The Feast of Tabernacles plays an important role in John’s gospel. It was an important Jewish festival that brought to mind the provision of God while the children of Israel were wondering in the wilderness for forty years en route to the promised land. It occurred after the Day of Atonement and marked the end of the festival calendar . It was full of rich symbolism that Jesus comes to fulfill.
During the festival water would be poured out in commemoration of Number 28:7 and Isaiah 12:3. As Andres Kostenberger explains, “The Feast of Tabernacles came to be associated with eschatological hopes .” On the last day of the festival Jesus tells the crowds that that he is the living water. This is seen in John 7:37 which states, “On the last and greatest day of the festival, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, ‘Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink”. By doing so Jesus was referring to the Holy Spirit which had not been given as of yet.
The Old Testament background regarding the words of Christ would have been clearly understood by those listening to Christ. By saying what he says our Lord is referencing Isaiah 58:11 and Isaiah 12:3. The later describes that joy will come from the waters of salvation. This, of course, is something only Christ can give. Isaiah 58:11 speaks of one being well waters which is a metaphor for someone being a blessing to those around them.
By fulfilling this symbolism and doing so at the Feast of Tabernacles Jesus is doing something very profound. He is telling those around him that he is the one who gives the Holy Spirit, and those who come to faith in him will be a blessing to others. If Isaiah could invite the thirsty to drink from the waters (Is. 55:1), Jesus announces that he is the one who can provide the waters.
1. Andreas J. Kostenberger. Encountering John. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2013), 91.
2. Ibid, 91.