John and Sukkot
As we celebrate the Festival of Sukkot and the new Torah Cycle is about to begin, I would like to ask a simple but important question. To whom do the four Gospels belong? Christians or Jews?
The answer involves one of the greatest literary and religious ironies of all time. Though the Christian church has transmitted the four Gospels throughout the centuries as the central text of Christian faith, the literature is unmistakably Jewish.
What I mean to say is that without utilizing a Jewish mindset and Jewish resources, the text of the Gospels can and have been interpreted to display ideas the original authors never intended.
Our goal with Jesus, My Rabbi, the new Torah Club study, is to bring Jesus back into his Jewish background, which was actually his foreground. This commentary intentionally carries out this goal and serves as a restoration of the thoughts of Jesus and his apostles.
The sacred writings of Christianity—the Gospels and epistles left behind by the followers of Jesus—testify to the absolute Jewishness of the man and of the original contingent that followed him. The Gospels grew out of the same Jewish matrix that Judaism grew out of in the following years. The Gospels have a close affinity with the teachings and anecdotes contained in early rabbinic literature. They assume a reader is conversant with basic Jewish issues, theology, and worldview.
Let’s take a look at a specific passage in John to see exactly what we mean:
[He] dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14)
When John says that the Logos (Word) “dwelt” among us, he uses a Greek word that literally means “to tabernacle” or “to pitch a tent.” The Greek Septuagint version of the Old Testament uses a noun form of the same word to translate the “Tabernacle.”
The image of God pitching a tent among humankind and dwelling with them alludes back to Exodus 25:8, where the LORD said to Moses, “Let them construct a sanctuary for Me, that I may dwell among them.” In this sense, John likens the human body of the Master to the Temple—the dwelling place of God on earth. He likens the Logos to God’s Dwelling Presence (Shechinah) that took up residence in the Temple and dwelt within Israel.
The Bible often associates the Dwelling Presence of God with the glory of God. In the biblical narratives, the “glory of God” is the visible manifestation of the Dwelling Presence. For example, on the day that God entered the Tabernacle, “the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle” (Exodus 40:34).
We also see here an allusion to the Festival of Tabernacles. John is connecting Jesus tabernacling on earth to the children of Israel dwelling in sukkahs in the wilderness. The Festival of Tabernacles is also known as the “season of our rejoicing” because it is filled with feasting and celebrating all that God has done and will do. It is the culmination of the high holy days and alludes to the day when HaShem will ingather the exiles of Israel and send Jesus to reign as king on the throne.
Clearly, John is drawing an allusion to this great promise and displaying God’s faithfulness to his people. He is comparing Jesus’ tabernacling as a sign of these promises coming to pass. Without the knowledge of the Jewish festivals, Hebrew language, and a thorough understanding of the prophecies associated with Sukkot, this interpretation is lost, and a huge part of John’s message is passed over.
Jesus, My Rabbi is the key to knowing Jesus better. It is the tool that you can use to correct errant theologies such as supersessionism, dispensationalism, and many other such ideas that have been used to discredit and hide Jesus from our Jewish brothers. When Jesus is placed into Judaism, he fits in perfectly and unmistakably as the Jewish Messiah, but only when his words and ideas are read within a Jewish perspective.
As disciples of Jesus, we know that he is the Messiah and the one who will return to usher in the Messianic Kingdom. He will fulfill the prophets’ promises, which include the ultimate culmination of the Festival of Tabernacles when God will dwell with man. This Sukkot, let’s celebrate in these truths and seek out the true meaning of the Scriptures. Let’s strive to see Jesus within his original context and place him back alongside his brothers. Sukkot is a time of celebration for God’s divine providence, and as we have learned, a time to celebrate God sending his Son to dwell among us and show us the glory of God. May God send him once more to fulfill his promises soon and in our days.
First Fruits of Zion