Jesus: The Light of the World
The Feast of Tabernacles is often described as the most joyful of the great Jewish holidays. It is known as the “Season of our Joy,” and worshipers are actually commanded to rejoice during this holiday. The festival consists of festive music, and holiday food, and special decorations, and the lighting of candles. At the time of Jesus, festivities in and around the temple included the waving of palm branches while chanting “Hosanna” to God, and a procession of people following the priest in bringing water from the Pool of Siloam to the altar in the temple. Each evening of the Feast included special festivities called Simchat Bet HaShoevah, meaning “Happiness of the House of the Water-Drawing.” During these festivities, four towering menorahs (candelabras) were lit, and the priests put on a “light show,” performing “torch dances” throughout the night while the Levites sang and played music. It was said that the blaze of the torches was so bright that every courtyard in Jerusalem was lit by their brilliance all through the nights of the Festival. The holiday was so filled with joy that rabbis commented, “He who has not seen the rejoicing at the Simchat Bet HaShoevah has never seen rejoicing in his life.”
The Feast of Tabernacles was a yearly reminder and celebration of how God took care of the Jewish people during the many years they traveled through the desert. During the Festival, the people are to live in tabernacles—or make-shift tents—to remind them of how their ancestors lived during their years in the desert.
During their ancestors’ years in the desert, a cloud went before them in the day and a pillar of fire in the night. That’s what the torches in the temple represented.
The Festival was also a Thanksgiving celebration, taking place at the end of the harvest season, just before the winter rains arrived, which is why they ceremonially brought water from the pool of Siloam to the altar in the temple, in anticipation of and in prayer for the rains that God would send to them for the upcoming year.
The Festival also looked forward to the coming of the Messiah. The bright lights throughout the night reminded the people of Zechariah 14:7 which prophecies that when the Messiah comes, “There shall be continuous day …not day and not night, for at evening time there shall be light.” When the people waved palm branches and shouted “Hosanna”—literally, “Please save us—they were looking forward to the rescue the Messiah would bring to them.
The day after the Feast of Tabernacles concluded, Jesus stood in the temple courts and announced, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life” (John 8:12). In essence, Jesus was declaring to the people, “Though the Festival is over, I am still here! Though the torches have been extinguished, I am with you. And if you follow me, you will always have the light of life!”
According to Ronald Nikkel, President Emeritus of Prison Fellowship, “Charles Colson and several other Christian leaders once met with President Borja of Ecuador to discuss Prison Fellowship International’s ministry in Ecuadorian penitentiaries. They had no sooner been seated…and begun to speak when the President interrupted the conversation with a story—the story of his own imprisonment years before being elected to the presidency. He had been involved in the struggle for democracy in Ecuador. The military cracked down, and he was arrested. Without trial, they threw him into a cold dungeon with no light and no window. No one knew where he was, and for three days he endured the solitary fear and darkness that can drive a person mad. Just when the situation seemed unbearable, the huge steel door opened, and someone crept into the darkness. Borja heard the person working on something in the opposite corner. Then the figure crept out, closed the door, and disappeared. Minutes later the room suddenly blazed with light. Someone, perhaps taking his life into his hands, had connected electricity to the broken light fixture. The darkness of the dungeon was gone. ‘From that moment,’ explained President Borja, ‘my imprisonment had meaning because at least I could see.”
Nikkel adds, “Even more important than the light we see with our eyes is the light that Christ brings to our hearts, giving our lives the understanding and meaning only he can give.”