If you read the book of Zechariah, you’ll find that it mentions only one of the annual feasts God commanded ancientIsraelto observe: that’s the feast of tabernacles. Why should there be an emphasis on that particular feast?
In Leviticus 23, we find the names of the annual feasts and times when they were to be observed. The feasts are called “holy convocations” or meetings (Leviticus 23:4). In that chapter, you’ll see that the people were commanded to observe all the feasts. No one feast is more important than any other. That’s why it’s curious to find only the feast of tabernacles mentioned in the book of Zechariah.
The Annual Feasts and God’s Salvation Plan
You may know that God used the annual feasts to illustrate truths associated with His salvation plan. It was back in 1447 BC, whenIsraelcame out of slavery inEgypt, that God instituted the annual feasts. The first feast thatIsraelobserved was the Passover (Leviticus 23:5) with the days of unleavened bread (Leviticus 23:6). The Israelites were commanded to kill a lamb on the Passover (Exodus 12:5-6). The killing of a lamb pictured the sacrificial death of the Lord Jesus, and it was during Passover in 33 AD that He was crucified.
There’s another annual feast that was clearly fulfilled during the New Testament, and that’s Pentecost. That feast is also known as the feast of firstfruits (Leviticus 23:10). It was celebrated around the time when the first harvest was brought in from the fields. In the New Testament, it was on Pentecost in 33 AD that God began the church age (Acts 2:1). The Biblical timeline discovered by Mr. Harold Camping shows us that the church age lasted until 1988. For 1,955 years, God used local congregations of Christian churches to represent His eternal kingdom, just as He once used thekingdomofIsraelto represent it in ancient times. The people whom God saved during the church age are pictured as “firstfruits.” In this way, the feast of Pentecost has been fulfilled.
The next annual feast we find in Leviticus 23 is called the feast of trumpets (Leviticus 23:24). There is great evidence that this annual feast was also fulfilled during the New Testament, but it took some detective work to understand how it was. By carefully piecing together time clues found in the Gospels, it has been determined that John the Baptist announced the Lord Jesus as the Lamb of God on the feast of trumpets in 29 AD (John 1:29). That was the beginning of the Lord’s public ministry, which ended about three and a half years later at the cross. The feast of trumpets was also fulfilled a second time. That happened more recently when the Lord began the “latter rain” in 1994. During that period, which lasted until 2011, God saved a great multitude of people all over the world.
There is one more annual feast that was fulfilled during the New Testament era, based on Biblical evidence. In Leviticus 23:27, we read about that feast. It’s called the Day of Atonement. Although the Bible doesn’t give the date when the Lord Jesus was born, by piecing together clues found in the Gospel accounts we can say with a high degree of certainty that the Lord Jesus was born in the year 7 BC on the Day of Atonement.
As you continue reading Leviticus 23, you will find that there is only one other time of the year when God required an annual feast to be observed. In Leviticus 23:34, we read:
Speak unto the children of Israel, saying, The fifteenth day of this seventh month shall be the feast of tabernacles for seven days unto the LORD.
Until the feast of tabernacles passed uneventfully last year, it was widely expected that we would see it fulfilled with the rapture and the end of the world occurring then. The timeline revealed that all the other feasts had been fulfilled. God was clearly showing us that He would complete the Biblical timeline during the feast of tabernacles, wasn’t He? That was a logical and completely reasonable conclusion at the time. However, we must now reevaluate it.
The Feast of Tabernacles in the Book of Zechariah
It’s very curious the way the feast of tabernacles appears in the book of Zechariah. For one thing, it’s the only feast mentioned in that book. Also, it’s really emphasized there in a strange way.
The book of Nehemiah also emphasizes the feast of tabernacles (Nehemiah 8:14-18); but there, it’s an actual historical account. The people inJerusalemat that time had returned from captivity. The younger people among them would have been the first generation born there after the return. The book of Nehemiah tells us the people learned that God’s law required observance of the feast of tabernacles, and kept it for the first time in many years. In Nehemiah 8:17, we read about this:
And all the congregation of them that were come again out of the captivity made booths, and sat under the booths: for since the days of Jeshua the son of Nun unto that day had not the children of Israel done so. And there was very great gladness.
But in the book of Zechariah, it’s a different situation altogether. There, we find the feast of tabernacles mentioned three times. All three occurrences are in chapter 14 (verses 16, 18 and 19), and all three are set in the context of eternity. Zechariah 14:12 helps us understand the time setting:
And this shall be the plague wherewith the LORD will smite all the people that have fought against Jerusalem; Their flesh shall consume away while they stand upon their feet, and their eyes shall consume away in their holes, and their tongue shall consume away in their mouth.
This verse and verses 13-15 tell us about the last day and judgment against the unsaved. Although the end of the unsaved is described here in a terrifying way, the verse is actually consistent with an understanding that God will simply speak the universe out of existence, mercifully dissolving everything in an instant. The verses that follow verse 15 tell us about the new heavens and the new earth. Now, notice how verse 16 mentions the feast of tabernacles, and what verse 17 states:
And it shall come to pass, that every one that is left of all the nations which came against Jerusalem shall even go up from year to year to worship the King, the LORD of hosts, and to keep the feast of tabernacles. And it shall be, that whoso will not come up of all the families of the earth unto Jerusalem to worship the King, the LORD of hosts, even upon them shall be no rain.
When we read verse 17, we can easily get the impression that there will be alive at that time some people who will not keep the feast of tabernacles. They won’t go up toJerusalemwhen the feast is to be observed, and so the Lord won’t give them any rain. Is that the meaning of this verse?
Let’s look at the next verse mentioning the feast of tabernacles. In Zechariah 14:18, we read:
And if the family of Egypt go not up, and come not, that have no rain; there shall be the plague, wherewith the LORD will smite the heathen that come not up to keep the feast of tabernacles.
Here we see that same idea: those who will not keep the feast of tabernacles will have no rain and will suffer a plague. Finally, in verse 19 we read:
This shall be the punishment of Egypt, and the punishment of all nations that come not up to keep the feast of tabernacles.
Here again, the feast of tabernacles is mentioned; and here again, we find the idea of punishment for those who won’t observe the feast. To help us understand the way God has written these verses, let’s consider some other interesting verses.
Not What You Might Think
In John 6, we read about an occasion when people who heard the Lord Jesus preach followed Him to the other side of theSea of Galilee. When they found Him, He told the people not to labor “for the meat which perisheth, but for that meat which endureth unto everlasting life, which the Son of man shall give unto you… “(John 6:27). The people then asked Him what they should do, as we read in John 6:28:
Then said they unto him, What shall we do, that we might work the works of God?
In the following verse, the Lord answered them:
Jesus answered and said unto them, This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent.
When we read the Lord’s answer, we can easily get the impression that a person can be saved by believing in the Lord Jesus, because then he or she will be doing the work that God wants a person to do. However, look closely at the Lord’s statement: “This is the work of God.” When a person believes, it is the work of God – it’s work God has done.
The original Greek words also support this understanding. Two different words for “work” are used in these verses: “ergazomai” (G2038) and “ergon” (G2041). The first word is used for work that a person can do, as in the words “that we might work.” The second is used for work that God has done, as in “the works of God.” Therefore, these verses are actually consistent with a truth we find throughout the Bible. Namely, that God must do all the work to save someone. Even a person’s belief – if it’s the saving kind of faith a person needs – comes from God.
Another situation that can easily be misunderstood is found in Luke 17. Toward the end of that chapter, we find the Lord Jesus telling His disciples about the last day. Then, in Luke 17:36-37, we read:
Two men shall be in the field; the one shall be taken, and the other left. And they answered and said unto him, Where, Lord? And he said unto them, Wheresoever the body is, thither will the eagles be gathered together.
Notice the question that was asked, and the way the Lord answered it. The Lord had been telling His disciples how one person would be taken and the other left. The disciples wanted to know where the one taken would go. As an answer, the Lord told them about eagles gathering where the body is.
Based on the Lord’s answer, you might think that those taken away on the last day will die. It seems that there will be dead bodies wherever they are taken. However, from other verses in the Bible we know that the ones taken are actually those who have been saved: they will be taken up in the rapture. It is those who are left behind that die when they are annihilated with everything else. This truth actually helps us understand the references to the feast of tabernacles in Zechariah 14. Verse 19 is the last of the three references:
This shall be the punishment of Egypt, and the punishment of all nations that come not up to keep the feast of tabernacles.
This verse reveals that the unsaved aren’t keeping the feast of tabernacles after the last day. However, it’s not because they are rebelling against the Lord. It’s because they aren’t there!
This Picture Completes Our Understanding
When we consider how the feast of tabernacles is pictured in the book of Zechariah, we can gain new insight into the Biblical timeline. Since May 21, 2011, many people have questioned the timeline and begun to doubt its accuracy. The reason for this is not only because May 21, 2011 passed uneventfully. It’s also because October 21, 2011 passed uneventfully. That was believed to be the last day of the feast of tabernacles, and it was believed to be the very end of the timeline.
Many numerical patterns, generated from time intervals between key dates in the timeline, pointed to 2011 as the year of supreme importance in God’s salvation plan. Consequently, it was widely believed that the Bible pointed to the Lord’s return in that year. However, when we reconsider some of the verses leading to that conclusion, we find that the Bible does not give us time information about the date of the Lord’s return. In fact, in many verses (such as Matthew 25:13) the Lord Jesus clearly told His disciples that they would not know the date.
We also see this truth supported in Revelation 10:4:
And when the seven thunders had uttered their voices, I was about to write: and I heard a voice from heaven saying unto me, Seal up those things which the seven thunders uttered, and write them not.
There, the Lord tells us that something concerning end-times will not be revealed. It is something that the Seven Thunders uttered, and it concerns the end of time (see Revelation 10:5-6). Throughout the Christian era, no question has been of more importance than that concerning the date of the Lord’s return. In view of Revelation 10:4, no one should continue insisting that we will know that date.
Yet the Bible really did point to 2011. The reason of course is that God ended any possibility of salvation last year. If you still doubt this, consider the verses that tell about the sun being darkened. We read about that in Joel 3:15, Isaiah 13:10, Mark 13:24 and other verses.
Why would the Lord emphasize the end of salvation if it continued until the last minute? Obviously, He won’t be saving anyone when He is about to command the resurrection to start; but the Bible tells us to seek the Lord while He may be found (Isaiah 55:6). In this and in other ways, God shows us that salvation has already ended before the last day – the day on which the Lord returns.
Perhaps the best known verse concerning the end of salvation is Matthew 24:29:
Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken:
This verse tells us that salvation ends right after the great tribulation. Now read the next verse, Matthew 24:30:
And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.
Because of the words “And then,” many expected the Lord’s return to follow immediately after salvation had ended; so there was great certainty among many that the Lord would return on May 21, 2011. However, we need to be careful when we see the word “then” in the Bible.
Sometimes, it can refer to the time that was previously mentioned. That’s how it was understood last year; and so it was believed that Matthew 24:30 was teaching that the Lord’s return would follow as soon as salvation had ended. However, the word “then” can also indicate the passage of time, so that there is a period after the time that was previously mentioned. This period continues until the next event. For example, in Matthew 26:14-15, we read:
Then one of the twelve, called Judas Iscariot, went unto the chief priests, And said unto them, What will ye give me, and I will deliver him unto you? And they covenanted with him for thirty pieces of silver.
Notice the word “then” in verse 14. These verses are telling us what Judas did after the Lord was anointed with “very precious ointment” (Matthew 26:6-13). We don’t have any reason to believe that Judas went out the door as soon as that happened, and ran to the chief priests. Rather, it’s clear that he went to them sometime afterwards; but we don’t know how much time passed until he went.
The Greek word translated as “then” in Matthew 26:14 is “tote” (Strong’s number G5119), the same word used for “then” in Matthew 24:30. So we have good support for our understanding that the Lord’s return doesn’t occur immediately after salvation has ended. Rather than dismiss the timeline, we can now see where we misunderstood it. The appearance of the feast of tabernacles in the book of Zechariah greatly helps to clarify the situation for us.
God revealed a great deal of new information over the last few years. Much of it concerns time. We now know, for example, that the six days of creation took place in the year 11,013 BC. This is precious knowledge. Sadly, so many people in Christian churches today have rejected it. They believe that the earth is billions of years old – although they see the hand of God guiding evolution. These dear people might not be quite so deceived as atheists or agnostics. Nevertheless, they are deceived.
We also know that God indicated He would reveal new information near the end of time, so that “the wise” (Daniel 12:9-10) would understand. In fulfillment of this, God allowed us to know the date by which He would end salvation. This was necessary in order for His people to warn the world about it.
We should not insist that more information about God’s timing must be revealed. God has already given us what was needed, just as He indicated He would. The Bible showed that there would be new information coming about end-times, but it does not tell us that we will know the date of the Lord’s return. In fact, it indicates the opposite – that we will not know it.
Related to this misunderstanding of the timeline is the belief that we will see the feast of tabernacles fulfilled by the Lord’s return on a date that God will reveal to us, because it is the only annual feast that has not yet been fulfilled. We have seen that all the other annual feasts have been fulfilled on dates that we know; and so this thinking carries over to the feast of tabernacles.
The annual feasts do show us a picture of God’s salvation plan; but there is no reason to insist that the last of the annual feasts, the feast of tabernacles, must be fulfilled here on earth. The book of Zechariah helps us to understand the situation. So we can now return to the original question: why does this book of the Bible emphasize the feast of tabernacles? God’s reason appears to be that the book of Zechariah shows us how the feast of tabernacles will be fulfilled. It will complete the salvation plan, but it won’t be fulfilled according to the calendar in a predictable way. It will be fulfilled in eternity.