Jesus is the fulfillment of all the Jewish festivals, and this includes Sukkot. First of all, we understand that Jesus Himself is the fulfillment of the festival in that He is God in the flesh who “tabernacled” among us. As John writes,
“And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).
The Greek term used for “dwelt” is σκηνόω skenoo, a word that refers to pitching a tent. The image is easy to grasp – God pitched a tent, which was His flesh, veiling His pure glory through the incarnation. Jesus pitched His tabernacle and dwelt among us for a short sojourn until the day of His reign. In that day, the Messiah King will pitch a far larger tent that will include both Israel and the nations under His sovereign leadership and Lordship.
Jesus celebrated the festival in John 7. One of His most significant and most profound announcements of who He is comes at the time of the feast. It is actually the seventh day of the feast, Hoshana Rabbah (the great salvation), and it was the custom of the Jewish people during this period to send a band of Levites with choir and orchestra down to the pool of Siloam to gather running water in giant urns, and to then bring them back to the altar.
They would march around the altar crying our “Hosheanah” – Lord save us…Lord save us… many times over. They would then pour the water out from the urns at the base of the altar. This symbolizes the future hope of the Jewish people looking toward the day when Messiah would come and pour His Spirit upon the people of Israel in fulfillment of Joel 2:28-29:
“It will come about after this that I will pour out My Spirit on all mankind; and your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions. Even on the male and female servants I will pour out My Spirit in those days.”
These events were to take place when the Messiah appeared on earth, according to Jewish tradition. This pouring out was foreshadowed in the Temple by the pouring out of the water at the base of the altar. The water-drawing ceremony, as it was known, was a portrait of the day when God would send His Messiah and His Spirit and the Jewish people would come alive spiritually as never before.
Jesus understood this tradition and therefore, on the seventh great day of the feast, He stood up, and the following took place:
Now on the last day, the great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out, saying, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, ‘From his innermost being will flow rivers of living water.’” But this He spoke of the Spirit, whom those who believed in Him were to receive; for the Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified. (John 7:37-39)
Jesus was telling the crowds gathered from around the Jewish world for the feast – one of the three of which it was commanded for Jewish males to go up to Jerusalem –that He was the Messiah, and the Spirit of God is now poured out. And that He is the living water, and those who drink or believe in Him will never thirst again!