Depending on which translation of the Bible you use, it may be called the Feast (or Festival) of Tabernacles…or Booths…or Shelters…or Tents…or even something else. While the translators have had difficulty settling on a single English word, all these words speak of temporary habitation. The Lord designed this feast to commemorate the time when He brought Israel out of the land of Egypt and just before they were to enter into the land of Canaan. While the Passover was to celebrate Israel’s deliverance from slavery, the Feast of Booths (just to pick one of the names) was to celebrate the temporary living quarters and resources the Lord provided on the way to the promised land.
The Feast of Booths therefore represents the church age – that time described in the New Testament, when the people had been delivered from their bondage to sin and the Law and were on their way to the promised land of the kingdom of God. Today’s church with its bricks and mortar has a hard time fitting with this motif of temporariness. Even house churches and small groups, if they seek commitments to the group from its followers, do not fit this motif.
Though Israel, because of its unbelief and disobedience, ended up spending forty years wandering around the desert between Egypt and the promised land, it had not been God’s intention for them to spend such an extended time in this state. Similarly, there are churches today still waiting for the kingdom of God, wandering around in the desert of unbelief. If they believed the Lord, they would disband, for who keeps living in a tent when a mansion has been provided for him?
The kingdom of God came exactly when Jesus, His apostles, and Israel’s prophets said it would come – at the end of the New Testament age (to use our terminology). Thus the kingdom of God is in our midst now. We don’t need to live in temporary shelters because the eternal temple of the kingdom of God is our designated habitation. We enter the kingdom of God not by joining any group of people but rather by joining God – living before Him with an honest heart and an open ear.
The New Testament church stood up to the leaders of the nation of Israel and declared that something greater than Israel’s temple was present. That same New Testament church would be the first to stand up today and say that the kingdom of God, which came after them, was greater than the spiritual structure that housed them. That the church was a Feast of Booths preceeding the great and eternal promised land of the kingdom of God was a glory to Peter, John, Paul, Stephen, and all the rest. That we would seek temporary shelter when permanent shelter has been provided for us at the cost of blood is a shame.
We are depriving people of God’s sanctuary if we are directing them to church instead of the kingdom of God.