One of the research papers UCG did that always bothered me was their paper on the Last Great Day. It took many twists and turns and came up with essentially no real conclusion that made sense. Is the “Last Great Day” that John referred to in his narrative the seventh day or the eighth day. Some claim that “newer” research has uncovered that “the great day of the Feast” referred to the seventh and not eighth day.
I don’t buy it. It makes no sense, and when things don’t make sense, I am prone to going out and doing my own research. What I found was a breadth of research, and not only does the vast majority side with the Eighth Day being the “Last Great Day”, but I found several other factors that viewed objectively cannot lead you to any other conclusion.
What HWA Taught, Correctly and Incorrectly
HWA taught that when John recorded that Jesus cried out “On the last and greatest day of the festival” (Jn 3:37 NIV), John was speaking about the eighth day of the Feast of Tabernacles. Leviticus 23 and several commentaries make it quite clear that the Jews understood that this was a separate and yet connected holy day. Even the sacrifices on that day were done differently, and the rabbis still teach today that you come out of your sukkah or booth on that day (if you are in Israel, for those who are scattered in other nations are expected to keep yet another extra day).
In reality, most commentaries agree with this assessment. I’ve noticed that where the commentaries that disagree get tripped up on is that the water ceremony takes place during the Feast of Tabernacles but not on the eighth day. In fact, even the WCG correspondence course got confused in the timing of the water ritual:
COMMENT: Jesus spoke this on the eve of the Last Great Day, after the traditional water-pouring ceremony, which occurred on the seventh day of the Feast of Tabernacles.
~ Ambassador College, “Lesson 31 – Last Great Day – God’s Master Plan Completed!“, 1984
However, in reality, the water celebration would not have been done on the eighth day!
…Unique to the holiday of Sukkot is the mitzvah to offer a water libation on the altar, in addition to the wine libation that accompanied all the sacrifices throughout the year. This water was drawn on the evening beforehand, amidst great fanfare, singing, reveling, and even acrobatic stunts performed by the time’s greatest sages.
~ “Rejoice!“, Chabad.org
So, in reality, the water ceremony would not have been performed on the evening beginning the eighth day, in spite of what some have erroneously concluded. It would have taken place the second through the seventh at evening when the day began.
Ironically, this only strengthens the notion that John was referring to the Eighth Day instead of the seventh day of Sukkot.
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.”
~ “The Great Day of the Feast“, Bible-History.com
So, Jesus stood up on the day that the Jews did not pour out water around the altar! When you consider it, that would have been quite a contrast. Jesus, in effect, was saying that His living water was the continuation and conclusion of water, symbolizing the Holy Spirit, being poured out upon human beings.
Praying for Rain
To make it an even further stark contrast, the eighth day, which the Jews call Shemini Atzeret would be the day they would pray for rain (S. “Shemini Atzeret – Prayer for latter day rain“, Hebew4Christians.com).
The latter rain would have been much sought-out, since it was important for winter crops. During Sukkot, they would not pray for rain, for rain would dampen, literally, the enthusiasm of those staying in their booths, and the observant Jews take seriously the command to “rejoice”. In fact, “rejoice” is mentioned more times in connection to Sukkot than any other holy day!
So, they would be praying for rain, but here Jesus stands up and proclaims instead of worrying about rain, He could offer “rivers of living water”!
The Number Eight
There are several interesting ideas that the Jews have developed around the Eighth Day, and undoubtedly many of them existed during Jesus’ day. We must be mindful that the current strain of Jewish orthodoxy would have arisen from the Pharisees of Jesus’ day. The Sadducees controlled the Temple, and their power base was wiped out when the Temple was destroyed. So, good, bad or indifferent, current Judaism is not that far removed from the Pharisees we read about in the New Testament.
Seven is the number of completeness. It is also the “number of nature” (“Shmini Azeret and Simchat Torah). Seven is natural. Eight “is that which is beyond nature.” Eight is seven plus one, 7 + 1, and therefore if Sukkhot is supposed to be joyous, Shemini Atzeret should be even more joyous, supernaturally so. It would be greater than even Sukkot, especially in joy.
…And then there’s the utterly unbridled joy of Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah, which surpasses even the joy of Sukkot.
However, leaving Kabbalistic ideas behind, eight also represents beyond full. Seven is full, eight is abundant, overflowing, i.e., great!
Eight is also a new beginning, a rebirth, or, more importantly, a resurrection. This is yet another thing that ties this day to the second resurrection.
And, when you think of it, it has “great” meaning. Many, most perhaps, now refer to it as the “Last Great Day” not so much because of what John called it but because the second resurrection is the one great truth that the entirety of mainstream Christianity misses out on. In recent years, many have come to understand a truth here or a truth there, but the second resurrection is something that even the CG7 did not and still does not teach! It is indeed a great day filled with great meaning!
Calling It Something Else
Still, I am more comfortable calling it the Eighth Day, since no other biblical name has been given to it. Yet, I am not a purist in any fashion here.
“Words have meaning”, to which I agree. However, that really only applies when you are using the wrong words, if you stop and think about it. We have all sorts of words and phrases not found in the Bible, after all.
There is a biblical precedent as well. The Feast of Weeks has quite a few names. It is also called the Feast of the Firstfruits in the Bible. However, in the NT, it is most often called “Pentecost”, which is not even a Hebrew word! There is no sanction in the OT for calling it thus, but it is obvious that by then tradition had given it a Greek name.
So, giving a day a name not specified in the Bible is not necessarily wrong. It simply has to not contradict what we know of it.
I would argue that “Last Great Day” not only does not contradict what we know of it, but it actually carries with it attached meanings, including one that Jewish thought alludes to.
What Does Atzeret Really Mean?
Literally, Shemini Atzeret is translated “assembly of the eighth day”. However, Atzeret has linguistic roots that mean “tarry” or “retain”.
Most Jewish writings tell the tale of a king who throws a party for everyone for seven days. However, on the eighth day, he specifically invites the servants who helped to throw the party to tarry an additional day to celebrate for themselves as well.
At first glance, this might sound a bit silly, but in reality the sacrifices back up this line of thought. There are 70 bulls that are sacrificed during Sukkot. These are thought to correspond to the 70 nations of the world. However, on Shemini Atzeret, only one bull is sacrificed, which is normal for most holy days. It is as though this extra day was tacked on for Israel alone.
Think about the spiritual implications. We all must become spiritual descendants of Abraham. IOW, we are all spiritual Israelites even if we are not physically.
During the Millennium, there will be other nations. Zec 14 is often read this time of year as to what will happen to Egypt (and other nations) if they do not participate in the Feast of Tabernacles. After the Millennium, though, we either are grafted together into one nation, or we are disposed of into the fire.
Another interesting line of Jewish thought is that Shemini Atzeret “retains” or “guards” Sukkot. Since there are no holy days until spring, the idea is that this is one last chance to stir up the spirit for the long winter.
This is an idea often expressed, especially right after the Feast of Tabernacles, in many messages I’ve heard through the years.
How Did John Write?
The above has thoroughly convinced me that HWA was right about which day was the Last Great Day, but there is more. John himself gives us clues, as he refers to a number of celebrations, including the Feast of the Dedication.
In Jn 11:55, John refers to the “Jewish Passover”. Obviously, he is referring to the entire eight day festival, Passover + Days of Unleavened Bread, yet he only calls it “Passover”. In fact, in the KJV, he refers to it as the “Feast of the Passover” (Jn 13:1).
You and I do the same thing all the time. We say we are going to the “Feast”, and we understand this short-hand to mean the “Feast of Tabernacles and Eighth Day”. It is understood that there are two different feasts going on, yet we shorten it down to a simple code.
So, the “last day” of the feast would be none other than the Eighth Day! In common speech, taking the eight days in total, the eighth day would indeed be the last day of the feast, even as all eight days of the first spring feast would be the Feast of the Passover.
The “Last Great Day” is an independent feast, but it is directly connected to the Feast of Tabernacles. It is the last “great” or holy day of the year, and it has “great” meaning that almost no one in the world understands. It is great because it will be a joyous time even above that of the Millennium.
Therefore, even though I prefer the term “Eighth Day”, I will defend the name “Last Great Day” to mean that very same day because all other explanations fall flat.