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Scriptures are cited from the King James (Authorized) Version, unless stated otherwise.

“In the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried, saying, If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink. He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water.”

John 7: 37, 38

THE TWO great feasts of the Jews were the Feast of Passover, from the 15th to the 21st of Abib, or Nisan, the first month, and the Feast of Tabernacles, from the 15th to the 22nd of Tishri, the seventh month. The latter feast corresponds to about October 1, but varied from year to year according to the Jewish calendar, which was calculated on lunar time. Both feasts were great occasions in which the people from all areas were expected to visit Jerusalem to spend a week in fellowship together, in thanksgiving to the Lord and the making of vows to Him. The Feast of Passover was at the beginning of the ecclesiastical year and the Feast of Tabernacles was at the beginning of the civil year.

The Feast of Tabernacles was held in connection with the Day of Atonement and its sacrifices for sins, which came on the 10th day of the seventh month. Those sacrifices foreshadowed the better sacrifices of the Gospel Age and the ultimate atonement for the sins of the whole world, and the consequent ultimate removal of the curse which still rests upon the world of mankind. This Fall festival was instituted at the time Israel passed from the wilderness into the Land of Promise. It commemorated the wilderness life and the entrance into Caanan, where they were privileged to enjoy their inheritance and have more substantial dwelling places. It was really the festival of the New Year, and a kind of thanksgiving occasion for the ingathering or harvest of the year (Exodus 23: 16) (Leviticus 23: 33-44).

According to Jewish tradition, the pillar of cloud by day and of fire by night, symbolical of God’s presence and guidance, at first appeared to Israel on the 15th day of Tishri. On that day Moses was said to have come down from the Mount and announced to the people that the tabernacle of God was to be reared among them. The dedication of Solomon’s Temple and the descent of the Shekinah glory upon it took place at this feast (1 Kings 8) (2 Chronicles 7). After the return from Exile, Ezra read the law and led the people in acts of penitence during this feast (Nehemiah 8: 13-18).

Dwelling in Booths

On the first day of the feast, booths were erected everywhere – in court, on housetop, in street and in square. These booths were made of branches of trees – olive, palm, myrtle, pine, willow, etc. Every Israelite was to live in these booths during the seven days of the festival, in commemoration of when their fathers lived in such booths after their Exodus from Egypt. All distinctions of rank and economic status were forgotten, as each one dwelt in as good a dwelling as his neighbor.

Each morning a joyous procession, accompanied by music, went down to the pool of Siloam where the priest drew water in a golden pitcher, which was then poured out upon the altar, attended by the singing of the hallelujahs – Psalms 113-118.

At night, four golden candelabra, each with four golden bowls for light, were in the center of the court. The light from them was visible to the whole city. Selected men danced before the people with lighted flambeaux in their hands, singing hymns and songs of praise. The Levites, who were stationed on the fifteen steps which led into the woman’s court of the Temple, accompanied the songs with instrumental music. (These fifteen steps correspond to the fifteen psalms of degrees, or steps – Psalms 120-134).

Symbolical Meaning of the Feast

The illumination of the Temple was symbolical of the light which was to shine out from the Temple into the dark night of heathendom. Then at the first dawn of the morning the blasts of the priests’ silver trumpets, of the army of God, as it advanced with festive trumpet-sound and call, to awaken the sleepers and to utter solemn protest against heathendom.

It is supposed that on the last evening of the festival, when the splendid light of this grand illumination was to cease, Christ called attention to Himself, saying, “I am the light of the world” (John 8: 12), which is to shine forever and illuminate not only the Temple and the Holy City, but all the world.

The last of these seven days of the feast was called the Great Day. During that day the entire festival ceremony and rejoicing reached its climax. On each of the seven days, when the priest returned with the golden pitcher filled with water, he made a circuit of the altar, saying, “O, then, now work salvation, Jah! O, Jah, give prosperity!” But on the seventh day he made the circuit seven times, remembering how the walls of Jericho had fallen in similar circumstances, and anticipating that by the direct intervention of God, the walls of heathendom would fall before Him and the world would lie open before His people to go in and possess it. The golden pitcher full of water was then poured upon the altar, apparently symbolizing the outpouring of the holy spirit.

Jesus at the Feast

Our text relates to the last Feast of Tabernacles attended by our Lord, just six months before His crucifixion. Because Jesus’ life had been threatened, He delayed going to the feast until the latter part of the feast week. But when He arrived, He went straight to the Temple. It is presumed that it was just at the close of the pouring of the golden pitcher of water on the altar, and while the multitudes in the warm climate were probably thirsty, that Jesus made the announcements, “If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink. He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water.”

Of course, our Lord’s appeal here does not apply to literal thirst and literal water, but to various cravings of the heart, such as thirst for rest, peace, joy, fellowship, etc. Only those with such thirst are called during this Gospel Age, and are spoken of in Matthew 5: 6: “Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst.”

The Apostle commented on the first part of our Lord’s words, “This spake he of the Spirit, which they that believe on him should receive” (John 7: 39). No one could be begotten of the spirit as sons of God until the ransom-sacrifice of Jesus had been accomplished, He had ascended to heaven and presented the merit of that sacrifice on behalf of the Church to the Father and it had been accepted by the Father. Then, on the day of Pentecost, the spirit of sonship was shed forth upon the Apostles and to all others accepted to membership in the Body of Christ thereafter.

The Outflowing Stream

“Out of his belly [body] shall flow rivers of living water.” This verse was not fulfilled at Pentecost, but during the Millennial Age, it is from this one Body that ultimately, the stream of the water of life shall flow for the blessing of the whole world. Our Lord referred to this, saying that His word shall judge in the last day – in the great Millennial Day (John 12: 48). The water of life represents the Truth, and the amount of this water of life or Truth that shall proceed from the mouth of the Lord and from the mouth of His glorified Church, shall be such a stream, such a flow, as will reach to every part of the earth. The knowledge of the glory of God shall fill the whole earth (Habakkuk 2: 14).

Revelation 21 and 22 gives us a picture of the Body of Christ in glory. The whole is pictured as the New Jerusalem, and from it issues the stream of the water of life which our Lord referred to in His discourse. It will be a great river of the water of life, and on either bank of it will be the trees of life, nourished and supplied by it, bearing good fruit, and the leaves of those trees will be for the healing of the nations.

Thus seen, our Lord’s discourse briefly pictured the blessings coming to His followers during this Gospel Age, and the blessings that shall in the next Age proceed from them for the comfort, blessing, uplifting and restitution of all the families of the earth – of whosoever wills to take of that river of the water of life, which then will flow freely, and to which all will be clearly and distinctly invited by the Spirit and the Bride.