However, the ritual of staying in booths during the Feast of Booths does not picture the temporariness of this present age in which we are living. Rather, the feast pictures the age of Christ’s rule on earth with the saints as a temporary set-up. The best — and the permanent, the eternal — dwelling of God’s people is still to come afterwards (Revelation 21-22). Confusing the time lines obscures the true meaning being shown by God’s feasts.
Let’s get our time lines straight!
It is interesting and significant that the Jews have the custom of reading the book of Ecclesiastes during the weekly Sabbath within the Feast of Booths. As Bible students know, this book written by Israel’s wisest king, Solomon, affirms the temporary nature of this material world and human desires. “Vanity of vanities — all is vanity!” goes the famous theme of this book.
Jesus’ parable of “the tares and the wheat” (Matthew 13:24-30) gives us an interesting and relevant insight into the temporary nature of this phase of Christ’s rule on earth. Yes, Isaiah 9:7 rightly and undeniably says that “Of the increase of His [Christ’s] government and peace there will be no end, upon the throne of David and over His kingdom, to order it and establish it with judgment and justice from that time forward, even forever. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this.” Revelation 11:15 echoes this: “The kingdoms of this world have become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ, and He shall reign forever and ever.”
In explaining this parable to His disciples (Matthew 13:36-43), Jesus speaks about the “end of this age” as a “time of harvest,” when Jesus will have His angels “reap” souls — likened to ripe wheat and ripe tares (some worthless weeds). The harvested wheat grains (the “good seeds”) represent the “sons of the kingdom” — the righteous people who “will shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father.” The tares (which we may, in contrast, call the “bad seeds”) represent the “sons of the wicked one [Satan]” — who will be gathered and “burned in the fire.” That is what Christ will do to the wicked at His return: He will destroy them with fire (Isaiah 66:15-16; 47:12-14; Psalm 50:3; 97:3; Zephaniah 3:8; 2 Thessalonians 1:6-10).
Now, let’s notice where Jesus will take the “good seeds” (the wheat). In Jesus’ parable, the “man who sowed good seed in his field” [symbolizing Jesus] tells the reapers [symbolizing His angels] to “gather the wheat into my barn” (Matthew 13:30). Jesus compares that barn to His kingdom, and the kingdom of His Father (Verses 41, 43). [See: Predestination.]
A barn is a kind of holding place — a storage structure. A barn could look magnificent, depending on its design, quality of construction and the materials used in building it. But it is a utilitarian building that would eventually need repair or total replacement with something more magnificent and more permanent as a dwelling place for all the saved!
This profound yet simple concept becomes clearer when we come to the next, and last, feast of God: “The Last Great Day.”
The Last Great Day and the Jews
The Jews call this feast Shmini [or Shemini] Atzeret [literally, “Eighth Day Assembly”]. It is a separate feast from the seven-day Feast of Booths or Sukkot. The Jews consider this a day so spiritual and profound that they simply basically do nothing on this day but to focus on being in close and joyous fellowship with the LORD by, among others, reading portions of the Torah (the first five books of the Old Testament, also known as the “Pentateuch”). They also spend the day praying for nourishing rain upon the whole earth.
To Jews the number “8” signifies a new beginning, just as the eighth day — which follows the seventh-day Sabbath — is the first day, and the beginning, of a new week. Because Shemini Atzeret is outside the seven-day Sukkot, the Jews are not required to stay in their booths during this last feast.
Most in the Church of God, however, call this feast “The Last Great Day” or “Great White Throne Judgment Day.” They base this on Revelation 20:5, which says that “the rest of the dead” [those who have died without having had the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ] will live again or be resurrected after His 1000-year reign on earth. This will be their time to be judged, as all the people before this resurrection will have been judged (1 Peter 4:17; Psalm 67:4). Because these resurrected human beings will stand before “a great white throne” for their judgment (Revelation 20:11-12), the Church of God has so named this last, eighth, day of the fall festival.
Some have pitted these two perspectives — Jewish and Christian — against each other as a matter of “either/or.” However, when we examine the Biblical evidence, we will see that it is a matter of “both/and!”
Revelation 20:5 says that “…the rest of the dead [those who have died not having received their chance to know Jesus Christ, by whose name alone one can be saved, Acts 4:12] did not live again until the thousand years were finished.” That means after — not within, or towards the end of — the 1000 years of Christ’s rule. It will take some time — maybe a few years — for these resurrected dead to be judged, for the first time, as to their fate for all eternity. Christians and Jews alike who fail to understand this Biblical revelation have believed, mistakenly, that now — this present age — is the only day of salvation. [See: Predestination and This Is Not the Only Day of Salvation.]
The Church of God has traditionally pegged the “Last Great Day” or the “Great White Throne Judgment Day” to last fully 100 years, based on Isaiah 65:20. However, this obscure Scripture passage could apply as well to the millennial rule of Christ, when there will be building and planting activities and human reproduction in that peaceful world (Verses 21-25).
From God’s perspective, whatever God does will be a “short work” (Romans 9:28). It is quite possible that the judgment period for those resurrected after the 1000 years will last only a very short time — as yet undefined. As I explained in The Great Wall, in the box about the “fervent heat” mentioned in 2 Peter 3:10-13, the burning of the earth and its elements, prior to the coming of the new heavens and the new earth, will come “as a thief in the night.” God has not revealed clearly how long is the transition between the end of the 1000 years and the coming down of the New Jerusalem to this renewed earth. But there’s hope that, before all this happens, God will reveal to His servants when its fulfillment is near (Amos 3:7; 1 Thessalonians 5:2, 4).
The Last Great Day or Shemini Atzeret pictures the time when finally God the Father, who is now in the heaven of heavens and whose form no man has seen and whose voice no man has heard (John 5:37), will come down with the Holy City — the New Jerusalem — to make His home [“tabernacle”] with His glorified children on this by then purified and renewed earth, for all eternity (Revelation 21:1-3, etc.).
There are two other details in the Jews’ observance of Sukkot and Shemini Atzeret that are worthy of note and remark. [For more information on the way the Jews celebrate the feasts, click on this link: www.aish.com, select “holidays” and scroll down to the feasts you wish to study.]
During the seven days of Sukkot the Jews perform the ritual of “water pouring.” This fittingly pictures the millennial rule of the Messiah as a time when God will pour out His Spirit on all flesh, as Joel 2:28-29 has prophesied. The Jews’ prayer, on Shemini Atzeret, for rain upon the whole earth also pictures the pouring of God’s Spirit on the rest of mankind who will come up in the resurrection after the Messiah’s 1000-year reign. In John 7:37-39 Jesus compares “living water” to the Holy Spirit.
Jewish rabbis have ruled that the roof on the booths that the Jews construct for the Feast of Booths should not be covered completely but should have some space — holes, if you please — through which they can peep into the heavens at night and see the stars and other heavenly bodies. What a wonderful reminder for all of God’s people to keep an eye on the New Jerusalem — the Holy City of God, which will come down from heaven with God the Father — as we look beyond the millennial rule of Christ.
Unlike the flimsy booths and the “barn” that symbolize the Messiah’s initial 1000-year reign on earth — magnificent and glorious as this will be — the New Jerusalem will be unimaginably far more magnificent and glorious! With the coming of the Holy City, the government of Christ will not cease! His government will simply change from one realm (the physical — this present and the millennial earth) to another realm (the spiritual and eternal when the New Jerusalem comes).
This new, spiritual realm will center on the New Jerusalem, “the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God” and which the “father of the faithful,” Abraham, waited for (Hebrews 11:10) — as did Isaac and Jacob, and the rest of the men and women of faith who sought “a homeland,” who desired “a better, that is, a heavenly country” (Verses 13-16, 39-40).
Hebrews 9:11 says, “But Christ came as High Priest of the good things to come, with the greater and more perfect tabernacle not made with [human] hands, that is, not of this creation.”
Hebrews 8:2 speaks about “… the true tabernacle which the Lord erected and not man.” This is reminiscent of Moses’ prophecy that the children of Israel would come into the Promised Land and receive from God “large and beautiful cities which you did not build,” etc. (Deuteronomy 6:10-11) — in contrast to their booths (tents) or temporary dwellings in the wilderness. This prophecy did happen, as Joshua 24:13 attests.
Hebrews 4:1 mentions that “a promise remains of entering His [God’s] rest.” This is a different rest from the “rest” which Joshua gave to the people of Israel when they became settled in the Promised Land (Joshua 1:13; 22:4). As we explained earlier [in the section on “The Feast of Tabernacles and the Jews”], this “rest” of Joshua symbolizes the rest and peace that will prevail on earth when Jesus rules here for an initial 1000 years.
Hebrews 4:8 then talks, through David (Psalm 95:7; Hebrews 3:11; 4:3), about “another day” that God promises — “a rest for the people of God (Hebrews 4:9) that yet remains. Whereas elsewhere in these passages in Hebrews the word “rest” is translated from the Greek katapausin (meaning “rest” or “pause” from one’s work), the word “rest” in Hebrews 4:9 is translated from the Greek sabbatismos. The New International Version or NIV, Revised Standard Version or RSV, New English Bible or NEB and others translate this as “Sabbath-rest” or “sabbath rest.”
For one, Hebrews 4:9 is a strong support for the argument that a Sabbath rest — or the keeping of the seventh-day Sabbath — remains for God’s people to observe today [see: What If the Sabbath Is Still Holy?]. This verse also points to the ultimate Sabbath-rest — the “eternal Sabbath” — which yet remains, and will occur when God the Father comes down from heaven to this renewed earth with the Holy City, New Jerusalem, which will be the eternal resting place of all of God’s glorified children (Revelation 21:1-3, 30, etc.)!
God’s consolation to the Jews
Because of their failings and other reasons, the Jews have received a bad press everywhere. A Jewish songwriter, Tom Lehrer, admits this general plight of his countrymen when he writes:
Oh the Protestants hate the Catholics,
And the Catholics hate the Protestants,
And the Hindus hate the Muslims,
And everybody hates the Jews.
Their myriad quaint traditions and practices have earned for the Jews the limerick: “How odd that God should choose the Jews!”
Despite how far the Jews have strayed from God’s truth and ways, however, the Lord has promised to “save the tents of Judah first” (Zechariah 12:7 — as also Romans 2:10 resonates). Although God will allow many of the Jews to suffer persecution, destruction and death in the last days, God will preserve a faithful remnant of them — as well as others of Israel (Zechariah 8:11-13) — who will accept Jesus as their Lord and Savior. They will serve as leaders when Jesus reigns over God’s kingdom on earth (Zechariah 8:23, etc.).
The Jews actually have quite a formidable advantage as a race. They have the “oracles” [Greek, logia — related to “logic”] of God (Romans 8:2). The Jews have preserved for us the Old Testament in the original languages it was written. From their race has arisen the greatest of all kings of Israel: King David, to whom (in the resurrection) God has promised everlasting rule as king over all of Israel in God’s kingdom — a prince forever (Ezekiel 37:24-25) under the Messiah as King of kings. And yes, the Messiah — Jesus Christ — was born of the lineage of David, a Jew (Matthew 1; Luke 3, etc.).
A great many of the best minds of this world — the best scientists, inventors, technicians, artists, writers, musicians, philosophers, what have you — have been Jews. And they have been deservedly amply honored and celebrated for the benefits they have afforded mankind.
When finally converted and filled with God’s Spirit, the abundantly gifted Jews will understand the full intent of God’s feasts and other laws. The nations will then say of the Jews — and all of Israel — what Moses prophesied (Deuteronomy 4:5-6):
Surely I have taught you statutes and judgments, just as the LORD my God commanded me, that you should act according to them in the land which you go in to possess. Therefore be careful to observe them; for this is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the people [Gentile nations around them] who will hear all these statutes, and say, “Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.”
Such a positive impact of the Jews’ obedience to God’s laws will illuminate the people of other nations — and will not alienate them from the Jews. The Jews will truly be a “light” to the Gentiles, as God has intended for them — and all Israel — to be, when they will accept Jesus Christ as the true Light of the world (Isaiah 43:2; John 8:12; Matthew 5:14-16). All nations will keep God’s feasts with them in Jerusalem (Zechariah 14:16-19) and be blessed. [See: God’s Feasts in the Book of Acts: Mere Time Markers — Or to Be Observed?]
When that happens, the Jews will no longer be an oddity to look down on and hate. Instead, they will be sought after by those who will want instruction about the ways of the God of Israel (Zechariah 8:23). They — as all of Israel — will truly be a blessing to all nations. God will work out everything for good for the Jews — and all of Israel — for His own glory. [See: God’s Kingdom and Israel and The Children of Abraham.]
When Christ rules this earth, we will no longer hear mocking bywords about the Jews. Instead we will hear words like, “How good that God has used the Jews!” Instead of hating the Jews, all the world will love them! And surely mankind will be all the better for it!
Let’s pray that all this will happen soon!
Pedro R. Meléndez, Jr.