Sukkot, the Feast of Tabernacles, is one of the seven annual holidays instituted by God in the Tanakh, or Old Testament. As such, it is viewed as a “Jewish” holiday. So it must seem strange to Israelis and Jews everywhere to see thousands of Christians make the journey to Jerusalem every year in accordance with Deuteronomy 16:16-17 to celebrate Sukkot.
Indeed, so many Christians converge on Jerusalem every year for the Christian Feast of Tabernacles celebration that it is by far Israel’s largest annual tourism event, injecting an estimated $15 million into the local economy in a matter of days.
So, while most Israelis aren’t complaining that Christians desire to mark one of “their” holidays in such grand fashion, the question remains – why?
“Zechariah says the nations will all come up to Jerusalem for Sukkot, so we are fulfilling that prophecy,” said Judy Ball from North Carolina, referring to Zechariah 14:16.
The ICEJ website notes that “the Bible describes the Feast of Tabernacles as the third of the three annual feasts which the people of Israel are commanded to celebrate in Jerusalem.”
As Christians, the ICEJ states that it “believes that celebrating the Feast each year honors the Lord in anticipation of the fulfillment of the words spoken by Zechariah when ‘the nations…shall come up from year to year to worship the King, the Lord of hosts, and to keep the Feast of Tabernacles’ (Zech. 14:16).”
Ball said that she and her husband have been making that journey of anticipation for the past 14 years, and today lead the ICEJ intercession team at the Feast.
“We see it as a perfect opportunity to not only intercede for Israel, but also for the nations that are all represented,” Ball told Travelujah.
Beyond that, Ball also sees the huge influx of Christians during the Feast as “an opportunity to help promote peace in the region and build bridges between Christians and non-Christians. God not only loves the Jews, but all the people of this region, so we are here to pray for them, too.”
Herta and Irene from Austria, who are by comparison relative newcomers to the Feast, said their participation and decision to come up to Jerusalem with a group of 20 fellow Christians was a simple expression of faith.
“We want to bless Israel,” they said, adding that “our roots are here, in Israel. We have the same God.”
In truth, it should be little surprise for those who read and believe the Bible (be they Christians or Jews) that people from all nations come up to Jerusalem during Sukkot.
Sukkot is a harvest festival. It occurs just after the summer harvest has been gathered, and the first fruits of that harvest are to be brought up to Jerusalem as a sacrifice to God (Leviticus 23). Sukkot is also known as the Feast of Ingathering, which, like most things in the Bible, has a physical and a spiritual meaning.
In the physical, that passage refers to the harvest season, and to offering a thanksgiving sacrifice to God for His provision. In the spiritual, many Bible teachers believe this is speaking of an ingathering of the nations that will be drawn close to God by the Word He gave through Israel.
Sukkot also has tremendous messianic overtones, and is closely related to the closing of Jesus’ earthly ministry and his anticipated return.
The seventh day of Sukkot is known as Hoshana Rabbah, or the Great Supplication. During Hoshana Rabbah, Jews of faith will wave palm branches while calling out to God for salvation and for the coming of Messiah.
Psalm 118 is recited, and special emphasis is put on verse 26: “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord…”
Jesus’ early followers, being all Jewish themselves, made use of these messianic Sukkot traditions when welcoming him into Jerusalem:
“As they approached Jerusalem… A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds that went ahead of him and those that followed shouted, ‘Hoshana to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hoshana in the highest!” (Matthew 21:1, 8-9)
As they had been for generations, the Jews of that time were anxiously awaiting their conquering King Messiah, and so greeted Jesus with those signs and symbols they had been taught during Sukkot. But Jesus had other plans, knowing that he must first conquer death and fulfill the spiritual aspects of redemption by allowing the shedding of his blood for the people’s sins.
Jesus was coming to die, not to reign. But he did acknowledge that the Sukkot traditions were accurate when he told the people they would “not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord,'” a clear reference to the Sukkot prayers.
And so it is that those Christians who have reconnected to their Hebraic biblical roots join the Jews in viewing Sukkot as the season in which Messiah will arrive and establish his kingdom from Jerusalem.
Is it any wonder that so many Christians would desire to be in Jerusalem at the time of Sukkot?
Ryan Jones writes for Travelujah, a Christian social network focused on fostering a deeper connection with faith through Holy Land tours. You can plan, learn and share your holy land experience on Travelujah using our in-depth locational content, user and expert blogs that can take you off the beaten track, and individual or group tour booking services.