The last and great day of the feast

In this cryptic passage in John 7, Y’shua proclaims something that I believe is of eternal significance.

John 7:37-39 KJV – 37 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. 38 He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water. 39 (But this spake he of the Spirit, which they that believe on him should receive: for the Holy Ghost was not yet [given]; because that Jesus was not yet glorified.)

While much can be (and has been) said about the function of the holy Spirit as described in this passage, for this study I was interested more in the first part of the statement, where it is explained that it was the “the last day, that great [day] of the feast.” What day is this talking about, and why is Y’shua making this declaration on this specific day?

To determine the day, we need to review some history. In Leviticus 23, the feasts of YHWH are described in detail. In this passage, seven specific annual Sabbaths are established. These are the moedim, the appointed times of YHWH.

The list begins with Passover, which actually occurs on the eve of the first day of Unleavened Bread. Since the biblical day begins at sunset, the first annual Sabbath is Passover (evening)/Unleavened Bread day 1. With this as the starting point of the annual cycle, the list of annual Sabbaths looks like this:

  1. Passover/Unleavened Bread day 1 – Lev. 23:5-7
  2. Unleavened Bread day 7 – Lev. 23:8
  3. Shavuot (Weeks) – Lev. 23:15-21
  4. Yom Teruah (Trumpets) – Lev. 23:24-25
  5. Yom Kippur (Atonement) – Lev. 23:27-28
  6. Sukkot (Tabernacles) day 1 – Lev. 23:34-35
  7. Shemini Atzeret (8th day) – Lev. 23:39

While each of these Sabbath days has, according to my perspective, immense and lasting significance within the redemptive plan of YHWH, this last Sabbath day of the year (Shemini Atzeret or simply 8th day), is the day I believe Y’shua was making the proclamation above from John 7.

My reasoning comes from understanding some of the Hebrew context. A good summary comes from an article at Bible History Online which I have copied below. The full site can be viewed here.

Quoted article is as follows: ______________________________

The Feast of Sukkoth (Tabernacles or Booths)

The Feast of Tabernacles, known in Hebrew as “Sukkoth” (Booths), also called Ingathering (end of the year). It was the last of the divinely appointed “moadeem” (sacred festivals) under the O.T. It was made to commence on the 15th day of the 7th month (5 days after yom kippur).

The Jews were commanded to make little booths beside their houses to dwell in throughout the week of the feast and they do this to the present day. They make their booths with thatched (branches and leaves woven together) so that it would not be permanent, but temporary. The roofs had space in-between the thatches so that at night they could look up and see the stars which was a reminder of the 40 year wanderings of their fathers in the wilderness. 

They also had to leave enough space in the walls so that the wind could blow through and as they felt the wind they were reminded how that their fathers were exposed to the perils of the wilderness for 40 years and were yet preserved by God. 

During N.T. times the priests, for each of the first seven days of the feast in Jerusalem, would go down to the pool of Siloam in a religious procession with large water jugs and there at the pool of Siloam they would fill the water jugs and come up the many steps to the Temple mount commemorating the long expected anticipation of the promise given through the prophet Isaiah (Heb. Yeshayahu): 

Isa 12:1-4 “And in that day you will say: “O LORD, I will praise You; though You were angry with me, your anger is turned away, and You comfort me. Behold, God is my salvation, I will trust and not be afraid; ‘For YAH, the LORD, is my strength and song; he also has become my salvation.'” Therefore with joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation. And in that day you will say: “Praise the LORD, call upon His name; declare His deeds among the peoples, make mention that His name is exalted.” 

As they approached with the water jugs the people would burst forth in singing the “Hallel Psalms” (Ps 113-118) and as the people were praising the Lord they would pour out these water jugs upon the Pavement and as the water poured they were reminded of how God miraculously provided water in the wilderness out of the Rock, and will also one day pour water from heaven on their thirsty souls through the Messiah. 

On the Eighth day, the last day, called “the great day of the feast” the priests made no procession and poured no water onto the pavement and this too was very significant, because it symbolized the fact that God had fulfilled the promise to their fathers, He had now brought them into this land that was well watered, flowing with milk and honey, they no longer needed the miraculous supply out of the Rock. 

It was on this day the last day that Jesus stood and cried out: “If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.” 

It is interesting to note that it was on this day that they sang the marvelous “hallel psalms” of praise, which conclude with this passage Ps. 118:22 “.. and You have become my salvation, the Stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone .. and blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.” 

The historical background sheds much light on the meaning. Jesus, their promised Messiah was standing in their midst as they were performing the ceremony and WAS fulfilling the Scripture and the promise spoken through Isaiah that the Lord would become their salvation (incarnate) and the water was always used as a symbol in Judaism as that which “comes from above” and is identified with Messiah “the coming One” (Heb. Haba”) throughout.

End of quoted article _________________________________________

As you can see, for Y’shua to choose this day to make this type of statement aligns with the purpose of YHWH and prophecy as revealed to his prophets in prior generations.

Additionally, a Hebrew view of the number eight adds another layer of significance. Since seven is generally considered to be a number of perfection and completion (i.e., 7 days of Creation, 7 years until the Sabbatical year, 7 Sabbatical years until the Jubilee, etc.), then the number eight becomes something outside of the natural created order, a time of anticipation and hope of Messiah for a new order, a new day.

Expressed by Friedrich Weinreb, a 20th century orthodox Jew and survivor of Nazism, he relates the Hebrew perspective of the eighth day in this fashion:

“And then, when the previous day [the 7th day] has gone by, when it has completely passed and it is pitch dark, the eighth day comes. A new light is lit. And then the time of the prophet Elijah is come; he comes to announce the new king, and then there is a new meal, that of the everlasting king David, who is the anointed; i.e., the meal of King Messiah with which the eighth day is ushered in. Again with rejoicing, because the new world has come.”

Such is the eighth day, a new and everlasting day of the Messiah. That which is freely offered to all the thirsty who choose to come to him, is the water which slakes the deepest thirst for truth and understanding. While most Christians and Jews consider this to be a day that is yet to arrive either imminently or in the future, I choose to believe this is the day in which we now live. This was the kingdom ushered in at the initial coming of Messiah, and confirmed forty years later with the restitution of all things (Acts 3:21) at the destruction of physical Jerusalem. We have been living in this “new day” for two thousand years, and it will continue into eternity, because that is the very nature of the eighth day.