First of all, the disclaimer: We do not regard the Church as being under any obligation to observe the Feasts or any ritual of the Law. Review Galatians 4:9-11 and Colossians 2:13-19 in particular; and in general, all of Romans, Galatians, and Hebrews for full exposition on law, works, grace, faith, salvation, and the Christian life. Having said that, Romans 14:1-9 allows for a diversity of thought and practice in many areas to co-exist within the Church. So we can view the Feasts, not as an obligation or legal requirement of any sort, but rather as a privilege: we don’t have to, but we can; we get to if we want to. Our doing or not doing in these kinds of matters is unto Him – “only let each one be fully convinced in his own mind!”
The Feast of Tabernacles, or Sukkot, is a Jewish holiday celebrated on the 15th day of the month of Tishri (late September to late October on the Western calendar). It is one of the three Biblical celebrations when Jews made pilgrimages to the temple in Jerusalem. The Lord introduced the feasts when speaking to Moses in Exodus 23:14-16, and much more extensive directions for celebrating the feasts are given in Leviticus 23 and Deuteronomy 16:1-17. (Lev. 23:33-44 & Deut. 16:13-15 specifically address Tabernacles.)
Note that they are called “the feasts of the Lord,” not the feasts of the Jews or the feasts of Israel or the feasts of Moses or the feasts of the Law, but of the Lord! They belong to Him, they are about Him, and they are for Him.
The Sukkot holiday lasts seven days, immediately followed by an eighth day of holy convocation, referred to in John 7:37 as “the last day, the great day of the feast,” when Jesus cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink.”
The booth, or sukkah, is intended as a reminiscence of how the Israelites lived during their 40 years of wandering in the desert after the exodus from Egypt. Throughout the holiday, the sukkah becomes the living quarters, and all meals are eaten in it. It comes at the end of the harvest season, and is a time to give thanks for the bounty of the Lord’s provision – as such, it is also called the Feast of Ingathering.
For us, it is a reminder of the great harvest of souls the Lord is accomplishing throughout the earth during the gospel age, and serves as a type and shadow of the great Ingathering to come, when Christ returns and gathers His sheep in the resurrection and we celebrate the wedding feast of the Lamb.
Another emphasis of this Feast is the instruction of God’s word. As Moses was preparing to depart this life, commissioning Joshua and writing down the books of the Law for the priests, he charged them to make the Feast of Tabernacles a special time to review the written word of God once every seven years (Deuteronomy 31:10-13). Not only the Israelites, but every “stranger within your gates” was to be instructed and so learn to fear the Lord. Unfortunately, after the time of Joshua, this part of the Feast, and perhaps the entire celebration of Sukkot, was largely neglected until after the return from captivity in Babylon (see Nehemiah 8:14-18) – that’s a span of about 700 or 800 years of history! Maybe that’s part of why Israel found it so easy to forget God’s word from generation to generation…
It was during the Feast of Tabernacles that Solomon dedicated the temple, and the glory of the Lord filled the temple to such an extent the priests could not even stand to minister. (2nd Chronicles chapters 5-7, esp. 7:1-3 and 7:8-10.) Who wouldn’t like to see their congregation overwhelmed by the presence of the glory of the Lord in these days?
Ezra 3:3,4 tells us that the Feast of Tabernacles was the first feast celebrated by the remnant of Israel that returned from the 70 years of captivity in Babylon. They hadn’t laid even the foundation of the new temple yet, only the altar had been built. So this feast has an element of restoration and renewal in it. Even as we ourselves are looking for “…seasons of refreshing, the times of restoration of all things…” Acts 3:19-21.
According to Zechariah 14:16-19, there will come a time when all the nations will be required to go up to Jerusalem during the Feast of Tabernacles to worship the Lord. Furthermore, there will be some very real, significant consequences for those who do not go up or send any representatives to the feast each year. Many Christians believe this will be during the millennial time of Christ’s visible reign on the earth (Revelation 20:4-6). Who knows, maybe we will be there in our glorified resurrection bodies to see these things taking place!