How exciting it is when you realize one of your favorite quotes from Jesus has an even deeper meaning. That’s a regular occurrence when you are aware of the Jewish background of the New Testament, and it applies to John 8:12.
Yeshua, speaking to the Jewish people in Jerusalem, boldly proclaimed, “I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life.” Obviously, that authoritative statement stands on its own. But there’s more to it. Understanding Sukkot, the Feast of Tabernacles, holds the key. It involves a fascinating journey through the Hebrew Scriptures and tradition.
Likewise for John 7:37&38, “On the last day, that great day of the Feast, Jesus stood and cried out, saying, ‘If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’”
The phrase, “that great day of the Feast,” tells us what He said was at the end of the celebration of Sukkot. We also know that to be true because John 7 makes multiple references to the timing of the Feast and Yeshua’s presence in Jerusalem.
Leviticus 23, which is sometimes called the Feast chapter establishes Tabernacles as a seven day harvest Feast, with an eighth day added on. That extra day is the great day of the Feast.
One of the ancient traditions of Sukkot was the water pouring ceremony. Since there are basically two rainy seasons in Israel - the former rain in the fall and the latter rain in the spring - precipitation after the fall harvest was needed for planting new crops. It was also critical to fill the wells and cisterns for drinking water.
This ceremony, ostensibly linked to a plea to God to send the rain, involved great celebration. The high priest would lead a parade with a vessel full of water which was poured out at the Holy Temple. This was done every day during Sukkot.
Now here’s where it gets really amazing.
Almost a thousand years earlier, King Solomon dedicated the original Holy Temple at this Feast. As recorded in 2 Chronicles 6, part of the dedication included a powerful prayer he offered. Basically, the King asked God if He would forgive Israel for her future sins and transgressions if the people would repent.
The Lord’s famous reply was 2 Chronicles 7:14, “If My people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from Heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land.”
This promise was given to Solomon on or about the same day on the Hebrew calendar as Jesus’ announcement that He is the source of spiritual living water, and the connection is stunning. God assured King Solomon, if the people would repent and obey Him, He would heal the land. Yeshua told us how to heal the land: give it rivers of spiritual living water.
That spiritual water, as Jesus said, comes only from those who believe He is Messiah. First we get it by faith from Him; then we are to let it flow forth from us.
Furthermore, in John 7, Yeshua took direct reference to the water ceremony’s focus on the rain needed to provide drinking water. He said, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink.” We believe He was telling the people to stop looking to the sky for rain because the real issue was not dry parched earth, but dry parched hearts.
Another of the ancient traditions of Sukkot was the Temple illumination ceremony. Giant bonfires lit up the Holy Temple every night of the Feast. We believe this was done as kind of an anniversary celebration since the first Temple was dedicated right at Sukkot. The reflection of the flames off the stone walls of the Temple, which was on a hill, literally lit up the city of Jerusalem. Its light could be seen for miles.
Again, Jesus used the issue to contrast the physical situation with the spiritual. In John 8, His statement, “I am the light of the world,” can be seen as telling the people to stop looking to the Temple for light. Instead, He was saying the darkness is in the human nature, and can be overcome only by His glorious light. Elsewhere in the Gospels, Messiah tells us we are His light, and just like being the conduit for rivers of living water, we are to let that light shine.
Sukkot, the Feast of Tabernacles, was used by Yeshua to bring significant spiritual truth to the world.
Solomon’s Temple, the First Temple, was long gone by the time Yeshua came to the earth. It had been destroyed by King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylonia in 586 B.C. However, it played a crucial role in our Messiah’s ministry, connecting two of the most powerful Scriptures from the Tanakh and the New Covenant.
God used one of His appointed Feasts, Sukkot, the Feast of Tabernacles, as the setting for this important revelation which Jesus would provide. It was a pilgrimage feast, one of three times a year the Lord required the men of Israel to return to Jerusalem to worship Him.
To be sure, while we often refer to the Feasts as Jewish, the Book of Leviticus relates in 23:2 that God specifies they are His: “The Feasts of the Lord, which you shall proclaim to be holy convocations, these are My Feasts.” Even so, these instructions were given to the children of Israel.
King David originally wanted to build the Temple, but the Lord said no. The King explained God’s alternate plan in 1 Chronicles 22:7-9, “And David said to Solomon: ‘My son, as for me, it was in my mind to build a house to the name of the Lord my God; but the word of the Lord came to me, saying, ‘You have shed much blood and have made great wars; you shall not build a house for My name, because you have shed much blood on the earth in My sight . . .’”’
Then in verse 10, God ordained Solomon to oversee the construction of the Temple. That construction took seven years, and was completed in the eighth month on the Hebrew calendar. That’s verified in 1Kings 6:38, “. . . in the month of Bul (Cheshvan), which is the eighth month, the house was finished in all its details and according to all its plans. So he was seven years in building it.”
Take note, the building of the Temple was completed in the eighth month, but it wasn’t dedicated until 11 months later, in the seventh month of Tishri on the Hebrew calendar. That put the major festivities of the Temple dedication right smack in the middle of the Fall Feasts. Indeed, the Temple dedication was a really big deal. Remember, Israel, despite its spiritual problems, was the only nation which followed the Most High God. Although it had a king, he was subject to following the Lord.
At the ceremonies, Solomon made it clear God was his King. In 2 Chronicles 6, he humbled himself before the throng of Israelites who were in attendance by kneeling down on a raised platform and spreading his hands out toward Heaven as he prayed. Summarizing and oversimplifying his powerful prayer (we know it was powerful because when he finished, fire came down from Heaven, and the glory of the Lord filled the Temple), the King basically asked God if He would forgive the sins of Israel if the people repented, turning back to Him.
God’s answer to that prayer came at the end of the 14 days of celebration, in one of the most famous Scriptures from the Tanakh. In 2 Chronicles 7:14, the Lord told Solomon, “if My people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land.”
That promise was prefaced in the preceding verses by the Lord’s referencing some of the issues the King addressed. In other words, the promise to conditionally “heal the land” was clearly in direct response to Solomon’s great prayer. As previously mentioned, God directed the timing of all this for His purposes. The details of the interaction of the Feast of Sukkot and the Temple inauguration are included in the continuing verses of 2 Chronicles 7:8-10.
“At that time Solomon kept the feast seven days, and all Israel with him, a very great assembly from the entrance of Hamath to the Brook of Egypt. And on the eighth day they held a sacred assembly, for they observed the dedication of the altar seven days, and the feast seven days. On the twenty-third day of the seventh month he sent the people away to their tents.”
By identifying an eight day observance ending on the 23rd day of the seventh month, we know it had to be Sukkot. And since Sukkot is a pilgrimage Feast, that explains why there were so many Jewish people in attendance from one end of Israel to the other (Hamath to the Brook).
While we know it was in the eleventh year of King Solomon’s reign, there is no certainty, and indeed significant disagreement, about the actual year in which the First Temple became a part of Jewish worship. However it seems likely it was somewhere in the decades preceding 950 B.C.
Therefore, it was awfully close to 1000 years later, almost to the exact day of the year on the Hebrew calendar, the events described in John Chapter 7 took place. Verse 2 sets the time frame, explaining, “Now the Jews’ Feast of Tabernacles was at hand.” Then verse 37 narrows it to the day, “On the last day, that great day of the feast . . .” Depending on interpretation, that day is either the 22nd or 23rd day of the Hebrew calendar seventh month.
There are only two rainy seasons in Israel, one of which is due right after Sukkot. In ancient days, the rain was critical to re-supply drinking water, and plant new crops. So there was a ceremony involving water pouring at the Holy Temple during each day of the feast to thank God for the rain.
John 7:37 continues, “Jesus stood and cried out, saying, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink.” He was saying, stop looking to the sky for rain, I have what you really need. The problem is not a dry parched earth, but dry parched hearts. He embellished His urgent plea in verses 38-39, “He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water. But this He spoke concerning the Spirit.”
Matching the timing of Yeshua’s passionate invitation (He cried out) to the promise of God to Solomon, we can see the plan. To heal the land, give it rivers of spiritual living water; water that is available to those who believe Jesus is the Jewish Messiah.