In the Church of God, the Eighth Day, the commanded assembly that began today at sunset, is often traditionally (and possibly mistakenly) called the Last Great Day. The Bible, however, clearly distinguishes in the book of John between the two days, and so for tonight’s Bible Study I would like to look at the difference between these two days in how they are portrayed by scripture in the Book of John. By reading these passages we can learn a lot about how the Feast of Tabernacles was kept during the time of Christ, and give us some thoughts as well about the symbolism of these two days.
The Last Great Day Of The Feast: John 7:37-53
John 7:37-53 tells of a confrontation that occurred between Jesus Christ and the Jewish leaders on the Last Great Day of the Feast, the seventh day. The symbolism of Jesus’ message ties in with the symbolism of how the Jews kept the seventh day of the Feast of Tabernacles during the Second Temple period. First, let us read John 7:37-53 and then let us understand the symbolism of what was said. John 7:37-53 reads as follows: “On the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out, saying, “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.” But this He spoke concerning the Spirit, which those believing in Him would receive; for the Holy Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified. Therefore many from the crowd, when they heard this saying, said, “Truly this is the Prophet.” Others said, “This is the Christ.” But some said, “Will the Christ come out of Galilee? Has not the Scripture said that the Christ comes from the seed of David and from the town of Bethlehem, where David was?” So there was a division among the people because of Him. Now some of them wanted to take Him, but no one laid hands on Him. Then the officers came to the chief priests, who said to them, “Why have you not brought Him?” The officers answered, “No man ever spoke like this Man!” Then the Pharisees answered them, “Are you also deceived? Have any of the rulers or the Pharisees believed in Him? But this crowd that does not know the law is accursed.” Nicodemus (he who came to Jesus by night, being one of them) said to them, “Does our law judge a man before it hears him and knows what he is doing?” They answered and said to him, “Are you also from Galilee? Search and look, for no prophet has arisen out of Galilee. And everyone went to his own house”
Here we see that Jesus was preaching on the Last Great Day. What day is this? On the seventh day of the Feast, actually, every day among the seven days of the Feast of Tabernacles according to some commentators , the priests would pour water on the altar and sing hymns to God reminding Him of His promises to His people. At the very moment this was done on the seventh day of the Feast, Jesus Christ said, on behalf of God, that anyone who was thirsty should come and drink of Jesus Christ (through baptism, conversion, and the drinking of the Passover wine symbolic of His blood sacrificed for our sins) and out of his heart, through his words and actions, would flow the rivers of living water of God’s Holy Spirit.
Let us also examine what was said by the audience of Jesus. Some of the public supported Jesus by saying that He was the Prophet that would follow Moses, as was said in Deuteronomy 18:15. They were correct. Some of the public said that He was the Christ, the Messiah. They were also correct. Some questioned whether the Messiah could come from Galilee, not remembering that Isaiah 9:1 stated that the Messiah must come from the regions of Naphtali and Zebulun in Galilee of the Gentiles, which is where Nazareth is located. These people needed to know their Bibles better. Some people said that the Messiah must come from the seed of David and from the town of Bethlehem, Judah as Micah 5:2 says. And so Jesus did. These people needed to know Jesus Christ better. As a result of the lack of knowledge of some and the correct intuition of others, there was division among the Jews, but still no one laid hands on Him.
At this point the Jewish leadership decided to strongly, and unrighteously, oppose Jesus Christ. First, they insulted the officers who refused to arrest Jesus Christ because of His mesmerizing message, by calling them deceived and refusing to see that they themselves had been self-deceived. Then they asked a question they thought was rhetorical: have any of the Jewish leaders believed in Him, when one had among them, the leader Nicodemus. They then cursed the crowd that supposedly did not know the law, but apparently could successfully reference and accurately apply both Deuteronomy 18 (from the law) and Micah 5, something that most Christians today probably could not do. This crowd did know the law, and were not accursed, unlike the Pharisees. Then, when Nicodemus offered a mild and reasonable defense of Jesus Christ in that no just judge decides a case without hearing the evidence first, the Pharisees decide to attack him by asking him if he is from Galilee, as if that would disqualify him as someone worthy of leadership. Galilee had a very poor reputation among the Jews of Jesus’ day from Jerusalem as a backwards region, rather like how the Northern parts of Thailand and Burma are viewed by elites in Bangkok and Rangoon.
They then asked Nicodemus what they thought was a rhetorical question—had any prophets arisen from Galilee? As a matter of fact, the supposedly ignorant crowd knew more of the prophets than they did, because at least two prophets had come from Galilee: Jonah, from the town of Gath Hepher, in Galilee, and Nahum, from the town of Elkosh, also in Galilee. Interestingly enough, these two were prophets sent to pronounce judgment against Assyria. Jesus was at least the third prophet to have come from the region of Galilee, and at least a couple of other famous prophets, namely Elijah and Elisha, did not come from very far away from Galilee. Elijah came from Tishbe, in Gilead, in what is now Jordan, and Elisha came from the town of Abel Meholah, in what is now a Palestinian area at the very northern part of the West Bank, not far from Beth Shean, just south of the region of Galilee. Not only were the priests and Pharisees ignorant of the prophecy of Isaiah 9 that said that the Messiah would arise from Galilee (though He was not born there, as a different prophet, Micah, pointed out), but their ethnic bias caused them to neglect their own prophets born in that region, of whom one (Jonah) is one of the most famous prophets of all.
Let us note one additional detail. In John 7:53 everyone is said to have returned to their own home. After the seven day festival of the Feast of Tabernacles was over, it was no longer necessary for the Jews to remain in temporary dwellings, the booths that they set up out of willow branches and the branches of fruit trees, as was the command of God for how the Feast of Tabernacles was to be kept. Those Jews who were from Jerusalem went to their own houses after the seven days were up, to return to the Temple on the Eighth Day for the commanded assembly . The rest went to the houses where they stayed as guests, as was customary in that time when hotels and inns were not thought of highly by the people of the ancient world.
In all of this we find that the themes of the events in John 7:37-53 relate to the Feast of Tabernacles. We have a place of prophets who preached to the Gentiles, a theme of the seventy bulls sacrificed during the Feast of Tabernacles. We have streams of living water, symbolic of the Holy Spirit from a man-made Jewish festival that had been a part of the Feast of Tabernacles during Christ’s time. And then we have the people returning home after the seventh day of the Feast of Tabernacles is finished, awaiting the Eighth Day.
Neither Do I Condemn You
This next passage, which deals with events that occurred on the eighth day, the commanded assembly that we are beginning now, and that occurs on the day after the Feast of Tabernacles is over, its own separate and mysterious festival with a very mysterious meaning concerning the final judgment and the new heavens and new earth . Do we find the preaching of Jesus Christ the next day after the “Last Great Day” dealing with questions of ultimate judgment? That is exactly what we find, which makes sense when we realize that Jesus’ messages on these two consecutive days deal with the themes of two different consecutive feasts.
John 8:1-12 is among the most controversial passages in the New Testament. Some people believe, mistakenly, that these verses speak against God’s law. In fact, these verses speak for a fair and just enforcement of God’s law, even as they speak the painful truth that those who are often the most loud and vocal about supporting judgment against evildoers are often the most corrupt evildoers themselves. This is a painful lesson to learn when it applies to us, but in light of the events of John 8:1-12 it is fair to consider, lest we fall into the same condemnation as the Jewish leadership who opposed and blasphemed Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior.
John 8:1-12 reads as follows: “But Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. Now early in the morning He came again into the temple, and all the people came to Him; and He sat down and taught them. Then the scribes and Pharisees brought to Him a woman caught in adultery. And when they had set her in the midst, they said to Him, “Teacher, this woman was caught in adultery, in the very act. Now Moses, in the law, commanded us that such should be stoned. But what do You say?” This they said, testing Him, that they might have something of which to accuse Him. But Jesus stooped down and write on the ground with His finger, as though He did not hear. So when they continued asking Him, He raised Himself up and said to them, “He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first.” And again He stooped down and wrote on the ground. Then those who heard it, being convicted by their conscience, went out one by one, beginning with the oldest even to the last. And Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst. When Jesus had raised Himself up and saw no one but the woman, He said to her, “Woman, where are those accusers of yours? Has no one condemned you?” She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said to her, “Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more.” Then Jesus spoke to them again, saying, “I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life.”
What was going on here? This incident is full of deep meaning, but we must look closely at the details to understand what was really going on behind the scenes. Let us paint a picture of the scene, adding details to the rather subtle commentary of John. First, early in the morning, Jesus Christ was preaching. Where were the scribes and Pharisees on this Holy Day and commanded assembly? They were setting up an adultery, about which we will have more to say. They show up late to services, as it were, dragging a woman caught in the act of adultery. But who was she caught with? The scribes and Pharisees do not say; presumably it was a set-up. Presumably, it was one of them. The Bible does not say that we should stone women caught in adultery, specifically. It says in Leviticus 20:10 that both the woman and the man guilty of adultery should be stoned—the Bible does not show favoritism between the sexes, but judges the man and the woman as equally guilty. So, from the start, the case of the scribes and Pharisees is without merit, because they brought the woman to be judged but not the man.
But there is even more going on than this. It was illegal, in the time of Jesus Christ, for Jews to punish anyone with death, that being the responsibility of the Roman overlords of the Jews. Now, the Jews did occasionally lynch people without having legal permission, as they did with Stephen the martyr in Acts 7, but this was not the normal case. The scribes and Pharisees were attempting to trap Jesus Christ between speaking against the law of God, which did provide the death penalty for adultery, and the Roman laws preventing the Jews from putting anyone to death. If Jesus said one thing, they could accuse Him of being seditious and violating Roman law, but if He said the opposite thing they could accuse Him of violating God’s law. Either way they could silence and discredit Him.
But there is still more. In Jewish law, it was the witnesses who were to cast the first stone against someone convicted of a capital offense, like adultery. In this case, though, Jesus Christ had not been a witness to her adultery, unlike the scribes and Pharisees. According to Jewish legal procedure, only they could throw the first stone. Once they left, being convicted by their consciences, there was no legal case against her. Now, why were they convicted by their own consciences? We cannot be entirely sure, because the Bible does not say, but the Bible does provide some tantalizing hints as to what may have been the case. For one, Jesus Christ wrote something in the dirt. For another, He told them that only those without sin may cast the first stone.
This is the comment that has attracted so much controversy in this passage. In one sense, it is unreasonable for human beings to be entirely blameless before enforcing the death penalty on criminals such as murderers or rapists or adulterers as God’s law commands, since no human apart from Jesus Christ has ever been, or will ever be, wholly without sin during their lives as human beings. For there to be any enforcement of God’s laws this side of God’s Kingdom or the resurrection of the just, it must be done by imperfect human beings. So what was Jesus Christ really saying here? It is a principle that those who are guilty of the very crime they are witnessing, perhaps because they were the other party, cannot condemn someone else. We require witnesses and accusers to have “clean hands,” not being entirely without sin, but being innocent of the sin that they accuse others of. If we are adulterers, we cannot condemn others of adultery without also condemning ourselves. Such was the case, apparently, with the scribes and Pharisees in question, which is a fairly typical failing for ungodly religious leaders who feign righteousness.
But in one way, dealing with the theme of the Eighth Day, Jesus was right in the larger sense that in the final judgment those who metaphorically throw stones would be without sin. In dealing with the ultimate condemnation, Jesus did not condemn the woman but rather called on her to repent, for it was not yet the time the Eighth Day symbolized, the final judgment of the dead into either eternal life or the lake of fire. She still had a chance to repent, because the only one capable at the time of judging her refused to do so, but rather gave her a chance to go and sin no more—to live a righteous life in obedience to God’s laws, to receive the unmerited grace of a death row pardon that all of us receive upon our conversion to God’s ways. Because she received grace, she was not then then condemned, and she was instructed to live a godly life in the future so that she would not be in a position to be condemned again.
But that day, this very day we are in right now, symbolizes eternal judgment. And the woman had not been condemned eternally—but the scribes and Pharisees who fancied themselves to be the noble and righteous religious leaders of Judah had been convicted by their own consciences, and they (unlike the woman) departed from the presence of Jesus without repenting or receiving His grace and mercy. And on that day those of us who are called by God and enter into His kingdom in the resurrection of the just shall sit on white thrones and judge both the human beings great and small who have lived their human lives without converting to God’s truth as well as the demons who rebelled against God’s righteous and legitimate authority. And if we are blessed to be in that company of saints, we shall be without sin, our sins and faults of this life covered by the blood of Jesus Christ, and our minds and spirits wholly transformed by His Holy Spirit. Therefore we will be fully competent as judges to condemn the unrepentant to eternal destruction but grant eternal life, as was granted to us, to those who like us have chosen to repent of their sins and to accept Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. It is the names of these people who are entered into the Book of Life and who enter into the joy of eternal life, to live in light for all time in the New Jerusalem that will come down to earth on that glorious day in the future.
Therefore, let us conclude this Bible Study with a brief comparison of the Last Great Day and the Eighth Day. The Last Great Day of the Feast of Tabernacles, which we just finished, celebrates the enjoyment of Jesus Christ’s rule over the earth by all humanity. Most of humanity throughout the grim and bleak course of human history has been ruled over by bullies and tyrants or has suffered from anarchy and random violence. But mankind, in the future, will be ruled by Jesus Christ and by redeemed saints and will be free to learn God’s way in peace and security under the rule of Jesus Christ. The Eighth Day, though, symbolizes eternal judgment, just as the woman caught in adultery faced her Judge and found a pardon, while her self-righteous condemners were convicted by their consciences and shown to be unqualified to sit as her judges. Let us distinguish between the Last Great Day of the Feast, the Seventh Day of the Feast of Tabernacles, and the Eighth Day that follows it. Let us also pray that we are found worthy both to rule in the Millennial kingdom of Jesus Christ as well as to sit as judges in the Great White Throne Judgment that follows the Millennial Reign of our soon-coming savior, Jesus Christ. May those days soon come.
 The only ambiguity that exists in this passage is whether Jesus Christ’s sermon in John 7 occurred in the darkness portion of the eighth day or in the daylight portion of the seventh day. If Jesus spoke as the water ceremony was taking place (as would appear very likely from the context), He did so on the seventh day, which would mean that in this occasion the “Last Great Day” refers to the seventh day and not the eighth day. Then, after a considerable length of time in which the priests and Pharisees attempted to have Christ arrested, and some serious divisions among the crowd of Jews, sunset had come and the high day of the eighth day began, at which point the Jews went home, the seven days of the Feast of Tabernacles being ended. At the very least, this reasonable time line of the events in John 7 points to an ambiguity in our own usage if we try to force the broader context of the Bible through a mistaken support of human tradition, as is the case in the rather pathetic analysis of the Eighth Day versus Last Great Day question here: http://www.cogwriter.com/UCG-LGD.htm
 Many so-called Christians profanely worship on what they call the eighth day, which is in fact the first day, Sunday, believing that we already exist in the “new heavens and new earth” and therefore heaven and earth has passed away, making the laws of God, including the commanded Sabbath and Holy Day observances of God, obsolete. This so-called eighth day worship denies the fact that the genuine worship on the eighth day, the day after the seven-day Feast of Tabernacles, itself represents a future day when Revelation 21 and 22 tell us there will be no more sin present in the universe, no more darkness, and no more sorrow, nor even a sun or moon, or night, for the light of the Lord will be present forever. As these promised events have not happened yet, we are still in the “seven days” and not yet in the “eighth day.”