Sukkot and Heavenly Ascent

Revelation 7:9-17

Sukkot is a joyous holiday packed with prophetic significance.  Our tradition teaches us that a time will come when all people will come up to Jerusalem to worship HaShem on Sukkot.  This is the climactic message of the Haftarah read on the first two days of Sukkot from Zechariah 14.

But the connection between the nations and Sukkot does not begin in the Messianic Age.  Rather, the connection between the two goes all the way back to Mt. Sinai.  The Jewish people are called throughout the Torah to be Or l’Goyim – a Light to the Nations.  From the beginning, God’s desire to reconcile humanity back to God’s self is mirrored most vividly in our Festival of Tabernacles.  After all, HaShem’s desire has always been macro – to reach all of humanity, beginning with the Jewish people.

Among the numerous offerings prescribed by the Torah during the Biblical seven days of Sukkot, seventy bulls were to be offered corresponding to each of the seventy nations of the world (see Gen. 10).  According to our rabbis, this was a prophetic act of intercession on behalf of the nations.  So even within the Torah, we get a small glimpse of God’s compassion and concern not just for Israel but for the nations as well.

Although the context of Revelation 7:9-17 may not specifically be related to Sukkot, it does contain many of the themes and imagery related to Sukkot, and echoes language from the Torah and Haftarah readings.

Within this vision from Revelation, a vast crowd of martyrs representing every nation, tribe, and language are gathered around the throne of heaven in front of the Lamb.  They are holding palm branches and singing psalms of praise and adoration:

“Victory to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb … Praise and glory, wisdom and thanks, honor and power and strength belong to our God forever and ever!”

This imagery is right out of Zechariah 14 when all the nations of the world will come up to Jerusalem, carrying their Lulav and Etrog, singing Hallel, and dressed in their finest attire.

Sukkot is also known as Chag HaAsif, the Festival of Ingathering, because it is a prophetic allusion to a greater time to come.  One day, the Jewish people, alongside the nations of the world, will come together in Jerusalem to ascend the Temple Mount singing and waving the Lulav and Etrog together in praise and adoration of our LORD and King.  One day we will see the Lamb, our righteous Messiah, and will be caught-up together in heavenly ascent.

As we celebrate Sukkot this year, I pray we will all experience a taste of the World to Come.

Maranata – Come Adon Yeshua, speedily and in our day!

About Rabbi Joshua

I'm a Rabbi, writer, thinker, mountain biker, father and husband ... not necessarily in that order. According to my wife, however, I'm just a big nerd. I have degrees in dead languages and ancient stuff. I have studied in various Jewish institutions, including an Orthodox yeshiva in Europe. I get in trouble for making friends with perfect strangers, and for standing on chairs to sing during Shabbos dinner. In addition to being the Senior Rabbi of Ahavat Zion Synagogue in Santa Monica, CA, I write regularly for several publications and speak widely in congregations and conferences. My wife is a Southern-fried Jewish Beltway bandit and a smokin' hot human rights attorney... and please don’t take offense if I dump Tabasco sauce on your cooking.
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4 Responses to Sukkot and Heavenly Ascent

  1. Joshua says:

    I think the reference is specifically to Hoshana Rabba. It mentions them wearing white robes which the chazzan usually dons for Hoshana Rabba Prayers at mussaf I believe. We make circuits around the bima holding lulavs and etrogim on HR and they are surrounding the throne. They are speaking of salvation while HR is the “Great Supplication,” a day when we ask for salvation from God because the seals from Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur are sealed for good today. Which is why we can do tashlich through HR. Finally, HR is taught to be the day when every nation is judged for water (rainfall) in the upcoming year. Revelation 7 says at the end, ” For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd; he will lead them to springs of living water. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” And Yeshua said similary on Hoshana Rabba, “On the last and greatest [rabbah] day of the festival, Yeshua stood and said in a loud voice, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.” (John 7:37-38)

    Baruch Hashem, may we all be blessed with the living waters of Mashiach on this days and for all the days to come until his return. Maranata!

  2. James says:

    I must say that I’m completely chagrined. Somehow the details and significance of Hoshana Rabba completely went over my head up until now. I even wrote about simchat beit hashoevah; the joy of the water-drawing, a few days ago, but never realized the connection and that what was sealed on Yom Kippur is delivered on Hoshana Rabba.

    It is clear that I have much to learn. Chag Sameach.

  3. Rabbi Joshua says:

    Joshua,

    Those further connections with Hoshanah Rabbah are indeed intriguing.

    Hope you’re having a wonderful Chag!

  4. Toby J says:

    Great blog, Joshua. I wrote about this a little in my God-Fearers book. What is also intriguing to me is that it appears a lingering version of Sukkot was celebrated by the Gentile Christian Church after its split with Judaism. Some scholars also see a connection between Sukkot and the later Feast of Encaenia (“Church Dedication”), both of which took place in the same season, lasted eight days, and were a time of pilgrimage to Jerusalem (with Sukkot to the Temple and with Encaenia to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre). J. Van Goudoever writes that “from the fourth century on, the Feast of Dedication is kept as a continuation of the third great Israelite feast [i.e., Sukkot].”

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