Sukkot in the Messianic Era

The Revelation of John through Jewish Eyes


SukkotOct 1, 2020

SukkotOct 1, 2020


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A sukkah and palm branch for the treasured nation, together they will rejoice and lift a praise to our God. O LORD, from Egypt you saved us and enveloped us in clouds of glory. The pleasantness of his ways he made known to us, from the brilliance of his beauty he appeared to us. Israel will rejoice in the shade of his sukkah, frequenting the shelter of his wing. Lavish your nation with a good gift, who call and hope for your salvation.Adapted seventeenth-century Sukkah Poem by R’ Moshe ben Yaakov Adahan. [1]

The high holy days from Rosh HaShanah to Sukkot are a blueprint for the second coming of our Messiah, Jesus.

In his first coming, Jesus fulfilled the role of the suffering servant who died for the sins of the world. Our freedom from sin through Jesus’ crucifixion mirrors the slaughtering of the lambs during Israel’s redemption from Egypt at Passover. The outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the early believers at Pentecost following the death and resurrection of Jesus echoes the giving of the Torah on Sinai, which also occurred at Pentecost. If the spring holidays so perfectly capture the pattern of the Messiah’s life and mission in his first coming, we can only expect that his second coming will mirror the pattern of judgment, salvation, and rejoicing in the fall high holy days. The culmination of the fall holidays at Sukkot reflects the final redemption when the LORD will shelter us in his presence, and all nations will worship him in his Holy Temple in Jerusalem. John envisioned this future, worldwide, Messianic-era Sukkot celebration:

After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”… These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. Therefore they are before the throne of God, and serve him day and night in his temple; and he who sits on the throne will shelter them with his presence… the sun shall not strike them, nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water. (Revelation 7:9-17)

Since Revelation is a Jewish end-times apocalypse, it is no coincidence that this vision is packed with allusions to Sukkot, a common theme in end-times Jewish eschatology. In Jewish end-times apocrypha, the universal reign of Messiah will commence at Sukkot after the battle of Gog and Magog when the enemies of God will meet their demise, and all nations will worship God in Jerusalem during the Messianic Era. A key component to the worship of God during Sukkot is the waving of a bundle of four species, of which the palm branch is prominent, called “the lulav.” The palm branches held by the multitudes in John’s vision are most likely the lulav waved during Sukkot. During the waving of the lulav, Psalms 113-118, which contain petitions for God’s salvation, are sung. Likewise, the Sukkot morning prayers end with a passionate and beautiful prayer for God’s salvation:

Save now, for your sake, our God. Save now!

Save now, for your sake, our creator. Save now!

Save now, for your sake, our acquirer. Save Now!

Similarly, in John’s vision the multitudes praise God for his salvation as they stand before him in worship with their palm branches in the shade of his Divine Presence in the heavenly Temple. In Jewish tradition, the Divine Presence of God is likened to the booths in which the children of Israel dwelt during their forty-year desert journey:

For in Sukkot I placed the children of Israel (Leviticus 23:43). [this verse means to say] that they were [sheltered by] clouds of glory. (b.Sukkah 11b).

John tells us he will shelter them from “any scorching heat,” which is a direct allusion to Isaiah 49:10:

They shall not hunger or thirst, neither scorching wind nor sun shall strike them, for he who has pity on them will lead them, and by springs of water will guide them.

John’s usage of this prophecy reflects ancient Jewish teachings that tie this verse to the LORD’s shelter in the Messianic Era.

John’s vision of Sukkot in the Messianic Era concludes with the Lamb of God leading the righteous gathered in God’s Temple to living water. The living water in God’s heavenly Temple corresponds to the water-drawing ceremony carried out by the priests on the last day of Sukkot, known as “Hoshanah Rabbah,” meaning “The Great Salvation.” During this water-drawing ceremony, the priest poured massive amounts of water over the altar amidst the great joy and festive fanfare in the crowded Temple courtyard [2]. The living water poured upon the altar recalls the essential living water of rain that God pours out on the earth. On a more esoteric level, the water also correlates to the living water of eternal life promised by Jesus to his followers:

On the last day of the feast, the great day, 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)

The vision of Sukkot in Revelation shows us that what we do in our service of God today has a tangible connection to the future reality of the Messianic Era. Year after year, Jesus, our Rabbi, celebrated Sukkot. We can also celebrate Sukkot by sharing meals and times of sweet fellowship in our sukkahs in imitation of our Rabbi, in both obedience to God and hope for the future divine shelter of the LORD’s presence—the ultimate Sukkah.

Footnotes:
  1. Translation my own.
  2. For more on this joyous water-drawing ceremony, see m.Sukkah 5:4; y.Sukkah 55:3.
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About the Author: Jeremiah Michael is pursuing a degree in rabbinic literature from a university in Israel. His desire is to bring a greater understanding of Jewish literature to Messianic Judaism. Jeremiah lives in Israel with his wife and children. More articles by Jeremiah Michael